Custer’s Last Stand, My First Stop

Which is a little misleading in that I stopped in Chicago and spent the night at my brother’s place, then stopped the next night in Spearfish, So. Dak. and stayed at my other brother’s place. I also stopped at some gas stations, some fast food restaurants, and bought a new tail light off of Amazon.

First stop as a tourist.

The battlefield is like a battlefield. Some plains, a hill, a nice cemetery, and memorials. This one is interesting from the standpoint that the side that won the battle got to write most of the content even though the memorial is administered by the losing side’s parks service. About half of Custer’s army was born in Europe. And I’m wondering, after they killed their horses in order to give themselves something to take cover behind, how much optimism remained among Custer’s troops.

Custer's Last View (might have looked different then).

Also: There were a lot of bikers in the area. I guess the Sturgis thing started over the weekend. If you’re 70 years old, I’m not sure that wearing a jolly Roger bandanna makes you bad ass. Not entirely sure is all.


Book Report: China Marine

I read this book.

This was the “follow up” to With the Old Breed, which is the greatest first-person account of war I’m aware of. It was written by the same guy, Eugene Sledge. Unfortunately, it turns out that 100 pages of musings about sitting around in China after the war isn’t quite as gripping as actual war narrative.

This is going to be a short post.

  • They should have taken the last 20 pages of China Marine, when Sledge actually gets to go home, and put it at the end of With the Old Breed.
  • And then the rest of it they could have posted on his website or whatever.

The last 20 pages or so were very cool and brought satisfying closure to the overall story that began with With the Old Breed. Just that the China that filled the first 80 pages was pretty bland. A lot of discussion of how it was annoying to still be in some amount of danger even though the war was over as well as talking about food and walking around Beijing.



Yorktown, Petersburg, and Old Confederate Cemeteries

I was gonna do some big write up about the CSA, but I guess I don’t care that much. Going to the south is like going to a foreign country where they speak English. They have their own history and aristocracy and culture and symbols and clearly none of these are mine/yours (unless you’re from there, I imagine).

And for as extremely polite as they are to your face, southerners are the most impolite drivers in the country. There, it’s been said.

Meanwhile, cool battlefields and cemeteries:

This is an artillery piece from the Yorktown National Battlefield. For as important a battle as it was (it was the last major action in the Revolutionary War), there wasn’t a whole lot to look at. OTOH, the movie was informative and didn’t make me hate George Washington like Mt. Vernon’s did.

Some monument commemorating the battle. The setting is pretty, fwiw. I’d rather have died of a musket shot here than most places.

This artillery is from the Petersburg National Battlefield. There was a lot to see there. It was sort of the South’s last hope at keeping the North out of their one industrial center in Richmond. Was struck by how similar the tactics here were to those employed in World War I (a lot of trenches, stalemates, and unfortunate runs across no-man’s lands). Also thought that the whole thing with the Pennsylvanian miners digging tunnels under the Confederate lines in order to blow them up with dynamite was pretty cool, even if it wasn’t decisive or anything.

On a side-note, Petersburg is as run-down a town as I’ve ever visited, but otoh lunch specials at the Chinese place in town were under $6. There may be a correlation.

Here’s what the Blandford Cemetery looks like:

It was kind of cool. The church there was, after the war, turned into a “memorial chapel”. The Tiffany Company donated stained glass windows for it, with one window for each state that was aligned with the South (including Missouri and Maryland). I pointed out to the tour guide that the windows’ backgrounds corresponded with the actual direction you were facing (e.g., the western windows had mountains in the background, eastern had ocean), which apparently had never occurred to her. Maybe they don’t get many visitors.

Her: That *could* be what it is.

Me: Well, the sun is rising over the ocean in the eastern windows.

Her: Or is it setting?

Me: Assuming that’s the east, I hope it’s rising.

Although it’d be interesting if the earth started spinning the other direction. Kudos to her for keeping that dream alive.

Jefferson Davis’s grave:

Seems weird he was buried in Richmond rather than in Mississippi, where he was a senator. I dunno, whatever. He moved around a lot.

The cemetery is called the Hollywood Cemetery. There are some CSA generals buried there, IIRC, and a couple of forgettable US presidents as well. They also have this:

You just don’t hear much about the Jewish Confederate experience.

Monroe and Tyler Too were the presidents. I guess there are more forgettable ones out there.

