Saturday, November 26, 2011

I Am a Camera: Sunny Black Friday

Nothing profound. Just had some nice snapshots of this past week.

We had our first frost last Saturday morning. I wanted to capture some of the images.
Love the delicate frost tracery on the grass. But this sort of thing is terribly ephemeral here - by ten o'clock it was raining again and all the fragile beauty was gone.
Last bit of frost-art, this one from "Lake Amherst", the low spot in the curb where the rainwater pools up.
The Peep took this on the way down Hawthorne from Grand Central Bakery. That's the "Bluebird of Death" hanging from the mirror, by the way.
a very Portland sort of November - stone and rain and fallen leaves.
Missy loves her some ginkoes. "They come from China, like me!" she enthuses;
This is another of Missy's snaps, and a good one to close with; our shadows toddling companionably along the street towards a sunny day together...
Hope you and yours are also enjoying this time together.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gray Friday

It probably says something that yesterday I posted nothing about my family and friends on the day when we in the United States are supposed to be all thankful for our family and friends and, instead, posted a grim little tale of death and disaster in the northwest woodland 220 years ago.
"My days among the Dead are passed;
Around me I behold,
Where'er these casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old:
My never-failing friends are they,
With whom I converse day by day."
And, indeed, there are times when I feel closer to times and people long passed-away than my own time.

Not that I want to try and make some sort of geezer-wheeze about how Wonderful the Good Old Days were. One thing about knowing something about history is knowing that for most of history for most human beings life sucked immense pipe.Most people lived lives of unrelenting hardship, poverty, and struggle that were merciful only in their brevity. Parents routinely buried their children. Children regularly experienced the bright, brief agony of murder, rape, savage brutality, and horror when not simply chained to the grinding wheel of slavery and misery for as long as their bodies refused to grant them quietus.
"With them I take delight in weal,
And seek relief in woe;
And while I understand and feel
How much to them I owe,
My cheeks have often been bedewed
With tears of thoughtful gratitude."
No. Me, I like indoor plumbing and central heating. I am thankful for things like the germ theory of disease, the study of anatomy, physiology, and scientific medicine, internal combustion, industrial clothing and foodstuff production. I like knowing that my children have a very good chance of seeing me take my dirt nap rather than the other way around, and that my chances of dying of typhus, appendicitis, in a Mongol invasion or during a pogrom, or for that matter in a nuclear war range somewhere from very unlikely to nearly impossible.I am thankful that I can rest for four days this weekend, than I am well-paid for the long hours I work when I do work. That I can work without a constant fear of injury or death, and know that the tools I use are well crafted and will not fail suddenly, maim, or kill me. That I can drive on safe streets, in a safe vehicle, in a safe city and not fear that the policeman I pass will pull me over either to shake me down or arrest me without cause.And I am thankful for the generations of human beings who fought ignorance and indolence, theocracy, plutocracy and oligarchy, and all the other 'ocracies that humans greedy, censorious, or brutal had - and in many parts of the world have - crafted for the misery of the common sod.
"My thoughts are with the Dead; with them
I live in long-past years,
Their virtues love, their faults condemn,
Partake their hopes and fears;
And from their lessons seek and find
Instruction with an humble mind."
But life is not all doings of the Great and the Mighty. I am thankful for my own, small bit of life as well.I am thankful for the irked look on my bride's face when she recognizes that I am willfully ignoring her rather than refuse her bidding outright. For the soft place at the juncture of her thigh and belly that is as warm and smooth as minky cloth next to a fire. For the way she sighs and the fine muscles in her shoulders soften when she slips into the darkness of true sleep beside me.For her wit, and fierce intelligence, and her loving heart. For the way she never loses hope that someday I will laugh at her dry wit.

I am thankful for the bright confidence of my children. For their easy kindness and their sulks, their happy gift for curiosity, their maddening questions on every subject I know absolutely nothing about. I am thankful for their strong young bodies that outrun my arthritic hips like the wind past a stone.I am thankful for my daughter's self-satisfied little smirk when she gets something right, and my son's shouting eagerness to tell me what I don't frigging know.I am thankful that I live among good people, warm, vibrant, engaged, energetic people. For my friends that exult with me in the tumult of the crowd and grieve with me when my thoughts turn to the little daughter I will never hold again.Who hammer nails with me, who call me on my bullshit, who may be close enough to embrace or who may be no more than a whisper of pixels on a screen. Truly, my never-failing friends are they.I am thankful that I have work that fills my hands and my mind and my heart with the knowledge of good service well performed.I am thankful that I live in the hope that I will not pass into the darkness without legacy; that my life and work will be remembered by those whose lives I touched, and that there wil be indeed no death where my spirit lives in those hearts and minds.
"My hopes are with the Dead; anon
My place with them will be,
And I with them shall travel on
Through all Futurity;
Yet leaving here a name, I trust,
That will not perish in the dust."
~ Robert Southey
So to you and yours, my friends - for those of you who come by this way ARE my friends - I will be thankful if your own day this day was full to overflowing with goodness and peace, with the love of those whom you love and the care of those you care for. That you will lay your head without fear and arise with hope and the fullness of a day of good work and hard play and those you love ahead of you.And with that I say: goodnight.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Decisive Battles: Wabash 1791

Wabash (or "St. Clair's Defeat") 4 NOV 1791Forces Engaged: United States - the force that fell in on the morning of 3 NOV 1791 reported a total of 52 officers and 868 enlisted men out of an original establishment of roughly 2,000 recorded two months earlier.

How they got there, and in what condition, is a huge part of the story of the ensuing disaster.

The expedition from Fort Washington had originally consisted of two three-battalion regiments of U.S. regular infantry, the 1st and 2nd U.S. Infantry, and five more batallions in two "regiments" of federal troops formed from six-month conscripts, the 1st and 2nd "Levy Regiments". All of these units were severely understrength as a result of poor pay, poor service conditions, poor leadership, or a combination of all three.The assigned strength of the St. Clair expedition is reported to have been roughly 600 regulars, 800 "levies" or conscripts, and 600 Pennsylvania and Kentucky militiamen in late summer 1791.

So assuming that the regulars probably suffered marginally less from desertion and illness at the time of the attack on 4 NOV 1791 the regular troops led by MG St. Clair probably consisted of no more than about 300-350 all ranks.

Below this the organizations are hard to discern, and this is made more perplexing by the early U.S. custom of designating individual battalions by the commander's name rather than by a numerical position in the regiment ("1st Battalion, 1st U.S. Infantry"). At the time of the Battle of the Wabash we know that the 2nd U.S. Infantry had been reduced to a "detachment" or probably less than 50 troops. There appear to have been the remnants of the five named levy infantry battalions as well; Butler's, Clarke's (or possibly Darke's), Patterson's, Gaither's, and Beddington's.

How strong these "battalions" were I was unable to determine, but it seems likely that, since between the regulars and the conscripts the U.S. regulars numbered around 400-500 and the regulars were reduced to nearly cadre strength these levy "battalions" would have been about 80-100, the size of a modern U.S. infantry company.

