Thursday, January 31, 2013

Don McCullin

"Don McCullin's camera has captured some of war's most enduring images. From Jan. 31 to April 14, the National Gallery in Ottawa is hosting a display of his work."
-Globe and Mail,Jan 31, 2013
“Somebody’s made a film about me [McCullin, released in Britain earlier this year] and there’s this colonel of the battalion I was with back then in it. He says they have a reunion or did have reunion every year after the war in Vietnam and he says this individual never, ever turned up. Everybody says to me, ‘Have you ever found out what happened to this guy?’ I haven’t but you know, in photography, you usually don’t. A lot of the soldiers around him, when I found him sitting in that place, they thought he was what we call in England ‘swinging the lead,’ trying to get out of the fight, really. They basically left him there, in isolation.” Shell-shocked U.S. Marine awaits evacuation, Tet Offensive, Hue, South Vietnam, February 1968. Gelatin silver print.
(Don McCullin /Contact Press Images)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Stone Age Lullaby

The only problem with the war games was that they did not go well.  The real question was to test out what would happen if we bombed the North.  It quickly became apparent that very little would happen.  The Red (or Hanoi) Team had some very good players, a smart general like Buzz Wheeler, and Marshall Green of the State Department; the Blue Team had men like Bill Bundy, General LeMay and McNaughton.  Hanoi had all the advantages; the bombing of the infiltration routes did not seem to bother it. The more the United States moved, the more men it could send down the trails.  For every American move, there seemed to be a counter move for Hanoi; the blockade of Haiphong saw the North Vietnamese simply put more pressure on the U.S. military bases in the South and slip more men down the trail. We bombed and they nudged a few battalions into the South.  We bombed some more of the greater military targets, and because we were bombing them we had brought in a surface-to-air (SAM) antiaircraft missile site to protect the South’s cities against North Vietnamese or Chinese bombing. So they put the SAM site under siege, and in order to protect the site, which was staffed by Americans, we had to bring in Marines, at which point they nudged a few more men down the trail.  The moment the Marines landed we had more difficult logistic problems, and the Vietcong simply applied more pressure to all supply routes, blowing up railroad tracks, ambushing convoys, making the small bases held by Americans increasingly isolated, dependent upon air supply (because there was little patrolling), and moving their machine guns in closer and closer to the bases, and beginning to shoot down the resupply planes.  The enemy was turning out to be very savvy, very clever, and to have just as many options at his disposal we did at ours.  Maybe even more. What was particularly disturbing, the civilians on the Blue Team were discovering, was that he could meet the U.S. escalations at surprisingly little cost of his own.
It was all very frustrating for the Blue Team and particularly for General LeMay, who was the classic Air Force man and who hated the restraints imposed by civilians.  He sensed that a new kind of war was coming and that once again the military would be frustrated, that sanctuaries would be given, that air power would be misused.
-David Halberstam
The Best and the Brightest

Monday, January 14, 2013

Urban II Urges UN Security Council to commit military force to Mali

From the confines of Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth and very frequently has been brought to our ears, namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race utterly alienated from God, a generation forsooth which has not directed its heart and has not entrusted its spirit to God, has invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by the sword, pillage and fire; it has led away a part of the captives into its own country, and a part it has destroyed by cruel tortures; it has either entirely destroyed the churches of God or appropriated them for the rites of its own religion. They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either spread upon the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate upon the ground. Others they bind to a post and pierce with arrows. Others they compel to extend their necks and then, attacking them with naked swords, attempt to cut through the neck with a single blow. What shall I say of the abominable rape of the women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. The kingdom of the Greeks is now dismembered by them and deprived of territory so vast in extent that it cannot be traversed in a march of two months. On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and of recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you? You, upon whom above other nations God has conferred remarkable glory in arms, great courage, bodily activity, and strength to humble the hairy scalp of those who resist you.
- report of speech of Pope Urban II at Council of Clermont, 1095

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

Who says it was "ceremonial"?

Theresa Spence forces highly political and successful meeting with Governor General

Lady Minto wife of Governor General of Canada presenting colours to Herchmer's Horse before they left Ottawa for Second Boer War
Lady Minto, Mary Caroline Grey 1858 to 1940, wife of Lord Minto, Governor General of Canada presenting colours to Herchmer's Horse, before they left Ottawa, 19th January 1900. Herchmer's Horse were an irregular volunteer unit heading for service in the Second Boer War in South Africa. From the book South Africa and the Transvaal War by Louis Creswicke, published 1900.

This invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase that anaesthetizes a portion of one's brain.
George Orwell
Politics and the English Language

I don't know how "ceremonial" got worked into the political reporting today, but the chaotic, shambolic improvised meeting of the Governor General of Canada with Chief Theresa Spence and her miscellaneous and fluid entourage, was anything but ceremonial. Ceremonial is trooping the Colour by the Governor-General's Horse Guard, awarding the Order of Canada, and appearances on Remembrance Day.  This was not that.  This was a forced meeting between the representative of the British Crown in Canada and the crazed, disorganized, delusional and possibly corrupt descendants of the First Nations signatories to the Numbered Treaties who nevertheless can distinguish chicken shit from chicken salad (a Lyndon Johnson specialty).

