Every now and then, I’ll stumble across a book that’s worth reading. Needless to say, the steadily deteriorating quality of most of the bullshit on th...moreEvery now and then, I’ll stumble across a book that’s worth reading. Needless to say, the steadily deteriorating quality of most of the bullshit on the mass market ensures that this happens as often as certain foreigners use toothpaste and deodorant.
Fortunately, I have some very good (and very literate) friends, friends who often turn me on to books I might otherwise have overlooked. One such friend is a regular Green Hell reader, who also happens to serve in our country’s armed forces. This Bro of mine is not only highly intelligent, but a voracious reader, as well. Our telephone conversations cover everything from survival to history, religion, world politics, and Southern Boogie bands.
Not long ago, I received a package from this most admirable of young men. Being very curious, I opened it and found a selection of books. All have thus far proven interesting, but the most fascinating title of all was The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War, by Ali Ahmad Jalali and Lester W. Grau of the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth.
Published by the Marine Corps Studies and Analysis Division, the book is a real-life, no-bullshit look at the reality of low-intensity conflict. (That’s a fancy way of saying “guerilla warfare,” for the benefit of any booger eatin’ feebs who may not be familiar with the term.) It is divided into several chapters, each covering a certain aspect of asymmetric warfare, i.e., ambushes, raids, shelling attacks, urban combat, etc. Each chapter consists of several vignettes, firsthand accounts by the Mujahideen who did the actual fighting against the Soviets.
I recommend this book for several reasons.
First and foremost, we’re at war with the Taliban in Afghanistan. For all that the “bait and switch” game -- a game that suckered us into sending troops after Saddam Hussein before pacifying Afghanistan -– has put Iraq in the spotlight. We must never forget that it was Afghanistan that harbored Osama bin Laden, Khalil Sheikh Muhammad, Mullah Omar, Tupaste Sheikh Yerbouti, and the supporting cast of the September 11 attacks.
Ten years later, the job beyond the Khyber Pass remains unfinished, Osama's death is independently unverifiable, and in order to get our own story straight, we’ll be fighting yet more Afghans, to whom Osama-Lama-Ding-Dong is now a cross between Willy Brennan and El Cid.
Ever heard the saying “Know your enemy?”
If not, please do the rest of the world a favor and leap in front of a speeding Peterbilt.
Next, I’ll mention that while the Afghans were certainly right to defend themselves against foreign invaders (all men have the absolute right to self-defense against tyrants, criminals and invaders, as far as I’m concerned), al Qaeda and the Taliban were, to a great extent, an unintended consequence of foreign meddling in the conflict.
The core of al Qaeda was the Maqtab al Khidimat resistance group, which operated with CIA assistance, and actually had recruiting facilities in New York and Detroit.
One of the leaders of Maqtab al Khidimat?
Osama bin Laden.
Foreign assistance during the war was also largely responsible for the rise of the Taliban their twisted allies. As the USMC admits: “The Pakistani authorities favored the most fundamentalist groups and rewarded them accordingly. This aid distribution gave the Afghan religious leaders unprecedented power in the conduct of the war. It also undermined the traditional authority of the tribal and village leaders.”
An old, Southern saying holds: “If you sleep with pigs, you’ll wake up covered in shit.” This pithy proverb means, in essence, that one must be mindful of the company one keeps. It’s a lesson we should have learned after World War I, but apparently still haven’t. Until we do, we’ll need books like this to help us “wash off,” as it were.
There’s been a good bit of bitching about “terror” tactics of late, for all that they’ve been a staple feature of warfare for as long as war has been waged. This is another reason I recommend the book. On the whole, Americans are a fat, lazy, and cowardly people. Oh, they’ll wave flags and put bumper stickers on their trucks, but the ugly reality of war is something they’d rather avoid. I suppose Hollywood bullshit is far more appealing, but it has nothing to do with the reality of missing limbs, charred flesh, and bloated, malodorous corpses strewn around like toys on a sloppy child's bedroom floor.
