Wednesday, September 29, 2010

SGT Mimms and the Midnight at the Oasis

Aina has left her Tylenol lying out and the goats have eaten it.Or at least that's what I have gotten thus far. It is plainly a complex and hilarious tale, to judge by the amount of giggling and arm-waving going on amongst the group in the shadow of the thorn tree by the front gate telling it; Aina herself, her normal attitude of cool competence somewhat askew; her little sister Salaha clearly enjoying both the situation and the opportunity to tease her usually somewhat overbearing big sis; and Solomon, the Artful Dodger of Ain Fortaga, Aina's kid brother, raconteur, adventurer, and genial host to the American soldiers temporarily posted at OP 3-2, just enjoying chaos of any sort.

The three siblings are still chuckling, scuffling and cracking wise in Arabic when I return with the small envelope with the replacement tablets inside and carefully explain to Aina (through Solomon) that the pills are for her, when she works too hard and her muscles or head ache. That they are not good for the goats, who should be discouraged from eating them.

"Pills la kwaiis for goats, afham?" draws a renewed burst of giggles from the girls and a broad grin from Solomon, who is unimpressed by my scowl and earns a repetition of the prescription in English; "She needs to understand that the pills aren't good for the goats, Solomon. They will get sick. And she will have no more medicine until the new medic comes next month."

The boy nods, forwards a burst of Arabic to his sister, who nods in turn and looks at me with her dark, dark eyes, making shooing motions with her hands.

"La anz, la anz!" she replies - "no goats" - and rises, a taller black in the shadow of the thorn tree with her envelope closed within her hand. "Shukran, duktur." she says politely before turning away to go back to work.

"Afwan, Aina." I reply, zipping up my aid bag.Wadi Watir runs 40 miles into the jagged mountains of the desert interior, from the straggling coastal village of Nuweiba almost to the monastery of St. Catherine. It is the widest and longest valley in the mountains of the eastern Sinai and has probably been a well-traveled passage for humans since prehistoric times.

To have a presence in Wadi Watir is to meet, trade, converse, and, if armed, control, the movement of all these people and things that move along this ancient way; it is probably this which drew the Beduin here, hundreds or thousands of years ago, and has drawn us here today: Third Squad of A Company, 2nd Battalion (Light) (Airborne) 325th Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division, now attached to the Multinational Force and Observers, Sinai.

Their tents hunker under the small copse of trees near the wet place along the valley wall that gives Ain Fortaga its "ain" - the "well" - in its name.

Our metal trailers and hovering plastic water tank kneel on the little shelf just up the wadi, at the foot of the bare reddish rock our maps identify as Gebel Mikemin.For two weeks we have lived here, eleven of us; nine men of Third Squad and their medic, and Sergeant Mimms of the 319th Field Artillery, one of the battalion's forward artillery observers. Weaponless without his cannons, a vestigal appendage of the armed might of the division we have left half a world behind us, a masterless page of the King of Battle he has volunteered to come with us, up the winding cleft of Wadi Watir, to the wet granite gravel, the thorn trees, the trailers, and the tents that are Ain Fortaga.

The locals met us almost before the whining sound of the white deuce-and-a-halves drifted away down the wadi. First Solomon, of course, the son of the house and loud admirer of all things American. Then, more carefully, the two sisters, smiling and quiet. After the kids had vetted us and pronounced us acceptable we; SSG Howard, the squad leader, the two team leaders and I, were invited to the big black tent at the base of the cliff where old Selim the patriarch poured us dark, sweet tea out of his ancient pot and asked us polite questions through his unusually subdued teenage grandson.But most days it was just us, the OP, our rounds of housekeeping chores, and Solomon.

Suleiman, to give him his rightful name, was a cheerful little villain, idle in the energetic way of boys everywhere, passing through an unidentifiable adolescence somewhere between a very mature twelve to a thin, underfed sixteen. He had been born in a Sinai occupied by Israelis, whom he disliked ("They mean mothafokas!") but seemed to respect withal, had seen the transfer to the Egyptians he despised (I would put his opinion of his supposed countrymen here but it was not a word or phrase but rather a rude noise and a pumping motion with his fist, which seems to have translated loosely as "What a bunch of jerkoffs") before being galvanized by the arrival of the Americans.Solomon thought that America was stone-cold, flat-out, stomp-down fucking awesome. Americans were the Baddest Dudes on the planet, and America was a place full of cool cars, hot chicks, and all the Stuff in the world. Solomon had learned his English from GIs, as you can probably guess, and had picked up a miscellany of habits, mostly bad ones, from the soldiers who had preceded us. Some vindictive sonofabitch had taught him to sing a craptacular country song which he adored and sang constantly and horribly. It's hard to describe the dissonance you got standing next to an Arab youth whose appearance and attire looked like 12th Century desert chic while he wailed:

"My beeby is American Made,
Born an' bred in da U.S.AAAAAAAAA.
From her sikky (silky) long hair to her sexy long legs
My beeby is American Maaaaaaaade!"


His casual destructiveness, though, was less cultural than universal, the innocent brutality of a young man who lived all his life in a tough way in very rugged place. Other than his family, to be respected, loved, or feared, and his American idols, everything else in the world; animal, vegetable, and mineral, was a toy to be played with roughly and discarded casually when broken.

Even in generosity Solomon was a hard little bastard. One afternoon he turned up at the gate holding a juvenile hawk tied to his arm with a bit of string. He explained that he had "found" the bird and wanted to share him with us. We were bored, and a long way from home, and the hawk was very beautiful in a merciless sort of way. So we brought the two of them into the compound against all MFO regulations and standing orders and spent a half hour gingerly holding the bird and photographing it close up while Solomon sat at the picnic table and enjoyed some bug juice ("So green!" he exclaimed) and a handful of B-ration cookies.Finally the hawk-admiring and hawk-photographing was done, and SGT Turner made to undo the string and let the bird go.

"Stop! Wait!" Solomon yelped as crumbs and cup with the last green lees flew off his lap, "No let him go! I play with him!"

"Solomon, this is a wild hawk," Turner said sternly, "not a toy."

Solomon looked sulky, claiming that he had caught the hawk and he was the one to decide when to let it go. Turner merely tossed the bird into the sky and it rowed into the air, turning up the wadi and powering low over the wire and past the thorn tree down by the latrine. Solomon dashed across the helicopter pad and rounded the wire, legs pistoning and scooping up a handful of rocks which suggested that his "finding" the bird in the first place had involved hitting it with a stone.

The two of them vanished down the canyon but only one returned, a Solomon whose entire afternoon was darkened by an unaccustomed anger at all damned GIs...until SSG Howard made him a kite that banished all care and loss and occupied almost all his waking hours for the next several days.Then there was the time...

But I started out by telling you this story was going to be about SGT Mimms, didn't I?

Well, then.

The story of Leroy Mimms and Jutta began one warm afternoon that was, in respects of scenery, weather, activities, and persons entirely identical to the dozen afternoons before and after that. The guys hung out, made meals, exercised, pulled gate guard or radio watch, slept, or found something to occupy their idle time. For an hour or so Solomon, his sisters, SGT Maxwell and a couple of the guys entertained themselves throwing rocks against the blank lower wall of Gebel Mikemin.SP4 Ahlers, the squad's grenadier, got his thumb stuck in a tin can of olives and had to have it cut off (the can, not the thumb) with a P-38, and a stitch put in.

SGT Mimms was hanging out with the guys at the front gate when Jutta walked up the wadi.

OP 3-2 wasn't Checkpoint 3A, but unlike a lot of the other OPs - especially unlike the well-named Remote Site 3-5 - it entertained a random, slow, but regular drift of people passing by. We had several Egyptian civilians on unstated but unhurried business, and a hiker every other day or so. Typically these were young adult or young-middle-aged Europeans taking a wandering trip through the Levant. Many were German, a handful were French, once a pair of Spanish college women.I still fondly recall an English couple, both Royal Army, retired, handsome in the spare, elegant British upper-class way who stopped by in their dusty Land Rover. They looked and acted briskly capable, as though they were seldom surprised and never at a loss, and were clearly pleased with the world, themselves, and almost everyone they met. They were genuinely good people in a very lonely place, and all the more welcome for it.

