Category Archives: Military

Freedom Isn’t Free

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Gut Instincts

In my last post  I mentioned my reliance on my gut instinct in formulating what is, admittedly, a conspiracy theory.  Interestingly enough, Trump has stated many times he trusts his gut when making decisions too.  Somehow though I suspect there’s a yuge difference between his process and mine, so I’ll explain a bit about how I make my gut decisions identifying the Clinton/Dem/mainstream media spin operations in the media and how I analyze any news pertaining to the actions or public comments and appearances of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Studying propaganda and military information warfare operations has been an interest of mine starting in 1980, when I became interested in studying the Cold War, while in the Army.  Another hobby, of sorts, has been watching people, because people fascinate me.  I also developed a habit of reading a lot of government reports, starting with a hand-me-down copy of The Warren Commission report my oldest sister had sitting around the house.  I read many reports  after big political controversies and calamities, but I also find military after-action reports fascinating.  Add these interests to my news junkie habit that developed when I was probably around 11 or 12, and these habits help guide my “gut instinct”, which fails badly sometimes, but sometimes it’s way ahead of the media reporting.

I also look for patterns of behavior (how people operate/what their personal signature of actions looks like and work on trying to put together a timeline of events or political activities connected to the situation.

Trump, from what I can glean, bases his gut instinct based on his complete faith in his superior dealmaking skills.

Back in the early 90s, I became very interested in the Clinton “war room” and their spin operations. It was something very different than normal political messaging in American presidential politics.  Bill Clinton’s ability to mask his true meaning behind deceptive language fascinated me, to the point, I would often listen closely to what he said in a speech and then look at quotes from the speech that were reported in the news and marvel at how clever he was at saying one thing and meaning exactly the opposite.  Bill and Hillary Clinton both are extremely mendacious people and so is Donald J. Trump but the differences between the Clinton spin operations and comparing that to Trump’s spin sideshow is like comparing fencing to a WWE wrestling match.

Often in combat, guerilla disruption operations prove very successful.  In this endless scorched earth spin information war, Trump disrupts and often hijacks the carefully constructed Dem talking points messaging, that relies on a large network of political operatives, sympathetic news media conduits and Hollywood celebs.  Trump is a one-man show spin guerilla fighter, who routinely, with just a single tweet or public statement, completely disrupts a carefully constructed Dem spin attack.  It’s a large ponderous network vs. an unpredictable, lone spin guerilla, who attacks at random and without any warning.

Along with following the news, I’ve read many of the books that came out on the Clintons (friendly and unfriendly viewpoints), I read books by Democrat political operatives too, like Carville, Dick Morris, John Podesta, etc.  I recently saw David Axelrod’s book, Believer, which I found in my local Dollar Tree store for a $1, so I bought it. I intend to read Ken Starr’s book, Contempt, too, but I have a long list of books I want to get through before I buy that.  I even have a couple books on Trump too.  Another habit of mine is to read bios online of people and political events, to try to understand where they came from.  This brings me back to trusting “gut instinct” –  some people’s quick decisions might be more reliable than others, based on how they go about analyzing situations.

The caveat to trusting “gut instinct” is no human system based on making fast judgments is ever going to be 100% accurate  and it’s best to keep paying attention to new information that develops and be open to admitting some of your “gut instinct” assessments were incorrect and try to improve.

In 2005, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book, Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking, where he describes this process:

“Thin-slicing” refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink (p. 37). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

Two situations described in this book interested me.  Retired Marine Corps general, Paul Van Riper is without a doubt one of the most brilliant military strategists in America. Gladwell explains Van Riper was selected to lead the Red Team, playing a rogue military leader in the Persian Gulf, heading a terrorist group in Millenium Challenge ‘o2, a very expensive U.S. military wargaming exercise.  In the exercise Blue Team was meant to test the U.S. military’s new operational system, relying on high-tech systems that provided all the super-duper complex computer assessments and analysis, which would provide vast amounts of information quickly.  The Red Team rogue leader, Van Riper played, didn’t have all those high-tech systems:

“Millennium Challenge, in other words, was not just a battle between two armies. It was a battle between two perfectly opposed military philosophies. Blue Team had their databases and matrixes and methodologies for systematically understanding the intentions and capabilities of the enemy. Red Team was commanded by a man who looked at a long-haired, unkempt, seat-of-the pants commodities trader yelling and pushing and making a thousand instant decisions an hour and saw in him a soul mate.

On the opening day of the war game, Blue Team poured tens of thousands of troops into the Persian Gulf. They parked an aircraft carrier battle group just offshore of Red Team’s home country. There, with the full weight of its military power in evidence, Blue Team issued an eight-point ultimatum to Van Riper, the eighth point being the demand to surrender. They acted with utter confidence, because their Operational Net Assessment matrixes told them where Red Team’s vulnerabilities were, what Red Team’s next move was likely to be, and what Red Team’s range of options was. But Paul Van Riper did not behave as the computers predicted.

Blue Team knocked out his microwave towers and cut his fiber-optics lines on the assumption that Red Team would now have to use satellite communications and cell phones and they could monitor his communications.

“They said that Red Team would be surprised by that,” Van Riper remembers. “Surprised? Any moderately informed person would know enough not to count on those technologies. That’s a Blue Team mind-set. Who would use cell phones and satellites after what happened to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan? We communicated with couriers on motorcycles, and messages hidden inside prayers. They said, ‘How did you get your airplanes off the airfield without the normal chatter between pilots and the tower?’ I said, ‘Does anyone remember World War Two? We’ll use lighting systems.’”

Suddenly the enemy that Blue Team thought could be read like an open book was a bit more mysterious. What was Red Team doing? Van Riper was supposed to be cowed and overwhelmed in the face of a larger foe. But he was too much of a gunslinger for that. On the second day of the war, he put a fleet of small boats in the Persian Gulf to track the ships of the invading Blue Team navy. Then, without warning, he bombarded them in an hour-long assault with a fusillade of cruise missiles. When Red Team’s surprise attack was over, sixteen American ships lay at the bottom of the Persian Gulf. Had Millennium Challenge been a real war instead of just an exercise, twenty thousand American servicemen and women would have been killed before their own army had even fired a shot. “

As the Red force commander, I’m sitting there and I realize that Blue Team had said that they were going to adopt a strategy of preemption,” Van Riper says. “So I struck first. We’d done all the calculations on how many cruise missiles their ships could handle, so we simply launched more than that, from many different directions, from offshore and onshore, from air, from sea. We probably got half of their ships. We picked the ones we wanted. The aircraft carrier. The biggest cruisers. There were six amphibious ships. We knocked out five of them.””

