Category Archives: Commentary

Concerning the M1911 and the FN FAL

M1911_2MAY10_02One was John Browning’s masterpiece firearm, the other was nicknamed “the right arm of the Free World” because of its nearly global presence as an answer to the Kalashnikov. Both weapons are among the most successful military firearms ever developed.

My articles at War Is Boring explore the history of the M1911 .45-caliber pistol and the Fabrique Nationale FAL 7.62x51mm battle rifle.  It’s been said that the M1911 is the best military handgun in the world not only because of its rugged reliability in the field but because of the power of its .45 ACP cartridge. (There is no denying these implements are designed to kill people efficiently.) The FAL could have been the U.S. main battle rifle of the 1950s and 1960s had not the politics of procurement and shortsightedness of military brass obstructed its adoption. Would it have been better than the M14, which fired the same NATO cartridge?  In my opinion, yes. The M14 has enjoyed a renaissance as a designated sniper’s weapon and it is great rifle. But the FAL was adopted by almost every NATO country, which means both parts and ammo would have been more readily available.

You can make up your own mind about these weapons and I hope my articles provide grist for the mill.

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War As A Masquerade

Armed men wearing military fatigues gather by Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) as they stand guard outside the regional state building seized by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 16, 2014.

Armed men wearing military fatigues gather by Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) as they stand guard outside the regional state building seized by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 16, 2014.

“Russia will invade Ukraine, probably within the next few weeks. They will annex the Crimea. From there, if they meet no resistance from the West, they will take more of the country,”
― Tom Clancy, Command Authority (2013)

Call him clairvoyant. In the last novel he published before his death, Tom Clancy predicted that Russia would move against its former satellite states. As far as Clancy was concerned, that plot element was a no-brainer. Russia, whether under the rule of Ivan the Terrible or Vladimir Putin, wants its buffer states.

However, Clancy has a key qualifier in the line from Command Authority: “… no resistance from the West … .” So far, the sternest measures the U.S. and E.U. have hurled at Putin and his regime are halfhearted sanctions that will probably disappear once winter comes and Western Europe needs Russian oil and natural gas to stay warm. There is stern language from NATO, but there is also open war with Russian paratroopers found on Ukrainian soil and a massive military force just kilometers from the border.

But most of the Russian military moves are incremental. A little here and a little there, and soon Ivan has sliced up the whole sausage. This kind of “secret war” is part of a tactic called maskirovka.  My article in today’s edition of War is Boring looks at the Russian’s recent use of maskirovka tactics and how it works to produce at least very little resistance from a distracted West.

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the U.S. Civil War

A battlefield memorial at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Paul Huard

A battlefield memorial at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Paul Huard

The issue of mental illness arising from the trauma of combat is nothing new. Homer described the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the Illiad. When Achilles’ close friend Patroclus dies in combat, Achilles cries out, “My comrade is dead, / Lying in my hut mangled with bronze, / His feet turned toward the door, and around him, / Our friends grieve.  Nothing matters to me now” and then embarks on a killing spree that is more like an attempt at suicide than warfare.  Call it what you will: “shell shock,” combat fatigue, survivor’s guilt.  PTSD is as old as history.

The U.S. Civil War was no different. While researching another topic, I stumbled across an article from The New York Times by University of Georgia graduate student Dillon Carroll on PTSD and the Civil War.

A key quote:

 Historians are beginning to uncover what was a virtual epidemic of emotional, psychological and neurological trauma that afflicted soldiers after the war. Veterans labored under emotional and psychological stress in ways that are disturbingly similar to the present. Alcoholism was rampant, as was unemployment. Suicide was endemic. Civil War veterans dotted the wards of insane asylums across the country.

Despite all the valor shown during the Civil War, despite all the worthiness of the cause, soldiers both North and South were often damaged men long after the war was finished. I see a need for historians to take a close look at what might be an untouched area of study regarding the real toll of America’s worst war. What they find will not only expand our understanding of that period of history but hopefully reinforce the current argument that the United States needs to provide better services and better outreach to a generation of combat veterans who have fought in America’s wars since 9-11.


