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Texas’ Pathetic War Record


The Texas Republic was really terrible at war.

But the idea of Texas being born from military achievement is variously true and also blown out of all proportion to reality. With the exception of the coup at San Jacinto, Texas’s early military history was a series of overlooked disasters, led by men who blundered their way into defeats. It’s also a fascinating overview of how warfare—especially when canonized—is almost invariably a series of tragedies and screw-ups.

Texas has plenty of both.

This isn’t even controversial. More than a decade ago, Texas Monthly declared the suicidal decision to defend the Alamo against vastly superior Mexican forces “a military mistake of mythic proportions” and that its “contribution to the strategy of the Texas Revolution was nil or negative.”

In its brief, 10-year existence as an independent state, Texas would launch two failed invasions—one in southern Texas and another in New Mexico. It also failed to stop two more Mexican invasions. And then the Lone Star state would fight several minor wars with itself and almost come to blows with the United States.

Of course, the ability of Texans to lead the U.S. in war since it joined the nation has never been questioned.

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  • Gwen

    This is an accurate assessment, you damnyankee scum.

  • TrexPushups

    This history lesson turns “Don’t mess with Texas” from a threat to a plea for mercy.

    • mojrim

      You know that began as an anti-littering campaign?

      • Talking about this is a worthy post in itself. I assume the original TV spot is easily findable.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Earlier than the 1980 Stevie Ray Vaughan album? If so, Google isn’t finding it for me. (I can find a reference to the litter campaign as of 1985 in Ray Baumeister’s intro psych book.)

        • postmodulator

          Eh? There was no SRV studio album called Don’t Mess With Texas, and his first major-label release was in 1982. Have you maybe got a bootleg called that?

          • Lee Rudolph

            I am simply deeply, deeply confused. Sorry.

      • Funkula

        It’s still in use as a conservation slogan. I think it’s just people outside the state who mistake it for a belligerent threat. As a lifelong Texan, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone here who takes it as anything other than a conservation message.

        • Vance Maverick

          But it’s an odd way to express a conservation message — unless you assume the belligerent interpretation, turning it into a pun.

        • FridayNext

          Well, that may be, but it was another lifelong Texan, George W. Bush, who used the phrase in his 2000 nomination acceptance speech as a belligerent challenge. So is it a misinterpretation or an organic evolution of meaning and context?

          • UberMitch

            Might want to check your facts on that “lifelong” there.

            • FridayNext

              I thought I put scare quotes around lifelong. My mistake.

          • cactusflinthead

            Tell Connecticut they can have him back any time.

            • jefft452

              “Tell Connecticut they can have him back any time.”

              Take care, our war record is far different from Texas
              From Saybrook to the Pennamite wars, we were pretty successful, “brother Ephraim” not withstanding

          • Funkula

            Yeah, it being used by W (which I did not remember) kind of supports the idea that it’s used as a brag by people who don’t really get the mythology of the state. It’s unfortunate that people who adopt the Texan “brand” due to their own insecurity tend to give the state a bad name while real Texans like Amanda Marcotte don’t make a big deal about their identity.

            • Hogan

              By God we’re so darn proud to be from Texas – yahoo!
              Even of our pride we’re proud and we’re proud of that pride, too
              Our pride about our home state is the proudest pride indeed
              And we’re proud to be Americans, until we can secede

              One more stupid song about Texas
              You’ve heard it all before so sing along
              Biggest belt buckles and boasts, love that big old Texas toast
              Let’s sing another stupid Texas song

              Our accents are the drawliest, our howdies are the y’alliest
              Our lone star flag’s the waviest, our fried steak’s the cream-graviest
              Our rattlesnakes the coiliest, our beaches are the oiliest
              Our politicians most corrupt, our stop signs most abrupt

              Our guitars are the twangiest, our guns are the kablangiest
              Our cattle the long-horniest, our yodels the forlorniest
              Our cookoffs are the chiliest, our Waylon is the Williest
              Our sausage is the smokiest, our neighbors are the Okiest

            • Shwell Thanksh

              Damn, your comment made me miss Molly Ivins something fierce.