At the time the U.S. Army had only a single field artillery unit, the U.S. Artillery. This organization was represented at the Wabash by two companies (what today we would call batteries): Ford’s, organized around four 6lb cannons, and Bradford’s, with four 3lb cannons. The total number of artillerymen probably numbered no more than 100, about the size of a modern U.S. FA battery.

Roughly 300 local militia were organized into seven companies (1 Pennsylvania, 6 Kentucky). About half of these were poorly-trained, musket-armed infantry culled from local unemployed, volunteer townsmen, and the occasional bought substitute. The better grade of militiamen were rifle-armed frontiersmen due to their familiarity with the forest, their weapons, and the frontier warfare. Among these are listed 60 riflemen noted in the PA company, and about 150 in the KY companies.

Roughly one company of U.S. dragoons were assigned to the force as cavalry. The dragoons of 1791 retained little of their original use as mounted infantry, being instead used largely as scouts, flank, and rear security. In the wooded terrain of southern Ohio they would have had little value as shock cavalry.

So roughly 600-700 musket- or rifle-armed heavy infantry, 100 artillerymen with 8 (4 light, 4 medium) cannon, and 100 cavalrymen; 900 to 1,000 or so all arms under MG Arthur St. Clair.Western (or "Miami") Confederacy - Roughly 1,000 to 1,400 light infantry organized (to the best of our knowledge) as follows:

Left Wing:
Ottawa (150) under (Egushwa)
Ojibwe (150) (Wapacomegat)
Pottawatomi (100) (Mad Sturgeon)

Miami (100) (Little Turtle)
Shawnee (300) (Blue Jacket, Black Hoof, Black Fish, CPT Johnny)
Delawares (300) (Buckongahelas, CPT Pipe, Big Cat)

Right Wing:
Wyandot (200) (Tashe, Roundhead)
Mingo - now the Seneca-Cayuga of the Iroguois Confederacy (75) (Girty)
Cherokee (25) (J. Ward)

The subunits of these tribal organizations would have varied between a single group for the smaller nations up to multiple 20-30 man bands grouped into 80-100 man elements under the overall leaders Weyapiersenwah (Blue Jacket) of the Shawnee, Buckongahelas of the Delaware, and Mihšihkinaahkwa (Little Turtle) of the Miami.

The Campaign: Among the causes of the American Revolution twenty years earlier "kill the redskins" tends to get less press than "taxation without representation" but was as if not more crucial and forms the backstory behind this month's battle.

Because many of the events that led to the breakup of Great Britain and her American colonies - the quartering of British troops, those un-represented taxes, the Intolerable Acts, the tea tax and the tea party of legend - related directly to the immense difference in opinion regarding the native inhabitants of the North American continent between the British colonists and their government officers back in Blighty.

As far as about 95% of the American settlers were concerned the natives, whatever tribe, sex, nature, or calling, were a form of two-legged vermin; dangerous, unpredictable, shiftless, nasty, and troublesome. What the Americans wanted from the natives was more of their land and less of them. By whatever means necessary.

Which is not to make our American ancestors some sort of Nazis. They wanted the native peoples gone and weren't particularly picky about the means. But revisionist history to the contrary there does not ever seem to have been any sort of American Endlösung for the natives.Typically what happened was that the white population expanded into native lands through a sort of personal Brownian motion beginning with a handful of frontier ruffians headed out for pelts and general cussedness. These guys, usually single, usually distasteful of settled life, were perfectly happy to take on native ways (and native women) when offered, or fight with them (since many of the native cultures saw fighting as tribal cultures often have, a mixture of entertainment for the young men, venture capitalism, and social ritual) when not.

But these frontier tales drew landless men, or desperate families, or just the excess of the settled lands to the east. And the immense tragedy of the white settlement was that, in general, all of these people shared the common belief that the natives didn't really "own" the land they lived on the way a white man would have.

So they simply took it.

And, not surprisingly, the natives tried to take it back.

The natives were "right", if you want to consider the right-and-wrong purely based on seniority. They had squatter's rights. But the entire business has gone long past right and wrong, and, truth to tell, it would be beyond hypocritical for me to sit here, the grandson of Scots and Englishmen, in Portland, Oregon and revile my predecessors for their greed. They won, for their and my good, and the natives lost, for their and their descendents' woes.

Vae victus, woe to the vanquished, the Roman historian Livy wrote, and who should have known better than the Romans who made so much woe in their day? Before our modern sensibilities it was just business as usual for two tough, strong, dominating peoples who wanted the same piece of real estate.

The British government, on the other hand, was pretty sick and tired of funding and fighting the wars their colonial proxies ginned up with the local aborigines. They wanted a source of natural resources and a market for British finished goods, and didn't need land west of the Appalachians for that. So when the Americans kept pissing off the natives His Majesty's Government got fairly shirty and decided to charge them for the expense.

The original Teabaggers didn't like those taxes any better than their latter-day Laz-e-boy Libertarians, and so the tea went in the harbor, the port of Boston was closed, the shot heard 'round the world was fired, and sixteen years later MG St. Clair was dispatched to subdue another group of those pesky redsticks, because the success of the Revolution meant that woe was coming to the Ohio Valley as sure as the sunrise.

Before the Curtain: Beaver Wars

So I don't end up making this another of the "noble savage" or "Lo, the poor Indian" stories, let's step back over a century to the original Northwest Wars, the savaging of the Ohio area by the Iroquois to remind ourselves that the Noble Red Man could be just as rapacious as the white invaders...

Because beginning in the early Seventeenth Century and continuing for some fifty to seventy years the Iroquois Confederacy began a series of conflicts that had the effect of battering the original residents of the "old northwest" - what are today the western parts of the state of Pennsylvania and the states of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana.These wars are not well known simply because white people were involved only as passersby. But so far as we can tell the Iroquois destroyed almost all the Algonquin culture in the western Great Lakes region - the Hurons and their allies - drove the Shawnee out of western Pennsylvania, and ramped all across the northwest, driving the Siouan tribes out to the Great Plains, and spending most of the mid-Seventeenth Century exchanging raids with the Anishininaabeg Confederacy of the Miami, Shawnee, Illinois, and Pottawatomi.

The effect was to drive out the tribes living in the Ohio region; raid and counter-raid made existence in what became the no-man's-land of the Old Northwest too precarious. The Iroquois remained in notional "control" of the area but only as a resource area (their "hunting ground") as differentiated from a dwelling place.As I said, we know very little about these wars, but they sound as desperate and bloody as any in North American history. In the end the Iroquois made the strategic error of siding with Britain against her former colony. When the United States emerged from its colonial nascence the Iroquois in turn were forced to give up their lands, die, or become just another American - their power as a nation was broken.

Act I, Tragedy and Farce: The Northwest Territories

But the Ohio territory was in flux; claimed by five U.S. states including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Virginia, while the native claimants included many of the former Anishininaabeg Confederacy including the Miami, the Shawnee, the Delaware and the actual residents, mostly former Iroquoian tribes such as the Mingo.

While the British had "given" control of the Northwest to the United States it had no way of enforcing this on the native nations, and, in fact, British troops remained in forts along the Great Lakes, formally until the conclusion of the Jay Treaty negotiated in 1794, and informally until militarily destroyed during the War of 1812.

