Friday, December 31, 2010
I hope that you and yours are safe from harm.
I hope that you are well, and that you are strong, and hale, and that those you love are sound enough to take you up in sturdy arms and lave you with love and laughter.I hope that you have a life that is full of challenge, and joy, and the prospects of a bright tomorrow.
I hope that you will lay down tonight in the fullness of happiness and warmth, and wake tomorrow in the peace of contentment and the anticipation of the day before you.
If you are far from home, I hope you will come safe back home.If you are grieving, I hope you will find nepenthe.
If you are troubled, or seeking, or lost, I hope that the coming year will provide a path for your feet, and the prospect of a better day.I hope you fare well into the coming year, my friends.
"Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.
I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.
There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii
The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.
These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow."
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
That day Mary Tyler Moore turned 44. An episode called "A War for All Seasons" aired on the TV sitcom M*A*S*H. The country was getting ready for Ronnie Reagan's first inaugural parade, and the U.S. hostages in Tehran were preparing for the new year in Iranian captivity.
In China the post-Mao deconstruction of the Great Helmsman's rule continued with the trial of the Gang of Four. War continued in Chad, in Angola, across much of southern Africa, in fact, as the apartheid state there entered its final years, while in the Persian Gulf Iran and Iraq began their Pyrrhic eight-year war.The President of the U.S. was James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. and 227,224,680 people lived there with me. The GDP was $2,784.20 billion that year, the median Household Income was $17,710, a first class stamp cost 15 cents.
Unemployment was 7.1 percent, but, remember, we were in the tail-end of the "oil crisis". In a couple of years the economy would start recovering and Reagan would get the credit although his policies actually had little or nothing to do with it beyond increasing the federal deficit.
Alfred Hitchcock, Marshal Tito, Jean Piaget, and Mae West had died. John Lennon had been murdered by a nutbag.
Voyager I had reached Saturn back in November, returning data on its 14 moons as well as its more than 1,000 rings.
That year the USSR announced it planned to end its occupation of Afghanistan but didn't for another eight years. Andrei Sakhorov was exiled to Gorky, while here Operation "Abscam" indicted 30 government officials. In Poland workers seized the shipyards in Gdansk and a Polish court recognized Solidarity as umbrella union. 400 cases of "Toxic Shock Syndrome" were caused by certain kinds of tampons. Elvis' personal doc went on trial and revealed that the dead King took something like 10,000 pills in the 20 months prior his death. The big fads in the U.S. were Rubik's Cube, the new Sony Walkman, and Yoda toys and dolls; Garfield dolls and "Baby on Board" signs remained unseen in the future. Tom Selleck debuted in
"Magnum P.I."And I joined the U.S. Army, on this day, thirty years ago.
29 DEC 1980 is my Pay Entry Basic Date; the first day of the rest of my Army life.Over the next several weeks I wanted to talk about the Army I joined. The Army of the Eighties is little more than a memory now; thirty years and a hell of a lot of war has changed that Army all out of recognition. The Army of One bears little resemblance to the Army of 1980, the Army of "Be All That You Can Be".
I loved it then and I love it now; the Army has been part of me most of my adult life. But I have a special fondness for the Army of my youth, and so I wanted to put down on paper, so to speak, what it looked like, who we were and what we did, before those memories fade any further.Next: Beginnings - Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Friday, December 24, 2010
I returned from a jolly week of drilling on a barge up the Columbia Gorge to note that it is Christmas Eve. And one of the things that has always been especially poignant for soldiers is holidays far from home. And that, in turn, made me think about my bride and our little Peeper and Missy warm and snuggly in their beds, inside our little house strung with lights and full of presents and cards and the other impedimentia of the Season, and contrast that with the last time I was far away from home on a Christmas Eve.
Ft. Kobbe, Panama, December 24, 1986
It was a practice in Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne) (Light) 187th Infantry Regiment for the unmarried sergeants to volunteer to take holiday duty for the wedded guys. So that's why I found myself standing on the landing outside the dayroom of the HHC barracks Christmas Eve day dressed tastefully in holiday-green tropical fatigues and a santa-red beret being violently abused by a Panamanian taxi driver.
It seems that one of our American heroes had, in an excess of Christmas cheer, commandeered the driver's services to motor all around Panama Viejo attempting to find a shapely little elf who would supply a Christmas stocking that he could fill.
Not surprisingly, given his slobberingly drunk condition, the only attentions he could find came from ladies who expected to receive green, folding presents in return, which struck our young hero as more than a little Grinchy.
This seeker of the true Spirit of Christmas imbibed some Chistmas spirits and then resolved to return to his only REAL family, his buddies at HHC 2/187, only to find on arrival that one of Santa's little ho-ho-hoes had lifted his wallet during his importunations. Or he had left it on the bar. Or whatever.
The upshot was, anyway, that he now had nothing to give the infuriated driver whose worn taxi now reeked of cheap perfume and drunken G.I. Worse yet, he turned out to be nimble as a monkey - even drunk - and had shinnied up the mango tree in front of the barracks and was hiding in the branches lobbing the occasional overripe fruit at both the driver and the taxi windshield.
The street in front of the barrack reeked of mango juice and the combined noise of a furious taxi driver and an intoxicated arboreal G.I. This, in turn, drew a small crowd of pre-Christmas revelers, who took turns abusing both parties and shying additional fruit at the taxi when the driver wasn't watching.
I managed to pay off the driver, scatter the crowd and talk the monkey-boy out of the tree just as one of my other single friends came sauntering down from his post as battalion staff duty NCO.
"I see life in the slums is still exotic and vigorous, even on Christmas Eve" he sneered.
SGT Chief: "Little you know about it, lolling about up there at Battalion as you do. It's like a freakin' Jerry Springer show down here, you know. Oh, and a Merry Christmas to you, too, jackass."
BN SDNCO: "Yeah, well, lucky for us that the first Christmas happened in Bethehem, not Fort Kobbe, eh?"
SGT Chief: "Why's that?"
BN SDNCO: "'Cause where the hell'd you find three wise men and a virgin around here..?"
It was an old joke but I was still chuckling as I ran back up the stairs to the dayroom to share warm Coke with the three guys watching football.
This year, as they have for the past nine years now, American soldiers are preparing for a holiday in faraway places much less entertaining and far more hazardous than my Panamanian Christmas Eve two and a half decades ago. I'm sure that they share many of the same feelings I did then: loneliness, regret, some pride in a hard job well done in demanding circumstances, but mixed with others I didn't; fear of death or wounding, anger and grief at lost friends, hope that their own homecoming will be soon and safe.
As do I.
So Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah...however you say it, however you celebrate it, all you young - and not so young - men and women in the hard places far from home; I hope you will all be home soon to enjoy this time with your families.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Here's a new one, Robert Earl Keene's "Merry Christmas from the family":(h/t to slacktivist)
And a traditional (can two years be called a tradition?) favorite: Sarah Silverman's "Give the Jew Girl Toys"Tim Allen played you!
And - this is really special - here's a Christmas ditty straight from Hell's jukebox: I mean, yeah, I know it was the Sixties, but...WTF?
I gotta get back to my barge. But you have a safe week, paisan, OK?
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
First, let me start by saying that I have no silly illusions about what a certain strain of Americans like to refer to as our "exceptionalism". We're often a nice big ol' country. We have our moments of greatness, but we have our moments of great shame, as well. And I can't imagine where anyone gets the ridiculous notion that the United States has EVER been about "liberty and justice for all".
Something like a fraction of one percent of the residents of the U.S. in 1790 could vote at all. And throughout our history our politics has been influenced, and occasionally overwhelmed, by the wealthy and powerful. That's not a bug; that's a feature. The Founders distrusted the rabble, and intended that men (and they WERE men; they'd sooner have given the franchise to an anthropoid ape as a woman) of stability and property were the best choice to guide the nation, and so it has been.
So most Americans were left to shift as best they could. And, for the most part, that best wasn't all that bad, provided you were white, and lacked some disabling handicap like Irishness (for much of the early 19th Century) or Catholicism (until the latter part of the 20th) or too much zeal for the "rights" of people like blacks or women or gays or workers or...
But the U.S. didn't suck compared to, say, the Belgian Congo. You were free to say what you liked (provided you didn't care whether you had a job) and free to go where you wished and do what you wanted. This also meant you were free to starve: the law, as Victor Hugo said, in its impartial majesty forbid rich and poor alike to steal bread and sleep under bridges. You had a certain limited social mobility, which was more than you had as a serf in Russia or a peasant in Japan, say.
But you were still pretty much at the mercy of the Great and the Powerful. If the banksters fucked up and crashed the economy - which they did with great regularity in the 19th Century, only they were called "panics" then, and nobody but the little people who lost their farms or shops thought they were anything but business as usual - well, that was too bad for you if you got hosed. It was a red-meat society, and the bloody end of the bone usually got shoved in your face if you were a farmer, or a laborer. Get old? No kids to take you in? Well, gee, there's always poverty and death. Get sick? No money for medicine? Well, gee, there's always the neighbors' soup. Oh, and death. Get broke? Well, gee...
That was life and that was all there was to it.
