It looks really weird to me, this last Veteran’s Day weekend … not even a week after the election results came in. A couple of days after General Petreus put in his resignation as head of the CIA – conveniently for the American news cycle – on a Friday before a three-day weekend. So, kind of astonished over that – a mere several days before he was to testify about whatever was going on with regard to our quasi-official establishment in Benghazi on the 11th of September last. Of course, the second most astonishing aspect to me is that the head of the CIA can’t keep an affair secret, and the third most astonishing is that someone so politically wily as to be able to pin on four stars would still be stupidly reckless enough to engage on such a very public affair. What, were they doing the horizontal mambo in the middle of the parade ground at reveille at whatever base they were at in Afghanistan? Ok, never undervalue the comfort of situational friendships between persons of the opposite sex in a far country, double if in a war zone. Been there and … err, backed off from doing that, in the physical sense. But the friendship was enormously satisfactory; a way of getting through a hard tour in a distant and unforgivingly difficult place, and a lot of people there with us and who noted that we were a quasi-official couple also probably assumed that our relationship included an ongoing sexual aspect. Which it did not; part of the friendship involved an understanding between us that carrying it that far would inflict unacceptable damage on each other, emotionally and professionally. I thought the world of him, and he loved his family, back in the World; that’s the way that responsible and caring adults manage that kind of situation. It’s in the field, and it ends in the field.

But the way that the Petreus mess is expanding is enough to cause me to raise an eyebrow – and now it turns out that the second woman involved – is she the South Beach Mata Hari or what? – also had a good friend of the multi-star adorned command-rank level, as well as the somewhat dogged interest of the investigating FBI agent, who sent her a pic of him shirtless… dear god, people – this is not high school. Or at least, I assumed it was not. As it is, I could swear I watched a story line like this on General Hospital in the late 1970s, only with doctors, nurses and consultants, instead of commanders, reporters and socialites.

It is curious though – the sudden retirements, resignations, and reassignments of high-ranking and notable officers lately. It’s almost like there is something going on: earlier there was that kerfuffle about General Carter Ham being relieved of duty, with dark hints that it was because of events in Benghazi. On the bright side, though – since General Petreus was deeply involved in the events of 9/11/2012 in Benghazi, it just might be that there might be a little more interest in what happened there than has been displayed so far by our mighty mainstream press.
Or not.

24. October 2012 · Comments Off on Alamein, Tobruk and Alex · Categories: History, Literary Good Stuff, Military, War, World

I wouldn’t have remembered that this week marks another WWII battle anniversary – that of El Alamein which ran for nearly two weeks in October and November 1942 – but for seeing a story or two in the Daily Mail about it. (A reflection upon the death spiral of the mainstream news is that I have a relatively low-brow popular British newspaper among my internet tool-bar favorites, rather than my own local metropolitan publication … alas, that is how low those local newspapers have fallen. Seriously, stuff shows up on the Daily Mail page days before it does in strictly American-oriented media. Sorry about that, San Antonio Express News.)
That second battle at El Alamein which broke the back of the Axis, revived Allied morale, and saw the beginning of the end of any attempt by the Germans to get control of the Suez Canal was a significant turn in that campaign in the deserts of North Africa. The fighting mostly involved British and Commonwealth and a scattering of Free Polish troops against the Germans and Italians; back and forth in Egypt and Libya almost as if it were a sea battle – fought not in water, but in sand. It’s a matter almost out of historical memory, especially for Americans who really only got involved at the tail end. Our memories of the desert war are mostly retained in movies like Casablanca, or a television series like The Rat Patrol.
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15. September 2012 · Comments Off on A Song, Startlingly Relevant · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun With Islam, War

The Sixties never die … and oh, how I wish they would. But here they are, once again.

03. August 2012 · Comments Off on True to the Union – Conclusion · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Old West, War · Tags: , ,

Late in the fall of 1862, under the mistaken assumption that they had been offered a thirty-day amnesty by the Governor of Texas and allowed to depart Texas unmolested rather than take the loyalty oath, a party of Unionists gathered together at Turtle Creek in Kerr County. They elected a settler from Comfort named Fritz Tegener as their leader, and Henry Schwethelm as second. Their number included Phillip Braubach, who had served as the sheriff of Gillespie County, and Captain John Sansom, a Texas Ranger before and after the war, and also the sheriff of Kendall County, two sons of Edwin Degener, a prominent free-thinker from Sisterdale, Heinrich Steves, whose large family had helped establish Comfort, and the Boerner brothers, one of whom had married a Steves daughter. Heinrich Stieler was also one of them; he was Henry Schwethelm’s brother-in-law and son of Gottlieb Stieler, an early settler whose family later established a ranch between Comfort and Fredericksburg which still exists today.

The Unionists in the group were bound by ties of kinship, by community as well as personal loyalty. There were sixty-eight of them: all German, save four Anglos (including Sansom) and one Mexican. They intended to travel on horseback westward towards the Mexican border; most meant to go from there to the United States and join the Union Army. Having a three-day head start and no heavy baggage wagons to contend with, they should have been well over the Nueces and into Mexico but for their belief in the non-existent amnesty … and so they made their way across country in a fairly leisurely manner. Duff was enraged when he heard of their departure. To his mind, they were deserters in time of war and deserving of death. He sent word to Lt. C.D. McRae in San Antonio that Tegener’s party was to be pursued at all cost; implicit in his orders was an understanding that he didn’t want to hear much about survivors. McRae led out a company of more than ninety men after the Unionists and prepared to follow Duff’s orders to the letter.

On the evening of August 9th, 1862, Tegener’s party camped in thin cedar woods, not far from the Rio Grande, between present-day Brackettville and Laguna. The built campfires and set out four sentries a good way from the camp. Sometime early the next morning, McRae’s scouts encountered Tegener’s guards, and the exchange of shots alerted the Unionists. There followed a short and confusing firefight. Some sources claim that McRae’s company had overridden the sleeping Unionists and caught them by surprise in their bedrolls. Other accounts have it that nearly half of Tegener’s party had decided to give it up as a bad job, and go back to the Hill Country to defend their families … or scattered when it seemed clear that Tegener had chosen a bad defensive position. John Sansom, certainly no coward and not unaccustomed to dirty fighting was one of the survivors; he urged Hugo Degener to come away with him, but the younger man refused. Most of those who stood and fought were killed outright. Eleven of the wounded were executed upon capture, to the horror of one of McRae’s volunteers who left an account; one survivor was taken to San Antonio and executed there. Others were hunted down and executed a week later by McRae’s troopers as they tried to cross the Rio Grande. The survivors scattered, including Sansom and Schwethelm; who both made it safely over the border. Others fled back to the Hill Country, bringing news of the fight to the families of the dead.

Captain Duff refused to allow the families of the dead to retrieve the bodies. Minna Stieler, the sixteen-year old sister of Heinrich Stieler, and her mother managed to get permission to go to where the bodies of her brother and another comrade had been left unburied, and cover them with brush and stones, the ground being too hard to dig a grave, and the bodies too far decayed to remove. The other remains lay unburied for three years. Exactly three years to the day after the Nueces Fight, Henry Schwethelm returned with a party of kinfolk and friends from Comfort, and gathered up the scattered bones. They brought them to Comfort, and buried them in a mass grave, on a low hillside on what then would have been the outskirts of town.

The stone obelisk is plain and stark, shaded by a massive oak tree: panels on three sides list the names of the 36 dead of Tegener’s party, all of whom were True to the Union.

(Crossposted at my book blog, and at www.chicagoboyz.net)

01. August 2012 · Comments Off on The Nueces Fight and ‘True to the Union’ · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Old West, War · Tags: , , ,

As I am going up to Comfort on the 11th, to take part in the 150th anniversary observences of the Nueces Fight, and since it has been a while since I wrote about this — herewith some background.)

Who would have thought that deep in the heart of a staunchly Confederate state, there would have been a large population of Unionists? But there was; and not only did they vote against Secession, but the governor of Texas himself was a Unionist. He was none other than Sam Houston himself, the hero of San Jacinto, who more than any other Texas man of note had politicked and maneuvered for ten long years so that Texas could join the United States. In the end, Texas seceded; instead of going it alone again, the secession party joined the Confederacy with what some observers considered to be reckless enthusiasm – especially considering the perilous position of those settlements on the far frontier. Those settlements had been protected from marauding Comanche, Apache and Kiowa by the efforts of US troops – and who would guard them now? When the Texas legislature passed a law requiring all public officials to swear an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, Sam Houston resigned rather than take it. Being then of a good age, of long and devoted service to the people of Texas and held in deep respect even by citizens who didn’t agree with his stand, Sam Houston retired without incident to his home near Huntsville.

Other staunch Unionists in Texas were not able to refuse the demands of the Confederacy as easily as wily old General Sam. Among those who felt the wrath of the Confederacy most keenly were the German settlers of the Hill Country. Most of those settlers had come from Europe in the late 1840s; others had settled in San Antonio, Galveston and Indianola. In many cases they were the mercantile elite, as well as providing a solid leavening of skilled doctors, engineers, scientists, artists, teachers and writers in those communities. They were also Abolitionists; and in an increasingly perilous position as the split between free-soil states and those which permitted chattel slavery widened during the 1850s. Once Texas went Confederate, they were in even more danger, although they did not at first appear to realize this. Those citizens and counties which favored the Union and abolition could not easily separate, as West Virginia had from Virginia: they were stuck. The war began and ground on … and the breaking point came early in 1862 with passage of a conscription law. Every white male between the age of eighteen and thirty-five was liable for military service. This outraged those who had been opposed to slavery and secession, to the point of riots, evasion and covert resistance. Texas abolitionists and Unionists would be forced to fight in defense of an institution they despised, and for a political body they had opposed. Only a bare handful of men from Gillespie, Kendall and Kerr counties volunteered for service in the Confederate Army throughout 1861 and 1862, although good few more were perfectly willing to serve as state troops protecting the frontier, or in local volunteer companies of Rangers. Anyone who wanted a fight could take on the Indians, without the trouble of going east for military glory.

