Something Happening Here…

And what it is pretty damn clear.

Last week some murderers in Paris killed a hundred-odd people in the name of their god.  Since then the mass media has taken certain people to task for not saying the right words, the right descriptions for the murderers who boasted about what a good job they did at killing, and what a better job they will do at it in the near future.

But words are meaningless.  Actions only have meaning.  And the French did something, just as the murderers did.  The French military attacked the center of where these murderous fiends are getting their support.  Made them hurt, if only a little.

And now a majority of American governors have declared that certain refugees are not going to be allowed to come to their states…as if they have any say in it.

What’s happening here is a bunch of very un-serious people who are in positions of influence and even authority in America are trying to tell the rest of us that this murder rampage that’s been going on in Syria for years is all the fault of…somebody else, somebody not in power any more, or someone who is in power but has the wrong letter (either a D or an R, depending on the speaker) after their names.  No one in the West is taking responsibility for what it going on except for those who are doing the majority of the murdering.  And they are proud of it.

So what now?  Not much, likely.  No American politician will commit the resources needed to anything that will last beyond their own tenure in office, and we all know that the American president will last no more than eight years.  So, the United States will essentially do nothing about the rampage.  And because the Americas can do nothing, very little else will be done by anyone else, except the French for a few wees, and the Russians who will continue their desultory campaign as long as the cameras are rolling.

I will say the words “Islamic terrorists” so that the right-wing media will not chastise me for my failure to key them to my sentiments correctly.  Then I will tell them they are phonies just as those that they condemn.  Their war of words is a meaningless exercise, a smoke screen to cover their lack of influence and real power.

Then I will say the words “Islam is the religion of peace” so that the left-wing media will not start their “racist/sexist/homophobe/Islamophobe” drum-circle chanting and condemn me with their “Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism” and “climate change causes terrorism” fantasies.  They will chant that they, too, are committed to ending the killing, but their solutions like a jobs program, or Muslim outreach in NASA, have as much to do with stopping it as a rubber band has to do with trout fishing.

This bloodletting needs to stop, but serious people need to commit to the HUMINT resources necessary, to start the enormously expensive and time-consuming work of understanding how their message of “my way or the highway” is so superior to the disaffected that it makes people want to kill–and to die while killing.

Terror networks are run by serious people.  Serious people need to oppose them.  We don’t have any serious people in America even talking about what needs to be done.  Our “leaders” and wanna-be leaders are too interested in the right words, in popularity and what they get credit for.  Networks like ISIS can be forever and claim that their credit will only be given after the are dead.  Western leadership is very short term, and thinks only in the short term.  Someone in the West has to take responsibility for something they will never get credit for until they are long gone.

20 November: Cambrai and Tarawa

As a matter of perspective, these two battles shouldn’t even be in the same century.  The British attack on the German positions in front of  Cambrai  in norther France were a part of a conflict that Tarawa could not seriously have been a part of, but the slaughter-fest of Tarawa was easily a throwback to the butchery of the Western Front of WWI.

By late 1917 the Allied planners were not only running out of men they were running out of generals willing to use their soldiers bodies as battering rams against each other.  1917 was a weak mirror of 1916’s horrific bloodletting on all fronts from Flanders to the Caucasus.  The French Army was on the verge of collapse, the British relying on Canadians and Australians to shore up their staggering troops, and the Americans were unwilling to do what they were supposed to do, which was to turn over their milk-and-beef-fed manpower to the French and British to shore up their bleeding divisions.

So the British turned to Winston Churchill’s “land battleships” that we now know as “tanks.”  They had nearly four hundred of the huge mechanical contraptions on hand, and thought that with creeping barrages, infiltrating infantry, close air-ground coordination and some good weather they might achieve a breakthrough that could seize the German supply hub at Cambrai, cutting off supply to the Hindenburg Line and displacing the whole of the German force in France.  Although this sounds a great deal like what the Germans would do six months later in the “Michael” offensive and beyond, the British had taken the same lessons from the success of the Huitier tactics first seen in Russia that the Germans who developed them had.

