Later On

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Archive for the ‘Military’ Category

Twice Accused of Sexual Assault, He Was Let Go by Army Commanders. He Attacked Again.

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Vianna Davila, Lexi Churchill, and Ren Larson have an excellent (though infuriating) report in ProPublica that begins:

Christian Alvarado began to type as he sat alone in an interrogation room at Fort Bliss, a sprawling Army post in El Paso, Texas. He’d spent most of the previous seven hours hooked up to a polygraph, answering a military investigator’s questions about an allegation that he’d sexually assaulted a fellow soldier.

His story had changed several times during the interview in late July 2020. The investigator told Alvarado he’d already failed two polygraph tests, then left the room so that the young soldier could type up his account in a sworn statement. With his fingers on the keyboard, Alvarado began describing the night in December 2019 that he spent in the barracks with a female soldier he’d met that day.

“She was drunk and so was I,” Alvarado, an Army private first class, typed on the investigator’s computer. “We had sex, but she passed out.”

He wrote that he’d lied about the encounter being consensual in previous interviews with investigators because he wanted to protect his Army career.

When Alvarado was done with his written admission, the military investigator walked back in the room. He asked Alvarado why he continued to have sex with the woman after she passed out. “I was in the moment,” the 20-year-old soldier replied.

The investigator then asked Alvarado about another allegation against him. An Army chaplain’s assistant had accused him of sexually assaulting her in May 2020 after a house party. Sex with her was “wrong due to how intoxicated she was,” Alvarado said, but he would not agree to a sworn statement about the second allegation because it would just be “icing on the cake.”

Alvarado told the investigator that he’d had sex with 42 women in the past four years, about a quarter of whom were intoxicated at the time. His sexual experiences had become boring and they blurred together, he said, to the point that he struggled to remember specific details about his partners.

At the end of the daylong interrogation, Alvarado’s commanders didn’t place him in detention or under any restrictions beyond the orders he had already received to stay at least 100 feet away from the two women who had accused him of assault, according to records. He was free to leave.

A month later, he sexually assaulted another woman.

Had Alvarado’s case been handled by civilians and not the military, his written admission could have been enough evidence to quickly issue an arrest warrant, according to two lawyers who previously worked for the El Paso County district attorney’s office.

“I would have felt comfortable charging at that point,” said Penny Hamilton, who led the Rape and Child Abuse Unit at the district attorney’s office and later served as an El Paso County magistrate judge. “When you have the offender admitting the sexual act took place and you have the offender admitting that the alleged victim couldn’t have consented because she was passed out, then you have the elements” of a criminal charge.

In Texas’ civilian system, a person charged with sexual assault goes before a magistrate judge, who’d set a bail amount that experts said could easily be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Civilian magistrates and judges use bail to ensure suspects show up at trial. Suspects are released only if they can pay the bond.

The military justice system has no bail. Many decisions about who should be detained for serious crimes before trial are made not by judges but by commanders, who are not required to be trained lawyers.

Recent congressional reforms changed the system, which has long drawn criticism for the extensive discretion commanders wield. While the revisions stripped some of their authority, commanders continue to control various aspects of the judicial process, including deciding whether service members accused of crimes should be detained while awaiting trial, a process called pretrial confinement.

A ProPublica and Texas Tribune investigation into how commanders in the Army, the nation’s largest military branch, use pretrial confinement revealed a system that treats soldiers unevenly and draws little outside scrutiny. Over the coming months, ProPublica and the Tribune will explore how military justice operates, often in vastly different ways than the civilian system.

The news organizations obtained data from the Army on nearly 8,400 courts-martial over the past decade under the Freedom of Information Act. The resulting analysis, the first-of-its-kind, showed that soldiers accused of sexual assault are less than half as likely to be placed in pretrial confinement than those accused of offenses like drug use and distribution, disobeying an officer or burglary.

The analysis showed that, on average, soldiers had to face at least eight counts of sexual offenses before they were placed in pretrial confinement as often as soldiers charged with drug or burglary crimes.

That disparity has grown in the past five years. The rate of pretrial confinement more than doubled in cases involving drug offenses, larceny and disobeying a superior commissioned officer, but it remained roughly the same for sexual assault cases like Alvarado’s, the analysis found.

For instance, the Army opted against pretrial confinement for a staff sergeant who was accused of raping the wife of a soldier in his command at Fort Bliss, while at another post a 19-year-old Texas woman was placed in detention for more than three months for using drugs and mouthing off to commanders.

“Justice that’s arbitrary is not justice,” Col. Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor for the Air Force, said. “It shouldn’t come down to the whims of a particular commander.”

Army officials defended the system. They said  . . ..

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Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 4:02 pm

Nancy Pelosi, China and the Slow Decline of the U.S. Military

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

As military tensions flare between the U.S. and China over Taiwan, it’s easy to put all eyes on Nancy Pelosi and her visit to the island. Symbolism matters deeply in international relations, and this event is setting the direction for how Chinese and U.S. leaders will relate to one another. But six weeks ago, an obscure military bureaucrat named Cameron Holt offered another, equally important signal about this relationship. Holt is the head of acquisitions for the Air Force, which means he oversees the buying of everything from drones to nuclear missiles. And in a fascinating and spicy speech, he said that if the U.S. doesn’t get better at buying weapons, America will lose in a future conflict to China. “It’s simply math,” he argued.

The reason is that China is better at procurement. China is getting weapons “five to six times” more rapidly than the United States. “In purchasing power parity,” he said, “they spend about one dollar to our 20 dollars to get to the same capability.” This problem is directly related to market power in the U.S. Holt went over the business strategy of U.S. defense contractors, noting their goal is to lowball contracts but keep control of intellectual property. Then, he said, they create vendor lock-in, and raise prices later. In other words, they underprice upfront so they can eventually exploit pricing power over the Pentagon. Chinese acquisition strategies are more efficient and less brittle, which means over time their military will overtake ours.