Before very long, the distinct un-enthusiasm in the Hill Country for the Confederacy and all its works and ways became a matter of deep concern to military and governing authorities. In a way, it was a clash of mind-sets: the German immigrants were innocently certain that the freedom of speech and political thought which they had always enjoyed since coming to Texas were still viable. The pro-Confederate authorities saw such thought and speech as disloyalty, clear evidence of potentially dangerous spies and saboteurs … and acted accordingly. In the spring of 1862, Gillespie and Kerr County was put under harsh martial law. All men over the age of 16 were ordered to register with the local provost marshal and take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. Few did so – and many never heard of the order, until the state troopers arrived to enforce it, under the command of a peppery, short-tempered former teamster; Captain James Duff.

By summer, Captain Duff ordered the arrest of any man who had not taken the loyalty oath. His troopers waged a savage campaign; flogging men they had arrested until they told his troopers what they wanted to hear, wrecking settler’s homes, arresting whole families, and confiscating foodstuffs and livestock. Men of draft age took to hiding out in the brush near their homes, while their families smuggled food to them. Frequently parties of Duff’s men assigned to arrest certain men returned empty-handed, with the subject of the arrest warrant left dangling on a rope from a handy tree on the return journey. Four out of six men arrested near Spring Branch in the Pedernales Valley and taken to be interned with other Unionists were summarily lynched when two of them escaped while their guards were asleep. A state trooper serving in the Fredericksburg area at that time remarked, “Hanging is getting to be as common as hunting.” Suspicion followed by repression bred resentment and defiance, which bred violence… and resistance.

(To be continued …)

13. May 2012 · Comments Off on The Dying of the Light · Categories: General, History, Tea Time, War · Tags: , ,

I am not quite sure when I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels; it was sometime in my teens. The public library had several copies of Rider on a White Horse, which I thought immediately was the most perfectly evocative historical fiction ever, knocking such lesser lights like Gone With the Wind effortlessly into the shade. Besides, I was a Unionist and an abolitionist; and I thought Scarlett was a spoiled, self-centered brat and Melanie a spineless simpleton and I usually wanted to throw GWTW across the room so hard that it banged against the opposite wall when Margaret Mitchell began complaining about Northern abolitionists. Anyway, the only book that came close to Rider was Sutcliff’s adult Arthurian novel – Sword at Sunset. This was the book that had me dragging my poor younger brother and sister to every significant site of Rome in Britain, the summer that we spent there. Here and now I apologize here for dragging them to the remains of Galava Roman Fort, near Ambleside in the Lake District. In 1976 it was on the map, a clear and distinct quadrangle … but when we went to see it then, there was nothing but some shaped rocks edging a grassed-over stretch of ditch in a field full of cows. A thing of less interest could hardly be imagined … but I wanted to see it, anyway, being haunted by the sense that Sutcliff conveyed in Sword at Sunset and in books like Lantern Bearers – that of men and women who were living at the end of things, among the half-crumbled ruins of a great and dying empire, wistfully seeing all the evidence around that things had been better, greater, grander once, and now they weren’t – and wishing there was something that could be done to call those days back again.

“…we clattered under the gate arch into Narbo Martius, and found the place thrumming like a bee swarm with the crows pouring in to the horse fair. It must have been a file place once, one could see that even now; the walls of the forum and basilica still stood up proudly above the huddle of reed thatch and timber, with the sunset warm on peeling plaster and old honey-colored stone; and above the heads of the crowds the air was full of the darting of swallows who had their mud nests under the eaves of ever hut and along every ledge and acanthus-carved cranny of the half-ruined colonnades…” That’s from an early chapter, describing a visit to the horse fair at present-day Narbonne. Another chapter describes the arrival of Artos and his companions at Hadrian’s Wall.

“It must have been a fine sight in its day, the Wall, when the sentries came and went along the rampart walks and bronze-mailed cohorts held the fortress towers and the altars to the Legion’s gods were thick along the crest; and between it and the road and the vallum ditch that followed it like its own shadow … the towns were as dead as the Wall, now, for the menace of the North was too near, the raids too frequent for them to have outlived the protection of the Eagles; and we rode into a ghost town, the roofs long since fallen in and the walks crumbling away, the tall armies of nettles where the merchants had spread their wares and the Auxiliaries had taken their pleasure in off-duty hours, where the married quarters had been, and children and dogs had tumbled in the sunshine under the very feet of the marching cohorts, and the drink shops had spilled beery song into the night, and the smiths and sandalmakers, the horse dealers and the harlots had plied their trades; and all that moved was a blue hare among the fallen gravestones of forgotten men, and above us a hoodie crow perching on the rotting carcass of what had once been one of the great catapults of the Wall, that flew off croaking with a slow flap of indignant wings as we drew near…”

Sutcliff’s revisioning of King Arthur as Artos, the half-British, half-Roman cavalry commander, with his company of fighting horsemen – spelled out to me what it could be like; selling your lives dear to hold back the darkness for just a little longer, a long fight in twilight among crumbling ruins, with men and women who half-remembered the ways and habits of an older age. Sutcliff’s Artos and his comrades – they picked their hill, their Badon Hill and made their stand. They valued those ways and the memories of those institutions handed down, more than they valued their own lives, for living under the yoke of barbarian raiders … meant nothing at all. Better to die on your feet as free men and women, than live in chains … and to make the choice while it is yours to make.

26. February 2012 · Comments Off on Call it a Victory · Categories: Fun With Islam, GWOT, Rant, War, World

And leave. That’s the discussion going on over at Rantburg, today, where Steve White has laid out the case, here, (http://rantburg.com/poparticle.php?ID=339729&D=2012-02-26&SO=&HC=4)
and I have to say he’s made a strong argument. Oh, there are things that can still be done … like drop in a SEAL team or a Hellfire missile the next time a tall Taliban poppy raises his head, or gives support and shelter to a beturbaned goon with ambitions to knock down multi-story office buildings half a world away.

I honestly thought – and still think that there are workable solutions for the problem that is Afghanistan. But if we aren’t going to apply any of them – and it is very plain that under this current feckless, amateur-hour, drop-down-on-knees-and-apologize-in-heart-beat administration, will not – then perhaps it’s time to say so long and thanks for all the fish.

24. January 2012 · Comments Off on Turning Point · Categories: History, Media Matters Not, Military, That's Entertainment!, War, World

My daughter and I are watching and very much enjoying the period splendors of Downton Abbey, showing on the local PBS channel here over the last couple of weeks – just as much as my parents and I enjoyed Upstairs, Downstairs – the original version, yea these decades ago. Of course, the thrust of this season is the effects of WWI on the grand edifice of Edwardian society in general. The changes were shattering … they seemed so at the time, and even more in retrospect, to people who lived through the early 20th century in Western Europe, in Russia, the US and Canada. In reading 20th century genre novels, I noted once that one really didn’t see much changing in book set before and after WWII, save for the occasional mention of a war having been fought: people went to the movies, listened to the radio, drove cars, wore pretty much the same style of clothes … but in novels set before and after WWI, the small changes in details were legion.

England, France, Germany, Austria, Russia – they were the epicenter, seemingly – the place where it hit hardest, and afterwards nothing was ever the same. Of course, in Russia with the Red Revolution and all, things were quite definitely never the same, and Austria lost the last bits of empire … and the other nations were gutted of a whole generation of young men. In the American experience, the only thing which came close was the Civil War, where a single battle in Pennsylvania, or Virginia or Tennessee could be the means of casually extinguishing the lives of all the young men in a certain township or county… just gone, in a few days or hours of hot combat around a wheat field, a peach orchard, a sunken bend in a country road. The Western front (not to negate the war in the Italian Alps, at Gallipoli or the Germans and Russians) went on more or less at that horrendous rate, week in, week out – for years.

The marks of it are still horrifyingly visible, even though the numbers of living veterans of it can be about counted on the fingers of a pair of hands. Because it’s not only the survivors’ trauma – it’s the mark and void left by the fallen. So many that I remember a college textbook of mine – I think that it was a required sociology or statistics course – had the population breakdowns by age of various European countries. In all cases, there was a pronounced dip in the numbers of males who would have been of early adult age in 1914-1918. This is reflected again in the acres and acres of white crosses in Flanders, on the tight-packed lists of names carved on memorials large and small; not too much marked in the United States, but in the Commonwealth nations, and especially in Britain itself, that sense of loss must have seemed suffocating. Even low and middle-brow genre novels showed the scars that WWI left, especially if they were written by contemporaries to the conflict. Memoirs, histories, memorials and all… there was loss written large, by people who looked at the ‘before’ and then at the present ‘after’ with an aching sense of the void between, a muddy void into which friends, schoolmates, lovers, husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers and certain illusions had all vanished.

Nothing was the same, afterwards.

Although perhaps the war wasn’t directly the change agent, it pushed some developments already in the works farther along than they would have been. The war served as a handy delineating point for those who lived through it … electricity everywhere, motor cars ditto, airplanes as something more than a toy for enthusiasts, women voting and wearing short shirts and routinely forgoing corsets, half a dozen live-in servants in a big house which once had been staffed by three times that many … all that. The worst loss was something a little less concrete – and that was, I think, a certain sense of confidence and optimism. I like writing about the 19th century because of that very thing: generally people believed with their whole hearts and without a speck of cynicism, that the conditions of their lives were steadily improving, that conditions which had plagued mankind for centuries were fixable, and that their leaders were able and well-intentioned. All those beliefs were deeply shaken or utterly destroyed during those four years – and that is why that war still casts a long shadow. And makes for an interesting and evocative television show – like Downton Abby and Upstairs, Downstairs.

11. November 2011 · Comments Off on Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Great Uncle Will · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Memoir, Military, War · Tags: , , , , , ,

(A repost from the archives, for today)
It is a sad distinction, to be the first in three generations to visit France while on active duty in the service of your country, and to be the first to actually live to tell the tale of it. For many Europeans, and subjects of the British Empire— especially those of a certain age, it is not at all uncommon to have lost a father or an uncle in World War Two, and a grandfather or great-uncle in World War One. It’s a rarer thing to have happened to an American family, perhaps one whose immigration between the old country and the new allowed for inadvertent participation, or a family who routinely choose the military as a career, generation after generation. Ours is but lately and only in a small way one of the latter, being instead brought in for a couple of years by a taste for adventure or a wartime draft.

