failed russian flatworm strategy

Even flatworms have demonstrated the ability to learn from experience. Flatworms, like mammals, have a centralized brain; they can be trained to remember a behavior and perform it on cue. They can also be trained to avoid behaviors.

The same apparently isn’t true of Russian Army field commanders.

Your basic flatworm–not clever, but capable of learning from experience.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the staggering incompetence of their field commanders, who repeatedly fail to take even the most basic precautions to protect their troops. I mean, anybody who has spent any amount of time in military harness just assumes their commanders are fucking idiots who are casually trying to get them killed. The difference is that in the Russian Army, that appears to be true.

Behavioral psychologists back in the 1950s trained flatworms to avoid electric shocks. The Russian Army has failed to learn that lesson. In the weeks since they invaded Ukraine, the Russians have repeatedly left troops and vehicles in vulnerable, stationary positions. And the Ukrainian military has repeatedly shelled the shit out of them.

Last week, the Russians decided to take the town of Lysychansk, which meant they had to cross the Siverskyi Donets River. Crossing a river in a combat zone is a big deal. It’s a complex tactical situation for a couple of reasons. First and most obvious, the troops and vehicles crossing the river are terribly exposed. There’s no cover or concealment on a bridge. Second, you have a LOT of vehicles and troops concentrated in the same place, waiting to take their turn crossing the bridge. So they’re exposed, vulnerable and stationary. An army has to prepare to cross a river.

The Ukrainians knew the Russian Army needed to cross the Siverskyi Donets River. They sent a guy named Max–an engineer and an EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) officer–to scope out the situation. He took a recon unit along the river, found the best place to ford it, and left some recon troops in place to keep watch. They prepared to defend the river.

And hey, the Russians showed up as expected. The Ukrainians let them build a pontoon bridge. They let a few troops and combat vehicles to cross over. Then they shelled the shit out of the bridge and the troops and vehicles waiting to cross over. When the artillery subsided, the Ukrainian Air Force showed up and did some close quarters bombing. The Ukrainian recon units hunted down and killed the troops that had already crossed the river and had no way back.

A flatworm wouldn’t have made this mistake.

We don’t have any solid numbers, but it appears the Russians lost over 50 armored combat vehicles and anywhere from 1500 to 2000 troops–and that includes specialized combat engineering troops, which are really hard to replace. That’s effectively a couple of battalion tactical groups eliminated. It’s a staggering loss for the Russian Army at a time when they’re already getting their ass kicked.

This was clever work by the Ukrainians, but it was made possible by the incompetence of the Russians. They failed to do any reliable reconnaissance before the operation. They failed to have reliable real-time drone recon information. They failed to establish and provide any artillery protection for their troops. They failed to provide close air support. They failed in every possible way.

A flatworm can learn from experience.

As a supporter of Ukrainian independence, I’m glad to see Russia get bloodied. But as a military veteran, I hate seeing any troops get killed because of the rigid stupidity of their leaders. The Russian Army has demonstrated it can’t win a traditional, linear ground war, not even against a smaller nation.

The Russian Army is dumber than a flatworm.

UPDATE: It appears the Russian Army attempted to cross the Siverskyi Donets River three times. They failed in their first attempt as reported, so they made a second attempt AT THE SAME LOCATION. I’m not making that up. And hey bingo, they got the same result. Lots of destroyed vehicles, lots of dead troops. So, being the Russian Army, they decided to try cross the river a third time AT THE SAME LOCATION AGAIN. With the same result.

EDITORIAL FLATWORM NOTE: Okay, this has nothing to do with Russia or Ukraine, but there’s an exceedingly cool thing about flatworms and memory. Like a lot of other types of worms, flatworms can regenerate themselves. If you whack off a flatworm’s tail (and really, you shouldn’t, because what’s a flatworm ever done to you?), in a couple of weeks it’ll grow into an entirely new flatworm, complete with a shiny new centralized brain.

