Thursday, April 30, 2009

Arrgh! (Redux): Who Wants Some?

Interesting little news item:

The "hero" captain (IMO, frankly, just another goddam statistic in the loathesome "everybody is a hero!" sweepstakes the American news media seems to be running) of the Maersk Alabama testified today in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (although why Foreign Relations and not Commerce, I can't fathom).

"Commercial ships working pirate-infested waters should be protected by an armed corps of senior officers backed by the government, Maersk Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips told Congress Thursday"


But here's what I found interesting. His boss, the CEO of the Maersk Line, did too.

"Arming merchant sailors may result in the acquisition of ever more lethal weapons and tactics by the pirates, a race that merchant sailors cannot win," Maersk Inc. Chairman John P. Clancey said in his prepared remarks."

When we had this discussion over at "buggieboy" earlier this month, I said:

"Other potential issues with the Q-ships would be the immense potential for liability in arming the sort of crews that sail a lot of these vessals. The old days of the Western merchant marines is long gone. Most of the deck crews of these ships are what a Victorian Briton would have called "lascars": Sri Lankan, Indonesian, or Korean contract sailors - basically coastal villagers with a couple of weeks training. Handing out rifles and grenade launchers to these guys? Lloyds would scream like a wounded eagle.

The alternative would be for the shipping companies to hire contract gun crews. But picture the problems and expense that would entail. You have twenty container ships that transit the Horn every quarter. You lose one a year; 0.25 ships/quarter. The ransom is 10 million dollars, or $2.5 million/quarter.

Meanwhile, you're hiring 20 gun crews a quarter, four men at $1,000/day; $360,000 per ship per quarter, roughly $7 million per quarter or $28 million a year.

This makes no sense, economically. They're financially better off paying the ransoms, and the pirates probably know that as well as we do."

And here's the proof; confronted with his own employee talking about getting armed guards on merchies, the operators of the merchant shipping lines would rather encourage their engine room crews to take up juggling live torpedoes on their break time.

What I think this points up is the problem with taking complex real-world socio-polito-military problems and trying to reduce them to news-bite talking points. The Somalis involved in this stuff aren't one-dimensional movie villians. Their reasons for freebooting are complicated and difficult to solve; a couple of bombing raids, an Ethiopian invasion...these not solutions are, young padawan, Master Yoda would say. The bottom line here is there probably IS no single simple, elegant solution; political, military or otherwise. The best answer may well be a combination of guile, force, bribery and avoidance.

But you can't put that on a bumper sticker, or get a blow-dried newsreader to put it across to a viewing audience full of Diet Pepsi and Chee-tos. So chances are we will never have any sort of sensible debate on what, if anything, the U.S. should do about it.


The real bottom line is that talking about pirates lets me post pictures of sexy pirate wenches. Arrrgh! There's a sight to shiver me timbers, eh, buckos?

And not just for the lads - here's an equal opportunity cheese-and-beefcake cover for all comers.

As an aside, I've always gotten a bit of a chuckle out of the latter-day romantic image of the buccaneer. Back in the day they were categorized as what they are, the seagoing equivalent of a mugger or a carjacker. Dangerous, violent waterborne vermin that were the lawful prey of every decent sailor or traveller who objected to robbery, rape and wanton destruction. The contemporary accounts from the great Age of Piracy in the mid-17th to the late 18th Centuries were almost exactly the same as our tabloid press coverage of crime: fascinated but horrified, a sort of violence voyeurism for the safe in bed.

It was only AFTER the sea lanes were tamed that piracy became romantic and writers (and later filmmakers) started penning odes to the jolly roger.But isn't that the whole idea? I've always loved this definition of "adventure": "Someone else having a frightening, dangerous, difficult ordeal several thousand miles away."

To Celebrate the Global War on Terror...

...and just because I'm stuck in front of the computer keyboarding and listening to this terrific live performance:Ain't got no speakers...

Ain't got no headphones...
Ain't got no records to play.

Yeah, I know, a LOT of the music from Teh Eighties sucked. But did these guys kick ass like crazy monkeys or what..?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Goddam, I love Florida

Their Republicans make our Oregon Republicans look like freaking mental giants.

In this case, by proposing that the great State of Florida issue a "Jesus" license plate.

Yes, I shit you not.As Blue Gal reminds us, try and picture the scene where some widely-known Jesus-pesterer such as Mel Gibson gets pulled over, drunk off his ass and calling the female officer "Sugar Tits" and the arresting officer "Kikey-pants" (or something equally Protocols of the Elders of Zionish, anyway) and his rig shows up on the 6-o'clock-news getting towed away sportin' the ever-loving bleeding cocoanut of our Lord and Savior on the bumper.

I mean, I enjoy watching my enemies thoroughly crap their pants, too, but, geez, guys, are you making this too easy or what?

Say it with me now reeeeeal slow: "Sep-a-ra-tion of church and staaaate."

Can we get some face time for AIG execs here, too?

"Photographs of bankers who left Iceland after the financial crisis have a new use in the restroom of a bar in Reykjavik, the capital." (NYT photo caption)


Busy week this week: little Miss's third birthday yesterday;big Peeper's sixth this coming Sunday.

Plus all the usual work and worry.

But I'm still here listening and observing. Observing, with increasing trepidation, the epidemological news out of Mexico and now across the globe. We've already proved that 2008 can be like 1929. Are we getting set to see if 2009 can be like 1918?Brrrr...And listening to the news from the domestic political front as well.