Let’s face the facts, boys and girls: there’s no way to “prettify” war. In order to fight one – let alone win it – it must be accepted that the enemy will commit atrocities, and so will one’s own forces. Warriors -- the side they choose being largely irrelevant -- are subjected to pressures very few of us can even imagine. Hate breeds hate. Cruelty breeds cruelty. And savagery breeds savagery. Warriors are subjected to all the above, and occasionally respond in kind. It’s just the nature of the beast we call war.
I don't share Sean Hannity's chagrin at hearing John Kerry accusing our troops of "terrorizing women and children in the dead of night." In order to survive, they must do just that, and I don't fault them for it -- assuming that this war was not of their choosing. But neither do I fault the "terrorists" this approach might create. Modern "total war" is every bit as ugly as a home-invasion robbery or barroom brawl, and requires the same mindset and tactics. But as Newton has assured us: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
This maxim holds every bit as true in the realms of politics, psychology, and warfare as in physics.
Allow me the luxury of a digression. I’ll move my focus westward, to the Persian Gulf. Does any reasonable man honestly believe that every Iraqi insurgent is a so-called “terrorist”? If so, I’d invite him to imagine the following scenario:
You’re a working stiff, with a family to feed. Your government taxes the shit out of you, wastes your money, and keeps you poor, illiterate, and ignorant. (No, wait! – That sounds too much like our own government…) uh, well, let’s stick with it anyway. One day, bombs start falling, and somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 of your countrymen – including members of your own family – are killed. Next, a bunch of foreign soldiers, soldiers who look different from you, speak a different language, and have completely different values, occupy your country. Curfew time. Censorship time. No more televised sports. No more video games. And if you dare to wander thug-infested streets with a weapon in your belt -- BRRRRRRRP!
Would you or would you not take up arms and avenge your dead? If not your dead; your Playstation? If your answer is “No,” read something else. You’ll never understand what we’re up against, or the seriousness of the Mesopotamian and Central Asian quagmires.
If your answer is “yes,” read on. You’re my kind of guy. Let’s continue with our scenario:
You and I are from the same neighborhood. These foreigners have well and rightly “shocked and awed” -- say-- your father and my brother into the afterlife. Our family honor – no, the entire culture in which we were raised – demands that we get payback, and that’s just what we’re going to do.
The enemy has armored vehicles, sophisticated communication equipment, etc. We have only what we can scavenge.
The idea is not to die – not that we have much for which to live, anymore – but, in Patton’s words, “to make the other poor son of a bitch die for his country.” Considering the imbalance, we’ll have no choice but to resort to unconventional tactics, i.e., roadside bombs, improvised explosive and incendiary devices, sniping, booby-trapping, etc. We’re also going to kill any of our countrymen we catch aiding and abetting/collaborating with those responsible for our loss.
So I ask you: Are we “terrorists”?
Of course not. We’re men with a well-justified grudge.
And so, undoubtedly, are many Iraqi insurgents.
Until we learn to understand the nature of the enemy – why he fights, what motivates him – we haven’t a hope of winning. Considering the hopelessly tangled situation in Iraq, there are many, many enemies, each with a different motivation. I’d invite the gentle reader to have a look at chapter 2, paragraphs 4-6 of the U.S. Army’s FM 31-21 Guerilla Warfare and Special Forces Operations for futher clarification.
As so very few of my countrymen are even remotely familiar with the subject – or even with what does and doesn’t constitute a “terrorist” – I’d recommend reading the entire manual, as well as FM 27-10 The Law of Land Warfare. So essential do I consider both books; I find it impossible to have a “serious” discussion of the subject with (or have any respect for the opinions of ) anyone who hasn’t read them.
This bring us to the matters of self-righteousness and squeamishness. Anyone who considers IED’s a “terrorist” weapon is a clueless moron. Wise up, blockheads. They’re perfectly legitimate weapons, and our forces use them, too. Don’t think so? Then please explain the purpose of TM 31-210, TM 31-201-1, FM 5-31, and 31-200-1.
Haven’t read ‘em?
Why not? There’s no excuse. Many of you squeal, “We’re at war!” whenever anyone challenges the latest neocon assault on the Bill of Rights, and yet you have no idea of how wars are actually fought.