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink (pp. 185-189). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

While it’s a gross insult to General Van Riper’s strategic brilliance to compare him to Donald J. Trump in any way, I think  a very  general “complicated system vs. a very simple, unpredictable system” analogy  holds up.  General Van Riper was playing a rogue military leader of terrorists with few military assets pitted against the most high-tech military in the world.  Scorched earth spin information warfare, on the other hand is sleazy mass media propaganda games and smear campaigns, so it was the Clinton/Dem/mainstream media manipulative word games/smear campaigns vs. Trump, the crass, loudmouth reality TV star blazing insults across the airwaves and mean tweets on his personal Twitter account.  I just don’t think it takes ‘brilliant” strategists to ruthlessly manipulate people, spread outrageous lies and wage vicious smear campaigns.  It takes total amorality of thousands of slithering snakes in the grass vs. a giant hissing orange-skinned snake.

Gladwell gives numerous examples of how sometimes thin-slices of information can give you enough information to make those, almost “thinking without thinking” determinations based on a pattern, you detect very quickly.  I read a book a long while ago, dealing with some of this “in a glance” concept, which Von Clausewitz, a brilliant military strategist, referred to this ability as Napoleon’s Glance, and used the term coup d’oeil.  William Duggan in his book, Napoleon’s Glance writes:

“Coup d’oeil was the secret of Napoleon’s success.  He made no innovations himself: Instead, he studied in detail the winning campaigns of the great generals who came before him, all the way back to Alexander the Great more than two thousand years before.  Napoleon imitated their tactics but always in a new combination that fit the present situation.  He put his army in motion with no particular destination, until he saw in a glance a coup d’oeil a chance to win a battle.  The place and time were completely unpredictable, and he passed up more battles than he fought.”

Napoleon’s Glance, written by William Duggan, page 4

Gladwell also touched on coup d’oeil in his book, Blink, and described a WWII situation pertaining to British women recruited to listen to German radio broadcasts:

“In the Second World War, the British assembled thousands of so-called interceptors— mostly women— whose job it was to tune in every day and night to the radio broadcasts of the various divisions of the German military. The Germans were, of course, broadcasting in code, so— at least in the early part of the war— the British couldn’t understand what was being said. But that didn’t necessarily matter, because before long, just by listening to the cadence of the transmission, the interceptors began to pick up on the individual fists of the German operators, and by doing so, they knew something nearly as important, which was who was doing the sending. “If you listened to the same call signs over a certain period, you would begin to recognize that there were, say, three or four different operators in that unit, working on a shift system, each with his own characteristics,” says Nigel West, a British military historian. “And invariably, quite apart from the text, there would be the preambles, and the illicit exchanges. How are you today? How’s the girlfriend? What’s the weather like in Munich? So you fill out a little card, on which you write down all that kind of information, and pretty soon you have a kind of relationship with that person.”

The interceptors came up with descriptions of the fists and styles of the operators they were following. They assigned them names and assembled elaborate profiles of their personalities. After they identified the person who was sending the message, the interceptors would then locate their signal. So now they knew something more. They knew who was where. West goes on: “The interceptors had such a good handle on the transmitting characteristics of the German radio operators that they could literally follow them around Europe— wherever they were. That was extraordinarily valuable in constructing an order of battle, which is a diagram of what the individual military units in the field are doing and what their location is. If a particular radio operator was with a particular unit and transmitting from Florence, and then three weeks later you recognized that same operator, only this time he was in Linz, then you could assume that that particular unit had moved from northern Italy to the eastern front. Or you would know that a particular operator was with a tank repair unit and he always came up on the air every day at twelve o’clock. But now, after a big battle, he’s coming up at twelve, four in the afternoon, and seven in the evening, so you can assume that unit has a lot of work going on. And in a moment of crisis, when someone very high up asks, ‘Can you really be absolutely certain that this particular Luftwaffe Fliegerkorps [German air force squadron] is outside of Tobruk and not in Italy?’ you can answer, ‘Yes, that was Oscar, we are absolutely sure.’””

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink (pp. 45-47). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

I don’t know if my “gut instinct” when it comes to identifying the Clinton/Dem spin attacks and smear campaigns launching in the media and their endless corrupt political power plays has more to do with Gladwell’s  “thinking without thinking” concept,  coup d’oeil or is more akin to Gavin DeBecker’s, The Gift of Fear, after surviving  the Clinton’s ruthlessness during impeachment in 1998…

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Color me a skeptic

Last week in a comment, I mentioned the ProPublica report, FIGHT THE SHIP: Death and valor on a warship doomed by its own Navy, written by T. Christian Miller, Megan Rose and Robert Faturechi.  This report contains a detailed narrative about the USS Fitzgerald collision with a cargo ship on June 17, 2017.  This report has generated a lot of online commentary.

Here are two takes from War on the Rocks: THE FITZGERALD COLLISION: IN SEARCH OF THE ONUS, by Bryan McGrath and (MORAL) HAZARDS TO NAVIGATION AT SEA, by Doyle Hodges.

ProPublica has a 2nd installment to the USS Fitzgerald report: YEARS OF WARNINGS, THEN DEATH AND DISASTER: How the Navy failed its sailors, written by Robert Faturechi, Megan Rose, and T. Christian Miller.

I don’t know anything about naval operations, so the War on the Rocks articles provided added context for me on how to begin to assess what happened.  Despite all of the larger Navy problems, on that shift, it seemed to me like just basic navigational procedures weren’t followed.  It also struck me that beyond any mechanical/technical issues, that with adequate communication by the officer in charge with her subordinates, this collision likely could have been avoided.  She didn’t communicate with her subordinates at all.  All of that shift’s failures likely speak to larger issues of how the Navy trains, mans, and operates, but in my mind, the question is did the officer in charge know what the basic safety protocols were and why on earth didn’t she communicate with her shift?

Large system failures often become obvious as more smaller system failures happen repeatedly.  The debate over accountability in my mind runs to holding those directly in charge on the ship accountable for that smaller system failure that cost the lives of 7 sailors.  However, the Navy, in light of these other serious mishaps, needs to tackle a serious institutionalize accountability and more importantly, a dedicated effort to fix the larger institutional problems.

Too often the high-ranking decision makers, whose poor leadership and planning caused the training and manning problems, end up being left in place to police themselves, leading to a cyclical bad PR incidents, then endless reports, followed by endless rounds of demands for “accountability”.   A few scalps down the chain of command will be offered up to appease the “accountability” gods, but often the top brass, who created most of the large system problems, remain in power and unscathed.

Yep, color me a skeptic when it comes to “accountability” at the highest levels on the U.S. military… or  anywhere else at the top levels of the federal government.

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About rumor control

Part 1.  Some Thoughts On Rumor Control

I’m going to break this post into two parts, offering some thoughts on rumor control and a couple of links, one which deals with rumor control from a governmental effort standpoint and the other which explains rumor control from a Christian viewpoint, but can easily be useful to anyone trying to deal with gossip, rumors and spin overload in their lives.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how there seems to be an almost complete absence or concern about the importance of rumor control by our elected leaders and among the hordes of SPIN wizards fueling our scorched earth SPIN information war, flaming across American media. I suspect most of our political leaders have no clue about how damaging whispering campaigns, smear campaigns and ramping up divisiveness can be to our national character and the morale of the American people.

