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Category: Robert Farley

Craven (Not John Kasich Post!)

[ 11 ] August 30, 2015 |

I’ve seen Nightmare on Elm Street once.  I was eleven, but parts of it are still etched on my brain.

Rest in peace, Wes Craven. 


Bringing Back the Battleship…

[ 39 ] August 30, 2015 |

I’m now all battleships, all the time.  Latest at National Interest:

Is it time to bring back the battleship?

For decades, naval architects have concentrated on building ships that, by the standards of the World Wars, are remarkably brittle. These ships can deal punishment at much greater ranges than their early 20th century counterparts, but they can’t take a hit. Is it time to reconsider this strategy, and once again build protected ships? This article examines how these trends came about, and what might change in the future.

Saturday Links!

[ 22 ] August 29, 2015 |

1369799423544176742Some links for your Saturday morning:




Ghost Fleet

[ 63 ] August 24, 2015 |

My review of Ghost Fleet is up at the Diplomat.

In their acclaimed novel Ghost Fleet, Peter Singer and August Cole want to get us into the action as quickly as possible without mucking around the political and strategic origins of conflict.  In a sense, they commit fully to an idea, first attributed to Thucydides, that the dynamics of the international system make conflict inevitable, and that the details of why states go to war are incidental.

In the real world, and in the best war fiction, nations tend to need reasons to go to war. These reasons have an impact on the course of the war; they affect operational objectives, the limits of escalation, the degree of mobilization, and the extent of will necessary to conducting the war.

Here’s the second half:

Singer and Cole take as their model Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising, the classic account of a war on the central front and in the North Atlantic between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. In Clancy’s narrative, the Moscow decides to strike because Islamist terrorists have disrupted a large percentage of Soviet refining capacity, leaving the USSR vulnerable to US coercion. Red Storm Rising is justly remembered for its depiction of late Cold War naval warfare, including the famous “Dance of the Vampires” chapter in which a Soviet strike package devastates a NATO task force. While Clancy has a wide lens, his story is character driven, told through the personal experiences of generals, admirals, fighter pilots, and submarine commanders.

Believe me when I tell you this; Tom Clancy is much more effective at generating face plausible characters, especially in contexts not normally given to effective characterization, than is commonly thought.  And Red Storm Rising serves his skills particularly well, as we don’t spend enough time with any of the multitude of characters to really require in depth development.

Singer and Cole… do not rise to the level of Clancy. They have a Chinese admiral who is almost literally a collection of Sun Tzu quotes, strung together. They have father and son sailors; the son has father issues, the father has son issues. They have some cardboard counter-insurgents chasing some cardboard insurgents. They have a hacker, and a couple billionaire industrialists, and a billionaire industrialist hacker. They have a Sexy Serial Killer (more on that in a bit). The single most interesting character is probably a Weary Russian military detective named Markov, drawn essentially from a combination of Jake Gittes and the Cuban counter-insurgent in Red Dawn. Anonymous makes an appearance for some reason.

And with respect to that sexy serial killer, there’s one extremely important rule to remember when you’ve decided to include a Sexy Serial Killer in your World War III techno-thriller. The rule runs as follows:

Do not include a Sexy Serial Killer in your World War III techno-thriller.

Singer and Cole use the Sexy Serial Killer (pursued by the Weary Russian) to demonstrate some nifty technology at the nexus of counter-insurgency and domestic policing. That’s not a good enough reason to violate the rule about including a Sexy Serial Killer in your World War II techno-thriller.

The authors would have been better advised to follow the model of Sir John Hackett’s 1979 book The Third World War: August, 1985. Hackett largely eschews character development to focus on the larger strategic and operational decision-making in NATO and, to a lesser extent, the Warsaw Pact.  This makes the novel somewhat less gripping than Red Storm Rising, but helps to better fulfill its essentially didactic purpose. Moreover, following this model would have forced the authors to go into more detail about the strategic and operational aspects of the war, which would have provided helpful framing for the techno-thriller sketches.

