Sunday, May 30, 2010

Were you born in a barn?

Janus was the god of doors.

The two-faced deity was also the god of endings and beginnings, and in the later Republic assumed the role of the overseer of war and peace.Plutarch of Chaeronea (c. 2nd Cent. AD) wrote:
"Janus also has a temple at Rome with double doors, which they call the gates of war; for the temple always stands open in time of war, but is closed when peace has come. The latter was a difficult matter, and it rarely happened, since the realm was always engaged in some war, as its increasing size brought it into collision with the barbarous nations which encompassed it round about. But in the time of Augustus it was closed, after he had overthrown Mark Antony; and before that, when Marcus Atilius and Titus Manlius were consuls, it was closed a short time; then war broke out again at once, and it was opened."
Virgil explains the meaning of the ritual closing of the gates:
The terrible iron-constricted Gates of War shall shut; and safe within them shall stay the godless and ghastly Lust of Blood, propped on his pitiless piled armory, and still roaring from gory mouth, but held fast by a hundred chains of bronze knotted behind his back.
[Aeneid, 1.293-296]
In other words: the gates were closed to keep War in.

I know that Memorial Day is supposed to be a "holiday" for "honoring" and recalling our war dead. But, frankly, the dead are dead. As a society the 21st Century United States doesn't do honor or remembrance particularly well. We're not, by and large, a retrospective - or introspective - people. Our fear of death largely prevents us from doing much real thinking about the dead as they are, instead of the fictions and romances we tell ourselves about them.So I find that most Memorial Day "memorial" ceremonies - those not simply an honest excuse to cookout and take a day off work - are poorly-disguised flag-waving exercises, where the zombie dead of past glorious wars are invoked to bless the warfighting of their descendants.The United States has never been a particularly peaceful nation. We have sent our people out to kill and die for us in foreign lands since we tried to invade Canada during the Revolution. As we are now. And just as with our dead, we do little introspection, or rumination, about the whys, the hows, the what-now, and the what-comes-after.

We're perfectly happy to pass by the open doors of the Temple of Janus.

Every year on Memorial Day I post this. But this year I'm tired of repeating what most of us here know and what most of those around us neither know nor care. Instead I humbly suggest that we let the dead bury their dead. And think of the living, and the decisions we make for them and to them.

For through those open doors will walk the dead men we'll "honor" the next last Monday in May, and left outside those doors will be the living bereft to whom they will not return.Whenever I used to walk past the open door my father would bark at me "Close the damn door! Were you born in a barn?"

My father would know what to do about the Temple of Janus.

Dumping on the intel

Scott Horton on the Gitmo task force report. I noted this because an old associate of ours is mentioned:
"The Obama Administration came to Washington promising to clean up the Bush-era detentions policy and make it conform to the clear requirements of law. Then it seems to have decided that the law wasn’t so convenient and that simply providing for unbridled executive authority à la Bush-Cheney wasn’t such a bad idea after all. In terms of Washington power politics, that decision seems to have taken the form of letting Robert Gates make the call on all these issues. The two figures in the Administration who took the most credible stance for implementing the Obama campaign-era promises on detentions policy -- Greg Craig and Phil Carter -- resigned within a few weeks of one another, offering no believable reasons for departing. Then press reports began to appear about secret prisons, operated by JSOC and DIA and applying rules different from those applied in the "normal" DOD prisons, including plenty of torture-lite techniques under Appendix M of the Army Field Manual"
I am hardly sentimental about most of the people we have swept up in these illegal rattissages. They are unlikely to have loved us before they were imprisoned and, probably, tortured, and they are even less likely to let us alone now.But this isn't about them. This is about us, and who we are, and who we want to be. We started by warring on nations that did not attack us. We proceeded from there to violate the spirit of our national charter, which explicitly forbids bills of attainder, imprisonment without cause, and torture. We have now arrived at a place where the Chief Bobo - the mere "executive" who is supposed to do nothing more than enforce the will of the People in Congress has issued orders to murder U.S. citizens.

And the nation's response? Either approval or unconcern.

We had this discussion so many times over at the old Intel Dump. Five, six, seven years have passed, and...what? The people who worried more about our national character, about the rule of law, about the fact that whilst our enemies have no capability to destroy us we can do just that without so much as a pistol shot fired are gone, and those who see no issue with donning the morals and methods of the secret prison and the legalized assassination are still in charge.

At the old Dump even those of us who felt that there WAS a good fight to fight in central Asia pretty much agreed that the whole "why do they hate us"? question was a no-brainer. They hate us when we lie about our means and methods, they hate us when we callously violate the principles we vaunt, they hate us when we murder and kidnap and imprison without evidence or trial. All the intel we have from the places we're fighting in confirm these things. They don't hate us for our "freedoms". They don't hate us for who we are. They hate us for what we do, and this is one of the most hateful.So have good intel but we prefer to dump all over it like incontinent poodles. We know better and yet we do it anyway. We have better ways and we choose to do the worse. We have the means and methods to be smarter and yet we deliberately choose to be fools. It's worse than a crime; it's a mistake, a huge, inescapable political and foreign policy mistake, and in it we are digging our own political graves, and the People seem to see nothing but a bed of flowers.