When JP and Pippy and I were growing up, the memory of Mom’s brother, Jimmy-Junior was still a presence. His picture was in Granny Jessie’s living room, and he was frequently spoken of by Mom, and Granny Jessie, and sometimes by those neighbors and congregants at Trinity Church who remembered him best. JP, who had the same first name, was most particularly supposed to be like him. He was a presence, but a fairly benign one, brushed with the highlights of adventure and loss, buried far away in St. Avold, in France, after his B-17 fell out of the skies in 1943.

Our Great-Uncle Will, the other wartime loss in the family was hardly ever mentioned. We were only vaguely aware that Grandpa Al and Great-Aunt Nan had even had an older half-brother – a half-sister, too, if it came to that. Great-Grandpa George had been a widower with children when he married Grandpa Al and Great-Aunt Nan’s mother. The older sister had gone off as a governess around the last of the century before, and everyone else had emigrated to Canada or America. I think it rather careless of us to have misplaced a great-aunt, not when all the other elders managed to keep very good track of each other across two continents and three countries, and have no idea of where the governess eventually gravitated to, or if she ever married.
“She went to Switzerland, I think,” Said Great Aunt Nan. “But Will— he loved Mother very much. He jumped off the troop train when it passed near Reading, and went AWOL to came home and see us again, when the Princess Pats came over from Canada.” She sighed, reminiscently. We were all of us in the Plymouth, heading up to Camarillo for dinner with Grandpa Al and Granny Dodie — for some reason; we had Great-Aunt Nan in the back seat with us. I am not, at this date, very certain about when this conversation would have taken place, only that we were in the car — Mom and Dad in front, Nan and I in the back seat, with Pippy between us, and JP in the very back of the station wagon. Perhaps I held Sander on my lap, or more likely between Nan and I, with Pippy in the way-back with JP. Outside the car windows on either side of the highway, the rounded California hills swept past, upholstered with dry yellow grass crisped by the summer heat, and dotted here and there with dark green live oaks. I can’t remember what had been said, or what had brought Great Aunt Nan to suddenly begin talking, about her half-brother who had vanished in the mud of no-man’s land a half century before, only that we all listened, enthralled — even Dad as he drove.

“He fairly picked Mother up,” Nan said, fondly, “She was so tiny, and he was tall and strong. He had been out in Alberta, working as a lumberjack on the Peace River in the Mackenzie District.” She recited the names as if she were repeating something she had learned by heart a long time ago. “When the war began, he and one of his friends built a raft, and floated hundreds of miles down the river, to enlist.”
(William Hayden, enlisted on October 13, 1914 in the town of Port Arthur. His age was listed as 22, complexion fair with brown hair and brown eyes— which must have come from his birth mother, as Al and Nan had blue eyes and light hair. He was 6′, in excellent health and his profession listed as laborer, but his signatures on the enlistment document were in excellent penmanship)
“He didn’t get into so very much trouble, when he walked into camp the next day,” said Nan, “Mother and I were so glad to see him – he walked into the house, just like that. And he wrote, he always wrote, once the Princess Pats went to France and were in the line. He picked flowers in the no-mans’-land between the trenches, and pressed them into his letters to send to us.”
(There is only one family picture of William, old-fashioned formal studio portrait of him and Nan; he sits stiffly in a straight ornate chair, holding his uniform cover in his lap, a big young man in a military tunic with a high collar, while a 12 or 13year old Nan in a white dress leans against the arm of the chair. She has a heart-shaped face with delicate bones; William’s features are heavy, with a prominent jaw— he does not look terribly intelligent, and there isn’t any family resemblance to Nan, or any of the rest of us.)

“His Captain came to see us, after he was killed,” said Nan, “Will was a Corporal, by that time – poor man, he was the only one of their officers to survive, and he had but one arm and one eye. He thought the world of Will. He told us that one night, Will took five men, and went out into no-mans’-land to cut wire and eavesdrop on the German trenches, but the Germans put down a barrage into the sector where they were supposed to have gone, and they just never came back. Nothing was ever found.”
(No, of course— nothing would have ever been found, not a scrap of the men, or any of their gear, not in the shell-churned hell between the trenches on the Somme in July of 1916. And the loss of Great-Uncle William and his handful of men were a small footnote after the horrendous losses on the first day of July. In a single day, the British forces sustained 19,000 killed, 2,000 missing, 50,000 wounded. Wrote the poet Wilfred Owen

“What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,–
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells”)

And that war continued for another two years, all but decimating a generation of British, French, German and Russian males. Such violence was inflicted on the land that live munitions are still being found, 80 years later, and bodies of the missing, as well. The nations who participated most in the war sustained a such a near-mortal blow, suffered such trauma that the Armistice in 1918 only succeeded in putting a lid on the ensuing national resentments for another twenty years. But everyone was glad of it, on the day when the guns finally fell silent, on 11:00 o’clock of a morning, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

“Amazing,” Mom remarked later, “I wonder what brought that on— she talked more about him in ten minutes than I had ever heard in 20 years.”
I went back a few years ago, looking for Uncle Jimmy’s combat crew, and found them, too, but even then it was too late to look for anyone who had served with Great-Uncle Will – although, any time after 1916 may have been too late. But there is an archive, with his service records in it, and I may send away for them, to replace what little we had before the fire. But they will only confirm what we found out, when Great-Aunt Nan told us all about the brother she loved.

(added – a link to haunting photographs of WWI battlefields today. Cross-posted at Chicago-Boyz, and at my Celia Hayes Blog.)

10. September 2011 · Comments Off on 3,650 Days · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun With Islam, General, History, Home Front, Memoir, War

Three thousand, six hundred fifty days, more or less,depending on leap years – since the end of the 20th century. Oh, I know, calendar-wise, only a year or two off. But we don’t count strictly by the calendar. Afterwards, we count by events. Myself, I have the feeling that the 19th century didn’t truly end for good and all until 1914. That’s when the 20th century began, in the muddy trenches of WW1. All the previous comfortable understandings and optimistic assumptions of the earlier world were shattered right along with three monarchial dynasties, over the course of four years. When it was over, the world of the time before seemed impossibly far removed, to those who could remember it – a number which, as the decades passed, became steadily fewer, until that world was entirely the stuff of books, paintings and relics, rather than true human recollections. We eventually adjusted and accepted the new reality of things. The old way, and the shattering events in which it passed – became a date on a monument, a paragraph in a history text, a book on the shelf.

Being that humans are mostly optimistic and pretty adaptable, we patched together some new understandings and assumptions, which worked pretty well – or at least we became accustomed to them . . . until the 20th century ended on a glorious autumn morning, ten years ago. One day. And then we had to become accustomed to the new reality. More than three thousand dead, a hole in the New York skyline that will never be filled in again – the ghosts of twin silvery towers showing up in the backgrounds of movies, now and again, drawing your sudden attention with a catch at the heart and memory.

And three thousand-something men and women who went off to work one morning, families who took a vacation, catching an early morning airplane flight, firefighters going on shift, everyone living out those thousands of petty daily routines, most of them probably quite boring. I am certain that practically every one of those who became casualties on that morning – a name and a face on a makeshift poster, a black-framed picture on the mantel or in the obituary pages – were looking forward to the end of the workday, the end of their journey – to coming home for a good dinner, wrapping up that business trip and getting on with that portion of our life that is ours, and belongs to us and our families and loved ones alone.

But they were never allowed that luxury, of having a tonight, a tomorrow. Those lives which they might have had, would have – were brutally wrenched from them, in an organized act of terrorism, wrenched from them in fire and horror and blood, while the rest of us watched or listened – watched in person, on television, or were glued to a radio – ten years ago today.

Ten years. Time enough for children to grow to middle-school age, never remembering that time before, or the loss of a father or mother, who worked in a department in the outer ring of the Pentagon, or in an office on a high floor of the World Trade center. A foreign country to them, is that place, where once you could go into the airport terminal and go all the way to the gate to meet an arriving friend . . . and for travelers not to have to take off their shoes to go through security. Or even have to go through security, come to think on it. A world where one could have no reaction but idle curiosity upon noticing a woman in full black burka, or a nervous-appearing man of Middle-eastern appearance, taking pictures of an otherwise undistinguished bridge or power station. A world where a familiarity with the dictates of the Koran and the Hadith, the maunderings of Sayyid Qutb as regards America and the workings of a desert tribal autocracy are an eccentric interest and hobby – not a professional necessity.

Ten years. The world that was passes from memory, and we have the brutal world of ‘now.’ As an amateur historian, one of my own comforts on this anniversary is that – it was always like this. We will survive, we will live in a world that is made new and eternally renewed by events, events that will eventually fade . . .

But today, we remember.

Past anniversary posts –
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
I didn’t write a specialized post for 2009, and last year I only reposted some music videos.

14. August 2011 · Comments Off on Reissue of Memo: John Wayne is Dead and Arnie Has a Day Job · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun With Islam, General, General Nonsense, Media Matters Not, Rant, sarcasm, War

(In light of the current ruckus over President’s Obama’s very personal wet smooch from Hollywood regarding the proposed “get Osama” movie, I am reissuing my historic memo, from 2004 or so. Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette has the whole depressing, infuriating saga of the world’s longest proposed political advertisement, here.)
To: Providers of our Movie & TV Entertainment
From: Sgt Mom
Re: Lack of Spine and Relevant Movies

1. So here it has been nearly three years since 9/11, two years since the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, a year since the thunder run from the Kuwait border to Baghdad, and all we get from you is a TV movie, a couple of episodes from those few TV serials that do touch on matters military, and a two-hour partisan hack job creatively edited together from other people’s footage. Ummm … thanks, ever so much. Three years worth of drama, tragedy, duty, honor, sacrifice, courage and accomplishment, and all we get is our very own Lumpy Riefenstahl being drooled over by the French. Where is the Casablanca, So Proudly We Hail, Wake Island, They Were Expendable? My god, people, the dust had barely settled over the Bataan surrender, before the movie was in the theaters. You people live to tell stories— where are ours? What are we fighting for and why, who are our heroes and villains, our epics and victories?