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2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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George Washington Wishes You A Happy Thanksgiving

0903declaraFirst of all, Happy Thanksgiving to my loyal readers. There are now hundreds of you, and your genuine interest in my take on U.S. history and current events is the reason why I write. I am grateful for your support.

Secondly, George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation (1789) speaks for itself. Enjoy the Father of Our Country’s words about the Mother of All American National Holidays.

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

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The Gettysburg Address: Liberty’s Calling Card

Lincoln's ten sentences changed America.

Lincoln’s ten sentences changed America.

It is nearly impossible today to comprehend how Americans viewed their nation and their political institutions before the U.S. Civil War.

American presidents rarely spoke in public – it was considered undignified. God knows what George Washington or Thomas Jefferson would have thought of today’s chief executives attempting to curry the voters’ favor by suffering the indignities of an appearance on The Colbert Report.

Then, we were one nation, quite divisible, with liberty and justice for some. Slavery was a multi-billion-dollar-a-year labor system that made the United States the third-wealthiest country in the world. North and South, a popular view of the federal republic was it existed only as a creature surviving at the whim of the states. The states entered freely, proponents said, and they could leave freely.

In fact, on the eve of the War Between the States to many it seemed the only glue that held us together was the wealth generated by King Cotton and the blood drawn from the backs of slaves.

Yet 150 years ago on November 19, while we were engaged in a great civil war, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in public that redefined us forever. It became known as the Gettysburg Address, and it is rightly credited for performing the nearly impossible. Invited by the city fathers of Gettysburg, Penn., to offer “a few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of a new cemetery, Mr. Lincoln’s ten sentences not only summarized the meaning of the Civil War but the meaning of America. He called on Americans, then and now, to dedicate themselves to the “unfinished work” of the battle – the vindication of the principle of natural rights and human equality. Few things ever said by any American achieved so much through so few words.

Today, we think of the Gettysburg Address as an assignment for school children or verbal decoration for the marble walls of memorials. The relegation of that powerful speech to such status is as trite as it is unfortunate. It took Lincoln, a man who once said that every political sentiment he possessed sprang from the Declaration of Independence, to remind us that the central ideas of the United States are liberty and freedom. He echoed those concepts in the opening words of the address, saying we are a nation “conceived in liberty.” The “proposition” that all men – the inclusive term for humankind used in the 18th and 19th century – are created equal is a rule of nature, like Isaac Newton’s laws of physics. This was a revolutionary idea, even while the Civil War was being fought, because the Declaration stated that the laws of nature were created by God and they were inviolable. Therefore, “liberty” is protection from the arbitrary will of another. Thus, Lincoln was not only telling his audience that the war was fought for the “new birth of freedom” that would end slavery. He was telling America, even the world, the United States must survive because when we at our best our nation is the home of a political idea that expands freedom and protects its citizens from indiscriminate power used to harass and bully a people. At a time when the federal government without reasonable suspicion uses national technical resources to spy on its own citizens, when the Bill of Rights seems an inconvenience to an American president, and when the result of these and other abuses have stripped the American people of trust in their government, it is time to return the Gettysburg Address to its rightful place: Our first and best statement “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Legend has it that Mr. Lincoln was not pleased with the speech.  There is no basis in fact for that conclusion, but the address itself contains a phrase that seems to indicate that he wondered whether it would weather the test of time.  Of the many comments made about the Gettysburg Address the reflections of Sen. Charles Sumner, a man who was once nearly beaten to death by a fellow lawmaker on the Senate floor for his anti-slavery views, captures the speech’s perennial value. “(It) is a monumental act,” Sumner wrote not long after the president’s assassination. “In the modesty of his nature he said ‘the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here.’ He was mistaken. The world at once noted what he said, and will never cease to remember it.” Every American of every political stripe and all backgrounds should note the Gettysburg Address, read it, understand its meaning, and cherish its vision. It defines what we should be, now and forever: A nation of free men and women, a nation of laws, and a nation where liberty is still our birthright.

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What the Founders Would Have Thought of the Debt Crisis

For Washington, the issue of national debt was a moral question.