Without wading into too many details, during Desert Storm, my husband, a career soldier, was assigned to a unit in Germany, that deployed from Germany to the Gulf.  The Army had thousands of families living in Germany.  One of the things I learned, first-hand, from that experience of being in a foreign country with many frightened wives and children is that rumors and panic spread like wildfire.

Rumors around the Army are a constant problem and the Army makes rumor control a command responsibility, because some rumors can cause confusion, dissension, and negatively impact morale.  Rumors can have a devastating effect on the soldiers’ trust in their leadership.  Ditto that for negative rumors about our elected leaders.   Rumors in wartime can be extremely dangerous and damaging to national unity.

As rumors spread, panic quickly blew way out of proportion among many wives during Desert Storm.  Due to the concerns about possible terrorist attacks against American family members in Germany,  extraordinary security measures were put in place by the U.S. military, working with German officials.  Once our husbands deployed to the Gulf, some of those extra security measures raised fears among many young wives.  Our husbands going off to war also elevated fears, but along with that, the endless stream of rumors was an everyday source of  fueling the wives gossip chain and fear.  The endless stream of rumors is part of life around the Army, likewise the even crazier stream of rumors among wives, unfamiliar with the Army, became off-the-chain at times during Desert Storm.

Three of our kids were in elementary school and our youngest was still at home.  I can’t remember exactly if it was one bomb threat or two that occurred at their school, but I remember there was also a bomb threat at a nearby military installation at the PX too.

Talking to the wife of my husband’s battalion commander, who was a teacher at that school, she related the chaos of trying to keep control of the children, as mothers from the nearby military housing area rushed to the school to grab their children.  We lived in leased government housing in a German village several miles away, so my kids came home on the school bus after the bomb threat.  I asked my kids what happened, because I’d already heard about it via other wives calling me.  My kids were pretty nonchalant about the bomb threat.   What happened to incite panic even more with Army wives was that many of them relied on neighbors or friends, who were operating off the latest feverish rumors.  Often around the Army, there were young wives, unfamiliar with the Army and very distrustful of the Army, in general.  They were most vulnerable to the devastating effect of rumors run amok.  Crazy stories exploded with those bomb threats, but I heard plenty of other crazy stories (rumors) from wives.

The Army also left some soldiers in Germany to manage the rear detachment operations.

The Army had set up a family support system relying mostly on leaders’  wives to organize it and run it.  Often wives called me for information, because my husband was the first sergeant, the senior NCO, in the company and his company commander was single, so I was the volunteer family support leader for the company.  An odd rumor I remember was a wife, who was German, called me and she was convinced the Army was not giving her husband water in the Gulf and she wanted to know how she could send him water.  I tried to reassure her that the Army needed her husband to be able to fight and would do everything possible to make sure he had water and food.  Many times, I noticed that I heard about a hysterical wife, worked up about a rumor, from other wives calling me and telling me about her, before the hysterical wife even called me.  Often those other wives were calling me to make sure the rumor wasn’t true.  It was a frequent occurrence to get calls that were about rumors run amok.

This past week’s insane media hysteria with our escalating scorched earth SPIN information war and the Buzzfeed story, followed by the Mueller team pushback,  made me think of that Desert Storm experience with rumors.

I also remembered a study, The Psychology of Rumor, I had heard mentioned various times in reading.  I had never read the actual study, which was conducted by two Harvard psychology professors, Gordon W. Allport and Leo Postman, after WWII.  A quick google search and I located the study available free online.  I’ve been reading through this study about rumors, in general, and then more specifically rumors in wartime.  They divided  rumors into several different categories, for instance fear rumors were common, as were wish rumors about events people were yearning for, like the end of the war.  They also identified the most damaging type of rumors as wedge drivers, which were rumors maligning certain groups in society or inciting hate.

I also have been thinking about a book, Stopping Words That Hurt:Positive Words In A World Gone Negative, by Dr. Michael D. Sedler, which I read a few years ago.  This book is written from a Christian perspective, but honestly is very sound advice on how to work to stop  “evil reporting” in your life:

“Evil report: When an individual maliciously injures, damages or discredits another’s reputation or character through the use of words or attitude.

If the intent is to hurt another person’s reputation, we must examine our motives.”

Sedler, Dr. Michael D.. Stopping Words That Hurt: Positive Words in a World Gone Negative (p. 16). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

Dr. Sedler offers many fascinating Biblical examples of “evil reporting,” but also many everyday examples, that we all encounter.  One of the things to consider in Sedler’s advice is he counsels that people work to not only stop being bearers of  “evil reporting”, but to work to stop even listening to “evil reporting”.  Pretty simple advice, but much harder to practice in our tabloid culture.

This book has been edited and republished under a different title, What To Do When Words Get Ugly.

Our SPIN information war thrives on spreading wedge driver rumors and “evil reporting”.

 

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Trump the Builder & our Syria Policy

The truth matters.

Thinking about America’s “big picture” strategy, first I’m going to meander on about America’s War on Terror a bit and then pivot to the “little picture” homegrown “Trump problems”, which in the end are probably way more important to America than our regional strategy in the Mid-East.

President Trump did not cause America’s failures in the War on Terror.  America’s foreign policy experts, on both sides of the aisle, have made plenty of disastrous strategic mistakes in America’s endless War on Terror, since 2001.   Our extreme partisan Trump Hysterics United echo chamber in the media makes it difficult, for these foreign policy experts to concede this fact, but it’s the truth.

The people who did formulate and carry-out these policies that failed, came from both sides of the political aisle, in previous administrations.   Some of them now are the loudest Trump critics, while at the same time refusing to admit their own policies failed.  In the spirit of the season, it’s also only right to concede that they acted with good intentions to do what they believed was best for America.

Thinking back over my many angry and scathing blog posts about Obama administration decisions, made in the heady, High-On-Arab-Spring delusions days, that’s quite a big concession, considering how disgusted I was by their massive media “narrative-writing” efforts to sugarcoat American strategic blunders and their refusal to admit mistakes and failures.  To this day, many of the loudest Trump critics, who underwrote failed Bush and Obama era foreign policy, still determinedly spin their failures as successes.

For many years, I’ve believed we should completely rethink our War on Terror, expand our focus to be more about regional stability and less about a myopic fixation on killing Islamic radical terrorists.  By turning American interests into strictly destroying Al Qaeda, Inc. we’ve overlooked many other key American interests in the region and we’ve allowed ourselves to get stuck on repeating failed approaches, over and over and over.

