We maintain and continue this committee of correspondence in memory of our founder and mentor, Colonel W. Patrick Lang. The image to the right is Marcus, a character from William S. Burroughs’s “The Coming of the Purple Better One.” Colonel Lang would refer to Marcus sometimes in clever jest, sometimes in biting social commentary and sometimes simply because he liked Marcus. May everyone who corresponds here do so in a similar spirit.

Posted in Administration | 12 Comments

AVAILABLE now FROM iUniverse, Amazon and Barnes and Noble in hard cover, soft cover, and digital.

The Portable Pat Lang

Essential Writings on History, War, Religion and Strategy

From the Introduction:

“In the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Col. Lang created his own blog which to this day still serves as a committee of correspondence for a large network of former military and intelligence officers, diplomats, and scholars of international affairs.

Since its launch in 2005, the Turcopolier website has had over 40 million unique visits.

Since leaving the government, he has also authored five books, including a Civil War espionage trilogy, a memoir of his years in government service, and a primer on human intelligence.

This present volume—his sixth book—is an anthology of some of his most important writings. The content speaks for itself.  So have at it.”

Posted in My books | 4 Comments

Trent Telenko on Ukrainian Drones

In the last few hours Ukraine has struck the posh Moscow neighborhood where Russian oligarchs live with what looks like a converted Foxtech REX 340 Canard VTOL/compound helicopter drone. You can buy a Chinese Foxtech REX 340 online for $42K from Alibaba. Six hours endurance at 25 m/s cruise speed works out as ~525 km straight-line distance with a 10 minute operational reserve to land. Ukraine likely put between $10K and $35K of materials, time and labor effort per drone just to get one of the 25 munitions to hit in the middle of the densest ADA network and in the most GPS jamming denied airspace on the planet…a second time.

The world has changed. And I say a second time because the success now means the previous drone strike on Moscow wasn’t the “False Flag” that I and others thought at the time. Ukraine is better with drones than I thought, and I considered them in the top 5 militaries worldwide. Basically, Ukraine has ‘disruptively innovated’ a 500 km class propeller cruise missile military capability that can operate out of the back of a SUV for the price of a TOW anti-tank missile.

The video I posted said it takes one man less than 10-minutes to set up one REX 340. A single box truck with three guys could move a swarm of 25 of these drones anywhere the truck can reach, set up and launch a strike capable of penetrating Moscow airspace in about an 90 min.

And this cost Ukraine between $1.3 million and  $1.925 million to pull off. We are still in the fog of war, but we are seeing patterns similar to the 1986 Operation EL DORADO CANYON F-111 strike on Libya. Small UAV’s flying low over buildings, like F-111s over Tripoli, can cause proximity fuzes detonate SAM warheads over buildings. Ukraine’s Chief GUR spook Budanov told Russia yesterday that they would regret the attacks on Kyiv. 

The question for me is why only 23 to 25 drones? If Ukraine has 1,000 Rex 340 and fired them as a Moscow time-on-target. They would have gotten several hundred hits after running the VKS SAM launchers out of missiles. A couple of hundred Rex 340 hits into the Russian Defense Ministry is a far stronger message than giving Russian Oligarchs a “Code Brown” with one hit. You can buy & convert 1,000 Rex 340 for $80 million.

We know from David Hambling that Ukraine just bought out the world’s supply of Chinese racing drones for FPV attack drone conversion. Trevor Phillips-Levine’s War on the Rocks article “THE ART OF SUPPLY CHAIN INTERDICTION: TO WIN WITHOUT FIGHTING” details this Ukrainian bit of racing drone economic warfare. It’s an utter hoot. Did Ukraine do the same for Rex 340 class drones? The cost trades here for both the Rex 340 cruise missile conversion and the 50K to 100K Ukrainian FPV drones mark the beginning of a new age of warfare.

A “Dreadnought moment” where disruptively cheap drone swarms are emerging as the predominant military weapon of choice. Ukraine has trained 10K drone operators.  This is one per every 100 AFU servicemen. We are likely going to see 50 organic drone operators per Ukrainian ground brigade in their 18 brigade strategic reserve with more in supporting drone companies. Think something on the order of 300 AFU drone operators in the break-in assault sectors sending waves of FPV drones every 10 to 15 minutes all day the first couple of days of the break-in & the pass through of the exploitation force. Behind that Russian train infrastructure, up to 450 km behind the lines, will be struck. Think step down transformers for electrified train lines, diesel storage for diesel engines and train switching equipment with Rex 340 class drones in lieu of Storm Shadow and GMLRS. Storm Shadows would be reserved for hard targets and GMLRS for time critical targets within it’s range.

Swarms of ‘Alibaba specials’ will be for all the immobile and soft logistical targets in the operational rear, like rails and power, that support just in time artillery and fuel needs. There are not enough SAMs, air defense autocannons or electronic warfare jammers in all the world to stop 50,000 to 100,000 FPV drones in the hands of 10,000 Ukrainian combat trained drone operators, let alone in Russia.

The age of the armed drone swarm is upon us.

Comment: Until the Russians show more drone wreckage, we won’t know for sure what drones struck Moscow the other day. But these Foxtech REX 340 drones seem a good candidate. As Telenko suggests, it would take a massive number of these drones with such small payloads to make a significant impact. This relatively small attack was enough to make a psychological impact in showing that Moscow itself is not invulnerable to attack. I believe this attack occurred in daylight just to make that point.