The woman who hiked up the wadi that afternoon, however, was not particularly unusual.

She was somewhere between her late twenties and early forties, with that tireless, wind-chapped, weathered look that people who spend a good deal of time outdoors for enjoyment often seem to acquire. Dun-colored blouse and hiking shorts, well-scuffed sturdy sandals, a mane of frizzly hair stuffed under a wide-awake hat were common to the type. The peculiarities that made her Jutta were her remarkable expressive, long fingers slightly yellowed by the cigarettes she smoked aggressively, each motion of the smoking made just a little too decisively, too emphatically for a pastime; the way she tilted her head like a curious blackbird, the impression strengthened by her small, bright, dark eyes; her English, spoken with clipped energy and a rough Mitteleuropa accent.

She stopped by the gate and asked if we could refill her water bottles.We weren't supposed to, of course, being agents of the ponderous majesty of the Camp David peace treaty and all, but I loafed down from the TOC trailer with a jerrycan and filled her bottles up as we always did, politely refused a smoke, and stayed to chat with the guys at the gate while she made small talk with Sergeant Mimms.

It wasn't until later that evening that I looked down to the gate as I passed between the trailers and noticed that although the next guard relief was on the gate, Leroy and the German visitor were still there, talking and sitting in the long shadows by the gate tree. Leroy Mimms, while a nice guy, was usually not the chattiest cathy in the dollhouse. I wondered what the heck this brand-new couple was finding to talk about, so I casually strolled down to the gate as if savoring the Ain Fortaga twilight, cadged a chicklet off of Ahlers, asked about his owie thumb, and carefully listened in to Jutta and Leroy talking.

What Jutta and Leroy were talking about was sex.

Not crudely. Not a blatent, obvious, fancy-a-bit-of-the-rumpy-bumpy, "lets get into the bushes and have one off now" sort of conversation. She was asking him about himself, what he did, what he liked, where he lived. But you could hear the invitation in her questions, and the growing eagerness in his replies, that made me kinda skeevy to listen in; it felt like listening to pillow talk.

So I bid the guards good evening, said goodbye to Jutta (assuming she would be gone in the morning as were most of our passersby) and waved to SGT Mimms, who might have been penguin hunting in Antarctica for all I was standing next to him. The man was raptured.

I brushed my teeth, read a few chapters of my paperback novel, and lay down for a nap before my midnight-to-six radio watch thinking nothing more about them.I was shaken awake at quarter of twelve, shuffled into my shower shoes and across the little courtyard between the trailers to relieve SGT Turner, drew a cup of coffee from the Silex and stood in the open door of the trailer to survey my domain, my charge for the next six hours.

The little outpost looked almost lovely in the moonlight; all stark whites and depthless blacks. The sheepish faded daytime cheapness of the trailers, the scruffy gear and the ugly utility of the place were cleaned and sharpened by the monochrome of night. The coffee tasted rich and earthy, the night silent and chill; I felt calm, alert but calm. I felt like I could make myself so motionless and still that I could actually feel the stars wheeling overhead, cold pricks of light in the dark sky, feel the earth turning under me, feel the weight of space and time both pressing down and lifting me up. I felt like I was on the verge of knowing some great thing.


And just then Jutta's high, clear voice floated down from the night sky, down from the palm grove just up the wadi, down in crystal-hard clarity.

"Ach, mein Leroy!" she insisted, "Reit me, mein Leroy, reit me so like a desert stallion!"

The impossibly clear desert air carried along with her voice the sounds of a scuffle, a muffled flurry, like a clumsy work crew trying to stuff a small but vigorous animal into a gunnysack and beat it to death with their hands.

"Ja! Ja! Mein tiger! Mein general!" continued Jutta remorselessly, "Plunder me! Oh, ja, das ist unglaublich! Das ist unmoglich!

When the keening began I honestly wasn't sure who was wailing and whether it was joy, or agony, or both.

I went inside the TOC trailer, closed the door, and turned up the shortwave. It was Warsaw Pact pop music night on Radio Moscow and you haven't heard rock until you've heard Lithuanian Young Pioneer rock.


Everything was quiet when I turned in at dawn, and although I mentioned to several of my cronies that they might let SGT Mimms sleep in that morning since his new girlfriend had kept him up pretty much all night no one thought much of it until Jutta turned up at the gate at midmorning and Leroy Mimms did not.

When I awoke around noon Jutta was still there, squatting under the gate thorn tree smoking irritably. SGT Mimms was still not visible, although someone said they thought he might have gone to the latrine before dawn but not returned. I followed the whitewashed-cobble pathway down to the jakes and, on a hunch, ducked into the sandbagged bunker that overwatched the up-wadi approach and surprised a crouched, Caliban-like Mimms shoving a C-Rat cracker into his cakehole.

"So, good afternoon, oh mighty lover of women." I smiled, "How come your girlfriend is all alone out front?"

Mimms jumped like a man goosed with a cattle prod, one hand going protectively towards his crotch.

"She still there? Oh, fuck me. I'm starved, I ain't got no crackers left, and she get me if I come out before she gone."

This was a development, and I leaned against the opening of the bunker and eyed the cowering artilleryman carefully. He did have a twitchy sort of expression and a hunted look which didn't seem to fit with the passionate cries of the night before.

"Are you joking, man? You managed to get laid, here, in the fucking womanless Sinai, here where there is a woman behind every tree and there are eight fucking trees in the entire goddam peninsula? You may well be the only GI to EVER get laid at OP 3-fucking-2, the only line dog to bury his boner in the history of the OP, and you're hiding in a damn bunker? Think of the history you two made last night! Think of the humanity! Think of getting some more! Where's your pride, man?"

Mimms seemed to shrink a little.

"You don't know, doc," he whimpered, "Jutta, she crazy. She bite me, she tug my stuff, she don't never let me sleep or leave me alone. She want to just keep doin' it, doin' it, all the time, and she hit me when I try to stop. She say if I don't keep going she bite it off. I was afraid to sleep with her."

"Sounded to me like you already did that, sergeant."

"No, doc, I mean sleep-sleep. I came back here when she gave up last night 'cause with her jumpin' on me, pokin' me, lickin' me I was wore out. Fuck me, doc, I feel like a used otter pop."

I thought about this for a minute.

"Well, I feel like a traitor to my gender, but hows about I try to get her to move on, hey?"

"Oh, man, you a pal, doc."

So I loped over the little compound and found the Teutonic Titwillow still squatting in the shade. She was inclined to be brusque, and was plainly frustrated at being denied her new paramour, but eventually rose, butted her smoke and shouldered her backpack.

"You say gootbye to the sergeant, yes? You tell him I be back three, four days, we meet here, I show him good hike in wadi, ja?"

I agreed to carry the message, she nodded sharply and moved off up the wadi but moving with something missing in her step, her usual jerky energy muted as if by some vague but lingering regret.

Sergeant Mimms took his meals in the trailer for the next week, emerging only for brief, furtive dashes to the latrine or the shower. Even the squad hard men complained that his paranoia was making everyone goofy, and we were all relieved when a passerby from battalion (since the story was too good to withhold, both Jutta and her stallion were unit-wide celebrities for the next couple of weeks or so) reported seeing her hitchhiking north on the MSR just outside Taba, looking irked.

Solomon dutifully reported his observations to me that Saturday evening as we hung out by the wire and I waited for my radio shift.

"Sarn't Mimms, he went with that lady into the bushes but then she no can find him, she looked everywhere, asked me if I seen him, she got real mad! That some crazy shit, hunh, doc!"

"Yeah, Solomon, well, you know how people like to do crazy stuff, hunh."

