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An American Odyssey

[ 0 ] May 24, 2006 |

Speaking of food that will make you violently ill, I really want to be these guys.

A few weeks ago I embarked on a gluttonous odyssey, with a changing cast of co-conspirators, across this fast-food nation, from New York to California, sea to greasy sea. It was a roving binge as warped road movie: “Transfatamerica.” Or maybe, given our cholesterol-oblivious plunge over a nutritional cliff: “Thelma and Disease.”

But my goal wasn’t to supersize myself. It was to size up and single out the best fast food from familiar national chains, relatively unfamiliar regional chains and tiny local chains I had never encountered. To take the culinary road less traveled, at least by me.

Given my latest cholesterol reading (Doctor Bennet: “Check again. Are you sure you’re still alive?”) I fear that such a quest is forever beyond my grasp. Interestingly, what I’ve heard about Gold Star Chili confirms Bruni’s assessment that it’s the worst fast food in America. I can’t agree with his claim that KFC is better than Popeye’s, but I concur that the Whopper is better than the Big Mac by a fair margin.

Hat tip to Davida.

Can’t Greece and Turkey Just Get Along?

[ 0 ] May 23, 2006 |

Seriously. This is ridiculous.

Greek and Turkish F-16 fighter planes collided in midair today in disputed airspace over the Aegean Sea.


Greece insists its national airspace rights extend 10 miles from its coast. Turkey, however, recognizes only a six-mile zone and says it has a right to train in international airspace.

The dispute, among the thorniest in Greek-Turkish relations, has had warplanes from both sides engaging in a near daily drill of mock combat maneuvers over contested parts of the Aegean.

In April alone, Turkish jets violated Greek airspace no less than 53 times, Hellenic Air Force officials said today.

Then again, I suppose that it helps to demonstrate the continued value of the NATO alliance. Greece and Turkey are far less likely to come to actual blows while under the same security umbrella.

Incidentally, one of the books I mention below, Wayne Hughes’ Fleet Combat, describes a scenario involving US naval intervention in a Greco-Turkish war. Kind of cool.

Update: Via comments, Fistful of Euros has more.

Military Affairs Reading List

[ 0 ] May 22, 2006 |

CJ, among others, has requested a military affairs reading list. Ask 100 students of military affairs this question and you’ll get 100 different lists, and I haven’t really made an effort to give a general survey. Rather, this is a selection of my favorite books. I also spoke with John at Op For, and he offered his list. Here goes:

Stephen Biddle, Military Power: This is a critical text for getting a basic understanding of the “modern system” of land warfare that developed on the Western Front during World War I. Biddle includes chapters on Operation Goodwood, Operation Desert Storm, and the Second Battle of the Somme. The answer, Biddle argues, is force employment. Effective execution of tactics matters more than numbers or technology.

David Glantz and Jonathan House, When Titans Clashed: This is an excellent single volume history of the Eastern Front in World War II. The scale of combat on the Eastern Front exceeded in numbers, technology, and skill anything seen in the West. The Red Army and the Wehrmacht attained an extraordinary level of skill by the end of the war. Important because this is the single most devastating war in human history.

Hans Delbruck, Warfare in Antiquity: A little over a hundred years old, Delbruck employs an innovative method for studying military history. If you want to know what happened at Marathon, then the historical text matters somewhat less that what our own eyes tell us is possible. For example, Delbruck compared the description of the Battle of Marathon given by Herodotus with the actual battlefield, and determined that it was simply impossible for the Athenian phalanx to move as Herodotus had recorded. This text, the first of four, is very good for describing the basic difference between the various kinds of phalanx and the progressive iterations of Roman Legion.

Robert Pape, Bombing to Win: This selection might be controversial, but I like how Pape handles the various coercion campaigns in World War II and the Vietnam War. It might be a little heavy on the political science for some tastes. The upshot is that strategic bombing doesn’t come close to meeting the predictions of its enthusiasts. Although I haven’t read Tami Biddle’s Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare, it’s supposed to be quite good.

John Keegan, Face of Battle: This is a very nice little volume that explains, in vivid detail, the differences between the battle experience of a soldier at Agincourt, at Waterloo, and at the Somme. If you really don’t know anything about warfare, this isn’t a bad place to start.

Andrew Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam: An exceptional volume about the experience of the Army in the Vietnam War, and in particular the difficulty it had in adopting and executing counter-insurgency tactics. A must read, especially today.

Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence: I include this volume not so much because I agree with Schelling’s arguments (I don’t, so much), but because Schelling is so important to understanding how states and heads of government have thought about coercion and military violence in the past forty years.

Peter Paret ed., Makers of Modern Strategy: If you’re only going to read one 900 page book on military strategy, try this one. Most, although not all, of the essays are informative and helpful. The contributors discuss everything from the development of Napoleonic warfare to nuclear strategy. There’s even a competent if not inspired essay on Soviet military strategy by Condi Rice.

Carl Builder, The Masks of War
: A bit outdated but still remarkably interesting, Builder discusses how the three services understand themselves and war in strikingly different ways. Helps to explain why convincing the services to work with one another remains difficult, and why Congress and the Pentagon have worked so hard at convincing them to cooperate.

Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones, How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War: This is my favorite military account of the Civil War, although I’ll concede that I’m no specialist and that others may have better suggestions. This is a very serviceable volume, detailed and even-handed.

Sam Huntington, Soldier and the State: A classic on the role of the military professional in a civilian governed state. Huntington didn’t really get much better than this.

Wayne Hughes, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat: A very solid text on the development of missile warfare, and of the application of general principles of naval combat to the modern age. I don’t quite agree with many of his conclusions, but it’s a useful book nonetheless.

Kenneth Pollack, Arabs at War: Interesting both for the subject matter, and as a general history of warfare in the second half of the twentieth century. Pollack details the particular military deficiencies of each Arab state. Israel’s success against the Arab states isn’t simply the result of Israeli expertise, but also includes a fair dose of Arab military ineptitude. The Egyptian chapter is particularly illuminating, and demonstrates the importance of communication, trust, and innovation in modern mechanized warfare.

Alan Millett and Williamson Murray eds., Military Effectiveness, v. 1-3 These books include essays on the military effectiveness of the various belligerents in World War I, the Interwar Period, and World War II. Very informative. Unfortunately, the seem to be out of print. Try to find them in a library. I haven’t yet read Millet and Murray’s history of World War II, A War to be Won, but I suspect that it’s quite good.

N.A.M. Rodger, Safeguard of the Sea, Command of the Ocean: This selection is quite idiosyncratic, and most readers probably won’t find all that much use for these two volumes. They chronicle the history of naval warfare, particularly in the context of the development of navies in the British Isles. What I find most interesting in Rodger’s work is his narrative of the evolution of the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy is one of the world’s oldest military organizations, and its development closely parallels the construction of the English state. Both volumes are quite readable.

That’s my list. Here’s John’s.

My additions:

These are eight books that I consider to be invaluable additions to the science of military thought. I don’t always go after the most brainy reads, instead focusing on the ones that I find most valuable and applicable to the modern day. For example, I’ve included Clausowitz but excluded Sun Tzu, who I think is dry and a master of the obvious. But that’s aside the point. Hope you all find these suggestions as useful as I have, and feel free to send me your own suggestions.

Hitler’s Generals: books on the military genius of German commanders during the Second World War are a dime a dozen. I dig Barnett’s version because -unlike the subject’s other authors- he spends more time detailing the relationship between Hitler and the German High Command than he does kissing the asses of the Kraut field marshalls. I’m not saying guys like Guderian and Rommell aren’t deserving of high praise, I’m just sick of hearing about it. Barnett breaths new life into an otherwise tired theme, check it out.

Stephen Decatur: A Life Most Bold and Daring: My blog partner Charlie describes Stephen Decatur as “the Jack Bauer of the 1800s,” and he’s right. The US Navy’s famed commodore was responsible for the first real projection of US power abroad, fought the Barbary Pirates off the Tripoli coast and commanded a naval squadron during the War of 1812. Dr. Spencer Tucker captured Decatur so effectively that A Life Most Bold and Daring has become one of my favorite reads.

Rogue Warrior: Former Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko is a controversial guy. He was court-martialed by the Navy for some stupid spat over hand grenades, I don’t know the details. But Rogue Warrior, Marcinko’s autobiography, is a must-read. It’s a kind of a “rise and fall of the special forces operator” story, following Marcinko as he joined the SEALs during their infancy in the early 60s, fought in Vietnam, and founded two of the nation’s premier counter-terrorism units: SEAL Team Six and Red Cell. What’s fascinating about the book -if you can get past all the ego- is the way Marcinko’s life and story intersects with history. It’s not a very academic read, lots of swearing and dirty jokes, but hell, whatever. If he can be informative and entertaining at the same time, great.

