Tag Archives: war

Cornwallis attacks. Washington goes to Princeton.

In the previous post, I asked what you would do as a general (Cornwallis), December 27, 1776. You command 30,000 troops, some 12,000 at Princeton of at total 50,000 against Washington’s 3500. Washington is camped 12 miles to the south just outside of Trenton with a majority of his men scheduled to leave in three days when their enlistments expire.

In fact, what Cornwallis did, is what every commenter recommended. He attacked at Trenton, and lost New Jersey. Cornwallis left 2-3000 troops at Princeton and marched south. Despite fallen trees, swollen rivers, destroyed bridges — all courtesy of Washington’s men –Cornwallis reached Trenton and attacked. By the time he got there, 2000 of Washington’s men had left, partially replaced by untrained militia. After a skirmish, Washington set up 400 militia to keep the fires burning, and without telling them where he was going “Fall back if the British attack”, he took the rest of his forces east, across frozen fields and swampland, then north to Princeton along the Quaker-bridge road. He later said the reason was to avoid looking like a retreat.

He split his forces just outside of Princeton, and a detachment, led by Hugh Mercer and 350  regulars had the first battle as they ran into the 17th and 55th British regiments as they prepared to escort supplies to Trenton. The British commander, Lt.colonel Mawhood, seeing how few men he faced, sent the 55th and most of the supplies back to Princeton, and led his men to shoot at the Americans from behind a fence. Mercer’s men fired back with rifles and cannon, doing little. Then, the trained British did what their training demanded: they rose up and charged the rebels with fixed bayonets. Mercer, having no bayonets, called “Retreat!” before being stabbed repeatedly, see painting. Mawhood’s men seized the cannon, turned it on the fleeing remnants of Mercer’s men.

General Mercer defeated at Princeton, as Washington shows up.

General Mercer defeated at Princeton, as Washington shows up.

It looked like a British victory, but then General Nathaniel Greene (the fighting Quaker) showed up with several hundred Pennsylvania militiamen. The militiamen had never seen battle, and many fled, after shooting into the British lines with rifles and another cannon and grape-shot. At this point it looked like a draw, but then, Washington himself joined the battle with two brigades of regulars: Hitchcock’s 253 New Englanders and Hand’s 200 Pennsylvania riflemen.

Washington managed to rally the fleeing Pennsylvanians; “Parade with us, my brave fellows! There is but a handful of the enemy and we will have them directly!” And Mawhood, now without most of his officers, ordered a last bayonet charge and fled down the Post Road to Trenton. Washington rode after for a bit “It’s a fine fox chase, my boys!”

James Peale, 1783. John Sullivan and his forces at Frog Hollow. Battle of Princeton

James Peale, 1783. John Sullivan and his forces at Frog Hollow. Battle of Princeton

The rest of the British along with Mawhood, met the rest of Washington’s men, lead by John Sullivan, at a place called Frog Hollow, near where Princeton Inn College (Forbes College) now stands. The Americans opened with grape-shot and the British put up little resistance. Those who did not surrender were chased into town, taking refuge in Nassau Hall, the central building of the university. Alexander Hamilton’s men (he’d been rejected by Princeton) took special enjoyment in shooting cannon into the building. A hole remains in the college walls and a cannonball supposedly decapitated a portrait of George II. About then the New Jersey militia broke in a door, and the British surrendered.

Washington had captured, killed, or destroyed most of three English regiments, took a wagon train of supplies, and left going north following a bit of looting. “Loyalists” were relieved of coins, liquor, shoes, blankets. They ate the breakfast prepared for the 40th, and were gone by 11 AM, heading north — to where?. Cornwallis returned before noon “in a most infernal sweat — running, puffing, blowing, and swearing.” His men looted the town again, but now what?

Was Washington headed to New Brunswick where a handful of British soldiers guarded Cornwallis’s supplies and a war chest of £70,000? He didn’t go directly, but perhaps by a circuitous route. Cornwallis went straight to New Brunswick and jealously guarded the place, its money and supplies. Washington meanwhile ran to safety in the Watchung Mountains outside Morristown. Cornwallis’s 17th claimed victory, having defeated a larger group, but Cornwallis gave up Princeton, Trenton, and the lives of the New Jersey loyalists. Rebels flocked to Washington. Loyalists were looted and chased. Hessians were shot in “a sort of continual hunting party.” Philip Freneau expressed the change thus:

When first Britannia sent her hostile crew; To these far shores, to ravage and subdue, 

We thought them gods, and almost seemed to say; No ball could pierce them, and no dagger slay.

