By the rivers of Babylon ...


Eric writes: Last night at a "Constitution Day" celebration/panel for the Massachusetts ACLU at the Boston Public Library, I had the honor of meeting Carlos and Melida Arredondo, who lost their son, Marine Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, on the second day of the Iraq war, and together with his wife, Melida, joined Gold Star Families For Peace, here, and founded People United for Peace. Since then, he has fought the Bush administration's policy of refusing to allow our fallen soldiers' coffins to be photographed by creating a traveling mobile memorial: a coffin, filled with his son's prized possessions, and a green Nissan truck, each side adorned with poster-size photos of the young Marine. The Times has an article here, and The Nation published a photo essay here. What strength it must take for this immigrant, recently made a citizen with the help of Ted Kennedy, to turn his unspeakable private tragedy into an opportunity to help his new nation return to a path of sanity and righteousness, to say nothing of respect for those of whom this administration has so callously and carelessly demanded the ultimate sacrifice. I stood in awe, sadness and gratitude ...

Inside baseball:

Hello Altercators, LTC Bob Bateman here again with your irregular dose of things-military-not-political.

So, where to start?

Well, let's start with the simple fact that we are at war. Yes? This seems to me to be a logical point of origin for any discussion lately.

From there let us progress to a few more, seemingly, simple assertions. For starters: War is about humans. It is about how they act and react, individually and collectively. That is not a terribly contentious assertion, right? How about this: Humans live on the ground. Again, not terribly contentious. OK, so how about this: To influence and control vast numbers of humans, you must interact among them.

And that point, friends, is where things go off the rails for the United States.

It should not surprise anyone that there is no such thing as a monolithic element called "the military" -- particularly if you have been learning about the military here at Altercation. But to reiterate: Like any collection of disparate elements, each one of the military services has its own culture. As with other broader cultures, the culture of each service sees the world in a different manner. The Army and the Marine Corps, for example, believe that war is about humans. Both believe that the conduct of war, from top to bottom, is about ultimately influencing people on the ground through direct contact. There are, of course, problems and exceptions to and with this thesis. But that is the state of events, and it is (unsurprisingly) the weltanschauung to which I adhere.

The Air Force, in contrast, has believed since Brigadier General Billy Mitchell (in the late 1920s) that warfare is about hitting the right targets from the air. This became the mantra of the Air Service (later, post 1947, the Air Force) the raison d'être of that service. The underpinning theory for them has been that if one only hit the right targets, in the right sequence, then the enemy government would collapse and the war would be won.

That did not work in WWII when they tried it against the Axis.

It did not work in Korea, when they tried it against the North Koreans.

It did not work, famously, in Vietnam, when they tried it against the North Vietnamese.

Do you detect a trend here?

Yet the airpower advocates kept coming back to the same thesis, continually asserting over 60 years, "Yeah, but THIS time technology..." Of course, "this time" lured politicians into the use of "sterile" airpower over and over, but in the "present" in each case always meant sending soldiers and Marines in on the ground. Go figure.

Yet the airpower advocates (and there are some in the Navy, obviously, since they have a powerful air wing) continued to preach the same dogma and inculcate their young pilots in this quasi-religious belief that just by bombing the right targets, you could win any war. And by this I mean to include ANY person who received pilot training in a combat aircraft of the United States over the course of the past 70 years. Thus, the idea would not die.

Back in 2002, when the USAF was riding high in the doctrinal camp, back when significant political leaders advocated the USAF vision of how wars are fought, even our artillery guys bought into the idea and this was the sort of "intellectual" (Cough! Hack! Pabulum!) presented as intellectually valid.

Skip forward a few years and you see a full-court public affairs press being conducted by the Air Force in support of an idea that essentially underpinned what many of you now know as "Shock and Awe." Oh, and here are the slides.

When that, demonstrably, did not work, this is how the pilots explained it several years into our current wars:

Recently, the blue-suiters have been floating one of the most disgraceful propositions I've ever encountered in Washington (and that's saying something).

I heard the con directly from one of the Air Force generals who tried to sell me on the worthless F/A-22. The poison goes like this: "The Air Force and Navy can dominate their battle space. Why can't the Army and Marines?"

Let me translate that: At a time when soldiers and Marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the Air Force shamefully implies that our ground forces are incompetent, hinting that, if the Air Force ran the world, we'd get better results.

How low can a service go? Not a single Air Force fighter pilot has lost his life in combat in Iraq. But the Air Force is willing to slander those who do our nation's fighting and dying.

Yet as late as two years ago this same blivet was being offered to senior leaders of all of the armed forces. The 2006 "Commander's Handbook" (on "Effects-Based Operations") is here. See it for yourself.

Now there is a groundswell of rebellion developing. The services which have carried the load of the fighting, despite the promises of the pilots trained in the theory of Effects-Based Operations/Shock and Awe, are reclaiming the doctrinal high-ground. Please, because this matters, because we are at war, read this and this.