For a brief time in the late 19th and early 20th Century a group of people tried to do something about this. These "Progressives" and "Good Government" types were an oddly disparate bunch, ranging from social reformers like Jane Addams and Upton Sinclair, radical Reds, muckraking journalists, and some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the U.S., people like Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carmody. It looked like the strange concatenation of "reformers" might push the U.S. into some sort of less-oligarchic society - not some sort of communal kumbaya-singing egalitarian utopia, but at least a little less brutally devil-take-the-hindmost.
But first WW1 came along, and then the "return to normalcy" of the Twenties helped sort of push things sideways a bit.
Until in 1929 the wealthy and the banksters shit the bed.
A worldwide Depression, like love and a cough, can't be hid. Even the dimmest American prole pretty much knew they were hosed, and who hosed them. And worse, for the oligarchs, now there was the horrible example of Soviet Russia, where the rope and the lamppost loomed for those white-spatted gentlemen and their delicately scented ladies. FDR, that cunning aristocratic hegemon, rammed through enough reforms to make the country a little less harshly Darwinian, convinced that the elites had to give up a soupçon of their power in order to keep the rabble happily at work.
And y'know what?
For twenty years the Republicans, the bought-and-paid-for party of the wealthy and the financiers, was driven into the hustings. For the first time there was a sort of national pension in the form of Social Security; getting old and sick didn't have to mean getting poor, too. And, mind you, in the Thirties and Forties, and even into the Fifties and Sixties, American poor really meant poor; Third World poor, hookworm-and-pellagra poor, living in a tarpaper shack poor. Don;t let the GOP tell you that the "antipoverty" programs failed. Until the Sixties about a quarter of Americans lived in this real shithole poverty. Since then the number has been about 12-13 percent. Food stamps, AFDC - that stuff worked.
Mid you, it ain't life at the country club. But it beats starving.
For forty-some years, from the late Forties into the late Eighties we managed to get as close to a real robust middle class as we've ever had. And a hell of a lot of that was done by raising working people, people who had been paid jack shit by the people who made millions from them, into that middle class. This was done through a whole combination of industrial and tax policy, by technical, commercial, and educational advances, by the realization on the part of smart companies that better-paid workers bought more stuff...
Of course, it didn't hurt that after WW2 we were the last man standing. And that we had a hell of a lot of spare cash and a hell of a lot of Third World places right in our own country that we could pave, electrify, Green-Revolution, and industrialize.
But you have to think that it couldn't last, and it didn't.
First the country split over whether black people should be people first or black first. A lot of the old racist genes burst out, North and South, and drove people who should have been thinking of their own well-being into the arms of people who had no interest in that well-being but were perfectly willing to use the hatred to shove the dumbass crackers back into the poverty hole - where they would be happy to go provided the nigras went there first.
Then we were told that Greed was Good, that we needed to let the people who could do card tricks with money, who could spin tales into gold, do that tricking and spinning and make piles of cash. Because a stray dollar or two would blow off those piles and hoo-baby, might land in your lap.
So for the past thirty years we've been walking back the Great Change. Back to where we started, the Gilded Age, where the Rich were Different than You and I. Back to a time when the big decisions were made for you by the people who Knew Better because their daddy had made pots of money. Back to a time when the Golden Rule was Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules.
Again; our country has always been that way. But for a bunch of decades we managed to paper it over, a little. We padded the sharp corners of the coffee tables and baby-gated the economy so the little people didn't tumble down the stairs and break their brains.
Well, that's done and dusted.
I've been watching my country change over that time. And it seems to me that we haven't gotten any smarter, or stupider. Any kinder or meaner. Any better, or worse. We're just people, same as we always were.
But for a moment, a couple of decades, it seemed like we had a chance to move ourselves to a place where wealth and power meant a little less than they had, where more people got to have a piece of the nation than before, where the oligarchy was a very small bit less...oligarchical. Not much, not a lot, but a little.
And that moment seems to me to have passed.
Just two years ago the same malefactors, the same spinners and tricksters, managed to do as much damage to our national welfare as anyone had since that day in 1929. But this time...where was the outcry? Where was the change? Where were the consequences. We thought we'd rearranged the "system" to prevent another President from fighting secret wars. We were wrong. We thought that we would never see Americans torturing helpless captives. We were wrong. We thought that you couldn't play lotto with bank's money and skate away from the wreckage when your little scheme crashed.
Boy howdy, were we fucking wrong.
So on this, the darkest day of the year, it seems to me that our country seems a little darker as well.
What do you think?
Sunday, December 19, 2010
In fact he was the roughest cat that ever roamed at large.
From Gravesend up to Oxford he pursued his evil aims,
Rejoicing in his title of "The Terror of the Thames."
"Then Gilbert gave the signal to his fierce Mongolian horde;
With a frightful burst of fireworks the Chinks they swarmed aboard.
Abandoning their sampans, and their pullaways and junks,
They battened down the hatches on the crew within their bunks.""The ruthless foe pressed forward, in stubborn rank on rank;
Growltiger to his vast surprise was forced to walk the plank.
He who a hundred victims had driven to that drop,
At the end of all his crimes was forced to go ker-flip, ker-flop."
"Oh there was joy in Wapping when the news flew through the land;
At Maidenhead and Henley there was dancing on the strand.
Rats were roasted whole at Brentford, and at Victoria Dock,
And a day of celebration was commanded in Bangkok."
(T.S. Eliot "Growltiger's Last Stand")
We'll have to see how this whole thing goes.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
Mister Spieler wrote about the large rock falls in 1931 and 1954 that had created a large talus pile at the bast of the American falls, and that a combination of continued rockfall and headward erosion could "kill" the falls. This caught on with the American public, and in late 1965, the U.S. and Canada set up an International Joint Commission. Two years later, the American Falls International Board recommended damming the Niagara River above the falls in order to conduct geotechnical analysis of the falls.The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) – Buffalo District was assigned the project, and from June 9, to November 25, 1969 no water flowed over the American falls for the first time in nearly 12,000 years.
The USACE drill crews cored the sedimentary rock that formed the falls, scaled loose materials off the rock face, and installed several instruments, including extensometers, in suspected areas of weak rock. After a long period of preparation people were allowed into the dry riverbed, where they gathered coins tossed into the immense wishing well over the decades and just gawked at the scenery.Geologists scampered all over, measuring, sampling, performing dye tests and mapping joint and fracture patterns.Among the huge rock debris at the base of the falls were man-made debris and the bodies of a man, a deer, and
"the badly decomposed body of a woman jammed head first amongst the rocks about half way up talus bank. The woman was clad in a red and white horizontally striped jersey or dress and a narrow gold wedding band with the inscription “forget me not” on the inside."No record of what the deer was wearing.
After Thanksgiving, 1969, the water was set free and has flowed over the falls ever since.
After five months of work including 46 core borings totaling 4,882 feet, mapping, probing, installing piezometers to measure water pressure on rock joints, extensometers to measure rock movements, and a further six years of study and opinion polling the IJC concluded that:
It was technically feasible to remove the talus but was not considered desirable.
The Falls could but should not be stabilized by artificial means
And that while the two flanks of the American Falls and the Goat Island flank of the Horseshoe Falls were sufficiently unstable to warrant remedial action a statistically minor element of risk from unpredictable rock movement would remain and must be accepted by the viewing public.So nothing more was ever done.
And the American falls still flow.
For example, a friend of mine posted to Facebook that she is planning a "Tron party" to celebrate the release of the new installment, "Tron: Legacy"(I'm unsure - IS it a new installment? The trailers I've seen have been bafflingly incoherent. I'm honestly not sure whether this ia a remake of the 1982 original or a "sequel" or what. Whatever, it apparently sucks pipe, at least according to the critics collected over at "Rotten Tomatoes".) Meghan, creative lady that she is, is sure to have some cool blacklight/glow stick gimmicks and cool pop-culture riffs on the original flick.
Which brings me back to the past; specifically, to 1982, when my buddies Alfie and Woodus and I had a Friday evening without dates, or plans, other than to get ripshit and go watch the original Tron down at the Alvin C. York Theater on post.
Now let me begin by saying that drunken GIs were probably not the target audience for Disney's product. But even drunken and in rude company, I'm typically pretty capturable. Twenty-eight years later I was as delighted by "Tangled" as my four-and-a-half-year-old; I tend to suspend disbelief fairly willingly when the house lights go down. So it was probably not a good sign for Disney that twenty minutes into the old Tron I was looking for distraction because the film, well, "sucked" would be the concise way of putting it.