The new U.S. government, though, took the word for the deed. The U.S. government, then as now, was deep in debt and hoped to reduce this deficit by selling off this "free land", regardless of who the Shawnee thought really owned it.

Congress passed a "Land Ordinance of 1785" that encouraged the Wall Street of their day, the western land-speculators, to buy up vast tracts, survey them, and sell them to gullible rubes hardy settlers. Already white farmers from marginal lands in Connecticut were already flooding into the "Western Reserve", actually the southern shore of Lake Erie in what is today northeastern Ohio.In the "Northwest Ordinance" of 1787 the Confederation Congress showed that it had perfected the tragicomic song-and-dance routine that both whites and reds grew to know painfully well over the next century. On the one hand it claimed to be the Great White Father; the Ordinance gave Indians U.S. legal title to "enjoy whatever lands they lived on".

But the Ordinance also encouraged the white folks to settle north of the Ohio, and expedited land claims for those who wanted their forty acres and their mule. Not surprisingly these frontrunners often met their manifest destiny at the sharp end of a Shawnee or Mingo belt axe or bullet, and the Ohio story of raid and counter-raid, killing and revenge killing continued.

Act II: Westward, Ho!, or, Damn the Redskins, Full Speed Ahead! Oops!

Lots of individuals and groups enjoyed making trouble in the region.

To the north the Brits kept a hand in, selling guns and ammo to the tribes and encouraging them to take a whack at the encroaching Yankees. To the south land speculators and Indian-haters wanted to see more Indians being made into good Indians. The native tribes wanted to be left alone on their lands, the settlers wanted the land they felt that the redskins were wasting. The result was a bloody mess from Yorktown until the autumn of 1786 when one BG Logan led a U.S. expedition against the Shawnee towns along the Mad River. His force of U.S. infantry and Kentucky militia did the usual burning and killing, in this case largely of women, children and older men "home guard"...since the Shawnee soldiers were themselves out killing, raping, and burning in Kentucky!

The Logan raid just added to the furor. For the next five years something like 1,500 U.S. citizens of Kentucky or travelers on the Ohio were killed. American raids into native territories probably killed as many during that time.By 1790 the new administration of George Washington had had enough. Washington directed his Secretary of War, Knox to organize an offensive into central Ohio to what would be later called "pacify" the Miami and Shawnee (meaning, obviously, to kill as many as possible and to drive the rest north and west).

The War Department set about doing what it was named for.

BG Josiah Harmar was instructed to assemble about 1,500 troops near modern Fort Wayne, Indiana in the autumn of 1790. Harmar, who was by the accounts of his surviving officers either drunk, incompetent, or both, got his troops in place and then managed to commit this already-small force in penny packets against the Shawnee, who defeated the U.S. troops in a series of engagements during October, 1790, including the "Battle of Heller's Corner", "Hartshorn's Defeat" and the gruesomely named "Battle of the Pumpkin Fields" (supposedly because the steam from the scalped Yankee skulls made the natives think of freshly-cooked gourds scenting the autumn air).

Harmer lost about 130 troops and was forced back to his logistical base by the onset of winter.

Act III: The Madness of President George

As both former army commander and President of the young nation George Washington was honked off with Harmer and the failure of his command. He said "my mind... is prepared for the worst; that is, for expence without honor or profit." He demanded another offensive against the tribes the following summer. Congress raised a 2nd Regiment of regulars but then proceeded to display the sort of fiscal foresight and prudence that Congress has made legendary by cutting the troopers' pay and laying off troops already serving, reducing the establishment of the 1st U.S. Infantry to under 300. As a result the new unit managed to pull about half their authorized strength and the boys of the First were pretty pissed off.

And the First U.S. Infantry weren't all that happy to begin with - they'd been badly mishandled during Harmar's fiasco and the boys weren't exactly raring to go have another whack at the redsticks. The militia was the usual shambles as an organization (thought individual militiamen might have been good fighters) and the "levies" were a bloody mess. Discipline was slack, and between supply and management problems many of the troops who fell into the firing lines on 4 NOV had never before fired a round, live or blank.

St. Clair's force assembled in the summer of 1791 at Fort Washington near what is now Cincinnati, Ohio.Everyone, from the commander to the most raggedy private, seems to have hated the whole business. Supplies were slow in arriving and bad when they arrived. Transport - horses and mules - was in bad shape, the animals in poor health and their fodder lean or nonexistent.

Act IV: Anabasis, or, The Journey Up.

We do not have an extant copy of St. Clair's orders. From what I can tell his objective was purely geographical; to construct a string of fortifications northwards from Fort Washington to the heart of the Miami country. The defeat of the Confederacy forces seems to have been considered an afterthought, regardless of the good showing they had made against Harmar's force the previous year.

St. Clair does seem to have had some notion of the hazards of his movement in enemy country; we have a contemporary document prepared by the Army's Adjutant General entitled "Order of Battle, march and encampment of the Army of the United States under Major General Arthur St. Clair during the campaign of 1791" showing that the commander understood the need to move and encamp carefully in enemy territory.But the logistical and disciplinary problems were so great that the force was unable to move until September. Benjamin Lossing, writing in 1869, gives us a delightfully Victorian word-picture of the expedition.

After noting that the force departed Fort Washington on 5-6 SEP 1791 Lossing says that they marched north twenty miles to the modern town of Hamilton where they constructed a fort named for the place. From there the force marched a further forty-two miles to a site in the present Darke County, Ohio, where they built a second fortification they called Fort Jefferson.

Then Lossing (1869) continues:
"When they moved from there, on the 24th of October, they began to encounter the subtle foe in small parties. It was evident that dusky scouts were hanging upon their flanks, and they became hourly more cautious and vigilant. The nights were frosty, but serene. The days were genial and brilliant. The summer warmth had been diffused over the whole of September; and now the forests were arrayed in all the gorgeous beauty of autumnal splendors peculiar to them.
At length, when dark clouds were overhead, and falling leaves were thick in their path, the invading army halted and encamped upon the borders of an unknown stream, which proved to be a chief tributary of the Upper Wabash. They were ninety-seven miles from Fort Washington, deep in the wilderness. A light fall of snow lay upon the ground – so light that it appeared like hoar-frost. Over a piece of rising ground, timbered with oak, ash, and hickory, the encampment was spread, with a fordable stream, forty feet in width, in front. The army lay in two lines, seventy yards apart, with four pieces of cannon in the centre of each. Across the stream, and beyond a rich bottom land three hundred yards in width, was an elevated plain, covered with an open forest of stately trees. There the militia – three hundred and fifty independent, half-insubordinate men, under Lieutenant Colonel Oldham, of Kentucky – were encamped.

Eight weary miles through the woods the soldiers had marched that day, and when the camp was arranged the sun was low in the cloudless sky of the west. The tired soldiers early sought repose, without suspicion of danger near. All around them were evidences of old and recent Indian camps, and a few lurking savages had been seen by vigilant eyes; but no one knew whether Little Turtle and his confederates, with their followers, were near or far away."
They were not far away. The battle would occur the next morning.

Sources: As always when we deal with engagements between Western forces and native groups the problem is that the sources are hopelessly one-sided.

