Bjork – Bachelorette (dir. by Michel Gondry)

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Oct 132016
 

Another blast from the past, this one from acclaimed French director Michel Gondry.  I know the French fucked-up in WWII, but to be fair, we fucked them first with this whole notion that you can just overthrow whatever the hell governmental structure happens to be in-place at the time and instantly become a perfect, Platonistic ideal of democracy overnight.  It’s true that our shit was derived to a significant degree from their philosophers, but it’s not like they took it seriously – at least not until 1789.  We benefited from a freak one-time-only superfluosity of genius statesmen whose ambitions were unnaturally checked by a puritanical spirit of self-abnegation.  They just ran with it, and their political and bureaucratic institutions have been fucked-to-hell ever since.

 

Say what you will, but the U.S. hasn’t produced a Michel Gondry.  And it sure as hell hasn’t produced a Daft Punk.  And I’ll trade you a Reign of Terror for Human After All any day of the week.  But I digress…

 

 

Air Power (Stephen Budiansky)

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Oct 122016
 

Ever heard the term “strategic bombing” and wondered what it meant?  This cogent, readable history by Budiansky lays it out with all the context you need to understand this bizarre, fleeting dream: of war without fighting.

Imagine a war with no bloodbaths of opposing infantry.  A war with almost no casualties, in which pinpoint strikes instantly cripple an enemy’s industrial capacity (or will) to wage war.  A war ending virtually overnight in negotiated settlement, conceded by rational men because logistics rendered its outcome a foregone certainty.  A war without bullets, disease, malice, or horror.

It’s easy to understand why this idea seduced idealists and military theorists alike before even powered flight was proven practical by the Wright Brothers.   What’s harder to grasp is why it persisted the entire length of the 20th century, despite the nightmares of Guernica, the Blitz, Dresden, Hiroshima, and the Cold War’s inevitable doctrine of mutually-assured destruction.  Budiansky follows the concept from its origin in the science-fiction of H.G. Wells, through the nuclear arms race and the second Gulf War.

Of course, you can’t really explain strategic bombing without discussing its perennially-neglected sibling, tactical air warfare.  There’s plenty of good stuff about the role of Coningham’s RAF in the Battle of Britain (as it turns out, the bombers don’t always get through) as well as the hard-won (and promptly forgotten) lessons learned during WWII about close-air support, culminating in the air war of Vietnam,  and that conflict’s embittered, prodigal son, the Fighter Mafia (whose championship of low-thrust-to-weight ratios led to a little ditty you may have heard of, the F-15).

Most importantly, this book’s aimed not at the airman, but the layman.  You can easily digest its meaning and message even if you lack the slightest clue what I’m talking about.   After all, I didn’t have a clue either, till I read it.

Damned good book.

Air Power: The Men, Machines, and Ideas That Revolutionized War, from Kitty Hawk to Iraq

air_power

The Queen (2006)

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Mar 162016
 

I used to dismiss the British royal family as an irrelevant institution – lots of people do. But over the years my opinion’s mellowed a bit.

England’s peculiar historical triumph is that of a country whose transition from absolute monarchy to democracy was a gradual, mostly dignified transfer of power: there’s something to be said for a monarchy that didn’t end in a bloody revolution.  David Starkey’s BBC documentary series Monarchy (2004-2006) makes a good case for this notion.  But I also have to admit, I’m just plain won-over by Queen Elizabeth II – lots of people are.  It’s not about her “class”, which has always been a dirty word here in the states, for some pretty good reasons.  It’s that she has class. 

Highly recommend The Queen (2006).  I’m also looking-forward to the upcoming biographical series from Netflix, The Crown.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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Mar 162016
 

This is one hell of a movie, about one hell of an interesting guy.  T. E. Lawrence still has historians scratching their heads and arguing vehemently a century later.  Depending who you ask he was an imperialist tool, an opportunistic adventurer, a traitor to his nation, or a hero who selflessly fought for the freedom of a foreign people a world away from home.  It’s undeniable he was crucially important in shaping the modern Mid East.

