RANGER AGAINST WAR: September 2013 <

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Hill of Beans

 --Jack and the Beanstalk, 
Walter Crane

Just a small musing:

Ranger has been traveling amongst fields and fields of soybeans recently, and wondered why we must import soybeans for human consumption from China, that far-from environmentally-sound country.

Calling them edamame does not make them any safer. Why does such a ubiquitous U.S. production as soybeans have to travel around the world from a toxic place?

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Starry, Starry Night

--A simple game of chess

Our crusade was such madness 
that only a real idealist could have thought it up
--The Seventh Seal (1957)

Ranger will draw connections among three fights: Lang Vei (Vietnam, Feb. '68), Mogadishu - Black Hawk Down (Oct. '93) and the Battle of Kamdesh at Command Outpost Keating in Afghanistan (Oct. 2009).

The key devolution over 40+ years is that the U.S. is no longer fighting enemy armies but simple assemblies of enemy fighters variously described as militias, militants, insurgents, etc., and while U.S. forces are arrayed to fight battles, they instead get roughly handled by simple street thugs ... people for whom soldierly behavior does not apply.

So, why do we fight for hills, towns and terrains which are disposable and not of worth to anyone except those squatting on that particular grid square, and then pull up stakes and leave? Have the principles of war lost their relevance? This is the Day of the Jackal; you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. Has Clausewitz had his day? If so, what will direct and constrain our present and future conflicts?

From his personal discussions with battle survivor (Lt.) Paul Longgrear, the Battle of Lang Vei was the death of the United States Special Forces A-Camps, which were small and remote fighting camps with mission augmentation. The fall of Lang Vei showed that the US Army could not hold a camp if the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) was determined to expend the operational assets to destroy their objective.

If the  NVA could do this at LV with USMC assets a 105 Howitzer distance away, then any SF fighting camp in VN was a potential death trap. The LV Battle was a knock-down fight between two determined armies; after LV and Tet '68, the outcome of the American war in Vietnam was sealed.

And yet, despite that death knell the U.S. continues 40 years on to emplace its soldiers in indefensible outposts which suffer the same dire fate.

Like LV, the Mogadishu battle [Black Hawk Down - "BHD'] was conducted by the finest Special Operations Forces (SOF) -- the 75th Ranger Battalion assets teamed up with SOF Delta operatives. The difference in the BHD scenario was that the enemy was an unorganized opponent lacking a detailed Table of Organization and Equipment (TO& E) and order of battle; in short, they functioned as militias lacking state apparatus. They probably lacked mission objectives beyond killing soldiers and controlling the countryside and cities by armed violence.

But BHD demonstrated that militias with platoon-level weapons (including RPG2 and 7's) could engage and kill prime US war fighting assets IF the militias were willing to take the casualties. It was estimated in BHD that the U.S. killed 1,000+ militia fighters, yet the U.S. mission was ultimately frustrated and abandoned. Somalia is still the same sewer 20 years on.

The book and the movie were an awe-inspiring view of a world-class infantry, but insurgents and militias world-wide re-learned that they can fight any army to standstill if willing to take the casualties. The lessons taken from the '79 Russo-Afghan war have been re-imagined in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2001 onward.

The Battle at Kamdesh in '09 for which SSG Clinton Romesha earned the Medal of Honor earlier this year occurred 20 miles away from a similar failure the previous year in the Battle of Wanat. While the U.S. soldiers supposedly killed 100 enemy militants, that is immaterial since the 4th Division no longer occupies any terrain in the mountain ranges of Afghanistan.

An old Counterinsurgency (COIN) metric goes, if we are killing 10:1 of ours, then we are being successful. It is doubtful the U.S. met that metric in LV and it assuredly did not in BHD. And in Kamdesh, with a kill ratio of 8:100 ... ? Did we win?

The New York Times reported the Americans following Kamdesh "declared the outpost closed and departed — so quickly that they did not carry out all of their stored ammunition. The outpost’s depot was promptly looted by the insurgents and bombed by American planes in an effort to destroy the lethal munitions left behind" ("Strategic Plans Spawn Bitter End for Lonely Outpost.")

COP Keating was not a win, and they left like Lee slinking out of Gettysburg in July 1863. The difference was that instead of withdrawing under an enemy army's pressure, they faced a rag-tag group of militia fighters who may have been simple bandits or warlord fighters. Though not a Waterloo or Liepzig, it was a total failure nonetheless.