(h/t to Glenn Greenwald)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Master of Worlds

Most of you probably know that through my son I have been immersed in the world of George Lucas' "Star Wars" for the past year or so.C'mon. It's not as bad as that.

All right, yes, yes, George Lucas is a terrible writer; his dialogue makes you want to claw off your cranium fins to break your eardrums so as never to have to hear Hayden Christensen say "I don't like sand" ever again. Because with six, or seven, you don't get to see "Attack of the Clones" once. You see it, or parts of it (the Boy has mercifully begun letting me fast forward through both the love scenes and the endless exposition) six or eight of fifteen times a year.

And yes, I know he'll grow out of it. But for now...that a hell of a lot of fecking George Lucas.

Here's the thing; I really do enjoy a lot of genre fiction. I've had enough of sorrow and trouble in life. When I read for relaxation I don't want to read about trouble, loss and sorrow. I don't want to learn how the characters grow to realization through hardship. I don't really want to read Faukner's tortured Southern mannikins, Updike's Topsider angst, hardship in salt mines or anguish in unhappy marriages.

I 'd prefer to explore unknown planets, enjoy Jeeves' imperturbably masterful service, deplore Flashman's roguish tricks. If I want to watch a movie I'd prefer to spend my time with Sugarpuss O'Shea or Buckaroo Banzai.

And, yes, ride into battle in a Republic gunship. It's not that the idea of the Star Wars franchise is so apalling. It's the execution. If only...if only...If only Mister Lucas was just plain better at what he does. From a fairly early age my conviction has been that to be considered a genuinely decent science fiction author you need three fundamental skills:

1. You need to be able to create a plausible, interesting "universe" for your story and characters to act in.This can be anything from a minor variation on our modern world, some re-created ancient time, or some wild speculative "galaxy far, far away". But it needs to be funtional and realistic enough - and interesting enough - to make the reader want to learn more about it and enjoy reading tales set in it. It should markedly enhance the other two elements of the work, which are;

2. You need to be able to construct a plot that engages the reader and works with the characters, at best, from the characters, their individual desires, wants, and needs, and that works naturally from the framework of the universe you've created and the characters you set into it. And,

3. You need to be able to create interesting, memorable characters that the reader can both find credible and interesting, and then write well enough to make all the three elements above work together in an entertaining fashion.

You don't have to make your universe appealing, your plot heartwarming, or your characters endearing. S.M. Stirling has made a good living about writing about fairly loathsome characters having a hell of a bad time in rather wretched worlds - the man can still write a cracking good story. Ban O'Bannon and Ridley Scott produced one of the most memorable horrific films ever set in space, and James Cameron followed it with an unrelentingly gruesome sequel; both are almost hypnotically watchable.

Lucas' universe-creation skills are off the charts. I can still remember my reaction to the opening shot of the original Star Wars; Princess Leia's ship flies over your head fleeing the "ray-gun" shots and you settle in for a typical space opera. And then the arrowhead tip of the Imperial Star Destroyer enters from the top of the screen. It broadens, showing you the incredible detail of the model-maker's art the ILM people always displayed. And it broadens...and broadens...and you are knocked back in your seat, thinking "Holy...leaping...fuck...that thing is...HUGE!"I was already 20 when "Star Wars" opened in 1977; too old to be really caught up in the whole action-figure-lunchbox-videogame magic of the thing. Being a somewhat literary and cinephilic child I had already encountered many of the themes that George dragged into his great space opera. I knew the trope of the second act, the hero at his or her lowest point, so I was neither shocked nor distraught when Darth Vader huffs "No...I am your father." It was thumping good fun, Darth is a terrific bad guy, the entire "Star Wars" universe is convincing and entertaining, and I was able to ignore the plot holes and cheesy dialogue as part of the whole franchise, the inevitable butter on the genre movie popcorn.

But the one thing I gave the man his props for then, and still do now, is his creation of the setting that he and others have expanded into the richly detailed universes of the Old Republic, the Empire, Rebellion and the post-Imperial "Legacy". Everything from his insistence in the scuffed, workaday appearance of his sets to the diversity of the characters moving through them makes Lucas one of the real masters of the creation of worlds. The incredible vitality of the works that have sprung out of his vision, everything from books to movies to comics to games to silly YouTube parodies to the damn Wookiepedia are a testimony to the man's range of vision and the richness of his imagination.Just as an example; if you have a moment you want to fill with some entertaining mind-candy, try Karen Traviss' "Republic Commando" series. Yes, it's a spinoff of a fucking videogame of a kid's scifi movie. Doesn't matter; good writing is good writing, and the author knows soldiers and how they think and act. They're damn good books.But, damn, George...your writing sure sucks pipe. Your characters talk like they are all emotionally eleven, your plots creak and gape, and you are at the same time callous - slaughtering countless of your characters for nothing more than pure spectacle - and twee; the fucking Ewoks should have told us to expect something like goddam Jar Jar or worse back in the Eighties.

