Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Posts tagged ‘military’

With escorts like these…

It’s been reported that a passenger tried to force his way into the cockpit on a passenger flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Two US Air Force fighter jets then “escorted” the plane to its destination. It’s an interesting choice of words, because one ordinarily thinks of an escort as being on your side — your escort protects you, or raises your status. A fighter escort is usually protecting a group of bombers. In this case, though, the presumably unstated purpose of the escort was to shoot down the passenger plane if it seemed to become dangerous. Awkward.

The nuclear option

I wonder how many people who don’t follow the news in detail, seeing the juxtaposition of headlines about Republicans unleashing the “nuclear option” and US missiles bombing Syria, have concluded that Trump just went and did what everyone is afraid he will eventually do…

The sins of the fathers

I was just reading Kevin Drum’s article on the fallout from the hapless US military raid in Yemen last week. He lists the costs:

Our adventure in Yemen last week failed to kill its target; caused the death of numerous Yemeni civilians; resulted in one dead American sailor; and ended with the loss of a $70 million helicopter.

This is not unusual of the commentary, and I find it weird that it fails to mention that a US civilian was among those killed: the eight-year-old daughter of American renegade Anwar Al-Awlaki, given that the sanctity of American life is the bedrock of American antiterror policies. I suspect this reflects the atavistic sense that the child of an evildoer is tainted, and somehow deserves to be punished for his crimes. Of course, the new president famously vowed to “take out their families”.

Military fears emasculation, shrinkage

… but they’re not taking it lying down!

An anonymous “senior serving general” said in a recent interview that the army would “mutiny” if mere politicians tried to reduce the size of the military or take away its nuclear weapons (which are never called “weapons”, but rather “deterrent”, taking as self-evident that they would never be used.)

The unnamed general said members of the armed forces would begin directly and publicly challenging the labour leader if he tried to scrap Trident, pull out of Nato or announce “any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces.”

He told the Sunday Times: “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that… and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny.”

The head of the UK armed forces has repeated the threat publicly, if more obliquely.

Asked about Mr Corbyn’s refusal to use nuclear weapons, Sir Nicholas said: “It would worry me if that thought was translated into power as it were.”

So don’t think you can pansify the British Armed Forces into a girly, shriveled, no-nukes military just by voting for some new politicians!

Plus ça change: Partition of Poland edition

If you wanted to refer to a paradigmatic example of wanton brutality in international affairs, the invasion and division of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 would likely spring to mind. That’s why I was struck by the 1903 remark on the Boer War cited by Richard Toye in his book on Churchill’s imperialism:

Bourke Cockran, Churchill’s Irish-born politician friend, thought the war to be “the greatest violation of justice attempted by any civilized nation since the partition of Poland.”

I suppose now you could say, “the partition of Poland was the greatest violation of justice since the last partition of Poland.” You’d leave out the “civilized nation” bit, not exactly because Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union wouldn’t qualify, but because the concept no longer seems to have much explanatory power.

“Soon enough”

This picture of a British army tank having crushed an automobile that strayed into its path in a small German town has gotten quite a lot of attention.

Tank vs car

Here is the comment of the British military spokesperson:

“Our tank crews go through a very rigorous training process,” he said, reportedly adding that three members of personnel inside monitor the road “which is why they were able to stop soon enough”.

Looking at the photograph, I wonder what would have counted as not stopping “soon enough”. One can imagine similar applications of this Zieglerism. “The Titanic had very rigorous iceberg detection procedures, which is why it was able to stop soon enough.” “The Bush administration had very rigorous antiterrorism procedures, which is why they were able to defend the country adequately against Al Qaeda attacks.” (All but one! 7 1/2 years without an attack!)

Recruiting the dead

Former chief of the UK General Staff General Sir Richard Dannatt  has spoken up on the Scottish referendum, and what he has to say is deeply disgraceful:

Scottish soldiers have fought over several centuries and in so many campaigns to preserve the territorial integrity of their country from external threat, but in the Northern Ireland campaign more recently, they fought against internal threat, but what about today? Do the families of Scottish soldiers who lost their lives between 1969 and 2007 to preserve the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom now just say, “Well, it no longer matters”?

Now, interestingly, while he does go on to say “I cannot speak for them”, his essay includes not a single quote from a single one of these Scottish soldiers, living or dead. Putting aside the fact that some of them were probably just looking for steady pay or a certain kind of military camaraderie, I think it is extraordinarily condescending — and disrespectful — to enlist the dead to march in ones political campaign. And it is disgraceful to use the term “internal threat” to cover both the Northern Ireland campaign — where British soldiers battled against a terror campaign that sought to change the constitutional order by force — and the referendum campaign

There were many nationalists in Northern Ireland who themselves wished to dissolve the “territorial integrity” of the United Kingdom, but who also opposed the attempts to do so by force. The fact that General Dannatt cannot perceive a gap between seeking to accomplish political goals by referendum and seeking to accomplish it by force says all you need to know about the military mind at its most brutal.

In fact, as a matter of historical record, even their political masters at the time of the greatest turmoil in Northern Ireland, the government of Edward Heath, doesn’t seem to have been fighting to “preserve the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom”, so much as to prevent Northern Ireland from sinking into full-blown civil war. At least, the cabinet seems to have been willing to entertain the notion of British withdrawal from Northern Ireland, but ruled it out when it seemed certain only to exacerbate the chaos and violence.

A very special relationship

Anyone interested in the technical details of US and British internal signals espionage, as practiced by NSA and GCHQ in the second half of the 20th century and beyond, should read James Bamford’s The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Some of the details are fascinating, many are disturbing, and some are just unimaginably bizarre. Like the fawning letter sent by Sir Leonard Hooper, director of GCHQ in the late 1960s, to his NSA counterpart Marshall “Pat” Carter, in which he suggested (perhaps tongue in cheek) he might like to name GCHQ’s two giant radio dishes after Carter and his deputy. After effusive thanks for the NSA’s support, and Carter’s personally, he goes on:

Between us, we have ensured that the blankets and sheets are more tightly tucked around the bed in which our two sets of people lie and, like you, I like it that way.

I’ve read this over multiple times, and I don’t think I can decipher it. Are the blankets and sheets wrapped around the two sets of people separately, or are they bound in a transatlantic conjugal embrace? Are the intelligence agencies the Mommy and Daddy, tucking us in for the night while they protect us from the bogeys (from whom they derive much of their power, while themselves knowing that they are mere figments). This talk of wrapping sheets “tightly” around two sets of people who passively “lie” makes me think of winding sheets wrapped around corpses.

And then, there’s the closing: “like you, I like it that way”. Is he still speaking metaphorically here? Was he ever? Or is he proposing or recalling a secret tryst? Is that the sort of pillow talk that deeply closeted military types engaged in half a century ago?

Tag Cloud