All that said, the novel certainly hits its beats; the Russians and (especially) the Chinese are sufficiently arrogant during their successful half of the war to make them extremely irritating, and the Americans sufficiently creative and heroic in their half to make the action compelling. And the authors certainly show no reluctance to kill people in interesting ways, so there’s that.

Better Know a Brazilian: João Cândido Felisberto

[ 19 ] August 24, 2015 |

This is a guest post by Dr. Colin Snider, who also blogs at Americas South and North.

João Cândido Felisberto remains one of the more overlooked figures in one of the more overlooked periods of Brazilian history. However, his life offers much insight into the transitional nature of race, society, politics, and life during Brazil’s First Republic (1889-1930) and beyond.

João Cândido Felisberto was born in Rio Grande do Sul in 1880 to parents who either were still slaves, or who had been recently manumitted. Either way, João Cândido was raised in a context in which slavery (which was only fully abolished in Brazil in 1888) was a daily part of living memory. At the age of 15, João Cândido attended the School for Naval Apprentices in Rio Grande do Sul. Apprenticeship schools (where orphaned boys were often sent) were one of two ways that most men entered the navy, with forced recruitment being the other typical route into the navy.


Sailors on the Minas Geraes in the 1910s. The photograph reveals the ways in which sailors were overwhelmingly of African descent, even while the officer class was overwhelmingly white. Thus, Brazil’s navy replicated the racial hierarchy of Brazilian politics and society more generally.

João Cândido served in the navy for 15 years, a period that saw substantial transformations in both the navy and in Brazilian politics and society more generally. In 1889, Brazil’s military, with the support of republicans, abolitionists, and others, peacefully overthrew the empire of Dom Pedro II, bringing an end to the Brazilian Empire (1822-1889) and ending the reign of the House of Bragança. The First Republic, an oligarchic federalized regime, struggled to re-define the nation, even while it dealt with internal challenges (including no fewer than two naval revolts in the 1890s). Among its major concerns were how Brazil, a country of racially-mixed history in the midst of the scientific racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, could project an image of modernity and civilization in the world.

By the early 1900s, the Brazilian government determined that military modernization would be one of the mechanisms through which Brazil would join the “civilized” countries of the world. Brazil had long had a strong navy, which played an important role in the eventual Brazilian victory in the War of the Triple Alliance, and the navy had also been key to extending the Brazilian state’s presence into the Amazon. With the Japanese victory over Russia, predicated largely on naval power, in the Japanese-Russo War had demonstrated the value of a modernized, steam-powered navy. With the debut of the Dreadnought in England, the first ship of its firepower, Brazil determined that improving its navy  with Dreadnought-class battle-ships would be the way to project its “civilized” status and “modernity” to the world. As a result, it pledged to buy three dreadnoughts (and, in the process, spurred an arms race with Argentina and Chile). By 1910, Brazil had the Minas Geraes, which was up to that point the largest warship in the world – not even Great Britain had an equal to the Minas Geraes. Brazil also commissioned the São Paulo, the second of its warships, while a contract for a third (the Rio de Janeiro) was completed. Each ship cost $10 million dollars (roughly $250,000,000 each in 2015). Beyond the two dreadnoughts, Brazil also purchased some cruisers and refitted older battleships and other ships. To demonstrate its new firepower, the ships went to Portugual in November 1910, arriving just in time to witness the Republican revolution that brought an end to the Bragança Family’s rule in Portugal.


São Paulo on trials, 1910

While Brazil’s naval firepower had modernized substantially, the naval use of force had not. While Brazil’s 1891 constitution had outlawed flogging, a loophole meant that the practice remained common on enlisted men in the navy. While (almost universally white) officers defended the practice, going so far as to say it allowed sailors to show their physical strength, the (overwhelmingly Afro-Brazilian) enlisted men bristled at the practice’s ongoing survival. A naval force of men who, like João Cândido, had slavery within their living memory, bristled at the state’s assertion of control over their bodies through whipping, and the associations that the practice carried with slavery.  Much of the western world had banned flogging of sailors, either in practice or in legal codes, yet the practice remained in Brazil’s navy into the 2oth century. While legally, officers could not lash sailors more than 25 lashes a day, the naval code allowed for more, based on the “prudent discretion” of the officers. As a result, men like Marcelino Rodrigues de Menezes could be sentenced to 200-250 lashes in November 1910.