How could you fuck this up so badly? I mean, just to take an example could you create a more dramatic moral dilemma in science fiction; a supposed Republic whose police arm is a semimonastic Order of spiritual religious magic users enters its final crisis by creating and employing an army of slaves bred to die in battle? The question of the Jedi - Lucas' identified heroes and the intended paragons of his movies - accepting and leading these men who have no voice or choice in their fates (and being Lucas his idea of tactics are "stand up and shoot until you die or there's nobody left shooting at you..." - drives me fucking nuts, the guy) And yet never, not once, does one of your characters; Yoda, Obi-Wan, any of the "Clone Wars" savants, stop and muse "I wonder if we're doing the right thing here..?"I'll be the first one to say it - I have a thing about the clones, being a sort of retired clone trooper myself, but don't have to be Feodor Fucking Dostoyevsky to see the moral gray area here, George! But you're too busy writing a fifth-grade romance for your couples where "I don't like sand" is considered a prelude to pillow talk. Shitfire, George!

And it's just me, but perhaps the thing that bugged me the most and still does, is that you had a timeless, classic story and between crappy writing and piss-poor storytelling you managed to completely fuck it up. We didn't get it, back in 1977, that the story we were seeing wasn't the beginning of the coming-of-age hero tale of Luke Skywalker but the middle of the grand fall-and-redemption tragedy of Anakin Skywalker. That we weren't watching young King Arthur or the Dambusters or Kurosaqa's "Hidden Fortress" but The Tragedy of Othellowith Ian McDiarmid as Iago.Othello; how the hell could you fuck that up, George?Sheesh.

Mir'osik di'kut...

Decisive Battles: Auldearn 1645

Auldearn Date: 9 MAY 1645Forces Engaged: Government of Scotland ("Covenanters") - about 1,700 regular infantry in five units: part of Buchanan's regiment and the regiments of the Lord Chancellor's, Campbell of Lawer's, Lothian's and Findlater's. Roughly 1,300 local levies in three units; Seaforth's and Sutherland's regiments and some sort of outfit only referred to as the "northern levies", probably Highland clan wild men. About 300 cavalry in three units, one of them (Campbell of Lawer's Horse) fielding 30 troopers or less. No artillery.So, approximately 3,000 horse and foot under MG Sir John Hurry.
Before We Go On - A Note About 17th Century Infantry: Although dimly remembered now if at all, the late 16th to mid 17th Centuries were the heyday of the "pike-and-shot" period.

The invention of hand-held gunpowder projectile weapons goes well back to the late medieval period. The arquebus, really just a sort of improved hand-cannon with a matchlock, was being used in maneuver warfare by the early 1400s. Like most other early gunpowder weapons, the matchlock arquebus was less accurate than a longbow and didn't hit as hard at a distance as a crossbow, but had a faster rate of fire than the most powerful crossbow, was easier to learn to shoot than a longbow, and was more powerful at close range than either.

This matchlock weapon had a whole laundry list of drawbacks. They were inaccurate, noisy, prone to misfires in the damp or wind (which might blow the match out!). They generated dense clouds of smoke and deafened the firer, both making command and control a nightmare for pike-and-shot unit officers. But the worst part was that they were hellaciously slow to reload. Slow, slow, slow. And the trick to fitting a blade on a musket was waiting for the 1670's when first the plug bayonet and, nearly immediately afterwards the socket bayonet of the 1690s, gave the musketeer a way to defend himself while reloading.

Musket fighting in 1645 was in that tricky stage where the technology was mature enough that nobody really wanted to go back to the bow. But there were still a lot of bugs in the business, and the musket-firing infantryman was not yet the lord of the battlefield he would become sixty years later. He still needed help to stay alive. He found it in a very old military technology; the pike.

Beginning with the Spanish tercios of the 16th Century the footsoldier in Europe reorganized around a central block of pike-armed infantry (who typically retained some of the armor of their medieval predecessors; a helmet, breastplate or breast-and-back and tassets over a "buffcoat" of thick leather. This central pike phalanx could act as a moving redoubt for the musketeers to hide in or behind when cavalry threatened, or could roll over lightly-armed infantry and engage similar pike formations in "push-of-pike" melees that the musketeers lacked the brute force to win. Typically the ratio of pikemen to musketeers in the 1640s was about 2-3, well up from the 1-1 of the early tercios but far from the all-musket-armed foot regiments of 1700.

So the infantry units that met at Auldearn were a strange mess, caught in amber between now and then; part medieval pikeman, part modern bullet-firing infantryman.
Royalists - 1,440 infantry in three main units (the Irish mercenary regiment, and two Gordon regiments; Moneymore's and the Strathbogie Regiment) and a small troop of mixed Irish mercenaries and Highland clansmen (MacColla's Lifeguard). Somewhere between 400 and 600 cavalry - the "Gordon Horse" had just defected from the Government and the estimates of their strength range from Reid's frankly improbable 600 to a more likely two-thirds of that. No artillery.Approximately 2,000 horse and foot under LTG James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose, and MG Alasdair "The Devastator" MacDonald, "MacColkitto" a.k.a. "MacColla"

The Sources:The Royalist version of events has always been supported by work published in 1647 by George Wishart, Montrose's chaplain, general dogsbody, and all-round enthusiastic lickspittle. The original Latin account, splendidly titled "I. G. De Rebus Auspiciis Serenissimi & Potentissimi Caroli Dei Gratiâ, Magnae Britanniae, Franciae & Hiberniae Regis, &c. Sub imperio illustrissimi Jacobi Montisrosarum Marchionis, Cometis de Kincardin, &c. Supremi Scotiae Gubernatoris, Anno CICICCXLIV, & duobus sequentibus, praeclare gestis, Commentarius.Interprete A. S. Anno Domini CICICCXLVII" was expanded and reprinted several times after Montrose's death. Finally the work was translated into English in 1819 as "Memoirs of the most renowned James Graham, marquis of Montrose".