            • McAllen

              There’s a bumper sticker I see a lot down here that says “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could.” As a native-born Texan t always puzzles me. It’s one thing for me to have some affection for my home state and to try to make it better, but for someone to be born out of state and be eager to come here either means they have some bad politics or they’re buying into a lot of mythology.

        • Tristan

          Straight up encountered a Texan online who said ‘Fuck you. Don’t mess with Texas’ in response to someone saying… I don’t even remember, something about Texas. So there’s at least one dumb, ridiculous Texan who does.

          • mojrim

            So the repurposed slogan has come full circle.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Damn, that’s hilarious.

  • mojrim

    How martial reputations are made has always puzzled me. The Prussian military record is mixed, unified Germany is 0 and 2, yet many can’t stop tongue-bathing the OKW.

    • BubbaDave

      They were a gritty bunch of overachievers who remind the military historians of Tim Tebow?

    • Anonymous

      The imperial/Nazi record looks a little more impressive when you remember that they basically took on a planet.

      Incredibly foolish and horrific, yes, but a little more impressive.

      • N__B

        Incredibly foolish

        That depends on the planet.

        • Anonymous

          Look what happened to Pluto

          • Left_Wing_Fox

            Frankly, if you’re getting your ass kicked by astronomy nerds, you probably don’t deserve to be a planet anyways.

            • Tristan

              Fuck you. Don’t mess with Pluto.

              • Phillip Sheridan

                If I owned Texas and Pluto, I would rent Texas and live on Pluto.

                • N__B

                  Only fleas live on dogs.

      • mojrim

        No, that’s the whole point. They keep misconstruing tactics for strategy.

    • Nobdy

      To be fair, unified Germany is 0 for 2 because of its tendency to initiate WORLD wars in which it fights all of Europe at once.

      Germany is the tough guy who gets tazed and taken down by 6 cops. He might lose but it doesn’t mean he’s not tough.

      • Matthew Stevens

        Yeah, Germany’s the guy who announces a bank robbery on TV, and says the cops should stay away if they know what’s good for them. THEN it takes six cops to take him down. Tough army, very very dumb leadership.

        • cleter

          So, Germany is basically Burgess Meredith as The Penguin?

          • mojrim


    • AcademicLurker

      At least regarding WWII, a lot of it is related to the fact that the German general’s self-serving memoirs were, for various political reasons, given a great deal more credence than they deserved.

      • Manny Kant

        I’d think also because they conquered all of Western Europe?

        • drkrick

          Occupied it for a few years would probably be more accurate.

          • SIS

            In the sense that it took a massive invasion from an overseas power with several times the population and economic power of Germany to undo it, and that only worked because 2/3 of German forces were in other theaters of war?

            • John Casey

              The ‘other theater’ of war was also in Europe; Germany never made it even close to the Urals.

              And, of course, the ‘other theater’ was by their choosing, and accounted for the bulk of losses the Wehrmacht suffered.

              In world politics, ‘punching above your weight’ wins no prizes.

              • Tristan

                In world politics, ‘punching above your weight’ wins no prizes.

                Tell Vietnam

                • mojrim

                  You cannot make that comparison work at all.

            • mojrim

              So they start fights they can’t finish?

        • Sweden & Switzerland

          I think we should count

          • mojrim

            Count as what? I’d never diss Gustavus Adolphus…

        • Ahuitzotl


          How much of Western Europe did you say?

      • mojrim

        Right, that’s the aforementioned tongue-bath.

    • Murc

      Just because you lose doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t good at something. Napolean ultimately got his ass kicked; did that mean he was shit at war?

      • AcademicLurker

        But Napoleon won repeatedly for a decade before his downfall started in earnest. In WWII, the Germans’ glory years were pretty brief. By the time they failed to take Moscow in 1941, things were not looking great and it was nearly all downhill from there. So they swept everything before them for about 2 years.

        • Murc

          And in those two years conquered more territory and subjugated it more thoroughly than Napolean had managed in his ten plus. I’m not sure “war moved a lot faster in the 20th century than in the 19th” is a solid argument for “and therefore anyone who couldn’t keep winning as long as Napolean sucked.”