Nothing Holt said is a surprise. Everyone knows how screwed up U.S. procurement is, the warnings come in almost daily. For instance, the U.S. can’t replace its stocks of Javelins and Stinger missiles sent to Ukraine, it’s going to take years to restart some of the assembly lines. Raytheon and Lockheed are having supply chain issues, and are unable to deliver weapons despite strong orders. We can’t even make the chips for weapons systems like the B-2 bomber, because semiconductor firms are shutting down the fabs that made the old parts. One could argue these are anomalies, unusual situations, but war is the ultimate moment of supply chain disruption, so that’s cold comfort.

To put the problem simply, we spend massively on weapons and get too little for it. Why? Just like health care or most other bloated sectors, it’s the prices, stupid. We consolidated economic power in the hands of a few dominant defense contractors and financiers, and they have become slothful and expensive. Fortunately, since it’s a problem caused by policy, it’s also a problem that can be solved by policy. And there are useful legislative attempts to do so.

Let’s start with how the U.S. organizes its defense thinking around procurement and economics. Traditional American strategy was laid out after the Revolutionary War, when U.S. policymakers recognized that to be an independent nation required domestic manufacturing and shipping capacity to reduce dependency on foreign actors, which through much of the 19th century was Great Britain. The idea we should be able to supply ourselves with industrial goods that could be repurposed for weaponry was key to every U.S. war, both then and since. For instance, in World War II, the U.S. became the ‘arsenal of democracy’ largely by transforming its peacetime industrial capacity to focus on industrial-scale warfare. Instead of cars, Ford factories churned out tanks and aircraft. Similarly, the Cold War aerospace industry in the form of Boeing and regulated airlines such as Pan Am served both civilian and military purposes.

Until the early 1990s, this basic strategy held; retain an industrial base for security purposes, so as to be able to produce lots of cheap interoperable machines and weapons if necessary. Public control over the defense part of this base occurred through competition; during World War II, there were more than a dozen prime contractors for every major weapons system. So if one entity screwed up or under-invested, military officers could procure elsewhere.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, U.S. strategists changed this successful model of governance. The national security world and Wall Street, whose relationship had always been somewhat tense, became more aligned in their vision of how to project U.S. power. They coalesced around . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2022 at 11:41 am

When the dog catches the car: Republicans successes bring backlash

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to their state constitution that would have stripped it of protections for abortion rights. With 86% of the vote in, 62% of voters supported abortion protections; 37% wanted them gone. That spread is astonishing. Kansas voters had backed Trump in 2020; Republicans had arranged for the referendum to fall on the day of a primary, which traditionally attracts higher percentages of hard-line Republicans; and they had written the question so that a “yes” vote would remove abortion protections and a “no” would leave them in place. Then, today, a political action committee sent out texts that lied about which vote was which.

Still, voters turned out to protect abortion rights in such unexpectedly high numbers it suggests a sea change.

It appears the dog has caught the car, as so many of us noted when the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision on June 24. Since 1972, even before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Republican politicians have attracted the votes of evangelicals and traditionalists who didn’t like the idea of women’s rights by promising to end abortion. But abortion rights have always had strong support. So politicians said they were “pro-life” without ever really intending to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Dobbs decision explicitly did just that and has opened the door to draconian laws that outlaw abortion with no exceptions, promptly showing us the horror of a pregnant 10-year-old and hospitals refusing abortion care during miscarriages. Today, in the privacy of the voting booth, voters did exactly as Republican politicians feared they would if Roe were overturned.

But this moment increasingly feels like it’s about more than abortion rights, crucial though they are. The loss of our constitutional rights at the hands of a radical extremist minority has pushed the majority to demonstrate that we care about the rights and freedoms that were articulated—however imperfectly they were carried out—in the Declaration of Independence.

We care about a lot of things that have been thin on the ground for a while.

We care about justice:

Today, the Senate passed the PACT Act in exactly the same form it had last week, when Republicans claimed they could no longer support the bill they had previously passed because Democrats had snuck a “slush fund” into a bill providing medical care for veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the bill was unchanged, and Republicans’ refusal to repass the bill from the House seemed an act of spite after Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced an agreement on a bill to lower the cost of certain prescription drugs, invest in measures to combat climate change, raise taxes on corporations and the very wealthy, and reduce the deficit. Since their vote to kill the measure, the outcry around the country, led by veterans and veterans’ advocate Jon Stewart, has been extraordinary. The vote on the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 tonight was 86 to 11 as Republicans scrambled to fix their mistake.

In an ongoing attempt to repair a past injustice, executive director of the Family Reunification Task Force Michelle Brané says it has reunified 400 children with their parents after their separation by the Trump administration at the southern border. Because the former administration did not keep records of the children or where they were sent, reunifying the families has been difficult, and as many as 1000 children out of the original 5000 who fell under this policy remain separated from their parents. [This is fucking shocking. – LG]

And we care about equality before the law:

Today, Katherine Faulders, John Santucci, and Alexander Mallin of ABC News reported that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2022 at 7:58 am

Excellent movie: “The Last Full Measure”

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The Last Full Measure on Netflix now is an excellent movie with an excellent cast. Based on a true story.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2022 at 2:19 pm

A Russian sociologist talks about the current situation in Russia

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Loren Balhorn interviewed Boris Kagarlitsky,a professor of sociology at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences and an editor at Rabkor, for the Jacobin. The whole interview is interesting and very much worth reading. It begins:

As the Russian attack on Ukraine drags into its fifth month, the war risks losing international public attention, replaced — in Europe at least — by rising food and gas prices, spiraling inflation, and another summer of record-breaking temperatures. Like wars from Afghanistan to Yemen, the longer it lasts the more it becomes normalized and accepted. For the people of Ukraine, however, the invasion remains an inescapable reality, with Russian troops pushing further into the country’s east and civilian casualties mounting.

The news from Russia, by contrast, has grown noticeably quieter since the beginning of the invasion. Initial reports of antiwar protests, jingoistic pro-government rallies and shuttered McDonald’s franchises have long since disappeared from the headlines. Support for the war might be muted, but few signs of public opposition have emerged in recent months, either. Have Russians resigned themselves to their fate? Loren Balhorn spoke with Boris Kagarlitsky, a Moscow-based sociologist and host of the popular Russian YouTube talk show Rabkor, to learn more about the impact of the war and how strong Vladimir Putin’s grip on power really is.