And then driving out of Richmond, I cruised down Monument Boulevard, which includes monuments to six of Richmond’s favorite sons (most of whom were not from Richmond):

  • (Gen.) Robert E. Lee
  • (Gen.) J.E.B. Stuart
  • (Pres.) Jefferson Davis
  • (Gen.) “Stonewall” Jackson
  • Matthew Fontaine Maury (renowned oceanographer (?!) and Confederate “Chief of Sea Coast, River and Harbor Defences” in Virginia)
  • Arthur Ashe (the tennis player)

One of these kids is not like the others. Nice houses on the street, though. A lot of statues of guys on horses. One statue of a guy with a tennis racket.


The Museum and White House of the Confederacy

Main reasons for going to Richmond: (1) I’d meant to spend a day there on my road trip last year, but it got squeezed out; (2) $36 a night at a newly renovated Holiday Inn. Also it was within a six-and-a-half-hour driving radius from Pgh (barely). Plus there’s nothing to do there that requires you to use your hands to grab stuff.

That’s the White House of the Confederacy. The exterior is pretty unprepossessing. The side shown above is actually the back — the front is plainer. Supposedly the back was done up more because it’s the side that faces the (James) river and the place where guests would have hung out. Richmond city planners didn’t exactly go out of their way to preserve the “sanctity” of the location. The brick hospital that surrounds it on all sides is one of the uglier hospital complexes I’ve ever seen in my life.

For that matter, Richmond’s an aesthetically disappointing city generally. The topography should lend itself to something cool, but it hasn’t happened. Probably because all the good stuff got destroyed in the war (although they’ve had 145 years to recover).

The white house is a nice mansion. The stuff inside was cool. Plenty of smoking parlors, very tasteful. George Eastman and I could’ve hung out there and felt at ease, although I guess we both probably would’ve been weirded out by the slaves there. The tour guide looked like he was half-man, half-bloodhound, but he knew the heck out of that mansion, Richmond, Jefferson Davis, and the Confederacy. And fwiw, Davis didn’t really live here very long. Three years IIRC.

It  also didn’t cost much compared to less historically-relevant mansions (I think the museum + mansion ticket was $12; I mean, not *cheap*, but not hilariously awful either).

The museum was all right-to-good. It didn’t hammer home the Civil War story of the Confederacy like I thought it would — mostly just short write-ups on key battles posted next to displays of flags and uniforms. They had some cool artwork that I liked though. I think this is the most famous Confederate painting that exists:

Depicts the last meeting of Generals Lee and Jackson — before Jackson died from pneumonia at Spotsylvania.

My favorite part of the museum, though, was the more proletariat-focused art. Like this:

These are just a couple of pencil sketches done by some confederate soldier. I’m guessing they’re depicting one of the better days in camp (fishing with your buddies, hanging out by the fire smoking your pipe), but I think it explains a whole lot more about the Civil War experience than does Stonewall’s revolver — not just in terms of content, but in terms of perspective. It also supports my thesis on humanity that even the most horrendous situations become normal to people over time. Yep.


National Museum of the Marine Corps: New Addition

Went back to the Marine Corps museum when I was in NoVa a couple weeks ago. They added a couple new areas to it since I went there last year, one on “the early days” (pre WWI) and one on World War I. Now that those areas are open, it’s hard to imagine the museum without them.

Of those two areas, I think I dug the early years part the most, maybe just because it’s a more-forgotten time. It covered a lot of “expansion era” Marine Corps activities, where the Corps acted as an expeditionary force in securing colonies in, frex, the Philippines.

Like the rest of the museum, these new areas do some cool stuff to help the visitor experience the history they’re viewing. Like in the Philippines occupation area, you walk through this “tent” and through one “wall” of the tent, you can see shadows of marines hanging out by the fire, wearing expedition hats, whittling sticks, and smoking pipes. It’s simple and not very data-rich, but it’s ingenious in its ability to convey how it might have felt to actually be a marine stationed in the Philippines at the turn of the century (minus the heat and humidity). No plaque could have conveyed that.


The World War I exhibit was also strong, although it started off with a short, made-for-museum video loop of a kid dressed up like in the old days hawking newspapers on an in-studio streetcorner. Hated that. The kid actor was terrible, like he was trying to channel Meeno Peluce. Children should *never* be allowed to act. I don’t know why I’m the only person who seems to have realized this universal truth. I guess this kind of intro might appeal to blue-hairs, but man it was tacky and over-the-top. To me.