Well, you can educate yourselves for five bucks per manual, at any gun show or surplus store. I’d hurry up and get ‘em before Hillarobaracksarahmittthulhu is elected, though. With *it* in the Oval Office, and a “DemonCrap” majority in the House and Senate, I’m sure we “little people” will be denied such “dangerous” material. If a neocon is elected, private sale of such manuals will probably be banned, in order to keep them out of the hands of the “evildoers” who even now threaten to take over a nation of 300,000,000 (80,000,000 of whom are allegedly gun-owers) and impose Sharia.
Pardon the digression.
I’ll leave the last word to the authors of the book I’m reviewing. From page 370, then:
“Many people find such bombing attacks morally reprehensible, yet have no qualms when much larger bombs are dropped from aircraft. Neither type of bombing attack is surgical and both types kill innocent bystanders. The only real difference is in the size of the bomb and the means of delivery.”
I sure as hell won't argue with them. The Marines have a well-established reputation for knowing their business. If they can accept the fact that war is inherently nasty, I’ll accept it right along with ‘em. Hopefully, Joe Sixpack will catch up with us someday.
This book is essential reading in that it illustrates just how soft, decadent, and effete our country has become. I’m of the opinion that until we clean up our own act, we’ll have our asses handed to us by people who, in many ways, are more like our own ancestors than we. I’ll grant that most Mideastern countries have far more than dust-motes in their collective eyes, but we have a veritable lumberyard in ours.
First, let’s discuss the matter of grit. In this very country, entire towns sat by and watched as our own government murdered religious and political dissidents in cold blood. Yes, I’m referring to Ruby Ridge and Waco. As many believe both were isolated incidents, I’d recommend The Ballad of Carl Drega, by Vin Suprynowycz as an "eye-opener" of sorts.
Americans simply don’t have the guts to resist *anything*, let alone an enemy as determined as “the terrorists” are alleged to be. The very fact that a nation of three hundred million is sufficiently terrified of a few thousand religious fanatics to surrender its freedom in the face of one attack illustrates this simple truth far more chillingly than ever I could hope to.
Unfortunately, Gentle Reader, the Spirit of ’76 has been exorcised from this once-great nation. I don’t think we’ll ever see another Boston Tea Party, Regulator Rebellion, or Lexington. I recommend The Other Side of the Mountain because it paints a picture of the kind of men of whom one would expect such deeds. Their religion, as far as I’m concerned, is wrong. Their worldview is wrong. Their ethical and moral stance is also largely wrong.
But they are brave, resolute men, while we are not.
From the book, again: “The DRA countered these [resistance] efforts where it could and Mujahideen began to coalesce into much smaller groups centered around rural villages. These small groups were armed with a variety of weapons from swords and flintlock muskets to British bolt-action rifles and older Soviet and Soviet-bloc weapons provided to Afghanistan over the years.” (Emphasis mine.)
Is there a single living American who, in this day and age, would take a sword or musket into battle against even a mugger armed with a throwaway .32, let alone a modern army? I didn’t think so. And yet we’re going to “end evil in our time,” as our talk show hosts assure us?
Sheeee-yit. As “wussified” as we’ve become, we won’t even end petty graft in our time.
Next (and last), I’ll mention that our over-centralized way of life (aided and abetted by the mass media and our disgraceful system of public education) has rendered us a nation of helpless, unthinking sheep. Consider the utter chaos that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Consider the panic that broke out as a result of the September 11 attacks – panic so severe and widespread, that a “shadow government,” in the words of our own Vice President, was brought into play. Consider both carefully, and then ponder this, my final quote from the book:
“Afghanistan’s ancient roots and strong ties of kinship provide an anchor against progress, but also the means to cope when the central authority has collapsed. Historically, the collapse of the central government of Afghanistan or the destruction of its standing armies has never resulted in the defeat of the nation by an invader. The people, relying on their decentralized political, economic and military potential, have always taken over the resistance against invaders.”
Can we say the same of ourselves?