Whatever the title, Wishart was no soldier and thus an unreliable observer of battles, and his admiration for the Marquis makes him an unreliable reporter of matters not reflecting well on his master. The work must be taken with care where issues of that sort arise which, as we will see, happens quite a bit on the 9th of May, 1645.

One Patrick Gordon of Ruthven is supposed to have written a valuable account of the Civil War in Scotland from the Royalist side of the hill entitled "A short abridgement of Britaine’s distemper, 1639-49". This document is cited in Reid (2003) as "the best (Royalist) account" of Auldearn and is noted in the British Battlefields Trust report as "...giv(ing) a detailed royalist report".

The provenance of this manuscript is more than a little perplexing. The first reference I can find for it occurs in a footnote in a volume entitled "Montrose and Covenanters: their characters and conduct" by one Mark Napier, Advocate, published in London in 1838. In his this work Napier introduces Gordon's account as "also unprinted, being a transcript of a Patrick Gordon (a son of Gordon of Cluny) who was admitted a burgess of Aberdeen March 23, 1608." In his endnotes, Napier says of this manuscript "I have not been able to discover that either the original or a transcript is known to exist", therefore citing essential the extracts he encountered in the journal of one James Man, identified as the "Straloch's Manuscript" then in the Advocate's Library in London.

Napier appears to have been misled or a poor researcher, however, for six years later the Spaulding Club of Aberdeen published "A short abridgement of Britane’s distemper : from the yeare of God M.DC.XXXIX. to M.DC.XLIX", John Dunn, ed., Spaulding Club (Series); 10. This MS appears to be the best Royalist eyewitness account of the battle.

Another single MS provides the account from the Government side: James Fraser's "Polichronicon seu policratica temporum, or, The true genealogy of the Frasers" This manuscript, held in Master Fraser's Parish of Wardlaw (now Kirkhill), Inverness, where this worthy was the minister of the kirk was edited by one William MacKay and printed at the Scottish History Society in 1905.

As always, Stuart Reid's 2003 Osprey campaign volume "Auldearn, 1645 : the Marquis of Montrose’s Scottish campaign" is a valuable resource. The Wiki entry is as bad as Wikipedia gets: disorganized, sparse, unreferenced, and factually wrong in several places.

Update 8/2011 - And I was sadly remiss earlier for not giving credit and drawing your attention to an excellent on-line source for the engagement that provided a number of hard-to-find images; "Project Aldearn 1645" is both a terrific reference for the battle itself as well as a nice forum for ECW gaming. Sorry, Rank, I didn't credit you initially and then forgot until you reminded me; I apologize and hope goes some little way in making amends.

The Origins and Setting for the Campaign: Whenever attempting to determine the cause of some obvious fucktardry at work in England or Scotland during the 17th and 18th Centuries the most likely suspects will be religion, a Stuart, or both.

The Auldearn campaign leads back to both.

The "First" English Civil War is too broad a topic to address here, but let's summarize it, at least, for the casual fan.

First, it wasn't all just Stuarts and religion; the war came about partly because of a series of big changes in the society of 17th Century England.

Until then, see, it was the nobles on top, the great lords, descendants of the thugs who had hacked their way to the top with swords. But by the middle 1650's most of the real wealth and economic power had migrated down to a group of commercial and newly-landowning newcomers - the gentry.

They were a genuine social irruption, these people; the squires, smallholders, and bourgeousie who had purchased a lot of the monastic lands as well as begun to profit from industry, unlike the nobility who generally despised "mechanics".Then there was religion. Part of it was the usual 17th Century Catholic-versus-Protestant. But England was unique, a place where the Tudors had tried to make themselves unCatholic without becoming really Protestant. But as rebels have found since Cain, it's nearly impossible to be a little bit pregnant or a little bit heretic.

The break with Rome generated its own momentum, and by the early 1600s a group of Anglicans were demanding not just disowning the Pope but shedding the old forms of worship and geegaws such as vestments and high churchmen. Many of the gentry were also sympathetic to these Puritans. The Scots, meanwhile, had gone in large measure for the Calvinism they called "presbyterian", and were in no mood to accept a return of the Roman Church or, and being Scots this might have well been more important, the return of Church lands and wealth (which they knew well would not be paid for...)

Of course, the ECW like most wars wasn't just the head-on collision of immense, societal forces. These forces affected, and were shaped by, individuals. And the forces interacted with the abilities - or lack of them - of these individuals.

In the case of the ECW, three critical individuals were Elizabeth Tudor and her successors, James Stuart and his son Charles.

