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Forgotten Stepchild National Park

Poor Kings Canyon. At one point, it had a real patriotic name: General Grant National Park, named not after the Civil War victor, but after the General Grant, the second largest sequoia tree on earth (which is named after the Civil War victor). Back then, in 1890, the park only protected the Grant Grove itself. Decades later, after long battles, the rest of the canyon was protected with National Park status, under the boring moniker Kings Canyon National Park.

Kings Canyon gets no respect. It’s in the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada range, a truly beautiful part of the country, but, unfortunately, it’s sandwiched between two behemoths: Yosemite, with its magnificent valley and El Capitan, to the north, and Sequoia, with its groves of massive trees, to the south. Eventually, the NPS merged Kings Canyon with its southern neighbor, and, like Gracie to George Burns, it got second billing: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. But I think that sucks. Kings Canyon deserves to stand alone, as its own National Park.

As usual, I visited Kings Canyon on a big road trip through a slew of National Park Service sites. Yosemite and Sequoia are grand places, to be sure, but they’re also grandly crowded. Yosemite, especially the valley area, were insufferable to drive through. People stopped for every spot of wildlife or beautiful vista, and the light dusting of snow on Day 1, although wonderfully esthetic, only made the drive more miserable. And Sequoia, well, the groves were not only crowded by noisy. All those tourists, yammering on an on. The mansplainers were completely insufferable.

Then I went to poor, disrespected Kings Canyon … and I loved it. Yes, it doesn’t have the grandeur of Yosemite. It doesn’t have the massive sequoia groves. But what it does have are great hikes, hikes where you can be alone if you want to be. I took a valley hike, and I think I only saw one other couple on the trail at all. While everyone else was scrambling for a spot in some scenic pullout, I was doing what I really love: walking in the woods, away from everything.

When you’re on your own tour of the western Sierras, don’t ignore Kings Canyon. It deserves your attention, your respect, and your feet, walking on its trails.

[Pictures on this post are mine and thusly copyrighted]

A Favor to Ask

Folks,

I am asking for a favor. It’s a big favor.

The favor is this: this election season, which may have already started due to early or mail-in voting in your area, please do not vote Republican.

At all.

I’m asking you to not vote for any Republican, on any ballot, for any office – state, county or local – anywhere.

There are only two issues on the table this year. These two issues should form the core values of all Americans. In fact, all people who support, and are fortunate to live in, a free society should embrace these two values, unconditionally. So unconditionally, in fact, that going against these two values should be an automatic disqualification from office.

These two values are:

— We must not normalize political violence, and

— We must protect the right to vote, the means to vote, the counting of votes, and the results of a vote

These two values are paramount in a free society. Without these, you do not have a free society. At best, you have the social veneer of one, with a widening undercurrent of disenfranchisement and, eventually — yeah, I’ll use the word — tyranny.

Some would argue there are more important issues. I’m sure many people are concerned about inflation, that’s a big one. I’m sure some are concerned about the threat of war or crime or a variety of nebulous cultural issues. I’m sure a lot of people are sick of hearing about January 6th or Donald Trump or The Big Lie or what-have-you. Well, that’s too bad, because I am right. Only these two issues matter in this election: rejection of political violence, and free & fair elections.

These issues matter now because an entire political party, arguably representing a third of the voting public, believes these two values *do not matter*. One party, the Republican Party, has condoned and supported political violence; and is intentionally working throughout the entire government to undermine free & fair elections. They have actively recruited and supported Big Lie believers in races for election officials, state’s attorneys, governors, state legislators, and members of Congress throughout the country. This is a concerted and intentional attempt to usurp free and fair elections, all around the country, for the sole purpose of rigging the system to gain power in the future. It’s even being attempted in blue states. 