Further attacks will cause Moscow to further employ its jamming and electronic countermeasure assets. That will effect Russian efforts to launch cruise missiles towards Ukraine. The ECM employed during this strike jammed signals up to the Baltics.

Ukraine’s embracing of drone technology and drone warfare kicked off in 2014 with the formation of Aerorozvidka and has grown by leaps and bounds since then. In addition to damned near cornering the market on Chinese produced drones (and I’m still amazed at Chinese willingness to sell these drones to Ukraine), the Ukrainian drone industry is going great guns to develop and produce more effective and affordable drones. I believe we may be surprised by the oversized role drones will play in the upcoming counteroffensive. The question remains as to what counter-countermeasures Ukraine is developing to answer the Russian ECM capabilities.


Posted in The Military Art, TTG, Ukraine Crisis | Leave a comment

The U.S. Congress as professional wrestling puts on a show about the federal government’s public debt limit

Congress presents the “Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023”

By Robert Willmann

As a type of theater, professional wrestling is a scripted performance to entice the audience and coax it to come back for more. With in-your-face interviews before and after a match including insolent insults, and fascinating stunts and acrobatics during one, the fans suspend disbelief and gladly go along with it. For the U.S.A., national politics for quite some time has been and is professional wrestling.

Today’s main event is the “Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023”, H.R. 3746. With a title like that, hold on to your wallet! Let’s take a look.

Introduced in the House of Representatives two days ago on 29 May 2023, the proposed legislation is 100 double-spaced pages of convoluted language. Last night, a House ruling said–

“05/30/2023-9:26pm. Rules Committee Resolution H. Res. 456 Reported to House. Rule provides for consideration of H.R. 3746 with 1 hour of general debate. Previous question shall be considered as ordered except motion to recommit. Measure will be considered read. Bill is closed to amendments. Action By: House of Representatives.”

The bill’s title is in the form of the federal government’s favorite new words — misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation. Then comes section 2, the table of contents, which divides the proposal into four “divisions”– (A) Limit federal spending, (B) Save taxpayer dollars, (C) Grow the economy, (D) Increase in debt limit. At the very end is section 401, the wording that matters [1].

Posted in Current Affairs, government, Policy, Politics | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“Russia hits base in Ukraine in new wave of strikes, Zelenskiy praises Patriots”

President Volodymyr Zelensky stands beside a downed drone last October

KYIV, May 29 (Reuters) – Russia said on Monday its military hit Ukrainian air bases in overnight strikes and Ukrainian forces shelled industrial facilities inside Russia as both sides sought the upper hand ahead of what Kyiv hopes will be a decisive counter-offensive.

In a rare acknowledgement of damage to a military “target”, Ukraine said that work was under way to restore a runway and that five aircraft were taken out of service in the western region of Khmelnitskiy, though it did not name the sites. A military airfield was sited in the region before the war. “At the moment, work is continuing to contain fires in storage facilities for fuel and lubricants and munitions,” the Khmelnitskiy regional governor’s office said. Russian state-owned news agency RIA cited the defence ministry as saying more than one air base had been hit. There was no confirmation from Ukraine of damage to other air bases.

The Ukrainian capital came under attack for the 16th time this month after a second successive night of bombardment. But officials said most of the drones and missiles fired overnight had been shot down and no targets were hit in the morning. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy praised U.S.-supplied Patriot anti-missile defences. “When Patriots in the hands of Ukrainians ensure a 100% interception rate of any Russian missile, terror will be defeated,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said that all 11 missiles used in the daytime attacks had been destroyed. But it made no mention of the Patriot systems.

Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s air force, suggested the Patriot was behind the latest results against incoming Iskander ballistic missiles. “I think you can guess,” Ihnat told Ukrainian television. “If Iskander-M missiles are intercepted, you can draw conclusions about the means that specifically targeted the objectives – ballistic targets.”

The attacks, which sent Kyiv residents running for shelter in metro stations, were part of a new wave of Russian air strikes this month as Ukraine, armed with new Western weapons, prepares a push to try to take back territory Russia has seized in the “special military operation” launched in February 2022. “With these constant attacks, the enemy seeks to keep the civilian population in deep psychological tension,” said Serhiy Popko, the head of the city’s military administration. Two people were killed and eight wounded in a Russian attack on the Ukrainian city of Toretsk in the eastern region of Donetsk on Monday, regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

Comment: So the Russians can hit strategic military targets deep in Ukraine’s rear area. If they kept this kind of targeting up on a continuous basis, they would make some real progress in degrading any developing Ukrainian offensive capability. This would be so much more effective than trying to terror bomb Kyiv. That’s not breaking the Ukrainians. It’s pissing them off. Plus that’s where the Ukrainian air defense assets are concentrated. Shooting down the vast majority of drones and missiles targeting Kyiv is giving the Ukrainians a win and a morale boost. Why don’t they force the Ukrainians to redeploy those air defense assets by targeting more airfields and assembly areas further west? 

For a while the Russians seemed to settle on a plan to destroy the Ukrainian power grid. It was a good plan, but they stopped for some inexplicable reason. Who’s running their air campaign?