But that’s not the cool thing. The cool thing is that if the original flatworm had been taught to run (well, not run–it’s a flatworm, after all) a maze, the newly regenerated flatworm would remember how to run the maze too. Which suggests memory isn’t limited to the centralized brain. Memory MAY be somehow stored in other cells. How cool is that?

dead generals

Yesterday I wrote that I didn’t need to write about the war in Ukraine all the time. So this morning, what am I doing? Right; writing about the war in Ukraine. Specifically, all the dead generals. The Russian Army has lost five (and possibly a sixth, though that’s unconfirmed at the moment) generals in the last 25 days. They’ve lost three regimental commanders in the last 24 hours. When I say ‘lost’ I don’t mean they became confused and wandered off; I mean they were killed in combat.

Generals and regimental commanders (in the US military, RCOs are usually full colonels, the rank just below general) hardly ever get killed. They might die of a heart attack or liver disease or something, but they just don’t get killed in combat. They’re rarely close enough to the fighting to be at risk.

You may be asking, “Greg, old sock, why would these Russian generals and RCOs be so close to the fighting?” It’s a valid question (and c’mon, stop calling me ‘old sock’). The answer is, they’ve got to be close to the fighting because failures in their electronic communications equipment force the generals to be there in person to give orders.

You may be asking, “Greg, old…uh, these ‘failures in electronic communication equipment’ of which you speak…what are they?” Another good question, and the answer is both tragic an hilarious. The Russian Army developed a sophisticated, highly secure, cryptophone system called Era. It was supposed to allow secure communication in almost any situation–so long as there is at least 3G cellular telephony available.

What did the Russian Army do at the beginning of their invasion? They destroyed all the cell phone towers. So they basically knee-capped their sophisticated Era cryptophones; they just won’t work. That means the Russians have been reduced to using ordinary cellphones with sim cards to communicate with each other, and those calls are easily intercepted by Ukrainians. Now the generals and RCOs have to get close enough to the fighting to issue strategic orders. Which means they’re close enough to get killed.

Generals and RCOs getting killed plays hell with morale–both the morale of the troops, who hate not knowing who’s in charge, and the morale of the remaining generals and RCOs who now have to take their place close to the fighting.

To make matters worse for the Russian Army (and yeah, we want to make things worse for them), Russia accidentally acknowledged that almost 10,000 Russians have been killed in action, and more than 16,000 wounded. The WIA number is undoubtedly low. As a general rule of thumb, you can assume two to three times as many combat wounded as combat killed–so the number of WIA is probably closer to 20-30,000.

Here’s another thing to take into consideration: in combat, wounding the enemy is often more effective than killing them. A dead soldier can’t be helped, so troops can ignore them and keep fighting. A wounded soldier, on the other hand, is screaming (which has to be distracting) and requires aid, which means other troops have to stop and treat them and carry them off the battlefield–which further reduces the size of the fighting force.

Again, these casualty numbers are in just over three weeks of fighting. The US, in the 20 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, had 7,000 KIA.

In an earlier post, I talked about the Russian Army running out of trucks. They’re also running out of generals and combat troops. They should load the remaining troops into the remaining trucks and get the fuck out of Ukraine.

Oh, and fuck Putin in the neck.

some semi-related thoughts on Ukraine

First off, this is just fucking nuts. I think we can all agree on that. I mean Russia (and when I say ‘Russia’ I mean that motherfucker Vlad Putin) is conducting what is essentially a war of conquest–the type of war that pretty much disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century. Russia is basically saying “Ukraine has shit we want, they’re not going to give it to us, so we’re going to take it.” It’s a large scale gangster war.

Nations (and gangsters and racist police officers) could get by with that shit back in the day before ubiquitous online real-time videography. Not anymore. Now there’s always somebody with a camera and an internet connection to record and distribute the violence. And not just the violence, but the ugly result of the violence. And not just the violence and the ugly result, but also the failures–those times when the violence rebounds against the violent.

A dead Russian soldier smells as bad as a dead Ukrainian civilian

Ukrainians are using tech to undermine Russia’s superiority of numbers. They’re using Google Maps traffic reports to identify streets where Russian military convoys are disrupting traffic–and a convoy that’s moving slowly is a target. Ordinary people are using cell phones to send and receive military intelligence in real time, to coordinate not just attack plans but also places for non-combatants to shelter. They’re using social media to support and encourage each other, to gain international support, and to undermine the morale of Russian troops and the Russian population.

