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May 12, 2010
Magnifisent Basterds (II)By Greyhawk
(Part one - raising the question "what would Patton do?" - is here.)
In that 1913 issue of Cavalry Journal quoted above, Patton was advocating adoption of a new saber, a better fit for what he believed to be a more effective style of combat, and to that end he warned his fellow cavalrymen that "...many of our possible opponents are using the long straight sword and the point in the charge. To come against this with our present sabers and position of charge would be suicidal."
"In executing the charge with the point, according to the French method, the trooper leans well down on the horse's neck with the saber and arm fully extended and the back of the hand turned slightly to the left so as to get the utmost reach. This also turns the guard up and thus protects the hand, arm, and head from thrusts and the hand from cuts. The blade is about the height of the horse's ears, the trooper leaning well down and in the ideal position slightly to the left of the horse's neck..."
A time of transformation in the military was at hand, and the bright young lieutenant was the right man to lead the charge. He had spent part of the previous year in Europe, honing his swordfighting skills under the tutelage of a French "master of arms," and after returning stateside Patton became "Master of the Sword" at the Army's Mounted Service School at Fort Riley, Kansas. Ultimately his efforts to transform his beloved horse cavalry into a modern, twentieth-century combat unit came to fruition in the design of the Model 1913 Cavalry Saber, commonly called the Patton Saber. In 1914, as the conflict eventually known as World War One broke out in Europe, his "Saber Exercise" manual codified training for its mounted and on-foot use. (Illustrations used throughout this post are taken from that very manual.)
But Patton's triumph was not yet complete. The Patton Sword had its detractors, and a mere three years later, even as the USA prepared for its own entry into the war in Europe, "he was again featured in Cavalry Journal in an article disputing those who wished to introduce a curved saber." However, it was up to another to deliver the coup-de-grace: "...the argument was finally settled when the commandant of the Mounted Service School recommended to the War Department the retention of the Patton Saber..." - by the time that 1917 issue of Cavalry Journal saw ink, Patton was already preparing to return to France - this time as part of the American Expeditionary Force.
Less than three decades later, the atomic bomb put an end to World War Two.
Apologies to those who were thrown off by that 30-year leap forward in time. We'll go back and fill in some of the gaps soon. But first, we're moving forward twice that amount of time, another six and a half decades from the end of the Second World War, to just a few days ago....
"One of the worst ideas ever!" Declared my friend Troy Steward, aka Bouhammer. He's talking about the idea described in this AP story from Stars and Stripes, headlined "New NATO idea to avoid killing innocent Afghans." According to the story, "NATO commanders are weighing a new way to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan: recognizing soldiers for "courageous restraint" if they avoid using force that could endanger innocent lives."
According to Troy, "The idea that the promise of an award will be in the decision making process of taking a human life is flippin' ludicrous." And he's right. And he's an Afghanistan veteran, too.
Anyone that has been in a TIC or firefight (as they are commonly known as) can tell you that when you are behind cover, returning fire and being fired on, the last FRIGGEN thing you are thinking of is "I wonder what medal I will get out of this". IT JUST DOES NOT HAPPEN. If someone is thinking that, then they are truly not engaged in the battle.
Troy's point started a good conversation - among the participants, Sergeant First Class Morgan Sheeran, another Afghan vet, currently serving at the COIN Training Center - Afghanistan. "The thing about awards for doing good COIN is a developing idea," he begins... and I thank him for allowing me to reproduce his comments (and they are his personal views, to be clear) here.
"The Army is looking at a whole realm of things having to do with measuring and recognizing excellence in THIS war," says Morgan, "which is different from any we've fought before in that we are trying to get our Soldiers and Marines to behave differently. The Brits call it 'courageous restraint.' We haven't figured out what to call it for ourselves. It is difficult to measure and difficult to recognize excellence in a war where to subdue your enemy by making him irrelevant is oftentimes more effective in the long run than rendering him inert. It doesn't necessarily have to do with NOT shooting. It has to do with the fact that as so many troops have pointed out themselves, 'Nobody ever got a medal for doing good COIN, but they do get medals and badges for getting into fights.' I've heard it a lot. It's about mindset. You find what you seek, and in Afghanistan, you can find a fight if you really want one."