On the one side we have all the daily business records of an early industrial Army and a modern government; War Department papers such as the above, logistical returns, daily reports, casualty lists, rosters, muster lists, as well as the original summations such as the results of inquiries or the reports of courts-martial and committee meetings. One good place to start is here, the War Department papers for 1791, if for no other reason than to marvel that any military business got done before the invention of the typewriter. Much of the handwriting is difficult to read, to say the least.

The investigation of the disaster initiated by the House of Representatives (more of which later) is summarized in "Causes of the Failure of the Expedition against the Indians in 1791, under the command of Major General St. Clair," contained in the American State Papers, Class V, Military Affairs, Vol. I, pp. 36-39, Document No.5.St. Clair's account of the battle: "A Narrative of the Manner in which the Campaign against the indians, in the Year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-one, was Conducted, under the Command of Major General Arthur St. Clair" was published in Philadelphia in 1812. This account is, obviously, biased in the general's favor.

Of the numerous volumes published since the era one of the most accessible and useful is the recent Osprey campaign issue "Wabash 1791" by John Winkler

On the other we have, if extant, usually oral histories at best, or sometimes written accounts told to third parties, often ling after the events of the day. Among the secondary sources that discuss the native troops, their leaders, and the issues they fought for are Harold Allison's "The Tragic Saga of the Indiana Indians" (1986), Lewis's "The Life and Times of Little Turtle: First Sagamore of the Wabash" (1987) and John Sugden's "Blue Jacket: Warrior of the Shawnees"

And perhaps the most memorable - and certainly the most haunting - is the ballad "St. Clair's Defeat"
that was written some time in the 19th Century within the lifetimes of the survivors.

Ignore the video attached - some idiot didn't know the difference between the French and Indian War (the video is from a film version of the British assault on Fort Ticonderoga) and the Battle of the Wabash, - but you might listen to the doleful little tune while you read the sorry tale that follows.

The Engagement: Lossing describes the morning of 4 NOV:
"The morning of the 4th dawned brilliantly. "Moderate northwest wind, serene atmosphere, and unclouded sky." All night long the sentinels had been firing upon prowling Indians, and the men, by order of the commanding general, had slept upon their arms."
Despite the clear warnings that the enemy both knew his force's location and was making a reconnaissance of its position, St. Clair had already failed to make some elementary precautions.

First he had divided his force or, to be precise since he had little effective control of his militia element at this point, allowed it to be divided. Neither the regular elements nor the militia could effectively support the other.
(here's the legend for the map above, keyed to the letters next to the units):
a Butler’s battalion;
b b artillery;
c Clarke’s battalion;
d Patterson’s battalion;
e Faulkner’s rifle company;
f f cavalry;
g detachment of U. S. Second Regiment;
h Gaither’s battalion;
j Beddinger’s battalion;
b n p flank guards;
o 2 pickets;
s swamp;
m camp guard.

The "numerous crosses represent the enemy"

z z, troops retreating; the crooked stream, a tributary of the Wabash.
He also either failed, or was unable, to insist on any sort of field fortifications. Even a low log breastwork or some sort of brush abatis might have helped his force survive the coming encounter.

And that was not long in coming.

Like many tribal or preindustrial troops, the Confederacy had no more than a handful of simple tactics. These were no less effective for their simplicity; ambush, hasty, and deliberate attack still work just like they worked in Pharoah's day because they're fundamentally sound. Having made a thorough recon of the U.S. position the central element of Miamis, Shawnees, and Delawares slammed into the worse-organized militia camp.Let's go to Lossing again:
"The troops had been early mustered and dismissed from parade. They were preparing for breakfast, when, half an hour before sunrise, a body of Indians, with yells that wakened horrid echoes miles away through the forest, fell suddenly upon the militia. The assailed camp was immediately broken up, and the frightened soldiers, most of whom had never been in battle, rushed wildly across the bottom and the creek into the lines of the regulars, producing alarm and confusion there. The Indians closely followed, and fell upon the regulars."
This is classic irregular warfare; slow, careful IPB (intelligence preparation of the battlefield) followed by sudden, violent close action - we saw this at the Little Bighorn almost 100 years later.

And, again as we've seen since then, the native light infantry continued forward, "hugging the belt", driving the broken militia into the unshaken enemy regulars, successfully masking the potentially effective organized fire and heavy weapons of those regulars.

Because one very real danger to the Confederacy were the cannon of the U.S. Artillery. This is where one of the Confederacy leaders - said to be Mihšihkinaahkwa - had done his tactical planning; he had told off designated marksmen to target the gunners. The U.S. redlegs found out that snowy day what other smooth-bore artillerists were to learn painfully over the next fifty years - that a smoothbore cannon without a body of formed troops to hit was fearsomely vulnerable to concealed riflemen whose range was only slightly less than their own.

Some time early in the morning so many of the gun crews had been killed or wounded that the remaining gunners spiked their cannons - drove actual nails into the touchholes to disable them - rather than face the ultimate artillery disgrace of losing a mission-capable cannon.

The U.S. regulars were still, at bottom, good troops. They broke their musket stacks and formed into volley firing lines. Their disciplined fires drove the initial Confederacy assault back, and continued to hold their ground even as the attacking force completely enveloped them. Forming a 360-degree perimeter the U.S. forces continued to fight for the next several hours.The tactical errors of St. Clair and his officers continued to hammer them, however. For some reason the regular officers were convinced that the bayonet was their combat weapon of decision and persisted in making repeated bayonet charges out of their perimeter. The Confederacy troops fell back before these rushes, which inevitably ran out of energy and cohesion among the snowy woods and were then surrounded and cut apart. COL Darke supposedly was among the most hardheaded of these bayonet-fighters and payed the price; his son Joseph died somewhere out in the woods of Ohio.

By about 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning the untenable position of the St. Clair force was obvious even to its commander. He ordered a breakout toward Fort Jefferson and abandoned his artillery, supplies and, worst of all, his wounded - knowing that the native tribes had no use for wounded enemies, and neither the capability nor the inclination to treat them.

This time the breakout succeeded. The Confederacy troops pursued for several miles before losing interest and returning to the more entertaining looting and torturing of the prisoners.

Only 24 officers and troopers reached Fort Jefferson unwounded, and less than a total of 100 men reached safety.The execution fires burned for days afterward.

St. Clair admitted the disaster; "It was, in fact, a flight" he wrote to Henry Knox. His President was apoplectic. He ranted to his private secretary
"Here, yes, HERE, on this very spot, I took leave of him. I wished him success and honor. You have your instructions, I said, from the Secretary of War. I had a strict eye to them, and will add but one word – beware of a surprise! I repeat it – BEWARE OF A SURPRISE! You know how the Indians fight us. He went off with that, as my last solemn warning, thrown into his ears. And yet!! to suffer that army to be cut to pieces, hacked, butchered, tomahawked, by a surprise – the very thing I guarded him against!! O God, O God, he is worse than a murderer! How can he answer it to his country? The blood of the slain is upon him – the curse of widows and orphans – the curse of Heaven!"
It is difficult to comprehend the size of the butchery relative to the size of the country and the Army - the dead of Wabash constituted one-quarter of the entire U.S. Army of 1791. It was as if the Afghan muj managed to kill 10,000 GIs in a single engagement. St. Clair's defeat stunned the Army and the nation.