          • AcademicLurker

            This subthread is drifting off topic. I think we can at least all agree that we should thank our lucky stars that the Germans didn’t have the Texas Navy on their side. If they had, the Allies might have been in real trouble.

            • Sev

              If they’d had Dick Cheney on their side.. they would have gone straight for the oil, and things might have turned out different.

              • Mike G

                Of course there’s always the chance that Deadeye Dick would have shot Hitler in the face while bird hunting.

                • Hogan

                  And then made him apologize.

          • mojrim

            You’re giving them exactly the tongue bath I referred to. You don’t win a war by substituting tactics for strategy, and there is no runner-up prize for “best overreach.”

    • The Germans kick butt in the first half of every war.

      • advocatethis

        Apparently their half time adjustments suck.

      • Dave

        Actually they kicked pretty impressive butt right up to about April 1918, when they were less than 50 miles from Paris, and occupying Ukraine… THEN it all went to shit pretty quick: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Michael

  • Bitter Scribe

    Meh. Wars are like sports: All anyone remembers is who won.

  • Hogan

    But their navy is still undefeated, right?

    • ThrottleJockey

      Where is that guy anyways? I miss the old Commodore.

      • Warren Terra

        He’s an Admiral not a commodore.

        • N__B

          But he’s Three Times a Jackass.

  • DrDick

    Hell, Texas lost a war with Oklahoma, for dog’s sake.

    • Barry Freed

      That’s awesome

  • advocatethis

    I say that any “nation” that lets Jackie Treehorn lead it should count itself lucky for any good that comes its way.

    • LGM Police Chief

      Mr. Treehorn draws a lot of water in this town. You don’t draw shit, advocatethis. Now we got a nice, quiet little blog community here, and I aim to keep it nice and quiet. So let me make something plain. I don’t like you sucking around, bothering our commenters, advocatethis. I don’t like your jerk-off screen name. I don’t like your jerk-off face. I don’t like your jerk-off behavior, and I don’t like you, jerk-off. Do I make myself clear?

      • advocatethis

        I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.

        • Brownian


          and duck!

        • TribalistMeathead

          Fuckin’ fascist!

  • N__B

    Of course, the ability of Texans to lead the U.S. in war since it joined the nation has never been questioned.

    Those leaders of the U.S. were Texans. The failures of the mid-1800s were the fault of Texicans. Totally different.

  • Barry Freed

    More dead hoss blogging from Loomis.

  • Denverite

    Of course, the ability of Texans to lead the U.S. in war since it joined the nation has never been questioned.

    In fairness, this guy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwight_D._Eisenhower) is technically a Texan.

    • Denverite

      Holy formatting, batman.

      Point: Eisenhower was born in Texas.

      • Anonymous

        Eisenhower happened to be born in Texas, and the family moved away almost immediately. They were Pennsylvania Dutch who migrated to Kansas; I wouldn’t put any stock in alleged Texan influence.

        • Lee Rudolph

          “Happened”, huh? Anchor baby!

        • JoyfulA

          And then he moved back to Pennsylvania as soon as he got out of the army.

        • Helmut Monotreme

          Arthur Wellesley better known as the Duke of Wellington was once called an Irishman, on account of being born in Ireland. His response: “If a gentleman happens to be born in a stable, it does not follow that he should be called a horse”.

    • hickes01

      Well, Chester Nimitz was born in Texas. My home state produced two losers, William Pye and Leslie McNair Jr. It ain’t fair.

      • Warren Terra

        Chester Nimitz was born in Texas

        And yet people disparage the Texas Navy!

    • John Casey

      Chester Nimitz wasn’t half-bad as a war leader, either.

      • Lurker

        And very importantly, unlike his army counterpart McArthur, Nimitz did not try his hand at playing Ceasar. He did not try to force any Presidents to obey him. That is an something to appreciate in a five-star officer.

  • ThrottleJockey

    Their record in war is almost as bad as their record in football.

  • rea

    You may talk about your Beauregard
    And sing of Bobby Lee,
    But the gallant Hood of Texas,
    He played hell in Tennessee . . .

    • Lurking Canadian

      Is that song Union-sympathetic snark?

      • rea

        That song was allegedly sung by the Army of Tennessee after Hood was removed from command–after Franklin and Nashville.