Distraction came in the form of actress Cindy Morganin a light-up spandex leotard. I'm sorry to say that the three of us spent most of the rest of the film shouting lurid and suggestive computer-related abuse at the screen. We were mightily impressed with our hilarity - the mere mention of the term "floppy disk" nearly sent us into convulsions. We were also fortunate that we were perhaps half of the entire audience that Friday, and that none of the other viewers (perhaps as bored by the non-tale being not-told on the screen as we were) objected to our humor. Or perhaps they were even entertained; the spectacle of a high-school-drunk medic shouting "I love you, sweetheart! Let me put my hard disk in your floppy drive!" was probably about as diverting as the flick, from what I recall of it...So a raucous evening was enjoyed by our three heroes mocking the pioneer computer-graphic-image film, and it was only in researching the long-forgotten name of the actress who was the recipient of our rude behavior that I discovered that Ms. Morgan
"whose father fought in World War II, is passionate about supporting the US military and helping to alleviate the financial hardship felt by those who have been called upon to serve in the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. She was director of the Caddyshack Reunion Golf Tournament in 2006, which reunited some of the cast of Caddyshack (Morgan included), along with other celebrities. Subtitled "Playing For The Home Team" and hosted at Willow Crest Golf Club in Oak Brook, Illinois, the tournament raised funds (and awareness) to benefit the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund, an organization that helps the families of National Guard members and reservists on active duty."Oh. Oops.
Well, now I feel kinda small. Nothing like abusing someone who has done nothing but help you and others like you. GIs, I swear - we shouldn't be allowed out in public without a keeper.
So Cindy Morgan is helping GIs, and Meghan is having fun kidding on Tron, and I'm still a the sort of dope who gets pie-eyed and shouts at films, except now I have little kiddos to make me more responsible; thus does the present repair the failings of the past.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
O, what a party’s on her heidie!
Thou’s gae’n about being nasty
Above her chin!
I’m nae laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murdering PermetherinTM.
I'm nae sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
Long syne thy hematophagic lugger.
Which sets me child tae scratchin’
At you, my oviparous bugger
Up there a hatchin’!
I doubt na, whyles, her blud may thieve;
What then? thou booger, thou maun live!
A drap or ickle o’ that serum
Is wha’ you’re suckin’;
I'll get a dose o’ interferon,
An' gie you a good...talkin’ to.
But Lousie, thou art such a pain,
And hard to pry from aft girlie's brain:
The best-laid schemes o' lice an' men
Gang aft agley,
At least thine will, if the louse-cream
Gives you your conge’!
Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
All you do is breed and flee:
But och! A fortnight or mair
She's still beloused!
And wi’ no daycare for me child,
I’m stuck i’ the house!
(Apologies to Robert Burns, and a hat tip to Lisa, who inspired this work)
But it did inspire the Boy to show us what HE could do. So here they are, climbing the walls:Sadly, the Great Louse Invasion still goes on - Mojo is home today steeping the Girl's head in some awful prescription PemetherinTM goop that's supposed to kill the little bastards. However, we've already tried the over-the-counter insecticide shampoos, which I read are already full of Pemetherin and have, apparently, facilitated the breeding of a race of super-lice immune to the toxin. Great.
I welcome our new ectoparasitic masters.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
I haven't laid hands on the Peep's LEGO yet, but the Little Miss has her pink "princess" bicycle safely laid away in the basement waiting for Santa to assemble it on Christmas Eve.
What is it that makes little girls crave pink, fluffy things? I swear we have raised the girl on climbing and running; she told me just today that if some scary monster tried to frighten her that she would "kick him in the goolies and then throw him in the garbage." Tomorrow I will have to post the pictures of her - literally - climbing the walls. She's a tough girl I have no fears of growing up to become some frilly helpless little thing being walked on by her inamorata.
But from whence, then, this delight in all things pink and princessy?
There are more things in this world, Walt Disney, than are dreamed of in your philosophy. But you wouldn't know it from my daughter.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Oh, and the fucking head lice, too.
But I never tire of the songwriting of Bruce Cockburn.And this may be one of his starkest but most heartfelt songs. I get a thick feeling in my chest every time I hear him sing:
"Sometimes the best map will not guide you;
You can't see what's round the bend.
Sometimes the road leads through dark places.
Sometimes the darkness is your friend."
Sometimes I feel like we really are just eddies in the dust of rage.
Ahem. We interrupt this self-pity to bring you some more lovely Cockburn stuff. Did I mention that the guy can swing a serious axe?
Yes. Check out the guitar solo on his cover of "Blueberry Hill" with Margo Timmins:One more fragment of brilliance from Cockburn: "Use Me While You Can". It opens with a mesmerizing description of the Malian desert...just close your eyes and see if you can picture it as he begins. Brilliant; fucking brilliant.Great licks from the Great White North.
Thursday, December 09, 2010
You may remember that I never bought the whole "change" rhetoric. Obama was and is a product of the same politics that has brought us to this, the most egregious imbalance in wealth since the Great Depression, the accelerating erosion of whatever remained of the perilous cease-fire between Wealth and the rest of the nation that held from 1932 to about 1966 but has now failed, is failing, and shows no vital signs whatsoever.
Adding this to the ridiculous "compromise" on the Bush tax giveaway, in which Obama's people gave away 200 billion in tax breaks for the two-yacht family in return for 25 billion in unemployment benefits (and set the stage for making the iniquitous Bush budget-breaking scheme permanent) and I think it has become obvious that, far from representing any sort of "change", the former junior Senator from Illinois is virtually captive to the oligarchy that has reestablished its firm control over the legislative and executive process within the Beltway.
But Christ Jesus! How simple was this? To end the nonsensical prejudice against honest men and women who simply want to risk their lives in their nation's service, consider the contrast between Obama's pusillanimous actions and the hard graft of Truman sixty-two years earlier.
The U.S. in 1948 was a violently, openly racist nation. Most states had de jure segregation, all had some form of de facto discrimination against blacks and other minorities. The white majority largely hated and feared their fellow black Americans where they didn't simply hold them in contempt. As recently at 1946 six black men had been lynched by white mobs. The laws forbidding blacks and whites to marry would remain in place for another twenty years. My father can remember going to Dodger games in the Fifties where white men would throw shoe polish tins at Jackie Robinson and scream "Shine!" and "Nigger!" until their voices broke.
And yet Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in July of 1948.
Truman knew perfectly well that the racist bastards in his Congress would have prevented any legal attempt to end segregation, because they already had. And the people he had to fear were in his own party, the Dixiecrats, remnants of the Klan Era of Counterreconstruction. But he understood that prejudice and bias are despicable in person, anathema in governing. So he went ahead and ended the wrong.
Obama, by contrast, would have the support of a majority of the nation, and of the armed forces themselves. He would be acting in accordance with the will of the People. An executive order ending the official prohibition against homosexuals serving openly would be far easier to enact, far easier to enforce, than Truman's was. A black man cannot be anything but black; he cannot simple stand there and be anything else. You cannot tell from an arm's length away which gender the man or woman beside you finds desirable. And his enemies are the damn Republicans, who no longer even pretend to be anything but the Party of God, Guns, Tax Breaks, and Hatin' Us Some Ragheads; intellectually bankrupt, still fellating the shrivelled corpse of Ronald Reagan in hopes of one last magic moment, the Party of Tom DeLay, Christine O'Donnell, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh - bloated, complacent, sneering, toadying, fiscally insane and socially medieval. The Congressional Repubs are hated by more people in the U.S. than hate crab lice, tax audits, cold floors, and raw beets combined.
And yet, here we are. Still clinging to this ridiculous and childish official prejudice, like a grade schooler who finds kissing yuckky. With a Chief Executive who appears to have Johnson & Johnson cotton balls; 100% sterile. Who is utterly in thrall to the banksters and wealthy and influential.
And yet...what else have we?
The GOP is worse. Awfully, moronically, terrifyingly, appallingly worse. If Obama is a house servant to the Malefactors of Great Wealth, the GOP is the leather slave, complete with ball gag and ballet boots. Those Republicans who aren't complete idiots are either lying - they know the truth of their economic policies but are unwilling to clue the rubes - or self-deluding fools who believe that they can sup with the oligarchs and not end up an oligarchy.
The United States has always been a place where some men are more equal than others. But the failure of Obama to even pretend to hold to any sort of liberal principles shows that we have failed to retain what equality we gained after the plutocrats last screwed the pooch back in 1929. The pendulum has swung back, and I see no one, nothing, in the American political scene that shows any promise of reclaiming any measure of that power for the working and lower middle classes.
So while Obama's failure is despicable in its reflection on the man himself, it is also a judgment on us. We have given up on the promise of the United States. We have become little better than a Russia or a Zimbabwe, run by and for the oligarchs for their own benefit; we are content with the crumbs that fall from their tables. As has our President, we have chosen the easy lies of borrowed wealth over the hard truths of fiscal responsibility, the conservative falsehoods of conventional prejudice and frivolous entertainment over the hard work of integration and sacrificing for the public weal, the slothful ease of vicarious democracy over the chastening vigor of active republicanism, and now little remains but to find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Here's Farley on the the impact of two typical inter-service conflicts: "Whereas resource conflicts (emphasis mine) can shift a nation's strategic orientation, they typically leave a military organization with a set of tools appropriate to the solving of certain defense problems. They can even produce genuine moments of strategic decision-making. By contrast, mission conflicts hamstring the ability of military organizations to do the jobs that are asked of them, especially when civilians use the disputes to cut procurement."
In the article he gives an outline of several of these mission conflicts between the air forces and the army and navy of the U.S. and Great Britain. Most of us here are familiar at least in brief with these conflicts and the problems they generated.