Not good.

Despite the hysterical repetition of the lie ("We do not torture!") from the former Liar-in-Chief so many times that any discussion of the "enhanced interrogation of our helpless prisoners that occurred between 2001 and 2009 took on the surreal dimensions of discussing cell division with a three-year-old, it not appears exceptionally clear that we tortured our captives.

There's a couple of ways to look at this.

There is the way that old Tom Paine looked at it:
"But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America the law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.
Or you can take the approach that that well known Islamofascist Teddy Roosevelt took:
"No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor." can look at it the way that the Beltway Pundits; the Official Spokesworms for our Governing Classes would like you to look at it (this is Jon Meacham from Newsweek:
"And to pursue criminal charges against officials at the highest levels—including the former president and the former vice president—would set a terrible precedent. . . . That is not to say presidents and vice presidents are always above the law; there could be instances in which such a prosecution is appropriate, but based on what we know, this is not such a case."
Did you get that? Our Leaders aren't ALWAYS above the law, just sometimes, like when they need to waterboard you 183 frikkin' times. Because you're an eeeeevil terrorist.Or because're an evil terrorist.

It's this simple: torture is against the law. It's against the law because torture and the culture torture foments is a toxin, lethal to the rule of law and to open government. It is the Star Chamber. Not for nothing did our Founders forbid "cruel and unusual punishments" - not because they thought that Americans were noble and that criminals needed to be kissed and caressed. It was BECAUSE they understood the evil that men do is corrosive, and in certain dark ways beautiful and attractive in the way that power and strength are always beautiful and attrative, like a shining curlique of blood against a sheet-white pavement.

If we do not, if we CANnot, pursue and punish those who broke the law, regardless of their "reasons", then we are no longer a nation of laws.


And from there, it becomes harder and harder to turn away.

While my Republican friends will deny and demur, you can take it from me or you can read this powerful essay from The Minstrel Boy over at Group News Blog.

Either way, from this LP/OP it seems like the falcon is listening less and less these dark days.

What do you think?

Update 4/28 p.m.: As always, a little more, a little less...

On the "good news" side, the Ninth Circuit panel came down hard on the Bush/Obama Department of "Justice" for trying to put the entire government outside the law. Judge Hawkins' opinion pretty much sums it up: the U.S. government stated that the entire "subject matter" of rendition and torture was so secret that to merely discuss it was dangerous to the public good. This, as I've said, is the logic of the Star Chamber; we are condeming you for reasons that we cannot tell you because if we did you would know how we gained the "evidence" to condemn you and might be able to evade condemnation. As Hawkins says, this would "cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law"

On the other hand, the "conversion" of Sen. Arlen Specter (once-R-now-D-PA) seems to represent everything that is dysfunctional about our federal legislative branch. Specter, who was pretty much Bush's rubber love doll throughout the past 8 years, is being challenged in his primary by an even bigger right-wing nutjob. Rather than wait for the nutjob to win and then bitchslap him with an actual Democrat, the Senate D's are welcoming Specter in the same way they have nestled down with Lieberman; Ried is on record as saying that "Specter is with us until we need him to be with us". This says to me:

1. Specter has no political morals; he is a whore that will bend like Gumby into whatever position it takes to stay in power. And

2. The Democratic Party STILL doesn't believe that it should be genuinely, openly liberal. They're rather take a hard-right Democrat they believe can win an election than stand for THEIR principles and run someone firmly in the middle of their own supposed ideology.

How the hell are we supposed to care if it's this obvious than they don't..?

One the subject of the possible flu pandemic, Meghan reminds me in the comments that we don't have any hard evidence that this flu will be either especially infectious or especially lethal. True. One problem that we have that our grandparents didn't is information overload. We're now bombed by news that isn't really "news" but a newslet, a tiny fragment of a much larger issue that was jammed unto the wires or the air to make morning newstime. Combine that with the news organs' now-endemic inability to perform analysis or discriminate signal from noise and we are buried under an avalanche of information; some critical, some useful, much completely worthless.

But I would argue that this potential pandemic may be significant for the time it arrives; in the midst of the worst economic crash since the 1930's. This disease may not HAVE to be lethal to be...lethal. If governments - and there is some evidence that this may be happening in Mexico already - act to close down the movement of humans and goods (a reasonable precaution in the case of a highly communicable, potentially high-mortality disease) the effect will be to increase the downward pressure on the global economy. ISTM that finding a balance between trade and public health may be very, very difficult. I don't know how I would do it - hopefully the people working at the CDC and the US Public Health Service and the Commerce/Tansportation/Border Patrol executive levels are smarter than me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It is?

So we're watching the Peeper's favorite "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" the other night and the episode that comes on is one we've seen before. Like, lots before."Wait, haven't we seen this one, like, three times already?" asks my bride.

"Wanna see it again." insists the Peep.

"You want to see the same thing again and again?" his mom asks skeptically.

The Peep peers out from his blanket cocoon on the couch like a freckled lemur peeping from dense foliage and sniffs.

"Well, that's what five-year-olds LIKE." he announces.


OK, then...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Mother's Serenity

I've been following a blog-friend as she gets closer and closer to her adoption with some nervous anticipation and a lot of hope. She's so close that she can taste it, and yet, the China adoption crapshoot is worse than ever this spring, with one- and two-day referral periods abounding. I hope she gets the good news in May.