I’m sure there are some out there who will reject my broad strokes. “Not all Republicans supported the attack on the Capitol.” Yes, that’s true … and those Republicans who have spoken out against it have been drummed out of the party. They’ve been driven into retirement, or been primaried off the ballot. Some have received death threats against themselves and their families. Only those who’ve bent the knee and kissed the ring at Mar-a-Lago remain. The party is tainted, wholly and firmly, and must be ended as an institution.

The bottom line is this: a functioning democracy cannot survive either retributional political violence, or the destruction of free elections. This is how nations die. All throughout history lies the wreckage of states who pulled these stunts: rigged elections; stacked judiciaries; intimidated, imprisoned or even assassinated political opponents, all geared towards the attainment and retention of political power. The result is always a failed state and a miserable populace. Unmarked cemeteries all around the world hold the remains of millions, attesting to the brutal reality, and a potential future, of it all.

I can hear the groans from the audience, and the accusations that I’m grandstanding and exaggerating and it’s “not that bad”. And perhaps yes, it’s not that bad … now. It’s like noticing a single leak in the roof. Do you do the heavy work now to find that one leak and fix it before it becomes a crisis and ruins the whole house, or do you slap on some duct tape and turn up the TV when it rains? 

We cannot, under any circumstances, reward a party, *any* party, who embraces either political violence or the destruction of elections. Do not vote Republican this cycle. Send a clear and concise message that *this is not to be tolerated*. Draw the line here. Force them to change. Then, if and when they do, maybe, just maybe, give them a second chance. If they don’t, then send them to the dust bin of history.

I’ll open the comments. Debate me. But don’t take this lightly. This cycle, vote with seriousness and determination, and send a message.

Ukraine

Three things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime: a global pandemic that would kill 6 million people worldwide; a non-peaceful transition of power between U.S. presidents; and a ground war in Europe.

These are three things I would have rather not seen.

I’ve been stewing and stewing on Ukraine for the past couple of days, as I suspect most of you have. I have some thoughts, some of them ugly. As always, I’m not a true historian nor a military expert, so go ahead and refute my positions in the comments.

Sanctions Need to Be Harsh & Broad

As I mentioned in my last post, war is hell. Over the past few decades, thanks to smart bombs and modern sympathies, we’ve come to believe in “war lite”: we can invade countries yet spare civilian casualties, and that makes us “better” somehow. These thoughts pervade the Biden White House today: let’s have targeted sanctions against oligarchs and Putin’s family, and call it a day.

What a bunch of bullshit. The Russian people are letting this happen*, they have to be convinced to end it. No more of this ‘targeted sanctions’ crap. Sanctions need to be broad-based and applied to the entire Russian economy. Cancel all Russian visas, send all Russian citizens without Green Cards or higher status back. Stop all artistic, scientific, and educational collaborations, immediately. Eject any official Russian teams from all international sporting events. Stop all trade with Russia (and Belarus, cuz fsck those guys). Sure, have exceptions for medical supplies and agriculture, that seems appropriate. But most importantly, stop energy trade and enact a SWIFT block. We have to hit them hard, make them (literally) pay for their actions.

The point is to bring enough economic pain that the Russian people demand Putin end hostilities. Russia has fallen to revolution before, just sayin’.

*I know that there have been intense anti-war protests in Russia. I’m talking about the broad-based public, who are, at best, apathetic to the whole thing.

Europe and America Needs to Be Strong

Americans and Europeans are soft. We’re pussies. 75 years of relative peace will do that to you. We like our gas-guzzling SUVs and McMansions heated to a comfy 72 degrees. We like our kale salads and brioche toast and $2.99 gallons of milk and stock market growth fueling our 401(k)s. Well, you know what enables all that great prosperity? Peace, that’s what. And Putin ruined all of that.

We have to be willing to take it on the chin to shut Putin down. What’s the alternative? More war? Is your 401K worth half a million casualties? What happens if we whimp out now and end up in a real war in three years? This bullshit needs to stop right now, and we have to stop being whiny pussies about gas prices.