Elizabeth, who died in 1603, had been, as the Scots would say, a canny Queen and a canny master. She chose her advisers well, ruled cautiously, and played the internal and external power games shrewdly. She especially refused to act decisively against those Catholics remaining in England. Her cunning helped tame the nobility, which no longer had any real military role to play, and whose ire was rising as they watched the House of Commons authority rivaling House of Lords in Parliament whilst they lost out to the gentry.

Elizabeth had refused to enact the anti-Catholic and anti-high-church reforms the Puritans demanded, but with her usual adroit sense of political realty had prevented an open breach with the reformers.

James Stuart, who succeeded after the childless Elizabeth's death in 1603, was not nearly as capable. In fact, James was worse than the usual feckless Stuart. His youth and upbringing couldn't have been worse, having been spent in a Scottish court nearly as grandiose and self-important as the Bourbon. He was greedy and spendthrift, and a vigorous believer in the divine right of kings. In 1609, James claimed to rule by divine right and by 1611 prorogued Parliament and ruled by fiat until 1621.

James' son Charles was actually a fairly competent man outside the usual Stuart prediliction for befriending and empowering gomers, dorks and losers. He is described as "...personable and dignified, temperate and level headed". He stood against the Spanish, which endeared him to the commons, and his government which was generally benevolent and efficient. But.

He had a French wife, and her, and his, favoritism towards their cronies was not helpful. He was violently Catholic and anti-Puritan. He was a fairly rotten administrator, and he was worse with money than his father.

Even a masterful statesman might not have been able to avoid the coming clash between Anglican Puritan and remnant Catholic; in that sense the ECW was a part of the terrible Wars of Religion that harrowed Europe during the 17th Century. But the clash was also between nobleman and gentleman, between Royalist and Parlimentarian. Like so many other wars, many of those Englishmen and Scots caught up in them must have felt that what was happening was just inescapable.The first shots of the war were fired, oddly enough, in Scotland. Charles wanted to suppress the Calvinism in the Church of Scotland. This "Bishop's War" was a bit of a farce, with neither army really wanting to get killed for a prayerbook, and the real effect was that 1) the Scots signed something called the "National Covenant" (a frankly nasty bit of anti-Catholic hate which demanded complete rejection of any non-Calvinist doctrine - it's worth recalling that the Covenanters are today sometimes known as the "Taliban of Scotland"), and 2) Charles needed to recall a Parliament (after eleven years, remember?) to raise money.

But this Parliament - called the "Long Parliament" - wasn't nearly as interested in funding royal sectarian wars as discussing Charles' regal pretensions. It revoked his assumed dictatorial powers, required that Parliament be called no more than three years apart, dismantled the "Star Chamber", the secret court the Stuart kings had used to deal with their political enemies, and condemned and executed two of Charles' closest cronies.Meanwhile things in Ireland were going to hell, as usual, with a revolt in the spring of 1641. With emotions running high the anti-royalists in Parliament started muttering darkly about Charles throwing in with the Irish Catholic terrorists until in January of 1642 the king tried to arrest his five sternest enemies in Parliament on the suspicion they were planning to impeach and arrest his Queen for complicity in Irish and Catholic plots. His move failed, and Charles fled London for Oxford where the war officially began in August.

The summer and autumn of 1642 and the spring and summer of 1643 went well for the Royalists. His nobles were rump-full of military tradition if not actual skill, and he was gifted as a relative with Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine and one of the 17th Century's better commanders.

(This lady has absolutely nothing to do with Auldearn or the Civil War or much of anything except being Rupert's mistress, Peg Hughes. But this is a long, gory tale, she's delightful, and it's really just time for something purely lovely, isn't it? I suspect that she was the Hubba-hubba Girl of 1653)

The Royalists won several tactical victories, at Adwalton Moor, Landsdown, and their smashing of Waller's forces at Roundway Down led to the fall of Bristol to the Royal standard. The high summer of 1643 was the highstand of the Royal cause.But the Parliament controlled the Navy, and had both men and material advantage over the Royalists. And with soldiers like Cromwell emerging from the foundry of war the effect of Rupert's skills was beginning to dull. But critically Parliament made alliance with the government of Scotland.

The Scots wanted help against possible royalist importation of Irish troops to assist the catholic clans; the English wanted the disciplined Covenanter troops to overbear the Royalist field army. So in August of 1643 the Parliament and the Scottish Convention of Estates signed an agreement to...well, we should quote it here in full, to get the idea of how the people involved thought about their war.

According to the "Solemn League and Covenant", the two governments agreed to combine for
"the preservation of the reformed religion in the Church of Scotland...the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland...the extirpation of Popery, prelacy (that is, Church government by Archbishops, Bishops, their Chancellors and Commissaries, Deans, Deans and Chapters, Archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical officers depending on that hierarchy), superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found to be contrary to sound doctrine and the power of preserve the rights and privileges of the Parliaments, and the liberties of the kingdoms, and to preserve and defend the King's Majesty's person and authority"
Whew.Anyway, the pact of steel was made, and in January 1644 the Scots Covenanter Army marched across the border into England.

Charles needed someone to get the damn Scottish off his royal ass, and he called on a man who may have been one of the oddest, most militarily gifted, and most unlucky commander in the history of that land that has birthed so many gifted in the art of violent death, James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose.

