Tuesday, March 06, 2012


I had an interesting experience the other day; actually had a visitor to an OLD post, specifically the one I wrote for the "Decisive Battles" series back in June of last year, the one about the Little Bighorn/Greasy Grass.This guy wrote a ton in the comments section, including a detailed breakdown of both the unit strengths and casualties in the 7th U.S. Cavalry. But the really interesting part, for me, anyway, was his intent, which seems to be best summed up in two of his comments. First; "Custers Plan was BRILLIANT except for using a coward for his left flank", and, second;
"I love to hear Indians bitch about stuff like land they killed other Indians to be on, and that they say "no man owns it, yet act like something they didn't "own" was taken from them..LOL...MANIFEST DESTINY is OK if Indians do it..rolls eyes...did I forget to mention the decapitated burnt heads on poles in their camp found the next day, along with a medicene bundle of 200 scalps..and that the Indians stripped all the soldiers naked and mutilated the bodies by cutting off parts, then hacking them up with tomahawks so they would be messed up in the next life???..no sympathy here for the Indians..war is war.."

The curious thing is that this sort of stuff seemed to turn up pretty regularly on the various websites I visited when I wrote that post. There is a pretty hard core of people who are really invested in ol' Yellow-Hair, who are still fighting this fight even today. And, like our anonymous commenter, seem to combine a pugnacious fury at any sort of imputation against the Great Commander with a real vicious anger against the redsticks who gave him and his troopers such a bad day along the banks of the Little Bighorn River one hundred thirty-six years ago.

I was going to just pass all this stuff with a sort of "Ummm...well, okay then." when I read jim's post about the old bastards he's encountered in the SF community who are so furious when anyone questions the Goodness and Rightness of Our Cause and realized that this is the historical version of the same thing.What it really is is the righteous wrath of the Orthodox at the scent of heresy, the defensive anger of the Established Faith with the suggestion of innovation. Any fraction, the slightest hint, that the icons may be less than the utterly brilliant, perfectly correct, ultimate expression of the True God must be ruthlessly suppressed for fear that the questioning will spread, and might even bring the entire Rightness and Goodness of the Power That Is into the balance.

And if We are not Good and Right and Pure, We are Lost.

So, being the nasty sunofabitch that I am, I fired off a response to the series of posts. Not really with respect to his scholarship - which was pretty impressive; the guy knew his numbers - but with his use of them.

Specifically, to Point One; if LTC Custer was such an allfired Great Big Brain, another Fredrick or Guderian, why didn't his "brilliant" plan work? Even more to the point - why come up with such a goddamn brilliant plan that depended on people who were "cowards" and "fools"?

In war the first thing you learn is that you go with the troops you have, not the troops you want. And the Seventh - hell, the whole U.S. Army of 1876 - was a pretty tight little community. If the acting regimental commander didn't know his subordinates inside and out, he should have.So if Reno and Benteen are such fuckups, why give them independent commands and then come up with a brilliant "plan" that depends on them doing things that - being the cowardly fuckups our commenter insists they were - they couldn't have seen through on their best day with a bottle of Clorox and a shiny new copper penny?

Nope. If you're Rommel or Zhukov or goddamn George MacClellan and you've got a bunch of knuckleheads for subordinates you damn well keep them right under your hand where you can unfuck their clusterfuckery when it happens and prevent it before it does. You don't spread your command all over half of northern Wyoming, every bit of it out of supporting distance of every other, and then get surprised when things go utterly to hell.So...on the whole "Custer is brilliant" issue, I stand where I stood; the man was a fairly average 19th Century cavalry commander. He could do decently in a conventional stand-up fight (as he did in the Civil War) where dash and git-up were pretty much all that was asked for. But in a less-conventional setting his sloppiness (I mean, the guy was the lanterne rouge or whatever they call it - the goat? - damn near dead last in his class at WooPoo, and that mostly for demerits involving goofy slipshod stuff like attention to uniform and discipline detail) and his tendency to half-ass his way through planning and battlefield C3I tended to bite him in the ass.

Ask MAJ Elliot how that worked out for him and his guys at the Washita.And as for the whole "Lo, the Poor Indian" meme...

Who's sorry for the Red Man? Our commenter seems to have drifted over the part in the original post where I said
"Had the Cheyenne been fortunate enough to have discovered gunpowder, steel, and several epidemic diseases and been bitten by the conquest bug they would very likely have happily conquered Europe and exterminated the Britons and the French as the descendants of those Europeans did them. This wasn’t the question of a noble savage and a rapacious invader; this was two tough, smart, ambitious cultures that both wanted the same piece of real estate."
I stand by that, too.