A generation later, the Americans were trying to decide the best way to grapple with the Japanese in the Pacific.  With New Guinea in hand, the Solomons more secure than they were, and the Japanese fleet unbalanced, the planners looked at the next step towards the prewar plan to blockade Japan prior to invasion.  They needed the Marshall Islands as bases, and from the Solomons and the Allied bases in New Zealand and French Polynesia, that meant they needed the Gilbert Islands.  The largest island in that chain was Betio, a part of the Tarawa atoll.

The Americans had spent much of the period between Versailles and Pearl Harbor thinking about how to cross a quarter of the world to bring Japan under its guns.  The US Marines were the US Navy’s base-grabbers, and the Marines had been built from the fire team level up to secure the bases needed to do that.  But like the large numbers of tanks at Cambrai, they had very little live experience at capturing hot beaches.  They had been blooded in the Solomons (where the landing was essentially unopposed) and at Makin (a raid), but their long training and many beach landings had not prepared them for an opposed landing.  They knew that the Gallipoli campaign was, to put it mildly, a negative example of what to do.   But, tactically, how this would work was still a theory.

Cambrai kicked off on 20 November 1917 with the British Third Army under Julian Byng barraging the German Second and Third Armies under Georg von der Marwitz in front of Cambrai, followed by a fraction (sources differ, but probably more than  400) of the tanks that made it to the front and their accompanying infantry.  Though the Germans were ready and had some antitank weapons the sheer number was a problem, even if the early machines were more likely to simply break down than be knocked out by enemy action.  The result was an unexpectedly spectacular British success in some places, unexpected failure in others.

At Tarawa, success was a matter of staying alive.  By the time the Marines stormed ashore on 20 November 1943 the Americas had pounded the two mile by 800 yard coral rock with more ordnance in three days than the Americans used in their civil war.  As the landing craft carrying Julian Smith’s 2nd Marine Division approached the beaches they grounded, often as not, on  coral reefs that hadn’t been accounted for in pre-battle planning.  No one had expected that around that blasted coral rock, oceanographers would first discover the maximum neep tide that would only occur about twice a year, and not everywhere at the same time.  But the landing craft grounded on the reefs that were supposed to be underwater a hundred yards or so from the beach, the ramps would drop, and the Marines would step out into the water often over their heads, and the lucky ones would merely drown.  Many of the rest would be shredded by the Japanese of Keiji Shibazaki’s garrison’s automatic weapons and artillery, which were quite unaffected by the American bombardment.  By dark on the first day the Marines were barely ashore, their casualties in some companies was more than 50%, and the Japanese just kept fighting.

Cambrai turned into a version of what had already happened over and again on the Western Front: attack, counter-attack, bombardment and repeat.  This went on until 7 December, and the territorial gains were minuscule compared to the human cost.  Both sides used the new infiltration tactics, but in the end the artillery dominated, as did exhaustion and a weariness of killing.  Very little changed for another eighty thousand casualties and a quarter of the tanks in the world.

On Tarawa, the slaughtering went on for three days.  The first use of what what would be called “corkscrew and blowtorch” tactics were used against Japanese strongpoints (essentially pinning the defenders down with automatic weapons fire so that flamethrowers could get close enough to be effective).  The Marines suffered some three thousand casualties with about half killed out of a 16,000 man division.  Of somewhat more than 4,600 Japanese defenders, all but 150 or so were killed.

Cambrai pointed the way to eventual success of armored thrusts and coordinated air/ground tactics, together with quick and intense artillery barrages that the Germans would use in 1918, and again in 1939.  Tarawa would point the way to Japanese destruction by isolation because death was their only option as long as they kept faith with the leadership in Tokyo.  It would also show the Americans that hot beaches would need somewhat more than raw courage to overcome.

19 November: Lincoln and Garfield

This day in the 19th century was more of a coincidence than a connection, but still Abraham Lincoln and James A Garfield shared seminal events on this day, 32 years apart.