Lawrence was a bundle of contradictions: a quiet, bookish young man whose stamina and sheer force of will propelled him during his college years to undertake lone journeys to places so remote and foreign that no sane Englishman would dare go without a massive retinue and the resources to match.  A lifelong romantic whose boyhood dream was to become a knight, when unexpectedly presented to the King of England for just that reason, he walked away.  A loyal subject of the crown, he betrayed secret details of the Skyes-Picot treaty to his Arab allies because he believed theirs was a destiny more important than colonial aspirations of old-Europe.  And strangest of all, a mild-mannered academic who on his own initiative stepped-forward as a military leader whose bravery, audacity, and tactics were of the first order.  In short, a really, really weird dude.

He was a great military commander, at least of small guerilla forces.  His operations often involved small groups of experienced partizan fighters appearing out of nowhere to overwhelm a larger, better-armed force.  His style was one of audacity, surprise, rigid discipline, and extreme mobility: not at all unlike that of Nathan Bedford Forrest.  I make no comparison of the two men’s personalities, morals, or politics, nor do I suggest they would have personally liked each other.  I do think they’d have agreed on many points of tactical doctrine.

Anyway, the movie’s first-class, a sprawling epic on the order of Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”, and generally does justice to the historical facts.  The bits it leaves-out are generally even more unbelievable than what it leaves-in.  And Peter O’Toole’s performance – well, it’s hard to piece-together, even now, exactly what sort of man Lawrence was – but I think he probably nailed-it pretty damn well, and either way, he’ll knock your socks-off.  Make sure you watch it in good honest high-def, or else you’re cheating yourself.

Infiltration (or “Small Unit”) Tactics

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Nov 042015
 

Still wrapping my head around this one. Pioneered in WWI by elements from various countries, including Germany’s famous “Stormtroopers”, Infiltration Tactics (Wikipedia) are now standard doctrine for every military force in the world. Seems like it’s basically an alternative to the traditional pre-1900’s European-style set-piece battle where you line-up all your guys and tell them to march forward and shoot the other guys (or in the case of WWI, blindly charge the enemy’s fortified line in mass numbers in hopes of somehow “breaking through”). These tactics instead focus on smaller, more autonomous units tasked with seeking-out and penetrating the weak-points in an enemy’s line, while leaving more heavily-fortified positions to be dealt with by artillery and whatnot. What I really wanted to share was this nifty list of the standing-orders for Rogers’ Rangers (from the Armchair General article “Tactics 101 082 – Infiltraton in History and Practice“).
Standing_Orders_Rogers_Rangers

Operation Desert Storm: “Winds of the Storm” (1993)

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Nov 032015
 

A public domain film from the National Archives, with some audio/video cleanup by Jeff Quitney. Explains the 1991 Gulf War air campaign with numerous interview clips from General Chuck Horner, USAF (commander of all the air forces) as well as his 4 divisional commanders.
Desert Shield and Desert Storm are generally under-appreciated by most Americans. The only downside to planning and implementing a massive operation near-flawlessly and with minimal casualties is that you make it look easy; afterwards there’s an understandable tendency for those without in-depth knowledge of the events to say, “What was the big deal?” But if you have even a layman’s appreciation for what went into that effort, and some knowledge of history, it’s clear it could easily have been a very big deal. We were lucky to have a military that had learned the hard lessons of Vietnam led by some excellent people.
If you want to learn more, I highly recommend Tom Clancy’s “Every Man a Tiger,” a non-fiction book written with Chuck Horner that covers the affair in great detail yet is imminently readable even for civilian pukes such as myself.

Into The Storm

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Oct 272015
 

There are two schools of thought regarding Winston Churchill. One says he’s the greatest leader of the twentieth century, who stepped-forward to lead Britain through her darkest hour and through sheer will-power roused the free world to overthrow the tyranny of fascism. The other is wrong.

This HBO biopic pretty-much nails him down to the smallest detail. If you don’t know Churchill, this is as good a place to start as any: you’re next stop would be volume 3 of William Manchester’s biography “The Last Lion“.

Available for free on Amazon Prime

Trailer