"That no shit, Doc."

I finished the sweet tea old Selim had poured for me a little earlier. Solomon drifted away to play frisbee with Ahlers. SGT Turner and SSG Howard were lifting weights. SGT Mimms loitered outside the TOC trailer, looking relieved and just a tiny bit dissatisfied.

"Mein tiger..." I murmured.

It was time for my shift, I had a fresh pot of coffee, and it was Arabic pop music night on Radio Moscow and you haven't heard bubblegum pop until you've heard Lebanese Druze bubblegum pop.And the sun went down behind the mountains to the west.

When Mascots Attack

I knew there was a reason that I've pretty much given up on football. The mascots, man...they're just fucking SCARY.And no sensible footy fan would dress up in a huge furry costume like some idio...

Well.

Shit.

But surely, soccer is a cruel game, a game that mirrors the brutal reality of life, a game that exists to remind us that the sun shines briefly before the night falls, that there will always be more failures than successes, that glory is fleeting.

Surely the goofy mascot craze has all but passed the Beautiful game by, surely there can't be more than one or two.....or three or eleven or...Oh, the hell with it. They're everywhere.

Summer's End

The cool mornings and slanting light of evening are reminding me that our summer is drawing to a close.

Unlike the East Coast, this year Portland's summer has been brief, cool, and drizzly. We've had almost no hundred degree days, few of the brutal dog-mouth days that make you want to set in the shade and do nothing.Now the nights will draw out, and clouds lour in, and the cold rains of autumn begin.

"For summer there, bear in mind, is a loitering gossip, that only begins to talk of leaving when September rises to go."

- George Washington Cable

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Modest Proposal

Since U.S. politics appears to have become completely unstuck, with the Democrats fearful of doing anything that will make Glenn Beck sweat and the GOP locked into bull-goose-crazier-than-a-shithouse-rat-looney mode, it is clearly incumbent on the ordinary citizen to suggest a way out of some of our current troubles.Ahem.

So, allow me to suggest a couple of quick ideas for the U.S. to consider.

Clear the hell out of central Asia, and that includes the Middle East. Honestly, other than petroleum and fanatics, what the hell is there for us? The fanatics we do perfectly fine right here, and the petroleum...well, I'll talk about that in a moment. But the bottom line is that sending maneuver units to wander around occupying and fighting factional wars in the taint of Afrieurasia is like wearing candy pants to Parents Night at the Oregon State Correctional Institution for Men. You just invite everything from insult to felony and the chances of emerging with anything like dignity are extremely poor.We cannot solve the problems of central Asia and the Middle East (poverty, the resource trap, bad government left over from a legacy of bad history and poor choices, a preference for theologic claptrap over secular logic); only Middle Easterners and central Asians can solve those problems. We can, however, act like a large neocolonial lump of idiocy perfectly placed to be blamed for everything that goes wrong including everything that happens hundreds of miles from the nearest GI.

What the taint of Afrieurasia - from the Horn of Africa to the Paimirs, from the Bosphorus to the shore of Coromandel - needs is an Enlightenment. We cannot give them that, either. But we can retard it by giving them a Western invader to go all crusade-y on.

It's no surprise that the original Crusades helped pull the broken Islamic Caliphate together and produce the Ottoman Empire.

No, we need to let them figure this out for themselves. We can send out our spies (hopefully smarter spies than the ones we seem to be stocking lately) and our diplomats, both the helpful, open, friendly kind that talk to you over innumerable cups of strong coffee or sweet tea as well as the nasty backstairs kind that show up at your home late at night to remind you that one thing that stupid and intransigent gets you is dead. We can trade goods with them. We can bribe, suborn, threaten, cajole, bullshit, and palaver with them.

But standing around fighting with them is like wrestling with pigs for slops. The reward is negligible, the effort exhausting, the position ridiculous, and the pig enjoys it way more than you do.

Oh. And the time has come to cut loose from Israel, too. That goes with the "clear out" territory.

It's time to accept that Israel and its neighbors will always be like one of those toxic couples that just want to make each other suffer but won't divorce. They will never really get along, they will always try and drag you into the argument on their side, and always blame you for anything you do for the other no matter now insignificant. Not to mention that Israel is the most geopolitically worthless "ally" in history. A mouthy little sectarian state squatting on land they took by force, an eternal irritant to most of the neighbors, a 21st Century Principality of Odessa? Who the hell needs that?

Nope, it's time to accept that we fucked up in 1948, that if we wanted to offer some craptacular piece-of-shit desert real estate to Jews because we were feeling all guilty about the whole not-saving-you-from-the-death-camp thing that we had Utah and Nevada just sitting there and we missed that opportunity like a blind man bouncing on a trampoline.

We could have let Ben Gurion and Meir go all UFC on the Mormon Church and see who were the baddest ass conquerors. We could have a whole southwestern desert full of wicked glossy sabra girls and kibbutzniks growing oranges. But, no. We had to take part of the uber-fucked Ottoman Empire and make sure it was double plus ungood fucked up until the tenth of whenever and then promise to bankroll the damn stramash.

Sometimes you have just got to stop digging.

Have an adult talk about finances. For thirty years we've been running on smoke, mirrors, laughing gas, fumes, and self delusion. We've gotten to the point where we want to have everything but don't want to pay for it. The wealthy are getting over like they haven't since before the Great Depression and yet all they want to do is whine about paying taxes. Everybody wants medicine for Grandma, bullets for bin Laden, tanks for the Army, ships for the Navy, American Patrol but fuck all figuring out what we need rather than what we want and double fuck all actually accepting that taxes are the price of all this civilization.

The Unites States is still a crazy rich country. We're still sucking up a massive portion of the world's wealth, resources, and human capital. But we're not as rich as we were, and we're starting to show some real signs of sickness.

Although we still make a lot of the world's stuff, we make less of it per person than we did, and we're rapidly shedding jobs that build and make things not intended for immediate consumption. The U.S. you and I grew up with was largely built on a broad prosperity that resulted from being the last economy standing after WW2 and a massive investment in physical and human resources - from freeways to the G.I. Bill - between 1945 and 1965. That U.S. is badly frayed. Real wages have stagnated, and the only way people kept spending in the Nineties and Oughts was putting the country on their charge card and taking out mortgages to pay for trips to Disneyworld. We're seeing a fairly impressive concentration of wealth and power, and I needn't remind you that heritable wealth is as crucial to republican governance as bicycles are to fish. No, more like rotonone is to fish - a toxin that helps deaden the brain stem and allow the few to reap the corpses of the many.

Many of our citizens are plainly too fucking poorly educated and defiantly ignorant to figure this out. But we're going to have to, and soon, before we find ourselves busted and surrounded by other people who have worked harder and smarter than we have.

We need to get our education shit together. We need to get our jobs and employment shit together. We need to get our tax shit together. We especially need to find a way to find more people decent work, work that pays a living wage, work and wages that will build a solid bourgeoise, a sensible, independent middle class, a 21st Century equivalent of the self-reliant farmers, shopowners, and small businessmen the Founders considered indispensable to republican government.

One thing we're going to have to do to do this is figure out a way to control our southern borders, because the downward pressure on wages that results from a constant influx of desperately poor noncitizens isn't healthy or supportable in the long run. And its a symptom of some very sick polities to the south, whose sneezing may well catch us cold in the future if we're not careful. Which leads me to my third suggestion,

We need to take a hard look around and realize that we cannot be destroyed from without, only from within. And this means every aspect of our nation. Right now our foreign and military policy seems way too wrapped up in worrying about a bunch of raggedy-ass theocrats living in caves in West Buttfuckistan. We're in a swivet about implausible terrorist and Iranian nuclear fantasies. We're goldplating everything in the defense budget to fight an opponent we can't even define. While a footstep away Mexico shares an utterly indefensible border with us - short of Hadrian's Fucking Wall - and is at forseeable risk of state failure or at least significant internal breakdown.