Even more alarming, in our zeal to invest more in military options rather than other tools of American power, we’ve failed to weigh the real damage grinding down our military, decades of endless war has wrought on our military readiness.  We’ve been so used to believing our military is invincible, that American policymakers too often grab for a military option, without even considering how that option might impact bigger picture American strategic issues.

It’s easy to get lost in Trump outrage spin cycles, just like many conservatives (myself included), often got lost in the Obama outrage spin cycles, but the real strategic issue America needs to deal with is we need a larger regional strategy that bolsters American national interests.  That’s how I began thinking about the late General William Odom last night, even as my ire simmered at how President Trump went about handling his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.   The above video of General Odom is worth watching and thinking about.

America needs a new regional strategy to deal with the Mid-East and the umbrella of Sharia-inspired terrorists, like Al Qaeda and ISIS, regardless who is in the Oval Office.

There are many larger foreign policy strategic problems that might be fall-out from the “how” Trump operates, but in my view, the greatest problem remains, not just Trump, but our, by any means necessary,  2016 scorched earth SPIN information war, that has destabilized and corrupted both political parties and most especially the media, both FOX News and the mainstream media.

Trump might be an indiscriminate flamethrower, but he isn’t the only one intent on using SPIN info war guerrilla warfare.   The constant no holds barred smear campaigns, character assassination attacks and orchestrated disinformation attacks on the American people provide an open information warfare battlefield for America’s adversaries to easily operate at fueling American divides, without ever having to deploy a single military unit to American soil.

The entire Syria mess has been so mired in spin lies, that it’s hard to figure out what is going on in Syria and what our mission even is in Syria.

I didn’t believe we should get involved in the Syrian hot mess, despite the ISIS threat, the larger humanitarian refugee crisis, or the “Assad the Butcher” arguments ( all of which had some validity).  The “how” U.S. involvement would help advance U.S. national interests and how the lessons learned about problems from our previous regime change efforts would be avoided in a Syria intervention never made any sense to me.

After Russia took action in Syria to prop up Assad, the U.S. involvement chorus morphed into competing discordant parts.  The arming “Syrian Moderates Rebels” delusions set the stage for more delusions about how removing ISIS from Raqqa was the key to destroying ISIS and somehow that would lead to stability in Syria, that removing ISIS was the key to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and then for good measure there was the larger strategic argument about how getting involved in Syria would help deter Russian and Iranian regional dominance.

None of the arguments ever made much sense to me, as part of a larger regional stability strategy… probably because I don’t think we ever had a big picture strategy.  We have a bullet point presentation of talking points strategy.  Islamist terrorist groups quickly relocate, regroup, rearm, and rebrand.  Assad and the Russians had effectively broken the Syrian rebels.  I wondered how we would deter Iranians in Syria when we hadn’t figured out how to deter the Iranian-backed militias in Baghdad from increasing their influence in the Baghdad government, which vast amounts of American money and thousands of precious American lives went into nursing into existence and bolstering.

How Trump went about this decision will likely lead to damage to America’s relationship with our allies and he does operate like a one-man wrecking ball to our international system, which many of his supporters will cheer on, just like they cheered on his “GOP Insurgency”, asserting the GOP deserved to be burned to the ground.

The problem with Trump, the touted “Builder” is he seems particularly uninterested in the most important part of any building, whether a Trump Tower or a new political movement.  He prefers to stay ensconced in his ivory tower mean tweeting his “enemies, than he does in building a solid foundation for his new GOP or his MAGA effort.

I remember the conservative fainting couch reactions to President Obama’s clashes with the generals, because I spent a good deal of time blogging while prostrate on my own fainting couch.   I’m trying not to get too worked up about Trump’s impulsive Syria decision, although the difference seems, to me at least, that  Obama was prone to foot-dragging and kicking the can down the road, rather than making tough decisions.  Trump, on the other hand, makes impulsive decisions based on “his gut”…

In my view, President Trump prefers being the one-man show in his MAGA circular firing squad.  He takes aim at people in his own administration,  America’s intelligence agencies, the FBI, Congressional Republicans, the media and now – General Mattis.  His ammo is low-grade, scattershot mean tweets and petty name-calling.  His attacks on General Mattis will likely lead to dissension within the top levels of the Pentagon and his “playing his own team against each other antics ” could create some dangerous confusion and distrust at the highest levels of the American chain of command.

That’s way more worrying to me than whether we pull out of Syria.  He was tweeting late last night:

President of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria….and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right “next door.” Our troops are coming home!

He’s trusting his good friend, Erdogan, and today he’s on a twitter rant, taking wild pot shots at his assorted “enemies” (Americans whom he thinks have personally wronged him).  What he isn’t doing is studying policy or strategy  or working on a better big picture strategy for America in the ME, after we pull out of Syria and he isn’t working to build any sort of foundation of support for his domestic agenda.

It’s hard to envision any sort of regional ME strategy developing in an administration where the POTUS gets more energized waging war against his own cabinet than he does reading anything about foreign policy.   His strategic depth really is his simplistic “killing ISIS family members to scare ISIS fighters into submission plan”, which he doubled-down on during the 2016 primary.  He believes that was a brilliant strategy, so expecting him to grasp a larger regional strategy is hopeless…  Trump also isn’t going to hire the best people and seems to struggle keeping any competent people.  He isn’t going to do anything other than foment more chaos and be an endless, one-man show circular firing squad.

You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, but often some unexpected things grow from manure piles.  When I was a kid, in the summer time we used to sit on the flat roof of our rabbit coop, which was 3 or so feet high.  Often we’d eat watermelon slices perched there and spit the seeds toward the nearby pile of rabbit manure.  Many summers, that manure pile was covered with robust watermelon plants that sent out long runners, which produced lots of watermelons.

Perhaps, we should all be trying to spit out as many good policy seeds toward the Trump manure pile and hope some sprout and grow…

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Stolen valor

When it comes to American national security strategy, it’s important to weigh strategic decisions through a “big picture/little picture” lens.   Even if pulling out of these long, seemingly unwinnable conflicts in the Muslim world makes sense, how we pull out matters even more to America’s larger strategic interests in the rest of the world.

Part of being a leader of large alliances, that America spent a century of blood and treasure building, entails bolstering the TRUST needed to sustain these alliances that have helped keep America and much of the world safe, free and prosperous.  President Trump not only made the decision to pull-out of Syria, he pulled the rug out from under America’s leadership role in the free world.

He did not consult America’s top military leaders before announcing the decision.

He did not bother to consult or inform America’s closest allies, who have committed troops to our effort in the Middle East too.

The larger damage to America is not only about the crippling of American efforts in that region, it’s the bulldozer effect damage his one-man show decisions inflict on America’s alliances around the world.  He is a one-man wrecking ball to the Western world order.