LOREN BALHORN — At the start of the invasion of Ukraine, there were lots of reports of antiwar protests across Russia. Things seem to have grown quiet since then, with more and more media outlets claiming that most Russians back Putin. You live in Moscow — what’s the mood like?

BORIS KAGARLITSKY — Initially there were quite a lot of protests, but they were crushed in a very brutal way. At least on the surface, the movement was physically suppressed. People are going to jail almost daily — Alexei Gorinov, for example, was just sentenced to seven years in prison for making an antiwar statement during a session of the Krasnoselsky municipal council in Moscow.

This is a way to make people afraid, and to some extent it works. No less than four million people have left the country since the so-called “special operation” began. Ukraine reported that about seven to eight million people left the country, but about half of them have already returned. In that sense, the number of people who emigrated from Russia is approximately the same as the number of people who fled Ukraine. Given that nobody is being bombed here, it gives you an idea of the public’s attitude.

LOREN BALHORN — So, you don’t think the majority supports the war?

BORIS KAGARLITSKY — That’s the most interesting sociological and political problem: Russian people are neither for the war nor against it. They do not react to the war.

Of course, there are opinion polls published by pro-Kremlin media which are enthusiastically quoted by Western and some pro-Ukrainian sources, trying to prove that all Russians support Putin and are fascists. But that has nothing to do with reality. As a sociologist, I can confirm that since the war, the number of people who agree to respond to opinion polls has collapsed to a level that is totally unrepresentative. Before the war it was below 30 percent, which is already very low. Now, it’s considered a big success when 10 percent agree to respond. Usually it’s 5 to 7 percent.

Of those 5 percent, about 65 to 70 percent support the war. There are two interpretations of this data. One, mostly shared by the liberal opposition, is that people are simply afraid to answer. I think that’s not exactly the case. Among those 95 percent who refuse to respond, there could be a considerable number who are against the war but don’t dare say so. My suspicion, however — which of course I cannot prove — is that most people don’t have any opinion at all.

LOREN BALHORN — No opinion at all? . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 10:38 am

The Scientist Who Killed Millions and Saved Billions

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A life with a bad wrong turn. And watch to the end for an interesting way of treating CO2.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2022 at 6:08 pm

Known by the company they keep (and protect): Every Single House Republican Voted Against Investigating Neo-Nazis in the Military

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The Republicans currently in Congress are far removed from the Greatest Generation, it seems. I never thought I’d see a major political party in the US siding with Neo-Nazis, but here we are. FWIW, I’m a member of a Facebook group called Americans Living in Canada and I see multiple posts a day from people wanting to leave the US.  Canada does, however, have restrictions on immigration (though not so severe as US restrictions on immigration), so it’s not possible just to drive across the border and settle down.

I think quite a few Americans, remember the last excursion of Nazis, are looking for a Plan B — and I notice that the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is bringing as an honored guest right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Orbán, who is close to Vladimir Putin, is nothing more than a dictator. Birds of a feather flock together.

Tess Owen reports in Vice on the Republican effort to protect Neo-Nazis in the military:

All 208 House Republicans thumbed their noses at an amendment to a bill that would order the government to investigate white supremacist and neo-Nazi activity in the military and federal law enforcement.

But due to the current Democratic majority in the House, the amendment—which was wrapped into the annual defense spending bill—still passed strictly along party lines.

Once the House passes the full spending bill, titled the National Defense Authorization Act, it will head to the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

If the amendment survives Senate scrutiny, it would mandate the chiefs of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Defense to produce a report assessing the extent of white supremacist or neo-Nazi activity in their ranks and how they plan to address it. They’d have 180 days from the enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act to compile that report.

The stark divide between Democrat and Republican support for the amendment is a reminder of how the genuine national security problem of white supremacist infiltration of government agencies has instead been turned into a partisan football.

“We just voted to combat neo-Nazis in our military and every single Republican voted no,” tweeted New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr.

There’s no question that white supremacists have infiltrated the ranks of the armed forces. In recent years, violent neo-Nazis and preppy white supremacists alike have been exposed as active-duty members of the military. A Pentagon report last year, obtained by Roll Call, described the inroads that white supremacists were building into the military in an effort to recruit “highly prized” active-duty personnel.

“Such behavior, such extremism is a threat to us in all segments of society,” said Rep. Brad Schneider, a Democrat from Illinois, who sponsored the bill in a debate on Wednesday. “There is no reason to believe that our military is any different.”

GOP Rep. Andy Biggs from Arizona called the amendment “Orwellian in nature” and said it “denigrates” law enforcement and military personnel, according to The Hill.

“This amendment attempts to create a problem where none exists,” he said.

On Wednesday, the House also adopted another amendment to . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

14 July 2022 at 4:30 pm

NASA’s early years: A death cult

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Eleanor Konik’s newsletter, Eleanor’s Iceberg, has a very interesting idea in the piece “A Good Host.” After the fiction section, she writes:

. . . Before, whenever I would read something about a “death cult,” I know I’m supposed to think of stuff like the Jonestown suicides, but my head usually goes to fantasy novels like The Black Company, in which a religious cult worships a death goddess by assassinating people bloodlessly. They’re known as “the stranglers” and based on Indian Thugee bands. The article about astronauts was the first time that I finally understood what people meant when they accused various groups of being a “modern death cult,” and gave me the emotional context to imagine how a Carthaginian “death cult” might have felt like in a way that doesn’t make ancient humans seem incomprehensibly alien.

