Hey, things could always be worse, I tell myself. I could be riding in the back of a light pickup truck in the middle of hell, as seen above. Where riding across a mine, being hit by a small IED or shot up by small arms would be quick and fatal.
I’m not there anymore, and I probably never will be again, for which I give thanks. I don’t give thanks for some holiday where indigenous people helped out their new neighbors, and their new neighbors proceeded to turf them out of their ancestral lands. I’m not giving thanks for that, nor am I looking into the past and nursing grievances about stuff that happened long before I was born.
That’s not my style.
Rather, on this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for present-day, tangible things.
Survival through this horrible plague, for most of those I know. A full belly. A warm house. A decent glass of wine, and the prospect of a delicious meal with amazing desserts. Eventually I’ll get a new truck, although I must say this year of shortages and stress has given me a surprise or two.
Thankful that most of us have survived, although some have not, with fatalities from various causes. Bad stinking year, after a bad year. Sooner or later the worm will turn, although it hasn’t yet. I remind myself that perseverance is one of the most important of traits. Endurance. Patience.
I try to exercise these things. To remind myself that I’ve lived through bad times before, and eventually these will pass like all the others.
So, on this Thanksgiving I really am thankful. Not for some set-piece Charlie Brown Thanksgiving BS, but for real reasons, and not make-believe.
Maybe that’s the real utility of this holiday.
Not for some white-washed version of what happened in the seventeenth century, but for what we experience today.
What are we thankful for?
There is so much, even in the midst of a terrible epidemic and societal upheaval.
Check it out. I’ll say what I’m thankful for. You guys can chime in if you want.
A good family. Good friends. A cool reader base. A meaningful craft in retirement. A body not blown to bits. Medical care, physical and mental (Thanks, VA). Dry roof. Full belly. Good roads. No gunfire nearby.
The list goes on.
So, yeah. Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be just some story about the Pilgrims and their Native hosts.
Thanksgiving can be every stinking day.
I encourage you all to be thankful, because for the vast majority of us, we have a lot to be thankful for. I mean, come on, Netflix. Burger King. Walmart. This is a land of plenty and ease!
Do your best, guys. And think about things to be thankful for.
First, a disclaimer. I am not advocating whether people should get a COVID shot or not. That’s your call, but I would suggest you do. No, what I am talking about is a dangerous erosion of military discipline. Read further and you may get my drift.
OK, those of us who spent a day or two in uniform knew this guy, the Shithouse Lawyer.
The Lawyer was the dude or dudette who was always trying to find some obscure alternative reading of the regulations to get them out of some onerous detail or to keep them a few steps ahead of Command, who frequently were looking to punish or otherwise penalize the Lawyer.
This person thought they were smarter than everyone around them, the world was their oyster.
Until they finally ran into some sergeant who insisted that yes, the regulations are what they say, and as a soldier you have to follow lawful orders.
“Lawful orders.” There’s another hook that the Lawyer would try to use. I’ll give you an example.
I had a soldier tell me once that I couldn’t order him to place his life at risk. “That’s an illegal order, sir!”
I begged to differ, and he was shocked when I told him that I could use deadly force to coerce him to follow my LEGAL orders and no one would say boo to me. In fact, I could be prosecuted for NOT exercising Command Authority in combat.
Never forget that ultimately military command results in death; but let me give stark illustrations of legal, as opposed to illegal orders.
Legal orders: “You, you and you. Form a rearguard so the unit can escape.” “You, you and you. Load up, go take that pillbox.” “You, you and you. March through this area where we just lit off an atom bomb.”
Illegal orders: “You, you and you. Line these civilians up and shoot them.” “Herd these women into a comfort station.” “Give the minorities in the unit the worst jobs.”
Surely you can see the difference?
A commander must frequently give unpopular orders; a commander frequently suffers under idiots. It doesn’t matter. Soldiers are supposed to have discipline; it is what separates them from civilians.
Soldiers can’t pick and choose which orders they may follow, so long as they comply with the regulations and the laws of war, it matters not.