And that goes for our "security state" as well. We seem to want to be terrorized about every damn thing but don't seem to have the time to think about genuinely threatening problems. Why are we wetting our pants about "terrorists"? We're the baddest nation on the planet. What the hell are we so afraid of? Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, people!And, finally, Get serious about figuring out the next internal combustion engine. This may be more important than anything else I've suggested here. I'm not kidding. Really.

Our entire civilization is designed - not just socially and economically but physically, where we live and what it looks like - on the premise of cheap, quickly convertable, easily portable energy. The internal combustion engine (and I include in that aviation turbine engines as well) has completely transformed our world.

I get up and drink coffee grown in Columbia, get into a car made in Japan, and drive over a bridge made from steel made in China, eating a pastry made from sugar grown in Florida and berries grown in Chile as I drive past the offices, strip malls, porn shops and pawn shops and nail salons where people used to grow the food they needed to survive here in the Pacific Northwest.

Everything; our clothes, our diets, our work, our entertainment, our schools, depend on being able to put people and things in small moving vehicles - cars, buses, trucks, and airplanes - and move them quickly and cheaply over long distances by burning fossil hydrocarbons.

And that is going to change, and fairly soon.

Because we're running through our petroleum.

No, it won't be tomorrow. Or next week. I'm not worried about "peak oil" turning the lights out five years from now.

But the geologic process that takes biological hydrocarbons and turns it to keratin and then to petroleum takes a minimum of several thousand years, and some pretty specialized conditions. And to locate, prove, extract, refine, and consume the product takes tens of years at most. So we're going to collide with the mathematical certainty of two orders of magnitude; ten to the first or the second at worst to consume it, ten to the third or even the fourth to produce it.

Big power - fixed generators, oceangoing vessels, railroad engines - can run on a number of renewable or alternate fuels such as wood or coal for steam. But the automobile and the internal combustion engine is so critical, so essential, to the way we live, to the design of our cities, to what we eat...if we had to spend a couple of decades reconfiguring to use some different means of transportation...

It'd be very ugly.

The other thing to consider ties back to item one. A lot of the places where petroleum is found aren't places we should want to depend on for our economic well being. Many of them are owned, or run, by people who either have good reasons for wishing us ill or whose only interest in us is agricultural. We are the animals from which they can extract money instead of meat or milk. And in either case our weakness is a feature of our inability to depend on this resource.

So if I were the Magic King of America one of the first things I'd do is sit the petroleum people, the automakers, the military and the policymakers down alongside as many crackpots and visionaries and inventors as I could find and tell them; Give me a workable path to an alternative compact mobile fuel source and an engine to use it.

Give me fucking "Mr. Fusion", dammit.Or as close as you can get.

If it means steam engines, let's start working on it now. If it means redesigning American communities to become more internally sufficient to reduce the need to bring in food, let's start figuring out how to make that happen. Hell, if it means conquering the Arctic Circle...we should have some idea of where we can and will go when we arrive at $10.00 a gallon fuel rather than get there with nothing else to turn to.

Just a thought.

So it's late and I'm out of ideas. But how about you? Any notions for what we could, should, or ought to do to try and find a brighter tomorrow? Or thoughts on my proposals? Blow, wind, crack your cheeks and let fly in the comments section!

Just tell them that Steiner will show up any day now.

“You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”
GEN Petraeus, in Robert Woodward's "Obama's Wars"


What the...the fu'...WHAT??

THIS is the best the theatre commander can do? This from the Warrior-Sage of Mosul, the savior of the Long War? That's IT? A multigenerational, unwinnable clusterfucking landwar in Asia? That's the advice you're giving the Leader?

Christ, I used to get military advice that good from SP4 Denny after a half rack of Natty Lite and a basket of salty chicken wings on any Friday night down at the Yadkin Road Hooters. It came a lot cheaper. And Georgie would even do the "Barbie Girl Dance" after he'd had some Jim Beam, too.

Fuck me runnin'. Does anybody here know how to play this game?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lost Villages

A rather fascinating story here about Little Imber on Down, a country village in the English county of Wiltshire.Or perhaps I should say a former country village.

Because, you see, in November, 1943, the hundred-odd residents of the little town were called together for what they thought was a meeting about the installation of domestic plumbing and were informed that the British Ministry of Defence intended to use the village for training in fighting in built-up areas. They had only 47 days to leave, but left with the impression that after the training was done the village would be returned to them. The story is that people left food in their homes for the soldiers, sad to go but willing to "do their bit" to help win the war.The only way any of the people of Imber returned was to be buried in the churchyard.

I really find this a very grayish sort of story. The people of Imber lost their little village forever - and the training is said to have been canceled, making that loss even more heartbreaking.But nations need armies, and armies need training, and training needs land to do it in. Britain doesn't have the luxury we have of vast areas where sane people don't want to go, like NTC and JRTC.

Or the sand hills of Ft. Bragg, when you come right down to it.And 1943 was a desperate time, and sometimes desperate times DO call for desperate measures.

Let's also not forget that without the protection afforded the land by the training area Salisbury Plain would very likely be overrun with the sort of strip malls and housing tracts we tend to uglify our own rural areas with. The training area is one of the last large wild areas in Wiltshire, and it's only because the MoD keeps people out for its own selfish reasons. The question of whether or not the original village would have been "lost", one way or another...well, let's just say that the MoD isn't the out-and-out bad guy here.

So I guess I'm saying that the story of the lost village of Imber isn't a fable with a moral at the end, or a melodrama with a Hero and a Villian, but rather a cautionary tale that in the exigencies of wars and of the rumors of wars sometimes we do what we think we have to - whether we have to or not - to win them. And once done, we cannot or often will not undo them.

And then History sweeps past, in its great and merciless fashion, leaving us with our small lives changed all out of recognition, sometimes for the better, sometimes broken beyond repair.And Imber stands, still empty, on a darkling plain.

(Huge h/t to Karen Traviss, whose writing I adore and whose blog I shamelessly stole this topic from. Go out and buy one of her books - I'm serious, man!)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday Jukebox: Saturday Night Edition

First; no, your eyes are not fooling you...

...that is a pair of yellow rubber testicles hanging from the trailer hitch.Second; yes, that is a green rubber crab crawling up the rubber testicles.

Stay classy, Southeast Portland!

...tips with silver...

I don't know whether I've mentioned this, but we as a family don't do much along the "holiday" line.We do tend to follow the social dicta at Christmas, more to prevent the urchin riot that we'd have to suppress if we forewent the traditional evergreen/presents/Santa menage than because of any real religious belief or even, in my case, at least, a particular fondness for "the season".

The Fourth is just an excuse to blow shit up.

I try and remember to hang my Army flag outside on June 14th, and we are good trick-or-treaters come All Hallows Eve.

But other than that, not so much.

So when I say that we really didn't plan for much celebration of the "Autumn Moon Festival" you should probably not be surprised.This is also well in keeping with our tradition of being shitty adoptive parents. According to the most respected Chinese Adoption Authorities - that is to say, 95% of the adoptive parents in the Portland area - at this time of year we should be all moon cakey, Houyi, and Chang'e-ey. We should be carrying brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, floating sky lanterns, burning incense in reverence to deities, planting Mid-Autumn trees, collecting dandelion leaves and distributing them evenly among family members, and jiggin' to some dragon dance tunes.

Not. And especially not going home to have a big meal with the fam so the grands can pester the grandkids and complain about their kids, the uncles can get drunk and watch football, and the older kids sit out back in the cold smoking and bitching about having to do this every year, as our guide said was the real Chinese way to celebrate the mid-autumn festivities?This from a family that can't be bothered to cook a big meal for Thanksgiving or go to church at Christmas?

Yeah.

Right.

Ha.

But the funny thing is, we DID do some Moon Festivally-things this weekend.