It was in this political and military context in which João Cândido entered into the national historical stage. Menezes’ punishment was the spark that lit the simmering resentment of sailors over abuses they suffered. Sailors had quietly been preparing a revolt in protest against the use of flogging and other issues. The revolt was initially planned for November 15 – the anniversary of the founding of the Republic in 1889 – but ultimately postponed. With Menezes’s whipping, however, sailors on the Minas GeraesSão Paulo, and other ships in Guanabara Bay determined the time to act had come. On November 22, 1910, nearly 2400 sailors (out of 5000) rose up, killing the commander of the Minas Geraes and some of his subordinates, proclaiming “Down with the lash” and “Long live liberty!”

Having not taken a part in the initial wave of violence, João Cândido nonetheless emerged as the leader of the revolt on the morning of the 23rd. João Cândido himself had never been flogged (though he had been periodically reprimanded for fights with other sailors), and indeed had recently twice received citations for good conduct. As part of the transitional generation that witnessed the move from Empire to Republic and the technological transformation from sailing to steam-powered ships, João Cândido had the respect of both the older and younger sailors, which aided in his position as leader of the movement.


João Cândido (right) with his personal aide during the Revolt of the Whip.

By the morning of the 23rd, two of the most powerful battleships in the world, whose firepower the Brazilian government had trumpeted as evidence of its development, were now pointing those very guns at the city of Rio de Janeiro, and the people who were once supposed to feel pride at Brazil’s military might now panicked as it was directed toward them. This fear was compounded by the deaths of at least two civilians when the ships fired toward the city in one instance.

The sailors’ demands were not revolutionary. In addition to the abolition of flogging (and of corporal punishment more generally), sailors also demanded the removal of “incompetent and unworthy officers,” an increase in pay, better access to education, and more workers (the naval forces were notoriously understaffed). As the revolt dragged on, sailors also added better food and an amnesty for their actions to their list of demands. Meanwhile, their manifesto insisted they acted as “sailors, citizens, and republicans.” In making such claims, they were not expressing political radicalism, but rather, were asserting their rights as citizens and equals in the new Republic. Indeed, the joining of “down with the lash” and praises for liberty revealed the subtle ways in which the legacies of slavery, and the affiliation of whipping with slavery, resonated among an overwhelmingly Afro-descendent naval force who worked for white officers. Thus began what came to be known as the Revolt of the Whip.


A Brazilian overseer whipping a slaves, both in the foreground and at the tree in the background. Such images were in the living memory of sailors during the Revolt of the Whip. That white officers still flogged black sailors mirrored the relations of slavery (abolished just 22 years earlier) doubtlessly resonated in the minds of the sailors and helps explain why lashings were at the core of the 1910 revolt.

While politicians debated what to do, military leaders expressed begrudging admiration for the sailors’ planning and coordination of the revolt, and their ability to maintain secrecy. In order to prevent reprisals, the ships under João Cândido’s guidance (he’d been a helmsman, among other positions in his 15 years in naval service), regularly moved out beyond the bar at night, so that the military could not launch a counter-attack. After much debate,with opponents saying to capitulate to the (black) sailors would destroy Brazil’s ability to govern itself, the government of President Hermes Rodrigues da Fonseca – himself a soldier and the nephew of Deodoro da Fonseca, who led the coup of 1889 – agreed on November 26 to an amnesty and to consider the sailors’ demands. The navy retook control of the ships shortly afterward.

However, the amnesty did not produce an end to the tensions. Despite agreeing to consider the demands, there was no immediate pay raise, nor was flogging immediately abolished. On the ships themselves, officers remained tense, and their command was in reality tenuous, as sailors only obeyed commands that João Cândido approved. In this context, the sailors themselves divided: some, like João Cândido, sided with the government in the wake of the pledge to address their issues; others demanded more radical action.