Posted in The Military Art, TTG, Ukraine Crisis | 64 Comments

“Dear Hearts Across the Seas: A Memorial Day Prayer” by W. Patrick Lang

“For 14 hours yesterday, I was at work—teaching Christ to lift his cross by the numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirst until after the last halt. I attended his Supper to see that there were no complaints; and inspected his feet that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb, and stands before his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha.”
Captain Wilfred Owen, The Manchesters
Killed in Action, Nov. 4, 1918

This famous quotation from the work of the soldier-poet Wilfred Owen sums up both the awfulness and the beauty of a combat soldier’s life. It is particularly meaningful to those who have been given the chance to train and lead men in war. I came to know Owen’s work a few years back through Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. Professor Fussell was badly wounded in World War II and is still filled with the righteous outrage that fills most combat men. God bless him.

Many will recoil in horror from the idea that there can be beauty in the life led by combat soldiers, the immortal “grunts” and Grognards who live in historic memory. It is all too easy to see nothing but the pain and the misery of loss, wounds and experience so horrible that it scars for life. Perhaps the worst is the memory of suffering necessarily inflicted on others whose motives are often no more base or lacking in what the Romans called pietas than our own. Not political enough for you? Go talk to a soldier and see if he agrees with you.

Comrades in Fear and Friendship

On the good side of the ledger there is the fact that there are no better friends than those with whom you have been deeply and comprehensively afraid. “Go tell my mother,” says Private Ryan in Spielberg’s exquisite film. “Go tell her that I will stay here, with the only brothers I have left.” This rings so true that it requires no explanation. Those ties bind unto death, until “the last jump,” as I have heard World War II paratroopers express it. The friendship and indeed love of comrades often long gone is, perhaps, the greatest “good” in war. It is often said that war brings out the best and the worst in people. This is profoundly true. Men who in civilian life would not have crossed the street to help a stranger often fall in the effort to help near strangers. There are many good things to be remembered. All of them have to do with comrades.

These days we are served by professionals and militia soldiers of the National Guard and reserve. These are men and women who bring to mind Lt. Col. Arthur Fremantle’s description of the infantry soldiers of Lee’s army at Gettysburg. Fremantle was a Coldstream Guards officer who had come to America to observe. He got a bellyfull of observing, but said of “Lee’s Miserables” that they were “simply beyond praise.” Our people are like that now. A friend’s son is now on his way back overseas for his fourth tour of duty in the Asian war against the jihadis. Soon, his experience will not be unusual. Forty-five years ago his father and I, looking down the barrel of another war, would never have believed that we would see this. We were short-sighted, blinded by the myopia of youth. What is the old saw from Plato? “Only the dead have seen the end of war….” Really? My word….

No Need for Boosterism

I sometimes receive letters from people who are filled with a great and high-minded attitude about war. “Well, that is why soldiers exist….” “Losses are worth their pain in a good cause….” “Our soldiers will prevail through their skill and the great weapons we buy them.” I would say to such people that the soldiers already know that. They do not need your boosterism to help them do their duty. They will do their duty to the last, as so many of our soldiers have done. Just let them get on with it without suffering the indignity of your remarks.

Just after the war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, an Army chaplain said Mass one Memorial Day in the post chapel of the Presidio of Monterey. Since America is a Jesuit magazine, it is fitting to mention that he was a Jesuit, as so many other Army chaplains have been. He had served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He had served with many infantry units. The infantry are the people who always do the serious, up-close killing and dying. The Army reckons that over 90 percent of all combat deaths happen in the infantry.

During his homily this priest looked out at the congregation, overwhelmingly populated with combat men and their families. He said that he wanted the people of God to remember their brothers asleep in the Lord’s embrace. He wanted them to remember how each man died alone, alone in fear, alone in misery, usually with no one to comfort him, often in the dark, with his life running out through mutilations that left little doubt of the outcome. He asked them to pray for their brothers, for the brothers who had died for us all as Jesus died for us all. The congregation sang. “In the beauty of the lilies/ Christ was born across the sea,/ with a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me./ As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free./ His truth is marching on.”

A Memorial Day Prayer

Nothing has changed. The wounds inflicted by improvised explosive devices are appalling. Go to Walter Reed or Bethesda and see for yourself. The troops are not complaining. They never complain, and so nobody has any right to be less committed to the eternal mission of the soldier than they are.

This Memorial Day, remember that the cemeteries and physical therapy wards are full of men and women who gave their all for you, and who in many cases ask nothing more than to be allowed to go back and do it again. Pray for them. Please.

“I have eaten your bread and salt.
I have drunk your water and wine.
The deaths ye died, I have watched beside,
And the lives ye led were mine.

Was there aught that I did not share
One joy or woe that I did not know,
Dear hearts across the seas?

I have written the tale of our life
For a sheltered people’s mirth,
In jesting guise—but ye are wise,
And ye know what the jest is worth.”

– Rudyard Kipling
“The Rifleman”

This article first appeared in print in the 29 May 2006 issue of the Jesuit “America Magazine.”

Posted in Religion | 5 Comments

“Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale” 

Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York                                       22 March 2014

My wife’s father passed away after a long battle with dementia. His life was no picnic. Nor was it a tragedy. He worked hard his entire life only to be let go just before he was able to retire. It was a classic case of age discrimination. He kept working at other jobs until he was seventy. Both his wife and his only son died years ago. Like us all, he was a sinner and a child of God. His daughter cared for him from our home in Virginia. It was practically a full time job. 