I admit there was a "smudging ceremony."  Very nice.  That's as ceremonial as it got.

Somehow, "ceremonial" seems an attempt to denigrate the First Nations power that was so much more wildly effective that government "messaging" that it would be laughable if so many reporters were not parroting the term, apparently without conscious thought.

Lord Minto had no compunction in advocating for the First Nations when they appealed to him over the head of Clifford Sifton and the government of the day.  He lost, but he did not hesitate to make his views known, or to hear such representations.

And then we have the brilliant chief Mawadoponess of Rainy River, giving his speech after the signing of Treaty 3 in 1873, a treaty that saved the CPR and possibly Canada from American Manifest Destiny, and  the Saulteaux from a fate suffered by American tribes when the Fort Laramie Treaty was trampled in the interests of greed.
“And now, in closing this council, I take off my glove, and in giving you my hand, I deliver over my birthright, and lands, and in taking your hand I hold fast all the promises you have made, and I hope they will last as long as the sun goes round, and the water flows, as you have said.” 
Alexander Morris
The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories

That seems pretty clear:  the negotiations occurred about 140 years ago, and are in perpetuity.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Militarize the Twin Otter with huge lasers!

A contribution to the F35 debate

"First, the system sliced through a 15mm- (~0.6 inches) thick steel girder from a kilometer away. Then, from a distance of two kilometers, it shot down a handful of drones as they nose-dived toward the surface at 50 meters per second. The laser’s radar, a widely used system called Skyguard, was capable of tracking the drones through their descent up to three kilometers away."
Singularity Hub

OK, I know "militarize" isn't really a verb, and who knows if this laser thing will actually work, but planning to put one on a Twin Otter "weapons platform" is no more insane than the entire F35 boondoggle.  Doing anything military with the beautiful Twin Otter is a desecration, but a lot of jobs would stay in Canada, and we could use the planes for useful purposes later on.

So really, I don't think we can do better than listen to Jim Gavin on military solutions to political problems:
"But the abandonment of foreign policy initiative to the War Department at the time of Berlin, and afterward, is profound in its implications. There have been outstanding State Department people who have opposed such policies, such as George Ball and Averell Harriman, among others. And there have been State Department junior officers who have given up their careers because they believed that they could not continue to serve with the policies of the Department. This has resulted in considerable paralysis and ineffectiveness that has troubled every President in recent years. President John F. Kennedy was very much concerned about this, and in my last conversation with him on October 21, 1963, when we were discussing a forthcoming visit of General de Gaulle, he tilted his head toward the State Department and said to me, "But first I must straighten out that State Department." Earlier, in the summer of 1961, President Kennedy is reported to have remarked to High Sidey of Time, "The State Department is a bowl of jelly." The condition of the Department, whether it began with World War II, or much earlier, as believed by many, is one that must be corrected as a matter of highest priority."

James M. Gavin
On to Berlin
"A fighting general's true story of airborne combat in World War II"
Viking Press, 1978, pg. 355-357

Monday, January 7, 2013

Friday, January 4, 2013

Crime and Not Punishment

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Pentagon Unchained

The Cliffs of Insanity

So the Americans have/have not gone over a fiscal cliff/shallow depression/speed bump/fantasy and the world will/won't know/care/freak out.

Also, the National Hockey League is approaching its immutable/arbitrary/fictional deadline that will mean the cancellation/resuscitation/transmogrification of the (now) 201X-2013 season that will/won't result in a playoff for the Stanley Cup - in reality the Dominion Challenge Cup - that will/won't be a travesty/reincarnation/desecration of Lord Stanley's intentions/will/whimsical thoughts.

Meanwhile, Canada's cross-country ski team goes from strength to strength without drama/cliffs/professional megabucks. As Lyndon Johnson allegedly said: "I do know the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Who said he was dead?

John Vann in Afghanistan

"The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

"Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

"Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America."

Barack Obama
announcing the death of Osama bin Laden
May 2, 2011

"Word War 2 had been such a tremendous success story for this country that the political and military leadership of the country began to assume they would prevail, simply because of who they were…those generals thought they were going to win simply because they were American generals...."

“Some of it has sunk in, yes. Some of it's sunk in by the sheer force of what happened, because of course Vietnam has changed this country utterly. We will never be the same again. That is within the foreseeable future I think, because of Vietnam. And you do see some of that, yes. First of all, the President's limited now. No President can commit American soldiers and Marines and the Air Force etc., the American armed forces, with the freedom Johnson and Kennedy could, because the credibility of the President to do that has been damaged. It's been changed. People don't believe that he's got that ultimate wisdom any more.

“Secondly, I think the military leadership has a sense of its limitations. Excuse me, some of them of a sense of the limits of military force, that force is not always a solution to a foreign policy problem. When you see the papers of the military leaders of the 1960's, they're always telling the President force is the solution. Send the Army! Send the Marines! Send the Air Force! That'll solve your problem. Now you've got military leaders saying, look, wait, look before you intervene. All of these things, yes, again, some of it has sunk in. I don't think it's fully sunk in yet, no.”

Neil Sheehan
author of A Bright Shining Lie:John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam
Conversations with History
Remembering the Vietnam War
Interview with Harry Kreisler
November 14, 1988