. . . The idea of a death cult kind of has two versions; the version where people sacrifice themselves and their culture celebrates their sacrifice to the national glory (NASA), and the version where people murder outsiders as a sacrifice to their god (Thugees). Add in the angry-ex-wife motif and of course I’m going to start thinking of black widows, of sacrificing fathers for the survival of the brood, and of how that would look at a fancy dinner party if it were normalized…

And she then links to this PBS report:

They had people looking into the background of the men, [and] they also had people looking into the background of the wives because they didn’t want an oddball… it wasn’t discussed, it wasn’t written, but … you had better be in every sense of the word, the All American Family in everything you say and do! We kept it like ‘Leave it to Beaver.'”
— Susan Borman, wife of Apollo 8 commander Frank Borman

Faith and Pragmatism
The women who married fighter pilots or test pilots understood that their lives could be shattered in an instant. Implicitly, they understood that they had to have the faith in their husbands’ flying skills and go about the business of raising a family and running a household. “You worry about the custard and I’ll worry about the flying,” Frank would say to Susan Borman. But NASA was different. Wives of astronauts had to maintain that same composure for a worldwide audience at some of the most stressful moments in their lives. While their husbands were strapped to a giant rocket, television crews and newspapermen would crowd the front lawns, building temporary towers on suburban tracts to transmit the family’s reactions to the world.

In the Public Eye
“We were very much in the public eye and nobody had been trained for that. We weren’t trained for ticker-tape parades. Our children weren’t trained for the public view that became part of their lives,” Valerie Anders, wife of Apollo astronaut  Bill Aners, remembered. “The astronaut wives’ ‘right stuff’ mostly meant you stayed at home and took the responsibility away from your husband so that he could function in his world, which was a very competitive world. So we were there to do whatever was required. However, I was surprised at how many people thought that we had some kind of special help, because we didn’t. We were military wives, we formed a corps of wives; we were close to each other, but there was no psychological help; there was no one preparing us for this life.” And contrary to what many people thought, astronauts were not exorbitantly paid; they and their families lived on military or government salaries. When her mother asked her why she always wore the same dress on television, Anders had to tell her it was the only good outfit she had.

Public Relations
NASA arranged a contract with Life magazine early on that gave full access to the astronauts’ personal stories to that publication but excluded all others. The tradeoff benefited both sides, especially since Life paid a stipend to each family and also provided a life insurance policy — which insurers would not grant to anyone who listed “astronaut” as their profession. The weekly grind was difficult however, with the astronauts flying across the country visiting various contractors — and then in virtual isolation on Cape Canaveral for two months before a flight.

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Written by Leisureguy

24 June 2022 at 2:49 pm

The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh: Tracing a Bullet to an Israeli Convoy

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Raja Abdulrahim, Patrick Kingsley, Christiaan Triebert, and Hiba Yazbek have a compelling (and chilling) report (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times:

The journalists thought they were safe.

Several blocks away, a gunfight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian men had just stopped. Hoping to interview witnesses, the group of reporters headed down the street toward an Israeli military convoy. Among them was Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American television correspondent.

Suddenly, six bullets flew toward them, and they ran for cover. Ms. Abu Akleh crouched next to a carob tree.

Seven more shots rang out.

“Is anyone injured?” a bystander, Sleem Awad, yelled, before seeing Ms. Abu Akleh slumped facedown on the ground. “Shireen! Shireen!” he shouted, having recognized the well-known journalist. “Oh man, Shireen!”

Palestinian officials said Ms. Abu Akleh was intentionally killed early on May 11 in the West Bank city of Jenin by an Israeli soldier. Israeli officials said a soldier might have shot her by mistake but also suggested that she might have been killed by a Palestinian gunman. The Israeli Army’s preliminary investigation concluded that it was “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire.”

A monthlong investigation by The New York Times found that the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy, most likely by a soldier from an elite unit.

The evidence reviewed by The Times showed that there were no armed Palestinians near her when she was shot. It contradicted Israeli claims that, if a soldier had mistakenly killed her, it was because he had been shooting at a Palestinian gunman.

The Times investigation also showed that 16 shots were fired from the location of the Israeli convoy, as opposed to Israeli claims that the soldier had fired five bullets in the journalists’ direction. The Times found no evidence that the person who fired recognized Ms. Abu Akleh and targeted her personally. The Times was unable to determine whether the shooter saw that she and her colleagues were wearing protective vests emblazoned with the word Press.

A Palestinian-American correspondent for Al Jazeera, Ms. Abu Akleh, 51, was a household name in the Middle East. She had reported on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for more than two decades. Now, she was the latest casualty.

Her killing drew global outrage, and for Palestinians it came to embody the dangers and frustrations of living under Israeli military occupation. Palestinian deaths rarely attract international scrutiny, and soldiers accused of crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank are rarely convicted.

Ms. Abu Akleh had come to Jenin that day to cover Israel’s ongoing military raids on the city.

In the weeks leading up to that day, a wave of Palestinian attacks had killed 19 Israelis and foreigners, and some of the attackers had come from the Jenin region. In response, the Israeli military launched a series of raids into Jenin, sometimes to make arrests, and the soldiers were often met with Palestinian gunfire.

As the sun was rising on May 11, another raid was kicking off.

At about 5 a.m.,  . . .

Continue reading (gift link, no paywall).

Written by Leisureguy

20 June 2022 at 6:58 pm

Three Blind Kings: Q&A with geostrategist and Pentagon guru Edward Luttwak

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A fascinating conversation about the three blind kings who rule China, Russia, and the USA. Written by David Samuels and appearing in Tablet, the conversation begins with an introduction:

Being an enfant terrible at the age of 79 is not a task that can be undertaken lightly. Most men are simple conformists from childhood on. For those with more adventuresome temperaments, a flurry of rebellion in their teens or 20s is usually the prelude to a failure of imagination or will that in turn precedes some kind of domestic establishment. There are children and careers to consider. Who has time to go running off to Ladakh to get shot at? A desk job, with perhaps some rock climbing or motor boating on weekends, isn’t a bad life, compared to many of the alternatives. Better to be led blindfolded to the edge of the pit than to take the entire weight of your existence on your shoulders, and collapse before you ever get there. On the way there will be songs and dances, and the voices of children at play. The fall will come, and then winter, followed by spring. Then it will be summer again.