But the reason I'm posting this is because of a post of hers where she describes a well-meaning friend remarked how she was getting that "serene maternal glow" and my first thought was of my lovely bride scrubbing a howling child's dirty hair amid a welter of muttered imprecations and flying Curious George bubble bath and wondering who in hell would ever think that motherhood - or fatherhood, parenting in general - was about "serenity"?Raising kids is a hell of a thing; like most life work involving other humans, it rises to the heights of delight and plunges to the depths of misery. It's like being Charge of Quarters 24/7 for the rest of your life; standing there with your hands in your pockets as the crowd beats cheeks, trying to figure out what the fuck the guys from CSC were doing out behind your conex with three tiki torches, a folding table, five gallons of purple paint and a chorizo.

It's funny, it's fun, it's frustrating as hell, it's enlightening, it's full of love and punctuated by the most infuriating moments.

What's it's NOT is serene.

If you see a serene parent, believe me, it's like watching a duck swimming; all sleek and waterproof on top and underneath the little duck feet are spinning like mad hamsters in a motorized hamster wheel.So let me give you instead my own take on parenting, freely adapted from Fr. Niebuhr's prayer:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and a pair of quick feet, cat-like reflexes and the grip of a howler monkey to apprehend my offspring before they can take the things in the second category and move them into the first."

Baaaaaad Kitty...

So I'm going through the bookcase sorting stuff to go to the Goodwill, open a hardcover novel and out flutters this.

I still remember seeing this in the store - had to be something like a pretty out-there gift shop, don't remember where - and wanting it not to send as an actual greeting card but just because I loved the image.Is it the domme's faintly pigeon-toed stance, suggesting by just a little bit of wobble on the fuck-me pumps that she's not quite as in command as she'd like you to think? (I mean, after all, she's dominating a CAT...) Is it the furious look in Bondage Kitty's eyes, promising a serious ass-scratching if he ever gets loose and NOT in a good way. Is it just the idea that the only way to get a cat to really do what you want is with whips and leather?

Dunno. But I laughed then and I laughed this afternoon when I saw it again, probably a decade after the last time I chuckled as I used it to mark my place in "Mr. Lincoln's Army" and put it away on the shelf...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Yum Yum Dim Sum

This isn't dim sum! It's just an adorable little girl biting the head off a chocolate bunny.We loved the bunny, Grandma, but next time try Cadbury's. The bunnies you got them worked for three and five but fifty-one found them rather nasty. Has to be some benefit in it for the Daddy, y'know...OK - so here we are enjoying one of our little family traditions; going out for dim sum at one of the old Chinatown restaurants on Sunday. Missy and I love the taro and green-beans-in-black-bean-sauce and the humbows and the egg tarts. Tried their chicken feet - very lacking in crispy! And I'm sorry, India, but the turnip cake tastes like, well, turnips, forchrissake.But me and The Girl loves us our dim sum.

The Peeper has no truck with this dim sum stuff, and we always stop to get him some fast food pancakes. He does like the live crabs, though.Back in a ricky-tick. Hope you're getting some of the lovely sunny spring weather we're enjoying!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Decisive Battles: Lexington to Boston, 1775

Lexington to Boston Date: 19 April 1775Forces Engaged: British Imperial: Initially about 700 elite infantry troops in 21 companies: eleven (heavy infantry) grenadier companies of the 4th, 5th, 10th, 18th, 23rd, 38th, 43rd, 47th, 52nd and 59th Regiments of Foot, and the 1st Battalion, Royal Marines, and ten light infantry companies from the 4th (King's Own), 5th, 10th, 23rd, 38th, 43rd, 47th, 52nd and 59th Regiments of Foot, and the Marine battalion under LTC Francis Smith of the 10th Regiment of Foot. By the end of the day the British force on the road to Boston included over half the Boston garrison, including the 1st Brigade (4th, 23rd, and 47th Regiments of Foot), two six-pound cannon and crew (Royal Artillery), and the remainder of the 1st Battalion, Royal Marines – minus the flank companies then on Battle Road - , a total of 1,500 to 1,700 troops under BG Earl Percy. No cavalry.

American Colonial: Initially 77 men of the Lexington militia under Captain John Parker. By midday roughly 400 troops (militiamen from the towns of Concord, Lincoln, Acton, and Bedford as well as five companies of “select militia” or minutemen) under Colonel James Barrett of Concord. By late afternoon probably 3,500 to 4,000 mixed militia, minutemen and individual volunteers from towns throughout eastern Massachusetts under BG William Heath. No cavalry or artillery.

The Situation: Most of us should be familiar with the situation in and around Boston in the spring of 1775. This essay has no space for a complete discussion of the political relations between Britain and her American colonies in the 1760s and 1770s; the subject is complex enough to have filled libraries. Suffice to way that British debt incurred by the Seven Year’s War and the resultant revenue-raising measures strained matters between colonies and colonizer. A series of troubles surrounding the Stamp and Townsend Acts in the 1760’s, and then the Tea Act of 1773 – culminating in the original Tea Baggers of 1774 – eventually resulted in the closure of the Port of Boston and the British Garrison there (under MG Thomas Gage, in person a remarkably sane and decent officer) being called on to enforce the punitive so-called “Intolerable Acts”.Most sources state that by the spring of 1775 the British government was not in physical control of eastern Massachusetts outside of Boston proper. MG Gage had spent the autumn of 1774 and winter of 1774-75 in a running scuffle with the increasingly restive colonials of the Bay area to secure military supplies stockpiled by the locals. These so-called “Powder Alarms” succeeded in agitating the American insurrectionists without materially reducing their capacity for trouble. By the spring and the beginning of campaign season the only real question as whether the Americans would begin a rising on their own or wait for provocation. April’s events proved that when one side is looking for a fight, the other will be hard put not to give them one.