Stop China Tariffs

Let’s offer an olive branch to China. In exchange for a condemnation of Putin’s actions and cooperation (or at least a public declaration of their neutrality) against Russia, offer to eliminate all of Trump’s anti-China tariffs. They were stupid anyway. That’ll help with supply chain and inflation problems, too. There’s a *serious* risk of a China/Russia alliance, and if that happens in earnest, we are seriously fscked. Let’s try to get ahead of the problem for a change.

On a related topic, remind the countries of the Arabian peninsula how we saved their collective asses from Iraq, and get them to take up the slack from any Russian oil embargo by upping their production. Bunch of ungrateful bastards.

Fire Up the Propaganda Machine

Is Radio Free Europe still a thing?

Let’s fire it up, using any media at our disposal. The message to broadcast to the Russian people? World War II killed 20 million Russians. War is bad for you. You need to stop. Just to put that number into perspective, that’s over 10% of the total population of the country at the time! Imagine if 34 million Americans died over a five year period. The Russians suffered more casualties than any other country in WWII. The Russian people know what death is, what war is, and they don’t like it. Remind them.

Open Up More Fronts

Time to ship arms to Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan. Let them kick up their rebellions, strengthen their own borders. Time to have serious talks to the various ‘Stans, remind then that Putin and Russia are anti-Islamic, and a clear threat to their own independence. These countries form 5,600 miles of borders with Russia, that’s an awful lot of threat for them to deal with (in contrast, the U.S./Mexico border is only 1900 miles).

Call Up the National Guard

Call them up. Right now. Prepare for war. Better to prepare for war and not have it happen, than have it happen without being prepared. Plus it’ll show we mean business. Make some noise. Get planes in the air. Time for some exercises.

Smack Down Collaborators

There have been a lot of K Street lobbyists working for Russia over the past few years. Let’s out those fsckers. Publish the names of their directors and their high-paid lobbyist staff. I implore all journalists to report these clowns, loudly and broadly.

Then there are the Russian collaborators in Congress, like the shitheels who traveled there on the 4th of July, 2018, to kiss the ring. Get their names out. Nothing like a good public shaming.

  • John Kennedy (R-LA)
  • Richard Shelby (R-AL)
  • Steve Daines (R-MT)
  • John Hoeven (R-ND)
  • John Thune (R-SD)
  • Jerry Moran (R-KS)
  • Ron Johnson (R-WI)
  • Kay Granger (R-TX)

There are more of these bozos out there. Shame them all.

Finally, can we please, for the love of God, stop platforming Putin’s ultimate Tangelo Toadie. FFS, I’m sick of hearing from that guy. He’s a goddamned traitor and deserves to be treated as such.

This Sucks

None of this should be happening. It’s madness. It’s stupid. It’s goddamned outrageous. But, here we are. It should come as no surprise. I’ve come to a general conclusion that we’ve had (relative) peace for so long, we’ve had economic growth for so long, we’ve had it so good for so long, we’ve all forgotten what true hardship, true famine, true catastrophe, true war, really is.

I’ve often said that the only reason the world is turning back to fascism and autocracy is because all the heroes of World War II, and all the victims of the Holocaust, are dying off. 25 years ago, when these people were alive and in charge, none of this shit would have even been possible. Today, they’re all gone, and all we have is History Channel war fetishism, social media disinformation campaigns, and growing prejudice and tyrannical thought (FFS, book burnings are back!!). So, we’ve gone around full circle. War, tyranny, injustice, persecution: it’s all back. In full force.

The question is: are we brave enough to stop it? Or are we too concerned about our 401(k)s?

[I hesitated writing this essay. When I finally did write it, I sat on it for months. Then I edited it, and I still hated it, so I sat on it for more months. I’ve then edited it again, sat on it again, and now that it’s horribly dated, I’m finally publishing it. I still hate it. I still hate what it says about me. But I have to say it, nonetheless.]