President Trump’s precipitous withdrawal from Syria won’t improve America’s national security, won’t bolster American leadership cred and it won’t put an end to America’s problem of Islamic terrorists attacking America and American interests.

America’s “War On Terror” has been failing for many years.  The linchpin mission end of defeating Al Qaeda has not been achieved.  The sub-strategic ends, like denying safe havens to terrorists or the massive investment in regime change, have proved to be failures in some cases and extremely costly in terms of, not only money, but in American lives and erosion of our own military might, due to endless military deployments to sustain these missions.  Despite our best efforts, jihadist terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, still remain defiant, functional, and determined to fight on.

Good intentions motivated the dedicated people who formed these strategies, and many of the military leaders have spent years deployed, acquiring first-hand knowledge of this war.  Good intentions have not produced a sustainable victory for America.

Without wading into Islamic extremism debates on whether jihadist terrorist represent true Islam or not, here’s another approach to viewing  this.   Islamic terrorists always had enough home-grown support to sustain their groups, to regenerate after devastating losses, and even more ominous to our goal to defeat them, they have a remarkable ability to network across continents and pop up under newly minted names, with new leaders, fresh fighters, money and arms.  They’re fighting with their minds committed to impose an ancient religious theology on the world, while at the same time mastering flexible, mobile, and very lethal military operations using modern information/communication technology, international money operations, and often creative improvised weaponry.

Overlaying the Islamic terrorism challenge, America faced a complex strategic challenge trying to figure out how to find our own long-term strategic ends in the region, pulled between the centuries old power struggle between Shia and Sunni powers, dealing with NATO ally, Turkey’s lurch toward fundamentalism, and finding ways to work with assorted corrupt and/or autocratic regimes, whose human rights abuses run counter to our values, but whose strategic importance was vital to our mission.

Our own partisan spin war often undercut and trivialized the complex strategic challenges to defeating Al  Qaeda and threat from Islamic terrorists.  Accompanying our military efforts in the “War On Terror” (heck, even the names makes this point), our endless domestic word battles in America about whether calling them “Islamic” terrorists would be the magic bullet to fell them and the endless encapsulating our war efforts into catchphrases masquerading as strategy often did more to defeat a unified commitment to our military effort and impeded our military efforts.

The selling of catchphrases as strategy has no greater supporter than President Donald J. Trump, whose understanding of American foreign policy and U.S military policy comes from TV punditry SPIN.  He doesn’t study anything, except TV, Twitter and news articles his minions try to get him to read.  He does not read his policy briefs and he does not believe his intelligence briefs.  Instead, he does listen to various friends and his pet pundits, whom he calls for advice, but in the end he is someone, who in his own words, “They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me”.  

President Trump said ISIS is defeated in Syria – a lie.  He said General Mattis is retiring – a masking of General Mattis’ resignation.  He reached a new low in using American soldiers as stage props,  – he stole the valor of dead soldiers trying to manipulate the American people and American soldiers into supporting his decision, claiming soldiers who died would support his decision.  And he lied when he said that his decision has widespread support among the U.S. military.

I could go on and on about what a disastrous leader of American foreign policy or pathetic excuse of a Commander-In-Chief President Trump is, but suffice it to say this man who trusts his gut, continually displays through his shameless, lying words and actions, that he is not only an emperor without clothes… he’s a gutless wonder, who tries to shield himself from media criticism using the valor of dead American soldiers.

That’s his crystalline defining comment about exactly who he is.  He stole the valor of dead soldiers to sell his crappy spin.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, General Interest, Military, Politics

Another Russian ramble

Here’s a timely link to a NATO Defense College publication: Handbook of Russian Information Warfare,  which I saw in a tweet yesterday.  In America, a great deal of fear mongering substitutes for actual understanding of the Russian information warfare strategies and how the Russians view information warfare in their overall military strategic operations.

The Russian approach to information warfare seems to both terrify and mystify many American policymakers and journalists.  The key, I think, relies on wrapping your mind around the Russian’s reliance on reflexive control, which this handbook explains in easy to understand terms.

Here’s a quick explanation of  reflexive control from a Small Wars Journal article written by Ronald Sprang:

“The second modern Russian theoretical concept is reflexive control. Reflexive control is applied as a means to interfere and manipulate an opponent’s decision-making cycle. It can target human decision making and organizational decision-making systems and processes. Reflexive control can also be applied through automated systems and digital mission command architecture. Reflexive control is “a means of conveying to a partner or an opponent specially prepared information to incline him to voluntarily make the predetermined decision desired by the initiator of the action.”[x] One of the goals of reflexive control is the temporary slowdown of the adversary’s tempo and operational level decision making process.[xi] This adjustment in tempo creates windows of opportunity for Russian exploitation of changes in tempo and potential opponent decisions that shape the operational level forces into the overall Russian operational design and approach.”

http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/russian-operational-art-new-type-warfare-and-reflexive-control

To explain how the Russians approach to information warfare developed requires going back further in Russian history than the Soviet era, I think.  The Russian state secret police dates back to 1565, when Ivan the Terrible formed the Oprichnina.

Recently, I began watching the Amazon Prime Russian TV series, Ekaterina, about the life of Catherine the Great,  which originally aired on Russia 1 TV, a few years ago.   My Russian vocabulary consists of only a dozen or so words these days, having forgotten most of what I learned in two years of high school Russian class, but thankfully this series has English subtitles.  The series emphasizes the endless palace intrigue, the imperial scheming of Empress Elizabeth of Russia and especially the machinations of the secret police.  Elizabeth had seized the crown in a coup d’etat, having the infant heir to the throne, Ivan VI,  imprisoned for his entire life.

This long history of Russian state secret police and the Russian people being culturally indoctrinated to the supreme power of the state to control their lives, to invade their privacy at will, and to basically monitor all of their activities has been the norm since medieval times.  I’ve written about this before on my blog, in a 2016 blog post, The War of Words (Part 2):

I have been thinking a great deal about what I consider cultural DNA, with how peoples the world over develop patterns of behavior ( culture) that endure, despite the changes in government.  In fact, the people’s behavior determines how long and how much control they will tolerate from their government, to maintain the status quo and social order.

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Above: My copy of “Letters from Russia.  To the right is a folk-art wooden container my son brought back from Russia, painted in a Russian folk art style called Khohkloma.

Thinking about what to write in this Part 2 post, I ordered a book, which I had read about a long while back, that explains the Russian cultural DNA, a few years after Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to America.  That cultural DNA still persists in Russia today.  The book is “Letters from Russia” and like de Tocqueville’s, “Democracy in America”, the book on Russia was written by another French nobleman, Astolphe de Custine.  Although his trip to Russia in 1839 was only three months long,  he captured life in Russia under the despot, Czar Nicholas I, in such prescient, stark detail, that historians still study his letters.  His book was banned by both, Czar Nicholas I and the Bolsheviks, who didn’t much like Custine’s letters.  I can relate, heck, my posts on the Excite message boards in 1998 evoked quite a response too and there I was fighting hordes of new posters who showed up to take over the boards with the Clinton talking points……… hummm, I likened them to being like Genghis Khan.