Now the UK is in the position of having to make hard choices about military budgets, and I would argue that the U.S. will soon - or should now - have to think about the same sorts of cost/benefit analysis in reducing its military spending.
I want to consider returning the Air Force to the status of a Corps within the Army and Navy.
The Air Force has five overall or general missions:
1. Tactical support of land and sea operations; close air support, or CAS.
2. Local through theatre-level air defense and deep-attack missions in support of ground or naval operations. This would include interdiction and theatre air defense, air superiority, SEAD, interdiction, and deep tactical strike sorties.
3. Continental air defense, including aerial and satellite surveillance, and interception.
4. Strategic deep attack, to include nuclear attack.
5. Air transportation and air movement, from the tactical (theatre) to the strategic (intercontinental) levels
Of these five, it would seem to me that at least four could be done by a sub-service level Army Air Corps or Naval Air Arm. And I'd argue that one - strategic deep attack - is problematic as a mission at all.
1. CAS has always been a problem for the Air Force. It's not cool, it doesn't encourage wearing scarves or sunglasses, and, my dear, the people! I've often thought that one genuine innovation the USMC ever came up with was holding on to its own air arm. Marines tend to get pretty good air cover because their wing wipers are often Marines, or Navy pilots who train and fly with Marines. I can't see how returning these missions to the Army and Navy would be a problem.
2. The theatre-level missions are a little more dicey, in that they call for fighter and medium bomber aircraft that don't really intermesh directly with the ground or sea missions. They would require an Army theatre commander, or a Navy task force- or fleet-level commander to broaden their mental horizon beyond the grand tactical to the local strategic level. But I think this could be done. Difficult, but do-able.
3. I don't see how this can't become a naval mission. The USN was our continental defense prior to Kitty Hawk; I don't see how a naval officer couldn't be taught to think of the defense of North America in three dimensions rather than two.
4. The USN is already in control of a third or more of our ballistic missile defenses; putting squids in silos in North Dakota doesn't seem beyond the realm of possibility. And I would argue that "deep strategic attack" - the sort of thing that reached its apogee in 1944-1945 over Germany and Japan - is really questionable. What does a manned strategic bomber really give you at this point, other than target practice for enemy air defenses and the chance of a POW? I would like you to consider that deep penetration bombing, like mass tactical airborne operations over defended airspace, is really a relict of WW2 whose utility in the 21st Century is not just unproven but unlikely.
So give the missiles and the AWACS and the DEW line to the Navy. And mothball the heavy bombers.
5. Military airlift is also a mission that does seem too "aerial" for the land and sea services. Yet the USN flies large four-engine patrol aircraft, and it would seem like an Army Air Corps could fly and maintain tactical transports of the C-130/C-17 variety, leaving intercontinental transport of the C-5 sort and aerial refueling the only thing I would consider a truly "aerial" sort of mission.
I realize that this is truly woolgathering; the lobbying power of the USAF, and the vested interests of the Air Force community, will prevent any serious attempt at distributing the USAF's capabilities between the other two major services.
But the problems, costs, and difficulties incurred by "mission conflicts" are real, and in time where the demand for the specialized "air" sorts of missions seem to be declining and likely to continue as such, and the costs of the specialized air force seem to be rising, I would consider we might want to at least give the idea enough thought to formulate reasons why it shouldn't go further.I wonder - if the SecDef, Army and Navy chiefs had known in 1947 what they know now...might they have had second thoughts?
(Disclaimer: for the record, my father was a naval aviator (V-12) 1944-1945, while I have never really forgiven the USAF for trying to bag the A-10 - beyond that I have no animus beyond the usual contempt for lower military life forms common to the Artillery, which as a branch lends tone to what would otherwise be a Vulgar Brawl)
This adulterous, skeevy, lying douchebag (Newt, that is, not the Receptacle of Newt-chowder) is still a respected senior figure in the Republican Party, published "author", a serial guest on the D.C. talk-show and lecture circuit.
And Elizabeth Edwards is still dead.
There is no fucking justice in the world.
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
You know how I feel about this whole business. I'm more with Idle than with Lennon.
Mind you, my likes and dislikes don't really matter. We've had Christmas this and Christmas that and Christmas the other damn thing since practically Halloween. But now that we're on the dark side of Thanksgiving, well...
This year is turning out to be interesting, however. The kiddos are caught up in the usual Christmas greed, obediently parroting the gimme paternoster at every huckster on the television. Missy, especially, is turning out to be a sucker for cheap, shiny plastic crap. A commercial for anything aimed at kids, from Benadroos to Bandryl will produce her immediate Pavlovian"IwantthatcanIhavethatwillyougetmethat?" She's not completely unreasonable - there are no tantrums or tears if she hears "no", but through repetition this does not become endearing.
The Peep, who at seven-and-a-half is a more experienced consumer, has opted for quality over quantity and wants only the largest and most costly Lego toys. These, by the way, I am now utterly unwilling to provide to him based on bitter experience. As objects the damn things are fiendishly expensive; as toys, completely worthless, being both heavy and fragile. The disassociated pieces of but the "Republic Attack Shuttle" and the "AT-TE" walker ,now intermingled with a dozen other smaller Lego objects, stand mute witness to this.His grandparents can bankroll his Lego addiction, if they want. I'm getting him a bicycle.
Oh, and he has decided he doesn't want to kill a tree for Santa. He wants to get a fake tree. No pink ones, mind, and it can't be plaid or otherwise obviously "fake-y". But he wants to get a plain green fake tree. And it can't be before...
I'm tempted to go with it just to see what happens. And then dance an antic hay on the ruins. It'd be the Perfectly Awful Christmas.
But then there's being the grown-up thing. Sigh.
Of course, the other inescapable element of Wenceslausery is the sudden metastasizing Christmas specials and Christmas movies and Christmas television episodes.
Don't mistake me; like any kid of the Video Era I grew up with the idea that television, not the angel of Bethlehem, announced the Savior's Birth. I was raised on Christmas commercials, Rudolph, Charlie Brown, and the Grinch (although I am glad that I am too old to have my eyes seared with the awful Ron Howard/Jim Carrey live-action version; talk about a childhood trauma...) as more important to the Greatest Story ever told as the Big Guy from little Galilee. In fact, I would say that my "Christmas" - the ideas and images that made the holiday a reality for me - came from the cathode ray tube rather than the Bible, the church, or the stories.
Perhaps one of my favorite celluloid Christmases is the one in the George Seaton "Miracle on 34th Street".
C'mon, I know you've seen this thing. It may be the biggest Christmas chestnut after "It's a Wonderful Life", and it's certainly less glurgeworthy. It's a breezy confection of a yarn, with Ed Gwenn as the whiskered gentleman that everyone doesn't quite want to believe is really Santa Claus. John Payne makes a sensible good fellow of a hero as Fred the attorney who defends "Kris Kringle", Maureen O'Hara a gloriously mature and completely desirable Doris, the Macy's executive whose little girl Susan is the pivot on whom the movie turns. Susan, played by a dark and brilliant young Natalie Wood, is the perfect center; wise and foolish, cautious and loving, skeptical and credulous. As a kid she's the cool big sister you wish you had, as an adult, the bright, loving little daughter.And, of course, the movie is full of great little bits of work. Gwenn discovering what people with beards shouldn't blow bubble gum. "Susan" is full of inside knowledge on the Macy's Thanksgiving parade she's picked up from her mother, who has organized it for all her young life. The brilliant gimmick that lets Fred "prove" Kris is THE Santa Claus through the inspiration of the overworked mail sorter who convinces his foreman to send "all them Santy Claus letters" to the courthouse.It's practically perfect; gently sentimental without treacle, loving and respecting its holiday without glurge. It's one of the few Christmas pictures I can sit through without wincing.
Oh, and did you know that 20th Century released it in May? Seriously. Weird, yes, but there it is: May 2, 1947. You can look it up.Now this is America. And as you know, here if something works once, that means it needs to be done over. And bigger. With more stuff. And preferably in color.
And that's what happened to "Miracle". Actually, it happened FIVE times; two one-hour television versions in the Fifties, a musical in the Sixties (but all sorts of awful musicals happened in the Sixties, so it wasn't exactly the worst of its type...), a TV movie in the Seventies, and, finally, a theatrical movie in the Nineties.
The 1994 movie version, for some reason, has been in heavy rotation on the usual calbe channel suspects lately; Lifetime, "Family", Hallmark. Its really kind of intriguing, in a sort of true-crime-story way, to see the difference between the America that had just emerged from the abyss of World War 2 and the one that was the Sole Superpower, the Indispensable Nation, the gigantic economic and political colossus then at the height of its power and wealth.The players are all there; Richard Attenborough as Kris, trying to look Gwennishly charming and succeeding in looking merely dyspeptic. Dylan McDermot replaces Payne, looking more intent but less decent. Elizabeth Perkins, whose ability to play vulnerably intelligent women I truly enjoy, does so here and deftly as always. Mara Wilson does a decent job as Susan, although she never manages Wood's luminosity or her skeptical intelligence (which is a problem, because the story calls for convincing the prenaturally adult Wood to feel and love childishly to be a Santaesque labor, whereas Wilson comes off as just a nice kiddo).