Friday night we took blankets, pillows (and Pillow Pets) and a telescope out to the vast asphalt expanse of Astor Elementary playground and looked at the moon. Except that palled after a while, so the kiddos ran around while Mojo and I looked at Jupiter and its four Galilean moons, which was cooler.And today we went downtown to the Lan Su Chinese Garden, took in some lion dancing and scoped out the foliage. Then went and at spaghetti for lunch which, as I explained to little Miss as she scarfed it down (girl is in the middle of a growth spurt, I swear, or has picked up a tapeworm...), was actually a Chinese invention.

Then we went to Starbucks. So, OK, we weren't THAT autumn festivally.

But, hell, I think we deserve an "A" for effort.

Nacht und Nebel

I have up to this point refrained from posting anything much regarding the "secret sacred wars" that the Bush, and now, the Obama Administrations have been conducting as part of their "Global War on Terror".

Partly because I don't really see what more needs to be said; lots of people in the blogosphere as well as conventional media have hammered away on this pernicious combination of secrecy, executive power, and "war" that go a long way to realizing Judge Jeffries' and the Court of Star Chamber ideal of guilt and execution without the bother and tedium of trial.

And partly, frankly, because of the very secrecy of the damn thing. At least with the conventional wars we're fighting in central Asia and elsewhere We the People have some vague notion of the purpose (at least the stated purpose), means, methods, approximate progress, and costs. With this stuff...who the hell knows? Which is obviously the point, since we can't get upset about the foolish waste of time, money, and human lives of some nonsensical secret program if we don't know enough about it to know whether it IS a waste of time, money, and lives.

But the Obama "Justice" Department's latest step is just too ridiculous to pass.
"The Obama administration urged a federal judge early Saturday to dismiss a lawsuit over its targeting of a U.S. citizen for killing overseas, saying that the case would reveal state secrets."
So what the Obama DoJ is saying, in effect, is:

1. We get to decide if you are a "threat" without showing you or anyone else the evidence and your U.S. citizenship is no defense, i.e. you have no due process of law with regard to the charge.
2. We get to decide what to do about that, up to and including assassinating you. Again, we need not show any evidence of why you need to die, so you have no recourse there, either.
3. And if you or your proxies have the temerity to challenge us in court, we will simply refuse to meet you there, citing State Secrets.

Three strikes, you''re out.Or dead, as the case may be.

This is insane.

The Constitution expressly forbids the U.S. government to take life or liberty "without due process of law" and this is supposed to be a government of laws, not of men.

Why, why, WHY are we not rioting in the streets about this?

If this is not tyranny, what is it then?

Friday, September 24, 2010

White by Northwest

From the website "Fast Company" comes a rather fascinating series of maps that show the racial topography of a series of large U.S. cities. For example. here's my home, Portland.A red dot is 25 caucasians, blue dots are the brothers, green dots are Asians, orange are hispanic/latinos, and all "others" are gray. The data is from Census 2000.

You will note that Portland is as pink as my own skin; there's a patch of blue in NE Portland and some orange scattered about the North and Northeast and along the Sunset Highway corridor in Washington County.

But that's about it.

We really are the Great White North.

I'm not quite sure what to say about that. It keeps us from having a lot of the racial politics and racial friction other cities have. But I'll bet it also makes it damn hard to be one of those blue or orange or gray dots when everybody around here looks like red-dot Whitey McWhitebread.

That makes me feel sort of uncomfortable.

I wonder how my daughter will come to feel about that?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Manic depressive

I'm up late after "Back-to-school-night" at our little Astor Elementary. The usual hyperkinetic crowd of kids, kidlets, and megakids with their adults in tow variously entertained, bemused, doting, baffled, or bored.Followed by an evening of homework (for the Boy) and "art projects" (for the Girl) topped off with a screening of the Disney Classic "Beverly Hills Chihuahua".

Surely you remember "Beverly Hills Chihuahua"?

Yep, that "Beverly Hills Chihuahua";Dear God, my eyes.

Anyway, after getting the littles to bed I spent a while reading through the usual blogs and trying to think up a worthwhile post here.

No luck.

I checked a look at my sidebar and noticed what a strangely cyclic year this has been for me. January and February? Huge - a post a day or almost. Then after the winter rain the drought of Spring. March barely a post every two days, April even less, May found me parched for ideas; 12 posts all month.

And, suddenly, the creative juices flow again. June and July the old fire direction center was processing missions and cranking rounds downrange like a bunch of Vietnam redlegs with eight woodcutters and a whole troop of monkeys in the free-fire zone and a truckload of projos to fire up before the end of the fiscal year.

And then?

August, the worst so far. September, too, has been a wash. In these bleak months I just don't seem to find anything interesting to say.

What the hell? Is this some sort of symptom of some sort of odd manic-depression? The hallmark of wild swings from euphoria to lumpish inertia?

I have no idea.

Part of the problem, of course, is part of the solution that is MilPub. I have another outlet for my political and military ranting, so that part of this blog has pretty much gone. I haven't done much politicking here, and, frankly, even my sense of military outrage has just been ground down to a nub.

There seems to be no point in reminding the people who visit here - a small and self-selecting group who largely share my view - that the notion of sending armed GIs to swan about the rocky deserts of central Asia in hopes that while they're waiting some turbaned Paine or chitrali-capped Jefferson will turn up (or, perhaps, someone will put a round in the center-of-mass of the Evil Taliban Emperor and secure victory for Luke, Leia, and the Rebel Alliance) is about as sensible as my donning purple Speedos and a tank top and hanging around the Seven-Eleven on the corner of North Lombard and Wall in hopes that I will catch the eye of

Jamie Lee Curtis as she drives past on the way to Fred Meyer and she will stop to pick me up and take me home for a evening of spontaneous, uninhibited wild monkey sex. While entertaining as fantasy, as bases for long-term policy both are poor substitutes for actual reasoning regarding probabilities, costs, and benefits.

And what remains is pure personal maundering; kid stuff, family tales, storytelling, army tales, local news, personal opinion, or "...battles long ago."

It seems to me as if I'm reaching a point where I still have things to say, but that on the great issues others say them better. While on the small ones...well, those, perhaps, are what is left to me.The picture in the center in the snapshot above is my son's self-portrait, BTW. If you look closely you will see he has given himself glowing red and green eyes like a fictional sorcerer. I'm intrigued, yet he will explain nothing.

But in the interim, perhaps a bit of Wordsworth:

"Will no one tell me what she sings?--
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?"


(from "The Solitary Reaper", 1803)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Empire of the Ants

The louring rain and decreasing warmth have send our neighboring sugar ants looking for a cozy place indoors, and their anabasis debouched on the kitchen counter tonight.

"Daddy! Daddy!" shrieked little Miss down the basement stairs "Mommy says bring the ant spray quickly quickly because the ants are in the cabinets!"I fished the can of vilely toxic ant death out of its receptacle and arrived in the kitchen to find a dancing daughter and a disgusted wife staring at the now-empty shelves where the little scuttling bastards tried to hide from their chemical doom. I stood between my womenfolk, respectively antic and revolted, surveying the prospective gas chamber for our latest boxcar of formicidae like a dyspeptic Mengele eyeing the latest trainload of particularly degraded untermenschen.

"How the hell did they get in there?" I protested, producing a volley of frantic questions from the little girl and a sour look from the big one. "How the hell should I know?" she sighed, "Just use the damn spray, please."

So we moved all the fruit and veggies and flour and eggs and butter (Mojo was in the process of making some carrot cake-like object when she discovered the marauders inside the cabinet) off the countertop, I deployed the chemical munition (advertised as a persistent agent that would keep the little bastards out for "up to 4 weeks!") and used a towel to recover the bodies of the footsoldiers unable to evade the chemstrike, and carefully replaced the food in sealed containers back in the contaminated zone.
[It may say something about me that as I did this I had a brief flash of memory of something I did in back in the 1980's; my platoon was detailed to the Airborne Test Board for something called PAPRICCA - pronounced like the spice - which was an acronym for "Parachuting Procedures in a Chemically Contaminated Area".