Chief of the Grahams of Perthshire, soldier and poet, Montrose's military career in Scotland started on the other side; he fought for the Covenanter government in the "Bishop's Wars". He had signed the National Covenant and was involved in suppressing anti-Covenant Scots in Aberdeen and in western Scotland in the Clan Gordon lands. He fought and beat the Royalist army at the "Brig o' Dee".

Montrose's problem was that he thought about religion like a 20th Century man in the 17th Century. He wanted to get rid of the Episcopal bishops' authority in Scotland without making the Calvinist presbyters masters of the place - i.e. the clergy should friggin' well render unto God that which was God's and the king should worry about Caesar.His nemesis in the Convention of Estates was Archie Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll, who, like any smart politician rode the biggest wave - in his case the Presbyterian Talibs and their middle-class mujeheddin. Montrose, on the other hand, tried to offer his separation-of-church-and-state fluffy bunny hugs and failed because Charles, being a fucking pigheaded Stuart, wouldn't give him the bishops. If Henri IV could conclude that Paris was worth a Mass (or maybe not...) Charles was the sort of principled idiot who would have lost a kingdom rather than give one up.

Come to think of it...he did.

Anyway, in 1649 Montrose was still fighting for the Scottish government, forcing of the Tyne at Newburn. But on 27 May 1641 the Committee of Estates charged him with intrigues for King Charles and against Argyll, and he was imprisoned, then amnestied with other Royalists, then...he was offered command of the force sent south to the aid of Parliament in 1644!

Now a confirmed Royalist, however, Montrose headed south of Oxford, where he was roped into a scheme to pry the Scots Army out of England. The plan was that Montrose would lead a group of Scots and English troops into Scotland from the south in the early Spring of 1644 whilst the Gordons rose in the Scottish northeast and a Royalist force of Irish troops landed in the west. The theory was that this assault would set the Estates to screaming for their soldiers and the Covenant Army would be recalled to the north.

This plan fell apart almost comically, with the Gordons rising and getting hammered - their chief never forgave either Montrose or the King - because Montrose was quickly beaten back into the north of England and the Irish never arrived.So it was almost pure serendipity that Montrose, wandering almost alone in August, 1644 near the town of Blair, encountered Alasdair MacColla, who had finally landed in June with less than 2,000 Irish mercenaries and who was dragging this little force and 500 unhappy levied Scottish troops one step ahead of the Government's pursuit.

The two met and set about to accomplish their king's plan.

The Campaign: From Blair, the Royalist force moved south towards Perth, where Montrose's force defeated a Covenanter force at Tibbermore (or Tippermuir) in early September. Turning from another Covenanter force assembling near Stirling, the Royalists were unable to take Dundee by coup de main and turned north to Aberdeen, where they defeated another Government force (which outnumbered the Royalists by about half) and rather messily sacked Aberdeen, doing nothing to endear their cause to the locals. The Royalists spend most of October rummaging around Aberdeenshire; pursued by government troops Montrose was still able to raise some of the Gordons but was attacked and fought to a draw near Fyvie late in the month.The royalist force spent the winter of 1644-1645 in Argyllshire, bitchslapping the Campbells for being government stooges. This would probably have been MacColla's idea - his loyalty to the royal cause was pretty heavily compromised by his own ambitions, which were to destroy his clan rivals the Campbells and control the Gordon lands. By spring the Royal army (a pretty grandiose term for about 2,000 men)
was assailing Dundee, having casually butchered quite a few of the Campbells at Inverlochy in February, and in turn being driven off by the Covenanter relief force under MG Baillie.

Montrose's force now turned north, back towards the Gordon clan lands, leaving the Aberdeen area in early April, moving south almost as far as Stirling before turning north again in late April to deal with Covenanter forces under Hurry who were moving north and west through the Gordons from Aberdeen towards Inverness. Montrose, MacColla and The Gordon agreed that they needed to do something about this; the Royalist force caught up with Huntly in early May, 1645, and the Covenanter commander then conducted a slow withdrawal under pressure towards Inverness.

Hurry knew - and Montrose, with his typical slipshod intelligence, didn't - that the government garrison of Inverness and Seaforth's northern levies were moving east to link up with him. Luck, and poor Royalist fieldcraft, allowed him to break contact on the afternoon of 7 MAY, and contact his reinforcements. The Royalists had taken shelter around the village of Aulderan against a nasty, wet evening on 8 MAY and so were not expecting anything from their enemies. The royal forces were said to have been camped "commodiously" around Auldearn, suggesting that units had split into squads and teams to find barns, byres and cottages to sleep in.The village of Auldearn itself seems to have been quartered only by MacColla's Gordon lifeguards and another Gordon unit, the green Moneymore's. Montrose claims to have set a "strong watch or picquet together with sentries on all quarters", but does not seem to have bothered to put an officer or good sergeant in charge, as the sentries seem to have ducked out of the rainy night into Auldearn village where a mere half-dozen or so were roused just before daylight by MacColla, who kicked their asses down the road to Inverness, telling them to go find out what the hell was out there.