Heavens! what a blunder—half our fears were vain; These hostile gods at length have quit the plain.


Robert Buxbaum. December 21, 2016. So now that you know what happened, what SHOULD Cornwallis have done? Clearly, it’s possible to do everything right militarily, and still lose. This is an essence of comedy. The British had a similar Pyrrhic victory at Bunker Hill. I suspect Cornwallis should have fortified Trenton with a smaller force; built a stockade wall, and distributed weapons to the loyalists there. That’s a change in British attitude, but it’s this dynamic of trust that works. The British retreat music, “the world turned upside down“, is a Christmas song.

Lessons of WWI: remove aristocrats and beards

Tzar Nicholas II and King George V.

Tzar Nicholas II and King George V, cousins and allies.

When I was a kid, Veterans day was called Armistice day. It marked the end of WWI. As many people died on all sides (there were many shifting alliances), it’s worthwhile asking what we’ve learned. The main thing, I think, is that aristocrats suck, both hereditary aristocrats, and the aristocrats of thought. Europe entered a world war for no big reason: small gains of land and status gains for a few aristocrats, generals, and thinkers at the top of society. These saw an opportunity to get medals and prove they could lead men in battle. The mass of Europeans cheered for war (see photo below, right) and followed them in battle. Millions were sent running at machine guns and poison gas. Most died, Those who survived returned home feeling less enthused about the ignorant, arrogant hereditary aristocrats, but still honored the generals and thinkers. They executed Tzar Nicolas of Russia and greatly reduce the power of the kings of England, Belgium, Turkey, Holland, and Austria. The thinkers inherited that power, but dropped the monarch’s face hair.

Emperor Franz Joseph

Emperor Franz Joseph II


Calif Mohammet V

Before WWI, virtually all of Europe was ruled by king; generally bearded kings who were believed to rule by divine right, as the will of God. The king generally had aid of a republican congress, a large aristocracy — counts, dukes, marchese, and earls, and the academic élite — professors and generals. All of these avoided association with the masses, except for show, all spent lavishly, and all maneuvered for power. By the end of WWI, no king in Europe retained real power, and the hereditary aristocrats discredited, power went to the intellectual aristocrats, where it resides today: generals, professors, newspapermen, novelists, generally mustached and modern. In 20 years or so, the new aristocrats would bring on WWII, in part because of a fear of war. Their wisdom proved to be little better than the old, but it is hard to say it was worse. The main lessons learned: avoid beards and aristocrats.

Brittains unified and cheering for the start of WWI

Britains unified and cheering for the start of WWI

In his book, “Diplomacy”, Henry Kissinger draws a few more lessons from the Great War. A major one is that balance of power works: it worked for the 100 years until WWI. Another lesson he draws: don’t let mutual defense treaties kick in until an actual invasion has begun: until troops actually cross the border. He blames hair trigger treaties for much of the trouble of WWI. His book is a good read, though, if only as a background his diplomatic approaches.

I write about WWI because of today is Veterans day, and also because two days ago we elected Donald Trump president of the US in a bitterly divisive election. Trump claims he wants “to drain the swamp,” a claim I take to mean that he intends to diminish the power of the intellectual aristocracy, the generals, writers, professors and politicians who think together, vacation together, club together, and control what it means to be educated. The Washington Post calls this removal a threat to western civilization; it removes the intelligentsia, and replaces it with racist boobs, or so they see Trump’s crew. There were anti election demonstrations in Boston, New York, Oakland, Austin, and Detroit. Upon election news a movement was started to impeach Trump, or get him to step down on claims that he stole the election. Officials of Hampshire college lowered the flag to half mast as a sign of mourning for our democracy. These acts of dissent are as heartfelt a reaction as the widespread approval that greeted WWI. I can hope the outcome is better.

For what it’s worth, I do not believe the supporters of Trump are as angry, or as stupid as portrayed: half a basketball of deplorables and irredeemables, the other half needing re-education (to borrow from Ms Clinton). These are the people who fight our wars, and I suspect we’ll be somewhat better off for giving them a voice. As for veterans day, honor the poor blokes who fought for our folly.

Robert E. Buxbaum, November 10, 2016.

1939, when East and West became friends and partners

Forward Marx

The large mustache, Soviet Socialist it seems is very much like his neighbor, the small mustache, National Socialist.