The Sources: In a literate age, the original sources are Multitude. Private and public letters, which were collected and later published, broadsheets, pamphlets and engravings all document what was even then recognized as a historic event. Both Continental and British militaries prepared reports ranging from casualty returns to battle accounts. Among the most useful accounts written since the events of 1775 are F.W. Coburn’s The Battle of April 19, 1775: In Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Arlington, Cambridge, Somerville, and Charlestown, Massachusetts, published in 1922 by the Lexington Historical Society (especially noteworthy as it is available complete on-line as a pdf document); D. H., Fischer’s 1994 volume Paul Revere's Ride, a tremendous guide to the primary sources, and D. B. Chidsey’s 1966 work The Siege of Boston: An on-the-scene Account of the Beginning of the American Revolution.

Perhaps the most accessible of the recent accounts is the Wikipedia entry for “Battles of Lexington and Concord”, which is extensively footnoted and appears more solidly researched than most of the work done for this popular but uneven resource.

The Campaign: The events of 19 April were the opening moves in what became the Boston Campaign, which included the battles at Lexington, Concord and along the Battle Road on 19 April 1775; Chelsea Creek (Hog Island, fought in May, 1775), Bunker Hill (fought in June, 1775). The siege of Boston continued for almost a year until the Crown forces evacuated the city in March of 1776.

The Engagement: The events of 19 April 1775 are fairly well understood by those of you with a penchant for history and military history; for those who aren’t buffs you can’t – and I can’t – do better than the Wikipedia entry, or many of the other published sources that discuss this day.

So what I’d like to do is refer back to what we discussed in the “Commander’s Intentseries of posts. Specifically, General Gage and his British army of occupation were in very peculiar political and military position in the spring of 1775. Similar to our military and diplomatic assets deployed to south-central Asia in the spring of 2009, they have two, seemingly contradictory, missions.The political mission is essentially one of pacification; the desired outcome is a well-disposed people in a cooperative client state (or, in the case of the American colonies, states), eager to meld with, and do the bidding of, the autochthonous Power.

The military mission was to support the political mission and to diffuse, and, if confronted, to defeat, armed resistance to the colonial Power. This placed the British Army – and places our own armed forces – in an extraordinarily difficult position. Traditionally the means of defeating armed force has always been to oppose it with superior; that is, more powerful, more violent, more deadly, force. An army wins by inflicting more death and destruction, wreaking more terror, on its opponent in the field. But here the traditional formula was stood on its head. Too little force would be not just inadequate but inflammatory – the natives would be made bolder by the sense that the imperial Power was weak. But…too MUCH force and the natives would be not just inflamed but impelled. If the imperial Power was out of control, an insensate monster destroying just to destroy, then what loss resistance? If death is inevitable, then why not die on your feet rather than on your knees?So the problem facing General Gage would be familiar to the officer commanding the forces in the Korengal Valley: A bomb is probably too big, but a knife is too small. How to graduate the measure of force so as to dissuade and intimidate the insurgents but not anger the noncombatants?

So, the essence of King George’s “Commander’s Intent” could probably have been best summarized as:

Procure the obedience of the colonial states of North America to the rulings of Parliament and the orders of the British Crown by whatever means necessary, to include military force, but without provoking open rebellion.

For Gage, the business came to a point on April 14, 1775, with the receipt of a confidential letter from the Secretary for American Administration, Lord Dartmouth. The salient points of this letter were:

1. Information that the Boston garrison was being reinforced: four battalions of infantry and one of cavalry were en route or had been mobilized for overseas movement.
2. However, in the style of politicians everywhere, Dartmouth flatly refused to accept Gage’s assessment that real pacification of the Massachusetts region would require 20,000 troops; instead, Gage was advised that he should “raise a corps of infantry from among the friends of government in New England”.
3. Most importantly, Gage was to act against the principals in rebellion against Great Britain; “…the first and essential step to be taken towards reestablishing Government, would be to arrest and imprison the principals of the Provincial Congress, whose proceedings appear in every light to be acts of treason and rebellion.”
4. To this end Gage was directed to impose martial law, and disarm the colonials then likely to acts against the Royal government.
5. And also in the style of politicians since Joshua, Dartmouth added “It must be understood, however, after al I have said, that this is a matter for discretion.”

So, plainly put: Gage must act, and soon, against the Americans defiant of Royal authority. But if his strike should go awry, and the rebels escape or, worse, profit, then the fault would be his alone.

As we know, the stroke DID fail, and the war was set in motion. Since we won’t learn anything new about the events of the day, let look at them in light of Gage’s mission. Where, in each event, did things go wrong? Where were the failures, the criticalfailures? Was there a decisive moment, or moments, in the day of battle, that could have retrieved his throw and held the American colonies for Great Britain?On April 18th, Gage set in motion the operation which would begin the end of British rule in the American Colonies. H-hour was set for around midnight, 19th April, 1775.

H-hour minus eleven days (8 April, 1775): The OPSEC Failure.

Had Gage only known it, he had failed to achieve his political objective – apprehension of the rebel leaders – over a week earlier.

