Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Field Guide to Flying Death: Cruise Missiles

A British Tornado fighter plane carrying four 
Storm Shadow Cruise Missiles  

Cruise missiles are actually a pilotless jet plane that flies to its target and explodes instead of landing.  Cruise missiles, like the Tomahawk and Storm Shadow missiles the U.S., U.K. and France fired at Syria recently, have jet engines and are in powered flight from launch to target.  

Rocket-Powered Missiles
Most modern missiles are rocket powered. They launch, burn their solid or liquid fuel in the first few seconds or minutes of the flight, and then follow a ballistic path to target—they fly where gravity and air resistance says metal darts coasting at thousands of miles per hour through air will go. They are thrust to a speed of one thousand to several thousand miles per hour then coast to their target using a guidance that steers the missile while it coasts through the air at very high speed. 

Cruise Missiles 
A Cruise missile doesn’t coast through the air, it flies.  Really it is a jet plane with a warhead as its only passenger.  So instead of blasting to thousands of miles an hour then coasting to target with little nudges of guidance, the Cruise missile flies. Because it flies, it can travel hundreds of miles a hundred feet or less above the ground over varied terrain. If the enemy tries to intercept a cruise missile, it can evade. The best fighter planes can only turn, dive or climb within the limits of the pilot’s brain and body. Somewhere above 5gs, even the most fit pilot will black out. The only limit on evasion by a Cruise missile is physics.  

The Storm Shadow and Tomahawk cruise missiles recently fired at Syria are subsonic, traveling 500 mph, or about the same speed as a commercial airliner. But a cruise missile is much harder to hit.  Flying close to the ground, following the terrain, makes it a tough target to hit. Most radar systems don't work that close to the ground.  

A Tomahawk Cruise Missile fired from a U.S. Navy Destroyer

Cruise missiles are so accurate they can hit a garage door after a 500-mile flight. The latest upgrades to the navigation systems make the targeting so good the 3,500-pound, 20-foot-long missile could probably hit the handle on a garage door. 

The Attack on Syria
In the most recent raid, all of the 103 missiles flew to target.  The Syrians claimed to have shot down 71 of the missiles.  NATO said Syria fired 40 missiles to no effect.  The Syrian claim is quite amazing, shooting down 71 missiles with only 40 interceptor missiles. The firing of the missiles was a demonstration of how adaptable these missiles are to different launch sites.  The Storm Shadow missiles were fired from French and British fighter planes. The U.S. Navy launched 57 Tomahawk cruise missiles from destroyers, cruisers and a submarine. The Air Force launched another 19 Tomahawks from B1-B Lancer bombers. 

Plans are underway for a rocket-assist package for the Tomahawk that would increase its speed to Mach 3, more than 2000 mph. Another innovation would be to use unburnt jet fuel as an explosive on impact.  Both innovations would make an already effective weapon even more deadly.

Friday, April 13, 2018

President Grant Wipes Out the Ku Klux Klan in 1872

I am on page 767 of an 1,100-page biography of President Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow.  The first 600 pages follow Grant from childhood through the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Grant remained in charge of the U.S. Army from victory in 1865 until his election as President in 1868.  In those years, Andrew Johnson was President. Johnson began his abbreviated term in office carrying out Lincoln’s plans to give full rights of citizenship to Black Americans, but then became sympathetic with southerners who wanted to disenfranchise Blacks and prevent them from voting. 

Grant took over and re-energized Reconstruction.  Within a year of taking office, Grant became convinced that the marauding bands of southerners called the Ku Klux Klan would take over all of politics in the South and prevent Blacks from being full citizens.  Between 1870 and 1872, Grant authorized the Army to eradicate the Klan in cooperation with the Justice Department.  By 1872, the Klan was effectively wiped out across the South as an organization. 

After Grant left office, white supremacy returned in the form of Jim Crow laws and the Klan itself returned in a different form in the 20th Century. The name Ku Klux is an Anglicized form of the Greek word for circle, Kuklos (κυκλοϲ). These circles of hate are among the most shameful parts of American history.  Grant shows that even in a time when the Klan could draw upon tens of thousands of veterans to fill its ranks, it could be crushed by a functioning central government.  

By any measure, the Klan remains the most deadly domestic terror organization in American history. 

I will write more when I finish the book. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Empathy: The Tyrant’s Key to Manipulating Fools

In a perfect world, empathy would always be good. It would describe our capacity to identify with the suffering of others. We would use empathy to experience the humanity we all share and that experience would lead us to love. 

But the world is not perfect, and in a tyrant’s world, empathy can be easily used to stir fear and hatred. The same empathy that led Mother Teresa of Calcutta to lift lepers out of gutters in Calcutta can reinforce the anti-immigrant hatred in Fox News viewers.  I recently tuned to the Fox News Channel several times in a week to look for weaponized empathy.  It showed up immediately and forcefully.

Laura Ingraham (before she went on “vacation”) showed a report of an illegal immigrant escaping custody while being deported and another report of an illegal immigrant robbing a store.  The intent of these reports on the anti-immigrant network is to fan fear and hatred among their viewers.  Ingraham is manipulating empathy to stoke fear. 