He enlisted in the Army at the tail end of WW II, serving in the Army of Occupation in Japan and in Korea prior to that little dust up. Returning home, he began a career in the New York Army National Guard. He served in a tank battalion in Troy and ended his career in a Special Forces unit in Schenectady as a sergeant first class. He was always proud of his service.  

He had a simple funeral mass at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Halfmoon, New York. Before leaving the church, the religious vestment was removed from his casket and replaced by an American flag. We arranged for military honors to be rendered at his burial because we thought he would appreciate it. We expected this to be two American Legion members who would render the honors to the best of their abilities with a recording of taps. We placed his flag draped casket in the hearse and followed it across the still frozen Mohawk River and the already thawed Hudson. We made our way through the weathered streets of North Troy and to the ancient Oakwood Cemetery. The morning snow flurries had stopped with no accumulation. It was still overcast and the wind was bitterly cold. We were grateful the dreaded wintery mix did not materialize.

We turned off the paved road through the park like cemetery onto an icy, muddy gravel path to the family plot. As the hearse approached the burial site, we were shocked to see a full Army burial detail in their service blue uniforms and service caps. I heard some of my wife’s relatives wonder who were these soldiers. Were they cadets from the nearby La Salle Institute? My reply was, “No, these are regulars.” Two young sergeants and and an even younger PFC bugler stood at attention at the crest of a slight knoll to our right. The casket team removed the casket from the hearse and made their way to the grave site. The deacon from Saint Mary’s Church led the small gathering of relatives, neighbors and my wife’s friends in a short interment service and final prayer. 

The icy wind calmed into a cold breeze and the sun made a valiant effort to brighten the scene. From the crest of the knoll, three volleys of rifle fire rang out. The lone bugler played Taps. She performed admirably in spite of the cold air. The detail began folding the flag precisely and slowly. The reverence and devotion to duty were plainly visible in the young soldiers’ actions and faces. The slow, solemn salutes as the folded flag was passed to the young NCOIC of the honor detail caused me to think of all those who had fought and served under that flag. My wife took a few steps forward herself to spare the NCOIC those steps over the muddy, icy slope in his dress shoes. That’s the way she is… always thinking of others. The young sergeant approached my wife, bowed forward and began those familiar words.      

“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army and a grateful nation…”  

All the emotions I was feeling welled up as I heard those words. A tear came to my eye. Bless those young soldiers giving their all on this Saturday afternoon. Bless my father-in-law. Bless all those who have served and died, as well as those still serving and living. What a brotherhood! 

General George Henry Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga, is buried close by in the family plot of his Lansingburgh, New York born wife. General Thomas was born and raised a Virginian, but found it necessary, by personal conscience and honor, to remain in the Union Army. Sergeant Rice Cook Bull, a soldier of the 123rd New York Infantry, who served under General Thomas and wrote of his experiences in the book, Soldiering, also lies nearby. These two old soldiers would recognize the oh so very young soldiers of the burial detail dressed in blue as brothers. They certainly recognized the three volleys of rifle fire and the melancholy playing of Taps.  

“And forever, brother, hail and farewell.” The words in the title of this post belong to Catullus, written in tribute to his brother, who was buried far from home near the ancient city of Troy. Catullus talks of the sad tribute of the burial rights in the ancient custom of ancestors.

Thank God for those ancient customs of our ancestors.


(Note for 2023) With the passing of the years, I look back on what struck me so profoundly on that day. He was my wife’s father so of course it was important to me, but we were not particularly close. We now know that the burial detail was New York National Guard soldiers who volunteered for this duty under a NYAG program. They are specially trained, given a small stipend to upgrade and maintain their uniforms and are awarded only retirement points for their efforts. A remarkable program. This took place within sight of General George H. Thomas who, over the years, has become my favorite Civil War leader. I now know that it was a unique juxtaposition of place, the company, the weather and the history that struck me so profoundly. I find a retelling of this tale most appropriate for this Memorial Day.  

Posted in Obituary, TTG | 1 Comment

2023 Memorial Day Weekend Luminaria at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery

FREDERICKSBURG, VA — On Saturday, May 27, 2023 the National Park Service will host the 28th annual luminaria at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. The program runs from 8 pm to 11 pm, and is free to the public. In the event of rain, the luminaria will be moved to Sunday, May 28.

The luminaria honors those who died in the service of this country. Local scouts will light 15,300 candles in the cemetery – one for each grave there. In addition, a bugler will play “Taps” every 30 minutes during the evening as park staff in the cemetery relate stories about some of the soldiers.

The Fredericksburg National Cemetery was established in 1866 and remained open for military burials until 1945. It holds the remains of 15,243 soldiers, sailors and Marines, most of whom died during the Civil War. At least 85% of the graves are unidentified, resulting in over 12,770 unknowns. The annual luminaria has served as a poignant tribute to the fallen since 1996.

The cemetery is located at the intersection of Sunken Road and Lafayette Boulevard. Attendees may park at the University of Mary Washington lot at the corner of William Street and Sunken Road. The Fredericksburg Trolley will provide shuttle service between the parking area and the cemetery. Accessible parking will be available in the visitor center parking lot at 1013 Lafayette Boulevard.