For the entirety of the Navy pilot Donald Rumsfeld's tenure, the idea that wars can be won if you just drop bombs on the right targets at the right times held sway. This is not surprising. Pilots in both the USAF and Navy are indoctrinated to the unproven and mostly discredited theory that if you only try hard enough, with airpower delivered high explosives, you can get the "effects" that you want. The Navy pilot Rumsfeld pushed this thesis harder than any Navy or USAF pilot ever had before.

And this has not been good. But that is what happens with people who develop their understanding of the concept, theories, and reality of war as junior officers in jet pilot operations.

You can write to LTC Bob at Or check out his recent musings over at the Intel Dump at the Washington Post website. Comment there as you like.

Eric Boehlert writes: The Republican ticket seems to have adopted a post-press approach to campaigning in which the candidates simply don't care what the press does or says about their honesty. More to the point, the candidates don't think it will matter on Election Day.

They may be right. And that's the media's fault.

Read more here.

George Zornick writes: Last night, there was a vote in Congress -- led by Democrats

on a compromise plan to relax the offshore oil drilling ban. David Stout of the New York Times wrote a brief story about it, and explained the political terrain thusly:

For some 25 years, Congress has imposed a annual moratorium on drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida. That Democrats are now considering any relaxation of the ban reflects the political realities of high gasoline prices and a restless driving public in the election season.

That's an odd way to put it, wouldn't you say? As most Altercation readers surely know, drilling offshore will have little to no effect on gas prices -- and whatever effect it does have will happen in about 20 years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Agency.

Stout seems to tacitly acknowledge this fact by describing a "political reality." Not you, know, actual reality. He would have been more accurate to say that it "reflects the false political reality created by right-wing ideologues and fostered by news accounts that never mention the objective evidence that lays waste to the entire 'drill here, drill now, pay less' slogan."

(The EIA assessment is not mentioned in this story. In 267 recent news broadcasts, it was mentioned in exactly one. Read our recent Think Again column for more on this issue).

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, N.Y.

Dear Eric,

Guess who has finally (and far too belatedly) seen the light?

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Ewa Beach, HI

File this under the "...good news for John McCain" category.

You may recall earlier in the campaign when Sen. Obama was criticizing Sen. McCain for his gaffes in the area of foreign policy, or making good points of his own, or having a successful trip to the Middle East and Europe, that this was somehow "good news for John McCain" because any discussion AT ALL of foreign policy would highlight Sen. McCain's experience in this area.

So now the economy is tanking, and by the same reasoning, you would think the pundits would declare that the discussion turning to the economy would be an advantage for Sen. Obama. But, you would be wrong.

In The Washington Post, Dan Balz and Robert Barnes ask "whether Barack Obama or John McCain can convince voters that he is capable of leading the country out of the morass." They answer their own question with un-backed assertions like "[Sen. Obama] has struggled through much of the year to develop a compelling economic message. Where he remains suspect is on the strength of his leadership and his ability to connect with working- and middle-class voters." And, "The debate will now probably shift back to fundamentals. " (There's that word again, and using it makes Sen. McCain's remark about allegedly strong "fundamentals" look less clueless.) They quote two pollsters, one from each party, the Republican saying, "How the candidates respond to this will be critical to Americans' assessment of whether they're ready for the job....In the big picture of this campaign, this issue is a 'jump ball.'" Then, in an evidence-free transition, they endorse the Republican's view with, "That the issue of the economy is anywhere close to even between the candidates is remarkable" and "The Democratic nominee does score higher than his rival on the economy, but not by as much as he should."

Charlie Cook, the media spokesman for the conventional wisdom, summarizes the recent course of the campaign: "The first matter that played to McCain was the Russian invasion of Georgia. ... It also put a premium on McCain's strong suit -- national security -- and away from Obama's more domestic focus." Never mind that the candidate's positions were similar, and the reason a more muscular response was not possible was because most of the U.S. Armed Forces are busy in Iraq, pursuing a war and a surge Sen. McCain, supported and Sen. Obama opposed. Then Mr. Cook holds forth, "when gasoline prices soared, leaving many drivers up in arms, the Democratic party line on offshore drilling came into focus, further robbing Democrats of the momentum that they had in the spring." Never mind that Sen. Obama and every economic expert with any credibility stated that expanding offshore drilling now would have little, if any effect, on gasoline prices, 20 years from now, and that the polls seemed to reflect that most voters saw Sen. McCain's position as a political gimmick. He then adopts the talking point du jour of the Republican Party, "The choice of Palin capped the summer of McCain's resurgence, effectively turning the race from change versus the status quo to two competing visions of change, a necessity if McCain is to win." No one outside of the Republican Party seriously believes the "experience" candidate as recently as a week before the Republican Convention is actually the better "change" candidate, now that the Republican VP nominee has put a damper on the "experience" arguments. Finally, in grudgingly conceding the economy might actually favor Sen. Obama, Mr. Cook feels compelled to point out, "While managing the economy is not exactly Obama's strong suit..."