On Fox News, criminals have brown skin.  Fox News never referred to the Parkland mass murderer as a terrorist, despite killing seventeen people. Fox never showed a picture of the shooter in a #MAGA hat. The shooter in Las Vegas who killed 58 and wounded 500 was not labeled a terrorist. These killers are white, so they are labeled as mentally ill. Even with 500 people dead and dying, the white shooter is not labeled a terrorist.  Every Muslim killer is a terrorist on Fox News as in White House tweets.  The President never labels white mass murderers terrorists. 

Every tyrant perverts empathy in this way to fan hatred in his people against “others.” The Russian Tsars labeled Jews as “others” and caused more than a million Jews to be killed in the late 19th and early 20th Century in Russia.  Hitler screeched about German victims of Jewish crimes on his way to setting up the Holocaust.  Putin of Russia, Al-Sisi of Egypt, Kim Jong Un of North Korea, Rouhani of Iran, Asad of Syria and the other tyrants in charge of a fourth of the world’s governments all use empathy to define enemies of the people and unify hate to reinforce their tyranny. 

In his book “Against Empathy,” Paul Bloom warns of that most of us see our capacity to experience the suffering of others as the ultimate source of goodness.  

“Many of our wisest policy-makers, activists, scientists, and philosophers agree that the only problem with empathy is that we don’t have enough of it,” he says.

Bloom, in sharp contrast, says empathy is one of the leading motivators of inequality and immorality in society. Far from helping us to improve the lives of others, empathy is a capricious and irrational emotion that appeals to our narrow prejudices. It muddles our judgment and, ironically, often leads to cruelty. We are at our best when we are smart enough not to rely on it, but to draw instead upon a more distanced compassion.
In a talk at Franklin and Marshall College recently, Bloom told the audience that in psychological evaluations, that scoring low score on tests of empathy predicts nothing about behavior. Psychopaths score low on empathy, but so do those who have Asperger’s Syndrome. There is no correlation between low empathy and aggression. 
The best predictor of aggression:
--History of violence
--Lack of impulse control
--Need for stimulation
He joked with the audience that he would feel no danger if those in the front row scored low on empathy tests. But if those in the front row had a history of violence, lacked impulse control and looked bored, he would exit the stage.
After the talk, I thought about another word that seems to define a virtue, but can lead to tragedy in the wrong circumstances:  Loyalty.  I am currently reading a biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow.  Among the many reasons 700,000 Americans died in that most murderous of all of America’s wars is misplaced loyalty. Every one of the senior commanders in the Southern Army had sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Lee, Longstreet, Stuart, Early and all the rest of those generals decided their loyalty lay elsewhere in defending their state or defending their right to keep other men in bondage. 
Misplaced loyalty led to unparalleled slaughter and misery. 
Honorable men of the German Wehrmacht followed their perverse and murderous leader into war that left a stain on their nation that can never be fully erased. 
Like loyalty, empathy needs rational thought as a guide. Empathy can lead a surgeon who could make a million dollars a year to go to a refugee camp with “Doctors without Borders,” and serve the most wretched among us.  It can also thousands of fearful fools at Trump Rally to chant “Build a Wall – Kill them all.” (NY Times August 3, 2016)
Empathy, like loyalty, can make our lives richer, but neither loyalty nor empathy can be an end in itself. Both must be kept in check by clear, rational thought. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday: My Day to Volunteer

On this day 11 years ago, Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter, I decided to call an Army recruiter and re-enlist.  It was mid-April. I would turn 54 two weeks later.  I called three local reserve recruiters, but none answered the phone. The fourth one I called was Kevin Askew of the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. He answered the phone. 

The path from there to the picture below was beyond bumpy, but by August 15, I re-enlisted. 

Two years later, on my 56th birthday, I stepped out of a C-17 cargo plane and onto the airstrip at Camp Adder, Iraq, my home of the rest of 2009.  

Two years later, near Easter of 2011, I volunteered to go to Afghanistan with Alpha Company of 2-104th Aviation.  It did not work out.  They left late that year, I did not.  Then two years after that I volunteered to go with a Stryker Brigade from the 28th Infantry Division, again to Afghanistan.  President Obama himself cancelled that deployment in early 2014 as part of his plan to cut troop strength in that longest of America's wars.  In May 2016, I was a civilian again.

Last Fall I went to a meeting in Philadelphia for people who want to move to Israel. It was just a couple of months after Charlottesville and I was exploring my options.  The woman I talked to could see I was not ready to move to Israel right away, so she suggested a program called Sar-El.  It's a program for people who are "past military age, but would like to help the Israeli Defense Forces."  That sounded wonderful.  To qualify, I have to fill out all the forms that show I am eligible to be an Israeli citizen, but I don't have to apply for citizenship. So today I got out the long form and started filling it out with a the goal of spending a month in 2019 as a volunteer on an Israeli military base helping out with repairs or in any way I can. 