The truly independent of mind and spirit never listen to these voices. They can’t. They will carve their own paths, which will end up in sorrow and tears most likely. Sometimes madness. Not because it is wrong to have adventures but because that is the human fate, against which they determined long ago to take up arms. They are monsters. Lovable monsters, sometimes, but always monsters. Rebel angels. Reprobates. Rock stars. You name it. We admire them, and hope that they fail, not because of who they are, primarily, but because of how their success or failure makes our own ambitions look petty. In its thirst for order and control, our society today has a special bone to pick with these people, who are mostly though not always male—meaning that they are racist, sexist, white supremacist, egocentric, narcissistic transphobes. To which I answer, is the world really better off without monsters? I don’t think so.

Edward Luttwak is an enfant terrible at 79 because he is gifted, and because he has played the role all his life. He skyrocketed to international attention at the age of 26 with the publication of his first book, Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook, a title that pretty well encapsulates the esprit of a long and distinguished career spent pingponging between various battlefields, the pages of the TLS, and the halls of the Pentagon. In a different country, in a different age, a self-made polyglot expert in military history and geostrategy who could speak half a dozen languages and had a thirst for adventure and occasional bloodshed would be running Indochina, and would then retire to the countryside to write a memoir of his campaigns and fuck the servants.

In America, which takes its uneasy and often forgetful relationship to its own empire as a mark of virtue, Luttwak’s fate was otherwise. Unlike, say, Henry Kissinger, whose chilly Germanic brain made him an influential courtier in six or eight administrations, not to mention incredibly rich—Luttwak would remain a gadfly in the corridors of power. Where Kissinger was cold, Luttwak was hot. Where Kissinger flattered, Luttwak was abrasive, and delighted in puncturing authority. Where Kissinger was cerebral, and talked about systems, Luttwak was hot-blooded, and wanted to touch and feel the stuff that the world is made of. He was too unruly and unflattering and independent-minded to be given any real responsibility for anything. No one wants a bona fide monster as secretary of defense.

On the other hand, Luttwak was too smart, with his big 16-cylinder brain, and too energetic, and too often right, to be banished to some provincial university to teach Byzantine military history to the children of accountants and dentists. Better to keep him in Chevy Chase, and give him contracts to chase after narco-terrorists or to study Chinese expansionism to his heart’s content until he suffered a heart attack.

Well, good luck with that. With the God of Israel firmly on his side, Edward Luttwak will live until he is 120 years old, and continue to delight in skewering his enemies, and baffling D.C. policymakers who prefer more orderly arrangements of dominoes on the table to the messy stuff that the world is actually made of. Long may he thrive.

What follows is a transcript of a recent three-hour-long conversation at Luttwak’s home in Maryland, accompanied by glasses of chilled vodka, from which Luttwak himself notably refrained. The conversation has been edited and condensed for ease of reading, with all the controversial parts left in.

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A D.C. WIZARD

David Samuels: Edward, you are a Washington fixture, surrounded by a flourishing mythology that suggests among other things that you are a Romanian vampire who was raised by the Mafia. So let’s get it straight.

Edward Luttwak: I was brought up by parents who, at no point, believed that they were Romanian. They were living in Romania, and quite happily. The part of the world that I came from is the only province in the whole of Europe where there was no Holocaust. In Banat, where we lived, nothing happened.

My parents were international people. In 1938, they went on honeymoon to Bali because KLM introduced service to Bali, so they went. My mother’s family’s house, in Timisoara, is a main tourist attraction. It’s called the Baruch Palace. So my mother’s family were people who had palaces. My father had rented the house where we lived. He didn’t own it. He owned warehouses and railway wagons. I actually saw one in Yugoslavia, in 1963.

My father lost everything, and he arrived in December 1947 to Naples. He then went to Palermo, Sicily, because he figured that Palermo is the only place in the world where he, as an international trader, would be able to become a millionaire in three years, which happened. The reason is that he was well-informed. He read that the British had created the National Health Service and the National Health Service distributed orange juice to pregnant women. They’d been to London. He knew there weren’t too many orange trees there.

So they went to Palermo and bought the green oranges on the tree. When they were ripe, they shipped them to London. He became very rich, very fast. Then, unfortunately, he developed an insane passion for a new technology called polyvinyl chloride, PVC. He went to Milan to set up a factory to electronically meld PVC.

He was not wrong.

I know. But he was very wrong for me because I loved Palermo. The Milanese children would make fun of me. I would break their noses.

Dalya Luttwak (Edward’s wife, an artist, who grew up on a kibbutz in Israel): Edward, Edward.

David Samuels: Tell me for three minutes about your upbringing in Palermo, who your classmates were.

Edward Luttwak: We lived in the best part of Palermo because my parents, being Central Europeans, had a total need for opera and classical music. There’s an opera house and a concert hall. They brought over the world famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin and other such people. We lived right there.

Many families around us were all aristocratic but they sent their children to boarding school in Tuscany, so they wouldn’t speak the Sicilian dialect. But my parents loved Palermo and they were not going to send me away. The only people who were both rich and nonaristocratic were the Mafia bosses. So I grew up with the Mafia bosses’ children.

Already, by the age of 6, we knew that we couldn’t fight each other because if one wins, then the older brother comes. If the older brother comes, then fathers, then eventually guns might come out. So we already knew all about deterrence and power politics.

Did you make the mistake of assaulting any of the Mafia bosses’ children? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2022 at 5:28 pm

40 Years On – The Lessons of the Falklands War

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Interesting post on the importance of preserving institutional knowledge and experience, by “Sir Humphrey” (of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister fame, in which Sir Humphrey was the prototypical civil servant) in The Thin Pin-Striped Line:

40 years have elapsed since the Falkland Islands were liberated, and the local population were freed from dictatorship to choose their destiny again. This short, bloody and wholly unnecessary war was started by dictators, and finished by the British Armed Forces. Even now, four decades later, its lessons continue to resonate and must be considered.