In their own words these two French nobleman present their opinions on the cultural DNA differences between a people who accept rulers and a people who don’t.  In 1996, renowned journalist, Steven Erlanger, wrote a NY Times piece on Custine’s book, that gives you Custine in his own words.  Here’s a short excerpt:

“In Russia, everything you notice, and everything that happens around you, has a terrifying uniformity; and the first thought that comes into the traveler’s mind, as he contemplates this symmetry, is that such entire consistency and regularity, so contrary to the natural inclination of mankind, cannot have been achieved and could not survive without violence. . . . Officially, such brutal tyranny is called respect for unity and love of order; and this bitter fruit of despotism appears so precious to the methodical mind that you are told it cannot be purchased at too high a price.

Faced with the pervasiveness of the secret police and the immensity of the bureaucracy, Custine at first is shocked. He sees the dead weight that these hordes of state employees place on Russia, and their own dehumanization.

Among Russian officials, attention to detail is quite compatible with disorganization. They go to a great deal of trouble to achieve some petty end, never satisfed that they have done enough to demonstrate their zeal. Consequently, in this rivalry between employees, one formality does not guarantee the foreigner against another. It is like a pillaging army: because the traveler has passed through the hands of one regiment, this does not prevent him from meeting another, or a third, and each of these bands spaced out along his route vies with the last in harassing him.”

http://www.nytimes.com/1996/06/16/weekinreview/word-for-word-marquis-de-custine-long-ago-look-russia-so-what-else-new.html?pagewanted=all

Interestingly, in the introduction to “Letters from Russia”, editor, Anka Muhlstein,  presents the bulls-eye de Tocqueville quote on the difference between America and Russia:

“There are on earth today two great peoples who, having started from different points, seem to be advancing towards the same end: they are the Russians and the Anglo-Americans.  They both grew up in darkness and whilst Europeans were busy elsewhere, they suddenly placed themselves in the forefront of nations, and the world learned at almost the same time of their births and their greatness

All other nations seem, more or less, to have reached the limits nature has assigned to them and within which they now need only to remain, but those two are still growing…. America is struggling against obstacles of nature,; Russia against men…. The principal means of action for the one is liberty, for the other servitude.”

Letters from Russia, by Astolphe de Custine, edited and with an introduction by Anka Muhlstein, page ix of the introduction.

America is the only place on earth that broke that mold completely and set up a government meant for the people to have control over the government and for the individual’s rights to be paramount.

We are a nation built by free-thinking and free-acting citizens.

The Russian/American “cultural DNA” dichotomy precludes many American analysts from easily grasping the Russian’s dependence on “reflexive control”,  but looking at it from another angle helps.  The Russians don’t have the military might to rely predominantly on military force to achieve their geopolitical aspirations, but they have centuries of experience developing vast spy networks, compiling massive information operations and for engaging in using psychological operations to exert control over factions inside Russia and in their foreign policy.

Americans, on the other hand, understand military force as the way America fights its enemies.  Although we have the most sophisticated technological means to gather information; we just don’t seem to be very adept at developing a comprehensive strategy to utilize information for information warfare operations.

However, America’s partisans, colluding with sympathetic media, have been waging sophisticated SPIN information warfare against each other and against the American people since the early 90s.  Perhaps our military and intel information experts might at some point realize that the Russians are working to fuel the extreme American partisanship, by fanning the flames of our own domestic scorched earth SPIN information war.

Ending the American scorched earth SPIN information war would be a giant blow to the Russians’ info war operations in America.

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Military readiness report raises serious concerns

I read this NBC News article today, U.S. military in ‘crisis,’ could lose a war to Russia and China, report warns,

which strikes a pretty ominous tone:

“U.S. military superiority is no longer assured and the implications for American interests and American security are severe,” said the report, which was issued by the National Defense Strategy Commission, an independent agency whose board is appointed by the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

The report concludes that the Defense Department isn’t financially or strategically set up to wage two wars at once and could even lose a war against China or Russia individually.

“The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict,” it said.”

For easy access, the 116-page report is embedded on the page of the article.

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Veterans Day thoughts

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”   — Dale Carnegie

November 11th is Veterans Day.  All day today, I thought about writing a blog post, but instead I worked on some craft stuff, tweeted a bit (to my regret) and I moped around thinking about my mother.  Twitter got me riled, because of the endless Trump spin hysteria about Trump not attending a WWI ceremony yesterday.  By the time John Kerry was tweeting, attacking President Trump, I lost it and tweeted about Kerry’s foreign policy failure with Kerry thanking Iran for releasing our sailors they had captured and then Iran turned around and released demoralizing propaganda videos and photos of our sailors.  Kerry and the mainstream media went with the White House spin that it was new era in diplomacy and a great ending…

For someone like me, who finds President Trump’s conduct totally unacceptable much of the time, the way the Dems and media run these hysterical spin attacks, disgusts me more than Trump does.  Of course, President Trump should have attended that WWI ceremony on Saturday, unless he was too ill to attend.  The Dem/media spin feeding frenzy, attacking Trump, continued from Saturday all through today.  I tweeted some comments about how President Trump has a ways to go to match some of the Clinton or Obama outrages when it comes to the military… like Somalia, Benghazi, selling Bergdahl the “war hero” and of course our sailors on their knees.  I believe that is the truth too, but at the same time, yes, I regret tweeting while ticked off and I really wish I had stuck to just ignoring the hysterical spin and tweeting dignified stuff today.  President Trump would do better, if he just ignored the media spin and focused more on doing his job and behaving in a dignified manner. And I, too, need to try to follow my own advice and avoid the mean comments

November 11th was also my late mother’s birthday.  She passed away in 2001, but certain times of the year, the loss becomes painful and raw.  Thankfully, I can remember all of the wonderful things about my mother, like her complete dedication to our family and even smile at how completely organized and disciplined she was about everything she did.  My mother would have been an outstanding drill sergeant in the military.  I’ve written many times about my mother, so for today, I’ll stick to some interesting links I’ve found pertaining to commemorating WWI, which got a lot of media attention this year, with it being the WWI  Centennial Commemoration and also a few other military related links.

The Army Center of Military History put out some fairly short videos (under 15 minutes) on the history of WWI, with a lot of actual photos and film footage:

The UK National Archives has a large collection of war letters, where you can see the actual letter and the text is also provided, so you don’t have to struggle to decipher handwriting. Here’s the link for the WWI collection: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/letters-first-world-war-1915/

Nick Gillespie, at Reason wrote, a short piece worth a read:

Instead of Making Today About Trump, Let’s Remember the Dead of World War I

Gillespie’s piece has a link to Rudyard Kipling’s poems, Epitaphs of the War, which speak to the horrors and massive losses of WWI.