They’re making videos of ordinary Ukrainians confronting and threatening Russian troops. The woman who offered Russians sunflower seeds to carry in their pockets so flowers will grow from their dead bodies. The guy who said they’d play football with the heads of Russian soldiers. They’re making videos of Russian troops surrendering, of Russians being ambushed and killed–videos of dead Russians. It’s brutal and ugly, to be sure. But Russian soldiers will see it on social media. The parents of Russian soldiers will see it back home. They’ll see the bodies of their sons, mangled and burnt. And some of those parents will take to the streets to protest the war. Anything that discourages the aggressor is probably worth it.

Another weird and awful benefit of modern tech. All those combat video games have taught young Ukrainian how to fight an urban war. They know how to create and use choke points, they know the benefits of sniping (an ounce of sniper is worth a pound of suppressing fire), they know the difference between cover and concealment and how to use them, they know not to stay in one place, they know the vulnerable points of tanks and armored vehicles. They’ve used those skills in games, and while there’s a massive difference between knowing stuff in a game and implementing it in real life, the knowledge is there and it’s useful. It’s horrible that young Ukrainians need that knowledge, but it’s good that they have it. This is an urban war in which Playstation and Xbox have been training tools.

Nobody really wins when civilians have to take up arms

The thing is, in video games death is just a delay. In video games, you’ve always got a fair chance of winning. Russian troops may not be very well trained, they may be poorly equipped, they may have serious logistical issues regarding supplies (like food, fuel, ammunition), they may have morale issues, they may not be a very effective fighting force, but there’s a lot of them. Numbers matter. And no matter how dedicated and clever and determined the people of Ukraine are, the odds are against them.

There’s a great deal of bold talk about how Putin has already lost–and there’s a lot of truth there. Putin has fucked Russia’s economy for years, he’s fucked the reputation of Russia. But Russia still has the power to seize Ukraine. They have the power to install a puppet regime. What they don’t have is the power to peacefully occupy Ukraine. So yeah, in that sense, Putin and Russia have already lost. But that doesn’t mean Ukraine will win. Or even survive as anything other than an underground resistance movement.

I do think, though, that this could be one of those inflection points people keep talking about. I think this invasion could teach the democratic world that we can no longer sing the praises of democracy and claim to value human rights AND continue to conduct business as usual with dictators and tyrants. Tolerating authoritarian regimes because there’s something in it for us–that’s just encouraging those regimes to flourish. We can’t continue to treat economics and human rights as separate, unrelated issues.

Democracy may be an unwieldy and awkward and inefficient system of governance, but it’s infinitely preferable to an efficient dictatorship. The people of Ukraine understand that.

aid and comfort

I haven’t read the book. I mean, it hasn’t even been released yet. But like a lot of news enthusiasts (that sounds a lot nicer than ‘news junkie’) I’ve heard a lot about Peril, the new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. One of the book’s revelations is that General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was so concerned about Comrade Trump’s emotional instability during the closing days of his administration that he called his Chinese counterpart (General Li Zuocheng) to assure him the US wasn’t planning to attack China. Milley also apparently assured Li that IF the US was going to launch any sort of attack, he’d call Li first to let him know.

Gen. Mark Milley

Republicans, of course, are calling this treason. Republicans, of course, are fucking idiots. Just to be clear, treason is a crime and like all crimes, it has to be defined. Here’s the definition of treason as written in the US Constitution (Article III, section 3):

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

That’s it. The Constitution outlines treason, but in order to make it a criminal offense, Congress had to pass a law against it, and the law had to articulate the elements of the crime. And hey, Congress did just that. Title 18 of the US Code § 2381, which reads as follows:

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

So, back to Gen. Milley. Does he owe allegiance to the US? Damn right, he does. Did he levy war against the US? Nope. Did he adhere to the enemies of the US? Under law, adhere refers to the act of joining or being in league with. Did Milley join China? Was he in league with China? Nope. Did he give aid and comfort to China? Aid, nope; comfort, yeah, probably.

Now some folks will be thinking Lawdy, General Milley gave comfort to CHINA! Traitor!. Nope. Every politician or military figure or corporate CEO who has gone to China and said stuff like “We want to be partners, we want to be friends, we want to work together” has given comfort to China. As far as that goes, every corporation who has opened a factory in China has given them aid and comfort. Every US business who buys Chinese products is giving them aid and comfort. Look around your house or apartment and you’ll find stuff made in China.

Dude, you done gave aid and comfort to China.