For Washington, the issue of national debt was a moral question.

First, a statement of historical fact: the United States has never defaulted on its debt. In other words, in the entirety of the republic’s history from the Washington administration until now the nation has always paid at least the interest on what we borrowed. Even during the Civil War and World War II. Even during the Great Depression. Even when there was no Federal Reserve and the money we needed to use to pay our debts was gold and silver rather than the tons of fiat money issued by the Federal Reserve.

Depending on the news reports I read, as early as midnight tonight if Congress and the president do not agree on some compromise that  does something — extends the debt ceiling, reins in the federal budget, or works a fiscal miracle for a nation strapped with $15 trillion of debt — the United States will default. For the ordinary person, that means the Treasury Department won’t have the revenue to transfer to programs like Social Security and food stamps i.e. SNAP. Those two entitlements alone cover nearly 40 percent of the American population.  God knows what will happen to stock markets and individual investments.

As I am fond of asking, “What would the Founders say?” It is safe to say that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, the two men most responsible for first sailing the fiscal ship of state, would be alarmed at not only the amount of debt but the immorality of the debt. Debt was mainly a moral question to the Founding generation, a group who often did not live up to the ideal of paying as you go (note the fiscal disasters that marked the life of Thomas Jefferson, for example) but who understood that virtuous people did not remain virtuous if you trained them to receive something for (apparently) nothing. When a nation collects $2 in taxes for every $5 it spends on programs, it has made the decision to live on credit. And, eventually, borrowers hit a wall when they live a life of excess.

An article from Stratfor does an amazing job explaining the Founders’ moral outlook on debt.  One quote worth pondering:

The Founding Father who best reflects these values is, of course, George Washington. Among the founders, it is he whom we should heed as we ponder the paralysis-by-design of the founders’ system and the current conundrum threatening an American debt default. He understood that the public would be reluctant to repay debt and that the federal government would lack the will to tax the public to pay debt on its behalf. He stressed the importance of redeeming and discharging public debt. He discouraged accruing additional debt and warned against overusing debt.

As we ponder the gridlock in Washington, D.C., perhaps we will recall that the generation who created this nation, though often maligned today for their lack of modern “values,” understood the timeless truths regarding human greed and human behavior far better than our current lawmakers and voters who have saddled this nation with inescapable debt.

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The Civil War, Now in Living Color

188374_10150136440405747_803215746_6646993_415462_nSmithsonian Magazine has published some examples of the work of John C. Guntzelman, who has colorized Civil War photos by Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner in his book The Civil War in Color: A Photographic Reenactment of the War Between the States. I admit that I was a skeptic when I heard of the process. Colorization often reduces fine art like cinema or old photos to garish cartoons. Yet, the results are stunning. The article is well-worth reading for a taste of what the full book contains.


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For Perspective on the Government Shutdown, Look to Washington — The Man, Not the City

Ramirez Founding Father's DayGeorge Washington was a model of civility and selfless dedication to his new nation. An article in today’s on-line edition of the Christian Science Monitor reminds us that lawmakers could use a reminder or two about how our first president dealt with the contentious issues in the first federal government.

” … As in war so in peace, the stoic leader kept his civility and self-restraint, always seeking a greater good while finding a way to give political opponents a way to save face,” writes the Monitor‘s editorial board. “His actions often spoke loudly, such as when he did not seek a third term. He thus set a precedent on the peaceful transfer of power in a democracy and in sending a signal that the country should not put too much stock in one person.”

Perhaps President Obama could improve things by not putting so much stock in one person, namely himself. He could walk away from his adamant refusal to negotiate with his political opposition. Democrats and Republicans could then at least toy with the idea of discussing compromises that could resolve a situation that is an embarrassment to the citizens of this nation, once considered an example of working democracy to the rest of the globe.

Or, perhaps the president and key leaders in Congress could meet at Mount Vernon, Washington’s home. His new presidential library recently opened a leadership institute for the training of civic leaders. All parties could benefit from a refresher course.

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296202_10150321316190747_803215746_8106603_353491969_nFor everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;
time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

–Ecclesiastes 3:1-9

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