John Hughes directs.
That's not the problem.
The problem is that the story was perfectly suited for the sunny, lighthearted good sense of the Forties. The original never felt strained, never lectured, never brooded or pouted. It was a straightforward tale of whimsy, well-told, but with a good-humored wink towards the audience.
The Nineties version has none of this. It is uneven in tone, sometimes childishly callow, sometimes cynical, and adds a disturbingly strong, wildly out-of-place thread of religious piety to the plot, disturbing since the entire story is based on the central reality of that very Anti-Christ of American commercial Christmas, Santa Claus.
I should add that the religiousness comes across to me as rather mean-spirited, not presented as a sort of warm God-fuzzy but rather as a failure on the part of the irreligious. You first encounter it when Fred comes over to have Thanksgiving dinner with Susie and her mom. They don't say grace, you see, and Doris (inexplicably renamed "Dorie" in this one) is made to act embarassed and contrite about it. Because people who don't have God or religion can't really be good people, right?
The tone is very reminiscent of the sort of "Christmas Wars" then being fought at the time the remake was made, and the film shares something of the sour and accusatory tone of the time. Very unpleasant.
The injection of God and worship into the original cheerfully irreligious story is jarring in more ways than just the way it places God and Santa uneasily alongside each other. It rips the wonderful setpiece out of the climax of the story.
Instead of the endless chain of letter-carriers tromping into the courtroom with their bags and bags of Santa letters - proving that the U.S. Post Office believes Kris to be the "one and only" Santa - we have a very strained and badly skewed moment involving the little girl, a Christmas card with a dollar in it (WTF?) and the motto "In God We Trust" circled with hi-lighter.(Don't get it? Me, neither. The film has the trial judge go into some long-winded explanation about how the U.S. Department of Treasury can believe in God with no hard evidence so the people of New York can believe in Santa Claus in the same way (conveniently ignoring such precedent as Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984) in which the Supreme Court held that the motto has "lost through rote repetition any significant religious content" and called it mere "ceremonial deism"). Yeah, yeah, I don't buy it, either. It's crap, and badly written crap, at that).Not content with replacing the best scene in the flick with a pottage of claptrap, Hughes then proceeds to add one last bit of bizarre business. His Dorie and Fred get married (at Midnight Mass, no less, slamming your head against the Jesus is The Reason For The Season wall again in case you forgot the whole "In God We Trust" thing) and then go house-hunting.The house thing is right out of the 1947 original, where city-bound little Susan wanted the Forties American Dream House in the 'burbs for Christmas. In that version the house is the setup for the punchline (Kris really IS Santa, see..?) as well as the Fred-and-Doris kiss-and-let's-get-married-and-be-happy-families that makes the Happy Ending of the story. Fade to black.
In the Hughes version, same setup, except instead of just wanting the house for Christmas Susan had Three Wishes (John Hughes - Brilliantly Original Thinker, eh?); a dad, the house, and a baby brother. When they get to the house, Susan announces that she now has ALL her wishes. Fred and Dorie goggle at her, at each other, then down at Dorie's womb. Booiiiinnng! Santa is like Christmas' Fertility God, see? He puts babies in ladies' tummies!
Anyway, I don't enjoy the Nineties version enough to sit all the way through it, but it keeps turning up like the mouse the cat keeps dragging inside no matter how often you toss it into the yard. So I've now seen almost all of it mow in bits and pieces.
And between the nonsensical alterations, the strident piety, and the overall dark and charmless tone, the newer version of "Miracle on 34th Street" just seems to me to say something very unkind about us Americans of 1994 and 2010. I know the flaws of the Forties, I know all about the flaws of the people who lived at that time; they were and are my parents.
But it just seems that the sort of people who made that movie were different people than the ones who made the last one, and that based on the difference between the films, the changes that occurred in the people weren't particularly good ones.
First, let me entertain you with this little snippet of classic Warner Brothers hilarity; Beaky Buzzard and his rendition of "Bring Home a Baby Bumblebee". The actual song is in the first several seconds, so you gotta be quick:and now, for comparison, the utterly adorable Missy covering the same number: You will note how much more scrumptious she is. Do you like the teensy piping "Ouch! He stung me!" at the end? Thermonuclear cuteness, that girl. Anyway, the video fun is to get my mind off of the fact that the damn head lice have returned and this time, they've really done for us. Missy's daycare teacher saw the lice - or at least, nits, or so she says - and Little Girl is now banned from daycare until Monday. So Mojo has to stay home with her tomorrow and I will have to stay with her Thursday and Mojo again on Friday. It's all very irritating. So we're washing - again - the bedding and the clothing, vacuuming all over, doing everything we can think of to rid the place of these damn vermin.Why is it that kids seem to generate this sort of thing; colds and parasites and all sorts of niggling issues that are individually insignificant but taken altogether seem to occupy a pantsload of your waking time? I love my kids, but I sure wish they'd develop some sort of TeflonTM coating for lice, viruses, and skanky boyfriends.
Oh, wait, we don't have to worry about that last one.
Monday, December 06, 2010
Forces Engaged: United Nations Command (UNC) - the primary troop units from the UNC Eighth Army engaged at Unsan were:
U.S. 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, I Corps - notionally about 2,000, but by late October 1950 probably approximately 1,500 infantrymen in three battalions.
Attached to the 8th CAV was a battery of the 99th U.S. Field Artillery and B Company, 70th Armored Battalion.
U.S. 1st Battalion, 5th US Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division - approx. 500 infantrymen
(Note: While the division and it's regiments are notionally "cavalry", in 1950 the 1st Cavalry was a conventional "straight leg" infantry unit, although the regiments styled themselves "cavalry" and carried the lineage of the U.S. Army horse soldiers. Notwithstanding the nomenclature, the "cavalrymen" of Unsan were indistinguishable from a standard issue U.S. GI infantryman of the time.)
Republic of Korea (ROK) 15th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, ROK I Corps - notionally about 1,500 to 2,000 infantrymen, but, again, probably understrength (and the ROK of this period was notoriously stronger on paper than in the field, as venal commander/cronies of Syngman Rhee raked off pay allotted to ghost troops never actually present in the field).(Note: The identification of this unit appears to have become confused, especially on-line. It was not assigned to the ROK 5th Infantry Division as the Wiki entry for the ROK order of battle indicates, but the 1st ID as noted here and elsewhere.)
Total: Approximately 2,000 U.S. infantry, 1,500 ROK infantry in seven battalions, 100 U.S. artillerymen with 12 x 105mm howitzers, and 60-80 tankers with 14 M4 Sherman tanks. The overall commander of the forces engaged at Unsan would have been the I Corps commander, LTG Frank Milburn, however, there does not appear to have been particularly outstanding command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) on the UN side at Unsan, which will be discussed below.
Chinese People's Volunteer Army - elements of the 115th and 116th Divisions (and probably small units of the 117th Division) of the 39th Army, 13th Group Army.The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) in autumn 1950 was a light infantry force poorly armed and equipped compared to the U.S. and even the ROK armies; the order of battle for a PLA division such as the 115th would have included three infantry regiments nominally 2,200 strong, a division artillery battalion of 500 and 12 x 76mm and assorted signal, engineer, and transport troops actually totalling less than 8,000 all arms for a notional army strength of approximately 24,000-25,000.
Actual estimates of CPVA divisional strengths run around 13,000, suggesting that the divisions and their regiments were badly understrength. Battlefield accounts suggest that the divisions lacked the artillery battery, although the infantry divisions appear to have retained the four 70mm cannon organic to a PLA division at the time, or at least a similar number of heavy mortars.So a rough estimate of about 20,000-25,000 for the two divisions is probably reasonable. Overall command of the CPVA fell to Marshal Peng Dehuai; I could not find any sources identifying the commanders of the 13th Group Army, 39th Army, or either of the divisions involved.
The Sources: the Korean War, as with all Western wars since the advent of nearly universal literacy, has been extensively documented from the UN side. All the UN combatants have published "official" histories which must be read with some care, since the effect of bias is nearly unavoidable; the U.S. official history is perhaps as judicious as any. The Center for Military History discusses Unsan in "The Korean War: The UN Offensive, 16 September - 2 November 1950" (available online here).
As you might imagine the accounts written and published in the West are numerous and varied in both scope and quality. Of the accounts I could find the most consistently recommended was David Rees' "Korea: The Limited War". Published in 1964 and therefore missing the information available since the opening of the Soviet archives, Rees' work still appears to be extremely comprehensive, incisive, and thorough.
Among the other decent Western works on the Korean War are Max Hasting's "The Korean War", "This Kind of War" by T.R. Fehrenbach, "The Korean War: An International History" by William Stueck, and "Conflict: The History of The Korean War 1950-1953"
by Bob Leckie. I recently finished "The Coldest Winter" by Dave Halberstam and found it both readable and well-researched, although you have to be careful working around Halberstam's violent dislike of GEN MacArthur; it colors the entire work and (I feel) distorts Halberstam's judgment on the decisions made by both the UNC and the Truman Administration in the late summer and autumn of 1950.