In a series of tweets, the French Navy Chief of Staff has set out thoughts on the enduring lessons of the war, and why it still matters. Many others have done likewise – it has been a period to reflect on why, even many years later, the war still has something to teach us. This article is a short reflection on what the author believes are five enduring lessons we must continue to reflect on.

The first and most simple lesson is that time and again we end up fighting the war we didn’t expect to fight, but we succeed because we keep the skills alive to do so. In 1982 we planned to conduct high intensity armoured warfare in Central Europe for 7 days before the literal end of the world was nigh. Little thought was given to expeditionary warfare at long distance, beyond the amphibious reinforcement of Norway. Naturally we ended up fighting an amphibious war many thousands of miles from home with no anticipation. In 1991 we still expected (just) to fight in Europe, and we ended up fighting the desert, just in time for expeditionary operations to become central to our doctrine, only for deterrence in Europe to come into vogue again in 2022 – in short, we prepare for one, and often end up doing another.

While this may sound familiar ground, what we fail to take into account all too often is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 June 2022 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Government, Military, War

History of Romans, Year by Year

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Fascinating.

Written by Leisureguy

1 June 2022 at 6:08 pm

A Balm for Psyches Scarred by War — Also good for those who were in a mass shooting?

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Rachel Nuwar’s article in the NY Times (gift link, no paywall) discusses MDMA-based therapy purely in the context of PTSD caused by experiences in battle, but the US has a rapidly increasing civilian population suffering from PTSD as an outcome of a mass shooting. For example, I think it’s obvious that many children and adults in Uvalde will experience PTSD. Texas ranks last in the US in mental-health services, so these people are not likely to receive treatment, but they should. (Texas Gov. Greg Abbot proclaimed the need for expanded mental health services (words) but in fact cut from the budge funds for such services (actions).)

Nuwar writes:

Nigel McCourry removed his shoes and settled back on the daybed in the office of Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist in Charleston, S.C.

“I hadn’t been really anxious about this at all, but I think this morning it started to make me a little bit anxious,” Mr. McCourry said as Annie Mithoefer, a registered nurse and Dr. Mithoefer’s colleague and spouse, wrapped a blood pressure cuff around his arm. “Just kind of wondering what I’m getting into.”

Mr. McCourry, a former U.S. Marine, had been crippled by post-traumatic stress disorder ever since returning from Iraq in 2004. He could not sleep, pushed away friends and family and developed a drinking problem. The numbness he felt was broken only by bouts of rage and paranoia. He was contemplating suicide when his sister heard about a novel clinical trial using the psychedelic drug MDMA, paired with therapy, to treat PTSD. Desperate, he enrolled in 2012. “I was willing to do anything,” he recalled recently.

PTSD is a major public health problem worldwide and is particularly associated with war. In the United States, an estimated 13 percent of combat veterans and up to 20 to 25 percent of those deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTSD at some point in their lives, compared with seven percent of the general population.

Although PTSD became an official diagnosis in 1980, doctors still have not found a surefire cure. “Some treatments are not helpful to some veterans and soldiers at all,” said Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired U.S. Army brigadier general. As many as half of veterans who seek help do not experience a meaningful decline in symptoms, and two-thirds retain their diagnosis after treatment.

But there is growing evidence that MDMA — the illegal drug known as Ecstasy or Molly — can significantly lessen or even eliminate symptoms of PTSD when the treatment is paired with talk therapy.

Last year, scientists reported in Nature Medicine the most encouraging results to date, from the first of two Phase 3 clinical trials. The 90 participants in the study had all suffered from severe PTSD for more than 14 years on average. Each received three therapy sessions with either MDMA or a placebo, spaced one month apart and overseen by a two-person therapist team. Two months after treatment, 67 percent of those who received MDMA no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis, compared with 32 percent who received the placebo. As in previous trials, MDMA caused no serious side effects.

Mr. McCourry was among the 107 participants in earlier, Phase 2 trials of MDMA-assisted therapy; these were conducted between 2004 and 2017 and sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, a research group that has led such studies in the United States and abroad. Fifty-six percent of Phase 2 participants no longer met the criteria for PTSD after undergoing several therapeutic sessions with MDMA. At least one year after participation, that figure increased to 67 percent.

A decade later, Mr. McCourry still counts himself among the successes. He had his first MDMA session in 2012 under the guidance of the Mithoefers, who have worked with MAPS to develop the treatment since 2000. He shared the video of that session with The New York Times. “I was suffering so badly and had so little hope, it was inconceivable to me that doing MDMA with therapists could actually turn all of this around,” he said.

The second Phase 3 trial should be completed by October; FDA approval could follow in the second half of 2023.

“We currently deal with PTSD as something that needs to be managed in an ongoing way, but this approach represents real hope for long-term healing,” said Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

“What makes this moment different from 20 years ago is the widespread recognition that we should leave no stone unturned in identifying new treatments for PTSD,” said Dr. John Krystal, the chair of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. Although data from the second Phase 3 trial are needed, he says, the results so far are “very encouraging.”

Mr. McCourry, 40, lives in Portland, Ore., and comes from a military family. He joined the Marines in 2003 because he wanted to make a positive difference, he said: “When I went over to Iraq, I felt like we were there because it was for the overall good.” . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2022 at 12:01 pm

The Russian Military’s People Problem: It’s Hard for Moscow to Win While Mistreating Its Soldiers

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Apparently the Russian military treats its soldiers the way some American corporations treat their workers (cf., for example, the meat-packing industry, Amazon, and others). Dara Massicot writes in Foreign Affairs:

Six days before the invasion of Ukraine, a small group of Russian soldiers huddled together in their tents in Belarus. One of them had covertly acquired a smartphone—barred by the military—and together, the group logged on to Western news sites. There, they read a story that shocked them: according to Western intelligence reports, Russia was about to invade its neighbor.