They found out in a thunder of Covenant muskets firing. Hurry, who had linked up with the separate elements earlier the preceding day and had marched hard to get back to the Royalist camp to destroy Montrose's scattered force, had been worried about the rain and the charges in his men's muskets. Rather than take the time to draw the rounds he faced the units left, marched down to Nairn Water and fired.

The Engagement:No doubt there were some soiled breeks on the road to Inverness in the pre-dawn thunder. The sentries scampered back to Auldern to inform MacColla that Scotland's Taliban were upon them.MacColla has been run down by Montrose's partisans beginning with Wishram as a sort of dumb side of Scottish mutton, but he earned his C-rations that morning and seems to have been a damn competent commander. He got his priorities in order; he informed his higher (Montrose) of the situation, his intent, and then formed his small force on the nearest key terrain; a small hill southwest of Auldearn village known as Garlic Hill.Hurry's troops, forming up in the fields to the south and west came on steadily and the Lifeguards and Moneymore's had to fight hard to keep from being overrun. They had a strong position and benefited from Hurry's decisions to attack with only one regiment up front and not to attempt to turn the flanks of the Royalist delaying force.

But the weight of shot couldn't help but be effective, and MacColla's force slowly fell back into Auldearn village itself.

The ground between Auldearn and Garlic Hill made this a successful maneuver, since the village sits on a fairly steep bench above a rather boggy and nasty little burn. Tucked into the kitchen gardens and backlots of Auldearn the Lifeguards could make good play on Campbell of Lawer's men in the burn below, while to the north on "Castle Hill" Moneymore's could put a vicious oblique fire down onto the struggling Campbells.At this point, with the enemy attack halted, sound tactics call for a counterattack and that is what MacColla did. His troops swept down out of the village, the Gordons swung around from the north side of Garlic Hill, and the chroniclers say that the Royalist soldiers got back up the near side of Garlic Hill, with Lawer's unit retreating to the top.

Here the battle halted again, with the probably increasingly exhausted survivors of the morning's firefight coming to dirk- and musket-butt-range. Another fight, this time probably less lengthy than the first, passed over the slope of Garlic Hill. MacColla's Highlanders and Irish mercs fell back into Auldearn, and the Gordons to Castle Hill as Campbell of Lawer's men came on again down into the mire and blood of the burn and up the steep little slope to crash into the houses of the village itself.A bitter fight for the small Scottish village then began in a flurry of claustrophobic panic and rage familiar to more recent veterans of Metz, Hue, Chechnaya, and Fallujah. Supposedly MacColla was speared by several Campbells only to catch the points on his targe shield and armored vest; the Covenanters fought their way in hard, killing and being killed by gunshots at the distance of lovers' confidences, short-gripped pikes gutting men who died screaming or sobbing, clubbed muskets smashing in skulls, and the butcher-shop sounds of sword and dirk cleaving human meat.

It must have been as fucking miserable as it always is.

By noon, or shortly after noon the Royalist center must have been mere moments from collapse. The Moneymore regiment clung to Castle Hill but must have been out or nearly out of ammunition. MacColla's Lifeguard was being driven out of the village. Hurry's regiments, stacked up on Garlic Hill, must have pressed forward at the feel of movement at the back of the Campbells in front of them, sensing the victory.

And then the first Gordon cavalryman cantered out of the darkness under the trees at the south end of Auldearn village.

Montrose's dispatch tries to elide it, and Wishart makes the entire battle into a cunning ambush, but it is fairly clear that what had happened is that Montrose assembled as many troops as he could in the defended space behind - traditionally the spot called "Montrose's Hollow" is just southeast of the old village of Auldearn - MacColla's line. When he saw Campbell of Lawer's pushing in, and realized that he could do no more there, Montrose seems to have sent in Gordon's cavalry unsupported. The troopers rounded the south side of the village and slammed into Hurry's right. The small troop of cavalry assigned right flank security took one look at the larger Royalist force and simply fled; in fact, Fraser's account says that they rode down some of Lawer's infantry in their haste to escape.

Gordon's troopers cut the hell out of several Covenant regiments, probably the Lord Chancellor's as well as Lawer's. The Covenant force was still being hacked apart when the second Gordon cavalry unit enveloped their left.

Hurry's force seems to have stood and fought. Fraser says that the royalists "run throw them, killing and goaring under foot...Lairs and Lothians regiment stood in their ranks and files, and were so killed where they stood." But when the royalist infantry, led by the Strathbogie Regiment falling on the Covenant right, waded into the butchery it was all up.

Hurry managed to get a good bit of his cavalry and some of his infantry away west, but the Royalist cavalry had spread out down the Inverness Road and did great execution among the infantry who survived the slaughter on Garlic Hill. The Lord Chancellor's Regiment had no more than 100 men fit for duty in August. Amazingly Campbell of Lawer's regiment was not destroyed, but lost it's colonel, lieutenant colonel, six captains, six lieutenants and 200 soldiers. Overall Covenant losses are likely to have been well over 500 and something between 800 and 1,200 is probable.Moneymore's and the Lifeguard must have suffered badly, too, however, and I suspect that Royalist losses, while reported as "light", probably came to several hundred. Montrose had had a bad scare, too, and rather than pursue Hurry retired eastwards to do some casual plundering and burning. Hurry's force was a broken reed but Baillie was still in the field. Montrose, MacColla and Gordon still hadn't solved their long-term problem; the Government forces were still in the field against them and the Estates hadn't recalled so much as a corporal's guard from England. The campaign was not yet over.