The Korean Center for Military History (KIMH) has produced a monumental history simply titled "The Korean War". Based on one available review, this history seems to show considerably more bias towards the ROK than is found elsewhere, possibly understandable given the way many U.S. histories pummel the 1950 ROK for poor performance in defense of its own country!
The DPRK - North Korea - is and has always been a riddle wrapped in an enigma. The "official" North Korean history of the entire war period is a tissue of propaganda and bullshit glorifying the then-leader of the North, Kim Il Sung.
For years the Chinese and Soviet side of the hill was similarly opaque, rich with the usual "Soviet Life" sort of house-organ propaganda tales. Western access to Soviet files since the fall of the USSR has shed some light into the internal politics of the early war years, especially Alexander Mansourov's Stalin, Mao, Kim, and China’s Decision to Enter the Korean War, 16 September – 15 October 1950 in "New Evidence from the Russian Archives, Cold War International History Project Bulletin" v. 6–7, and Goncharov, Lewis, and Xue. 1993, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War. Many operational details of PLA and KPA actions during the war including around Unsan, remain unclear to Western readers.
Among the valuable general military history resources are the Osprey publications "The Korean War 1950-1953" which emphasizes the overall course of the war, from the grand tactical to the geopolitical levels, and the confusingly-nearly-identically titled "The Korean War 1950-53" which details orders of battle and uniforms.
The Campaign: The "UN Offensive" was the third phase in the Korean War that began in June 1950. The geopolitical setting of the War is far beyond the scope of this essay, but let me summarize briefly the events between 1945 and 1950 that set the stage for the first hot war between East and West.Korea had been a Japanese possession since the Teens, having been conquered by the Meiji Emperor between 1905 and 1910. The Japanese occupation was typically brutal; the "comfort women" shown above could have told you about the worst you could imagine. Slave labor, prostitution, starvation...it was all there.
Although the WW2 Allies had promised independence for Korea at Cairo in 1942, by 1945 the Soviets demanded a portion of Korea as a buffer and the U.S. agreed. The two powers divided the peninsula near the 38th Parallel and ruled their portions directly for about three years.
Koreans were understandably furious, and the years between 1945-1948 were disturbed by a series of uprisings, strikes, repressions, and various uses of force from arrests and beatings to mass killing; the U.S. administration of the South was better than the Soviets in degree rather than kind.
Finally the U.S. had enough; a ROK plebiscite in 1948 elected a U.S.-domiciled presumptive autocrat named Syngman Rhee. The North was organized into a Soviet-style one-party state under a party apparatchik named Kim Il Sung. The two dictators used the next two years to organize their fiefdoms with contrasting results.
The South became a xanadu of crony capitalism run by and for the benefit of the Rhees and their cronies. The ROK Army was particularly feeble, consisting of no more than ten light armed infantry divisions whose officers were usually from well-connected families using their time in the military to advance their careers, usually by skimming money off their units. The ranks were filled by conscription, which was avoided if possible. In June 1950 the ROK consisted of about 100,000 troops without armor, heavy artillery, or air support. The ROK higher knew the weakness of their force, and made repeated requests for heavy weapons that were refused by their U.S. patron.
The North had been organized into a Stalinist state under the vicious auspices of Kim, whose army was relatively well armed by the Soviet Union in the year prior to the war. The Korean People's Army that crossed the 38th Parallel in June consisted of something like 230,000 troops, 250-300 T-34/85 tanks, a decent small air force as well as the usual Soviet array of towed artillery and engineer assets.
Soviet and Chinese archives make it clear that Kim wanted a showdown with the South, and pressed Mao's China, which had just settled its own civil war, to support his move south. The Chinese did not attempt to restrain Kim but made it clear that his attack risked drawing the U.S. forces stationed in occupied Japan into the fight and refused to promise assistance if that happened. The Soviets made no move other than vague assurances of soviet brotherhood. On 25 JUN 1950 the KPA, the Inmin Gun attacked across the 38th Parallel.
Phase I (6/50 to 9/50) - Springtime for Suryong
Between June and September 1950 the KPA swept all before it. Although U.S. President Truman ordered U.S. forces to deploy to Korea on 27 JUN the understrength, badly trained, badly led troops from Japan had little effect. Seoul fell on 28 JUN, Taejon on 15 JUL. By early August the U.S. 8th Army was confined to a 140-mile long redoubt in the far southeast tip of the Korean peninsula around the port of Pusan. The 24th U.S. Infantry Division was mauled delaying the KPA to give the defenders time to entrench around Pusan, while the ROK Army all but disintegrated. By early August the three U.S. divisions of the 8th Army and five ROK divisions - all that remained of the ROK Army - were all that held the KPA back from ruling Korea from the Yalu River to the sea.For six weeks the defenders of the "Pusan Perimeter" kept the KPA on the outside of their lines. The North's troopers suffered badly from their country's poor logistical capability; the KPA just didn't have the technical ability to move supplies from the depots north of the 38th Parallel to Pusan. By early September the KPA was on the verge of starvation and had suffered so many killed and wounded that the North sent corvees out to kidnap local civilian men and forced them to fight. By mid September the KPA was effectively unable to continue their attacks.
Phase II: 9/50 to 11/50 - The Hinge of Fate
On 15 SEP 1950 GEN Douglas MacArthur ordered the first waves of the two U.S. divisions ashore at Inchon on the west coast of the Korean peninsula, 100 miles north of the battle being fought around Pusan. This attack, perhaps the most audacious of MacArthur's career, was spectacularly successful - over the KPA and over the fears of the service chiefs and the Defense Department. The KPA unraveled in its headlong scramble back across the Han; perhaps as few as 25,000 of the almost quarter-million attackers made it back to their start line. The 8th Army and the Xth Corps proceeded to clear the southern peninsula of the invaders and by 27 SEP the UNC forces had reached the original intra-Korean border. On 7 OCT the UNC authorized their forces to cross the parallel (the ROK Army had pushed into the North a week earlier) and the pursuit to the Chinese border began.By this time the KPA was almost incapable of resistance, and U.S. airpower had rid the sky of the North's aircraft. Pyongyang fell to 8th Army on 19 OCT, while Xth Corps landed at Wonsan on the east coast, pushing into the northeastern corner of the Korean peninsula.By mid- to late-October the UN troops were deep in northwestern Korea. This portion of the peninsula is a very mountainous land with little level maneuver area. High ridges are separated by steep valleys, the whole exposed to the brutal cold winds off the eastern Siberian plateau. It is a harsh land, and had been one of the most deserted and inhospitable portions of Korea well before the war entered in to it.
What's more, although the UNC didn't know it yet, the Chinese had entered the war.
In late August the Chinese delegation to the UN warned that "Korea is China's neighbor… The Chinese people cannot but be concerned about a solution of the Korean question", indicating that Chinese troops could be expected to enter Korea if the UN forces approached the Yalu or looked too much like overrunning all the North.
Mao's Politburo authorized Chinese "volunteers" to enter in Korea on 2 OCT 1950, the day after the ROK Army crossed the 38th Parallel.On 15 OCT 1950, President Truman and General MacArthur met at Wake Island. Truman wanted to get a sense of his Far East commander; MacArthur wanted to get official approval for his move to the Yalu River. MacArthur answered Truman's concerns about Chinese intervention by assuring the President that although he doubted that the Chinese had the sack, that "if the Chinese tried to get down to Pyongyang, there would be the greatest slaughter"
Four days later, the PLA 13th Group Army crossed the Yalu at night and, hiding by day to prevent U.S. aerial observation, moved south towards the leading elements of the 8th Army.
A number of factors, some military, some topographic, combined to put the lead elements of the UNC in a tactically poor position.
We've talked about the ugly terrain of northwest Korea; a worse piece of ground for mechanized attack can barely be imagined. The UN troops, dependent on roads for most movement and all supply, were pushing out on an increasingly tenuous logistical limb. The temptation to bypass the nasty mountainsides and "secure" just the traversible lowlands was difficult to resist.The other topographic element was the way the Korean peninsula broadens near the Asian mainland.
No more than about 140 miles wide at the latitude of Pyongyang the peninsula widens to between three and four times that dimension near the Chinese border along the Yalu and Tumaen Rivers. The UNC force - 8th Army and the independent X Corps - in November 1950 consisted of seven U.S. divisions (1st Cav, 2nd, 24th, and 25th Infantry in 8th Army, 3rd and 7th Infantry, 1st Marine in Xth Corps), a British Commonwealth brigade, and six ROK Divisions (Capital, 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 8th Infantry). These thirteen divisions now spread out through the rough terrain of northwest Korea, increasingly distant from one another and, worse, beyond the range of mutual support.
Even within units the distances became ominous. Regiments dug into positions with large, uncovered gaps between their battalions; battalions were spread thin, or ended up in similar clumps of unconnected company strongpoints.
Militarily, perhaps the single least tractible problem was MacArthur.
The UNC commander was convinced that the campaign was over beyond mopping-up and a parade to the Yalu. As we've mentioned, he was convinced that the Chinese would not enter the war; his G-2, one MG Willoughby, has been thoroughly vilified by historians who dislike MacArthur (Halberstam is particularly vituperative) for allegedly ignoring lower unit intelligence reports of Chinese prisoners and active indications of Chinese units south of the Yalu.