In August, 1939, just about 77 years ago to the day, Germany and the Soviet union signed a non-aggression pact — The Molotov von Ribbentrop agreement. The open text suggested peace, but there was a secret rider that was made widely available. The large mustache soviet socialist and the small mustache national socialist had divided up the land between them. “In case there was war,” Russia would get Lithuania, Finland, Eastern Poland, and Bessarabia (Northern Romania). Germany would get Denmark, Western Poland, and Greece.

Commemoration of the Soviet -German non-aggression pact, August 1939.

Commemoration of the Soviet – German non-aggression pact, August 1939.

Up till then, we in the US assumed that these nations were bitter enemies and that their enmity would protect us. It turned out they were friends, or at least that they had the common goal of conquest and domination. Both were socialists in the sense that they did not respect the property rights of their neighbors. In the cartoon at right, Uncle Sam is standing on the battlements, looking stupid, holding his useless umbrella (The League of Nations? US foreign policy?). The title, “Watchman, What of the Night.” Is from Isaiah. In August, 1939 night was most definitely coming along with a combined storm of aggression from Germany and the USSR.

I’m posting this as a reminder that East and West are more similar than is generally believed. That left and right too are often useless distinctions. That folks will generally seek their own advantage over philosophical purity, and over the advantage of the US. Internationalism, thus, is not a panacea for peace. Generally speaking, I suspect that Flavius’s dictum still applies: “if you wish for peace, prepare for war.” Also, I had these great cartoons, courtesy of my friend, Jim Wald.

Robert Buxbaum, August 25, 2016. People often forget/ ignore that the USSR started its part of WWII by invading Finland and Poland. Finland resisted invasion a lot better than Poland. So well that, when Germany broke the agreement and Russia became our friend, Finland became our enemy– sort-of. They were still fighting Russia. And, in the East, Russia remained an ally of Japan for another year, even briefly after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. This made sending aid to Russia problematic, though Roosevelt did it. I’ve written about WWII in terms of mustaches because, to me, it makes as much sense as anything, and more sense than east vs west.

Comic Colonialism II: of Busbys and Bear Skins.

The map below shows, in white, all the countries that England has not invaded.

The white spots on this map are the countries that England has not invaded.

The white spots on this map are the countries that England has not invaded.

England now controls virtually none of these countries. In most of these, English is the national language, or the language of business, and defeating the British is hailed as the central national experience. Still, many have opted to become part of the British Commonwealth, a loose organization of ex-British states. Generally this requires agreeing to the rule of the Queen, despite having nominally free states. Entering Canada, for example, one finds a picture of Elisabeth II, Queen of Canada, And there are royal colleges where inventions belong to her. The same with Australia and New Zealand. The question to ask, then, the question despots have asked, is how did the English manage it –or perhaps, how can I extend my despotism the same way. Part of the answer, it seems to me, is that England used tall, silly hats: Busbys and Bearskins.

The Queen of Canada reviews her troops. She's wearing a Busby; he's in a bearskin.

The Queen of Canada reviews her troops. She’s wearing a Busby; he’s in a bearskin.

The Bearskin hat is perhaps the silliest hat in worldwide military use, and certainly the largest. The bearskin is made of the complete skin of a black or a brown (grisly) bear dyed black, The skin is shaped over a wicker frame to stand 16″ tall (a black bear skin is used for enlisted men, and a grisly bear for officers). It is heavy, quite fuzzy, and completely non-aerodynamic and protects the head not at all. As best American military experts have found, it only makes the person wearing it a better target for being shot. And yet, Britons have striven to be given the honor of wearing this thing. There is also a slightly shorter, slightly fuzzier version of the Bearskin worn by officers. It’s called a Busby, and it’s made from beaver skin. Even in this day of social correctness, skins are found for this use, and “harvested”, mostly in Canada.

The front-line British soldiers in the American Revolution wore these hats when they marched in ranks to attack the colonials at Lexington and Concord, and again at Bunker Hill, and again, in the war of 1812 at New Orleans. It made them slow, impressive, and dead. Because of their weight, these hats are often worn with a leather collar to help support them. The collar makes it hard for soldiers to look down, a plus for soldiers on parade, but a minus when walking over uneven ground, e.g. when attacking Bunker Hill. You’d think the British would have given up on these weird hats long ago, but the British won in many conflicts and have come to dominate many countries. They seem to credit the hat, I’m beginning to think it deserves more attention than it’s gotten.