If U.S. forces were to kill 100:1, they would still be losing in a Low-intensity conflict (LIC) or COIN environment.  We no longer talk of LIC, instead pretending that we fight battles, but LIC is the order of the day, and reality demands that understanding. However, that understanding would threaten to upend the profitable military complex as we know it.

Ranger's unit in RVN, Studies and Observations Group (SOG), is reported to have had a kill ratio of 150:1, but we still lost control of the Ho Chi Minh Trail since we never controlled the key terrain on the ground. An army can hold ground, but that is not equal to controlling the ground.

In the last 43 years, the U.S. Army has lost the ability to control the ground. It may have conquered Kabul and Baghdad, but it never controlled the ground, nor the hearts and minds of the locals. This is the fallow result of phony wars.

The latest wars prove the inability of the U.S. Army to destroy and force U.S. will on insurgencies and militia-inspired insurgencies. They are continuations of LV and BHD on another chessboard. What should we have learned?

Time is not on our side.

[cross-posted @ milpub]

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Detroitus, Part Deux

 --WPA poster fr. Chrysler Ad

I believe, umm, that certain people in life
are meant to fall by the wayside; to serve as warnings
to the rest of us; signs posts along the way 
--Igby Goes Down (2002)

These mills they built the tanks and bombs
That won this country's wars
We sent our sons to Korea and Vietnam
Now we're wondering what they were dyin' for 
--Youngstown, Bruce Springsteen

Well our fathers fought the Second World War
Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore
Met our mothers at the USO
Asked them to dance, danced with them slow 
--Allentown, Billy Joel

More on Detroit:

Ranger had incursive thoughts the other night about Motown and the American way of life and war.

He recently re-read T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom in which Lawrence repeatedly praises the Ford vehicle in which he tooled around Arabia while fighting World War I. Detroit's efforts helped the Allies win World War II, also.

America boomed in an economy based around the automobile and its associated products. For the last several decades, this once-powerhouse had been rusting, and the great steel cities lie in tattered shambles, like a post-apocalyptic dinosaur graveyard, the defunct building's bones standing mute testimony to the glory of what once was.

Springsteen and the rappers have missed the bus by failing to produce anything on the predicament of their supposed fellows. Eminem's glitzy Chrysler Superbowl advert does not qualify, Diego Rivera's worker's murals notwithstanding. Ranger feels fairly certain that Beyonce et. al. won't be producing anything like "Tom Joad" anytime soon.

We shrug at Detroit's twilight and cast about for reasons explaining its downfall. Unions, white flight, drugs and crime ... whatever, Detroit has been destroyed just as surely as was any firebombed city, except this time we self-immolated. Funny that banks which create fantasy derivative schemes are too big too fail, while one of our once-largest cities -- a tangible good -- is not.

Nobody has an idea how to correct the situation, and moreover, how to prevent it from happening elsewhere. Like any successful military operation, the city needs resources and a plan which can reasonably be implemented. Like Leningrad in WW II, we either reinforce it or abandon it.

Why hasn't the city be declared a federal disaster zone? Nature is not the only thing that lays waste to the land. We shame-facedly say we are nation building abroad, yet we cannot reinforce an American city in need of reconstruction. Of course, what we do with unqualified success is making things go BOOM, as we did in Fallujah, et. al. Some of the soldiers involved with the boom-and-bust abroad must watch backwards as thier city goes down.

Breaking down is easier than building up.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Alpha and Omega

--10th Group Special Forces 

You broke my heart
'Cause I couldn't dance
You didn't even want me around
And now I'm back, to let you know
I can really shake 'em down
--Now That I Can Dance, The Contours

 The Last Man always carries an automatic weapon
--The Omega Man (1971)  

What is the relation between the ostensibly the first example of Special military operations -- the Trojan Wars -- and that fought by the Special Forces today? (David and Goliath might have been an earlier example of Special Ops, but that is for another time, perhaps.)

The Trojan War was fought to capture (liberate?) Helen -- the face that launched a thousand ships. More precisely, to return her favors to a powerful man, after she had been expropriated (chose?) another. Powerful men, like the powerful nations they often preside over, do not like to be embarrassed, so their reaction to slights is often heavy-handed (=war).

That war was long, costly and grueling, and it was decided by the Trojan horse feint; we are still wary over Greeks bearing gifts. The archetypes of this engagement have become common. While the Greeks could kill all of Troy's men and rape and enslave the women, they could not alter Helen's wayward ways; the war may even encouraged them.