This beauty started with the idea that the U.S. Army desperately needed to get somewhere that some other inconsiderate sonofabitch had brined with something nasty, like nerve gas, and that the best way to do this was to drop some parachute troops into it. The actual "parachuting procedures" included a series of exercises where the process of military static-line parachuting was performed while in what we called our "MOPP" suits (a silly acronym that stood for "Mission-Oriented Protective Posture" and was used interchangably with the term "CPOGs", "Chemical Protective OverGarments") and culminated with actual parachute jumps while wearing a protective mask - what a civilian would call a "gas mask".

Needless to say this training was disliked to the extreme, since as training it ranged from the exhausting and uncomfortable to the downright dangerous, and my memories of it are not fond ones. The then-new KEVLAR helmets didn't fit over the pro-mask and had to be taped on with hundred-mile-an-hour tape. The 130-knot slipstream of a C-130 had no respect for this jacklegged arrangement, which meant that almost everyone lost their helmets within seconds of exiting the jump doors. And, worse, the opening shock of the T-10 parachute usually jerked the pro-mask down the face of the jumper, who was suddenly blinded by a black plastic shroud just as it was crucially important for him to know whether his canopy had opened correctly and was not at the moment streaming above him, a useless nylon exclamation point identifying him as The Most Totally Fucked Trooper in his platoon. So about half or more of the test platoon troops ripped off their masks, making their notional deaths from the notional nerve agent certain and immediate upon landing. It was, in short, a total goatscrew.

Unsurprisingly, this tactic was never actually incorporated into the 82nd Airborne SOP. But that was PAPRICCA, and gassing the ants reminded me of it.]
Mojo went back to her cooking, but Little Miss was fascinated by the ants. She followed me downstairs to try and find some ant baits."What does these do?" she asked. "Why we need to get the queen ant?"

So I explained to her about ants, and queens, and eggs, and then we had to go to the computer and watch a YouTube video, and then she wanted to know why the queens couldn't walk far, and how they got into our house, and how the eggs got in the queen, and how the eggs got out of the queen.

And then she wanted to know about how eggs got in mommies, and how eggs turned into babies, and how babies grew inside mommies, and how babies got out of mommies. So I showed her pictures of her Mommy when she had the Peeper inside her tummyand we tried to watch a video of babies coming out of mommies except YouTube thought that you had to be over 18 to see that, and I couldn't be bothered to set up a damn YouTube account, and the hell with it but trust Daddy, sweetie, the baby comes out of the mommy's puff-puff. You did, Peeper did, Mommy did, I did, too.
(I should add that both of my kiddos know the proper words for the male and female wedding tackle. And sometimes we use the word "penis" rather than "wiener" or "junk", depending on the formality of the occasion.

But for some reason the word "vagina" just seems too cold and clinical to this family. The Boy first coined the term "puff-puff" for Mommy's girl parts, and for some reason we all like the expression. It just sounds soft, cuddly, and friendly. Girly. So. Puff-puff.)
But cuddly or no, Missy was horrified.

"No! No, no, no!" she pronounced, "I don't want babies coming out my puff-puff!"

"Not now, silly," I assured her, "It's only when you're older, when you're grown up, and only when you want it to."

"I will never want to." stated Little Miss, "No, I will 'dopt two babies, from China, because that doesn't hurt."

I told her that, indeed, sounded like a cunning plan. Then I picked her up and carried her upstairs.

Her mom and brother were watching something warlike on The Military Channel, so we settled into one of the wing chairs.

"How come the ants don't know about the poison?" she said, bouncing on my knees in a way I recognized prestaged a bit of girlish cleverness. "How come they don't talk about it?" I explained that they couldn't talk, that their mouths didn't work that way, that they communicated by smell. That if she were an ant, she would have to fart to say "I love you."

"Eeeew! Stinky! Nobody could love a fart!" she declared. Then she smiled a wide, triumphant smile and announced the conclusion of the evening's discussion.

"We're a LOT smarter than ants, Daddy."

And with that she wriggled off my lap and scampered away.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Decisive Battles: The Cannonade of Valmy 1792

Valmy Date: 20 SEP 1972



Forces Engaged: Kingdom of France - roughly 50,000 all arms. The French force engaged at Valmy consisted of two "armies", the Armee du Nord, under GEN Dumouriez and the Armee de Centre, under GEN Kellermann. The breakdown of troops has been very difficult for me to determine. Kellermann;s entry in "Napoleon's Marshals" (Chandler, ed., 1987) states that the Army of the Center had a total of 23 battalions of infantry. Assuming a nominal strength of 500 per battalion we get a strength of about 11,000 for the infantry of the Center. Assuming that the Armee du Nord was similar in organization we arrive at a total of about 22,000 foot, or about half the total. So let's guess that the French force consisted of roughly 45-50 battalions of infantry (about 25,000 troops). If the remaining 25,000 were equally divided than 12,000 cavalry is roughly 26 squadrons; 12,000 gunners are 120 batteries, or roughly 720 cannon.But this is clearly too many artillerymen. The French artillery was the quality arm of the Army, and the quantity of artillery tended to increase when the quality of the infantry declined. For example, in 1805 at Austerlitz the ratio was 2 guns to 1,000 men. At Wagram four years later the ratio was 4 guns to 1,000 men (without the guns on Lobau Island), while by 1812 at Borodino the ratio was 4.5 guns to 1,000 men. The Revolutionary infantry were bad, but even then the notion of more than 4 guns per 1,000 seems unlikely; the Revolutionary logistic train couldn't have supported it.

Given the size of the force and the poor quality of the Revolutionary infantry it's likely that something closer to 3.5 guns per thousand is realistic for Valmy. That produces a total of 175 cannon, which at 6 guns per battery produces a total of about 3,500 cannoneers. Add in another, say, 1,500 assorted odds and sods (battalion staff, artificers, support troops and the like) and you get more like 5,000 artillery.

So: Roughly 25-26,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry, 5,000 artillery, 150-200 guns under the combined command of GEN Dumouriez and Kellermann.

Allies of the First Coalition (Allied): The force engaged at Valmy represented only the advanced element of the roughly 80,000-strong Allied force tasked to invade northern France and restore the Bourbon monarchy.

Of this total the Kingdom of Prussia provided roughly 40,000 troops, the Dual Monarchy (Austria) about 30,000, the principality of Hesse supplied 5,000 and a congeries of between 8,000 and 15,000 French émigrés of indifferent quality made up most of the cavalry force.

The force at Valmy on 20 SEP would consist of about 20,000 Prussians and 14,000 Austrians under Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. We're told that Brunswick had less than 50 cannon (36 is the figure I've seen) which means that only about 600-1,000 of the force were gunners, than assuming a fairly strong cavalry contingent; say 10,000 or about 10 squadrons, that leaves something between 24,000 and 28,000 infantry, or about 45 battalions. About half of these appear to have been Clerfayt's Austrian corps, the remainder the Prussian point element under the army commander himself.

So about 25,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry, 1,000 artillerymen and 36 guns under Field Marshal the Duke of Brunswick.

The Sources: The Battle of Valmy was fought by literate men on both sides, so we have the usual collection of first person accounts in letters and memoirs. Official documents are comprehensive for the defeated; in 1904 the Austrian General Staff produced a monumental history of their participation in the French Revolutionary wars. The Krieg gegen die Französische Revolution 1792-1797 is probably the single most reliable primary work on the subject. Valmy is covered in Feldzug 1792, V. 2. The Prussian documents are collected in Geschichte der PreuBischen Armee vom 15Jahrhundert dis 1914, a 4-volume set published in the 1920's. The personal memoirs of COL von Massenbach, Memoiren zur Geschicte des preuBischen Staats, contains an eyewitness account of Brunwick's staff during the fight, and is said to be the basis for most of the other German-language accounts.