2. And it’s not like other media people have been laying down on the job: writers, reporters, bloggers have been churning out stories by the cubic foot: the brave passengers taking back Flight 93, the stories of people who escaped the towers, and those who helped others escape, as well as those who ran in, the epic unbuilding of the Trade Center ruins. What about the exploits of the Special Forces in Afghanistan, on horseback in the mountains with a GPS, directing pinpoint raids on Taliban positions, the women who ran Afghanistans’ underground girls’ schools? What about Sgt Donald Walters, Lt. Brian Chontosh, the 3rd ID’s fight for the strong points at Larry, Curley and Moe and a dozen others. There’s enough materiel for the lighter side, too: Chief Wiggles, Major Pain’s pet turkey, the woman Marine who deployed pregnant and delivered her baby in a war zone, the various units who have managed to bring their adopted unit mascots back from the theater. (Do a google search, for heaven’s sake. If you can’t handle that, ask one of the interns to help.) The shelves at my local bookstore are pretty well stocked with current writings on the subject, memoirs, reports, thrillers and all. Some stories even have yet to be written; they are still ongoing, and even classified, but I note that did not stop the movie producers back then: they just consulted with experts and made something up, something inspiring and convincing.

3. Of course, actually dealing with a contemporary drama in the fight against Islamic fascism would mean you would have to actually come down out of Hollywood’s enchanted world, and actually, you know … speak to them. Ordinary people, ordinary, everyday people, who don’t have agents and personal trainers and nannies, and god help them, they don’t even vote for the right people, or take the correct political line. Some of them (gasp) are even military, and do for real what movies only pretend to do … and besides, they have hold to all these archaic ideals like honor, duty, and country. (Ohhh, cooties!)

4. And since even mentioning the Religion of Peace (TM) in connection with things like terrorism, mass-murder, and international plots for a new caliphate is a guarantee to bring CAIR and other fellow travelers seething and whining in your outer office … ohh, best not. Drag out those old villainous standby Nazis, or South American drug lords, even the odd far-right survivalist for your theatrical punch-up, secure in the knowledge that even if you piss off what few remains of them, at least they won’t be unleashing a fatwa on your lazy ass, or sending a suicide bomber into Mortens’. Just ignore the three large smoking holes in the ground; cover your eyes and pretend it away. Never happened, religion of peace, all about oil, la-la-lah, fingers in my ears, I can’t hear you.

5.To make movies about it all, is to have to come to grips with certain concepts; among them being the fact that we are all potential targets for the forces of aggressive Islamo-fascism, that it is not anything in particular which we have done to draw such animus, and that we are in this all together, and that we must win, for the consequences of not winning are not only unbearable for us all — but they would be very likely to adversely affect you, too. I would expect an industry dependent on the moods and fashions amongst the public at large to have a better feel for what would sell … but I guess denial is more comfortable, familiar space, Sept. 10th is what you know best.

6. Still, if you could pass a word to Lumpy Riefenstahl, about getting signed releases, for footage, interviews and newsprint. It would be the courteous gesture towards all the little people for whom he professes to care, and save a bit of trouble in the long run.

Thanks
Sgt Mom

. . . in the words of Strother Martin, from the old Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke, “is failure to communicate.” Although, in the case of one Private Nasser Jason Abdo, one really does wonder how much of that deliberate non-receptivity is on the part of the receiver; firstly – being eighteen years of age. Most eighteen year olds are idiots. I was one, and I remember thinking that yes, most of my peers were drooling morons. (Most of them did grow out of it, so there is hope.) Secondly – he willfully and with aforethought enlisted in the Army. Enable routine, inter-service slam here: oh, yeah, he enlisted in the Army. Any brains, you’d pick the Air Force or Navy, any balls, you’d go for the Marines. Disable routine, inter-service slam, and for the record I have known many brainy and ballsy Army troops, it’s just that . . . hey, opportunity presents and custom demands.

Anyway, our young hero decides to join the Army, go through Basic and probably tech school, and oh, wow – suddenly discovers that he has enlisted in a wartime military, where . . . umm . . . they kinda expect you to go out there and kill the enemy and blow up their stuff, routinely and regularly, in exchange for a paycheck, PX privileges and the burden of not having to decide to wear what to work each morning. This war thing, in Afghanistan – it’s a thing which has been going on since 2003. I know it doesn’t make the headlines every damn day, but really . . . if you were deciding to join the military in late 2009 or early 2010, it’s one of those things that I would have hoped that a bright young enlistee would have noticed, even if his recruiter failed to point that out. And if his recruiter had not made it relatively clear, I’d have thought Army basic training would have. So, anyway, upon receipt of notice that he is bound for deployment to Afghanistan, our your hero suddenly gets in touch with his inner Muslim and discovers that he is, in fact, a contentious objector, and the requirements of religion forbid him to kill other Muslims. Note; historically and in current events this particular stricture would come as rather a surprise to . . . say, participants in strife between Sunni and Shia, between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s . . . and in Afghanistan itself, where the local Muslims seem to kill each other, frequently, bloodily and with every evidence of keen enjoyment. And also – past times in the US military, declaring yourself to be a conscientious objector in the US military did not automatically relieve one from an obligation to serve in uniform. During WWII many conscientious objectors served as combat medics, and in fact, there were two Medals of Honor awarded for having performed heroically in that role.

So, on the basis of his suddenly-discovered pacifistic inclination, our young Private Abdo is made much the pet and prize of the anti-war movement, such as it exists in these strange days, but just as the Army is about to wash its hands of him metaphorically speaking, investigators find kiddy porn on his government computer . . . which is either very convenient for the investigators, or the abyss of stupidity on Private Abdos. I’m kind of torn on this one, but our young hero doesn’t exactly strike me as Mensa material – note above, regarding joining the Army in time of war and then being horrified to discover that participation in said war is obligatory.

And to crown the whole farrago of self-serving stupidity to go AWOL and be captured in Killeen, Texas . . . for trying to purchase guns and bomb-making materials, with the apparent intent of setting off explosions in an off-post eatery popular with the local troops. Okay, then . . . Private Abdos apparently does not grasp that whole conscientious objector concept, as we in the wonderful world of the military – and possibly even most of those on planet Earth – understand it , and in a fairly comprehensive way. This is an irony so dense that it threatens to drop through the earth’s crust, all the way through the molten core and come out the other side, and having a particularly dark and ironic sense of humor, I am getting at least a few chuckles out of this from watching the anti-war organizations dropping him as if he were made of plutonium, nearly as much as I did from the unmasking of Jesse McBeth.

(re-edited to permit comments)

17. July 2011 · Comments Off on A Fact or Two for Hanoi Jane · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Rant, War

So here we are, Jane dear – and I address you as such because this is a family-friendly blog and some of the other . . . ummm . . . words used in military circles in conjunction with a discussion of your person are not exactly family friendly, unless of course, your family is, say, Saddam Hussein’s . . . anyway, the news media is apparently agog with the intelligence that you have been bounced from a guest slot at QVC, because a lot of people have been calling QVC and complaining about your scheduled appearance.

OK – bounced from QVC . . . snort, giggle . . . bwah-haha-HAH-HAH! (wipes away tears of laughter) . . . I think I’ve got that out of my system. So you wished to flog your crappy book to the QVC audience, because you believe you have something to offer the audience demographic who watches QVC. I hate to be a snob, but wasn’t there anything on Oprah Winfrey’s Network?

Let me break it gently to you, Jane dear; your actions 40 years ago – which were widely photographed, broadcast and discussed at the time – are indeed not in the least forgotten. Not by military serving at the time, military serving after that time and down to the present day, the military establishment as a whole, blue-collar working-class guys subject to the Vietnam War-era draft, their spouses, girlfriends, children and grandchildren, their parents, cousins, second cousins, friends, members of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans and former POWS . . . all of them remember. Possibly the Boy and Girl Scouts remember, too – this is a sort of heirloom memory, handed down from generation to generation like a bit of jewelry or a Chippendale escritoire. We do not need some vast Reich-wing and well-financed organization to support us in this either, unless you do consider the AL, the VFW and the DAV that kind of organization. It’s more of an organic thing, Jane dear . . . oh, I forgot; probably the Vietnamese refugees who came out of Vietnam upon the fall of the Saigon government – they probably remember your actions pretty vividly, too.

Jane, dear – a fairly large portion of the individuals represented in the above-listed groups hate you. They hate you with a depth of feeling ranging the gamut from scornful distaste to the depth of loathing equivalent to the burning of a thousand white-hot suns. They hate you for using your celebrity to set yourself up as a great authority, for providing a propaganda opportunity for the enemy in time of war, for appearing to rejoice in the deaths and/or captivity of American servicemen, for accusing former POWs of lying about the conditions of their captivity. There are mens’ latrines at military clubs and VFW halls that have stickers in the urinals with your face on them; they hate you that much, even after all this time. For myself, I hate that stupid exercise book of yours – exercise and healthy living to keep fit and shapely my a**; it was bulimia and plastic surgery that kept that little fraud going, but never mind.

You have never really apologized for your little stunt in going to North Vietnam; just offered up one of those mealy-mouthed “sorry of you were offended” non-apology apologies. So now, you want to flog another stupid book to the masses, and you discover to your shock and horror that a good part of the demographic it’s intended for don’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole, or see your face on QVC . . . Go get yourself some sympathy from the Dixie Chicks, they know all about alienating a key demographic, and watching appreciation for their celebrity go down the tubes. It’s called karma, and it’s just taken a longer time for yours to come around.

23. June 2011 · Comments Off on The Ghost Poet · Categories: Domestic, Fun and Games, General, History, War, World

(Found through a link posted in a historical novel enthusiast group – the story of a poet who’s words inspired his community … the Warsaw Ghetto in the early 1940s.

Hey, Louis! You probably don’t know
What your punches mean to us
You, in your anger, punched the Brown Shirts
Straight in their hearts—K.O.

Lost Words – an article from Tablet Magazine

15. June 2011 · Comments Off on The Grand Adventure · Categories: General, History, Literary Good Stuff, Memoir, Military, War

“You’ll simply have to read his books, if you want to understand about Greece,” my next-door neighbor told me, very shortly after my then-three year old daughter and I settled into Kyrie Panayotis’ first floor flat (which is Brit-speak for second-floor apartment) at the corner of Knossou and Delphon streets in the Athens suburb of Ano Glyphada, early in the spring of 1983. Kyrie Panayoti did not speak any English; neither did his wife, or his wife’s sister, Kyria Yiota, who lived upstairs with her husband. The only inhabitants of the three-story apartment house who did were Kyrie Panayoti’s middle-school aged sons, who were learning English at school. And I – dullard that I am with languages aside from my native one – only retained a few scraps of high-school and college German. Given the modern history of Greece, and the long memories of older Greeks, a German vocabulary was neither tactful nor useful.