One of the soldiers called his mother in shock about what he had read. She told him it was only Western propaganda, and that there would be no war. She was wrong. Five days later, on the eve of the invasion, the soldiers’ commanders revealed they would invade Ukraine. The commanders also threatened to charge their subordinates with desertion if they didn’t come along. “Mom, they put us in cars, we are leaving,” the soldier told his mother in a call before the unit moved across the border. “I love you, if there is a funeral [for me], don’t believe it right away, check for yourself.” She hasn’t heard from him since, and despite pleas for information, the military authorities have provided her with no updates. (Eventually, she went to the press.)

Despite its sophisticated military equipment and multiple advantages on paper, Russia has stumbled strategically, operationally, and tactically in Ukraine. It has been hampered by faulty planning assumptions, unrealistic timelines, and impractical objectives. It has suffered from inadequate supplies, bad logistics, and insufficient force protection. It has been impaired by poor leadership. These problems do not stop at technical equipment issues, poor training, or corruption. Rather, they are linked by a core underlying theme: the military’s lack of concern for the lives and well-being of its personnel. In Ukraine, the Russian military struggles to retrieve the bodies of its dead, obscures casualties, and is indifferent to its worried military families. It may spend billions of dollars on new equipment, but it does not properly treat soldiers’ injuries, and it generally does not appear to care tremendously whether troops are traumatized.

This culture of indifference to its personnel fundamentally compromises the Russian military’s efficacy, no matter how extensively it has been modernized. In the United States, a good soldier is a happy soldier, one that’s properly fed, paid, and treated with respect. But the Russian high command behaves as if its troops are an afterthought, making tactical decisions as if it can simply throw people at poorly designed objectives until it succeeds. This is a self-defeating attitude that both lowers troops’ morale and degrades combat effectiveness. The results are plain to see.

BY ANY MEANS

The Russian military has a long history of mistreating its personnel and their frightened families. During the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan, many conscripts were not informed ahead of time that they were being sent to into combat. When they died or disappeared, Soviet authorities were curt and dismissive to grieving parents, particularly mothers who organized to get answers. In the 1990s, the Russian military sent unprepared conscripts to Chechnya for grueling urban warfare in cities such as Grozny. Many of these troops were killed, wounded, or captured. Soldiers’ mothers looking to secure the release of their imprisoned children often pleaded with base commanders for help, only to be ignored. Many mothers traveled directly to . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2022 at 8:32 pm

Extremely cool tank

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I should state immediately that I somehow find rational lost causes immensely appealing. To take a few examples: Esperanto, the Dvorak keyboard, italic/chancery cursive, the Fitaly keyboard for stylus input, the HK G11, the General Dynamics/True Velocity entrant in the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) competition (it just recently lost — the Army is too conservative for a bullpup, much less plastic cartridges), and so on. I could name more, but the pattern is clear: unconventional but ration design is highly appealing to me.

And here’s another example:

Written by Leisureguy

20 May 2022 at 5:25 pm

Posted in Military, Technology

At some level, George W. Bush recognizes what he did in Iraq

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Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2022 at 1:10 pm

How does Starlink work? Are the Ukrainians thrilled with it?

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Very interesting post by Kevin Drum on the efficacy of Starlink in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2022 at 3:49 am

Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? And what can we do about it?

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Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes at Ideas.TED.com:

Have you ever worked with people who are not as good as they think? 

This finding won’t come as a surprise to most of us, but statistically, these people are more likely to be male than female. That’s right — men are typically more deceived about their talents than women are. And they are also more likely to succeed in their careers. That’s because one of the best ways to fool other people into thinking you’re better than you actually are is to fool yourself first.

I’m an organizational psychologist, and I use science and technology to predict and understand human behavior at work. One of the areas that fascinates me is the relationship between gender, personality and leadership and more specifically, how gender and personality shape our choices of leaders and how those leaders then impact organizations. Discussions of gender tend to focus on the under-representation of women in leadership, which, sadly, is more or less universal.

But a bigger problem is the fact that most leaders are incompetent. Indeed, whether in business or politics, incompetent leaders have negative effects on their followers and subordinates, causing low levels of engagement, trust and productivity and high levels of burnout and stress. Just google “my boss is” to see what most people think of their managers (and maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel a bit better about your manager). You’ll see words like “crazy,” “abusive,” “unbearable,” “toxic,” and other words that are too rude to repeat.

So, the main question we should be asking is not why there aren’t any more women leaders, but why do so many incompetent men become leaders? 

My research suggests there are three main reasons, and the first is our inability to distinguish between confidence and competence. Across cultures and countries, we tend to assume that confident people have more potential for leadership, but in any area of talent, including leadership, there is very little overlap between confidence (how good people think they are at something) and competence (how good they actually are at something).

The second reason is . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

So, how do we stop incompetent men from becoming leaders?

The first solution is to follow the signs and look for the qualities that actually make people better leaders. There is a pathological mismatch between the attributes that seduce us in a leader and those that are needed to be an effective leader. If we want to improve the performance of our leaders, we should focus on the right traits. Instead of falling for people who are confident, narcissistic and charismatic, we should promote people because of competence, humility and integrity. Incidentally, this would also lead to a higher proportion of female than male leaders — large-scale scientific studies show that women score higher than men on measures of competence, humility and integrity. But the point is that we would significantly improve the quality of our leaders.

The second solution is to . . .

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2022 at 3:17 pm

The Unseen Scars of Those Who Kill via Remote Control

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It’s easy to imagine what the US would say about some nation attacking the US or a US ally in this way. Reading this raises the question “Is the US one of the baddies?”

Dave Phillips reports in the NY Times (gift link, no paywall):

REDWOOD VALLEY, Calif. — After hiding all night in the mountains, Air Force Capt. Kevin Larson crouched behind a boulder and watched the forest through his breath, waiting for the police he knew would come. It was Jan. 19, 2020. He was clinging to an assault rifle with 30 rounds and a conviction that, after all he had been through, there was no way he was going to prison.

Captain Larson was a drone pilot — one of the best. He flew the heavily armed MQ-9 Reaper, and in 650 combat missions between 2013 and 2018, he had launched at least 188 airstrikes, earned 20 medals for achievement and killed a top man on the United States’ most-wanted-terrorist list.