On 19 November 1831 James A Garfield was born in Orange Township, Ohio.  As a young man his education started late, but he took to language and public speaking naturally and entered the Ohio legislature in 1861.  In August of the same year he was commissioned a colonel in the Ohio volunteers, and marched with his regiment in the Army of the Ohio under Don C Buell.  As one of the last units to cross the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing in April 1862, Garfield commanded a brigade during the non-pursuit of the retreating Confederate Army of Tennessee, stopping after a brief skirmish with Nathan B Forrest’s rear guards at Fallen Timbers on the road between the Shiloh battlefield and Corinth, Mississippi.  It was his last combat command.  After a period of rehabilitation after a bout of jaundice, Garfield was elected to Congress in 1862, despite the fact that he was serving as chief of staff to William S Rosecrans in the Army of the Cumberland at the time.  He was promoted to major general of volunteers before he resigned his commission to take his seat in Congress in December 1863, after serving during the fighting at Chickamauga and the subsequent siege of Chattanooga.  Garfield served in the House of Representatives until his election as President in 1880.  His presidency was brief  (four months, effectively) before he was shot in July 1881, lingering until mid-September.  His assassin’s trial was nearly as long as his administration.

On 19 November 1863, Abraham Lincoln was the last of several speakers at the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield.  His speech was short–less than two hundred words–and following Edward Everett’s two hour oration most of the audience didn’t even hear most of it.  Lincoln was not a pleasing speaker to listen to, with a somewhat high-pitched, sing-song delivery.  Too, Lincoln was to deliver “a few appropriate remarks,” not a campaign stump speech or a rousing after-dinner stem-winder.  The reader needs to remember that there had been some fifty thousand casualties at Gettysburg, that many of the casualties had been evacuated as late as October, and that there were still unburied dead on those fields, including the carcasses of thousands of horses.  The graves for the amputated limbs at the field hospitals had still not been limed.  But of every speaker that spoke to that audience, only the bold and uncompromisingly powerful speech that included “[f]our score and seven years ago,” and “of the people, and by the people” were ever remembered, even a week after it was delivered.  And for every version of that Gettysburg Address that exists (at least four at the time), none has ever been forgotten.  One modern scholar called it “the words that remade America.”

But there is another connection, not quite a celebrated: Lincoln was the first, and Garfield the second, US president to be assassinated.  Which makes Garfield’s birthday and Lincoln’s most celebrated speech all the more poignant that they happened on the same calender day.

18 November: Pictures Static and Moving

18 November connects two of the most inventive and ground-breaking innovations in image delivery: the photograph and the sound-tracked animated moving picture.  The birth of two of the best known innovators in imaging is celebrated on this day.

On 18 November 1787, Louis Daguerre was born in France.  Apprenticed in architecture, he eventually came to work with Pierre Prevost, a celebrated panorama painter.  Skilled as a theater artist and designer, Daguerre built the first dioramas, showing the first of them in 1822.  In 1829, Daguerre joined with the inventor of the heliograph,  Nicéphore Niépce,  and developed the process that would come to be called the daguerreotype, the first permanent photographic image process.  Created on a highly polished copper plate treated with a chemical wash and fixed by mercury vapors, daguerreotypes were introduced to the world in 1839.  Wildly popular for twenty years but potentially deadly for the creators because of the heavy metal vapors required, it waned on popularity until it was replaced by glass plate photography in the 1850s.

On 18 November 1928,  Columbia Pictures and Walt Disney Studios released “Steamboat Willie,” the first animated film with an integrated sound track.  The film used the Cinephone system based on the work of Lee DeForest, which later landed both Cinephone and Disney in hot water. It was also the first major outing for the character of Mickey Mouse, and because if featured fully synchronized post-production sound effects, music and dialogue integrated into the film itself, it is considered the first of its kind.  “Steamboat Willie” has become such an icon that Congress has extended copyright protections four times to cover it.

While daguerreotype was long gone by the time Disney started making cartoons (during the First World War as a teenager), without the still image and the drive to improve on the process, Mickey Mouse might never have ever whistled “Turkey in the Straw.”

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17 November: A War with No Casualties Begins

On 17 November 1810, the Anglo-Swedish War began between Great Britain and Sweden, one of the more remarkable conflicts in the chaotic world that Napoleon made.  What makes it remarkable is simply that the conflict had no casualties between belligerents. no campaigns were planned, and that neither “side” wanted any, either.  It ended with a treaty when a third party got invaded by yet someone else.