Imperial Grunts: Robert Kaplan uses Imperial Grunts to make an argument that I hate, the notion of America as an empire, without being snotty about it. Embedding himself with elite American military units in some six different countries, Kaplan doesn’t hide the fact that he greatly admires US troops. But, he says, the fall of the Soviet Union and rise of ambiguous enemies have turned those soldiers into the arms of 21st century imperialism, no less so than Rome during her apex of power. This is one of those “important” books.

On War: Okay I know that mentioning Clausowitz is a “no duh” addition but, cliche or not, the lasting effects of Clausowitz’s military genius make it difficult to exclude.

The Book of Five Rings: And speaking of Clausowitz, this is like a Japanese version of On War. Another book where philosophy and military science meet. Plus I’ve always thought Samurais were cool.

George C. Marshall: Soldier-Statesman of the 20th Century:
I’ve long believed that General George C. Marshall was one of the most important figures of the 20th century, a true-to-life Cincinattus. Unlike other generals, Marshall’s legacy transcended warfare, as he was instrumental in the formation of the NATO alliance and the reconstruction of Europe. Mark Stoler’s account of Marshall’s life isn’t so much a biography as it is a lesson in leadership. Oh and Marshall is a fellow VMI man, heh.


[ 0 ] May 21, 2006 |

It appears that Montenegro has voted to secede from the Union of Serbia and Montenegro. A 55% supermajority was needed, and it looks as if they’ve just managed to get there. Let’s hope that this divorce can be conducted more peacefully than the rest of the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Doug Muir has more.


[ 0 ] May 21, 2006 |

The show last night in Louisville was, as expected, outstanding. The timing was very tight, as each band had only abot 45 minutes to play. We missed one or two Escovedo songs because he apparently started right at 7. There were a couple of technical problems, including a bad guitar amp in the Escovedo set, and some feedback problems with Stanley. That’s probably to be expected at a show that includes five acts in a short period of time.

All of the acts were outstanding. I had not previously heard YMSB, but I was pleased with their set. Aleksi Murdoch was fine, I suppose. Dr. Stanley only participated in about half the songs that his band played, but he’s 79, so I’m inclined to cut him a break. One other thing about Ralph Stanley; he’s an extremely short man.

The Drive By Truckers went on last, and played a short but exceptional set. Three songs each, if I recall correctly, from Decoration Day, Dirty South, and A Blessing and a Curse. I was particularly impressed with the live versions of the last, which made me more appreciative of their latest album.

Rodger Payne has more. This was my first real visit to Louisville, which has a nice little downtown walking area, nicer than Lexington, anyway.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: SMS Friedrich Der Grosse

[ 0 ] May 21, 2006 |

Part III of a four part series to commemmorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland.

Part I: SMS Lutzow
Part II: HMS Lion

The first eight German dreadnoughts followed the naming convention previously adopted for pre-dreadnoughts. Like in the US Navy, battleships were named after states. This changed with the construction of the Kaisers, the third class of German dreadnoughts. They, and their successors the Konigs, were named after general or specific monarchs. After nine ships the German Navy reverted to the practice of naming battleships after states with Baden and Bayern. Although one might suspect that the decision to name battleships after monarchs was designed to please William II, he had always been an ardent supporter of the naval program, and no such flattery was necessary.

Friedrich Der Grosse
was the second of the Kaiser class, commissioned in October 1912. Friedrich Der Grosse carried 10 12″ guns, displaced 25000 tons, and could make 22 knots. Her design included a couple of interesting points. The Germans abandoned the wasteful hexagonal turret distribution that they had used in the Nassau and Helgoland classes, instead carrying one twin turret forward, two turrets rear, and two wing turrets. Theoretically, the wing turrets could fire on either broadside, but such use put enormous strain on the hull and the superstructure. The arrangement was mildly better than that of her predecessors, but the Germans wouldn’t achieve a truly efficient turret arrangement until the completion of the Konig class. At one point during the war, Austrian naval engineers visited Kiel and discussed the relative merits of different turret designs. The Austrians, correctly, argued that the German turret distribution was wasteful. The Germans insisted that the triple turrets preferred by the Austrians could never work. The Austrians had a much better case; Szent Istvan could easily outgun Friedrich Der Grosse, despite being 20% smaller. The Kaisers were also the first class of German dreadnoughts to use turbines.