But you didn’t commit treason, did you. (Wait…did you? Just asking.) But buying products made in China isn’t treason because…and this is the thing all those GOP fucking idiots either forget or ignore…China isn’t the enemy of the US. We’re not at war with China. Hell, despite what Trump used to bellow, we’re not even in a trade war with China. In fact, China is our biggest trading partner.

What Gen. Milley did was inform a worried trading partner who was being threatened in speeches by an emotionally labile and irrational POTUS (who, if you’ll recall, was openly suggesting China had deliberately unleashed a global pandemic and promising some sort of retaliation) that the US had no plans to launch an attack. And IF an attack was planned, he’d let Gen. Li know about it.

Now that last bit sounds dodgy, doesn’t it. I mean, why would we warn somebody we’re going to attack them? We do it because we’re not monsters. This is actually a pretty common practice in modern international warfare. Retaliatory strikes tend to be made against structures rather than people. Radar sites, command and control facilities, chemical plants, armament factories, aircraft hangars, stuff like that. The intent is to punish the enemy by degrading their military capabilities. The targets are usually announced in advance to give personnel a chance to leave. Basically, it’s a warning, a statement. It’s saying, “Dude, we just blew the everlasting fuck out of these buildings, but we could have done that when there were people inside. Do NOT fuck with us. Next time we might not be so nice.”

Gen. Milley wasn’t committing treason. He was being a professional military leader. He was basically telling Gen. Li that even if Comrade Trump was unstable, the government of the United States was…well, less unstable. What Milley did — reassuring China that POTUS wasn’t out of control — wasn’t alarming. What’s alarming is the fact that the nation’s highest-ranking military officer and principal military advisor to the President thought it was necessary to reassure China.

yeah, it did

You know what’s annoying? You probably do, but I’m going to tell you anyway (which is undoubtedly annoying). What’s annoying is folks who ought to know better–and maybe actually do know better–repeating the same stupid shit. They continue to claim to be absolutely shocked at the completely predictable outcome of the US/NATO adventure in Afghanistan.

“It didn’t have to be this way,” they say. And yeah, they have a point–but it’s a very narrow one. The moment the Bush administration decided to step beyond its simple, achievable objective of eliminating the influence and capabilities of the al Qaeda network, they created an inevitable monkeyfuck situation.

It didn’t have to be this way. Yeah, it did–as soon as we decided to ignore 1700 years of history, it had to be this way. When we decided to engage in a conflict against multiple ethnic and tribal cultures we don’t understand, that operate on traditional rules and norms unknown to us, that have values and ethics that are often alien to us, and that have goals that are foreign to us, it had to be this way. We didn’t understand Afghan Rules, and we were too lazy/arrogant to bother to learn about them. I said this back in April, when President Uncle Joe announced the withdrawal date: Forget it Joe, it’s Afghanistan.

It didn’t have to be this way. Yeah, it did–when we implemented a style of combat that was heavily dependent on sophisticated technology and massive firepower in an environment that’s hostile to any machinery more complex than a Toyota pickup and has a mountainous terrain that moderates the effectiveness of firepower. Military tech is great, but that shit is expensive and it breaks. We made it all worse by training the Afghan army to fight an American-style high tech war, then failed to train them to maintain the tech required to support it.

This terrain is fucking nightmare for an invader.

It didn’t have to be this way. Yeah, it really did–when we decided to impose a Western style centralized democracy on a diverse group of tribes and clans that have zero experience with democracy. In fact, many/most of them reject the notion that they all belong to a single nation. They don’t think of themselves primarily as Afghans. The Tajiks speak Farsi and generally identify as Tajiks, not as Afghans; the Balochs speak Balochi and identify by any of dozens of local tribal or clan affiliations, not as Afghans. The same is true of the Uzbeks and the Hazara and the Kyrgyz and all of the other tribal groups. (See the Editorial Note at the end.)