Word of the Dartmouth letter had arrived early in the month from sources in London sympathetic to the rebel cause, and all the ringleaders except the rebel intelligence officers – Paul Revere and Joseph Warren principally among them – had decamped to the interior. The rebel elite troops – the “minute companies” or minutemen – had gone to a higher state of alert, and much of the war material stored in Concord had been distributed or moved.

Critical Failure: Operational security (OPSEC) is essential for military success. Uncertainty of location, and means, of an operation means than an enemy cannot prepare for it or react to it adequately. The initial OPSEC failure meant that political success had eluded Gates even before commencement of field operations.

H-hour minus 20 (morning, 18 April 1775): The Reconnaissance and Security Teams.

The morning preceding the planned operation a force of 20 troops (ten officers and ten sergeants) under a major was detailed to deploy from Boston into the countryside immediately west to act as a security screen and reconnaissance element. The group dispersed into small two- to four-man teams along the roads between Boston and Concord, including almost half the force proceeding on to the routes beyond Lexington.The mission of this recon and security element was to cut off communications between the rebel intelligence operations in Boston and their maneuver elements in the countryside, as well as to gather as much information as possible to aid the next day’s mission of apprehending the rebel leaders, particularly Sam Adams and John Hancock.In this mission the element completely failed. As we know, the rebel leadership was already moving underground. The R&S screen was pretty porous; they famously captured Paul Revere but allowed one of his companions to escape and released Revere himself after a time. Even worse, the patrols operated in a highly visible, noticeably unusual way; the officers were in full uniform, they were armed, they were highly indiscreet about their purpose, questioning people they passed, in particular about Hancock and Adams. In particular the teams stayed out in the countryside after nightfall, something no British soldiers that spring had done before. These teams were so disturbingly different that their activities roused the countryside even before word of the coming raid. Worse, sometime before midnight a small group of these R&S troops were surprised by one Josiah Nelson on the road to Concord, attacked and wounded him, and then inexplicably released him, warning him that his house would be burned around his ears if he told anyone of what had happened. Of course within an hour’s time Nelson was on the road raising the country.Failure: By varying from routine, and by failing to operate stealthily, the R&S teams alerted the American militia and the rebel leaders, compromising the security required for the success of the operation.

H-hour (midnight, 19 April, 1775): The Raiding Force Deploys.

LTC Smith led his troops ashore in Cambridge around midnight. The operation went slowly, as the shore was bad ground for landing and the soldiers had to wade in through waist-deep water. The ad-hoc raiding party was already wet and cold and had to stand about an hour or as much as two hours, reorganizing while officers and sergeants distributed rations and extra ammunition, and the gear and unit equipment was unloaded and readied for movement.

At this point Smith should have had no illusions about the stealth of his movement. One of his officers wrote later “…was on our March by one, which was at first through some swamps and slips of the Sea till we got into the Road leading to Lexington soon after which the Country people begun to fire their alarm guns light their Beacons, to raise the Country.” The raid had been detected, and surprise was now lost. More than three hours passed between the landing and Smith acting to replace stealth with violent action.

Failure: Once deception or security has been compromised, speed and decisiveness of action is an essential element of tactical success.

Worsening this pointless delay, the British command knew that the rebels already knew not only the existence of the operation but the objective. After the operations orders meeting the previous evening: “Lord Percy mingled with town folk on Boston Common. According to one account, the discussion among persons there turned to the unusual movement of the British soldiers in the town. When Percy questioned one man further, the man replied, "Well, the regulars will miss their aim", "What aim?" asked Percy, "Why, the cannon at Concord" was the reply. Upon hearing this, Percy quickly returned to Province House and relayed this information to General Gage.” Gage acted to close the land route out of Boston but did not alert the Navy’s vessels in Boston Harbor or inform Smith that his mission had been compromised.

Critical Failure: Once he was informed that the security of the mission and, particularly, the objective, had been compromised, Gage should have known that sending 700 troops unsupported by cavalry or artillery into a hostile country meant that, at the very least, the operation had little or no chance of success at that point. Gage should have either reinforced Smith massively or recalled him.

Marching at three miles an hour, Smith’s little force took four hours to move the eleven or so miles to Lexington. In fact, the grenadiers moved so slowly that at 3am Smith detached Major John Pitcairn of the Marines with six companies of light infantry to jog ahead to Lexington. The light companies arrived some time around 6 am to find 77 men of the Lexington militia “trained band” under Captain John Parker, waiting for them in ranks.

What happened next is still the subject of some dispute. The British light infantry deployed onto Lexington Common in some disarray, some of the companies falling in to the left of the Concord Road, others wheeling right and then facing front. Everyone agrees that the arrival of the regulars was fairly confused; the lights advanced with a shout, one of the British officers (reputedly Pitcarn himself) was roaring for the militia to disperse and lay down their arms, and Parker’s orders to fall out were partially lost in the noise, Parker’s command voice being badly affected by his history of tuberculosis.

At some point someone fired a shot or shots. Several theories have been advanced, including the probability that both sides, and possibly one or more of the onlookers scattered around the Common and in the windows of buildings overlooking the Common, may have fired nearly simultaneously. But what did unequivocally happen at this point is the regulars, in effect, mutinied.Both sides were very clear that no British officer gave the order to shoot. Lieutenant Barker, then the company XO of the Light Company, 4th (King’s Own) Regiment of Foot, wrote later: “…our men without any orders rushed in upon them, fired and put ‘em to flight; several of them were killed…We then formed upon the common but with some difficulty, the men were so wild they could hear no orders...”