The hat they wore through the war of 1812, through the Crimean war and the Boer war; in the heat of the Indian revolts, in Africa, and to this day for show makes British soldiers look taller, and more elegant. It makes them stand straighter than most, and gives guards an other-worldly appearance. American soldiers uniformly reminisced how hard it was to shoot someone who marched so elegantly. The Queen likes them, and she, after all is nothing if not elegant. Perhaps the unworldly elegance of the bearskin give soldiers the courage to invade countries and die in the name of a sovereign who reigns by Devine right as expressed through the sword Excalibur ‘of pure Semite’, whatever that is. It’s a story that not one adult Britain believes, yet they die for (why?) Perhaps it’s the honor of mass craziness. Perhaps, because they see simple folks are impressed by soldiers wearing the tall funny hats (I guess thats why some US marching bands use them). And then again, it might be pure luck, superstition, and stupidity. The method of science would be to ask if other countries or team bands do better while wearing the silly hats. I suspect not, but it deserves statistical analysis.

Robert Buxbaum, March 30, 2016. Comic colonialism 1 dealt with the mistakes leading to the US capture of Guam. Catch also my essays, the greatest blunders of the US revolution, and mustaches and WWII: similar mustaches foreshadow stable alliances.

Comic colonialism I: How the US got Guam without a fight.

America is often criticized for land it acquired by war e.g. Guam in the Spanish-American War. Though Spanish were corrupt and incompetent, and had (it seems) sunk the USS Maine by accident, the idea is that conquest is bad. Well, for better or worse, here’s how the US acquired Guam in a comic bloodless non-battle that provides an example of God laughing as he protects children, fools, and the U.S. of A.

It’s mid June, 1898, the Spanish-American War has raged for two months, and Theodore Roosevelt is in Cuba. Four ships lead by the USS Charleston leave Hawaii on a secret mission with orders to be opened only at sea. Captain Glass of the Charleston find he is to try to take Guam and destroy its fortress before proceeding to the Philippines for the major battle of the war. Glass is informed that Guam Harbor is defended Spanish warships plus a thick-walled fort housing many heavy cannon. A land assault will face, he’s told, over 1000 fighting men, dug in, heavily armed, and thoroughly familiar with the terrain. As it happens, military intelligence had vastly overstated the challenge. There are only 56 soldiers on Guam, and Span has neglected to tell the garrison that there’s a war on.

USS Charleston

The USS Charleston, victor of the non-battle of Guam.

Expecting a fierce battle, our soldiers and naval gunners practice shooting at towed targets and get excellently proficient, or so Glass believes. Fortunately, he’s wrong. On June 20, 1898, The Charleston steams into Guam’s harbor and finds no resistance. The only major ship is a Japanese trader sitting at anchor. No shots are fired, and there is no apparent activity on shore. In some confusion, Captain Glass order that 13 shots be fired at the fort. As it happens, it’s a fortuitous number. Also fortuitous, is that all the shots miss. In complete ignorance, the folks on shore think it is a 13 gun salute: that the Charleston is here for an official, state visit.

Now, the normal response would be for folks on Guam to return the 13 gun salute. If they had, it would have likely begun a cycle of death and destruction. But God is the protector of fools, and the fortress is out of gunpowder. The Spanish send an officer to the Charleston to ask for gunpowder and apologize for not returning the salute. After what must have been a most uncomfortable parlé, it is agreed that our nations were at war; that the officer was now a captured prisoner; and that he is being released to request surrender.

Coins celebrating our colonial territories.

Coins celebrating our colonial territories. None have senators or congressmen. Only DC gets to vote for president, a result of the 23rd amendment, 1961.

As soon as he is sent off, captain Glass begins to worry: maybe this is a trap. Maybe the guns are now focussed on him and his men? Maybe he should resume fire on the fort! Right about then, a friendly whaleboat sails by flying the American flag. It’s captained by Francisco “Frank”Portusach-Martinez from Chicago, an old friend of an officer aboard the Charleston. Captain Portusach comes on board, shows his US bona-fides, and explains that it’s no trap, just ignorance. Taking his advice, Captain Glass lands with a small party, arrests all 56 soldiers without a fight, and raises the American flag. The Star Spangled Banner is played, and Glass doesn’t quite know what to do next. What would you do in his shoes?