A separate, commemorative ceremony will be held at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery on Memorial Day, Monday, May 29.

Comment: I’m skipping the event this year. I’m still recovering from Covid and, even though this is an open air event, I should not be exposing others to possible infection, especially all the older people who attend these events. Below, Beth Parnicza and long-time NPS historian Frank O’Reilly reflect on the event during a local radio station broadcast. The telling of individual soldier stories by NPS rangers throughout the cemetery is an especially moving part of the evening.

Posted in TTG, WBS | 1 Comment

“China prioritizing Turkmenistan over Russia in next big pipeline project”

SINGAPORE/ASHGABAT, May 24 (Reuters) – China is accelerating the building of a long-delayed Central Asian pipeline to source gas from Turkmenistan even as Russia pushes its own new Siberian connection, as Beijing juggles its energy security needs with diplomatic priorities. Beijing is keen to bolster Central Asia ties under its Belt & Road Initiative, but nearly a decade after construction began, the “Line D” project has been hobbled by complex price talks and the technical hurdles of laying a pipeline crossing another three central Asian nations, Chinese state oil officials said.

But Moscow’s recent push to land its second Siberia pipeline connection with China, the Power of Siberia 2, to make up for shrunken sales in Europe due to the Ukraine crisis, provides Beijing a lever to advance the central Asian project, according to Chinese oil officials and industry consultants. “Central Asian pipelines are considered a cornerstone investment in China’s energy and geopolitical space. It’s a supply channel with strategic value that supersedes commercial concerns,” a state-oil official familiar with China National Petroleum Corp’s (CNPC) global strategy told Reuters.

China may eventually seal both deals to feed its massive long-term gas needs, but is prioritizing Turkmenistan, industry officials said, as Beijing has long seen Central Asia as a frontier to expand trade, secure energy and maintain stability in its once-restive western Xinjiang region.

Combined, multi-year contracts worth tens of billions of dollars to bring gas via both pipelines would meet 20% of China’s current demand. The pipelines are key to Beijing’s goal of using gas as a bridge fuel towards its carbon neutrality targets and also helping to shield it from the volatile tanker-carried liquefied natural gas (LNG) market. Estimated in 2014 to cost $6.7 billion, Line D would carry 30 billion cubic meters of gas a year.

Speaking last week at the first in-person summit of central Asian leaders in the ancient Silk Road city of Xian, President Xi Jinping urged parties to accelerate laying Line D, which would be China’s fourth gas pipeline to the region, almost a decade after the start of construction in Tajikistan. In 2022, China imported 35 bcm gas or worth $10.3 billion via three pipelines from Turkmenistan, compared with 16 bcm via a single pipeline from Russia at about $4 billion.

Comment: This is a switch, a title that is not misleading. I’ve seen several  articles that gives the impression that China is abandoning Russia. No, China is not abandoning Russia, but this “friendship without limits” apparently has limits. China is doing what’s best for China. And it appears to be at a considerable price in the short term. This will also come at a considerable price to Russia. She can ill afford to complete The Power of Siberia 2 pipeline on her own. All this in pursuit of expanding and solidifying Chinese influence in Central Asia.

Although it’s just a hunch on my part, I think China will move on old Chinese territories she lost to Russia before she seriously attempts to reincorporate Taiwan into the Empire. As the saying goes, “In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.” She might even see it as a necessary stepping stone in her quest to take our place as a leading power.   


Posted in Central Asia, China, Russia, TTG | 44 Comments

The Solitude of Combat Veterans – Alan Farrell

Ladies and Gentlemens:

Kurt Vonnegut — Corporal Vonnegut — famously told an assembly like this one that his wife had begged him to “bring light into their tunnels” that night. “Can’t do that,” said Vonnegut, since, according to him, the audience would at once sense his duplicity, his mendacity, his insincerity… and have yet another reason for despair. I’ll not likely have much light to bring into any tunnels this night, either.

The remarks I’m about to make to you I’ve made before… in essence at least. I dare to make them again because other veterans seem to approve. I speak mostly to veterans. I don’t have much to say to them, the others, civilians, real people. These remarks, I offer you for the reaction I got from one of them, though, a prison shrink. I speak in prisons a lot. Because some of our buddies wind up in there. Because their service was a Golden Moment in a life gone sour. Because… because no one else will.

 In the event, I’ve just got done saying what I’m about to say to you, when the prison psychologist sidles up to me to announce quietly: “You’ve got it.” The “it,” of course, is Post Stress Traumatic Traumatic Post Stress Disorder Stress… Post. Can never seem to get the malady nor the abbreviation straight. He’s worried about me… that I’m wandering around loose… that I’m talking to his cons. So worried, but so sincere, that I let him make me an appointment at the V.A. for “diagnosis.” Sincerity is a rare pearl.