At Military.com, Service to This Country: A Lifetime Oath, written by a former Marine Corps veteran, Sean Mclain Brown, struck me as a very personal and heartfelt Veterans Day message, with advice we can all take to heart. Brown writes:

“Marine Corps combat veteran and CEO of Team Rubicon Jake Wood once told me that civilians “don’t understand the culture and daily sacrifices that veterans make” and that it’s our responsibility to help “educate them by sharing our stories.” I agree. We need to move beyond the casual “thank you for your service” and move toward “can you tell me about your service?” to help bridge that gap between the military and civilian worlds.”

And last, at the end of November, last year, I wrote a blog post, “A few leaves of grass” for remembrance, which came to mind thinking about WWI today.  Here’s part of that post:

I keep War Letters:  Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, edited by Andrew Carroll, on a small table by my recliner.  A few years ago, I mentioned General Pershing’s famous WWI letter to his young son, Warren, which I came across in this book.   General Pershing’s letter to his son was a father explaining the important values Americans fights to protect and preserve.  It’s probably my favorite letter in the book, but a close second is a letter written in 1918,  by Maude B. Fisher, an American Red Cross nurse.  She penned one of the most touching letters to Mrs. Hogan, the mother of a young soldier, Richard Hogan, who died of influenza in their hospital.  This wonderful nurse took the time to pen a very personal letter, so that a grieving mother would know how her son died.  The letter includes details of how brave and cheerful the dying soldier was, the care he received, and even more than that this nurse wrote the details of the soldier’s burial:

“He was laid to rest in the little cemetery of Commercy, and sleeps under a simple wooden cross among his comrades who, like him, have died for their country.  His grave number is 22, plot 1.  His aluminum identification tag is on the cross , and a similar one around his neck, both bearing his serial number, 2793346.

The plot of the grave in the cemetery where your son is buried was given to the Army for our boys and the people of Commercy will always tend it with loving hands and keep it fresh and clean.  I enclose here a few leaves of grass that grows near in a pretty meadow.

A big hill overshadows that place and the sun was setting behind it just as the Chaplain said the last prayer over your boy.”

page 171, War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, edited by Andrew Carroll

No one required this nurse to write to this grieving mother, because the Army notified fallen soldiers’ families, but she cared enough to want this mother to have more details.  The book offers a few details about each letter.  Mrs. Hogan lost two of her other children back home in Woburn, Massachusetts, during the 1918 influenza epidemic.  It must have been a great comfort for her to know her son far away was dutifully cared for as he lay dying and that he was given a proper burial.  And imagine her relief knowing exactly where her son was buried.

Thoughtful good deeds, like Maude Fisher’s, used to be very common when most people were reared to put other people before themselves and when quietly doing the right thing was drilled into children and served as the cultural norm

And with that I’ll end this post and hopefully we can all say a prayer tonight for all our brave men and women serving all over the world and for hope to guide our country through these troubled times.

 

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Beyond Little Women

On November 1st Brad Thor tweeted, “Happy #NationalAuthorsDay everyone.”  He also attached a quote:

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.

– Richard Bach

Brad Thor is another author on my “need to read some of his novels” list, since the spy novel genre is one I do enjoy.  Don’t have any explanation for why I haven’t read any of his novels yet, but I’m moving him up on my reading list.

I admire successful writers.  For decades my writing dream has centered on writing historical romance novels, not the usual lofty aspiration of penning the next great American novel.  Of course, since I have yet to apply myself to actually writing any historical romance, my dream assuredly won’t ever come true, lol.  I hesitantly and with great trepidation began writing this blog in 2012 and thus far, that’s the extent of my writing effort.

I also admire great storytellers and I’ve met many entertaining storytellers in my life.  My great-grandmother, with her third grade education and very heavy PA Dutch accent was a gifted storyteller.  As a child I loved to sit and listen to her oft-told stories of  “when I was a young girl” or “life on the farm”.  She had a knack for using her voice to create sound effects to invoke the setting of her story, using her hands as an extension of her voice and a great sense of pacing her stories to hold your interest.  I wish I had jotted down some of her stories.

Sometimes I’ve met wonderful storytellers in doctor’s waiting rooms or even at informal gatherings.  My husband had one group of  friends when he was in the 82nd Airborne, who would often hang out at our house on weekends in the early 1980s.  These three guys would tell stories and jokes, that were more entertaining than whatever movie or show they had  playing on TV in the background.  The more they drank, the more hilarious their stories became, to the point that, me, the only one not drinking, was laughing hysterically like I was the one who was three sheets to the wind.

Last week, while browsing through my hundreds of unread and, um, mostly unopened free classics saved on my kindle, I decided to try Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott.   Alcott based the sketches on her short experience as a Civil War nurse in a makeshift hospital in Washington.  Considering the setting and subject matter, I began reading with a bit of foreboding.  Alcott did relate plenty of heart wrenching scenes, horrific injuries, primitive medical procedures, and the ever-increasing number of deaths, but along with that she added inspirational vignettes, witty observations and hilarious anecdotes.  I didn’t expect to laugh out loud reading about a Civil War hospital.

At only 60 pages, Hospital Sketches is a very quick read, but it’s enough to give you a taste of Alcott’s wicked sense of humor.   Around the Army, I found food was always a hot topic for dissection and ridicule, even though in all honesty I drew the winning ticket in the Army food lottery, during my short time in the Army.  I was sent to Fort Dix, NJ in 1979 for basic training,  My mother understandably, considering she had no familiarity with Army life, beyond TV and movies, worried that I would wither away having to eat horrible food, so she started sending care packages with homemade cookies and such.  I told her to desist, since we weren’t allowed to have that – just our mess hall food.

Actually, my Fort Dix mess hall food, being part of my winning ticket in the Army food lottery, was excellent for institution food.  I kept reassuring my mother in letters and calls that the food is very good and being one who really likes to eat, I had to worry about putting on weight, even in basic training.  When my parents came to Fort Dix for my basic training graduation, there was a food spread in the mess hall for graduates and their families.  My mother’s eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw a table with desserts and fruit choices replete with a fancy ice sculpture in the middle.  It was really quite impressive.  Fort Dix was where the Army trained Army cooks.  My first duty station in Germany, again, a very good mess hall and luckily for all of us, we even got some hot chow, that was tasty and plentiful,  when we went on field training exercises.