The period of Valmy was the apogee of confusion for the French Revolutionary armies, and the official documentation for this time is perhaps the thinnest of all the Napoleonic records. There appears to be no official history of the period, at least not widely circulated. A secondary source, Les Guerres de la Revolution (Chuquet, 1887), appears to be the most respected French language source for the Valmy campaign.

Among the English language secondary sources the usual "Decisive Battles" literature (Creasy, et. al.) are useful, and the account in Napoleon's Marshals (Chandler, ed., 1987) in the section covering Kellermann (p. 184-188) is serviceable.

Let me know if you ever manage to get your hands of a copy of "The Thunder of Valmy". It looks like a hoot; I'll bet there are heaving bosoms in there somewhere. Not considered authoritative.

The Wiki entry for Valmy appears to be better sourced and written than many. There is a nice photoessay on Valmy at the "Battlefields of Europe" website.

The Campaign: The Valmy campaign took place in the second year of the war that would consume Europe for the next 23 years. The wars began, as even those of us who think of history as the last result on Monday Night Football know, with the "French Revolution", the foundations of which were laid well back in the middle of the 18th Century. But it was the summer of 1789 that truly precipitated the crisis, when the French royalty, nobility and upper gentry went chest-to-chest with the lower gentry, the middle classes and the canaille and lost.Most of the other powers, including the papacy and the hereditary monarchies in Europe (particularly Prussia and Austria) responded with threats that began with the Declaration of Pillnitz in August of 1791. The threat of the hovering monarchies helped foment the rise of radical deputies in the new revolutionary congress, the Legislative Assembly. Even more threatening, Austria and Prussia signed a formal treaty of alliance in February of 1792, while the radicals in the Assembly continued to argue for war.

Finally in April the Assembly declared war on Austria. The Revolutionary armies invaded Hapsburg Belgium eight days later. The invasion was a disaster, exposing the "armies" of the revolution for what they were; badly-led, poorly-trained, ill- or, more often, unsupplied rabble.

The Allied armies (of what would come to be called the "First Coalition") commanded by the Prussian Field Marshal Karl Wilhem Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, were first presented as the authority for the "Brunswick Manifesto", a document that purported to warn the French revolutionaries of the consequence of harming their Bourbon rulers;
"The city of Paris and all its inhabitants without distinction shall be required to submit at once and without delay to the king, to place that prince in full and complete liberty, and to assure to him, as well as to the other royal personages, the inviolability and respect which the law of nature and of nations demands of subjects toward sovereigns...Their said Majesties declare, on their word of honor as emperor and king, that if the chateau of the Tuileries is entered by force or attacked, if the least violence be offered to their Majesties the king, queen, and royal family, and if their safety and their liberty be not immediately assured, they will inflict an ever memorable vengeance by delivering over the city of Paris to military execution and complete destruction, and the rebels guilty of the said outrages to the punishment that they merit..."
but managed instead to infuriate the rebels; word of the Manifesto reached Paris on 1 AUG 1792 and the Paris mob threatened the Tuileries ten days later. The royals cravenly fled to the Assembly for safety.

The sad bastards of the Swiss Guard, who, good troopers that they were, obeyed the last orders given and remained guarding the now-worthless palace, were then attacked by the mass of National Guardsmen which included artillery, and a townie mob, held out through most of the day before surrendering and were butchered.The events of 10 AUG shattered the strange little sort-of-constitutional-monarchy that had followed the revolt of the Assembly. A week or so of chaos followed before a "Convention" was demanded. The king and his family were actually arrested (a step that even the revolutionary Assembly had not dared to take, even after the flight to Varennes). And on the 19 AUG the Allied Armies crossed the northeastern border into France.

Brunswick's plan was to invade France from his marshalling areas around Coblenz, capture the border fortresses of Longwy and Verdun, and then advance towards Paris via Châlons. His observation of the bad joke that was the Belgium campaign in April had convinced him that the military force of the French rebels was insignificant. He moved fairly slowly, in traditional 18th Century fashion, but Longwy fell on 23 AUG and Verdun on 2 SEP.

Brunswick's personal burden was the Prussian King, Frederick William, who insisted on accompanying the armies but refused to take command, instead "advising" his commander of his desires. In September his desire was particularly to speed up, as reports from Paris suggested that Louis XVI was in danger of getting the chop.

What passed for a government in Paris responded by directing the commander of the Armee du Nord, GEN Dumouriez to break off his advance into the Low Countries and move southeast to meet the Coalition armies.

Dumouriez marched his force - largely composed of the volunteers of the new government - and blocked the main passes through the Argonne. But the usual poor staff and reconnaissance work ignored the road through Croix-aux-Bois, which was only picketed and then forced by an Austrian corps.

Dumouriez, at this point, had to choose between falling back to the north or retreating west; he chose the latter and dropped back to near the towns of Valmy and Sainte-Manehould, on the western side of the Argonne Forest. From here he could still block the best road back across the Argonne to Germany and the Allied supply depots.

Meanwhile Kellermann's Armee de Centre moved north and joined Dumouriez late in the day of 19 SEP 1792. Kellerman arrived on several roads west of Dumouriez's positions near Sainte-Manehould and deployed on the heights of La Lune, a ridge or series of hilltops that stretch obliquely from southwest to northeast, west the high ground which Dumouriez held, and also west from the position which Dumouriez had intended the Armee de Centre to defend.

The Allied army had passed through the Croix-aux-Bois and turned south to confront the French armies. So the battle of Valmy was thus fought with the Allies attacking towards the east, with their backs towards Paris, and the French facing west, between the Allies and Germany.

Chandler (1987) states that Brunswick's plan was to maneuver to the northwest of Dumouriez, destroy him on the plains between the Brionne and Auve, and then force Kellermann to retire. Brunswick saw what he perceived to be a fatal mistake in the dispositions of the French armies; the disjunction between Kellermann's position on the Valmy plateau and the forces of Dumouriez to his rear and across the Auve River. But the King of Prussia overruled him and ordered him to cut the road to Châlons.So early in the morning of 20 SEP the Austrian and Prussian troops began forming up in the watermeadows west of the low hills between the sleepy little towns of Somme-Bionne and La Capelle where Kellermann's men had spent the night.

The Engagement:
Despite their early wakeups, the two sides were stymied by the autumn fog at dawn. The Prussian advance guard, two brigades of mixed horse, foot, and artillery, moved off about 6:30 am, and made contact with the French picquets around eight o'clock. French artillery began ranging them, at which point a large force of Prussian cavalry shoved up onto a portion of the heights of La Lune, cutting up and driving back the French force holding the Châlons road.

His position was now untenable, and with the road in Prussian hands there was no reason for Kellermann to continue to hold La Lune. He moved about half a mile to his rear (east), occupying the heights there and preparing for a general Allied assault.At the point when the haze burned off - reported at different times between ten a.m. and noon - the Allied commanders saw a line of French infantry posted along the hills that ran northwest from the village of Orbeval to Valmy and from thence northeast parallel to the Bionne. More infantry held the low ground that ran down to the south of Orbeval to the Auve and the small town of Gizaucourt.

This position was fairly strong, with the flanks pinned to the rivers to the north and south and the high ground for the French center and right. A commander who was taking his opponent seriously might have merely demonstrated before Kellermann while sending out reconnaissance parties to attempt to find a ford or bridge across the rivers. Or, concluding that an attack was inevitable, might have chosen to mask the forces on the heights, load up his right wing and smash through the low ground between Orbeval and Gizaucourt. Brunswick, his contempt for the revolutionary rabble assured, had no such intent. He formed his troops on the heights of La Lune and intended a straightforward frontal assault to sweep the guttersnipes away.

One factor may well have been the weather. September, 1792, had by all reports been atrocious, with heavy rains and unseasonal cold. Most of the troops that formed up that morning had some combination of illnesses ranging from colds and flus through immersion foot and dysentery to a moderate or worse form of hypothermia. The officers, although better off than the footsoldiers, were aware of their troops' fragility and probably preferred to risk the hazards of assault then the fatigues of continued marching. And these were only ragamuffin rebel volunteers, after all!