The case against Willoughby seems less than definitive. He was known as an officer who was loyal more to MacArthur than to the U.S. Army or the U.S. itself; a great admirer of Franco, MacArthur called him "my pet fascist" and the degree of personal loathsomeness that emanated from the man makes him an attractive villain. And he does seem to have made a critical error in intelligence tradecraft - presuming the enemy's most likely course of action based on what his own assessment of the situation would have been. He considered the Chinese position after Inchon very weak, stating that the time for Chinese intervention had been with the UNC penned on Pusan. With the UN forces driving north he discarded the notion that the Chinese would contravene conventional military wisdom and reinforce defeat.
With the spectre of the yellow Red hordes dispelled MacArthur felt free to direct - or perhaps "allow" is a better word; the direction from MacArthur's HQ, the "Dai Ichi" in Tokyo, was relatively sparse in the autumn of 1950 - his forces to spread out across northwest Korea.Making coordination even more difficult was MacArthur's attitude towards the two officers directly subordinate to him.
LTG Walton Walker, commander of 8th Army, was not in the MacArthur "ring", the "Bataan Gang" of Mac's old cronies from the Pacific War. Worse, he was a European Theatre commander under Patton, perhaps MacArthur's only rival for military flamboyance. The beating that 8th Army took in the summer and early autumn of 1950 had angered MacArthur, and had pushed Walton even further out of favor at the Dai Ichi.
MG Edward Almond, commander of Xth Corps, was the polar opposite of Walker. A recent MacArthur crony, his experience in Europe had been commanding the 92nd Division, a "colored division", in Italy. The division performed poorly and a postwar board of inquiry determined that piss-poor training and leadership, almost certainly emanating from the commander, were at fault. Almond himself was an extremely aggressive officer, and it is this aggression combined with the racisim he displayed in Italy (he commonly referred to the Chinese soldiers as "laundrymen") that is believed to have spurred him to disperse his corps so widely on the right front of the UNC advance.
Walker and Almond seem to have had a difficult partnership, and MacArthur seems to have been unwilling (or uninformed) of their lack of cooperation. But the result was that by late November the three UNC corps had developed serious breaks in contact both within their subordinate units and between the corps themselves.
The town of Unsan lies in the valleys of the Nammyon and Samtan Rivers and controls the main roads north to the Yalu in northwest Korea from Ipsok to the south, the main supply route (MSR) for the ROK II Corps that formed the 8th Army right front element. South of the town a ridge dubbed "Bugle Hill" controls the road to Yongsan-dong.The ROK 1st ID advanced north on 24 OCT 1950 with the ROK 6th ID on its right and the U.S. 24th ID on its left. By 25 OCT the ROK 1st ID had captured Unsan - but a 15 mile gap had opened between the 1st, on the ROK left, and the 24th, on the U.S. right.
Down on this fragmented and vulnerable line of outposts came the 39th Army, looking to test the capabilities of the Americans and their "Korean puppets".Paik Sun-yip, the commander of the ROK 1st Division, has left us a dramatic story of the last week of November in the cold mountains around Unsan;
"The roads were deserted. There wasn’t even one car in sight. The customary refugee columns that had littered the roads since the outbreak of the Korean War were nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t get rid of the uneasiness I felt creeping up my spine...all of a sudden, all traces of humanity had vanished on the roads from Yongbyon to Unsan."
MG Sun-yip continues: “Why is it so quiet?” I felt a very peculiar anxiety. When my unit crossed the Guryong River and headed north, I met two old villagers. “Why is it that we can’t see a single soul?” I asked. I got an answer I didn’t expect:
“Many Chinese have come.”The Engagement: The engagment at Unsan properly begins five days earlier, when the first elements of the CPVA 13th Group Army attacked the ROK II Corps north and east of Unsan. The ROK 6th ID was cut to pieces and destroyed near the Yalu by the PLA 38th and 40th Armies, and attacks by the PLA 39th Army stopped the ROK 1st Division around Unsan. Chinese blocking forces cut Unsan off from the south at "Bugle Hill" between 25 and 27 OCT.MG Sun-yip warned Walker's HQ that the situation around Unsan was perilous, but the 8th Army commander, assured that nothing more than remnant NKPA elements were holding up the parade, sent elements of the 1st Cavalry forward to restart the offensive. By the time the 8th U.S. Cavalry arrived at Unsan on 29 OCT two of the three ROK 1st ID infantry regiments had had enough; the 11th and 12th Infantry retired south to regroup, leaving only the ROK 15th Infantry regiment in place in the hills northeast of Unsan.
Halberstam tells the story of the former regimental commander of the 8th Cavalry making a visit to the Unsan positions on 30 NOV. He reports that the officer didn't like what he saw; a regiment dispersed over more than two square miles, with battalions out of contact and unsupported by interlocking fires, with companies occupying poorly sited positions in low ground. Halberstam states that the former commander attempted to bring this up to COL Palmer, the regimental commander, but that the latter appeared to be overwhelmed by the sudden appearance of active enemies everywhere.The official U.S. Army history continues:
"In the Unsan and Onjong area at the end of October, great smoke clouds hung in the skies. What did these smoke clouds portend? Everyone in the area noticed them. Capt. Jack Bolt, commanding officer of C Battery, 99th Field Artillery Battalion, counted ten different forest fires burning in the mountains when his unit moved up on the 30th to support the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, south of Unsan. The next day Colonel Johnson witnessed much the same thing during his visit to the 8th Cavalry regimental command post. And General Allen, the 1st Cavalry Division assistant commander, likewise saw them on 1 November when he drove to Unsan. These great smoke clouds north and northeast of Unsan came from forest fires set by the enemy. They obscured U.N. aerial observation and masked enemy troop movements."By 1 NOV the indications of large-scale Communist troop movements - some kind of Communist troops, anyway - was unmistakable. 2,000 Chinese soldiers were reported southwest that morning, and another 3,000 that afternoon. Tacair and artillery dispersed an enemy column eight miles southeast of Unsan at noon.
"At his command post at Yongsan-dong in the afternoon, General Gay and Brig. Gen. Charles D. Palmer, the division artillery commander, were listening to the chatter on the artillery radio set. Suddenly the voice of an observer in an L-5 plane directing fire of the 82d Field Artillery Battalion (155-mm. howitzers) came in: "This is the strangest sight I have ever seen. There are two large columns of enemy infantry moving southeast over the trails in the vicinity of Myongdang-dong and Yonghung-dong. Our shells are landing right in their columns and they keep coming." The two places mentioned were about seven and five air miles respectively southwest and west of Unsan. General Palmer broke in on the radio to order the 99th Field Artillery Battalion to join in the fire on these enemy columns."At this point MG Gay, the commander of the 1st Cavalry, began to worry. He requested I Corps' permission to withdraw the 8th and it's supporting 5th Cavalry. Permission was refused.
By noon on 1 NOV a platoon from the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry patrolling northeast along the Yongsan-dong road encountered an enemy troop unit dug in on "Bugle Hill". The engagement grew, first to a two-company deliberate attack and then to a battalion attack supported by tacair and artillery. Not only did the attacks fail but the troops on the hill attacked just after dark and pushed B/1/5 back, destroying its mortar platoon in the process.
Alarmed, the I Corps command and staff met that evening. MG Milburn, I Corps commander, ordered the corps to assume the defensive for the first time since the breakout from Pusan. At 2300 1 NOV 1050 COL Palmer received the orders to withdraw. It was now too late.
Earlier that morning of 1 NOV the Chinese 117th Division attacked the ROK 15th Infantry Regiment. Before midnight that unit was effectively destroyed, most of the ROK troopers killed or captured, the few survivors fleeing down the Samt'an River valley towards Ipsok.As you can see from the map, the 1/8th Cav sector controlled from the west bank of the Samt'an west across Unsan itself. But the position did not extend far enough to reach the main ridge leading into Unsan, and contact with 2/8 Cav to the west was maintained only by patrols. The high ground itself between the units was manned only with a few listening posts/observation posts (LP/OP).
The evening was relatively quiet for the American cavalrymen until about 1930. At that time the Chinese hit 1/8 Cav, driving the right flank 400 meters back from the river until reinforced by an engineer platoon and the battalion mortars. About 2100 elements from the CPVA 116th Division began infiltrating down the ridge line between 1/8 and 2/8. AAbout an hour later the 1/8 commander was informed of the destruction of the ROK 15th Infantry. He ordered the battalion trains into march order to begin retreating south.
Moonrise was around midnight; the bright moonlight provided about 20-30% illumination that enabled the horrified cavalrymen of the 2/8 to see the Chinese 116th Division that enveloped them, bugles and whistles shrieking. A Company, 1/8 Cav was fighting with bayonets, rifle butts, and e-tools as it was driven in from the left flank of the 1st Battalion perimeter.