I can’t recall exactly when we hit the first linguistic snag, but it must have been within days of me moving in, lock, stock, barrel, toddler child and household goods. In mild frustration, Kyrie Panayoti leaned out the kitchen door of his apartment, and shouted in the general direction of the apartment block next door, a distance of about twelve or fifteen feet away.
“Kyria Penny!”
Almost immediately, a woman’s head with an old-fashioned kerchief tied around it, appeared out from one of the first floor (or second floor windows) – and that was my first introduction to Penny. She was English, married to a genial Greek accountant named George. She was slightly older than my own mother, her two sons were teenagers. Penny had been the British equivalent of a State Department employee, and in that capacity she had been assigned to various British consulates in Europe until she came to Athens, met and married George, and settled down into tidy domesticity in the three-floor, three-flat apartment building next to Kyrie Panayoti’s. Penny’s mother-in-law lived on the ground floor, Penny and George lived on the first – or second floor, exactly opposite mine – and George’s widowed brother and his two children lived in the top-floor flat.

I rather think Penny missed speaking English regularly, anyway – and we became excellent friends because of a mutual love of books and mad passion for Greece, ancient and modern. A love for Greece in general, on the part of us English and American eccentrics is one of those inexplicable things – rather like enduring affection for an exasperatingly self-centered boyfriend with one or two bad habits. He’s devastatingly handsome, scenic in all the right ways, erratically but theatrically devoted – but just when you have given up all hope and resolved to cut him off – he does something so heartbreakingly gallant, at something of a cost to him and with no thought of personal gain – that all is . . . well, not forgotten or overlooked (until next time). Anyway, I loved Greece, being a history wonk, and cheerfully overlooked all kinds of disincentives . . . a very real terrorism problem, endemic anti-Americanism, and a certain slap-dash approach to everything from driving habits to telephone company service. No exaggerating there: getting a phone in Greece in those days was . . . interesting, and supposedly took years, well above the time that any Americans serving at Hellenikon AB were prepared to wait. Kyrie Panayoti’s flat and Kyria Yiota’s each had a telephone jack. Mine might have had one also; I never cared enough to look for it. But there was only one telephone between the two families. They passed it between themselves, I guess according to need. Many was the time that I heard someone calling between apartments, and observed the telephone being hoisted or lowered past my kitchen window, in a plastic market bag at the end of a long length of rope.

Among the first books that Penny advised me to read – was Gerald Durrell, who wrote about his childhood in Corfu in the 1930s. He was Lawrence Durrell’s little brother; I rather think that Dad must have been a child like Gerald Durrell; entranced by wild animals of whatever sort, to the mystification of his parents – eventually being a zoologist and all, and giving us all the very best nature-walks ever, as the four of us grew up.

And the second of Penny’s recommended authors – Patrick Leigh-Fermor, especially his books about Greece: Mani and Roumeli, respectively southern Greece and Northern. Penny’s redoubtable mother-in-law was from the Southern Peloponnesus – the Mani. I read them both, traveled down into that part of the country when I could, and read the first of his books – A Time of Gifts – about the journey on foot that he had made at the age of 18; as the title goes, “On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube” in the fateful year of 1933. He took a little more than a year to make that journey, but writing about it took up the rest of his life. I bought a copy of the second installment, Between the Woods and Water as soon as it came out, the year after I had left Greece. At the time of his death earlier this month, the last installment of that journey was unfinished.

Of Patrick Leigh-Fermor’s greatest adventure? He never really wrote about that himself, although in certain circles his exploits as a British SOE agent during Crete in WWII became legend. He another SOE officer, in a daring strike by Leigh-Fermor’s band of Cretan guerillas kidnapped the German officer commanding the whole island, spirited him across the Cretan hills and mountains, and had him evacuated from Crete to North Africa. His co-conspirator, W. Stanley Moss wrote about that in his own book, Ill Met by Moonlight – which was made into a movie, in the days when movie-makers appreciated such real-life exploits. One of the grace notes to this adventure is that Moss and Leigh-Fermor left documents behind; clearly explaining that it was British commandos who had taken the general-commanding, so no point in going all reprisal-ish on the local Cretans.

About thirty years later, a Greek television version of This is Your Life reunited many of those participants. And Patrick Leigh Fermor lived for most of the rest of his life in Greece, regarded with awe and wonder, almost as a local saint.

30. May 2011 · Comments Off on The Order That Started It All · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, War

Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic

General Orders No.11, Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance.

All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing [it] to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of
JOHN A. LOGAN,

Commander-in-Chief

15. May 2011 · Comments Off on Bye Bye, Bin Laden · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun With Islam, General, Media Matters Not, Politics, War

So, not tacky or energetic enough to do anything to note Bin Laden’s sudden shuffling off this mortal coil save for my daughter and I polishing off a bottle of champagne on the Monday afterwards, and me noting that while I had never killed anyone myself, I had read certain obituaries with a great deal of pleasure. Anything more demonstrative would earn us a severe poo-pooing from the likes of German newspaper opinion columnists and the Arch-Bish of Canterbury, among others . . . which disapproval at this late date has all the effect upon me of a flogging with a wet noodle, or of having my ankles attacked by a toothless Chihuahua. This means a lot of slobber, some momentarily but earsplitting noise, but no lasting damage whatsoever. So, consider the poo-poo noted, and thank you very much for your support, such as it has been. The champagne was very pleasant, by the way, especially considering that I had waited nearly nine and a half years to drink to cold justice being served for Bin Laden.

What a pathetic man, he was by the end – and living in such a dump, to judge by the videos and the pictures. Seriously, his place looked like a cheap residential motel, of the sort where the sheets are as thin as Kleenex and the bedside lamp is chained to the wall. And the raiding SEALS took away stuff by the garbage-bag full – although from the secret squirrel point of view, perhaps it would have been better to be completely quiet about what, exactly was taken away. But even so, I’ll bet there have been a lot of hasty exits from various places in the last two weeks, a lot of stuff being burned/trashed/shredded, and a fair number of hitherto upright types hastily making a last deposit into a secret bank account and checking out the rental rates for upscale walled villas in Marbella. And that’s just Pakistan, or as the fine folks at Rantburg call it, ‘Paki-waki-land’. Oh, and among those items removed from the “luxurious villa” are reputed to be his very own porn collection. Seriously, people are having fun coming up with proposed names for Bin Laden’s stash – say, Fatima Does Dallas, Deep Goat, Brokeback Goat, etc.

Oh, dear, what do we have to do to the Paks – more than slap them over the pee-pee with a lead pipe, I would hope. What an ignorant, bigoted, treacherous dunghill of a country, and I only say this because I used to read the Guardian, on a regular basis. Lots of stories about women with acid thrown on their faces, about Christian persecutions, hysteria about vaccinations and other temptations of modernity. I know we were their best buds and Uncle Sugar Money-bags way back when, because India was flirting with China (or China and Russia by turns, depending on the wind direction) and that left us gingerly holding hands with the dregs of the sub-continent . . . but I think the time has come to sever that relationship and the income-stream. The most wanted international fugitive for the last decade, turns up having hidden for the past how-many-years in a town full of retired Pak military, not a stones through from a military academy? Someone’s got some explaining to do. Personally, I think one faction in Paki-Waki-Land was sheltering him and another faction dimed him out. So, cut off the income stream, and watch it all devolve. I know they say that we need them for support of our efforts in Afghanistan, but if this is what their support means . . . umm, maybe we should explore what their non-support would work out to?
And wonderful – our very own press creatures are trying to play ‘spot the SEAL’ in Virginia Beach. I am amused, though, at how our hapless and militarily clueless reporter is foiled at every turn; a word to the wise, to anyone else playing this kind of game in a military town? Don’t go in without a guide or at least a little bit of internalizing military thought about op-sec. Double-don’t think it, if you have to have op-sec explained to you. And a couple of words of reminder about making note of the names of various places reputed to be military hang-outs? Bobby’s in Glyphada. La Belle Disco in Berlin, the Rib House near Torrejon; places that military of a certain vintage recall . . . because they were eateries that American military personnel favored – in Greece, West Germany and Spain. People with a point to make via high-explosives, sussed those three places out as a place likely to kill American service personnel. And they did, with varying degrees of success. So – it should be any different here in these United States? And do you understand, that in making it known to the public at large – that these places in a relatively small town are reputed to be military hangouts, that you are handing some basic research conclusions to people who might not have the long-term health of American service personnel in mind? Yeah, thanks for your support. Duly noted; And again – thanks.

05. May 2011 · Comments Off on Shoot, Shove Overboard, and Shut Up · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun With Islam, General, Media Matters Not, Rant, sarcasm, War, Wild Blue Yonder

Ya know, at least Obama actually did a very good speech, announcing that Osama Bin Laden had been taken down, and he did have the stones in the first place to step up to the plate and give the order for the SEALS to take out the trash. No shilly-shallying around and voting ‘present’ on that one, even if there are reports that he chewed over the decision for 16 hours. Well, it was momentous decision; a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize authorizing a targeted assassination, within the sovereign territory of a nation frequently described as being an ally. The irony abounds – one can only imagine the political and media response to GWB giving the go-ahead. So, our boy-king has the advantage of being one of those with a D after his name, which – when it comes to this sort of thing pretty much affords all-over protection against blowback.

So, approving noises all the way around, all the day long on Monday and into Tuesday this week: OBL sleeps wid da fishes, and the most sycophantic media tools are crowing that he will be a shoo-in for reelection in 2012 on that account . . . never mind that gas will probably close on $5.00 a gallon by mid-summer, and joblessness is endemic and the prices for basic groceries are sneaking up. And then . . .

And then . . . oh, oh. Different stories: firefight with the SEALS . . . or not. Use of a woman – perhaps wife, perhaps not – as a human shield. Plain old down and dirty execution, or did the plan call originally for everyone in the house in Abbottabad to be taken away for leisurely interrogation? Video or still documentation of the whole thing – as well as that rushed burial at sea, proving that OBL did indeed go over the side of the Carl Vinson? And now, not releasing any of the pictures of OBL, pining for the fijords because of inflaming the Muslim street, or something? People, get a grip – the Muslim street is always inflamed over something or other. Besides, they are always telling us that OBL was a bad Moslem, that he hijacked the Religion of Peace . . . so, wouldn’t they also want to see visual proof of his demise. There have been enough bloody pictures circulating in the last ten years, and anyone who has ever watched an episode of CSI has probably already seen many scenes at least as bloody and stomach-churning.