The rest of World War I was good, though. They had a short Belleau Wood reenactment video (yes, made-for-museum) that I liked a lot. They did with it what I always thought every war movie always should have done (but did the opposite instead) in that I think they saturated the colors on the film. Most (recent) war movies (e.g., Private Ryan, Band of Brothers) have de-saturated the color (= made the colors less vibrant) in order to give them an “authentic”, sentimental, old feel. OTOH, every first-hand account of front-line warfare that I’ve read has expressed that, in battle, combatants’ senses have been in overdrive. In that sense, it seems to me like an over-saturated color palette would best convey the image of warfare and I think that’s what they did here. (I can’t prove that they saturated the colors, but they definitely didn’t de-saturate.)

They might have shifted things a little to the blue, too.

And for the sake of playing copy editor (how fun!), they had a sign there that referred to German soldiers calling the marines “teufelhunden” (sic). That’d be capitalized in German and pretty sure it should’ve been on the sign, too.

Also watched the museum movie this time (I guess I didn’t last time — it was totally new to me). It’s a great, engaging, and moving ten-minute branding video that hits everything it should and does it without feeling too sentimental, although it did include senators John Glenn and John Warner saying (in effect) that without the Marine Corps, they wouldn’t have become senators, which to me seems like a case *against* the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps: we make politicians! Yikesnothankyou, etc. IMHO. Perhaps Sens. Warner and Glenn also appropriate(d) funds for museums, which doesn’t lessen the problem.

The Marines are still really good at telling stories and this is still very possibly the most cogent, most nailed-it museum I’ve been to. With the new galleries, it’d be kind of a long day to go all the way through in one shot. I’m not sure who my audience is for this post.

Ending so with,


Iraq Cost-Benefit Analysis and Net Present Value: The Only Reason to Be For or Against Continuing the War

I’ve been watching the PBS series Carrier, which follows the USS Nimitz through a Persian Gulf deployment in 2005 (note: this post was written a while back). One of the things that’s most striking is how the crew splits up in terms of their views on the war. Also striking is how neither side’s opinion is based on the only thing that matters: whether the benefit of the war is worth the cost. Unsurprisingly, their opinion bases seem to echo everything that’s heard among people with mouths who aren’t in the military.

Stated Reasons for Continuing the War:

  • Because “The Surge” is working. (Seriously, this was presented as an actual reason to continue the war in a Wall Street Journal opinion article.)
  • In order to spread democracy to Iraq. (So how come we’re not invading Russia and spreading democracy there? Oh, right, because they’re already democratic — sort of like the German Democratic Republic was, I guess.)
  • Because of 9/11. (?)
  • To stop the terrorists.
  • To establish a strong relationship with another oil-rich nation.

Stated reasons for ending the war:

  • Because it’s an imperialist, racist war.
  • Because too many Americans and Iraqi civilians have died.
  • Blood-for-oil is wrong.
  • Because we’re just encouraging the terrorists and ruining our international reputation.
  • Because it’s illegal.

The problem with all of these reasons is that none of them get down to the details that matter. Instead, they’re all just bumper sticker-quality sound bites that seem to serve only to unite the masses within their respective teams. Ugh: humanity. It’s not about your team, it’s about good decision-making.

The only valid reason for continuing the war in Iraq is the belief that, from this point forward, the benefit to waging the war outweighs its cost. The only valid reason for pulling out of Iraq is the belief that, from this point forward, the cost of waging the war outweighs the benefit. While many of the above reasons hint at benefits and costs, none of them glance at the other side of the balance or are considered to the point of actually understanding the details from which to derive an actual value. If we’re going to argue mindlessly with opinions rooted only in our environmental and cultural biases, at least we could argue to those specifications.

Or, better yet, we could seek rational figures and probabilities that would help us determine the best course of action. It’s not hard to reduce the value of the Iraq war from this point forward to a mathematical equation in order to weigh the benefit against the cost: it’s just a net present value (NPV) evaluation. All we need to do is understand and quantify the costs (from this point forward) and then understand and quantify the benefits (form this point forward).

“From this point forward” because everything that’s already happened is a sunk cost and can’t be changed at this point.

Post over.


(Re-read this after doing the thing about posts I hadn’t posted yet and there-during impressed myself. It’s still relevant enough, I guess — and there’s always Afghanistan.)

Movie Review: Hell in the Pacific

Best Feature: Really nice job of in medias res and of avoiding exposition, plus Lee Marvin was fun to watch.

Biggest Question: How did they manage to hang out together for a month (longer?) without either of them ever learning a word of the other’s language?

Too Long By: 20 minutes.

Haiku Synopsis:

On island marooned,

Old enemies become friends

And then they blow up.

Grade: 7/10 (loses a full point for the ending).