So I sulk in the stuffy anteroom of the V.A. shrink’s office for the requisite two hours (maybe you have), finally get admitted. He’s a nice guy. Asks me about my war, scans my 201 File, and, after what I take to be clinical scrutiny, announces without preamble: “You’ve got it.” He can snag me, he says, 30 percent disability. Reimbursement, he says, from Uncle Sam, now till the end of my days. Oh, and by the way, he says, there’s a cure. I’m not so sure that I want a cure for 30 percent every month. This inspires him to explain. He takes out a piece of paper and a Magic Marker TM. Now: Anybody who takes out a frickin’ Magic Marker TM to explain something to you thinks you’re a bonehead and by that very gesture says so to God and everybody.

Anyhow. He draws two big circles on a sheet of paper, then twelve small circles. Apples and grapes, you might say. In fact, he does say. The “grapes,” he asserts, stand for the range of emotional response open to a healthy civilian, a normal person: titillation, for instance, then amusement, then pleasure, then joy, then delight and so on across the spectrum through mild distress on through angst — whatever that is — to black depression. The apples? That’s what you got, traumatized veteran: Ecstasy and Despair. But we can fix that for you. We can make you normal.

So here’s my question: Why on earth would anybody want to be normal?

And here’s what triggered that curious episode:

The words of the prophet Jeremiah:

My bowels. My bowels. I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me… [T]hou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoilt and my curtains… How long shall I see the standard and hear the sound of the trumpet?

I dunno about Jeremiah’s bowels… or his curtains, but I’ve seen the standard and heard the sound of the trumpet. Again. Civilians mooing about that “Thin Red Line of ‘eroes” between them and the Darkness. Again. ‘Course it’s not red any more. Used to be olive drab. Then treetop camouflage. Then woodland. Then chocolate chip. Now pixelated, random computer-generated. Multi-cam next, is it? Progress. The kids are in the soup. Again. Me? I can’t see the front sights of me piece any more. And if I can still lug my rucksack five miles, I need these days to be defibrillated when I get there. Nope. I got something like six Honorable Discharges from Pharaoh’s Army. Your Mom’s gonna be wearing Kevlar before I do. Nope. This one’s on the kids, I’m afraid, the next generation.

I can’t help them. Not those who make the sacrifice in the desert nor those in the cesspool cities of a land that if two troopers from the One Oh One or two Lance Corporals could find on a map a few years ago, I’ll be surprised. Nobody can help… except by trying to build a society Back Here that deserves such a sacrifice.

We gonna win the war? I dunno. They tell me I lost mine. I know I didn’t start it. Soldiers don’t start wars. Civilians do. And civilians say when they’re over. I’m just satisfied right now that these kids, for better or worse, did their duty as God gave them the light to see it. But I want them back. And I worry not about the fight, but about the after: after the war, after the victory, after… God forbid… the defeat, if it come to that. It’s after that things get tricky. After that a soldier needs the real grit and wit. And after that a soldier needs to believe. Anybody can believe before. During? A soldier has company in the fight, in Kandahar or Kabul, Basra or Baghdad. It’s enough to believe in the others during. But after… and I can tell you this having come home from a war: After …a soldier is alone. A batch of them, maybe… but still alone.

Years ago, maybe… when I was still in the Army, my A Team got the mission to support an Air Force escape and evasion exercise. Throw a bunch of downed pilots into the wilderness, let local guerrillas (us) feed them into a clandestine escape net and spirit them out by train just like in The Great Escape to… Baltimore, of all places. So we set up an elaborate underground network: farmhouses, caves, barns, pickup trucks, loads of hay where a guy can hide, fifty-five gallon drums to smuggle the evadees through checkpoints in. We’ve even cozened the Norfolk and Western Railroad out of a boxcar. Sooooo… come midnight, with our escapees safely stowed in that car, we wait for a special train to make a detour, back onto the siding, hook it up, and freight the pilots off to Maree-land. Pretty realistic, seems to us.

Now, for safety’s sake the Railroad requires a Line Administrator on site to supervise any special stop. Sure enough, just before midnight two suit-and-ties show up toting a red lantern. Civilians. We sniff at them disdainfully. One of them wigwags to the train. With a clank she couples the boxcar and chugs out into the night. The other guy — frumpy Babbit from the front office — shuffles off down the track and out onto a trestle bridge over the gorge. He stands there with his hands behind his back, peering up at the cloud-strewn summertime sky, a thousand bucks worth of Burberry overcoat riffling in the night breeze. I edge over respectfully behind him. Wait. He notices me after a while, looks back. “You know,” he says, “Was on a night like this 40 years ago that I jumped into Normandy.”

Who’da thought?

Who’da thought? Then I thought… back to right after my return from Vietnam. I’m working nights at a convenience store just down the road from this very spot. Lousy job. Whores, bums, burnouts, lowlifes. That’s your clientele after midnight in a convenience store. One particular guy I remember drifts in every morning about 0400. Night work. Janitor, maybe. Not much to distinguish him from the rest of the early morning crowd of shadows shuffling around the place. Fingers and teeth yellowed from cigarette smoke. A weathered, leathered face that just dissolves into the colorless crowd of nobodies.

Never says a word. Buys his margarine and macaroni and Miller’s. Plunks down his cash. Hooks a grubby hand around his bag and threads his way out of the place and down the street. Lost in another world. Like the rest of the derelicts. One night, he’s fumbling for his keys, drops them on the floor, sets his wallet on the counter — brown leather, I still remember — and the wallet flops open. Pinned to the inside of it, worn shiny and smooth, with its gold star gleaming out of the center: combat jump badge from that great World War II… Normandy maybe, just like the suit-and-tie.