The Outcome: Decisive Western Confederacy tactical victory

The Impact: As always with native American victories, the best the natives could hope for was a short reprieve. The sheer numbers of the white invaders, their better organization, their more powerful industrial economy (which freed them from the fragility of a subsistence economy) meant that no American defeat would ever be really decisive. Within three years "Mad" Anthony Wayne would bring the Confederacy to its knees at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

Guns, germs, and steel - and printing, paved roads, Robert's Rules of Order, and the steam engine - doomed the Western Confederacy. Within a generation the scattered, desperate remnants of the proud nations that sent their fighting men to defeat the white army at the Wabash were broken, scattered fugitives being forced far from their homes and into a penurious, disinherited future.That did no good for St. Clair's wretched troops, though. From the Wiki entry:
"The American casualty rate, among the soldiers, was 97.4 percent, including 632 of 920 killed (69%) and 264 wounded. Nearly all of the 200 camp followers were slaughtered, for a total of 832 Americans killed."
The 2nd U.S. Infantry was destroyed and had to be completely reconstituted. Something was clearly wrong with the Army of 1791.

And so the disaster resulted in the changes that produced, in time, the U.S. Army of today. In 1792 the Congress raised new units, took control of the militia with the Militia Acts that required the state rabble to meet federal troop standards, and made them federal troops upon the command of the President. One of the new troop units, the "Legion of the United States" was critical in the destruction of the fighting power of the Confederacy at Fallen Timbers. And the new forces were also instrumental in establishing federal power by their employment during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.

Perhaps the most significant consequence of the battle - and the least remarked at the time - was in the establishment of the now-pernicious practice of "executive privilege".

St. Clair reported to his superiors in Philadelphia in JAN 1792. He refused to take the blame for the mess, blaming his militia commanders, the quartermaster general as well as the War Department. The President through SEC Knox refused him a court-martial and forced him into retirement.

The House of Representatives had other ideas. It began the very first Congressional investigation in U.S. history and demanded documents from the War Department. SEC Knox believed that this transgressed the "separation of powers" doctrine and went to Washington, suggesting that the administration resist this demand. Washington, in turn, pulled his department heads (Knox, Jefferson (State), Hamilton (Treasury), and Attorney General Randolph) to discuss this question - the first recorded meeting of what would become the Cabinet.

In the end Congress got their papers...but the result of this and several following meetings was that Washington and his cabinet concluded that, at least in theory, the both on the grounds of separation of powers as well as "the public good/official secrets" that refusing to divulge any papers or materials was constitutionally legal, a precedent that remains troubling to this day.

Touchline Tattles: Perhaps the most dismal little tale that hangs from the deadly morning along the Wabash is the tale of the last days of Arthur St. Clair.

Keep in mind that this man had stood on the heights of power. He had been general and a hero of the Revolution. He was president of the Congress of the United States Assembled, making the de-facto ruler of the Articles United States, and as such he was only a little less crucial to the eventual Constitutional U.S. than Washington himself. He helped force through the passage of that document, and then even after his defeat on the Wabash remained the governor of the Northwest Territories. In that post he spent a pantsload of money out of his own pocket, sure that his new government would reimburse him.

It didn't.

Then he came down on the wrong side of Ohio statehood.

The the new President, Jefferson, sacked him.

He returned to his home outside Pittsburg, a debtor, and lost his home and his possessions. He moved to a hillside shack outside the Ligonier Valley, overlooking what is now Latrobe, opened a tavern and, the former president of his country, bankrupt and ignored, served rum and bread to strangers traveling the Forbes Road. Some time in the teens he was described in a letter: "I saw a relic of the revolution today serving ale at a tavern, it was Arthur St. Clair."

He died in the late summer of 1818, supposedly after a fall from a wagon; one can only imagine how the old campaigner got to be in a state that would enable him to fall from a wagon and be killed.

He was buried in a small park in Greensburg, Pennsylvania by the charity of his fellow Masons. His original monument was not well-made and crumbled in the early Twentieth Century; the local historical society replaced it with a stone that is carved to read: "The earthly remains of Arthur St. Clair are deposited beneath this humble monument which is erected to supply the place of a nobler one due from his country."

No such stone was ever placed there.Today whatever remains of the patriot, revolutionary, political leader, and commander that was so roughly mishandled on that snowy November morning, is forgotten in a weedy corner of rural Pennsylvania, his only honor guard the crumpled cans that litter his grave like the bodies of his soldiers scattered over the bloody snow beside the Wabash two hundred and twenty years ago.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Crime and Punishment

I was not happy when my cell phone started singing as I was heading south on I-205.

The early dark had caught Portland's evening rush hour in a rain-slick chaos of a Tuesday.

For all that we here get a tropical hundred-some inches of rain every winter we are really terrible drivers in it; speeding, tailgating, and weaving between lanes in a contemptuous hurry. Familiarity with the slippery roads breeds insurance claims, and I really wasn't in the mood to talk both because of the difficulty of the business at hand and the long day of cold, wet work I'd had.But the curse of the cell is that you're tethered to it; everyone knows you have one, and you can no longer pretend to be unable to respond every time some trivial crisis reaches for your collar.

But as soon as I flipped the phone open I realized the crisis was a different sort.

"Can you speak to Missy?" my wife asked in her you-don't-really-have-an-option voice.

"Sure." I replied, canny husband that I am, and was rewarded with the sound of a tiny, hiccup-sobbing little voice in my ear as some jackhole cut into the lane a half-chrome-bumper-plating-layer-thick width in front of me.

"I'msosorryDaddyIdidn't..." was all I could make out of the confusion of little-girl hysteria.

"Calm down, sweetie," I said, looking over my shoulder as I slid to the right into the vacant travel lane, "...and tell me. What happened?"

Out of the incoherent kidspeak - instantaneous translation is one of those parenting skills they don't tell you about in "What to Expect When You're Expecting" - I sussed out the tale. Little girl had done something unforgivable to something of mine and was now terrified to collapse by the fear of parental vengeance.

"Do you still love me, Daddy?" she asked between sobs.

One of the least-appreciated parental skills is the ability not to laugh at inappropriate times. Missy's fear was a live thing to her, for all that it might seem silly to me after fifty years of living and the hard knowledge of real wrongs done and forgiven. She was really terrified that I might love some object associated with me more than I loved her.

"Sweetie, I will ALWAYS love you. Always." I tapped the brakes to avoid an overloaded panel truck weaving ominously in and out of the center lane to my left "I might not be happy with what you did but I will never stop loving you."

I paused to let a gust of hiccuping pass and then asked the question that had been on my tongue since the phone rang;

"What DID you do?"

At that point I was transferred to my son, who explained that his little sister had drawn a beard and other additions on a picture I had stuck up on the refrigerator."It's really funny, it was wrong, but it's also kinda funny, but she's really, really sorry, Dada..." he expanded for his erring sister.

"Okay. Let me talk to your sister."