Oy! "This just in, the TV program "The View" uncovers video footage of Sen McCain accepting a bribe of $15M to abandon his positions in favor of those of the mainstream of the Republican Party in exchange for the Presidential nomination, and 911 audio tapes of Gov Palin putting out a hit on her ex-brother in law. Over to you, Andrea..."

"Well, the McCain campaign certainly couldn't have anticipated this. But, given the favorable media coverage he continues to receive in some outlets [i.e. Fox "News" and conservative talk radio], and polls [taken before the story broke] that continue to show him running even with Sen Obama, you have to conclude the voters are shrugging their shoulders over this. All in all, it has to count as good news for John McCain..."

Name: Edward Furey
Hometown: New York City

In the current New York Review of Books, there's a photograph of John F. Kennedy campaigning in the West Virginia primary in 1960. He is surrounded by a small circle of miners at what appears to be the mine opening or near the mine opening. The site is outdoors and he seems to be sitting on something, perhaps a box or piece of equipment.

He is not wearing a lumberjack shirt. He is wearing a suit that does not look cheap and probably didn't in 1960, either. He won the primary.

Of course, one difference between 1960 and today is that everyone knew that everyone else had been in the war, which meant they had already picked up the common touch in the Army and Navy. The PT Boat skippers may have been selected from among Ivy Leaguers who had experience with small boats, but their crews were standard Navy crews.

Candidates relatively fresh out of uniform did have to pretend to be anything other than what they were -- candidates for public office who were expected to wear suits. I doubt very much if you will find much column space in the Fifties and Sixties devoted to commentary about Kennedy, Nixon, Johnson, Humphrey, Rockefeller or Symington's clothes. The only discussion I can recall was Kennedy's decision to bring back the top hats and cutaways for the Inaugural and his general aversion to men's hats on other occasions, which led to the decline and fall of the fedora.

Oh, there was that picture of Stevenson with the holes in the soles of shoes. Captions didn't mention the price of the shoes.

Name: Mike Shirley
Hometown: Eureka, CA

I just returned from a vacation in Alaska. Alaskans were celebrating the PFD (oil money) that they were receiving. Although I am not against this practice, it seems to me that this "taxing" of "rich" oil corporations to give to "poor" Alaskans is the most LIBERAL money redistribution in the country. Governor Palin is bragging that she increased this payment to the citizens of Alaska. How is this consistent with conservative or Republican philosophies?

Name: Jim Celer
Hometown: Omaha

No word in modern history, not even "lionized," has ever been lambasted and lionized in quite the way "lambasted" is.

Name: Mark Cashman
Hometown: Yonkers

I can't stop listening to Harps and Angels. It is flat-out brilliant. It's not just the writing, it's the orchestrations and, especially, the way Randy delivers a lyric. Almost every song has a moment when the seemingly offhand way he phrases a line will make your coffee come out your nose if you're not careful. I haven't enjoyed a record this much in a long time.

Name: Rokey Suleman
Hometown: Fairfax, Va

My friend was a huge Wilco fan and I just never got it. Bought A Ghost is Born and thought a lot of it was noise and never listened to it again. Then Sky Blue Sky was released. I ask you to purchase it and listen to "Impossible Germany." Three times. If you do not like the CD after that I will personally buy it back from you. If the guitar work in that song alone does not make you a fan....That song made me rediscover everything they have released. They are now one of my favorite bands and are stone cold incredible live.

Name: Jack Cheng
Hometown: Boston


If you like Golden Smog but you're not crazy about Wilco, I think maybe you need to check out the Jayhawks. I'd start with Tomorrow the Green Grass or Rainy Day Music, but that's just me. The band sadly is no more, but lead songwriter Gary Louris had a decent solo effort come out this year.

Name: Clay Landon
Hometown: Hermosa Beach, CA

"Last night, I saw Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp, Rosanne Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Norah Jones sing "Me and Bobby McGee," twice, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem..."

Uncle. You win. If it ever was a contest, it's over.

Name: Dave
Hometown: Austin

OK, wise guy, here's what's going on in my city. We're getting ready for the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which this year will feature Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, John Fogerty, Robert Earl Keen, Alejandro Escovedo, Gnarls Barkley, Roky Erickson, Bela Fleck, Patty Griffin and about 100 other fantastic acts. That's less than half of the "headliners" listed on the bill, by the way.

Name: Ernest "Buddy" Miller
Hometown: What Cheer, Iowa


What's going on in my city? Well, it's more of a town than a city but since you asked, on Sunday we had a Tractor Pull and on Saturday there was a watermelon seed spitting contest in the Town Square. That's about it until Thanksgiving. If something else comes up before then, I'll holler back at ya.

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