And no one at the higher levels of the administration had any idea as to how to deal with this, as an important news event and public affairs challenge – other than the boy-king making a speech. It was as if that was as far as they could see it going; the Administration appears to have felt no need to work out an in-depth response. Just take their word for it, no need to work out a coherent narrative, backed up by pictures, video, carefully shielded witness testimony, et cetera. Just shoot, shove overboard, and shut up.

Not gonna fly, in this wired world, not with so many people wanting to see just a little bit more, within the boundaries of operations security. I’d guess that the pictures and video outlining just a few more answers to questions will leak or be released within days. Just too many people, who are just too damn curious and haven’t had that curiosity satisfied in the least. I’m a long-retired military media professional – and I am offering this feedback gratis. The Administration better start working out a better response to this, and any future-type events.

Later: Froggy and Blackfive thinking along the same lines

02. May 2011 · Comments Off on Stand-off at Salado – Part 2 · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Military, Old West, War

Most people accept as conventional wisdom about the Texas frontier, that Anglo settlers were always the consummate horsemen, cowboys and cavalrymen that they were at the height of the cattle boom years. But that was not so: there was a learning curve involved. The wealthier Texas settlers who came from the Southern states of course valued fine horseflesh. Horse-races were always a popular amusement, and the more down-to-earth farmers and tradesmen who came to Texas used horses as draft animals. But the Anglo element was not accustomed to working cattle – the long-horned and wilderness adapted descendents of Spanish cattle – from horseback. Their eastern cattle were slow, tame and lumbering. Nor were many of them as accustomed to making war from the saddle as the Comanche were. Most of Sam Houston’s army who won victory at San Jacinto, were foot-soldiers: his scouts and cavalry was a comparatively small component of his force. It was a deliberate part of Sam Houston’s strategy to fall back into East Texas, where the lay of the land worked in the favor of his army. The Anglos’ preferred weapon in those early days in Texas the long Kentucky rifle, a muzzle-loading weapon, impossible to use effectively in the saddle, more suited to their preferred cover of woods – not the rolling grasslands interspersed with occasional clumps of trees which afforded Mexican lancers such grand maneuvering room.

When did this begin to change for the Anglo-Texans? Always hard to say about such things, but I suspect that the Anglo-Texas began morphing into a people who more nearly resembled what they fought almost as soon as Texas declared independence in 1836. The war with the Comanche was unrelenting for fifty years, and conflict with Mexico was open for all of the decade that the Republic of Texas existed, as well as simmering away in fits and starts for even longer. And one of the agents taking an active part in that metamorphosis from settler to centaur was John Coffee “Jack” Hays, during a handful of years that he led a company of Rangers stationed in San Antonio. The Rangers were not lawmen, then – they were local companies organized to protect their own communities from depredations by raiding Indians, and as close to cavalry as the perennially broke Republic of Texas possessed. Jack Hays, who with fifteen of his Rangers had narrowly escaped being caught in San Antonio when Woll’s troops took the town – was one of the most innovative and aggressive Ranger company captains. He had already begun schooling his contingent in horsemanship and hard riding, and in use of five-shot repeating pistols developed by Samuel Colt. It was Hay’s contingent who spread the alarm, and militia volunteers began to assemble from across the westernmost inhabited part of Texas. Colonel Matthew “Old Paint” Caldwell, from Gonzales began gathering a scratch force at Seguin, east and south of San Antonio. He collected up about a hundred and forty, and set out for a camp on Cibolo Creek, twenty miles from San Antonio, before settling on another camp, on the Salado, seven miles north of San Antonio. He gathered another seventy or eighty volunteers – and more were on the way. But “Old Paint” was in any case, outnumbered several times over, and being a sensible man knew there was absolutely no chance of re-taking San Antonio in a head-on assault. But what if a sufficient number of Woll’s force could be lured out of the town – which may not have been a fortified town in the European sense of things, but certainly was set up to enable a stout defense against lightly-armed infantry. Caldwell arranged his few men efficiently, among the trees, deep thickets and rocky banks of the creek, with the water at their backs, and rolling prairie, dotted with trees all the way to San Antonio spread out before them. Could any part of Woll’s invaders be lured into a kill-zone? The Texians grimly proposed to find out.

There were only thirty-eight horses counted fit enough for what would be an easy ride to San Antonio, but undoubtedly a hard ride back. Jack Hays and his Rangers, and another dozen men were dispatched very early on the morning of September 17th. At a certain point, still short of San Antonio, Hays ordered twenty-nine of the men with him to dismount and set up an ambush. He and the remaining eight then rode on – to within half a mile of the Alamo, where the main part of Woll’s force had camped. They would have been clearly seen from the walls of the old presidio; it would have been about sunrise. What else did they do besides show themselves? Perhaps they fired a few shots into the air, shouted taunts, made obscene gestures clearly visible to anyone with a spyglass. It was their assignment to provoke at least fifty of Woll’s cavalrymen into chasing after them, hell for leather . . . instead, two hundred Mexican cavalrymen boiled out of the Alamo, along with forty Cherokee Indians (who at that time had allied themselves with Mexico) and another three hundred and more, led personally by General Woll. Hay’s provocation had worked a little too well – it was a running fight, all the seven miles back to the camp and the carefully arranged line of Texians with the Salado and the green forest of the trees and thickets at their back. Caldwell and the others were just eating breakfast when Hays and his party arrived breathlessly and at a full gallop. Over two hundred shots had been fired at them, none with any effect – not particularly surprising, given that it would have been extremely difficult to hit a moving target from a position on a galloping horse, and that reloading would have been near to impossible.

Having succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in drawing the Mexican force to follow them, Jack Hays and the others took up their position in “Old Paint” Caldwell’s line – carefully screened and sheltered among the trees. Caldwell sent out messages saying that he was surrounded, but in a good spot for defense, if any at all could come to his aid – and so it turned out to be. The canny old Indian-fighter had a good eye for the ground, and for an enemy. The pursuing Mexican cavalry drew up short, upon seeing his positions, or whatever evidence they could see from their position on the open prairie, looking into the trees along the Salado – but they did not withdraw entirely. Instead, Woll, and most of his command lined up and prepared to sling a great deal of musket-fire and a barrage of artillery shot in the direction of Caldwell’s force, none of which had any noticeable effect at all – on the Texians. Instead, Anglo-Texian skirmishers went forward with their chosen and familiar weapon and from their favorite cover sniped at leisure all through the next five hours, inflicting considerable casualties, before scampering back to safety on the creek-bank. Some sources claim at least sixty dead and twice that number wounded, against one Texian killed, nine or ten injured and another half-dozen having had hairsbreadth escapes. At one point, General Woll ordered a direct attack – a few of his soldiers got within twenty feet of the dug-in Texians. Being a fairly rational man, and a professional soldier, the General knew when it was time to cut his losses. Leaving his campfires burning, he and his forces silently fell back to San Antonio under the cover of night, and then withdrew even farther – all the way back towards the Rio Grande.

This would have been a complete and total victory for Caldwell . . . except for one unfortunate circumstance: a company of fifty or so volunteers from Bastrop, on their way to join him, had the misfortune to almost make it – to even hear the sounds of the fight, from two miles distant. The company of Captain Nicholas Mosby Dawson, from Bastrop and the upper Colorado was caught by Woll’s rear-guard, as they retreated. Only fifteen of Dawson’s men would survive that battle and surrender to superior military force. Caldwell’s men would find the bodies of the dead on the following day, as the pursued Woll towards the somewhat amorphous border. The fifteen Dawson men would join those Anglo-Texians taken prisoner in San Antonio in chains in Perote prison – some of those would be held in durance vile until early 1844.

22. April 2011 · Comments Off on Coming Home in Dress Blues · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Military, War

Found, through Bookworm Room

The Westboro “Baptist Church” Freaks (note the viciously skeptical quote marks) had made plans to turn out for this. The citizens of SSgt. Jones’ home town took action that ensured they did not. What a wonderful place to be from. Even if it is one of those no-count (insert satirical quote marks here) tea-b***er-infested, ignorant, flyover-country places that no decent respectable person of the mainstream media, or our political elite would ever claim to come from, or know, at all.

27. October 2010 · Comments Off on Border Incursion · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Old West, On The Border, War

Once there was a little town, a little oasis of civilization – as the early 20th century understood the term – in the deserts of New Mexico, a bare three miles from the international boarder. The town was named for Christopher Columbus – the nearest big town on the American side of the border with Mexico was the county seat of Deming, thirty miles or so to the north; half a day’s journey on horseback or in a Model T automobile in the desert country of the Southwest. It’s a mixed community of Anglo and Mexicans, some of whose families have been there nearly forever as the far West goes, eking out a living as ranchers and traders, never more than a population of about fifteen hundred. There’s a train station, a schoolhouse, a couple of general stores, a drug-store, some nice houses for the better-off Anglo residents, and a local newspaper – the Columbus Courier, where there is even a telephone switchboard. Although Columbus at this time is better than a decade and a half into the twentieth century, in most ways it looks back to the late 19th century, to the frontier, when men went armed as a matter of course. Although the Indian wars are thirty years over – no need to fear raids from Mimbreno and Jicarilla Apache, from the fearsome Geronimo, from Comanche and Kiowa, the Mexican and Anglo living in this place have long and bitter memories.

In this year of 1916, as a new and more horrible kind of war is being waged on the other side of the world, while a more present danger menaces the border; political unrest in Mexico has flamed into open civil war, once again. Once again, the fighting threatens to spill over the border; once again refugees from a war on one side of the border seek safety on the other, while those doing the fighting look for allies, supplies, arms. This has been going on for ten years. One man in particular, the revolutionary Doroteo Arango, better known as Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa had several good reasons for broadening the fight within Mexico to the other side of the border. Pancho Villa had (and still does) an enviable reputation as their champion among the poorest of the poor in Mexico, in spite of being a particularly ruthless killer. He also had been, at various times, a cattle rustler, bank robber, guerrilla fighter – and aspiring presidential candidate in the revolution that broke out following overthrow of more than three decades of dictatorship by Porfirio Diaz.