"Missy, sweetie, it's okay. I still love you. I will ALWAYS love you. Just ask next time, okay? I don't like when you take things without asking. But that will never make me not love you."

The assurance seemed to have its effect, as her sounds lost their bereft quality. By the time I closed the phone all I heard were small sniffles.

Where did we get this terrible power? What strange need in the human heart grants a man of average mind and no particular gifts the ability to reduce a little girl to helpless grief over some silly, trivial sin for no better reason than because they are father and daughter?

We sail so thoughtlessly through our emotions, these loves and likings, the complex shoals and deeps of need and desire, hope and hatred, freedom and dependence that we don't often stop and contemplate the ocean we sail upon. At least, I usually don't.

Until the brokenhearted crying of my little girl makes me look around me and marvel at the broad and mostly unexplored distances of that vast and perilous deep.

We have no charts to the passages of the heart.

When I finally walked up the night-wet steps to the door this was affixed under the knocker:My bride looked up from her book as I passed through the doorway reading this plea for forgiveness obviously penned for my daughter by her brother. Mojo frowned at me as I grinned at the amanuensis' addendum - "I still think that it looks funny" (I detected the likelihood that the smaller child had been led into temptation by the larger...)

"She really was very worried that you wouldn't love her anymore. They just went to bed. You might check on her and see if she's still awake and let her know everything's OK."

So I went softly barefooted down the darkened hallway to Missy's little shed-roofed room at the back of the house. The small figure was cuddled inside a muddle of pink little-girl blankets and stuffed bed-friends, and the cheek that was half-covered by a sheet of nightblack hair was warm and smelled faintly of her beloved strawberry "Pixie Hollow" shampoo. The skin under my lips was very soft. I ran one hand over her head, marveling at the rich complexity of this small person that life and Fate had brought here and to me.

"I love you, sweetheart, and I always, always will."

From somewhere deep in dreams she must have heard, because a tension I hadn't even noticed before went out of the small shoulders. She sighed and settled back into her pillow, and her lips curved ever so slightly upward.And I left her smiling into the silence of her darkened room.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Else We Would Love It Too Much

I'd like to you watch the first minute of this video. I can't embed it, it's probably protected by the Stones' record label.

Because as I was hunting for Stones videos I came across this and ended up watching the first minute probably half a dozen times. I couldn't look away.

The camera sails weightlessly along above the lush green of Vietnam. And the blooms of the ordnance - it's napalm, or napalm mixed with white phosphorus - are like perfect fire flowers that rise from the ground in gorgeous, deadly incandescense to the pounding soundtrack of "Paint It Black"."It is well that war is so terrible," said Bobby Lee, "...else we would grow to love it too much." Watch the first minute of this thing and you can understand why people - let's be honest; men - throughout all human time have fallen in love with war. Because in its way it really is incredibly beautiful.

But at the same time it's fucking horrible.

Watch it again. The part of Vietnam we're seeing isn't a factory, or a bridge, or a road. It's not a military base. There don't appear to be troops below the aircraft or within the rain of fire. I think the string of crappy little village shacks are...a string of crappy little village shacks.

And the fast-mover is blowing the shit out of them, apparently at random.

There's no pattern to this I can see. There's no visible "targets"; the aircraft isn't dropping its ordnance on a specific point, or a visible enemy.

It seems to be doing just what it looks like: flying along at 200 feet AGL just bombing the living hell out of random shacks and everything inside them..And I can't imagine how ANY sane human being could love that too much,

or some,

or a tiny bit,

or at all.

Friday Jukebox II: Northern California Kick Ass Edition

OK, nepotism confession time; the bass player for this group - The Mermen out of San Francisco is my ex-brother-in-law Allen Whitman.But ex-family-connections aside (and losing my friendship with Allen was and is perhaps the thing I still regret the most about my detonation of my first marriage) it is more than just nepotism that makes me post this video here. These guys genuinely rock, and they are a sort of kind of odd fixture in the northern CA surfer scene.

Which is pretty amazing, because as I understand it neither Whitman nor the lead guitarist (Jim Thomas) can surf across a flat pond on a calm day.

Be patient (or forward to about 2:20 when the rocking really begins) because this song, "Casbah", is one of their more kick-ass, except for the very vivid memory I have of one show of their I went to see at some little shithole bar somewhere in the dumpy part of Santa Rosa, CA, back in the Nineties.

A typical Merman song is not quite as tight as this one - there's a lot of noodling about and long soloing. And there's not a lot of FM radio 3:40-style discipline. A Mermen tune goes...well, as long as it needs to. And there's a lot of very astral spaciness there. So there we were, just surfin' along with the Mermen (all of us with our earplugs in - these guys are LOUD) on our ride to...where-ever.

Until suddenly the boys kicked over into a beautiful, incredible, perfectly terrifying instrumental cover of the Rolling Stone's "Paint It Black".
I wish I could find you a YouTube video of that cover. It fucking blistered what was left of the dingy paint off the walls and knocked us out of our chairs. It hammered the freaky dancers who had been ambling around the tiny dance floor to their knees. It made the sun come out into the northern California night; it made the mountains tremble and the seas run red with blood.

It was everything fucking great about rock n' roll.

Damn. I miss those guys.

Friday Jukebox: Northwest Kick Ass Edition

Did I mention I loves me some Sleater-Kinney?
Proof that the Northwest can produce some great four-chord rock bands outside Seattle. Miss 'em.

Black Months

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at nightAnd I love the rain.

~ Langston Hughes

Face of the Tiger

"There was a young lady from Niger"

My hip is aching tonight, so when the little cat jumped up on my chest (she likes to climb on me in the night and sleep, and she's so small that usually I give her a pat or two and go back to sleep myself. But not tonight.) I got up, shuffled into the kitchen to drop some kibbles in her bowl, then to the bathroom, and then here, where we left the laptop on all night because it is developing some sort of boot-issues and Mojo needs to use it for work tomorrow.

And I spent an hour or so visiting some electronic friends.

Isn't that odd?

I am a great believer that we are really fairly consistent monkeys; I honestly believe that human behavior hasn't changed all THAT much since Sumer. So our hopes and hates, our dreams and nightmares, the way of a man with a maid or a mother with a child have more commonality than difference whether we live in little brick houses or in temple-cities.

But electronics really have made a difference in scope.

So whilst jim and Lisa are in Florida a continent away I can drop in on Ranger Against War, or Lisa's posts at Big Brass Blog, and see what they've been doing. Or e-mail Lisa and chat (always a worthwhile thing, since she is as wise as she is lovely). And Labrys, whose ferocity and intelligence are as great as the goddess she bear, lives almost in my pocket here in the Northwest and I feel like she's a neighbor although we have never met. And there's a whole damn digital bar full of cronies; basil, Andy, Al, Publius, Ael as well as the welcome random visitors over at MilPub.

And then there's the whole Facebook deal. I wish I could hang with Britt and talk about her photography, or enjoy Carrie being serious amid her twinados, or kid India about her roller-derby hip (which is something like "keeper's-hip" which is what woke me tonight...) or hear Linda read her poems or fuss over Emme. But they live in New York or Texas or Arizona or California.