In our current wars on terrorism, the United states launched its own 1,000 ships despite the fact that no one could be returned from the initial calamity.  There was no Paris to bear the brunt of our fury, nor a Troy to target. 1,000 ships might be a bit much for one woman, but our accounting is far worse: 5-6,000 soldiers dead; 5,000 so seriously wounded they will require lifetime full attendance; 30,000+ wounded, with hundreds of thousand afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Do any of these facts make the dead of the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01 rest an more easily? Did returning Helen from Troy convert her into a loving wife? The Phony War on Terror (PWOT) has seen the closing of the cirlcle on the concept of Special Ops -- the Omega to Troy's Alpha. What have we learned since the destruction of Troy?

The United States invades countries trying to win hearts and minds, like Paris courting a loosely-moraled queen. We have killed multitudes of Iraqis, Islamic volunteers and similar Afghan stooges, but to what avail? Is the U.S. safer or stronger by the efforts of our Trojan Forces? Is the region from Algeria to Pakistan any more stable or friendly to our interests? Does Helen love us?

5,000 years separate the wars, and we have not come far from the idea of punitive expeditions and vengeful wars. While the predication action for neither war was warfare, they spawned military responses. 

5,000 years ... a teardrop in time. Not long enough to figure out a viable alternative to calling knee-jerk wars in response to offense or crime. We are all still Menelaus, the slighted, wronged man who will never know if his efforts equaled his gain.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Too Big to Succeed


In my short life, the United States has been continuously enmeshed in wars, big and small.  The purpose, besides funding the military complex, is unclear.

Are we for Balkanization, or for the preservation of national state's status quo? Are we against secret or entangling alliances?  Have we learned the lessons of World Wars I and II?

Why did the U.S. enter the world stage in WWI? This is salient to what is spooling out in what we are calling the Syrian Civil War. The situation is similar to that of the Balkans in August, 1914 when the Western world tore itself apart over an insignificant assassination in Sarajevo. (Interestingly, a U.S. combat unit presence remains in Kosovo under the aegis, "peacekeeping".)

As in the Balkans of 1914, there is a similar fault line in Syria which could rupture into a regional war. One little spark (like the self-immolation of Tunisian fruit seller Mohammed Bouazizi) can set off the tinderbox of the one reality: this is a highly factionalized region, now as then

Did U.S. leaders fail to recognize this before destabilizing the region by invading Iraq? What has happened to realpolitik? For what reason did the U.S. rush in then, and why would they do so now?

Does it matter if their governments are democratic, autocratic, theocratic, Sunni, Shi'ia or any combination thereof? If so, to whom? Of what strategic concern is this to the U.S. government? What progress has been made since the wars in the Crimea and the Balkans?

WWI and II solved nothing; there were no victors, only losers. What did the U.S. gain from either war that we didn't have  or wouldn't have if we had stayed strictly neutral?

Why has the irrational response of war become a rational choice in our current condition? What democratic nation can prosper by maintaining a war footing for 100+ years?

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ranger's Rule of Order

  Blessed are the peacemakers:
for they shall be called the children of God 
--Matthew 5:9 

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ,
think it possible that you may be mistaken
--Oliver Cromwell

The run-up to the bombing of Syria has been full of the usual bloviation justifying the use of violence as the American Way of problem-solving. But if and when we bomb Syria it will not be war, because the United States has lost the ability and skills to fight  a real war with all attendant features.

If we contravene the efforts of the world community to stave off our brinksmanship -- if we drop bombs on Syria -- this will be violence without purpose. Do not mistake the application of violence as war; it is not war. It is simply a flash and bang simulacrum of war.

Ranger's Rule of Order #1: Adding violence to an already violent situation will not ensure a peaceful outcome. Corrolary: The result will be de facto a continuation of the violence. For civilians, this act is akin to adding salt to an overly salty soup; potatoes would be a more sensible addition if the goal is to ratchet down the saltiness.

Dropping bombs is not peacekeeeping.

In war, violence is added to achieve goals, but in peacekeeping violence is SUBTRACTED to reach the goal. Even for a Ranger who prides himself in his simplicity, this is embarrassingly simple to have to state.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Because Obama!