In spite of its promise for an amnesty, the government quickly moved to crack down on the sailors who revolted, launching a wave of illegal arrests of sailors. By the first week of December, over 100 sailors were arrested in what amounted to a purge of the already understaffed navy.

In this context, the radicals plotted another revolt for December 9. At the fort in the Ilha das Cobras [one of the islands of Guanabara Bay], marines rose up and took the fort, holding it for 17 hours before the government re-took the fort. This second revolt did not express any specific demands, and caught many of the leaders of the first revolt, including João Cândido, off guard. Indeed, in the brief course of the second revolt, João Cândido expressed support for the government.

With this second revolt, the government and military quickly deployed repressive tactics, removing 1000 sailors from the navy and imprisoning 600 sailors and marines. Among those arrested was João Cândido, who had had no part in the second revolt and remained supportive of the government during the brief rebellion. João Cândido then endured some of the most horrific events of the crackdown. He, along with 28 other men, was imprisoned in the colonial-era maximum security prison in the fort at Ilha das Cobras (where the second revolt had occurred) on Christmas Eve. The prison cell itself lacked fresh water and was stiflingly hot. Making matters worse, soldiers had cleaned it out with quicklime. As the stagnant water on the floor of the prisons evaporated, the lime on the walls entered into the air that the prisoners were breathing. They called for help, but the jailor did not have the keys to the cell – the commander had taken them with him to Rio de Janeiro as he celebrated the holiday. By the time the cell was finally opened on December 25, twenty-five of the twenty-nine prisoners were dead from asphyxiation. João Cândido was one of the four survivors.

While news of the Ilha das Cobras scandal slowly emerged, João Cândido remained a prisoner, finally charged in June 1912 for involvement in the second revolt, in spite of the fact he had sided with the government during the second revolt and had played no part in it. In December 1912, just over two years after the Revolt of the Whip and nearly two years since João Cândido nearly died in prison, a court-martial unanimously found João Cândido not guilty of involvement in the second revolt.

Despite the amnesty of 1910 and the acquittal of 1912, João Cândido would not lead an easy life. He briefly worked for the merchant marine before Navy officials pressured his employers to fire him. He ultimately settled down as a fishmonger and merchant in Rio de Janeiro by the end of the 1910s. Meanwhile, the Revolt of the Whip had tapped into, but certainly not solved, questions of racial difference and inequality during the First Republic, even while highlighting the limits of “modernity” that the government had pursued. As time progressed, João Cândido, and the Revolt of the Whip, came to offer symbolic meaning and hope to other groups. When the Communist Party launched a revolt during the government of Getúlio Vargas, they appealed to sailors to rise up as they had done in 1910. In 1959, the governor of Rio Grande do Sul finally offered him a pension in recognition of his role in demanding an end to corporal punishment and the fight for equality during the Revolt of the Whip. And in March 1964, as marines and sailors went on strike to demand the right to vote and run for office, they invited João Cândido to speak. However, he lacked the exuberance of the young sailors, simply claiming that he “didn’t expect to witness another revolt” and suggesting that the sailors were “tempting fate.”[1] His assessment was remarkably prescient, as just one week later, the military, appalled at the sailors’ insubordination and fed up with what it perceived to be the growing “communism” of president João Goulart, launched a coup that ushered in a 21 year military dictatorship. The new conservative governor of Rio Grande do Sul used the opportunity to strip João Cândido of his pension.

João Cândido Felisberto ultimately lived long enough to see Brazil’s military regime enter its most repressive phase. He died in December 1969, at the age of 89 years old, leaving behind his (third) wife and several children. However, even after his death, his status as a symbol of resisting repression and standing up for Afro-Brazilians and the working classes grew. In 2008, nearly 100 years after the Revolt of the Whip, President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva granted a posthumous amnesty to João Cândido and all the other sailors involved in the Revolt of the Whip.


The monument to João Cândido, the “black admiral,” in Rio de Janeiro.


[1] Quoted in Joseph Love, Revolt of the Whip, p. 112.