While those of us who volunteer live and work on an Israeli base, we wear IDF uniforms.  My family just laughed when they found out I would be wearing an IDF uniform.  One of my daughters suggested adding memory to my phone for selfies.  Yes, after wearing the uniform of the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army in three eras, I would love to wear an IDF uniform. 

Clearly, Easter/Passover week is my time to start something new. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Tankers vs. Non-Tankers: the never-ending discussion among armor crewmen

So much of the Army is competition, especially the combat arms parts of the Army where men are confined together in small armored spaces and have endless hours to “talk shit.”

When my small armored space was the turret of an M60A1Patton tank, one of the subjects that came up among us young sergeants was the question: Who is a Tanker, and who is a Non-Tanker?

Before gunnery, I was a Non-Tanker. Not only had I never qualified on Tank Table VIII (Tanker’s final exam), but I had transferred from the Air Force. A Wing Nut is not a Tanker.  So I was in the Limbo of those who simply never had been to annual gunnery.   Worse still, I enlisted in the Army in June 1975 after leaving the Air Force. Because I carried over my rank as Specialist4, I started as a gunner in 1-70th Armor. I made sergeant in February and, partly from a shortage of sergeants, got my own tank crew right away.  Not only was I a Non-Tanker, I was the Non-Tanker in Charge of his own crew.

That first year, I fired “Distinguished” at tank gunnery at Fort Carson, Colorado, in April 1976.  Because I qualified near the top of the battalion, I was allowed to be part of the discussion of who was a Tanker and who wasn’t from that time forward, at least until 1978.

Every competitive job or sport has a group of insiders who discuss for hours, especially when drinks are involved, their equivalent of who is Tanker, and who is a Non-Tanker.  Whatever the field, the insider is competent, the outsider is in some critical way incompetent.

I have not been a Tanker since 1984, but the intense discussion came back to my mind in 2014 when I read the book, “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro. The central character is a butler in one of the “Great Houses” in the time between the World Wars when the butler had a household staff ranging between a platoon and a small company.  At one point in the novel, a dozen butlers gather for drinks and have an intense discussion of what a butler is, what are the critical skills, who were and who currently are the greatest butlers, and, of course, who among those not currently in the room are mere pretenders. 

As with any clique, one’s place is never permanent. In January 1978, I took a job at Brigade headquarters and stayed there for rest of my tour.  I became a “Non-Tankin’ MotherF*#ker” immediately.  I got out at the end of 1979 and went to college. In 1982, I joined Alpha 6-68th Armor for two years.  I made staff sergeant, became a section leader and as an active duty soldier in a reserve unit, I was back to being to being a Tanker! But in 1984, I got a job offer that would make it impossible to be a reservist, so I left the Army. Although I re-enlisted in 2007, I was in aviation and so was a Non-Tanker ever after.

In many ways, being a tanker really was, “The Best Job I Ever Had” and discussions about who was or was not a Tanker was one of the ways I knew how deep into my that job I was. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Blackhawk Helicopter at Sunset, Ali Air Base, Iraq, December 2009

Today I was looking at photos from my tour in Iraq in 2009-10.  Near the end of the tour, the days were shorter and winter sun shone on the aircraft.  I took these photos at sunset on the airstrip on Camp Adder, Talil Ali Air Base, Iraq.  

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Every Week in Cold War West Germany, Gas Mask Drills

Every week during my three years in Cold War West Germany, 
the Tankers of 1-70th Armor had a MOPP drill. Gene Pierce, Abel Lopez and Don Spears
are in the motor pool celebrating MOPP Level 1. 

With Russian Nerve Agent VX in the news, I remembered donning a mask and occasionally putting on full protective gear every week when I was stationed in Wiesbaden in Cold War, West Germany in the late 70s.  An alarm would sound and we would mask wherever we were and continue to work.  

Most days, if we were on post we were in the motor pool.  If we were tightening end-connector bolts or checking ammo racks, we masked and continued with the task in hand.  I had taught classes, including Chemical, Biological, Radiation classes when the alarm sounded and had the odd experience of seeing a room full of men stand and mask, then resume their seat.  It is difficult to be understood wearing a mask, so I dismissed the class.

It really sucked for those who had been waiting for food in the huge consolidated mess chow line then were not able to eat it.  

We did not often go to full MOPP gear (Military Oriented Protective Posture) because they were controlled items and had to be signed for.  Of course, when the drill was going to be full MOPP we knew it because it had to be issued in advance and carried everywhere: charcoal-lined suit, boots, gloves, everything.  

The Soviets had millions of pounds of VX gas they manufactured before they had a nuclear bomb and kept making for years after.  I wrote about the leader of the VX program in the Soviet Union recently, a man named Boris Libman who shows just how bad life can be for a hero of the Soviet Union.

With Soviet nerve gas back in the news, the Cold War is back in our lives.    

Field Guide to Flying Death: Cruise Missiles

A British Tornado fighter plane carrying four  Storm Shadow Cruise Missiles   Cruise missiles are actually a pilotless jet plane th...