That's not the last he had to say on the subject - more shortly. But others have weighed in, too. "We absolutely support the right of our forces to defend themselves," ISAF's Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis says. "Valuing restraint in a potentially dangerous situation is not the same thing as denying troops the right to employ lethal force when they determine that it is necessary."
He describes the idea of recognizing those who correctly respond to an apparently threatening situation - even when that response does not lead to escalation of force - as "consistent with our approach" to counterterrorism in Afghanistan.
"Our young men and women display remarkable courage every day, including situations where they refrain from using lethal force, even at risk to themselves, in order to prevent possible harm to civilians. In some situations our forces face in Afghanistan, that restraint is an act of discipline and courage not much different than those seen in combat actions."
Indeed. Counterinsurgency, like any form of warfare, is a messy and complex business (and difficult and deadly, too), but it's far more distant from Tank warfare than that form of combat is from horseback cavalry charge.
...in support of those who say that counterinsurgency is more difficult than conventional warfare is the testimony of an officer who fought in Gallipoli and France during World War I and then against Pashtuns in Waziristan: "I soon came to the conclusion that commanding a Company in Waziristan was far more difficult than commanding a Battalion in France."
...but while while such debates will continue in the pages of scholarly journals (and in increasingly numerous elsewheres among those more or less informed or inclined or involved or - rightly or wrongly - respected) the fact remains that regardless of degree of difficulty, (and recognizing that on a larger level war is war) counterinsurgency is a different kind of war. And while the last few months of 2001 - even most of 2002 - were an opportune time for considering whether or not it was in the nation's best interests to get involved in one (or two), that decision point is well in the past. Welcome to the war we have now.
Those who excel at this modern, 21st century warfare will be those who are capable of rapid, fluid, thought and action - the sort evidenced in this account of the first US troops in Afghanistan:
"Pack your shit."
A review of a Patton-era cavalry manual would have been useful prior to departing home, but lacking that they learned by doing. But the lesson to be learned from that isn't about the value of equestrian skills - it's about the ability to identify and do whatever needs done.
Some might argue it's hardly very military to ask people to operate without concise written directions. But as countless examples through history demonstrate, there's plenty of room in the failure bin for those who believe a by-the-book, one solution fits all approach is really the best way to go.
But what happens if - in spite of all the advocacy for bold, 'outside the box' thinking - all the recognition, rewards, and advancement go to those who do everything by the book? How do you recognize excellence that isn't defined? That's a question the US military is grappling with today, and the larger issue (among many larger issues) that discussing the concept of a "courageous restraint" award is but one attempt to address.
More from Morgan Sheeran: "It's difficult to measure, recognize and reward truly effective counterinsurgency and stabilization behaviors. The portrayal of this internal Army conversation in such a light as it has been is misleading, sensationalistic and simplistic. This ongoing conversation, about how to recognize excellence in an environment where shooting is one of several possible responses to a challenge (and often not the best) is deep. It is about how the Army and Marines and all of our coalition counterparts are to recognize a guy who manages to do a good job in an area, lessening his TIC's through excellent engagement as opposed to carving a path of destruction throughout his AO. But it's not the thinking while in the TIC that anyone is trying to reward. It's the thinking over the map, in the TOC, at the targeting meeting with the USAID and State folks... and their Afghan counterparts. You plan before you seek. You seek what you plan for. You find what you seek."
"You find what you seek" - and with that we return to France, 1917, where trench warfare fought across acres of barbwire-strewn no man's land was the order of the day, and (by then Captain) George Patton found no demand for horse cavalry, whether the riders were masters of the sword or not.