From Kennesaw …

Kennesaw Mountain was a major engagement in the American Civil War. It was a tactical defeat but a strategic win for the Union army, for it opened up the preeminent Confederate city, Atlanta, to occupation by Union forces. This had the side effect of rallying the North to the side of Abraham Lincoln, thereby guaranteeing his second term as President of the United States. After Kennesaw, General William T. Sherman conducted his infamous March to the Sea, wrecking industries, farms, roads and the lives of thousands of civilians, as he made his way to Savannah on the coast. It was, as some historians have noted, the dawn of “total war”. Sherman wanted to break the back of the confederacy, and he felt the only way to do that was by destroying all its institutions, and putting the people in direct harm’s way, thereby forcing the surrender of the Confederate leaders and its armies.

Mort Kunstler’s “War is Hell”

Brutal, brutal stuff. To this day, Civil War buffs don’t like to talk about the March to the Sea. People love talking about Gettysburg and Antietam and Bull Run and Vicksburg, but not the topic of Atlanta and the March too often. It inevitably leads to accusations of Northern atrocities, few of which can be refuted. It typically ends in argument, and is a topic best left avoided.

As they say: war is hell.

… To Iraq and Afghanistan

Let’s advance the clock 125 years. America has become an industrial juggernaut, a major player in global politics, and (seeing as how we delightfully ignored Eisenhower’s warning), the strongest military power the world has ever seen. We are masters of destruction, harnessing the Sig P320, the power of the atom, and everything in between. It’s what we do, it’s who we are. We blow shit up and kill people.

In August of 1990, the Iraqi Republic invaded the State of Kuwait in a clear case of overt aggression. The Iraqi president, the tyrant Saddam Hussein, in quite possibly the biggest blunder in the second half of the 20th Century, invaded an oil-rich country, and expected an oil-hungry world to simply let it happen. Of course, the world, and the United States, had other ideas. President George H. W. Bush and his team brilliantly assembled a coalition of nations, and after a buildup of some months, proceeded with a superbly executed “100 day offensive”, shattering the Iraqi military, freeing the nation of Kuwait, and securing significant oil fields in the region. Gen. “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf’s “Hail Mary” play was a rousing success, and the briefings and maps filled CNN’s schedule for days, weeks and months. The Gulf War met its objectives, and the Western World was pleased.

Full of Grace

And that was it. We were done. Well, we did enforce no-fly zones for years afterward, but other than that, we withdrew from Iraq. Entirely. All our troops, and the troops of the coalition. Bush famously asked the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam, and then we went home. That was it, we were done. And the first, and wisest, President Bush took an endless load of crap for that. “We should have marched to Baghdad”, the war hawks cried. Certainly, they fabricated their own chance to do so twelve years later, but in the moment, the President gave the order, and the military obeyed. We had an objective, we met the objective, and went home. “You break it, you buy it” was the lesson of the day, and for that moment in time, we decided not to break it.

Flash forward another ten years, and we have the horrors of 9/11, which I won’t recount here. Afghanistan harbored Osama bin Laden and his militant band for years prior, giving them sanctuary so they could plot terrorist attacks around the world. The lesser President Bush demanded that the Taliban turn over bin Laden and dismantle al Qaeda, and Mullah Omar declined. It was clear the Taliban government was an enemy of the U.S. and other Western democracies, and a direct supporter of international terrorism. NATO invoked Article 5, and again, war was on. The U.S. and her allies officially invaded on October 7, 2001, and … we were there nearly 20 years.

Whoops.

War Is Hell

This is where this essay gets ugly. This is where I begrudgingly put to page the thoughts I’ve begrudgingly held for a couple of decades now.

It has been said that war is a failure of diplomacy. I would go one further and say that war is a failure of everything. It’s the failure of respect, the failure of decency, the failure of civility. It is the failure of economics, of reason, of leadership, of sanity.

Unfortunately, it is also, occasionally, necessary.