You may have noticed my shot record above, listing no fewer than eight Anthrax vaccinations. People may not remember, but these vaccinations were deeply unpopular when issued, and they were also experimental in nature with a proven deadly biological warfare agent. Very bad stuff.
Yes. As it was explained to me in detail nearly twenty years ago. So I lined up with hundreds of thousands of others and took the shot.
Because I was a soldier. Because of discipline. Because of duty.
So imagine my surprise when I saw this headline on Yahoo News.
We soldiers do not get to pick and choose which lawful orders and directives we follow.
I’ll leave you with what a good First Sergeant once counseled a young Sergeant in regard to following orders.
FIRST SERGEANT: “So, Sergeant, you violated orders by doing x.”
SERGEANT: “Well, yeah. We thought it was the right thing to do.”
FIRST SERGEANT: “We?”
SERGEANT: “Yeah. The guys and I.”
FIRST SERGEANT: “So, you let a group of privates talk you into picking which orders suited you?”
FIRST SERGEANT: “Let me give you a scenario. You tell one of your little buddies they need to go stand in that watchtower.”
(The First Sergeant points into the distance. The Sergeant looks over.)
FIRST SERGEANT: “You know. That one the snipers like, right? Dangerous, huh?”
SERGEANT: “Well, yeah…”
FIRST SERGEANT: “What if your soldier says “FUCK YOU!”” (The 1SG roars, the Sergeant flinches) “Asshole, we don’t get to pick and choose orders, and your soldiers will fucking notice and call you out!”
I watched this exchange, and I agreed wholeheartedly with the grizzled 1SG.
Easy. It has a direct bearing on today’s discussion- drones. John Birmingham’s recent post on his website got me thinking about the damn things.
I have some degree of outdated experience with battlefield drones; nothing makes you feel more naked, vulnerable, then knowing that a Predator or something is loitering overhead. Loitering and waiting on the excuse to drop ordnance on some jerk’s head. Why, you ask, would I feel vulnerable towards friendly drones? The flying, whispering death that made my long vigils behind a machine-gun superfluous?
The picture above is one such occasion; even in broad daylight with clear fields of fire there was always someone on watch. Always. Even with Preds, Apaches, bombers, fighters, etc. flying overwatch. You could never let your guard down at any time, no matter what.
I was hideously aware of the capabilities of our air cover, whether human or not. When aviation assets hit a “target,” well, the results are dramatic. Disgusting. Think about it. 25mm rounds meant for armor hitting some poor bastard with an AK. The list goes on, increasing in destructive power. I always thought about friendly fire, or some horrible mistake. Or of me, putting myself in the enemies’ shoes. Creeping up in the pitch dark, only to be dismembered by something I could not see before I came into range with my shoddy and poorly maintained arms.
So, with almost zero surprise I paid some degree of attention to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where the Azerbaijani forces decimated the well-armed and equipped Armenian forces with ingenious and clever deployment of drones.
I’m pretty sure in these pages I’ve discussed the future usage and deployment of drones, and I definitely talked about it in my first trilogy, the Valley series. Of course, in my original trilogy I talked about drone employment as science fiction hundreds of years into the future, but obviously drones changing the battlefield is happening right now and in the recent past.
Our decision makers need to get on top of this. Immediately, or western forces risk being badly outclassed by future opponents in an asymmetrical battlefield where the enemy could care less about vested interests, political rewards, or an entrenched “manned combatant” mafia. By the “manned combatant” mafia, I mean all the old soldiers who think that war as they knew it in their youths will continue into the future. Particularly vulnerable to disruption are our expensive, manned aerial combat assets, although armor and infantry forces are vulnerable as well.
In my books I have made the case for upgraded or armored infantry, but I am hardly an innovator in this regard. Heinlein wrote of this in 1959 in Starship Troopers, so did Haldeman (albeit on the other side of the ideological paradigm) in 1974 with the classic The Forever War.