Instead he was employed as the commander of the AEF headquarters element, where his responsibilities ranged from arranging quarters and transportation for other officers to censoring mail - mundane tasks he described as "confining" in letters home. "I am not having very much to do, in fact, if a sergeant could not do all I have to do I would bust him," he wrote his wife Beatrice. "Perhaps some time I shall get a real job..."
In fact, there was something else on the horizon. The British and French were experimenting with new armored vehicles called tanks, a weapon they believed might help break the bloody stalemate of trench warfare.
"Some time about the end of September Col Eltinge asked me if I wanted to be a Tank officer," Patton wrote in his diary. "I said yes and also talked the matter over with Col McCoy who advised me to write a letter asking that in the event of Tanks being organized that my name be considered. I did so."
These mechanized, armored vehicles were new and unproven - the only thing certain was they were a career risk. Patton had to figure out everything there was to know about them first, but soon enough he found himself in charge of creating - from nothing - a school to train Americans in their operation. And much like the counterinsurgency school in Afghanistan today, Patton's academy was established in France, the very nation in which America was re-learning war.
"Tomorrow I start on my way again," he wrote Beatrice:
"All alone to go to a new place and organize the Light Tank Service. I feel unusually small in self-esteem. I have been so long a small but important cog in a machine... it is hard to go off and be the last word all by myself... Actually I am in quite a "Funk" for there is nothing but me to do it all. Starting the Fencing School was a similar experience but vastly smaller and then too I had a model to copy. Here it is all original and all to be conceived and accomplished. The most cheering thing is that Gen. Harbord, Col. Etinge and Col. Malone all seem confident I can do it. I wish I were as sanguine. I am sure I will do it but just at this moment I don't see how. I will have to grow and grow a lot. But I will. Here is my chance. If I fail it will only be my fault. I won't even have you to pick on."
It would make a nice and tidy conclusion to say "and the rest was history" - to point out that the true genius of Patton was revealed not merely in his ability to turn average American boys into unhesitating killers who fought their way across two continents in pursuit of an able and fearsome foe, but more so in the larger sense by his successful adaptation to the situation at hand - his drive to find his place in completing the larger mission and to execute his mission within it to the best of his ability, innovating where needed, writing the book if none was available, and reading the enemy's book if one was - all with the goal of winning the war he had.
All of which is true, and the real answer to the question what would Patton do?
But life is never so simple.
Patton returned from The Great War (years would pass before all involved would understand it was merely the First World War) to Camp Meade, Maryland. The best description of what followed can be found in his daughter's memoir:
We were not very long at Camp Meade - not long enough. The tank corps had folded its tents like the Arabs and silently stolen away, leaving its iron horses to cosmoline baths and dusty shrouds. The 'war to end all wars' had been fought and won and, while they were not quite sure of what to do with the Army, they knew they would never need tanks again in this best-of-all-possible worlds.
Clearly a lot happened between then and the beginning of what we fans of the movie Patton would recognize as its opening scenes...
But that's a tale for another day, though for now this quote from the opening pages of An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 will bring us a bit closer, and seems a fine point at which to conclude this chapter of the tale.
"The idea of huge armies rolling along roads at a fast pace is a dream," Cavalry Journal warned in 1940, even after the German blitzkrieg signaled the arrival of mechanized warfare. "Oil and tires cannot like forage be obtained locally." The Army's cavalry chief assured Congress in 1941 that four well-spaced horsemen could charge half a mile across an open field to destroy an enemy machine-gun nest without sustaining a scratch...
But ultimately "The last Regular Army cavalry regiment," we are told, "would slaughter its mounts to feed the starving garrison on Bataan in the Philippines, ending the cavalry era not with a bang but with a dinner bell."
Funny how that worked out.
Patton: A Genius for War (Bargain priced while supplies last...)
Posted by Greyhawk / May 12, 2010 4:22 PM | Permalink
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November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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