Who’da thought?

Two guys scarred Out There. Not sure just where or how even. You can lose your life without dying. But the guy who made it to the top and the guy shambling along the bottom are what James Joyce calls in another context “secret messengers.” Citizens among the rest, who look like the rest, talk like the rest, act like the rest… but who know prodigious secrets, wherever they wash up and whatever use they make of them. Who know somber despair but inexplicable laughter, the ache of duty but distrust of inaction. Who know risk and exaltation… and that awful drop though empty air we call failure… and solitude! They know solitude.

Because solitude is what waits for the one who shall have borne the battle. Out There in it together… back here alone. Alone to make way in a scrappy, greedy, civilian world “filching lucre and gulping warm beer,” as Conrad had it. Alone to learn the skills a self-absorbed, hustling, modern society values. Alone to unlearn the deadly skills of the former — and bloody — business. Alone to find a companion — maybe — and alone — maybe — even with that companion over a lifetime… for who can make someone else who hasn’t seen it understand horror, blackness, filth? Incommunicado. Voiceless. Alone. My Railroad president wandered off by himself to face his memories; my Store 24 regular was clearly a man alone with his.

For my two guys, it was the after the battle that they endured, and far longer than the moment of terror in the battle. Did my Railroad exec learn in the dark of war to elbow other men aside, to view all other men as the enemy, to “fight” his way up the corporate ladder just as he fought his way out of the bocages of Normandy? Did he find he could never get close to a wife or children again and turn his energy, perhaps his anger toward some other and solitary goal? Did the Store/24 guy never get out of his parachute harness and shiver in an endless night patrolled by demons he couldn’t get shut of? Did he haul out that tattered wallet and shove his jump badge under the nose of those he’d done wrong to, disappointed, embarrassed? Did he find fewer and fewer citizens Back Here who even knew what it was? Did he keep it because he knew what it was? From what I’ve seen — from a distance, of course — of success, I’d say it’s not necessarily sweeter than failure — which I have seen close up.

Well, that’s what I said that woke up the prison shrink.

And I say again to you that silence is the reward we reserve for you and your buddies, for my Cadets. Silence is the sound of Honor, which speaks no word and lays no tread. And Nothing is the glory of the one who’s done Right. And Alone is the society of those who do it the Hard Way, alone even when they have comrades like themselves in the fight. I’ve gotta hope as a teacher that my Cadets, as a citizen that you and your buddies will have the inner resources, the stuff of inner life, the values in short, to abide the brute loneliness of after, to find the courage to continue the march, to do Right, to live with what they’ve done, you’ve done in our name, to endure that dark hour of frustration, humiliation, failure maybe… or victory, for one or the other is surely waiting Back Here. Unless you opt for those grapes…

My two guys started at the same place and wound up at the far ends of the spectrum. As we measure their distance from that starting point, they seem to return to it: the one guy in the darkness drawn back to a Golden Moment in his life from a lofty vantage point; t’other guy lugging through God knows what gauntlet of shame and frustration that symbol of his Golden Moment. Today we celebrate your Golden Moment. While a whole generation went ganging after its own indulgence, vanity, appetite, you clung to a foolish commitment, to foolish old traditions; as soldiers, sailors, pilots, Marines you honored pointless ritual, suffered the endless, sluggish monotony of duty, raised that flag not just once, or again, or — as has become fashionable now — in time of peril, but every single morning. You stuck it out. You may have had — as we like to say — the camaraderie of brothers or sisters to buck each other up or the dubious support (as we like to say… and say more than do, by the way) of the folks back home, us… but in the end you persevered alone. Just as alone you made that long walk from Out There with a duffle bag fulla pixelated, random computer-generated dirty laundry — along with your bruised dreams, your ecstasy and your despair — Back Here at tour’s end.

And you will be alone, for all the good intentions and solicitude of them, the other, the civilians. Alone. But…together. Your generation, whom us dumbo civilians couldn’t keep out of war, will bear the burden of soldier’s return… alone. And a fresh duty: to complete the lives of your buddies who didn’t make it back, to confect for them a living monument to their memory. Your comfort, such as it is, will come from the knowledge that others of that tiny fraction of the population that fought for us are alone but grappling with the same dilemmas — often small and immediate, often undignified or humiliating, now and then immense and overwhelming — by your persistence courting the risk, by your obstinacy clinging to that Hard Way. Some of you will be stronger than others, but even the strong ones will have their darker moments. Where we can join each other if not relieve each other, we secret messengers, is right here in places like this and on occasions like this — one lousy day of the year, your day, my day, our day, — in the company of each other and of the flag we served. Not much cheer in that kerugma. But there’s the by-God glory.

“I know…” says the prophet Isaiah:

... I know that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass…I have shewed thee new things, even hidden things. Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have [refined] thee…in the furnace of affliction…

Well, all right, then. Why on earth would anybody want to be normal? Thanks for Listening and Lord love the lot of youse.

Note: Alan Ferrell is a long-time friend of Colonel Lang, a fellow Green Beret and Viet Nam veteran. I reprint this in honor of both gentlemen.

Posted in Farrell, Prose | 7 Comments

Trump’s White House lawyer predicts ex-president will end up in jail.