Various ethnic/tribal/clan groups that make up Afghanistan

It didn’t have to be this way. Yeah, it did–when we brought an American football mindset to fight against a fútbol mindset. In football, orders are given by a coach who isn’t on the field of play. Those orders are sent to a single player who relays the commands to the others and controls the ball. The other players each have a specialized skill set and very specific roles to play; they wear complex specialized gear and follow their orders. Most of the players never touch the ball, only a very few can achieve the goal. After each play, the action stops, the team regroups and waits for the next set of orders. In fútbol, the play never stops, the players don’t depend on gear to protect them, the players learn to recognize situations and adapt their play to the immediate situation, they shift roles easily and often as the situation changes, no single player controls the ball, at any given moment any player can assume temporary control, and they’re all capable of scoring. Football is about a rigid centralized command structure, and following strict orders. Fútbol is about decentralized flexibility and quick idiosyncratic responsiveness to changing situations.

It didn’t have to be this way? Yeah, considering all the bad choices we made, it did. It was a monkeyfuck almost from the start.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I’m too lazy to count and categorize the various ethnic and tribal groups that comprise what we like to call Afghanistan, but the CIA collected a list in 2005. Many of these groups speak their own language, have their own unique identity, have their own cultural norms, have their own conflicts/feuds/vendettas with other groups. There is no United States of Afghanistan; anybody who thought we could create one was an idiot.

mission accomplished

Hey, remember that time we won the war in Afghanistan? No, no…not the one when President George W. Bush hitched a ride on a Lockheed S-3 Viking (and yeah, okay, the S-3 was originally an anti-submarine aircraft…but c’mon, there wasn’t a single successful submarine attack against US forces while Bush was POTUS, so there), landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and almost announced ‘mission accomplished.’ That was the time we won the war in Iraq. (I know, I know…Iraq, Afghanistan, what’s the difference, tomato, tomahto, and all that.) That was in May. Of 2003.

Mission almost accomplished.

Yes, there was a banner that said Mission Accomplished, but that was just a goof by some enthusiastic public relations johnny. Bush never said the mission was accomplished. What he actually said was this:

“[M]ajor combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed…. The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done and then we will leave.”

So no, not that time. I’m talking about the time we won the war in Afghanistan, which is a whole nother country than Iraq. I’m talking about the time President Bush (yes, the same guy) flew into Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar and actually said the mission was accomplished.

“America sent you on a mission to remove a grave threat and to liberate an oppressed people, and that mission has been accomplished…. In Afghanistan, forces directed from here from Qatar, and headquartered in Tampa, you delivered decisive blows against the Taliban and against al Qaeda. And now the people of Afghanistan are free.”

That was back in June. Also of 2003. An entire month after that business on the flight deck of the USS Abe Lincoln. That’s right, it took us a whole nother month to win the war in Afghanistan. Because winning a war in Afghanistan is hard.

Okay, mission accomplished now.

But a war doesn’t just end after you’ve given the ‘thumbs up’ sign. No sir, there’s always a lot of tidying up to do. President Bush continued to tidy up Afghanistan and Iraq for another five years. After which President Obama tidied up for eight years. Then President Comrade Trump tidied up for four years.

Well, not quite four years. On Groundhog Day in 2020 (no, I am NOT making that up) Comrade Trump signed an initial peace treaty with the Taliban. It was formalized on 29 February as the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America (you probably know it as the AfBPtAbtIEoAwinrbtUSasaikatTatUSA treaty).

Now, you may be wondering “What exactly did the Trump administration agree to in the AfBPtAbtIEoAwinrbtUSasaikatTatUSA treaty?” That’s a good question and I’m glad you asked. They agreed to:

  • “Withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces of the United States, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel within fourteen (14) months.”
  • “Up to five thousand (5,000) prisoners of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and up to one thousand (1,000) prisoners of the other side will be released by March 10, 2020.”
  • “[T]he Taliban commits that its released prisoners will be committed to the responsibilities mentioned in this agreement so that they will not pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies…the Taliban will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qa’ida, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”
  • “The United States and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban seek positive relations with each other and expect that the relations between the United States and the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government as determined by the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations will be positive.”

There it is. The US agreed to 1) pull all of its troops out of Afghanistan by April of 2021 and 2) release 5000 Taliban prisoners, and in exchange the Taliban promised 3) those released prisoners would behave themselves and 4) the Taliban wouldn’t attack the US or let terrorist groups in Afghanistan attack the US. And then both sides agree to 5) be BFFs.

Ain’t diplomacy grand?