        • Lurking Canadian

          So the unsung parenthetical is “played hell [with all of our lives] in Tennessee”?

          • rea

            After losing Atlanta, Hood’s plan was to strike north rather than block Sherman from marching through Georgia. Hood in particular blamed his army for the loss of the Atlanta campaign rather than himself, and thought that the army needed to be disciplined by a series of frontal assaults on Union positions. Sort of Green Lanternism as applied to military strategy. The result was bloody disaster. So, “played hell in Tennessee” in the sense of blundering repeatedly and getting most of his army killed uselessly.

            • Murc

              Given that Hood was not in fact in command during the Atlanta Campaign, Johnston only being relieved and replaced with Hood with Sherman at the very gates of Atlanta, I think he was in fact justified in not really blaming himself for the loss of the Atlanta campaign.

              For that matter, I don’t think Hood blamed the Army of Tennessee either. Hood appears to have had great confidence in his troops, instead laying blame for the loss of Atlanta on Johnston and Hardee.

              • fidelio

                There are two versions of Hood’s position on the Army of Tennessee after the Atlanta Campaign: his take during the war, and his take after the war, when he wrote his memoirs and had had time to calm down and realize both how near the end of the war was by November and December 1864, and how much he, personally, had screwed up in the attacks on Franklin and Nashville.

                They are not the same.

                • wjts

                  I once had a conversation with a guy in Texas who claimed that Texas was “never really part of the Confederacy”. He remained unconvinced even after I explained both John Bell Hood and the Battle of Glorieta Pass to him.

      • jefft452

        “Is that song Union-sympathetic snark?”

        “My feet are torn and bloody and my heart is full of woe
        I am going back to Georgia, to find my uncle Joe
        You may talk about your Beauregard…”

        Uncle Joe being Johnston?
        I never knew how to read the sentiment in those lines, it could easily read as anti-Hood
        But I have no idea if that was the intent

  • Larry Lennhoff

    Even The death of Bowie Gizzardsbane makes it clear that the strategically correct choice was to burn the Alamo to the ground, not defend it.

    And let’s not forget The Texas Israeli War:1999.

    • BubbaDave

      It’s hard to pick a favorite poem from Silverlock, but that one’s a contender for sure. (And yes, I live in Texas, and no, I’m not attached to the Texas mythology– but I don’t give a damn about a dude named Beowulf either and his epic is also a fun read.)

  • almost come to blows with the United States

    Most days, I wish they’d been successful. Then Texans would STFU already.

  • Alfred Wagenknecht

    Mr. Loomis’ continuing obsession with Texas.

    ‘S OK, I have one, too!

  • Gwen

    What is interesting, and what I just realized, is how in Texas even the ignominious losses are treated as glorious heroism.

    For example, in the War is Boring article, there is a brief mention of the Mier Expedition (the rogue invasion of northern Mexico in 1842). In 7th grade Texas History, and again in college, we were taught that the dastardly Mexicans decimated the Texans by putting white beans and black beans in a jar and having the Texans draw beans. The bean episode is generally drawn out in ridiculous detail, and is made into a sort of parable about how brave the militia men were, or something. It becomes basically a Rambo movie. With beans.


    As for Mirabeau Lamar, history has not treated him kindly, but mostly because he was bad to the Cherokee Indians.

    One might go through public school in Texas and come to believe that the only reason that Texas didn’t conquer all of Mexico is because we just didn’t try hard enough.

    • rm

      Those sneaky underhanded Mexicans, always goin’ around banning slavery and defending their territory and stuff.

      • Baby Needs-A-Nym

        With Beans.

        • Gwen

          Or as they say in dastardly Mexico land, “con free-holes.”

          • allium

            y la carne de los muchos filibusteros

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          Yeah, let’s blame it all on the bean-counters.

    • N__B

      Without clicking on the Wikipedia link, I assume that the decimation took place when delicate gringo intestines exploded in a spasm of beany flatulence. I see no reason to click the link and learn something else.

  • Gwen

    Also, George Patton may or may not have had a hard-on for Aggies. The world may never know.