Captain Henry Glass

Captain Henry Glass, man with a mustache.

Having no experience or other orders, Captain Glass appoints Portusach as the first US Governor of Guam, and leaves to join Dewey in the Philippines. He does not destroy the fort as he finds it in such poor repair that he can claim it’s already destroyed. And that’s how we got Guam. Credit to Captain Glass for not screwing things up or angering the locals needlessly. One hundred and eighteen years later, Guam is still a US territory, though there have been movements for statehood, for union with Hawaii, and for independence. Until the folks on Guam decide otherwise, they are US citizens, but can not vote for president or have representation in congress. They pay federal income taxes, but not state taxes. Bill Clinton is the only US president to ever visit Guam.

Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum. February 1, 2016. I’ve written previously on the ways of peace, and on what makes a country, and on beards: why only communists and Republicans have them. Stay tuned for “Comic Colonialism II: Canada’s Queen.”

Sept. 11, 1683, Islam attacks Vienna.

In the US, September 11 is mostly known for the attacks on the World Trade Center, 2001. But world wide, I think, it’s mostly known for the Battle of Vienna, 1683. Based on his interpretation the religious command to take over the corrupt western world, the Dar al-Harab, for the world of Islāmic peace, the Dar al-Islam, Caliph Mohamed IV, broke the Treaty of Vasvár in 1682, and sent his army to attack Vienna, something Suleiman the Magnificent had tried in 1526. They besieged the city and attacked unsuccessfully on September 11, 1683, a day that would live in infamy.

The forces of Mohamet IV surround Vienna, September 11, 1683.

The forces of the Caliph surround Vienna, the city of good wine, September, 1683.

Mohamed IV’s army was 150,000 strong, led by Grand Vizier, Kara Mustafa Pasha. The army spent a year getting to the city while they conquered, or subdued Rumania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, and Hungary. During that year, Emperor Leopold I and Charles V, Duke of Lorraine left Vienna nearly defenseless, and scoured Europe for allies. Vienna was left defended by just 24,000 under command of Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg. By the time Kara Mustafa arrived Leopold had gotten a pledge of financial support from the pope, and signed a mutual defense treaty with the Polish-Lithuanian League, and with Saxony, Baden, Bavaria, Swabia and Franconia, a good years’ work (Louis XIII of France said no).

Kara Mustafa reached Vienna on July 14 1683, but did not attack. Instead he laid siege to the city, and to nearby Perchtoldsdorf (Petersdorf). Perchtoldsdorf surrendered, but Vienna did not. Kara Mustafa then massacred the entire Christian population, perhaps as many as 30,000 people in the city square, and took their booty. This move may have pleased the Caliph, but did nothing to encourage the Viennese to surrender. Vienna held out until September, 1683 when the liberating armies of Leopold, Charles V, and John III Sobieski (Poland) arrived. Kara Mustafa attacked on September 11, but it was too late. In the counter attack, the Islamic army was defeated and put to flight. Kara Mustafa was put to death by the caliph for his failure.

Cavalry fighting at the Battle of Vienna, 1683

The Polish cavalry at the Battle of Vienna, 1683

The loss at Vienna was the beginning of a long retreat for Islam. Over the next century, Hapsburg rulers captured Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary; Russia conquered the Ukraine. The victorious Viennese built churches, established a feast day (Day of the Holy Name), and created crescent-shaped rolls, breads in the shape of the Moslem crescent symbol (or so the legend goes).

My reading suggests that, to this day, believing Moslems find the churches, breads, and festival offensive at some level. My guess, too, is that Osama bin Laden picked September 11, 2001 as his response to the offense. As a teen, Osama traveled in Europe, and his bookshelf included, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Paul Kennedy)”, and similar titles suggesting he would have known about the date and its significance. It seems likely (to me), that the date of the US embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya, September 11 2012 was similarly planned to match the earlier Sept 11’s, and not, as Ms Clinton claims, a response to a Jewish-made, Hollywood film.

It is clear that not every Islāmic thinker understands the obligation to battle our Dar al Harab to be one of armies, swords, and bombs. Even the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has explained that the popular slogan, “Death to America,” does not mean “death to the American people,” but “death to U.S. policies and arrogance,” That is, a war of ideas. He claims this struggle is “backed by reason and wisdom,” i.e. by the Koran, and he should know.

"Muslims against Crusaders" chanting during the two minutes of Remembrance Day (Armistice Day) silence, 2010.