Here’s poor Louisa May Alcott’s recounting of the food during her Civil War nursing experience:

“For a day or two I managed to appear at meals; for the human grub must eat till the butterfly is ready to break loose, and no one had time to come up two flights while it was possible for me to come down. Far be it from me to add another affliction or reproach to that enduring man, the steward; for, compared with his predecessor, he was a horn of plenty; but—I put it to any candid mind—is not the following bill of fare susceptible of improvement, without plunging the nation madly into debt? The three meals were “pretty much of a muchness,” and consisted of beef, evidently put down for the men of ’76; pork, just in from the street; army bread, composed of saw-dust and saleratus; butter, salt as if churned by Lot’s wife; stewed blackberries, so much like preserved cockroaches, that only those devoid of imagination could partake thereof with relish; coffee, mild and muddy; tea, three dried huckleberry leaves to a quart of water—flavored with lime—also animated and unconscious of any approach to clearness. Variety being the spice of life, a small pinch of the article would have been appreciated by the hungry, hard-working sisterhood, one of whom, though accustomed to plain fare, soon found herself reduced to bread and water; having an inborn repugnance to the fat of the land, and the salt of the earth.

Another peculiarity of these hospital meals was the rapidity with which the edibles vanished, and the impossibility of getting a drop or crumb after the usual time. At the first ring of the bell, a general stampede took place; some twenty hungry souls rushed to the dining-room, swept over the table like a swarm of locusts, and left no fragment for any tardy creature who arrived fifteen minutes late. Thinking it of more importance that the patients should be well and comfortably fed, I took my time about my own meals for the first day or two after I came, but was speedily enlightened by Isaac, the black waiter, who bore with me a few times, and then informed me, looking as stern as fate:

“I say, mam, ef you comes so late you can’t have no vittles,—’cause I’m ‘bleeged fer ter git things ready fer de doctors ‘mazin’ spry arter you nusses and folks is done. De gen’lemen don’t kere fer ter wait, no more does I; so you jes’ please ter come at de time, and dere won’t be no frettin’ nowheres.”

It was a new sensation to stand looking at a full table, painfully conscious of one of the vacuums which Nature abhors, and receive orders to right about face, without partaking of the nourishment which your inner woman clamorously demanded. The doctors always fared better than we; and for a moment a desperate impulse prompted me to give them a hint, by walking off with the mutton, or confiscating the pie. But Ike’s eye was on me, and, to my shame be it spoken, I walked meekly away; went dinnerless that day, and that evening went to market, laying in a small stock of crackers, cheese and apples, that my boys might not be neglected, nor myself obliged to bolt solid and liquid dyspepsias, or starve. This plan would have succeeded admirably had not the evil star under which I was born, been in the ascendant during that month, and cast its malign influences even into my “‘umble” larder; for the rats had their dessert off my cheese, the bugs set up housekeeping in my cracker bag, and the apples like all worldly riches, took to themselves wings and flew away; whither no man could tell, though certain black imps might have thrown light upon the matter, had not the plaintiff in the case been loth to add another to the many trials of long-suffering Africa. After this failure I resigned myself to fate, and, remembering that bread was called the staff of life, leaned pretty exclusively upon it; but it proved a broken reed, and I came to the ground after a few weeks of prison fare, varied by an occasional potato or surreptitious sip of milk.”

Alcott, Louisa May. Hospital Sketches (pp. 38-39). . Kindle Edition.

As I was reading this book, it dawned on me that I should be well-versed on Alcott’s writing, considering I bought a 6-volume Louisa May Alcott set, somewhere in the late 70s or early 80s, I think.  Yes, of course I still have the set, but it shames me to admit that I have never read a single one of the books in this set (pictured at the top).

Of course, I googled her bio too, to refresh my memory and see what else I didn’t know about her life and work.  Like many writers and intellectuals of her time, Louisa May Alcott became an ardent abolitionist and early feminist.  Considering necessity compelled Alcott and her sisters to find employment to help the family survive, due to their father’s financial failures, she came by her convictions about fairness in education and work opportunities from a very tough school of hard knocks.  She approached her writing as a means to put food on the table.  Her other jobs included teaching, domestic work, and working as a seamstress.  Her sisters also had to work to help supplement the family income.

Alcott’s rung on the economic ladder sounds very similar to Harriet Beecher Stowe, another of those 19th century female social justice warriors, who seem cut from a more serious mold than so many of our modern version hysterical activists fixated on ridiculous pink pussy hats, online hyperventilating,  and taking to the streets to “raise awareness”  Slavery and women not even able to vote or have much legal footing in any aspect of their lives, including financial matters, education and career opportunities, ring much clearer  as causes for justice than most of our current muddled messages carried by far-left radicals.

Even with her “feminism” Alcott strikes me as a person, who was rebellious by nature and being one of those types myself, I can relate completely to her chagrin at being talked down to or treated like she was a helpless and hapless idiot.  However, here again Alcott describes herself as a pragmatist way more than a committed ideologue. He hilarious description of her fruitless quest to acquire the “free ticket”, required for transport to Washington, to report for her volunteer nursing stint reminded me of many of my own dealings with a situation where it was easier to toss the problem to a man, who cheerfully handled the situation without any fuss.

My situations weren’t difficulties acquiring a “free ticket”, but instead were always car problems that vex me, cause me a lot of anxiety and quite frankly, I don’t want to have to deal with changing tires or oil or doing diagnostics on why the engine is making that bizarre loud sound or God-forbid there’s smoke coming out from under the hood. I prefer to toss all car emergencies to the nice man at the car repair shop or the nice man who stops to take charge of changing my flat tire.  That’s just me.  Here’s Alcott’s feminism meets reality moment, after a day spent running all over the city trying to find the government man who handled doling out “free tickets” for military service transport:

“All in vain: and I mournfully turned my face toward the General’s, feeling that I should be forced to enrich the railroad company after all; when, suddenly, I beheld that admirable young man, brother-in-law Darby Coobiddy, Esq. I arrested him with a burst of news, and wants, and woes, which caused his manly countenance to lose its usual repose. “Oh, my dear boy, I’m going to Washington at five, and I can’t find the free ticket man, and there won’t be time to see Joan, and I’m so tired and cross I don’t know what to do; and will you help me, like a cherub as you are?” “Oh, yes, of course. I know a fellow who will set us right,” responded Darby, mildly excited, and darting into some kind of an office, held counsel with an invisible angel, who sent him out radiant. “All serene. I’ve got him. I’ll see you through the business, and then get Joan from the Dove Cote in time to see you off.”

I’m a woman’s rights woman, and if any man had offered help in the morning, I should have condescendingly refused it, sure that I could do everything as well, if not better, myself. My strong-mindedness had rather abated since then, and I was now quite ready to be a “timid trembler,” if necessary.

Dear me! how easily Darby did it all: he just asked one question, received an answer, tucked me under his arm, and in ten minutes I stood in the presence of Mc K., the Desired.”

Alcott, Louisa May. Hospital Sketches (pp. 8-9). . Kindle Edition.

This post has run on way longer than I intended, so by all means try some of Louisa May Alcott’s writing, beyond Little Women. 

Have a nice day!

 

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