It will be easier for the reader to understand that Napoleon Bonaparte may have been a brilliant general very early in his career, but never was he much of a diplomat.  After he spread the French revolution across Europe he invented something called the Continental System to punish Great Britain for not being as accessible to his armies as he wanted them to be, and for smashing his fleet at Trafalgar.  Since the British were so vile as to impose a blockade on Europe, he would impose a blockade on them.  But the Continental System wasn’t a blockade as we might understand it, where cargo ships are stopped and seized on their way to English ports since France lacked the shops to do that.  No, this was a blockade imposed on Europe, to cut off British goods from Europe and vice versa.  As blockades go, it was pretty lame, but it did work, somewhat.  The Americans happily violated it wherever possible and so did everyone else, since even the French couldn’t be everywhere at the same time, and there were more than a hundred seaports in continental Europe.  Where there’s money to be made, folks will find a way to make it.

So back to Sweden.  After the Russians were defeated at Friedland on 14 June 1807, the Treaty of Tilsit was imposed on Russia, and Sweden, being a part of the Fourth Coalition against Napoleon. was compelled by Tilsit to become a part of the Continental System.  Sweden was slow to comply, so by 1810 Napoleon was issuing ultimatums.  Eventually this led to Sweden declaring war on Great Britain on 17 November 1810.

More than once source maintains that there were no casualties in this war, at least none in engagements between Swede and Englishman.  There were a handful of Swedish peasants killed in a conscription riot, it would seem, but Britain still maintained its naval base on the Swedish island of Hano.  When Napoleon occupied Swedish Pomerania and the island of Rugen in 1812 while invading Russia, Sweden made peace with Britain with the Treaty of Orebro.

The Anglo-Swedish War is an example of what a mess Europe was in at the time, and was proof positive that Napoleon may have been a good general once, but he had a tendency to overstep the capabilities of his diplomats and his forces.  Irritating Sweden while not bothering Britain at all was not a way to win his vision…which as time goes on is less and less clear to scholars.

16 November: Failed Offensives

Two different conflicts, two failed offensives in 1863 and 1944, both involving American forces trying to stay ahead of the winter weather.

In east Tennessee in 1863, James Longstreet with about 15,000 men detached from Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee was trying to make the best of his orders to attack the Federal stronghold at Knoxville, encountered a Federal column near the old haunt of Andrew Jackson at Campbell’s Station on 16 November.  Ambrose Burnside’s 16,000+ men from his Department of the Ohio arrived at the junction of the Concord and Kingston roads southwest of Knoxville.  Burnside’s men were on their way to reinforce the tiny garrison at Knoxville, and fought of an attempted double-envelopment with relative ease, especially since they had been forced-marching for three days were just coming out of march order.  Scholars disagree with the meaning of Campbell’s Station, with some holding that Longstreet could have taken Knoxville with a single rush had Burnside not made an appearance in time.  Others maintain that with Burnside so close behind it seems unlikely that Longstreet would have been able to simply walk unimpeded the next thirty miles (essentially three days march).  Total casualties for both sides was about a thousand men.

On 16 November 1944, Operation Queen, aimed at capturing the Rur (or Roer) River dams in Germany and penetrating the Siegfried line, began.  Despite heavy bombing the offensive was slowed by heavy German resistance, especially in the Hurtgen Forest.  For more than a month the American 12th Army Group under Omar Bradley slogged forward in miserable weather, fighting for every hamlet and patch of trees that reminded some veterans of the Great War.  While the Americans were making steady progress, it was slow.  Still, nothing that the Allies did against the West Wall was easy, and yet Walther Model’s Army Group B was not about to commit their best troops, then being husbanded for the Ardennes Offensive being planned for mid-December.  The result was the steady deterioration of the German’s position and the equally steady decline of American energy and patience.  When the offensive was called off on 15 December when the German counterattack began in the Ardennes, they had not quite reached the dams.   Casualties were about 38,000 for the Americans and probably equal for the Germans.  The most important takeaway for Operation Queen was that the Americans were still making complex plans against sagging but still stolid German defenses.  Further, Allied failure to detect the withdrawal of some of the German’s best mobile formations somehow failed to reach the right ears at the right time.