Donald Trump’s former attorney has boldly predicted that the former president is going to jail as the criminal investigation into the trove of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago continues to heat up. Ty Cobb, who worked as a White House attorney for the Trump administration from July 2017 to May 2018, told CNN that he believes the evidence against Mr Trump will lead to a conviction and prison time.

“I wouldn’t necessarily expand the case to try to prove the Espionage Act piece of it because there is so much evidence of guilty knowledge on the espionage piece that all they really have to do is show that Trump moved these documents at various times when DOJ was either demanding them or actually present, that he filed falsely with the Justice Department, had his lawyers file falsely with the Justice Department and affidavit to the effect that none existed, which was shattered by the documents they discovered after the search and the many other misrepresentations that he and others have made on his behalf with regard to his possession of classified documents,” he said.

“Yes, I do think he will go to jail on it.”

Mr Cobb’s comments came as it was revealed that the National Archives had found a trove of records allegedly proving the former president knew he shouldn’t have taken classified documents to Mar-a-Lago.

Comment: A flurry of similar predictions came out a few days ago. It’s almost a seasonal thing. A few of Trump’s former lawyers are now quipping that he’ll end up in prison. I don’t see it happening. Will he be convicted of some felonious crime revolving around the Mar-a-Lago classified documents? I do believe that, but he won’t go to prison for it. First of all, rich and powerful white guys don’t go to prison for things like this. You know, affuenza and all. Secondly, think of the logistics of hard time for the Trumpster. He still has Secret Service protection. Even in a country club prison, that would be problematic. I think the most he would get is house detention in Mar-a-Lago, maybe with an ankle bracelet, but even the bracelet may be too much. And I don’t see any of this affecting his run for the White House. Hell, broadcasting under house arrest from the Mar-a-Lago waffle station might be a winning image for him.


Posted in Current Affairs, Justice, Politics, TTG | 78 Comments

Russia invaded… by Russians

We call on all Russians, all soldiers and officers of Russia to join us and our fight for a Free Russia.

Ilya Ponomarev, the political leader of the Freedom of Russia Legion, told Tonight With Andrew Marr that his group is one of two regiments that have taken part in an operation that seized a village near the Ukrainian border during a cross border raid. The anti-Putin forces say they have overrun Kozinka and has units on the way to Grayvoron, a town in the Belgorod region. Footage of armoured vehicles purportedly moving around that area has been posted online, while Russian authorities declared a “counterterrorist regime”. Russian and Ukrainian officials both said there was fighting at the border, though claims of taking territory have not been verified.

Mr Ponomarev, a former opposition deputy in Russia’s parliament, exclusively told LBC: “This war will not end in Ukraine, this war can only end in Moscow… when Putin’s regime is replaced. “Obviously it will not be done by Ukrainians or by Nato forces, British forces, whatever, it will be done by Russians.” He said his group’s fighters are made up of Russian army defectors who have been trained by Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency. “But it’s our job. It’s not fair if Ukrainians would spill their blood for our freedom,” he added. No Ukrainian troops were involved in the operation, he claimed. He said the other regiment was a right-wing militia but his group is considered centrist.

It follows escalating activity in Russia that looks directed against prominent war supporters and the regime. A war blogger was blown up in a St Petersburg café in April, while the daughter of a far-right thinker who was once dubbed “Putin’s brain” was killed in a car bombing last year. Earlier this month, a drone exploded over the Kremlin. Mr Ponomarev said that was done by “people we know”.

Comment: Reports of this cross-border raid have been coming in most of the day. It appears that in addition to Ponomarev’s Freedom of russia Legion, Denis Nikitin’s Russian Volunteer Corps took part in the combined arms assault. I’ve seen a drone video of an armored column heading up the road towards Grayvoron, no more than ten miles beyond the border. There was some fighting there, but the resistance Russians seemed to have pulled back and dug in in a couple of towns just across the border. The Russians have engaged the rebels with reports of Grad fire being heard. I don’t know if the rebels are still there or have returned to Ukraine.

The meaning of this action is well summarized by Artor Micek (@Artur_Micek), a Polish twitter commentator.

My commentary on what is happening in the Belgorod region. What we are witnessing is a small rain from a large cloud, heavily inflated by the Ukrainian side. That’s the truth. This is not a Ukraninian offensive, although some local form of attack has taken place.

The aim of the operation, which in my opinion will end soon, is to force the Russians to disperse its own forces. Recently, the Russians left quite a small amount of troops on the border with Ukraine. Kyiv probably wants Moscow to send its own reserves to this area (as well as other). Thanks to this, real Ukrainian attacks can be more successful in other places.

This is another element of the last phase of preparations for the main offensive, i.e. forcing the Russians to move the reserves. Thanks to this, Ukrainian forces also have an easier task in attacking the logistics and command points of such formations. Oh, there will be more similar actions plus a lot of fake attacks.

In addition to how this contributes to the Ukrainian shaping of the battlefield, This action has “symbolic significance and the hope that is being spread among Russian elites and diaspora cannot be overestimated.”  as explained by Ponomarev. Plus, this does confirm my thoughts that the drone attack on the Kremlin was the work of Russian resistance forces just like all those factory fires and train derailments across Russia.


Posted in Russia, TTG, Ukraine Crisis | 119 Comments