Friedrich der Grosse became flagship of the High Seas Fleet from roughly the date of her commissioning, and carried the flag of Admiral Reinhard Scheer at the Battle of Jutland. The German plan was to lure part of the Grand Fleet into a conflict with the whole of the High Seas Fleet. Pre-positioned U-boats would delay and weaken the Grand Fleet. On May 31, 1916, it seemed that this plan had worked. Six British battlecruisers and four battleships had been lured out of Rosyth to do battle with the German battlecruisers. Admiral Hipper, commanding from Lutzow, led David Beatty and Lion toward the oncoming German fleet, consisting of sixteen dreadnoughts. Upon sighting the High Seas Fleet, the battered British ships turned north and were relieved by the Fifth Battle Squadron, which exchanged fire for a while with the German battlecruisers and with the forward elements of the High Seas Fleet. Unbeknownst to Scheer, however, the Grand Fleet had been neither delayed nor weakened, and was in a position, with fully twenty-four dreadnoughts and three battlecruisers, to intercept Scheer’s fleet.

The High Seas Fleet continued to plug north in pursuit of Beatty’s ships, and briefly savaged a squadron of British armored cruisers that found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The crew of the cruiser Warrior was saved by a mechanical problem on board Warspite. Her rudder damaged, Warspite made two full turns in front of the German Navy, taking fifteen hits in the process but eventually limping away. As Warspite sped out of reach, however, Scheer became aware of the presence of the Grand Fleet, which was in the process of crossing the German “T”, the most advantageous possible tactical position.

Scheer knew that he couldn’t fight the Grand Fleet, and did the sensible thing. He ordered the High Seas Fleet to make a 180 degree turn in line; a very difficult maneuver that required a great deal of practice. Essentially, each ship turned at roughly the same time, rather than in formation. At the end of the turn, the trailing ship was in the lead, and Scheer’s fleet was moving to the southwest, away from the British fleet but also away from the German bases. In a move that has still not been fully explained, Scheer then ordered his fleet to execute a second 180 degree turn, back toward the British line. The Grand Fleet was in a perfect position to intercept this, and began hammering the head of the German line. Finally, Scheer ordered a third 180 degree turn to escape from the British. To cover the German escape, he ordered the destroyers and battlecruisers to launch an attack against the Grand Fleet, hoping that this would save the German battlefleet.

This still left the Germans on the wrong side of the British fleet. It was getting late in the day, however, and the Germans managed to avoid further combat before nightfall. During the night the High Seas Fleet took advantage of poor British communications to cross the British line and escape towards Germany. Although many of the German dreadnoughts had been heavily damaged (Friedrich Der Grosse had not suffered much damage), none were sunk.

The rest of Friedrich Der Grosse’s career was uneventful. She operated in the Baltic against the Russian Navy, and was interned by the Allies at Scapa Flow. On June 21, 1919 she was scuttled along with the rest of the High Seas Fleet. In 1937 the hulk was raised and scrapped by a British entrepreneur.

In 1928, Admiral Jellicoe invited Admiral Scheer to Great Britain for a visit. Sadly, Scheer died before he could travel to the UK.

Trivia: What British battleship was de-militarized in accordance with the London Naval Treaty of 1930?

UPDATE, 12/3/06: Out of curiosity, why the sudden interest in this post? Have received a bunch of hits from the UK on this post in the last hour…

Venezuela’s Retort, or The Only Suspected Terrorist that Bush Won’t Torture

[ 0 ] May 19, 2006 |

Interesting stuff. Via Helmut:

Just as the Bush administration is ignoring our efforts in the war on terror, it is also thwarting attempts to bring notorious terrorists to justice, and it is doing so for political reasons. The State Department has ignored repeated requests from the Venezuelan government to either try or extradite three known Venezuelan terrorists currently taking refuge on U.S. soil. The most infamous of these, Luis Posada Carriles, is known as the “Osama bin Laden of Latin America” and is widely believed to have masterminded the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that left 73 innocent civilians dead. Despite repeated requests, the Bush administration has refused to honor the extradition treaty it signed with Venezuela in 1922.

Here is the Wiki on Carriles. And here is a BBC article.

One man, terrorist, freedom fighter. And all that. The official US reason for not deporting Carriles is that he might face torture in Venezuela. Ponder that for a few minutes.