Today, like Campbell’s Station, the Rur campaign leaves scholars discussing possibilities against realities.  East Tennessee was a thorn in the Confederacy’s side, and after the loss of Chattanooga it became a logistical base for the Union invasion of the Confederate heartland   The Rur dams were important not because they crossed the Rur but because they kept the upper Rhine valley from flooding, potentially blocking and Allied moves into the Ruhr.  Both were defended by pickup units.  Neither fight achieved what was intended.

13 November: An Admiral and a General and a Civil War

On this day in 1809 and 1814, important leaders in the American Civil War were born in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.  One would be known more for the artillery he made possible, the other for more ignominious things.

On 13 November 1809, John A. Dahlgren was born in Philadelphia to a Swedish merchant and diplomat.  From a very early age he dreamed of a life at sea, and when his father died in 1824 he was free to pursue his goal of joining the US Navy.  In 1826, at age 17 he joined as a midshipman.  At the time this was not unusual, as youngsters had been going to sea at much earlier ages since time immemorial.  He must have shown some knack for mathematics for he was assigned to the coast survey department in 1834.

For centuries ordnance design and its ancillary equipment had been a matter of experimentation, disaster and repeat.  In 1844, an explosion on USS Princeton of the new 12-inch bore banded wrought iron gun dubbed “Peacemaker” said to have been the largest naval gun in the world at the time, only proved that axiom.  The explosion killed six people, including the Secretaries of the Navy and of State.  Congress was aghast, and demanded new quality controls and inspection protocols.  By 1847, Dahlgren was in the Washington Navy Yard organizing the Navy’s first Ordnance Department.  It was there that Dahlgren found his niche, designing a boat howitzer, a percussion lock, and finally the process that manufactured the highly successful smooth bore naval gun that bore his name.  The method of water-cooling the mold while the metal was cast was highly controversial at the time, but it produced weapons of prodigious power: power enough for the Royal Navy to question whether or not they could defeat warships armed with them.  During the Civil War the Dahlgren was the standard broadside gun in the US Navy.  In 1862 he was promoted to rear admiral and sent to command a blockading squadron.  He continued his service in the Navy until his death in 1870.

On 14 November 1814, Joseph Hooker was born in Hadley, Massachusetts to an entirely English-ancestry family.  He graduated from West Point in 1837, branched to the artillery.  He fought Seminoles in Florida, was in staff jobs in Mexico (where he nonetheless won three brevets), but left the Army in 1853 and settled in California.  After the war broke out he finally wrangled a commission a brigadier general of volunteers after the first Bull Run battle, commanding a brigade then a division while training troops around Washington, DC at the Army of the Potomac was building.

In 1862 Hooker was promoted to major general and the command of a corps, then a “grand division” after Antietam, where he was wounded.  After McClellan was sacked and Ambrose Burnside took command of the Army of the Potomac, Hooker’s troops bore the brunt of the bloodletting at Fredricksburg and Hooker was vocal about the tragic and pointless sacrifices made there.  When Burnside told President Lincoln that he wanted to fire several of his generals, including Hooker, Lincoln fired Burnside instead and appointed Hooker to command the Army of the Potomac.  While he was an able administrator who restored the confidence of the troops he lost his nerve at Chancellorsville and nearly had his army destroyed.  Lincoln, desperate to find a general who could fight, fired Hooker three days before the army met Robert E Lee at Gettysburg.

But the Union was still short of reliable generals so Hooker was sent with two corps to meet Grant at Chattanooga, where he performed admirably until a personal dispute got him sent out of the theater after the fall of Atlanta.  Rumors of his wild living, heavy drinking and lax discipline leading to the proliferation of the ladies of negotiable virtue that came to be called “hookers” because of him are unfounded: he was not known to drink heavily, and the term “hooker” was common during the Revolution.  He left the Army in 1868 and died in 1879.

Two Civil War notables sharing a birthday.  Not unusual, but worth noting.