Okay, maybe there’s still some tidying up to do. But it’s important that we remember to give credit where it’s due. We can thank George W. Bush for winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and we can thank Comrade Trump for signing the peace treaty making the US and the Taliban BFFs. But lawdy, now here comes President Uncle Joe Biden trying to grab all the headlines, when all he did was stand around an win an election.

If that isn’t just like a Democrat, then I don’t know what.

the second amendment, matt gaetz, and the battle of the wabash

This year I was going to avoid writing about Memorial Day. I’ve written about Memorial Day just about every year since I started writing this blog. I’m not even going to bother linking to all those earlier blogs (though if you’re interested, just type ‘Memorial Day’ into the search feature and hey bingo).

But here it is, Memorial Day again, and I’m about to write something that’s not exactly about Memorial Day (well, not about Memorial Day at all), but about cheap-ass pseudo-patriotic feculent cowardly politicians who give speeches during the Memorial Day weekend. And when I say “cheap-ass pseudo-patriotic feculent cowardly politicians” I mean Matt Gaetz.

What happened was I read what Matt (Hey, what’s a little child sex trafficking among friends?) Gaetz said a few days ago at an America First rally.

“For all the fake news media, the Second Amendment is not about — it’s not about hunting, it’s not about recreation, it’s not about sports. The Second Amendment is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary. “

Aside from the fact that an America First rally is an awfully nice way of saying “Rally for Fascism Yay!” there’s this: Matt Gaetz is, obviously, a fuckwit. You have to make some allowances for fuckwits. Because they’re fuckwits. So I’ll agree that Matt was correct when he said the Second Amendment isn’t about hunting or recreation or sports. But he’s absolutely wrong in thinking (and I use ‘thinking’ in the loosest possible way) that it’s about the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government. That’s just fucking stupid.

It’s the same sort of cellular-level stupidity that allows gun nuts to simultaneously insist that an AR-15 assault-style rifle is NOT IN ANY WAY a military weapon BUT is still absolutely vital for citizens to own in order to go Matt Gaetz on the US military. You know, if necessary.

Gen. Washington telling the Continental Army to just go home.

Thing is, the Second Amendment was grounded in the deep distrust and suspicion of the Founders regarding a professional standing army. Remember that most of the Founders had a Western European mindset, and Europe had a long history of standing armies, answerable only to a king, imposing the will of the king on the people. I mean, they explicitly denounced the entire concept, stating “standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican government, dangerous to the liberties of a free people, and generally converted into destructive engines for establishing despotism.” That whole “well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” business was about insuring themselves against a professional army acting on the whims and wishes of a supreme ruler (or the army’s own generals).

That’s why, after the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army was disbanded. Gen. George Washington gave a speech to the troops, in which he said (and I’m paraphrasing here):

“Guys, war’s over. Thanks for helping to kick the Brits out. But go on home now. Take your guns and uniforms, put that shit in the closet, and if you’re ever needed again, we’ll let you know.”

Oh, they kept a few troops to guard the arsenal at West Point, because you can’t just leave artillery laying around like lawn ornaments. But that was basically it. The former members of the Continental Army met periodically with other civilians as informal local militias to train or put down the occasional slave rebellion.

But in 1784 problems on the Western Frontier (which at the time was somewhere around Ohio) triggered Congress to approve the creation of the First American Regiment. The problem was settlers versus Native Americans. The settlers were all “We just want to live in peace, and cut down all these trees to create farms where we can grow crops on land that the savages weren’t really even using like god intended, but the savages want to cancel our culture.” Yes, the settlers kept personal firearms to hunt and to protect themselves from attacks by the natives they were displacing. The job of the First American Regiment was to support the locals, secure the frontier, and discourage Native Americans from slaughtering the white settlers. They did this by slaughtering the natives first.

First American Regiment, looking for unruly natives.

You may be assuming the reason the new American government was protecting those settlers was because they were racist assholes who didn’t think of the natives as human. Which would be accurate. But the primary reason was because the new US government didn’t have the authority to impose taxes on its citizens, which meant the government was broke, which meant they needed to generate some serious pocket money, which they decided to do by selling the land the natives weren’t really using like god intended to the invading settlers. So obviously, they had to keep the settlers from being slaughtered by the natives because dead folks don’t buy land.