The facts that we cringe like whipped dogs and surrender the liberty our forefathers so doggedly fought to secure us, when threatened by a ragtag band of foreign extremists, indicate that the answer to my question is an unequivocal “No.” (less)
While rummaging through the basement for a snorkel, fishnet stockings and egg-beater, I found a neat book I had purchased some years ago and forgotten:...moreWhile rummaging through the basement for a snorkel, fishnet stockings and egg-beater, I found a neat book I had purchased some years ago and forgotten: Baron von Steuben's Revolutionary War Drill Manual ( a facsimile reprint of the 1794 edition). 1985, Dover Books, ISBN 0-486-24934-4.
In addition to being a real treat for military history buffs, the book contains a reprint of the Militia Act of 1792, certain to enrage those who now argue that our ancestors didn't own firearms. I've been wanting to recommend this book and provide an appropritate cite for ages; so what a stroke of luck in finding it!
"...That every citizen so enrolled and notified shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box thereto to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock , each cartridge to contain a proper quantity powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot pouch and and powder horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle and a quarter of a pound of powder..."
Emphasis mine. "Provide himself" is rather obvious. What is even more interesting is what is evident to black-powder buffs: These weapons are not standardized in terms of bore, which indicated to me that they were probably obtained from local gunsmiths. I had a similar discussion with a gunsmith in Williamsburg, VA, and he agreed, so I'm not alone in that.
Moving right along:
"That the commissioned officers shall be severally armed with a sword or hanger, and espontoon, and that from and after five years from the passing of this act, all muskets for arming the militia as is herein required, shall be of bores sufficient for the balls of the eighteenth part of a pound*, and every citizen so enrolled, and providing himself with the arms, ammunition and accoutrements required as aforesaid, shall hold the same exempt from all suits, distresses, executions of sales, for debt or for the payment of taxes."
Note "five year plan" aimed at standardization, and note that militamen received a sort of financial incentive to do so, probably to defray the cost of "upgrading", which they still had to do themselves, even though it was mandated by law.
Just to show that nothing really changes much, all members of the Federal Government, as well as sailors, sea-captains, and even stage-drivers, post officers, customs officials, ferrymen and many others were exempt, according to section 2...
Even the dragoons were required to furnish their own mounts and equipment, and uniforms were to be procured at the individual militiaman's expense (section 4). The only thing to be provided by the government was field artillery and ammunition for said. (That almost certainly would have been prohibitively expensive for all but the very wealthiest.)
It gets really neat at the end:
"And whereas sundry corps of artillery, cavalry and infantry now exist in several of the said states, which by the laws, customs or usages thereof, have not been incorporated with, or subject to the general regulations of the militia: SEC 11. Be it enacted, That such corps retain their accustomed priveleges, subject, nevertheless, to all other duties required by this act, in lie manner with the other militia."
Well, it seems that there was a lot more hardware floating around out there than that schmuck who wrote Arming America was willing to admit. And here I thought the Regulator Rebellion was fought with slingshots and empty beer bottles...
Beyond providing the cite I so desperately needed a few months ago , the book provides an interesting look at the development of Western military thought over the centuries. It's dirt cheap, and you can probably find it at any nearby historical site. (The admission you pay to enter will also help maintain the park in question). I've seen copies at Williamsburg, VA, Ft. Moultrie, SC, and Kennesaw Mountain, GA; so I'm sure it's available elsewhere.
I read this one every year, and get a little more out of it each time. This timeless, poetic collection of military aphorisms is deservedly a classic....moreI read this one every year, and get a little more out of it each time. This timeless, poetic collection of military aphorisms is deservedly a classic. In addition to its value as a work on strategy, it’s a damned good guide to dealing with human beings in general. As with any work of genius, multiple readings are necessary even to get an inkling of what Sun Tzu was writing about. Learning to apply his principles is even more challenging. My favorite version so far (and I admit that I’m biased, as I like the publishing company) is the Shambhala Dragon Edition, translated and edited by Thomas Cleary. Cleary’s translation contains commentary by later strategists such as Cao Cao and Wang Xi.
I don’t think it’s possible to grasp even the mid-level application of Sun Tzu’s principles without a basic familiarity with the Tao Te Ching – another work that requires a lifetime of study. Many editions are available, but I prefer the Shambhala edition, translated by John C.F. Wu. Wu was/is fluent in both English and Chinese, and his version includes the Chinese text alongside the English translation.(less)