    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Patton said what?
    The quote has been emblazoned on T-shirts, posters and most recently a banner used to taunt Army players and fans at the Sept. 16 football game in San Antonio.
    Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.’s words are a testament to Aggie spirit and strength: “Give me an army of West Point graduates and I’ll win a battle. Give me a handful of Texas Aggies and I’ll win a war!”
    Mike Province, however, isn’t so sure that Patton ever uttered the words. As founder and president of The Patton Society, Province owns every General Patton book, magazine, movie, poster and voice recording in existence. He has penned three Patton books of his own, and he estimates that his collection of Patton memorabilia is the second largest in the world, only behind that of the Patton family themselves.
    “I’ve gotten e-mails and questions regarding that quote for several years,” Province said. “People will use it with Texas Aggies, The Citadel, Virginia Military Institute and even Clemson. All of these schools want to be linked to Patton.”
    Province has hunted specifically for the quotation for years, but has yet to uncover any evidence connecting it to Patton.
    “I’ve even gone to the Library of Congress and looked through the Patton Papers when they were released in 1990,” Province said. “I’ve yet to see that statement written down with any specific date or time.”
    Even if Patton didn’t say it, Hamilton believes it is still acceptable to use the quotation to rally Aggies.
    “We don’t know that he said it, but we don’t know that he didn’t say it,” Hamilton said. “I think it’s absolutely fine to use it because you can’t prove that it wasn’t said.”
    Jared Heine, a freshman agronomy major, agreed with Hamilton.
    “I think we should just use it anyway,” Heine said. “I don’t think it’s hurting anything, because it’s just encouraging Aggie spirit.”
    However, Province is fairly sure that Patton didn’t say the statement. Even though he called it an urban legend, Province would still like to have the mystery around Patton’s alleged words solved.
    “Anything is possible,” Province said. “I honestly don’t believe he said it, because I’ve heard too many people say that he said it about their school. But if anyone out there can find proof that he said it, I’d love to hear about it and get it out there.”

    • “Give me an army of West Point graduates and I’ll win a battle. Give me a handful of Texas Aggies and I’ll win a war!”

      TRANSLATION: Aggies are dumb enough to do anything you ask them, without question. Cannon-fodder, in other words

      • Gwen

        I’m too depressed to make Aggie jokes now that they left us for the SEC.

        • sparks

          I spent an entire afternoon and evening listening to my date tell Aggie jokes. I never called her again.

          • I had a buddy who went to UHouston. I know them all. I was shocked when in the 90s, I started hearing them again as blonde jokes.

    • Royko

      Even if Patton didn’t say it, Hamilton believes it is still acceptable to use the quotation to rally Aggies.
      “We don’t know that he said it, but we don’t know that he didn’t say it,” Hamilton said. “I think it’s absolutely fine to use it because you can’t prove that it wasn’t said.”

      Does that fall in the “it would be irresponsible NOT to speculate” category?

      “Those who attend Texas A&M are weak, sniveling children. Also, they have notably undersized sexual organs.”
      -Vlad the Impaler (What?!? Prove he didn’t say that!)

      • “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet”

        – Mark Twain

        • witless chum

          Believith thou not a thinge thet mye descendant typthe into the Devel’s lusty paintings boxe.

          -Slyvestrus Chum, 1572

  • rm

    IANA historian, so I don’t know how it’s regarded, but I happen to have on my desk Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot. One of the chapters is about the Alamo, and how a disastrous military blunder was turned into an inspiring nationalist legend by the way it was memorialized in propaganda and historiography. Larger point: facts don’t mean by themselves, they have to be interpreted and contextualized.

    • wengler

      It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how it’s remembered afterwards. The South might’ve lost the Civil War, but they did a good job of winning the memory for most of the 20th century.

      • I’m Nobody — what’s it to you?

        And where they won it was in that useless subject, American literature.

  • wjts

    When I lived in Lubbock, I was fond of making this observation at the local watering hole: The first European settlers in Texas, as all schoolchildren know, were the French. But it got too hard, so they quit. Texas then passed to the Spanish – but that got too hard, so they quit. For about fifteen years, Texas was part of Mexico – but that got too hard, so they quit. Texas was then an independent republic – but that got too hard, so they quit. Texas then joined the U.S.A. – but that got too hard, so they quit. Then Texas joined the Confederacy – but that got too hard, so they quit. Ever since, Texas has again been part of the U.S.A., but when times get tough again, I know who’s going to be the first to quit.