The Outcome: Decisive tactical Royalist victory,

The Impact: The real impact, to me, of Auldearn is the lesson that if strategy doesn't drive tactics tactical success will be barren.

Montrose's entire campaign was a strategic sideshow. Charles was trying to win in England...he didn't care about Scotland; all he needed was the Scottish troops back there and off his neck. If Montrose couldn't accomplish that his troops were wasted, and the Royalists didn't have enough troops to waste. Montrose has a gaudy reputation - he's often called "The Great Montrose" and several of his battle entries in Wiki maintain the tale of him as military genius - based on his victories at places like Auldearn, and Tibbermore, and Aberdeen.For a start, Montrose and Charles had no real idea of what they had to do to militarily to attain their political goal. To force the Scottish government to recall significant troop units from England they would have had to occupy a fairly decent-sized chunk of Scotland; they didn't and never would have the numbers to do that, and had they put any thought to the matter that should have been obvious to them.

Their entire "plan" consisted of chasing about Scotland fighting government troop units, at which Montrose was, admittedly, rather good. But Montrose's genius gained him and his king nothing. For one thing, the Parliamentarian victory at Marston Moor meant that any hope of a royalist north England was gone. The Great Montrose was never able to develop a plan that co-opted MacColla and his clansmen, who remained more concerned with winning their feud with the Campbells and gaining power in the clan lands than the royal cause. And in the final summation as long as the Scots government was willing to accept its losses and keep throwing local troops at Montrose, secure in the knowledge that he could not afford to sit in one place for long and cause them serious economic or political harm, short of some complete disaster the outcome was never in doubt.

Montrose's force went on to several more victories. Every time the Government force was replaced or relieved by another, until the Royalist string ran out at Philiphaugh in September. Having learned nothing from Auldearn, Montrose was loafing around several miles from his infantry when the Covenanter force under MG Leslie fell on him "without being described by a single scout". The Royalist "army", reduced by that time to a single battalion of Irish mercenaries and about 200 assorted cavalry and clansmen, was utterly destroyed. And with it the Royal cause in Scotland.
Touchline Tattles: There's no real lightness in this story; the ECW may well have been one of the most painfully unneeded wars in Western history. The combination of dynastic rule and religious hatred were and are absolutely toxic. Even the outcome wasn't an outcome. The Parliamentarians "won", Charles lost his noggin, the royalists came back, lost again, and soldiers that had won the war for Parliament ended up destroying and replacing it with a military dictatorship.

And after all that...a Stuart king came back and reigned for another twenty-five years - the last four after dissolving Parliament!

And Montrose? In March 1650 he landed in Orkney to raise the clans. His small force was defeated in battle, but he escaped to wander the country until he fell into the hands of one of my MacLeod ancestors. He tried before the Estates, condemned on the 20th of May and hanged on the 21st, with Wishart's hagiography round his neck.

To the last he protested that he was a real Covenanter and a loyal subject of the King of Scotland. The night before his execution he wrote:
"Let them bestow on ev'ry airth a limb;
Open all my veins, that I may swim
To Thee, my Saviour, in that crimson lake;
Then place my parboil'd head upon a stake,
Scatter my ashes, throw them in the air:
Lord (since Thou know'st where all these atoms are)
I'm hopeful once Thou'lt recollect my dust,
And confident thou'lt raise me with the just."

His opponent at Auldearn, Sir John Hurry, who had changed sides soon after the battle, was executed with Montrose.Shortly afterwards the Scottish Argyll Government switched sides and became Royalists, too.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Well, fuck you, Nike. Here I am giving you free publicity and you make it hard for me.

I caught the Nike "Write the Future" commercial on Facebook a couple of days ago. Absolutely brilliant, and I'll be the first one to say that international soccer has become WAY too commercial and outfits like Nike are among the worst offenders.

But I was absolutely entranced by the bit in the middle where Manchester United and England striker Wayne Rooney gets his pocket picked and in ten seconds his imagination takes him down the road to celebrity hell; public hatred, private failure, a byword and a hissing until he's groundskeeping for some dismal club mired in the bottom division and living in a crap trailer with a nasty ginger he races off and makes the saving tackle, to end up knighted, snogging the queen and whipping Roger Federer at table tennis.

So I embedded it in this post for your entertainment. Now I go and find that Nike has forced the original Vimeo poster to pull it down. Smart, Nike. Smart.

It's this kind of thing that makes the old business firms look like the south end of a northbound dinosaur. Sad, really. You had a chance to go viral, Nike, and you blew it.

(h/t to Nalden, who posted this on vimeo...)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

In Flanders fields...

...the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Just a reminder that, while it may well be my most disliked "holiday", the poppies the VFW vets sell do go to help those who, unlike the dead, have not yet seen an end to war.

And that my little girl is the cutest thing ever. Wears her poppy well, don't you think?

(Crossposted at MilPub)