The thing is that with Al Gore's great invention we can visit whilst never moving from out of our chairs so far apart.

And that's a pretty terrific thing.

It doesn't replace going to the Thirsty Lion with my pals Brent and Julie to cheer the Timbers and hang out, or going biking with Devora and Ed, or playing D&D with Will (I swear, we will, soon, I promise!) and talking Portlandia with Meghan...but I value my Internet friends in their own way; not more, not less, just in another key, a blue note - because I wish we COULD be physically nearby. But their songs are part of the complex music that is my life.

And - as much as I worry about what seems to be my problem with keeping close to people I like - it's a pretty damn good life, a rich, strange, and varied piece of music.

"Who smiled as she rode on a tiger"

Which sometimes delights me. But which also sometimes amazes me - how did I get here? How did I deserve this brilliant, lovely woman and these smart, funny kids? - and sometimes confounds me.

And sometimes disturbs me.

Because for all that I love my life; my family, my friends, my work, my home and the place I have found to live and, I hope, to die, here in Portland and the Northwest I adore...when I look at my country I feel positively feverish; a hot flush of anger followed by a shiver of despair.

I think everyone feels that they are living in turbulent times. Peace and rest are for the dead; living people are always troubled. But I look around me and what I see is very ominous.

I think my nation, as a nation and as a people, is not socially, economically, or politically sound. For most of my generation (I entered the Army the year that Ronnie Reagan was elected) we have been dismantling the America I grew up in.

I know that America was not a perfect thing. I know it had many flaws, although as a son of a relatively wealthy white couple I wasn't forced to confront most of them. But it had a lot of strengths, too.

For one thing, it was much more coherent that it is now. We had our wealthy, and they pretty much ran the place (after all, those well-to-do planters, merchants, and attorneys didn't meet in Philadelphia to create some sort of paradise for layabout and yahoos, right?) then as now. But they were less distant, and you could still make a pretty decent way in the world even if your parents weren't in the yacht club.

A college education was affordable, much more so than it is now (I just talked to a Facebook friend from college whose child is looking into attending the small private school we payed something like $40,000 - pretty big money in 1975 - to attend and is looking at something like a quarter of a million over four years) and with a much better chance of leading to a decent job.

And the notion that taxes were the price of civilization was much more widely accepted. I've watched that - beginning with Measure 5 here in Oregon in 1990 - entire concept fray as a third of my compatriots take on the Leona Helmsley Philosophy of Life, that taxes are for the Little People.

And, of course, there's the Lesser Depression.

I know a woman, one of my former community college students. Brilliant woman; bright, energetic, persistent, decent. She's done everything "right", played by all the rules. Worked her way through community college, cared for her parents, took on tons of student debt to get her bachelor's degree...and she's got nothing. No job, not a hint of a job, and she's running out of time, and hope.

There's a lot of others like her, and that's just not fucking right.

In a better country her problem, and the problems of the others like her, would be a firebell in the night. We'd be frantic to figure out why all these people couldn't work, weren't working. And we'd be doing something to change that.

But we're not.

At least our so-called "leaders" are not. Instead they're nattering about deficits and fretting about taxing the "job-creators"

"Job-creators". So where's Suzanne's job? Where are ALL the jobs we're so tenderly shielding your wallets from, plutocrats? Why are so many of the young people I know working at Burgerville? Why are so many of the storefronts I drive past vacant?

Are you seeing what's wrong with this picture, you puling fucktards, you entitled bastards, there in your legislative offices from Portland to Salem to Washington D.C.?

No. I don't get the sense they do.

"They returned from the ride with the lady inside"

The news of the police reduction of the various Occupy encampments has struck me harder than I thought it would.

For all that I think the Occupiers have failed, I had hoped that their presence would have done something to change the way we in this country are talking. I had hoped that it would have shown that the populists of the Left had some kind of common ground with the supposed populists - the "Tea Party" - of the Right. That between them there would be a hope of swinging the national consensus back towards the People.

From history I understand that the United States has always been a contest between Those Who Have and Those Who Want. From the Framer's ideal of the rule of the deserving through Jacksonians-versus-Jeffersonians through the Great Schism over slavery, the labor-against-robber-baron struggles of the late Victorian times, the Gilded Age that ended with the smashup of '29 and the rise of the New Deal my country has always been the battlefield of those who believe that the nation is ruled best when it rules for the humbler sort against those who believe that those who have deserve to rule over those who have-not.

And being emotionally as well as politically a sort of have-not I know which side I favor.

So as much as the Rise of Reaganism has been personally and politically painful for me I understand that it's just the latest veer of the political wind.

But lately that wind seems to bring me a wintery loss of hope.

Because it seems too much like first icy gust of the perfectly terrible storm. An economy that has been sustained for decades by bubbles has burst. Our tax and tariff policies - enacted by thirty years of politicians trained to believe that getting cheap plastic crap into the country was worth letting jobs flee the country - don't encourage domestic manufacture. The last "recoveries" have been largely without rebuilding the lost jobs. There are now too many Suzannes out there, desperate for work, burdened with debt.

And our politics has become perfectly toxic. Where once "conservatives" believed in things like low taxes and small government as philosophy they now believe in them as religion. There is no compromise in them; they want it all, and are willing to go to literally insane lengths to get it. And "liberals" who once believed in the ideals of this country as expressed in the great words of its birth certificates have lost their willingness to fight for those ideals.

We were seduced by our long post-WW2 domestic tranquility into thinking we'd outgrown the dirty deeds we did dirt cheap back in our younger days. But those ways were still there, and when the vermin we elected eleven years ago reintroduced us to them we turned out to be all to willing to accept them.

We aren't horrified by the idea of torturing our captives; we're debating it. We no longer retch at the idea of assassinating unwitting opponents in lands not our enemy; we ignore it. We don't recoil at the notion that we should be a land where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Or, at least, "we" - the bulk of us - don't do anything about it.

So it seems to me that we're sliding down into perilously bad economic times, times that have the potential to be bad for years, at the same time that our politics has become impotent to do so much as agree that those bad times are upon us, much less do anything to arrest the slide.

"And the smile on the face of the tiger".

So. Here I sit. Warm, at peace, well-fed, content. Surrounded by a houseful of peaceful sleepers (other than the little cat, who has climbed into my lap as I type this and is making it very difficult to write) in a silent, dark neighborhood that I love, in a city and a part of the world I cherish. Enmeshed by a web of friendships with good people; fine, decent, lovely people who make the world a better place merely by breathing in it. In a country richer, more powerful, grander than any that has risen glittering from the Earth since the mud-walls of Sumer and the marble columns of Rome.

And yet tonight I look out into the night and I feel the hope for my children, for my nation, for the next ten years fading away like the stars before the coming dawn.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wind and Rain

I was truly on a blogroll and then...

...I had to drill four borings in Wilsonville.

I've been up every morning since Monday at four and working long past dark. It's been effing cold, and today it's supposed to get worse - driving rain and temperatures in the low forties. I'm whacked, and so posting's been light.

And in all honesty the recent destruction of the Occupy sites in Portland, Oakland, and NYC has me truly, viciously depressed. Sucking-the-muzzle depressed. What-the-fuck-are-you-people-thinking depressed.