A brilliant spoof of social networking and simpiness: a Kickstarter campaign to steamroll over our constitutional protections.  Just look at those sincere faces (especially the emo hipster guy with the horn rims) -- like lambs to slaughter: "We pledged to support HIM!"

He's Old School and New, our Peace Prize beknighted (benighted?) demon Democrat, hell on wheels, whelped on George W. Bush's game plan and standing in the door to co-opt the "war" from the war hawks. How can we not want to affiliate with such a dude ... just look at His iPod list. There will be "drones that play the Lumineers, while they attack -- It'll be the most socially-media focused war EVER!" Oh, and "you'll probably end up in a refugee camp -- but it'll have free Wi-fi."

 And, "he's friends with Jay-Z"; every demi-despot deserves his own semi-thug personality friend, no? North Korea's Kim Jong-un has Dennis Rodman to throw him a birthday bash, and our President Obama has Jay-Z.

Make your donation today before taking your nighttime dose of Soma. It'll give you something besides Miley to Tweet about.

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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Agitprop and The Underdogs

In our opinion and from our experience,  
there is nothing in South Vietnam which could happen  
that realistically threatens the United States of America  
--John Kerry's 1971 Testimony to Congress on Vietnam  

Aside from being a great name for a punk rock band, the title describes how we live our public lives (when we're not debating whether Miley's twerking is a valid dance move, or whether Mr. Castro swinging in his jail cell will go to hell.) 

So it is heartening that some people are considering what might have previously been thought an imperative to show U.S. military force in Syria. You Tube clips, no matter how well-staged or how they make John Kerry cry, are not sufficient evidence to launch rockets, just as Colin Powell's pathetic easel drawing of mobile chemistry labs should not have propelled the U.S. into the quagmire that is Iraq.

Just what is a rebel, and insurrectionist, a freedom-fighter, a nationalist, a religious zealot and a hoodlum? Perhaps one man's freedom-fighter is the other man's hoodlum. This more measured approach contrasts with the opposite and more typical approach as seen in a recent encomium on Palestinian "stone-throwers" run by the New York Times (In a West Bank Culture of Conflict, Boys Wield the Weapon at Hand.) 

Of course, the agenda was to downplay the harm done, and to liken the many generations of stone-throwers to righteous heroes fighting for the good of the people. (Only one mention was made of the deadly nature of the "boys'" game when the writer meets a woman whose husband and son were killed by stone throwers.) No one mentions that stone throwing is terrorism and can be deadly, and becomes acceptable due to brainwashing and a culture of living on public assistance, and because we love the "David and Goliath" story.

Would that same writer would be willing to write an homage to our own homegrown stone throwers ... in Watts, Division Street, Hough Street, Overtown, et. al., and risk being shown for the patronizing person she is? Unlikely, because we don't cotton to such behavior at home ... people get injured and killed, and businesses get destroyed. It is more akin to mayhem than iconography when it happens stateside. Reginald Denny, the trucker who sustained brain damage from bricks and kicks to the head in the 1992 L.A. riots, symbolizes our take on rioters, which is something shy of admiration.

How incredibly condescending to suggest that generations of stone-throwers are admirable, just as it would be to suggest the L.A. rioters could do naught else in such a racially-biased climate. People can always do better, and often do. To provide a pretty cover for violence -- or to join in on the side of another nation's rioters while not loving ours -- does not bode well for a democracy.

The recent more considered reaction to events in Syria is a welcome change from the U.S.'s usual rush to join in the fight on behalf of the perceived "underdog". Since we are not there, our perception can only be shaped by the agitprop we receive.


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Moral Double Standard

--You probably won't see RAW fronting words
from Sarah Palin again

Four months ago (3 May 2013) The Week Magazine quoted from the Russian press following the Boston Bombings, presaging the Syrian question:

(Moskovsky Komsomolets on the Beslan Chechen terrorist murders of 330+ school members): Maybe now the Americans will correct their "hidden belief that terrorists who strike them are bad, while terrorists who strike Russia are good."

Yet the Americans have a similarly skewed attitude about Syria, said Nzavisimaya Gazeta in an editorial. The Boston bombers are extremists Wahhabis. They share Jihadist fanaticism with some 3,000 Arab militants fighting with the Syrian opposition. The Americans say they are fighting al Qaida, and strongly condemn the terrorism of the Tsarnaev brothers, yet they send help to the Syrian rebels. That reveals a "moral double standard" that "continues to divide terrorists and extremists into friends and foes."  Until we agree that all terrorists are the enemy of all states, we will never be able to wipe out this scourge.

