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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

Visiting vs Experiencing

There are three categories of National Park tourists.

The first is the worst: the tourist. The tourist blunders in with their fancy RV, stumbles off some cruise ship, or barrels in on a pair of Harleys. They make a bunch of noise in the visitor’s center, take a high-speed trip through the scenic drive, perhaps (at best) reading 2-3 roadside signs before giving up and barreling off to some picnic area to uncork a bottle of wine, unscrew a bottle of cheap whiskey, or unpack a fistful of juice pops before nearly burning down a campground via an over-butaned charcoal grill.

The second is the polar opposite: the wildlander. These are the folks who truly revel in the hard-core activities: spending days backpacking or river rafting across varied terrains; performing a multi-hour rock traversals up the cliff face; or otherwise reveling in the true wonders of the park: the wilderness. I have full respect for these intrepid travelers, but because I like traveling alone, it would be incredibly dangerous for me. Plus I’m an immense coward.

So I nestle inside the middle group.

Mountains A La Mode

Parks are to be experienced. If you’re in Acadia, you bike the carriage trails. If you go to Key Biscayne, you snorkel the reefs. And if you go to Kenai Fjord, you hike the glaciers* and you kayak the fjords. That’s the Middle Group: find activities that let you experience the park in the few days you have to spend, and enjoy the sh*t out of them.

*Well, you don’t hike *on* the glaciers, that’s dangerous AF. You hike *to* the glaciers. Play safe, everyone.

The kayaking I did at Kenai was one of the best times I ever spent in a park, and I’ve been to well over 200 of them. First, it was a gorgeous day. The sky was so blue, the wind was light, the air was the perfect temperature. Second, the people were fantastic. I typically avoid commercialized park tours, they tend to be too expensive and too lame, but these tour operators were awesome. They were friendly, and helpful, and gave good information, but also knew how to shut up so folks could just enjoy sitting on the water and watch the puffins dive.

Beautiful Day

My fellow kayakers were really cool, too. There were seven of us in all, three couples and myself, and we didn’t know each other (well, hopefully the people in the couples knew each other, but hey, who am I to judge). But everyone was so chill and so interesting and so much fun to be around. It was just us and the puffins and the eagles and the sea lions: the perfect trip.

After the kayaking, we went back to Fox Island. There was supposed to just be some standard lunch, but instead there was some special end-of-season event going on, so we got the full grilled salmon treatment. I rarely remember what I ate on my trips, but that was so memorable. It was all fresh and cooked to perfection and there was no spoiling that day. I was even on-point with my photography that day (a super-rarity).

Photogenic Jay

After lunch, we hopped on a cruise boat for the standard, tourist trip through the fjords. That was … lame, but also hysterical. It’s kinda hard to get excited about tufted puffins or sea lions from 20′ up the side of a boat, when a couple of hours ago you were paddling right alongside them. So the group of us sat in the middle of the deck and chatted for the duration.

My trip to Alaska was, by far, the highlight of all my park trips. I need to go back, visit the panhandle, Aniakchak, and more. It’s a big state with a lot of parks, and I only hit the few with the most … tourists.

Tourists Marvel at the Wonders of Bird Shit Rock

[The photos on this post are mine and copyrighted thusly].


Links:

Kenai Fjords National Park

Google Maps

Fox Island Kayaking

My Kenai Fjords Photos

One of the first history books I read for my own enjoyment was A. J. Langguth’s 1988 work, Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution. I enjoyed that book immensely, Langguth does a good job narrating the sequence of events leading up to American independence after the Battle of Yorktown, and how the Founding Fathers shaped those events.

Langguth’s style is to dedicate each chapter to an individual as they affected events. Patriots, for example, starts off with a chapter devoted to James Otis, the Boston lawyer who spoke against bogus British practices in 1761. It then rolls from statesman to statesman, as Langguth relates the iconic tales of American rebellion. It’s a good book, I recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about the Revolution beyond a high-school level.

That format works for a book about individuals, like Patriots. Driven West, however, isn’t that kind of book. It’s trying to tell the story of a great travesty: the uprooting of thousands of native peoples from their homelands in the Deep South, and their deadly relocation to the parched scrublands of Oklahoma. This is not a story about personalities, it’s a story of betrayal and trauma and sadness and death. Sadly, Mr. Langguth didn’t shift gears to a style that would suit this type of material.

He dedicates chapters to the titular 7th President, a man synonymous with native oppression. He dedicates chapters to Henry Clay, who opposed Indian relocation throughout most of his career; to Major Ridge, a key Cherokee negotiator; to Sequoyah, the creator of the written Cherokee alphabet; and a few others. It’s not like the cast list is any less stellar than during any other event in history, it’s just misplaced for the topic at hand.

The story of the Trail of Tears isn’t a tale of presidents and congressmen and chieftains. It’s a story about the 60,000 people who were uprooted from their homes; of the estimated 10,000 who lost their lives as a result; and of the decades and decades of oppression of the native peoples that followed. Focusing on individual personalities throughout this book cuts the philosophical and emotional core out of the story. Langguth spends barely a third of a chapter on the marches themselves, or of the trauma faced by thousands of faceless refugees as they lost their homes. I think the book suffers from this lack of attention. This is not a cry for schmaltzy heart-string tugging, this is a statement that a good writer needs to find a narrative style that suits the core of the story. A personality-driven story works for the Revolution, it doesn’t work for the Trail of Tears.

The book still contains a lot of value. There are many tidbits of this episode that Americans don’t know. Langguth covers tribal ownership of slaves, a travesty on top of a tragedy. He covers the massive inter- and intra-tribal infighting, up to and including murder, that occurred throughout the era. He covers all the back room shenanigans and profiteering that undercut any last smidgeon of decency in the whole wretched affair. And he covers the often-forgotten stories of Cherokee support for the Confederacy in the Civil War. All of these are useful, insightful additions to the book, and worthy of discussion.

Driven West provides thorough coverage of a sordid era of the nation’s history. Sadly, it misses the proper, emotive link to the true heart of the tale.