But...here's the thing.

Us white folk were the invaders. We were the Huns in Gaul, the Normans in Britain, the Japanese in Nanjing, the Soviets in Chechnya. We came, we saw, we kicked their ass. We took an entire continent from them and in return named some basketball teams for them and handed out some trade whiskey. We were bin Laden, we were Attila, we were Caesar.

And y'know what - I'm OK with that.

Not overjoyed, but I can live with it. Vae victus; woe to the vanquished. Welcome to 10,000 years of human history, Cheyenne.
(And lemme tell you this; you come in my crib, you try and fuck me over, you threaten my woman and kids? Getting "parts" cut off, getting mutilated, getting scalped? That's the least that I'm gonna try and do to you. The boys of the Seventh waded into a Neolithic war, and as Cersei Lannister will tell you, when you play the Game of Tribes to lose is to get your dangly bits cut off and shoved down your throat. Don't like that? Win, or don't play. But don't come whining to me about it, or try and make it sound all icky. That's how the game was played, hoss.)
So here's the other thing.

Regardless of who got what cut off, regardless of what the Red Men did or didn't do...I can see the shittiness of what we did, my sainted ancestors, and I can still live with that.

I don't have to make the natives into Bad Guys, to natter on about how rotten they were, how savage they were, to talk about how I don't feel sorry for them, to try and pretend that what my gangstas did was something Good and Right.

I do feel sorry for them; not enough to do anything about it, not enough to fret about what my ancestors did, but enough to accept that what they did was pretty shitty and to make it a reminder to myself not to do something similar to others, like, say, Viets, Afghans, or Iraqis.

Or Iranians.

And this is where I tie the whole thing together with jim's SF detractors. Because to me it's all about seeing your own potential for the Dark Side; for accepting that just because you are a Speshul Snowflake doesn't mean that everything you do is good and everything you think is Right. But that seems to be the operating mode for some people, and, in particular, for a lot of soldiers.

Guys, look; your brain is your most potent weapon. Use it!

You're not there just to close with and destroy the enemy; you also need to assess whether that killing is getting you anywhere.

Because if it isn't, you're not a surgeon, bleeding to heal, you're just a goddamn butcher and an incompetent one at that.

Instead of focusing on the official propaganda, you should be capable of recognizing bullshit as bullshit, standing up to your commander and telling him his "brilliant plan" is as fucked up as a football bat and that the only sensible option is to blow the hell out of the place and grab a hat. He may tell you to shut up and soldier, and at that point your only option is to move out and draw fire. But FUCK!

At least engage your brain housing group first and try and avert the disaster.

The world is full of people - my Army is and was full of people - like my Custer commenter and jim's SF squaddies - who can't and won't figure that out. Part of me understands that.

Well, OK - no, I don't understand the Custer comment guy. To get all that about some long-dead light colonel who screwed up his assessment of the enemy's most dangerous course of action and lost a chunk of his command? M'kay, that's kinda whack.

But the SF guys probably devoted a good-size chunk of their lives and most of their youth to something they were told was Good and Right and having to face that you've just been another imperial legionary rented out by a fading empire run by a bunch of greedy boneheads for their own selfish benefit...that's tough. You probably wouldn't WANT to figure that out.

And that's fine, usually; armies and junior soldiers aren't supposed to make policy.

But when the people who do make the policy think and act the same way...


You get a pretty fucking huge custerclusterfuck.

Look around you; look at the Middle East, look at our economy, look at this country.

See something familiar?I'll bet Miles Keogh would.


EGrise said...

Right on, chief, right on.

Leon said...

I found it funny that I got his comments seemingly out of the blue months after your original post.

His veiled racist diatribe against the aboriginals was annoying.

As was his constant use of CAPITAL letters.

But his raw data was impressive. Shame he wasted that by becoming a myopic zealot.

rangeragainstwar said...

Pls note that my attackers are usually young guys that were shitting yellow when i was double tabbed.
Most of the old guys know the truth.
Only a delusional person can support endless war.

rangeragainstwar said...

As for Custer.
Any leader that would advance with out mutual support, and visual contact in an undeveloped situation is an idiot. Any 2nd LT knows this.
Even if there were only 50 indians on the ground my statement is valid.

rangeragainstwar said...

I've been on this battle area and the troops must have felt like a grenadier did on the steppes of Russia.