That policy worked really well. The First American Regiment fought the natives, which allowed local militias to keep the slaves in check. Everything was cool…until November of 1791, when 320 troops from the First American Regiment supported by about a thousand local militia/settlers tried to teach a lesson to a coalition of Shawnee, Miami, Delaware, and Potawatomie tribes. That lesson was rejected. It’s generally called the Battle of the Wabash, but it was more of a rout than a battle. The native coalition kicked ass. Over 800 soldiers and militia members were killed; around 270 were wounded. A quarter of what had been the standing army of the US was wiped out.

“WTF, I’m wearing a snazzy uniform and being killed by a native wearing feathers and a purse?”

Congress responded to the defeat in a variety of ways. They decided maybe a standing army of professional soldiers wasn’t an entirely bad idea after all. They created the Legion of the United States–about 5000 troops–to insure a more effective military force for slaughtering natives. A month of so after the defeat, Congress also passed a lot of amendments to the new Constitution, one of which authorized well regulated militias to keep and bear arms. Five years after that they changed the name of the Legion of the United States to the Army of the United States. Probably because ‘legion’ sounded French.

My point, though, if you can call it that. was that the Second Amendment wasn’t about fighting a rebellion against the US government. It was about arming local groups who could be called upon to fight against local enemies (like slaves who resisted being slaves) freeing up the standing army to fight against regional enemies (like godless natives who resisted giving up their land to decent god-fearing white settlers).

My other point, which I seem to have strayed from, was that Matt Gaetz is a treasonous fuckwit who should be giving his speeches from a prison cell.

empathy triage

I read the news every morning. It’s part of my routine. I do it almost without thinking. Get up, get dressed, check the perimeter, feed and pet the cat, start the coffee, read the news.

One of the first articles listed in my morning news feed was from The Atlantic magazine. It was titled Why People Who Hate Trump Stick With Him. I started to click on it, partly out of habit and partly because The Atlantic usually has solid reportage — but I didn’t. I read the title again and thought, ‘I really don’t care why people who hate Trump stick with him’. I moved on to the next stories — one about a white man in Wichita who threatened to assassinate the mayor for issuing a mask mandate, and one about a black man in Louisiana who was granted parole after serving 24 years of a life sentence for attempting to steal a pair of hedge clippers.

A million years ago I was a medic in the military. Basic military medical training tends to be focused on casualty and trauma care. In addition to the field fundamentals — stop the bleeding, tend the wound, prep the patient for evac, that sort of thing — we were also taught the essentials of triage. Triage is a system developed by Dominique Jean Larrey during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. It’s a way of sorting mass casualties to determine who should be treated first. It’s a method of directing limited resources toward the best outcome for the majority of the wounded.

Dr. Dominique Jean Larrey, creator of the triage system, during the Napoleonic Wars.

Basically, what it means is that during a mass casualty event, some poor bastard greets the incoming wounded and sorts them into three groups: 1) victims who’ll probably live even without treatment, 2) victims who’ll likely die even with treatment, and 3) victims who have a chance of living if they’re given immediate treatment. Your arm is broken in three places? Yeah, it hurts…but it’s not going to kill you. Wait in the hall. Your arm has been blown off? Yeah, we can fix that, go right on in to surgery. You have two traumatic amputations and a head wound? Here are some M&Ms to tide you over until you bleed out. Sorry.

It’s an ugly job. Necessary, but ugly. But here’s the thing about triage: it focuses only on the wound and the treatment, not on any other characteristic of the victim. Dr. Larrey insisted treatment be based on the seriousness of the injury and the urgency of need for medical care, regardless of the wounded person’s rank or nationality. That meant French doctors would treat a seriously wounded British private before a lightly wounded French officer.

The Trump years have been a struggle for folks who care about other folks, who care about strangers as well as for friends and family. My capacity for empathy has been stretched. I’m now performing a warped sort of empathy triage. I’m most focused on folks who are suffering emotionally and spiritually and not coping very well. They get most of my empathy and support. Folks who are suffering but manage to retain their sense of humor and some degree of optimism, they’re the walking wounded; they’re in pain but they’ll recover. Folks who support Trump — those are self-inflicted wounds from which they probably won’t recover. Here are some M&Ms to tide you over until you bleed out.

Folks who hate Trump but stick with him? Dr. Larrey would be disappointed with me, but I’m out of M&Ms.