Sherman wasn’t a man to fsck around. He knew what he was dealing with. He also knew what his job was, and that job was to win, and end, a war. He didn’t start it, he might not have wanted it, but once he was in it, he was going to fight. And win. But fighting, and winning, comes at a price. A terrible, terrible price. The Atlanta campaigns and the subsequent March to the Sea caused about 70,000 casualties and over $1B in damages in today’s dollars. It was brutal and miserable, and real people suffered.

And the war ended within 6 months. Sherman went home. Grant went home. War was over (I won’t go over Reconstruction here, that’s a topic for another day).

So what does this teach us? It teaches us that war only has one purpose, and that purpose is achieving a specific political goal through acts of violence when no other approach will work. But what did we set out to do in Afghanistan? In the words of George W. Bush, we set out on a “daring and ambitious mission” to “rebuild Afghanistan” with the “transformational power of liberty”. What does that even mean? Those were nebulous, fanciful objectives, none of which should ever be the goal of warfare. Yet the liberals in Congress ate it up. One representative dressed up in a burqa and pleaded with the House to support the invasion of Afghanistan, and praised Bush for dropping “both food and bombs.” [link] We waged war against an enemy state and justified it with touchy-feely platitudes, with supermajority Congressional OK and highest-ever presidential approval ratings.

That was totally, and completely, the wrong approach. War isn’t a touchy-feely exercise. It is destructive and deadly. Take any other approach, and you’re lying to yourself, and setting yourself up for failure.

I’ll tell you how we *should* have responded. We should have gone in and decimated the Taliban, Mullah Omar, and al Qaeda. And then gotten the hell out, leaving a power vacuum if need be. The world would have been left with a message: “if you support domestic terrorism, we will end you, and leave your country a rudderless mess”.

Link with photo credit

The level of cruelty in the last paragraph astounds me, and I’m the guy who wrote it. But look what happened: we sat there, spending billions of dollars and risking thousands of lives, trying to rebuild a country. We left ourselves open to terrorist attacks, IEDs, and suicide bombers. And then we had enough and left, in the sloppiest exit since Saigon. We gave the Taliban a victory, a victory over the deadliest military force the world has ever seen. They’ve since used that victory to seize power for themselves. That country is now in a state as sorry as it’s ever been.

... To the Future (and maybe Ukraine)

So now where do we stand? Yes, we’re out of Afghanistan, but what about us as a military power? Well, we’ve shown that we’re a military power that can be defeated by our own goody-two-shoes mentality, a military power whose tactical, strategic, and political thinking can be skewed by sympathy and Twitter polls. We are not a military power who wages war, we’re a military power that wants to build orphanages. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not what military power is for, and not what it should do. That is the activity of other institutions. At best, the military can keep the peace so other actions can occur, but even that is dubious and should be short lived. It’s best to get in, kick the everloving shit out of the belligerents, and get out, leaving a clear and stern message that actions have consequences.

It’s hard to create direct corollaries between historical events. It would be unfair of me to wholly trace our failures in Afghanistan (and in the second war with Iraq, a debacle way beyond the pale) to today’s situation in Ukraine. You do have to wonder if Putin would be in a different mindset if he knew America was a true, not-fscking-around military power, instead of a bunch of orphanage builders.

Closing Thoughts

I said in the beginning of this essay that I’m not proud of my thoughts in this area. This whole topic makes me angry, and angry people don’t think with reason. I’m also not a trained solder, I haven’t served in the Armed Forces, haven’t attended basic training, much less a military academy. I’m definitely not a historian either, I’m just a hobbyist who reads books and thinks about this stuff when he has a bout of insomnia. I strongly welcome any and all criticism on this post. Perhaps someone can put some sanity into the conversation and talk me off the ledge. Or perhaps convince me to jump. So chime in, leave a comment, and feel free to tell me exactly how wrong I am.


https://www.nps.gov/kemo/index.htm

Google map to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park