For further reading, recommended works are Joseph Love’s The Revolt of the Whipand Ann M. Schneider’s
PhD dissertation, “Amnestied in Brazil, 1895-1985,” an excellent study that explores the history of amnesties in Brazil and devotes a full chapter to the 1910 amnesty.

For additional reading on the mythic and social significance of the battleship, see The Battleship Book, which includes a chapter on São Paulo.

Sunday Book Review: Hunter Killers

[ 8 ] August 23, 2015 |

This is a guest post by Dr. Jonathan Gitlin of Ars Technica.
The Cold War activities of the Royal Navy’s submarine fleet are the subject of a rather fascinating book, Hunter Killers by Iain Ballantyne. From the late 1940s onwards, British submarines were sent on regular intelligence gathering missions into hostile waters, cataloguing new naval vessels, eavesdropping on missile tests, and snooping on the Soviets from periscope depth.

With far fewer submarines available to it than its US cousin (which could afford to send a different sub each time), Royal Navy crews would often complete several cruises during their time with a particular boat. That resulted in already well-trained sailors earning a reputation as some of the finest submariners on the planet, even earning the respect of insurance salesman and sometime novelist Tom Clancy.

Hunter Killers follows the evolution of the Royal Navy’s fleet of attack submarines, beginning with post-war diesel electric boats which later gave way to nuclear powered feats of engineering (known by the shorthand SSN). Those early boats sounded like hellish places to spend several weeks. Foul air, cramped quarters, and the risk of running low on food days or even weeks before resupply were all features of the early Cold War submarine service, but at the same time Ballantyne describes it as a branch of the Navy where iconoclasts and non-conformists found a happy niche within which to serve their country.

The arrival of SSNs significantly enhanced the Royal Navy’s intelligence gathering abilities, since the much larger ships could loiter in Soviet waters without needing to frequently surface to let the crew and engines breathe. These SSNs were also tasked with finding and trailing Soviet counterparts, both attack subs and the missile-packed SSBNs that formed part of the USSR’s nuclear deterrent. Even in peace time these were dangerous activities, and more than once a British boat had to sail back into port under cover of darkness and wrapped in tar-painted tarps to conceal damage resulting from underwater collisions.

Ballantyne also details the punishing submarine school that potential sub captains had to complete, known as the Perisher. Officers would spend four weeks having their command potential, as well as their nerve, tested over and again in exercises stalking other ships, delivering special forces to beaches, and so on.

Much of the book is written from the perspective of British submariners (both officers and enlisted men), presumably from their notes and log books. This novel-like style may not sit well with everyone, particularly if you expect your history books to be on the dry side, but it’s an engaging device that—in my opinion—brings this particular slice of the Cold War to life effectively. It’s certainly a story that ought to be more widely appreciated.

Train a Comin’

[ 23 ] August 22, 2015 |

This is the kind of thing that’ll make you rethink your position on the Air Force:

French President François Hollande planned Saturday to meet three Americans who foiled a suspected terrorist attack on a packed high-speed train running from Amsterdam to Paris.

A gunman opened fire Friday on the high-speed train — a route packed with officials, busi­ness­peo­ple and diplomats — before being tackled and tied up by three men, according to family members and French officials, who said their quick work had foiled a major tragedy…

One of the Americans, Air Force serviceman Spencer Stone, was stabbed and remained in the hospital Saturday, said the parents of his two friends. The Pentagon did not provide his name but said that his wounds were not life-threatening. A dual French-American citizen was wounded by a stray gunshot, Cazeneuve said.

One of the others was a member of the Oregon National Guard. The initial reports indicated that the men on the train were Marines, based, I dunno, on the default assumption that only Marines would do this kind of thing?

In any case, genuine heroism. The gunman might have killed dozens of people if these guys hadn’t been heads up.