I’d make the argument that none of us are wrong, at least in regard to the utility of modern infantry in powered, mechanized suits backed by a companion AI. The powered fighting suit will be the only defense against the killer robots and drones of the near-future battlefield. Nagorno-Karabakh is a warning, a very stark warning, for conventional forces.
And then we can talk about aerial drones. So far we haven’t seen killer drones truly sent up against manned combat aircraft (on a large scale), but the day is coming. We are getting strong hints now. Pilots blinded by unknown actors using lasers, mid-air incidents with drones around airports, and perhaps even the rise of documented UFO incidents with US Military aircraft. Who says that these might not be weapons tests by an adversary?
A combat drone costs a lot less than an F-35, for sure and certain. Do any of us think the Chinese, the Iranians, or other potential adversaries are stupid? I certainly do not. My own uncle paid the price when a million Chinese soldiers surprised the living hell out of Western forces during the Korean War; who knows what evil surprises future enemies will have for expensive and top-heavy Western forces?
They are studying us. Noting weaknesses and failure points. Listening to old generals when they set policy, the tone, for our defense.
This is what I would do if I wanted to dismantle the Western defenses on the cheap.
Use drones, AI, and invest in the best damn missile swarms that money could possibly buy.
How would you like to be in a USN carrier task force with several thousand hypersonic “vampires” inbound?
I wouldn’t want to be there, for the same reason I always hated tanks. It’s not because I despise tanks or tankers. On the contrary. It’s because I recognized early in my career that everyone wants to kill the tanks as soon as they are spotted! Sorry, I’d rather take my chances huddled in a ditch with a battle rifle than be inside an enormous tuna fish can, and some happy a-hole has an equally enormous can opener with a name like “Javelin” or “Hellfire.”
So, I believe the age of armor is nearly as obsolete as the expensive fighter-bomber, for similar reasons.
Bang for the buck, guys. A robot, a drone, and a missile cost far less than soldiers, crew members. And it isn’t just the unit cost. Let’s break down the true cost of a soldier, at least in the West.
A vignette. Do you know that the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs just finished paying the last of the pensions from the US Civil War (1861-1865)? In 2020!
This means that the compounded costs of say, the Afghan War, will not be completely written off until possibly 2175, assuming current lifespans stay intact.
Soldiers, human beings, are expensive as hell. Munitions are not. Think of the logistics, as well. A missile doesn’t eat. A drone doesn’t complain. AI doesn’t fall asleep or have nightmares. These. These are the perfect killers of the future.
It is way past time for our politicians and leaders to figure this out and get their collective sh*t together. But after witnessing the spectacles of the past year (on both sides of the aisle), I have little faith.
Our Joes and Josephines of the next war will be huddled in a ditch just like I was ten years ago, but this time, instead of being creeped out by friendly drones, they will be terrified of hostile ones.
I wish I could give every Senator and general the gift of feeling naked and vulnerable beneath the cruel stars. However, I am not a magician or a particularly gifted or influential speaker.
I leave you with this- nothing is worse than being fired upon and you have no idea where it is coming from, you cannot act to identify a target or respond in any way, and the fire arrives with overwhelming, inhuman precision to demoralizing lethal effect. This is the nightmare scenario we are asking our soldiers, sailors, and airmen to fight and operate in. This is not a pipe dream, or doom speak.
This will happen to our people.
As they huddle in a ditch, soar in the heavens, or float upon the waves. The inhuman, uncaring death will come without a single whisper of warning. We need to act, to plan, now.
Ask the Armenians.
Postscript: This write-up wasn’t an hour old when I saw this:
Strap explosives to an Amazon drone, launch. Cheap, deadly, and the device(s) nearly overcame multi millions of dollars of conventional security in one of the most heavily guarded places on Earth.
Think about it.
Upon later review of this article, in April of 2022, it seems prescient. Witness the fight in the Ukraine. In the article above I list the Javelin by name, and it has indeed been used against massed armored forces to excellent, devastating effect. A job as a tanker on the modern battlefield? No thanks!
Western military doctrine needs a serious review. Now.