By 2300 both 1/8 and 2/8 Cav had been forced back, their positions penetrated, and most of their basic load of ammunition expended; living troops were scrounging rounds from the ammo pouches of the dead and wounded.At about midnight the 1/8 and 2/8 were ordered to retreat. The "retreat", with Chinese blocking and raiding parties abroad across the Unsan bottomland, was in fact a bloody rout, with little or any order or military organization. Here's a typical scene from the early hours of 2 NOV:
"Fifteen minutes later Millikin ordered the last two tanks and the mortar vehicles with the wounded to try to get through Unsan. A burning truck at the first turn going west into the town halted the column. In trying to get around the truck the first tank slid into a shell crater and got stuck. Chinese soldiers killed the tank commander as he struggled to free the tank. Other Chinese placed a satchel charge on the tracks of the second tank and disabled it. Of the ten tank crewmen, two were killed and five wounded. Apparently none of the wounded on the mortar carriers escaped. A little later, about 0100, a miscellaneous assortment of men, including elements of C Company, South Koreans attached to the 1st Battalion, ROK stragglers from the 15th Regiment, and Chinese soldiers, arrived at the road junction northeast of town at about the same time. Millikin still waited there. In the confusion that now spread out of control the men tried to escape in groups. Millikin and a small group went westward north of Unsan and then circled to the southwest. At 0200, they encountered parts of H Company from the 2d Battalion also trying to reach the road fork south of Unsan."This group attempted to move down the road to Ipsok. The road was open well after midnight; much of the regimental trains, headquarters, battalion trains, and mixed groups of fugitives from 1/8 and 2/8 passed through until about 0230. At this time a Chinese blocking force arrived from the east and destroyed several vehicles, blocked the road, and killed or drove off the cavalrymen trying to escape. The road south was closed.
3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, holding the southern end of the Unsan position, had been relatively untroubled through the night of 1 NOV and into the early morning of the next day. The unit was north of the Nammyon River three miles southwest of Unsan.
The battalion commander, MAJ Ormond had set up the battalion CP in a field north of the river with his HHC and M Company CP. The rest of M/3/8 held the bridge immediately south of the battalion CP with a platoon of the 70th Armor. The battalion's other three rifle companies, I, K, and L, were dug in facing south and west. The battalion had just received orders to take up a delaying position and cover the withdrawal of 1/8 and 2/8. The battalion commander traveled to the regimental CP, and from there to the road to Ipsok, where he learned that the road was blocked. He returned to his command and march-ordered the vehicles on the southwest road when, at about 0300, a platoon- or company-sized column approached the bridge from the south.
The bridge security passed them, assuming they were ROKs.
This unit of Chinese troops, presumable from the 115th Division, marched to the battalion CP and attacked, grenading, shooting and bayoneting cavalrymen and destroying vehicles. At the same time, more of the 115th engaged L Company along the stream bank to the southwest, and still others crossed the stream directly south of the command post and attacked the tanks there.One tank was destroyed, but the remaining three helped fight off the initial attacks. MAJ Ormond was wounded, and he battalion's organization badly disrupted. Although the night attacks were repulsed, by daylight about 6 officers and 200 troopers remained able to fight, along with some 170 wounded. Airstrikes helped the battalion survive the day, while the 5th Cav tried to assault through the Chinese block on Bugle Hill, losing over 300 troopers to death or wounds.
Near dark on 2 NOV the I Corps and 1st Cav commanders conferred and decided that the Bugle Ridge blocking position could not be forced. They withdrew 5th Cav, abandoning the remnants of the 3/8 Cav and whatever other survivors of the regiment remained hidden in the hills and fields around Unsan.
Amazingly, the 3/8 held out as a fighting force another four days, holding off 39th Army attacks up to battalion size, moving south as a group of about 200 before being destroyed. At approximately 1600 on the afternoon of 6 NOV 3/8 Cav was finished as an organized force. The remaining hundred or so cavalrymen broke up into small parties in the hills near Ipsok. Most of these men were either killed or captured that day, apparently in the vicinity of Yongbyon.
Between 1 NOV and 6 NOV the 8th Cavalry lost about 600 men killed or captured. About one-fourth of the men of B Company, 70th Tank Battalion, were lost, as well as all of the artillery battery's 12 105-mm howitzers and 9 of B/70 Armor's 12 tanks.On 3 NOV 1950 the 8th Cavalry Regiment reported it had 45 percent of its authorized strength. In the next twelve days, nearly all the 22 officers and 616 enlisted men assigned as replacements to the 1st Cav went to the 8th Cavalry Regiment.
The Outcome: Complete tactical CPVA victory.
The Impact: Here's the odd thing about Unsan; it meant nothing. To the UNC, the road ended at Unsan, the trail led nowhere. It was a black hole into which more than 600 men's lives disappeared. The lessons that should have been learned at Unsan were not; it did the other soldiers in the UNC not a bit of damn good at all.Now we realize what Unsan really was; it was the "First Phase" of Marshal Peng's Winter Offensive designed to trap and destroy the UNC. It was his test of his tactics; movement by stealth and in the high mountains, encirclement and destruction, infiltration and close combat - what another Asian force to fight Americans called "hugging the belt".It was the first shot in the new war that would last until the summer of 1953. But at the time, the Dai Ichi, MacArthur, and the commanders above the corps level seem to have stood there blinking. The drive to the Yalu didn't stop. The UNC units were not consolidated, or their tactical coordination improved.
And, because of Unsan, this shouldn't have happened. The Dai Ichi now had proof, had it needed it earlier, that there was a new and dangerous opponent in the mountains around the Yalu that had the tactical ingenuity to offset the UN combat power in air and heavy weapons. An enemy capable of destroying the better part of two infantry brigades reinforced with artillery and armor with light infantry supported by a scattering of rockets and mortars.
But the Dai Ichi - MacArthur - was convinced that the Chinese would not intervene. Just as it would be fifty-three years later, the intelligence was fixed around the military plan; fulfilling the desires of the U.S. leadership trumped military good sense.
So the UN parade to the north continued and the Chinese 13th Army Group and the rest of the CPVA just disappeared into the hills north of Unsan. By the 3rd of November the UNC reconnaissance aircraft were once again looking for them in vain. For nearly three weeks the Chinese "volunteers" watched and waited from the mountains as the Americans and their Korean allies continued sauntering carelessly north to the Yalu.
Until 25 NOV, when they attacked all along the UNC lines in the "Second Offensive", from late November to late December. Most of the original land territory of North Korea was retaken; the front lines moved south about to the original 38th parallel, where they would remain for the next two and a half bloody years. Much of the U.S. 2nd and 7th ID were destroyed. The ROK Army also lost several divisions, and the resulting withdrawal of the US Eighth Army was the longest retreat of an American unit in history.Thousands of young Korean and American men died, many in the most agonizing ways possible. Tens of thousands more were crippled or maimed, or were captured to endure horrific captivity in Chinese hands. Tens of thousands or even millions of Koreans were forced to live in unspeakable suffering, in appalling cold, hunger, and poverty. Many people in the northern half of the Korean peninsula still lives under similar conditions today, and the failure of the UNC to read the lesson of Unsan, and prepare for the Second Offensive is largely the cause.
Counterfactuals are always difficult, but it is not that difficult to imagine an organized withdrawal to winter lines north of Pyongyang, where a tenacious defense would have stopped the Chinese offensive in the mountains, left Kim with only the poorest, most ruggedly forbidding portion of his Hermit Kingdom to rule, and most of the Korean people to join in the relative prosperity and liberty of the southern portion of the peninsula today.
Touchline Tattles: We all know the story of what happened after the winter of 1950. MacArthur was relieved, and after his appearance before Congress in 1951 exposed the mistakes the Dai Ichi had made in dealing with the Chinese - in contrast to the effective defense of Chipyong-ni (our "Decisive Battle" for next February) and Wonju, which spelled the end of the "bug-outs" and the mystique of the ferocious Chinese hordes - was finished as a force in American military policies.
GEN Ridgeway took over the UNC and fought the Chinese to a standstill, ensuring that at least the southern half of the Korean peninsula would remain out of murderous reach of the Kims.The people of South Korea eventually tossed out the corrupt dictators of the Rhee tradition and today enjoy a relatively modern existence under a relatively liberal government.The North remains the last Stalinist state, shrouded in mystery and poverty, armed and dangerous even now.In the cold valleys of northern Korea the little town of Unsan is probably a rather drab and unwelcoming place. What is left of the bodies of the cavalrymen who died there sixty years ago lie still under the fields and hills. Offers from both sides to explore and return these bitter scraps to the empty graves in their hometowns have come to nothing.In many ways, the war that the men of the 39th Army and the 8th Cavalry Regiment fought in has never ended. The border between the Koreas is no more than a cease-fire line, and as the North Koreans reminded us so forcefully lately, they don't consider the issue anywhere near resolved.
The 1st Cavalry Division spent another decade living down the defeat around Unsan. Other Army and Marine units took to describing the "blanket patch" cav shoulder insignia as "The horse they never rode, the river they never crossed, and the yellow speaks for itself". Another version goes: "The shield they never carried, the horse they never rode, the bridge they never crossed, the line they never held, and the yellow is the reason why."
The 8th U.S. Cavalry is currently divided into three mechanized infantry battalions assigned to three different brigades of the 1st Cavalry Division, Ft. Hood, Texas.