The 32-year-old pilot kept a handwritten thank-you note on his refrigerator from the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was proud of it but would not say what for, because like nearly everything he did in the drone program, it was a secret. He had to keep the details locked behind the high-security doors at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev.

There were also things he was not proud of locked behind those doors — things his family believes eventually left him cornered in the mountains, gripping a rifle.

In the Air Force, drone pilots did not pick the targets. That was the job of someone pilots called “the customer.” The customer might be a conventional ground force commander, the C.I.A. or a classified Special Operations strike cell. It did not matter. The customer got what the customer wanted.

And sometimes what the customer wanted did not seem right. There were missile strikes so hasty that they hit women and children, attacks built on such flimsy intelligence that they made targets of ordinary villagers, and classified rules of engagement that allowed the customer to knowingly kill up to 20 civilians when taking out an enemy. Crews had to watch it all in color and high definition.

Captain Larson tried to bury his doubts. At home in Las Vegas, he exuded a carefree confidence. He loved to go out dancing and was so strikingly handsome that he did side work as a model. He drove an electric-blue Corvette convertible and a tricked-out blue Jeep and had a beautiful new wife.

But tendrils of distress would occasionally poke up, in a comment before bed or a grim joke at the bar. Once, in 2017, his father pressed him about his work, and Captain Larson described a mission in which the customer told him to track and kill a suspected Al Qaeda member. Then, he said, the customer told him to use the Reaper’s high-definition camera to follow the man’s body to the cemetery and kill everyone who attended the funeral.

“He never really talked about what he did — he couldn’t,” said his father, Darold Larson. “But he would say things like that, and it made you know it was bothering him. He said he was being forced to do things that went against his moral compass.”

Drones were billed as a better way to wage war — a tool that could kill with precision from thousands of miles away, keep American service members safe and often get them home in time for dinner. The drone program started in 2001 as a small, tightly controlled operation hunting high-level terrorist targets. But during the past decade, as the battle against the Islamic State intensified and the Afghanistan war dragged on, the fleet grew larger, the targets more numerous and more commonplace. Over time, the rules meant to protect civilians broke down, recent investigations by The New York Times have shown, and the number of innocent people killed in America’s air wars grew to be far larger than the Pentagon would publicly admit.

Captain Larson’s story, woven together with those of other drone crew members, reveals an unseen toll on the other end of those remote-controlled strikes.

Drone crews have launched more missiles and killed more people than nearly anyone else in the military in the past decade, but the military did not count them as combat troops. Because they were not deployed, they seldom got the same recovery periods or mental-health screenings as other fighters. Instead they were treated as office workers, expected to show up for endless shifts in a forever war.

Under unrelenting stress, several former crew members said, people broke down. Drinking and divorce became . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2022 at 3:05 pm

The nuclear missile next door

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Eli Saslow reports in the Washington Post on what it’s like to live with a bomb stronger than 20 Hiroshimas in a time of rising worldwide tensions. (Gift link, no paywall)

WINIFRED, Montana — Ed Butcher, 78, tied up his horse, kicked mud off his cowboy boots and walked into his house for dinner. He’d been working on the ranch for most of the day, miles away from cellphone range. “What did I miss?” he asked his wife, Pam, as he turned their TV to cable news. “What part of the world is falling apart today?”

“Russia’s aggression has gone from scary to terrifying,” the TV commentator said, as Pam took their dinner out of the oven.

“We’re talking about a war that involves a very unstable nuclear power,” the commentator said, as they bent their heads over the venison casserole to say a prayer.

“This could escalate,” the commentator said. “It could explode beyond our wildest imaginations.”

Ed turned the TV off and looked out the window at miles of open prairie, where the wind rattled against their barn and blew dust clouds across Butcher Road. Ed’s family had been on this land since his grandparents homesteaded here in 1913, but rarely had life on the ranch felt so precarious. Their land was parched by record-breaking drought, neglected by a pandemic work shortage, scarred by recent wildfires, and now also connected in its own unique way to a war across the world. “I wonder sometimes what else could go wrong,” Ed said, as he looked over a hill toward the west end of their ranch, where an active U.S. government nuclear missile was buried just beneath the cow pasture.

“Do you think they’ll ever shoot it up into the sky?” Pam asked.

“I used to say, ‘No way,’ ” Ed said. “Now it’s more like, ‘Please God, don’t let us be here to see it.’ ”

The missile was called a Minuteman III, and the launch site had been on their property since the Cold War, when the Air Force paid $150 for one acre of their land as it installed an arsenal of nuclear weapons across the rural West. About 400 of those missiles remain active and ready to launch at a few seconds notice in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska. They are located on bison preserves and Indian reservations. They sit across from a national forest, behind a rodeo grandstand, down the road from a one-room schoolhouse, and on dozens of private farms like the one belonging to the Butchers, who have lived for 60 years with a nuclear missile as their closest neighbor.

It’s buried behind a chain-link fence and beneath a 110-ton door of concrete and steel. It’s 60 feet long. It weighs 79,432 pounds. It has an explosive power at least 20 times greater than the atomic bomb that killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima. An Air Force team is stationed in an underground bunker a few miles away, ready to fire the missile at any moment if the order comes. It would tear out of the silo in about 3.4 seconds and climb above the ranch at 10,000 feet per second. It was designed to rise 70 miles above Earth, fly across the world in 25 minutes and detonate within a few hundred yards of its target. The ensuing fireball would vaporize every person and every structure within a half-mile. The blast would flatten buildings across a five-mile radius. Secondary fires and fatal doses of radiation would spread over dozens more miles, resulting in what U.S. military experts have referred to as “total nuclear annihilation.”

“I bet it would fly right over our living room,” Ed said. “I wonder if we’d even see it.”

“We’d hear it. We’d feel it,” Pam said. “The whole house would be shaking.”

“And if we’re shooting off missiles, you can bet some are headed back toward us,” Ed said.

Over the years, they’d reckoned with every conceivable threat to their land. Drought killed . . .

Continue reading. (Gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2022 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Military, War

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