An Integrated System of Abuse

[ 75 ] August 19, 2015 |
Pearl harbour.png

“Pearl Harbor” by USN – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Great post from Jill Filipovic on Twitchy:

Twitchy may be one of the most powerful political platforms online, but its role as an organized harassment tool is almost never discussed. Founded in 2012 by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, the site has half a dozen editors who troll Twitter for content to post; each post consists of a tweet or series of tweets along with some brief and often outraged commentary. Malkin sold Twitchy to Salem Media, a for-profit Christian company in 2013, but the religiosity of its new owners has not shifted its acidic content. (Malkin and several current Twitchy editors did not respond to multiple emails requesting comment, and Salem Media did not return emails and phone calls requesting comment)…

While Twitchy’s content is tweet aggregation, its purpose seems to be filling insatiable reader rage. Many of the tweets posted to Twitchy are put on there seemingly for the express purpose of demonstrating how stupid or evil Twitchy believes the tweeter to be (although the site occasionally posts tweets from allies, cheering them on for shutting down enemies). The Twitchy team embeds the tweets into the posts, making it easy for their users to click through and engage with the tweeter directly.

And “engage” they do.

Erik, of course, felt the brunt of Twitchy harassment back in the day. The existence, and clear purpose, of Twitchy is one of the reasons why I struggle to take seriously the hand-wringing of Decent Liberals about how the PC folks with the Black Lives Matter and the Humorless Feminism are going to ruin everything by creating a Backlash. Twitter has already been weaponized; while self-restraint is often a virtue, there’s nothing that liberals and leftists can do to un-weaponize it. There is no pending backlash that could be avoided by telling the feminists and minorities to be quiet, because the “backlash” isn’t a counter-attack; it’s a pre-emptive strike.

Foreign Entanglements: Cyber Conflict

[ 0 ] August 17, 2015 |

In the latest edition of Foreign Entanglements, I talk with Brandon Valeriano about the over-hyping of cyberwar:


[ 11 ] August 14, 2015 |

IJN battleship Nagato and her all crewmembers.jpg

“IJN battleship Nagato and her all crewmembers” by Unknown – Old Japanese Magazine.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My favorite battleship of all time is HIJMS Nagato, and I wrote about her end for the Diplomat’s 70th year VJ Day festivities:

Nagato served in, and survived, most of the important battles of World War II, with the exception of the Guadalcanal campaign. Because of her symbolic role in the Pearl Harbor attack, the USN made a special effort to find and destroy Nagato in the last months of the war. The Japanese successfully camouflaged the ship, however, and it survived the huge air raids that sank the rest of the surviving battleships of the IJN. Nagato was on hand for the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.

And if you’d like to know more you could, of course, buy my book…


[ 17 ] August 14, 2015 |
HMS Nabob

“HMS Nabob” by Hudson, F A (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer – . Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.


I’ve often heard the claim that the Royal Canadian Navy was the third largest in the world at the end of the World War II.  The claim makes sense on its face; the Kriegsmarine and the IJN effectively disappeared upon their surrender, the status of the Regia Marina was in some legal dispute, the Soviet Navy was not particularly large, and the Marine Nationale was early in the process of reconstruction.  Combined with wartime expansion, this would make the RCN a competitor for the third slot behind the USN and the RN.

Turns out that the devil is in the details. This article answers many of your questions about the size of the Royal Canadian Navy, but long story short:

  1. It matters whether you’re talking about VE Day or VJ Day, because the RCN retired ships faster than the IJN had it ships sunk.
  2. The Soviet Navy was a lot bigger in World War II than most people think.
  3. The French, Australians, and Swedes catch up pretty fast.

And so, the RCN can plausibly be ranked as the 5th largest navy on VE Day, behind the IJN and the Soviet Navy.  By VJ Day, the IJN disappears, but the Marine Nationale keeps the RCN in the fifth slot.  By the end of the 1945, the Swedes and Australians take over the fifth and sixth slots.

Sorry, Canada.  Another national myth shattered. Hat tip to Claude Berube.

Damn You, Amazon!

[ 17 ] August 12, 2015 |


I’ve just been notified that there’s been a site download problem; it appears to have something to do with the recent updates that Amazon has made it its ad system.  Hopefully the problem has been corrected; if it persists, please let me know in comments.



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