Here are people, committed people, concerned people, trying to tell you politicians and plutocrats that returning this country to the political and economic land of the Gilded Age might...just might...ALSO return us to anarchist bombings, labor riots, and the Upton Sinclair jungle of violent urban poor and rural squalor...and your reaction is to flex-cuff 'em and and ignore 'em?

Yes, they're annoying. Yes, they're all over your nice little parks. Yes, you'd rather not think about what they're talking about just bybeing there. But...instead of reflecting on the past fifty years of relative peace and prosperity they'rer trying to talk about returning to, you're doubling down on the Boss Tweed plutocratic fucking crazy?

Are you fucking insane?

You WANT to hand your country over to the sort of malefactors of great wealth that created and then destroyed the Mortgage Bubble Economy that landed us in the Lesser Depression?

And yet you can STILL find the time and money to chase some raggedy-assed muj around the hills of West Buttfuckistan?

As they say on Mandalore: Kaysh mirsh solus. Your fucking brain cell is lonely.

And speaking of Mandos, right now I'm feeling kinda all kinds of Mando about my "leaders" - in Portland, fucking Bloomberg in NYC, inside the Beltway...and not in a good way. Specifically, "Ib'tuur jatne tuur ash'ad kyr'amur"

It's a good day for someone else to die. and I can think of a number right off the top of my head.

And now I have to go out in the wind and rain and make a living.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Die erste achtundvierzig Stunden...

Occupy Portland is over.An ad-hoc force of police from several places including Portland Bureau today cleared the two downtown parks that Occupy had occupied. The protesters have regathered in several other downtown sites to "discuss" their next move, but in my opinion this is the end for Occupy.

For more than a week the local pols, newspapers, and television outlets have been voicing increasing impatience with Occupy and, truthfully, it seems hard to imagine how the "protests" would have done anything more than they have which beyond generating a sort of unfocused unease amongst the chattering classes has been no more than an irritant under the silken drawers of the rich and powerful.

It's been more than forty years since the mild insurrections of the U.S. Civil Rights era, half a century since the "nonviolent" protests of the Indian National Congress forced Britain's release of her Indian colony, a full century since the end of the violent strikes and near-rebellions that empowered the American labor unions.In the interim we have forgotten that "peaceful" protest is exactly as effective as "peacefully" resisting a savage beating unless you have your "peaceful" beating carefully planned to maximize your PR value - and it helps if your opponents are frigging morons, or politically and financially exhausted.

The civil rights marchers won because the Southern bigots were stupid enough to physically attack well-dressed men and women on national TV and newspapers. The Indian factions won partially because BG Dyer was a fucking bloodyminded idiot and partially because the Empire exhausted itself fighting two world wars. You could argue that the labor unions didn't actually win, but rather reached a sort of armed truce that lasted until the plutocrats shat the bed in 1929 and helped elect a labor-friendly administration.

Occupy had none of these to help it. Instead, it faced a massively corrupted and paid-for military-industrial-congressional-financial complex that is doing quite well under the present system. Any hopes of an FDR moment disappeared early in 2009 when it became obvious at least to me that the current Democratic administration had no interest in even trying cocking a snook at the banksters. The New New Deal this wasn't.

And the Occupiers forgot the other lesson of those earlier protest movements; that the public could give a shit about your politeness. The relative discipline of the Occupiers ended up looking like meekness, and regardless of what the Good Book says the meek won't inherit jack shit without a pair of brass balls, friendly press, and a sackful of bricks and cobblestones hidden away in case all the politeness doesn't work. And Occupy Portland had none of those things.

And ask the Paris Communards how even WITH those things, if the government is willing to ignore you when you're weak - and kill or arrest when you're strong - you you will lose.So the banksters have proved that a camel can leap laughingly through the eye of a needle. They have bought all the government they need, they or their lickspittle brownnosers own the media conglomerates, and the U.S. public is about evenly divided into thirds, and while one third is ignorant and indifferent one of the other two-thirds is actively hostile, either hoping to curry favor with the plutocracy or, tragically, mistaking the random helium in their guts for wings; by the time they fart away their good luck they will be plummeting too rapidly to have the time for regrets.

Occupy might have had more hope if the public was more intelligent and their enemies less powerful. In the first couple of days, or weeks...

But no matter. That hope is gone forever.

In March, 1935 the tiny German Army marched into the Rhineland, the first of Hitler's Thirties gambles. And it was more than a gamble; Hitler and his commanders knew how tiny their little force was. As hapless as the French Army of the Thirties was, and it was a fairly ginormous clusterfuck, a whiff of grapeshot in the old Napoleonic style would have seen the Heer packing across the Rhine and, probably, the end of the Hitler Era two years after it began.

But the French were too meek to make that move, and Hitler's success propelled him all the way to the wreck of the European world ten years later.

And here again, the first couple of days - "Die erste achtundvierzig Stunden" is how Hitler phrased it - were key.Once the larger public failed to rise in the first couple of days the Occupiers proved to have no strategy to force the issue or force their enemies to submit and their attempt to tame the bulls and bears is done.

Update 11/14: Upon further review, I had a couple of thoughts.

The antiwar protests of the Sixties have something a answer for in what they've done to the U.S. left. The protests were far less effective at "ending" the war than they seemed at the time (and have been mythologized since) - Nixon's concerns for the economy and the public's indifference to the Vietnamese were more crucial. But the result is that somehow the notion that merely marching around and sitting-in would be enough to effect political change and the record of those actions since then have proved this to be the nonsense it is.

The civil rights protestors, the INC activists, the labor movement radicals all had a collection of things that the post-'72 U.S. protests haven't:

1. An actual strategy that involved an entire range of acts, from pure theatre to violent protest, and some notion of how and where these would be applied. If OWS had anything other than "be there" I haven't seen it (mind you, the combination of vast public indifference and active media ignorance/hostility made it difficult to see how they could have done anything else effectively). And to orchestrate this these groups also had

2. An actual structured leadership - often fractious, even infighting, but the leaders were there actively planning the attacks on their opponents. The OWS seems to suffer from the goofy fuzzy-logic cloud-leadership that is to my mind the very WORST hangover of the Sixties protests. People like Lewis and Nehru and MLK were in many ways very unlikeable, manipulative, cunning sons-of-bitches. The OWS people seem to have absorbed the wrong lesson, which is that to get to a beneficent end you need to be a beneficent person. Couldn't be wronger. Many, perhaps most, of the people who have done "good" things for the mass of humanity have themselves been real bastards. You have to break a lot of eggs sometimes to make a good omlette...

Sorry that I'm such a little ray of sunshine today. But, as Matt Taibbi points out, the things that OWS is pointing fingers at aren't minor issues - they go to the very heart of the corruption of the crony-capitalist scam that has been driving the U.S. (and much of the Euro nations) back towards the Gilded Age. I'd have liked to see the U.S. and other western publics "get" that. But this doesn't seem to have happened, and at this point I have to conclude that it ISN'T going to happen. And for someone like me, who is and whose kids will be, part of the 99%, that looks like a bad thing for the future.