What the Prussian officer was unaware of was that Kellermann was an unusual Revolutionary officer. Born in 1735, he had been promoted from subaltern to major general under the old regime, and was an excellent tactical commander, drillmaster, and organizer. He was no fan of the "new Army", either; of his 23 battalions present at Valmy 19 were regular units of the old Army, and of the remaining 9 he posted 6 of the volunteers in support positions where their instability under fire would be less dangerous. All of his artillerymen were veterans.The French artillery had long been considered a bourgeouis career for a soldier. So whereas the infantry had lost much of its commissioned leadership (such as it was) from the Bourbon wars and the cavalry nearly all, the artillery was still well led in 1792. Moreso; the French "système Gribeauval" had produced a suite of gun systems that were the most technically advanced of their time; light, accurate, and hard-hitting. Pretty much all the commentators, including those of the time, agree that the French artillery was the best in Europe from the late 18th into the early 19th Centuries. And it was this arm that Brunswick was going forward to meet on the morning of Valmy.

So at ten o'clock, we have Brunswick, with his Prussians, on the hills of La Lune, about 2,500 yards to the west of Kellerman's position on Valmy heights. Brunswick has about 35,000 troops all arms, his Prussians in the front with the Austrian army corps in reserve. Kellermann's Armee de Centre, with about 35,000, is posted across Brunswick's front with Dumouriez' 18,000-some Armee du Nord in reserve along the high ground around Barux-St.-Cohiere.The Allies first attempted to put the French troops to flight with artillery. This was unsurprisingly vain; the French had the better gunners. After some time - probably an hour or so - Brunswick ordered an advance. This turned out to be a bluffed attack - he seems to have still been expecting the French infantry to run at the sight of the landsers of Fredrick the Great coming at them. Kellermann's guys stood firm and Brunswick, who might have been an optimist but was no butcher and realized that sending infantry against unshaken infantry support by artillery was murder, called his boys back and resumed shooting.

At some point, probably in the early afternoon, one of the Prussian gunners got lucky; his cannon shot caused massive secondary explosions in the French ammunition train. Several wagons full of projos went up, and some troops nearby decided that discretion was the better part of valor and beat cheeks; as many as three infantry regiments and another ammo section ran for it. Brunswick sent his infantry forward, Kellermann arrived and rallied his troops, and although the Prussian attack reached within 650 yards of the French when the French gunners began to hit the attack columns hard Brunswick called his guys back.The cannonade resumed, with, again, the Prussian batteries doing significantly less execution than their French opposite numbers. The watery sunlight was fading, the troops were sick and tired, and the the battle was proving much more difficult and irritating that the Duke of Brunswick had expected.

Sometime between 3:30 and 4 p.m Brunswick is said to have muttered "Hier schlagen wir nicht." - "We're not fighting here." - and ordered his infantry to stand down. The artillery battle continued into the rainy evening as the troops on both sides tried, probably unsuccessfully, to find a dry place to sleep. The battle sputtered out in the rainy darkness; supposedly the miserable Prussian troopers tried to stay warm by cutting down and burning every poplar tree along the roads leading west from Valmy.

It must have been a pretty rotten night.

The Outcome: Minor tactical French victory, but with major strategic implications (see "The Impact", below)

The Impact: The effect of Valmy turned out to be orders of magnitude greater than the engagement itself. For the price of several hundred lives - 300 is the figure I'm seen most often - and the cost of 200 or so invaders the combination of the stand at Valmy, the resulting strategic imbalance it left the Allied army (it was now on the wrong side of an existing French force that controlled its supply line to central Germany), and the increasingly wretched autumn weather convinced the Allied leadership that northeastern France in the fall of 1792 was indeed "no place to fight". They negotiated a withdrawal agreement with Dumoiriez (who, by the way, was the real architect of the defense of France in 1792 - Kellermann just got all the good press), marched back to Koblenz and went into winter quarters. Dumoiriez' troops then returned to the attck in the Low Countries and whipped the Austrians badly at the battle of Jemappes.Meanwhile, other Revolutionary armies were learning the hard trade of war, and quickly; GEN Custine's forces won victories in central Germany, and French forces seized parts of Austrian north Italy.

The importance of the Cannonade of Valmy was not that it was decisive in itself, but that through the results of the battle and the resultant collapse of the Allied offensive it staved off invasion for a season and gave the Revolution time to consolidate and, especially, form its armies.

By the spring of 1793 Louis XVI had followed his aristocratic coterie to the grave and the First Republic was unquestionably established. Any hope of accommodation between the Revolution and the monarchies of Austria, Prussia, and much of the rest of Europe went into the gutter with the body of the Princesse de Lamballe and the head of the Bourbon king.Even more importantly the "nation was in arms" and its armies were in the field everywhere - including within France itself - and the ruthless patriotism that would serve to uphold it already advancing against what it saw as its enemies everywhere. The struggle of revolutionary against reactionary, and then of Empire against Coalition, that was the war that would harrow Europe from Gibraltar to Moscow and from Suez to North Cape had begun. The roads to Valmy were narrow and small; the great broad roads from Valmy led to Egypt, Moscow, Waterloo, and St. Helena.And lessons of Valmy are far larger than the engagement itself.

First, perhaps, is that a plan of campaign is no substitute for a strategic objective. Brunswick was a typical man of his age and place; he saw war as an end into itself. Losing valuable soldiers for a meaningless victory in some nowhere place in the Somme valley wasn't in him. He lacked the strategic vision to see over the battles to the larger political objective beyond. But deciding not to fight that day he ceded the Revolution the time it needed to survive, and cost the lives of millions of other men, women, children, and the peace of thousands of cities and nations. He was simply too small to be what he needed to be that day.

Second is the short-lived but important value of technical superiority. The Prussian and Austrian artillery were critically deficient. Under many other circumstances the deficiency wouldn't have been great enough to make a tactical difference. It was that day.

Third, and I use this as a caution, is the overestimation of the moral over the physical, and of tales over facts. The great ideal of revolutionary France was the idea that the citizen was naturally superior to the subject; that the nation in arms, the freedom-loving patriot, would always defeat the slaves of foreign monarchs.

But Kellermann won at Valmy because his troops were mostly old-school regulars. The tale of the patriotic volunteers saving the Revolution is just wrong. The Revolution was preserved, in 1792, for the most part by the hardcase old soldiers of the King, fighting for each other and their pay, and for their regiments.

In the time of Napoleon it became accepted wisdom among the soldiers that their government lied to them; "Pour se trouver comme un Bulletin", "to lie like a Bulletin", they said. The fable about Valmy and the heroic volunteers saving the Republic, and all the patriotic fables and lies, just remind us that in war, probably more than any other human activity, we will often know the truth too late, and too little, and often never know it at all.

Touchline Tattles: It was in the fervid heat of the "patrie en danger" of 1792 that Roguet de Lisle composed the tune that was adopted and is still the national anthem of Republican France. "La Marseillaise" takes a lot of beating as a national hymn; it is moving in a way that many patriotic and anthemic songs, including in my opinion our own, just don't own;But we English-speakers often don't take the time to study the words. They are anything but just the usual tribute to heroes and freedom; "Entendez-vous dans les campagnes/Mugir ces féroces soldats?/Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras/Égorger vos fils et vos compagnes!" can be translated as "Do you hear in the countryside/Those ferocious soldiers roaring?/They come up/To slit the throats of your sons and wives!"

Can you imagine - a crowd at an American baseball game bellowing about slitting throats and roaring enemies?

It just doesn't work.

The throat-slitting reminds us that Valmy occurred in a very unique time and left its impression on France in a way that bombarding forts and burning capitols never did on us. We are all of us often fettered by our pasts, only we are often chained in ways that we ourselves only dimly understand.