This collective indiscipline halted the Smith column for some time. LTC Smith is recorded as having to find a drummer to beat the assembly to pull the lights back from pursuit and even breaking and entering into houses on the Common. More time is spent reorganizing the column, permitting the lights to fire a “victory volley” before the raid can set off again towards Concord.

Failure: Inability to exert command and control and loss of battle discipline contribute to delay in movement and disorganization of troops. Failure to convey to the soldiers the essential elements of information adds to the lack of concentration on the objective.

H-plus 8: Trouble in Concord.

By eight o’clock Smith’s force entered Concord. On the road immediately outside the town, however, the colonel must have gotten an ugly indication of what was coming: a force of some 200 militia from Concord and Lincoln turned up in front of him. Outnumbered, the rebels smartly turned about and marched into town 500 yards in front of his column…but still. Here was a pretty clear sign that the rebels were in arms, in force, and promised to grow stronger as outlying towns’ forces closed in.

At this point, again, Smith probably should have begun to retire. But the mere threat of bands of farmers must have not seemed like enough reason for a professional officer to abandon the mission. Smith proceeded to execute his orders and made a decision no sensible officer would make under normal circumstances: he divided his troops in the presence of the enemy.

Critical Failures: Dispersal of combat strength allows for defeat in detail. Failure to assess the deteriorating tactical situation correctly prevents prompt and decisive action.

Smith’s force, already in danger of being overrun, is divided into even smaller groups for a search mission. The grenadiers (less one company securing the South Bridge high-speed avenue of approach) and three companies of light infantry search the town itself. The remaining seven light companies are detached to search Barrett’s Farm, where intel has placed a large cache of arms. These seven companies are further divided; four march off to the farm itself, two are deployed on high ground en route to secure the road and the last is posted at the North Bridge itself.

Meanwhile, the rebel force had withdrawn to Punkatasset Hill, an eminence north of Concord, where arriving minute companies and militia from Acton and Bedford had swelled the force to some 400. Smoke from the town – indicating that the British regulars were involved in some burning – prompted the American force to move downhill closer to the bridge; as they did so the two light companies guarding the road retired in some confusion across the bridge.The British, ordered into an unfavorable tactical formation by a young captain inexperienced both in action and with the light companies he was leading, fired poorly and were smashed by the return volley. Badly led, under fire for the first time and in a poor tactical position, the regulars fled back down the road to Concord.

Critical Failure: Troops rely on officers’ technical and tactical competence; indications that the leadership lacks these qualities will quickly degrade soldiers’ confidence and will to fight.

As is not uncommon is war, there is now a caesura in the fighting. The Americans seem shocked by their success, retreating to the high ground to the north. LTC Smith arrives with two companies of grenadiers, surveys the battleground and holds the North Bridge long enough for the four companies from Barrett’s Farm to march back across the river and rejoin the main body. The British treat their wounded troops, eat, and organize to move back to Boston.

As a matter of note, they found little war supplies in Concord. Barrett’s was a bust, and other than three 24-pound cannon destroyed the food and shot uncovered in Concord were merely thrown into the town pond to be fished out after the regulars departed.

H-plus 12 to H-plus 14:30: Battle Road 1 - Concord to Lexington

The trouble begins for Smith not long after he leaves the village of Concord. By this time as many as 1,000 colonials have converged on the road between Concord and Lexington. Smith, seeing the crowds closing in, pushes out detachments of light infantrymen onto the high ground to the north overlooking what is now known as Battle Road.These flanking parties keep the American militia off the main body until a narrow defile about a mile east known as Meriam’s Corner. This road junction featured a narrow bridge, which forced the raiding force into a narrow column. As the trail elements of the column crossed the bridge the Reading and Billerica militias fired into them, killing two and wounding several more.The entire retreat from Concord consisted of more of this sort of thing; colonial ambushes in close terrain, ills and defiles, and long-distance shooting where the road opened up. Major attacks occurred at Brooks Hill, “Bloody Angle”, Mason’s (and possibly Nelson’s) farm, “The Bluff” and Fiske Hill, where organized militia and minute companies fought muzzle-to-muzzle with British regular light and grenadier infantry. But even more - hundreds, possibly thousands of bloody little fights took place, like this one near Josiah Nelson’s farmhouse:
“Just east of the pasture where Paul Revere had been captured lay two fields on the northerly side of the road. The first was meadowy and scarred with trenches and rough mounds of grass; the second was strewn with huge bowlders. Hiding in a hole in the first field, William Thorning, one of the Lincoln Minute Men, fired at the Regulars in the road. Their bullets cut up the ground about him. He began to run for the woods behind him, but met a flanking party which had been marching a hundred feet in his rear. They fired but did not hit him. Immediately he dropped down into one of the shallow trenches and lay quiet until the flanking party had passed. When the cross fire ceased, he ran quickly into the rocky field, and took his stand behind the jutting corner of a huge bowlder, which amply protected his body. Levelling his musket on top of the rock, he fired several shots and killed two soldiers. They were buried on a knoll in the orchard across the road, southeast of the Nelson house.”
Try and imagine the confusion and terror of these moments.The American minuteman scrambling for his life under the guns of angry, frightened, exhausted British infantrymen. And then, probably sobbing for breath and red-faced with the rage that comes from a release from fear, shooting down two of those enemies trying to flee down the road from the hungry guns all around them. To both sides, it must sometimes have seemed like a malignant dream…