Please Stop Remembering 9/11

I got to work this morning, saw that the flag was at half-mast, realized why it was at half-mast, then had to check myself to avoid vomiting. The people that died in those attacks was one of the lesser tragedies of that day (and the number of deaths, as I’ve detailed sort of inadvertently in another post, was not that significant). The greater tragedies have all had to do with our remembering — and reacting to — the death of less than 3,000 people (in 2001, more people died from drowning than died from terrorist attacks).

As a result of this remembrance the United States has:

  • Created two wars.
  • Estranged itself from its allies (as a result of those wars).
  • Encouraged its enemies (as a result of those wars).
  • Significantly endangered the strength of its economy (government spending as a % of GDP is at its highest level since World War II and some day we’re going to have to pay for that — and, yeah, this is the *biggest* problem with those wars even though no one in the MSM has thought to talk about it (because it’s much more entertaining to “remember 9/11″)).
  • Forfeited formerly rightful claims to morality and ethical behavior (as it applies to prisoners and intelligence gathering).
  • Given the FBI sweeping powers of surveillance — does anyone else think it’s interesting that “police state” has a *negative* connotation?
  • Instituted the practice of warrantless searches (seems like maybe there should be something in the Constitution about that — oh wait, there is…).
  • Reduced the ability of the judicial branch to limit the powers of the state.
  • Reinforced unconstitutional power assertions of the executive branch.
  • Turned domestic air travel into a festival of harrassment (from having to disrobe at security to having to pass the “no fly list” test to having to get to the airport two hours early to not being able to park or stop a car near an airport terminal to…).
  • Infuriated foreign tourists by treating each of them as a would-be criminal at customs.
  • Accepted having a choice limited to one big-government party and another big-government party.
  • Etc.

The “remembrance” of 9/11 is a place where Idiot Planet — this would be Earth — really shows its true colors. We are screwing ourselves in return for screwing ourselves. Way to remember, guys!

Some time soon I’m going to post about the Hindenburg. You’ll see.


Happy V-J Day

One of the most compelling, uh, *things* (good word, bk!) I found to help understand the war experience was this PBS-compiled collection of WWII artwork (paintings, some sketches) completed by people who were actually there:

They Drew Fire

You couple this collection with some first-hand accounts and I think you’d probably be 80% of the way there (where “there” is as far as someone who wasn’t there can be to comprehending there).

Some relevant-to-the-holiday samples:

For full effect, though, view the whole series on the website. There’s sort of a cumulative thing that happens.


Top 7 Most Insouciant World Army Recruiting TV Ads

They’re not actually insouciant. They’re kind of the opposite of that. Inspired by the rockin’ Russian paratroopers (is it just me, or does that look like the world’s least cool obstacle course those guys are running through? ‘cuz that’s the most laughable thing in there…), I’ve now found a whole new category of crap to browse for on YouTube. Most countries’ ads look like slightly localized versions of what you see in the States. Others are more special.

Vaguely Related Posts: What I Learned About the Navy from Watching Carrier, US War Deaths per Day by Conflict and How Iraq Compares

7. The nice thing about the Irish armed forces is that everything moves at such a relaxed pace — not even the helicopter rotors are in a hurry. It’s concerning that the medics are so deliberate, but — well, it’s not like the Irish are getting shot at all that often anyway.

6. India is a very straightforward culture. How many other countries can recruit soldiers by showing them getting shot and killed? (This was the only country *I* found.)

5. Crucially, this Lebanese ad points out that there are some good looking women in Lebanon. Assuming they’re not actresses from Syria (although Syrian actresses *in* Lebanon would still count). And I’m guessing the soldier in the ad would prefer they give him a *different* kind of salute. (Wouldn’t we all…?)

4. Taekwondo in the rain? Inspecting delivery trucks while wearing haz-mat suits? I’m in! I like that the Czechs don’t promise too much. I don’t get the impression they’re expecting to take over the world, they’re just trying to — I dunno — pick a side and see how it goes I guess.

3. And if the Finns took on the Irish, that’d be the slowest war in history.

2. Join the Russian army and you’ll get hot chicks and go dancing. Things are hard in Russia — in the US you get the same reward just for drinking the right brand of beer. And if this is how Russian soldiers are treated by the hot-looking locals, why are they all turning up in Liberty City? (Because Liberty City is Ukranians. I know.)

Every time I watch that one, I’m hoping she’ll push him over the railing and into the water. But she never does.

1. Say what you will for the Israeli army, they know how to speak the international language: awkward shame.

That’s it. Tune in next time when I point out the flaws in how Webster defines “insouciant”.