Once, he had counted on American support in his bid for the presidency of Mexico, but after bitter fighting his rival Carranza had been officially recognized by the American government – and Pancho Villa was enraged. The border was closed to him, as far as supplies and munitions were concerned. He began deliberately targeting Americans living and working along the border region, hoping to provoke a furious American reaction, and possibly even intervention in the still-simmering war in Northern Mexico. He believed that an American counter-strike against him would discredit Carranza. Such activities would renew support to his side, and revive his hopes for the presidency.

In this he may have been egged on by German interests, hoping to foment sufficient unrest along the border in order to keep the Americans from intervening in Europe. A US Army deployed along the Mexican border was a much more satisfactory situation to Germany than a US Army deployed along the Western Front along with the English and the French. Early in April, 1915, Brigadier General John “Black Jack” Pershing and an infantry brigade were deployed to Fort Bliss; by the next year, there was a garrison of about 600 soldiers stationed near Columbus, housed in flimsy quarters called Camp Furlong, although they were often deployed on patrols.

By March, 1916, Pancho Villa’s band was in desperate straits; short of shoes, beans and bullets. Something had to be done, both to re-supply his command – and to provoke a reaction from the Americans. The best place for both turned out to be . . . Columbus. After a decade of bitter civil war south of a border marked only with five slender strands of barbed-tire, that conflict was about to spill over. The US government, led by President Woodrow Wilson had laid down their bet on the apparent winner, Venustiano Carranza. Carranza’s sometime ally, now rival, Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa, who had once appeared to be a clear winner from north of the border – was cut off, from supplies and support, which now went to Carranza. Pancho Villa had been so admired for his military skills during the revolution which overthrew the Diaz dictatorship that he was invited personally to Fort Bliss in 1913 to meet with General Pershing. He appeared as himself in a handful of silent movies . . . but suddenly he was persona non grata north of the border, and one might be forgiven for wondering if Villa took it all as a personal insult; how much was the deliberate killing of Americans a calculation intended to produce a reaction, and how much was personal pique?

Villa and the last remnants of his army – about five-hundred, all told – were almost down to their last bean and bullet. In defeat, Villa’s men increasingly resembled bandits, rather than soldiers. The high desert of Sonora was all but empty of anything that could be used by the Villa’s foraging parties, having been pretty well looted, wrecked or expropriated previously. There were only a few struggling ranches and mining operations, from which very little in the way of supplies could be extracted, only a handful of American hostages – the wife of an American ranch manager, Maude Wright and a black American ranch hand known as Bunk Spencer. Some days later, on March 9, 1916, Villa’s column of horsemen departed from their camp and crossed the border into New Mexico. In the darkness before dawn, most residents and soldiers were asleep. At about 4:15, the Villistas stuck in two elements. Of those residents of Columbus awake at that hour, most were soldiers on guard, or Army cooks beginning preparations for breakfast, and the initial surprise was almost total. A few guards were surprised, knifed or clubbed to death – but a guard posted at the military headquarters challenged the shadowy intruders, and the first exchange of gunfire broke out – alerting townspeople and soldiers alike.

The aim of the well-organized Villistas was loot, of course – stocks of food, ammunition, clothing and boots from the civilian stores, and small arms, machine guns, mules and horses from the Army camp. To that end, Villa’s men first moved swiftly towards those general stores. Most of the structures in town and housing the garrison were wood-framed clapboard; in the dry climate, easy to set on fire, and even easier to break into, as well as offering practically no shelter from gunfire. But the citizens and soldiers quickly rallied – memories of frontier days were sufficiently fresh that most residents of Columbus kept arms and ammunition in their houses as a matter of course. Even the Army cooks defended themselves, with a kettle of boiling water, an ax used to cut kindling and a couple of shotguns used to hunt game for the soldiers.

Otherwise, most of the Army’s guns were secured in the armory, but a quick-thinking lieutenant, James Castleman, quickly rounded up about thirty soldiers who broke the locks in the armory and took to the field. Castleman had been alerted early on, having stepped out of his quarters to see what the ruckus was all about only to be shot at and narrowly missed by a Villista. Castleman, fortunately had his side-arm in hand, and returned fire. Another lieutenant, John Lucas, who commanded a machine-gun troop, set up his four 7-mm machine guns. The Villistas were caught in a cross-fire, silhouetted against the fiercely burning Commercial Hotel and the general stores. The fighting lasted about an hour and a half, with terribly one-sided results: eight soldiers and ten civilians, including a pregnant woman caught accidentally in the crossfire, against about a hundred of Villa’s raiding party. As the sun rose, Villa withdrew – allowing his two hostages to go free. He was pursued over the border by Major Frank Tompkins and two companies of cavalry, who harassed Villa’s rear-guard unmercifully, until a lack of ammunition and the realization they had chased Villa some fifteen miles into Mexico forced them to return.

Within a week, the outcry over Villa’s raid on Columbus would lead to the launching of a punitive expedition into Mexico, a force of 4,800 led by General Pershing – over the natural objections of the Carranza government. Pershing’s expedition would ultimately prove fruitless in it’s stated objective of capturing Pancho Villa and neutralizing his forces – however, it proved to be a useful experience for the US Army. Pershing’s force made heavy use of aerial reconnaissance, provided by the 1st Aero Squadron, flying Curtiss ‘Jenny’ biplanes, of long-range truck transport of supplies, and practice in tactics which would come in very handy, when America entered into WWI. Lt. Lucas would become a general and command troops on the Italian front in WWII. Lt. Castleman was decorated for valor, in organizing the defense of Columbus, and one of General Pershing’s aides on the Mexico expedition – then 2nd Lt. George Patton, would win his first promotion and be launched on a path to military glory.

Pancho Villa would, when the Revolution ended in 1920, settle down to the life of a rancher, on estates that he owned near Parral and Chihuahua. He would be assassinated in July, 1923; for what reason and by whom are still a matter of mystery and considerable debate.

28. June 2010 · Comments Off on McChrystal McMysteries · Categories: Fun and Games, General, Media Matters Not, Military, Politics, War, World

So, as expected General McChrystal resigned last week; a terribly drastic way to get an instant face to face attitude adjustment session with the boss, I must say. I skimmed the original Rolling Stone story, and I have to also observe that I am still mystified as to how and why a freelance reporter with no particular track record of being a friend of the military even got let through the door – or even was allowed by the General’s Public Affairs officer/advisor to ingratiate himself so thoroughly that they seem to have forgotten that said reporter was there. I mean, there are reporters and there are reporters . . . and as a public affairs professional, I completely internalized certain things; like being always aware that the outside media was present, and anything he or she saw had the potential to be on the record. In fact, most likely would be on the record, so a certain degree of circumspection was required. I would have thought that anyone savvy enough to have made any rank north of light colonel would also have absorbed that kind of situational awareness. Officers who have been promoted to general rank most always are pretty sharp. The military is a ruthless meritocracy, perhaps the most so of any of our various establishments. Even the political generals, promoted on account of who, rather than what they know – usually possess a high degree of low cunning. Was General McChrystal just arrogant enough to think that he, as Obama’s chosen general for Afghanistan, could treat with a supposedly sympathetic media outlet and get away with it. Arrogance I could buy – but not stupidity.

I read some comments and posts on OS and elsewhere, where the degree of pearl-clutching shock and horror over the disrespect reflected towards the civilian element in the chain of command by those comments from General McChrystal’s staff – as quoted in the story got to be rather poisonously amusing. If a military officer lets fall a derisive comment in private about VP Biden – and no reporter is there to hear it, does it make a sound? See; there is a difference between the private sphere and the official, duty sphere, the one where you follow the legitimate orders given by your superior – even if you privately disagree. Granted, sometimes the border between the two is blurry – especially at the levels where historians and reporters might be expected to take an interest, but it does exist. Official is when you put on the uniform, when you go on shift or deployment, when you release statements or make speeches in your official capacity as a member of the forces. Everyone in service has had it pounded into them repeatedly, about not bringing discredit on the service in your public actions; so did McChystal openly disobey any such orders given to him in securing Afghanistan? Or does failure to closely police the private comments of your close subordinates and staff in the manner of a grade school teacher with a classroom of fractious third-graders constitute an offense against the UCMJ? Apparently, under this current administration it does, although I suspect under the previous one, the parties in question might have been lauded for their courage in speaking “troof to power, man!”

Frankly, this is not the first administration in my lifetime to be held in something less than complete affection and respect among the military, even as they followed orders and kept a stoical public silence about their personal opinions. Jimmy Carter’s inaction following the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran had many of us grinding our teeth, and Bill Clinton’s games with interns excited considerable contempt – especially since any military officer or NCO proven guilty of playing hide-the-salami with a subordinate and lying about it would have been disciplined and discharged. One standard for me, and another for thee, y’see.

It has been suggested by a milblogger or two, and a neighbor of mine with a background in Special Forces – that General McChrystal spend a lot of his military career in sort of a Special Forces cocoon, doing – and developing the habit of speaking bluntly – rather than having to deal much with those on the outside. I could tentatively accept something of that hypothesis, save that Special Forces is a ruthless meritocracy on steroids. Certain milboggers are speculating along the lines of General McChrystal deliberately setting off the explosive bolts on his career. What if he was going spare with frustration at the constraints and his civilian counterparts in Afghanistan are operating under, with zilch support from the current administration. What if he could already see the writing on the wall – or the helicopters taking off from the roof of the American Embassy and came to the conclusion that the military was going to take the blame for ‘losing’ Afghanistan?