By the outskirts of Lexington the British force had lost possibly 10 to 20 men and had many wounded. Most of these had happened in ones, threes and sixes rather than in large firefights - the grave sites, scattered all along the road from Concord to Lexington and beyond tell a sorry tale of tactical disintegration and rout. The Smith force, obviously, had no way to transport their wounded other than carrying or a handful of requisitioned carts or horses, so many of the wounded were left to the enemy. Accounts of this retreat emphasize that it was almost a rout; soldiers were shot down in the process of attempting to loot, and supposedly the remaining officers had to threaten their troops outside of Lexington in order to get them to reform. Both LTC Smith and his 2IC, MAJ Pitcairn, were wounded by this time.Interestingly, I don’t see many outright tactical failures here beyond the earlier error in not aborting the mission.

Smith’s flank security parties were a good idea which worked well, when the terrain permitted. The failure along here was simply a failure of 18th Century armies; there was no logistical or medical train. Wounded and dead were left behind. This was not a problem on the nice linear battlefields of the day; your bandsmen and the soldier’s wives came on behind to help them to the rear. But on Battle Road, as MG Braddock had found out years earlier, the physical reality of the American countryside overwhelmed the British military’s lack of support elements. The killing and wounding of officers meant that command and control was breaking down; a critical failing but not a failure per se, simply the fate of an overwhelmed and outnumbered task force.

It’s worth noting that the Americans were NOT sniping with rifles from long range. There were places on the road where American musketeers did shoot “into the brown” and with the number of shots fired some must have hit. A half-inch diameter lead ball carries a long distance even spent; some must have injured or even killed. But its important to remember that this wasn’t Tim Murphy at Bemis Heights. These guys had to dolly in close and unload their muskets from shouting range. As many as 40 Americans were killed, either by British fire or the bayonets of the flanking parties – these guys weren’t snipers. They were irregular grunts fighting regular grunts.

H-plus 14:30 to H-plus 21: Battle Road 2 – Lexington to Cambridge

Here the fighting intensified, as BG Percy’s regular battalions stabilized Smith’s exhausted flank companies but the colonial militia continued to pour in from as far away as Marblehead and Salem. Now under the command of BG Heath, the rebels formed a loose mobile encirclement around the British column as well as attacking from strongpoints such as stone houses and barns. The British troops began to run wild again, as exhaustion and battle madness took over and officers and sergeants were wounded or killed. The road between Menotomy and Cambridge was the bloodiest of the day: the colonists lost 25 men killed and 9 wounded, the British, 40 killed and 80 wounded. Percy managed to extricate the force with tactical acumen and a series of well-thought maneuvers, including a clever side-step at what is now Porter Square in Cambridge, as well as the assistance of the incompetence of one COL Pickering, who halted the Salem and Marblehead militias too far north to engage the British force, which fell back into hasty lines around Charlestown at nearly midnight. Some of the light and grenadier companies had been without sleep for two days and had marched 40 miles in 21 hours, and for 8 hours under fire.Of the skills of his American now-enemies, Lord Percy wrote:
"The rebels attacked us in a very scattered, irregular manner, but with perseverance and resolution, nor did they ever dare to form into any regular body. Indeed, they knew too well what was proper, to do so. Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob, will find himself very much mistaken.”

The Outcome: Tactical American Colonial victory. Provided the impetus for the Second Continental Congress to form a Continental Army and declare war, raising the metaphorical Red Flag of Revolution.

The Impact: It was said of the British Admiral Jellicoe that he could lose the First World War in an afternoon. MG Gage had effectively lost the geopolitical strategy of the North Administration in the course of two days. While it is unlikely that the grievances between the colonials and the mother country could have been resolved easily, the effect of the failed raid was disastrous. In a single day the British government appeared both vicious and incompetent. The bloody day in April ensured that the colonial troublemakers were rebels in arms and the British were counterrevolutionaries and invaders. From here could be no turning back.

So the bottom line would seem to be that - although the break was probably unpreventable by even the most deft political and military leadership - the REALLY critical failures can be assessed against Gage and Dartmouth.

Smith, though an unimaginative commander whose failure to reassess the tactical situation contributed to the scope of his defeat, can be faulted only for his inability to transcend the limitations of his army and his background; the retreat from Concord called for a Rommel or a Xenophon and what the British flank companies had was Francis Smith.

But the North Administration thoroughly underestimated the difficulty of using their conventional forces against a hostile American citizenry, the security of their communications, and the political temper of their own nation and their colonial insurgents. Gage failed to secure his plans, failed to procure accurate intelligence, both political and military, about his enemies, and, particularly, to realize that his raiding force could not accomplish its mission once compromised and recall Smith before the roof fell in.

Touchline Tattles: There a dozens of stories from this day, many gruesome, some stalwart and patriotic, some just sad. I will leave to better authors the rousing adventure tales from that day and, instead, present you with this little vignette from Coburn’s “The Battle of April 19, 1775”:

“Opposite Charlestown Common…on the corner of the road to Penny Ferry which crossed the Mystic River to Everett stood the home of William Barber, sea captain. His family consisted of his wife, Anne Hay, and their thirteen children. One of them, Edward, fourteen years old, sat at the window looking out at the brilliant pageant of soldiers marching in the road. Many of the soldiers must have seen him, as he was not in hiding. One did, in all events, and with that thirst for killing some one, even though but a boy, shot him and saw him fall back into the room dead.”