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Monday, September 02, 2013

The Great Society

--And Here's to You, America, 
Anheuser Busch commercial (1986)

We pay the taxes we pay the bills
So they better pay attention up on Capitol Hill   
--We The People, Billy Ray Cyrus

  Thank God for the everyday heroes
For all you've done and for all you do
Thank God for the everyday heroes
It's a better world because of you 
--Everyday Heroes, Aaron Lines 

 Don’t scab for the bosses
Don’t listen to their lies
Poor folks ain’t got a chance
Unless they organize 

--Which Side Are You On, Boys?
Natalie Merchant 

Happy Labor Day, Ranger readers. We know that some of you are laboring today, while others are worshiping at the altar of the God of the Marketplace, because you are told this is what good citizens do.

Today, a holiday recognizing labor seems a bit cruel, being as it is a celebration of the labor movement and the social and economic achievements of workers in the face today of a much reduced labor presence. We live in the midst of a fast-bifurcating society, the dreams of the middle class shattering upon the rock of profit-making and the inexorable expansion of internationalism. In a world of fixed resources, it was inevitable that company paternalism would go by the wayside as other players entered on the leading edge of economic competition. For money, and not love, do we operate.

As traditional affiliations fray, commitment to anything besides the bottom line has become a quaint idea. Workers superannuated via outsourcing, hanging onto life rafts, must now grab onto any job that pays. For many, that means selling your soul (if you had one) and becoming a highly-paid indentured servant to the military contractor industry. We know local fishermen, oystermen and store employees who accepted work with Halliburton as they "had families to feed," and the work paid well.

What's good for war is also good for those who hang around at the bottom of the totem pole. There are always positions for human flack jackets, or for the brighter, those who will flack for the war machine. (Of course those who choose that route will probably need a few good shots of a double malt to get to sleep at night, but they can afford it ...)

An interesting trend in the press recently is the number of stories promoting white collar exploitation (= working at free internships) and the even greater number of stories questioning the usefulness of a college degree. The final trend in higher education reportage is the skew for working in the technical STEM (science, technology, engineering and math.) The subtext is: Work as a drudge so that you'll be too tired to be discriminating, and will be grateful for whatever job pays you; work in technology so your only reading time will be spent keeping up with technical journals.

In addition, if you are only about STEM -- or better,  if you lack a college degree -- you will have neither the ability or will to be a discriminating, voting citizen. The other things that college might introduce to you will be lost as quaint relics of that brief period of time when the needs and development of the citizen had merit.

We don't know what the labor pool will look like in a few decades, but the improvement of the worker's lot will not be anyone's primary consideration.

And as long as we can get some income and bennies, and have the ability to stuff our abodes full of cheap and toxic Chinese garbage, not too many of us seem too troubled.


Sunday, September 01, 2013

Notorious B.H.O., Sequel: On Point

You turned me out, you turned me on
And then you dropped me to the ground
You dropped a bomb on me 
--You Dropped a Bomb on Me, The Gap Band 

 We're drawin' the line,
So keep your noses hidden!
We're hangin' a sign,
Says "Visitors forbidden"
And we ain't kiddin'!
--Jet Song, West Side Story

Governing today means giving acceptable signs of credibility.
It is like advertising and it is the same effect
that is achieved -- commitment to a scenario 
--Jean Baudrillard

We commented on the "Notorious B.H.O" over a year ago HERE. As our first Black President, Mr. Obama is being tested yet again for his street cred over the issue of whether to bomb Syria. We wonder if other Presidents had to prove their credibility on the basis of their not quailing when an opportunity to shoot presents.

The same imperative stacks black bodies up in Chicago, Detroit, D.C. and every other gangsta ghetto. Perhaps the question is a sign of the times; more likely, the expectation that comes with having elected a black man from Chicago. Except a cruise missile is a little more than a 5 by 38.

Just think of any other recent murder in the press and imagine the perp stating that he killed to keep his credibility intact. If we are repelled at the thought of honor killings in the mafia, then why not those that issue from our Oval Office? As for the dead as a result of the cred-getting gesture? Buonanime, baby.

Why do we cry in our beer over Saturday Night street cred killings, while demanding, sanctioning or accepting them on a much larger scale at a national level?

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue should not be the address of a credibility-seeking street thug, nor should we be cheering on such behavior.

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