To this day that ‘other America of defense’ as written about by Arthur Hadley – is haunted by Vietnam. There was the losing of it by failure of the political machine to support South Vietnam logistically after the withdrawal of American troops, and also by the fact that there were generations (in military terms) of able and creative officers who served there, knowing very well what needed to be done, but felt their efforts were stymied at the very highest levels, to include the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. I began my own service when the services were still thick with NCOs and officers who remembered Vietnam vividly, but fairly quietly – and to a man (they were just about all men, then) they despised McNamara with a passion that fairly made them incoherent. McNamara had a toweringly high estimation of his own and his ‘wiz kids’ abilities when it came to overseeing the war in Vietnam, and relative contempt for the uniformed military; a contempt returned in spades. Now and again it was bruited about that it might have been better all around – that McNamara be brought to see the light about the true effect of his policies with regard to Vietnam, if the generals on the Joint Chiefs of staff, and those others who disagreed with him had resigned their commissions in protest. Interestingly, one of those officers who did spectacularly criticize the war – on Sixty Minutes, no less – was an army colonel named David Hackworth. Almost 25 years later, I edited an interview that he gave to AFKN-TV, where he cheerfully acknowledged that yes, he had indeed thrown himself on his own sword, over policy and accepted the consequences more or less gracefully. He finished up as a best-selling author, and military journalist for a major national magazine, along with the awed respect of the next generation of military, so it all ended rather happily for him.
Is the McChrystal McMystery a repeat of this? Same song, slightly different verse. Discuss.

You know, being that I am a lady of certain age, and since I will freely admit – that in the full bloom of youth I was really nothing to launch a thousand ships over, and being presently quite grateful for any kindly camera angle and trick of fortunate lighting which does not make me look like my Dad in drag – I really have felt kinda queasy about making fun of Helen Thomas, the doyenne and senior-most reporter of that bit of preciousosity known as the White House Press Corps. Age has not been kind to her – it has been quite brutally and infamously unkind, but I really never felt a need to add to the mockery … well, until now.

Ma’am, I am given to say now that this video clip shows as ugly an interior as an exterior – and that is an exterior which resembles Jabba the Hut with lipstick. From now on I live in hope that this performance will see you exiled from the White House Press Room … but I really am not holding my breath. Have a nice day … you ugly, ugly bigot.

04. June 2010 · Comments Off on Gone to Texas – Chapter 8 · Categories: General, Literary Good Stuff, Old West, War

(As promised, another intermittent chapter from the next book – Gone to Texas, which will hopefully be finished this year and released by spring 2011.
Margaret has grown up, and married the schoolteacher. She and her husband and their children are living in Gonzales by the fall of 1835, while her father Alois – having quarreled with first Stephen Austin, and then some of his neighbors in Gonzales – has taken the rest of the family north, to a distant little settlement on the Upper Colorado. But matters are also coming to a slow boil between the American settlers, and the Mexican government, between Federalists and Centralists…)

Margaret took the boys and walked over to the Darsts, after Race shrugged into his coat and hurried away to the militia meeting. She found Sue Dickenson already there, with little Angelina; they let the children play on the floor of the verandah together. Maggie Darst was baking bread, and Sue had brought her knitting basket. The Darst boys, Jacob and Abraham had already gone to the militia meeting with their father.
“What do you suppose they will decide?” Sue asked, as Margaret brought out her own mending.
“They will take a vote on what to do,” she answered, “Return the cannon, as Colonel Ugartechea asked . . . or not. I think the answer they will decide upon is ‘not.’ And then, therefore, they will need to talk about what to do next.”
“And then?” Sue asked, and Maggie Darst was also looking at her, as if she wished to know. How very curious, to be considered as some kind of oracle, merely because she listened to the men talk, and her husband talked to her.
“I don’t know,” Margaret answered, “I expect they will stall, while they send for help from the other settlements. My husband thinks that help will come, very shortly – for even Mr. Austin has come around to agree with the War Party.”
“And no wonder,” Maggie Darst said, with indignation, “To be arrested and imprisoned for years – and for asking no more than was our right to ask for! There he was the most conciliatory of them all – and now agreeing with men he would have thrown out of San Felipe two years ago! The worm will turn, given time enough, I guess.”
“Will they truly come to our aid?” Sue whispered; her eyes large with apprehension. “Will they dare?”
“I think they must,” Margaret answered, soberly, “For the only alternative will be to graciously accept and bind themselves with the chains that General Cos is bringing with him. And I cannot see men like my husband, or either of yours, or Mr. Bowie – or any of them doing that. They must join together and soon, or be defeated separately.”
They talked for a while, while afternoon shadows lengthened, admiring their children, and Mrs. Darst’s house; how vividly Margaret was reminded – of how it was at the building of it that she met Race again, and how they had stood under the redbud tree, while the breeze shook down raindrops from the leaves. Presently the Darst boys came running along the street, shouting exuberantly. Margaret gathered up her sewing basket and Johnny, saying,
“I believe they are finished with the meeting – I must haste home and see to supper.” She bid a farewell to the others, and kissed tiny Angelina, thinking wistfully that she would so love to have her next child be a daughter. When she got home, Race was packing his saddlebags and rolling up one of the coarse-wool Mexican blankets. Bucephalus stood saddled and bridled, with the reins tied to a porch-post.
“I am sent as a courier to Mina,” Race explained, over his shoulder. “If you may fix me something to eat quickly, I told them I would be away before sunset.”
“So, the men have decided to defy Colonel Ugartechea?” She ventured, and Race nodded. “Three voted to give up the cannon, but the rest said ‘no.’ We have actually decided to stall for time,” he explained, “Take the damned thing down from the blockhouse and bury it in George Davis’s peach orchard, while Andrew respectfully asks for the request to be clarified by the good Colonel’s superior, those of us with good horses scatter across the countryside begging for aid, and everyone else pretends to go about their own business.”
“When will you return?” Margaret set down her basket, and the baby, swiftly taking up a knife, and the end of a knuckle of smoked ham from the kitchen safe. “Maggie Darst was baking bread, and gave me a fresh loaf. I wonder if she expected this?”
“Bless her – fresh-baked bread,” Race flashed a quick smile over his shoulder. “I expect to be back before the first demand arrives.” He ate what she prepared for him standing up, as if he were impatient to be away, as she made a few more sandwiches for the journey. “And bless you, my dearest Daisy. I will do my best to return swiftly, but you will be alone with the children tonight and possibly tomorrow. I will take my two pistols, so you should not fear for my safety. Latch the door, if you should fear for yours.”
“I will not,” Margaret tightened his warmest scarf around his neck. He had already put on a heavy hunting coat. She whispered, “Stay safe, my dearest.”
“I will,” he promised – and she was utterly confident that he would. He and Bucephalus were away in a clatter of hoofs; she could hear other hoof-beats drumming on the roads and track-ways leading north, east and to the south, the tracks that only the men familiar with the countryside could negotiate in twilight and at a fast canter.
More »

31. May 2010 · Comments Off on One Of Those Moments · Categories: General, Israel & Palestine, Military, War, World

You know, this morning when I read about the Gaza-Blockade-Runners’ shoot-out – I kept thinking that this may be Israel’s “Let it all be done” moment … and thinking of the moment in the 1998 movie “Elizabeth” when Elizabeth I said exactly that. It’s at about 8:00 in the clip…

Was this Israel’s –nothing to loose, so might as well act and let the stuff fall where it does – decision? Discuss in comments.

12. May 2010 · Comments Off on An Obama, Really?!, Moment · Categories: War

President Obama today stated that “taking the fight to the enemy seemed to be changing the momentum of the insurgency.” Yes Mr. President, actually fighting the enemy usually works better than letting them attack you without a response. Are you SURE you spent time in Chicago?

19. March 2010 · Comments Off on A 21 Story Salute · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Memoir, Veteran's Affairs, War, World

Take a look at this

Looks nice, doesn’t it? Finally, in February, Alice and I finished the latest book project from Watercress Press, the tiny specialty subsidy press bidness which affords the both of us some kind of living and a fair amount of amusement, as well as entrée into what passes for the literary scene in San Antonio. Alice does the fine editing and some of the admin stuff, I do the rough editing and the author-wrangling, and keep the website updated. We hire an independent contractor to do the book design and layout, to ours and the author’s specifications; I must say that when the pocketbook permits, we can do some very nice, high-end books indeed: History, Texiana, memoirs, some poetry – that kind of thing.

A 21 Story Salute combines two of our favorites; history and memoir. Barbara Bir, the author/editor went around to twenty-one World War II-era veterans and a couple of spouses, and interviewed them about their experiences during the conflict, and about their lives afterwards. All were pretty interesting, in themselves, but a good few of them were downright fascinating; it depended, I think, on how good a story-teller they were.

Bob Ingraham, for instance: he had some great stories. He survived being shot down flying a Spitfire over Dieppe in 1942, and a round of imprisonment as a POW in Sagan, where he helped to dig the Great Escape tunnel. There were three American diggers, helping with Tom, Dick and Harry – he is the only one still living.

Clara Morrey Murphy, and her friend, Aleda “Lutzie” Lutz – Clara and Lutzie were two of the very first Army air-evac nurses – there is a picture of them in the book, trying out their flight gear, while in special training in 1942. They went on to air –evacuate patients during the campaigns in North Africa, Italy and France. Clara Murphy’s military uniform is now on display at the Brooks ‘Hanger 9’ aerospace medicine museum, in San Antonio. “Lutzie” died in 1944, when the air-evac flight she was on crashed into a mountainside in Southern France.

Eddie Patrick? He was the kid genius, when it came to radios and electronics: he wound up as a senior NCO at the age of 19, in charge of the comm gear, serving at a Flying Tigers airbase in China, well behind the Japanese lines.

Litzie Trustin was Jewish and born in Vienna. She escaped to England on one of the last Kindertransports, just before the war began in Europe in 1939. Returning to Europe to work with the American forces as a translator, she married a transport pilot and came to Omaha to settle down and raise a family – and to work for civil rights.

Bob Joyce kept a diary, all through his tour of duty as a B-17 radio operator, flying a series of nerve-wrackingly dangerous missions from Italy. He carried with him on those missions a pair of regular Army boots, his father’s rosary, a good-luck bracelet from his home-town girlfriend, and a $2.00 bill, so he would never be broke.

Ignatio “Nacho” Gutierrez never saw snow until he went into the Army for basic training. He and his unit came ashore on D-Day in the early evening of June 6th, 1944 – and he painted signs – and sometimes stapled them to trees himself – for the constantly-moving XIX Corps, First Army headquarters, all through Normandy and into Belgium and Germany.

During the war, Marshall Cantor directed the building of runways and scratch airbases on Ascension Island for Air Transport Command, and then moved on to do the same in New Guinea and in the Philippines. He met Ellen Berg, who was a nurse serving at a forward hospital in Papua, New Guinea. They married in 1944.

More excerpts and a few more pictures are at a section of Barbara’s website, here.