I keep coming back to the picture of the teenager sitting in the window in the long afternoon light, the battered, angry men in the once-splendid uniforms trudging past, the sudden, shocking sound of the shot and the stunned look on the boy’s face as he topples backwards, the last person to die on a long, long April day.I suspect that somewhere in the Korengal Valley a young man is being buried with that very same look frozen on his dead face. While overhead flies a C-5 carrying the metal box carrying another young man with the tired, dirty face that looks just like one that was tipped into a markerless scrape outside Meriam's Corner more than two hundred years ago.

Weekend Update

Enjoying the sunny weather and getting outside. We had dinner on the deck for the first time last evening, always a promising sign of better weather.

I'm working on our Decisive Battle for April (Concord and the Battle Road, 1775) but here's just some nice pictures of Little Miss's new Dora Shoes:Can you tell they light up? They do, and that's TOTALLY COOL!!More soon.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Green Teabagger

I can't really say more than this sad, sorry picture says.You have to feel for this poor woman, what with Obama and the Godless Lib'ruls coming to tax her millions and...hey, waitaminnit! She doesn't HAVE any millions!

It's tempting to feel sorry for these poor fatheads, the New PeasantryTM, obligingly cringing, knuckling their foreheads and holding the door for the occupants of the GOP Limbaugh Limosine as the latter snigger at the sorry spectacle of a bunch of proles ranting and raving about the idea of taking millions from millionaires to waste paving streets, building armored fighting vehicles and running hospitals. But, like giving five bucks to a panhandling drunk, it's not a good idea. It just encourages the dumb bastards to drink more and harder. They need to straighten up and get a good job.


Wonkette, not surprisingly, has more.

That would be sad if it wasn't so funny. Or maybe it'd be funny if it wasn't so sad. Or something. I dunno.

Oh, yes, wait, I can say something more.In our house we have a hard-and-fast rule: NO teabagging without pants AND underpants.


A Fool Lies Here

[Al-Hayat]: If you want to describe George Bush, then how would you describe him?

[Chalabi]: A man with very little skill and knowledge.[Al-Hayat]: He did Iran a great service by toppling Saddam?

[Chalabi]: Iran benefited from toppling Saddam. Bush didn't mean to do it a favor but it was clear that Iran would benefit from Saddam's fall. I am convinced that Saddam would not have fallen except for an implicit agreement between America and Iran.

[Al-Hayat]: This happened?

[Chalabi]: Yes, of course it did.

[Al-Hayat]: Through whom?

[Chalabi]: We worked on this and so did the Supreme Council and Jalal Talbani.

Now it is not good for the Christian's health
To hustle the Aryan brown,
For the Christian riles and the Aryan smiles,
And it weareth the Christian down.
And the end of the fight
Is a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased
And the epitaph drear: "A fool lies here
who tried to hustle the East."

R. Kipling"It may be true that you can't fool all the people all the time, but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country."

Will Durant

No, no podemos

I see with weary derision that the push to name a street, ANY street, after Cesar Chavez has returned, like the swallows and the tulips, to Portland.Again we're hearing how ANYthing but a street is an insult to Hispanic Americans in general and Chavez in particular.

Again, everyone is desperately dancing around the subject of why all the white people (i.e. 80% of Portland) aren't all excited about this so as not to appear a racist prick.

I AM a racist prick, so I'll just come right out and say it.

I see no particular reason to name a Portland street after Chavez. He has no particular resonance with me as a national hero - I'm not Hispanic and I'm not a farmworker - and he has no real connection with Portland or Oregon other than the fact that our farmworkers benefitted from his activism.

I would add that in my opinion this is NOT the same thing as naming a street after Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks. Both of those civil rights activists were fighting for civil rights; the right of every American, regardless of race, or beliefs, or gender, or origin, to share in the liberties and responsibilities that we believe make this nation unique.Cesar Chavez was a lovely man. He struggled valiantly to improve the lot of Hispanic farm workers in particular, and Hispanic-Americans in general (to a somewhat lesser degree) through unionization and education. But for the most part his struggle was limited to that: Hispanic farm workers. Period.

For a Hispanic-American to revere the man and wish to honor him is laudible and understandible.

For an Anglo like me...why? What did Cesar Chavez fight for that should resonate with me? Why should I want to name a street after him and not, say, Sergeant Jose Lopez or Staff Sergeant Roy Benavidez?

You want me to join in honoring a Hispanic American?

Tell me that we should rename 39th Avenue "Staff Sergeant Roy Benavidez Avenue".

Tell me that we should honor a Hispanic-American who struggled and sacrificed - almost sacrificed his life, not for lack of trying - for all of us as a volunteer three times over, as a soldier, as a paratrooper and as a Special Forces NCO.

Or, if you feel skeetchy about the ethics of the Vietnam War, pick Joe Lopez. Hell of a man, helped defeat the Evil Nazis, tough stud of the Tomahawks, the 23rd U.S. Infantry. I'd be proud to drive my clapped-out old Ford Ranger down a street named after SGT Lopez.

Don't take it the wrong way, Cesar. But you gotta understand - there's things a guy just feels strongly about. And one of them is that you gotta stick to your homeboys, the guys who have your back, your pals. ¿Ese, vato? Even if one of them DID wear the Gaggin' Dragon back in the day...

¿Nombre una calle después de uno des sargentos?

Si, se puede.