FDChief said...

jim: I guess I shouldn't be surprised to hear that the people you butted heads with were the young studs. We draft 18-year-olds for a reason; nobody who'd lived long enough to understand how easy it is to kill a human being would be willing to do what we expect an infantry private to do...

And I have to say that the insistence of these Custer-fans that his genius has been misunderstood for 136 years always gives me a chuckle. It's like watching someone frantically dancing and singing around the statue of the Great Sky Turkey; ridiculous on its own terms and even more so when you consider the object of their mania, a short colonel whose entire war record post-1865 consisted of one win (Washita) and one loss (LBH). This is "brilliant"? Hell, even George MacClellan managed to win one...

Pretty effed up, though, when you consider that you've got John McCain standing in the Senate roaring for an attack on Iran, which for the U.S. makes about as much sense as praising an officer for dividing an understrength regiment of cavalry in the face of an enemy of unknown strength and disposition.

Sometimes it seems to me like our country is being run by gomers just like the guys I'm taking a whack at in this post...

Labrys said...

Everyone gets a ride at the top of Fortune's Wheel....some time or other. And everyone gets rolled OVER by that wheel at some time or other.

It is how it it works. People who continue to rant and rave about one side or the other, especially on racial grounds? I always kind of wish that wheel would do a forward AND reverse roll.

FDChief said...

Labrys: Never fails to amaze me how close to the surface the old tribal tattoos lie. It would seem that 2,000-plus years of Western civilization would have had some deeper effect, but it seems like for a pantsload of folks it takes barely a nick of doubt or a scratch of a slightly hard look to send them into full screaming, raving, don't-say-that-about-my-tribe nutzo.

These Custer-guys seem to have that in spades. It's not enough that "their" side won; they have to win big, take every prize, grab the Fair Play Award and be generally acknowledged as the Best Thing Since Sliced White Bread.

Any suggestion that the winning side might just have been better organized and technologically superior - instead of Gifted by God With Divine Goodness - seems to send them into a spinning tizzy.

I don't get that.

Like you said; sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you...sometimes the tiger comes along and gets you AND the bear. Goodness and Rightness gots nothing to do with it.

I guess some people can't accept that.

rangeragainstwar said...

I've been thinkin' about this thread, and came up with this.
Combined arms teams.
Custers command violated this theory. Cav is for screening, shock action, patrolling etc.. and are as such not a arm of decision unless backed by Infantry.
This entire opn violated the principles of war , from square one.
You can't fool mother war.

FDChief said...

The problem w/ combined arms was that the Army hadn't figured out that they couldn't make that work in a stand-up fight; the infantry and artillery was just too damn slow; the redsticks would be long gone before the PBI and the redlegs could get there.

Actually, ol' Buford had a possible solution way back in the day; make your cavalry mounted infantry, back them with horse artillery, use the hayburners purely for mobility and then dig in and fight on foot.

But the problem was still trying to fix an enemy an order or magnitude more mobile than the Army, on ground that they knew infinitely better. It was never gonna work.

No, the solution was simple; don't fight them, destroy them.

Attack their food sources, use our superior technology to fight in the winter and attack their women, old people, and kids in their winter camps, drive them out to starve and freeze in the cold.

Plus get the entire white race to treat them like vermin to be shot on sight. I'll bet that just random old white people killed way more Indians than all the troopers in the U.S. Army.

In a lot of ways our conventional White Man view of the American Indians is like the way we look at sharks; they seem like scary animals, but people eat WAY more sharks than sharks eat people, and we were way deadlier to them than they were to us.

But on the day they could be effective, and ol' GAC did everything he could to maximize their advantages, and unfortunately he wasn't alone when the dog soldiers arrived to put a bullet into his head and let all the gas out...

rangeragainstwar said...

Didn't the infy save the bacon at the Rosebud?

FDChief said...

jim: Most of the sources I checked claim that it was largely the Crow and Shoshone "scouts" (mercenaries) who did most of the heavy lifting along the Rosebud. Crook almost did a Custer there, letting Royall's battalion-sized element get out of supporting distance of the rest of the force.

Sounds to me like the whole bag of nuts Terry was in nominal charge of shouldn't have been let out to command a corporal's guard...

rangeragainstwar said...

I recommend a visit to the Rosebud if you're ever in the area.
The town is wonderful, and i hear the Indians have been subdued.
Casinos work wonders with hostile suppression.
We should open them in AFGH. and give out tax free cigarettes and canned peaches.
jim's lic policy.