That’s it, Crooked Timber is off the blogroll…

[ 0 ] May 19, 2006 |

Chris Bertram:

And I’ve enjoyed all of them, with the possible exception of The Drive-By Truckers who struck me as over-loud Skynyrd wannabees

Ack. Responding to a statement like that would lend it more dignity that it deserves. Here’s a more sensible perspective on the Truckers:

On the other hand, the Drive-by Truckers kicked much ass. I was fully rocked. This is just such a great band. The songs are spectacular. They have 3 songwriters much superior to Jay Farrar. They had fun. They sang like they gave a fuck. Their guitar solos had meaning. And think about that. Every band uses guitar. But how many bands actually do something with it? How many bands make it worth a damn? How many bands today come up with a riff that you remember? And Drive-by Truckers do this with every song they write.

One of the great things about Drive-by Truckers is how they are rehabilitating one of the most underrated forms of American rock and roll–Southern Rock. They are firmly within that tradition but are taking it new places. Can you ask more of a band than that? And when was the last time a band really made a statement in that genre? The Black Crowes in 1991 or so maybe? Early Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers albums?

I’ve seen them 3 times in the last three years, and have been impressed every time. Tomorrow night they play in Louisville with Ralph Stanley, YMSB, and Alejandro Escovedo. I’ll be attending with the distinguished Dr. Payne of Duck of Minerva.

[ 0 ] May 19, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

Effects Based Operations?

[ 0 ] May 19, 2006 |

Kingdaddy has some useful commentary on “Effects Based Operations“, a term which apparently refers to operations directed against enemy strategic targets rather than military forces. Such targets include morale, industry, infrastructure, and communications (although the last two certainly have operational military elements). Kingdaddy points out that while advocates of EBO operations have made grand claims about their ability to win wars, these claims have never been reflected in reality.

For example, on the question of what Giulio Douhet, founding theorist of strategic bombing, believed, let’s ask Lt. Colonel Richard Estes, USAF:

Douhet believed that, with the advent of technology, the army and navy had become “organs of indirect attrition of national resistance.” The air arm, on the other hand, could act directly to break national resistance at the very source. But not just any air force would do. Douhet rejected the idea of an auxiliary air arm of the army or navy or a collection of “knights-errant” flying fighters. Rather, he called for a fleet of massive, self-defending bombers that would dominate not only the enemy, but also the military budget of Italy–or any other country that would listen to his ideas. He wanted an air force that could win not just air battles but total command of the air. This command of the air would have a debilitating effect on the capability of land and sea forces, which would be relegated to a secondary role in future conflicts. The army and navy would remain part of an “indivisible whole” of the three armed services but would no longer be a significant factor in successfully resolving a war. With the ascendance of the air force, “the history of the war … presents no more interest.”

It can be fairly said that this prediction failed to manifest in World War II. The strategic bombing campaign against Germany did damage German industry and did use German resources. This result was deeply disappointing to many on the Allied side of the war. Arthur Harris, for example believed that the destruction of German morale would be the key to Allied victory. He resented any shifting of resources to attacks on German industry, German communications infrastructure, and German tactical assets. To their credit, American commanders were more skeptical of these kinds of arguments, and attempted to focus their bombing on the destruction of specific industrial assets. Americans Army Air Force officers were, it should be noted, willing to push Harris’ arguments in an effort to win independence for their service.

The author of the initial post is reduced to defending EBO as part of a tapestry of military operations. This defense is reasonable, were it not for the grandiose claims made by the proponents of EBO. Unfortunately, the author falls into a similar claim with this:

9/11 was an EBO; we are still feeling the effects long after the smoke cleared, the rubble was collected and the bodies were buried. The damage extended far beyond thephysical targets.

Regarding “Shock and Awe”: Is Saddam in power right now? Shock and awe was succesful in meeting its intended effect: depose the Saddam regime. “Shock and awe” was never meant to address the reconstruction and insurgency.

The term “Shock and Awe” is generally used to describe the effect of the precision bombing raids in the opening days of the war, an operation launched in the hope of compelling Saddam’s regime into submission without a fight. I have never heard it used otherwise before now. Saddam is out of power because Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities were conquered and occupied by the US Army and the US Marine Corps, a very traditional method of fighting war. It should also be noted that the effect of 9/11 on the United States is hardly a recommendation for EBO…

Mmm… Pork

[ 0 ] May 18, 2006 |

I’m going to outsource the discussion of Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers to Redbeard at Vague Nihilism. What’s notable about this isn’t the evident, obvious corruption, but rather that this is the kind of behavior that is almost certain to get you re-elected in the United States. Say what you will, but Rogers is doing a bang-up job for his constituents.

A Hearty Thanks…

[ 0 ] May 18, 2006 |

… to our commenters. As Akirlu reminds us, you guys are super. Hell, even our trolls are often informative.

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