    • I see you were very popular in the panhandle.

      • wjts

        I was! I had a pickup with a “God Bless John Wayne” bumpersticker and everything*.

        *This second sentence is actually true.

        • Mammon

          Didn’t Molly Ivins describe Lubbock as a bunch of Monopoly houses on a griddle?

          • Mammon


          • wjts

            I don’t know if she did or not, but that’s a very apt description.

  • N__B

    And I’m still five hours away from starting to drink.

  • Pingback: The Successes of the Failed State of Texas | Paul Musgrave()

  • wengler

    All hat. No cattle. This is why bullshitting is the South’s national sport.

  • dollared

    The account of the one of the Mexico battles is priceless: Mexicans had artillery, and the Texans had their guns and their horses, I guess.

    Maybe the Texans should have, I dunno, formed a government, taxed some Makers, and bought some cannons?

    Just a thought.

  • I’ve long thought the most underrated military leader of all time was Sam Houston. That is, when you consider what he won and with what army at San Jacinto. How he managed to get his perpetually drunk and chronically mutinous troops to the right place and right time so that the battle could practically start itself seems miraculous in hindsight. Too bad Texas has had too few good government miracles.

  • Jamie

    In Germany’s defense, at least they are sane in defeat. The U.S. isn’t.

    Talk all you want about will and resolve, but AF was lost the minute the campaign started.

    • Mike Schilling

      sane in defeat

      That is possibly the most clueless thing I’ve ever read.

  • hickes01

    Here’s an intereting bit of trivia. There was a USS San Jacinto in WWII. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_San_Jacinto_(CVL-30). Now US ships can named for US battles, not sure how this one slippped through. Also, George H.W. Bush served on the San Jacinto. He actually flew combat missions from the ship, not just a moronic photo op to announce….

    • rea

      The US in WWII built so many carriers it was running out of battle (and historic ship) names. See, also, USS Cowpens.

      • wjts

        Eventually, they gave up and started naming them after Kinks songs.

        • Hogan

          That would be a great transition to going full Iain Banks: the USS You Really Got Me, the USS Come Dancing, the USS Ape Man . . .

          • N__B

            You’re skipping the USS Lola?

            • Malaclypse

              More egregiously, he’s skipped the USS Alcohol.

              • Hogan

                They’re right there in the ellipsis. Can’t you people read?

                • If only there was a destroyer named USS Paranoia…

      • Sherparick

        Hey, Cowpens and Bennington were probably the most one sided victories of an American field force over a British/Tory field forces during the Revolution. Don’t knock “Cowpens!!”

        Footnote: Saratoga and Yorktown were sieges, not field battles.

  • Shwell Thanksh

    Wendy for Guvnah!

  • jkay

    Sure? After all, we WERE 12x faster, as many MONTHS as that slow idiot Washington took YEARS in our Revolutionary War, if I did my math right. And we know how our Patriots won every battle… Slow and losing alot’s how guerrilla war is, as Vietnam can also tell us. The Alamo was the right move because we had no idea how it’d end, meaning we had to try and whittle them like Washington did worse at at NYC.

    For extra fun, check the top much easy fun we had against General Bungler Banks in the Civil War,
    Wendy for Governor, indeed.

  • jafd

    ‘Twas a series in the Q&A column of _Warship International_, back in the late ’70’s/early ’80’s, on the navy of the Texas Republic. Most of the ships in their squadron were sent to New Orleans for repair and overhaul, and attached and auctioned off by the Louisiana sheriff when the bills went unpaid.

  • Sherparick

    Texans never mention Goliad very much. Just the Alamo. And Sam Houston did not want them to try to make stand there. Santa Ana of course at the Alamo and his bad decisions afterward should get the most credit for Texas Independence.

    I would say that besides adding to its lousy war record, Texas little adventure in New Mexico did produce a good book, “Deadman’s Walk” by Larry McMurtry.

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