“Muslims against Crusaders” chanting during the two minutes of Remembrance Day (Armistice Day) silence, 2010, “Our soldiers are in paradise, yours burn in Hell.”

However it is fought, the aim of the war is fought for our benefit: to save us from eternal Hell, and make our present world better, a part of the Dar al Islam, the Moslem world of religious peace. Even at our best, our infidel Dar al-Harab is considered evil because we go about independently competing in a world of chaotic commerce. Each infidel (as they see it) trying to wrest wealth from his fellow in an economic struggle that can only be ended by Caliphate-controlled charity. That the Dar al-Islam has been in turmoil for the last 1000 years is considered a slight embarrassment. To me, it seems more like Aesop’s fable of the toad physician who could not heal himself.

I note that many religions have the same jaundiced view of commerce, and have fought over it. What I find somewhat humorous (ha ha) is that Islam = Sholom = peace, and that there is a pattern of war being used to enforce peace on the unwilling.

If you find errors in my thinking, please tell me; I’m an engineer, not a historian or a theologian (Islāmic or otherwise). What little I know of Islam comes from my meagre translation above, from some history, and from public comments, e.g. by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Just so you know my biases, my sense is that a world of economic chaos is a better, more satisfying world, than any world of statist religious rule. I’d say that G-d likes entropy in all its forms, and that chaos is a gift. Let us thank God for Wine (Wiine = Wein = Vienna).

Robert E. Buxbaum, Friday, November 13, 2015.

Comedy: what is comedy?

It’s a mistake, I think, to expect that comedy will be funny; the Devine comedy isn’t, nor are Shakespeare’s comedies. It seems, rather, that comedy is the result of mistakes, fakes, and drunks stumbling along to a (typically) unexpected outcome. That’s sometimes funny, as often not. Our expectation is that mistakes and fools will fail in whatever the try, but that’s hardly ever the outcome in literature. Or in life. As often as not, the idiot ends up as king with the intelligent man working for him. It’s as if God is a comic writer and we are his creation. Perhaps God keeps us around for our amusement value, and drops us when we get stale.

It’s not uncommon to have laughs in a comedy; a Shakespearian comedy has some, as does life. But my sense is that you find more jokes in a tragedy, e.g. Romeo and Juliet, or Julius Caesar. What makes these tragedies, as best I can tell, is the great number of honorable people behaving honorably. Unlike what Aristotle claims, tragedy doesn’t have to deal with particularly great people (Romeo and Juliet aren’t) but they must behave honorably. If Romeo were to say “Oh well, she’s dead, I’ll find another,” it would be a comedy. When the lovers choose honorable death over separation, that’s tragedy.

hell viewed as a layer cake. Here is where suicides end up.

Dante’s hell viewed as a layer cake. The “you” label is where suicides end up; it’s from an anti-suicide blog.

Fortunately for us, in real life most people behave dishonorably most of the time, and the result is usually a happy ending. In literature and plays too, dishonorable behavior usually leads to a happy ending. In literature, I think it’s important for the happy ending to come about semi-naturally with some foreshadowing. God may protect fools, but He keeps to certain patterns, and I think a good comic writer should too. In one of my favorite musicals, the Music Man, the main character, a lovable con man is selling his non-teaching of music in an Iowa town. In the end, he escapes prison because, while the kids can’t play at all, the parents think they sound great. It’s one of the great Ah hah moments, I think. Similarly at the end of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, it’s not really surprising that the king (Mikado) commutes the death sentence of his son’s friends on the thinnest of presence: he’s the king; those are his son’s friends, and one of them has married a horrible lady who’s been a thorn in the king’s side. Of course he commutes the sentence: he’s got no honor. And everyone lives happily.

Even in the Divine Comedy (Dante), the happy ending (salvation) comes about with a degree of foreshadowing. While you meet a lot of suffering fools in hell and purgatory, it’s not totally unexpected to find some fools and sinners in heaven too. Despite the statement at the entrance of hell, “give up all hope”, you expect and find there is Devine grace. It shows up in a sudden break-out from hell, where a horde of the damned are seen to fly past those in purgatory for being too pious. And you even find foolish sinning at the highest levels of heaven. The (prepared) happy ending is what makes it a good comedy, I imagine.

There is such a thing as a bad comedy, or a tragic-comedy. I suspect that “The merchant of Venice” is not a tragedy at all, but a poorly written, bad comedy. There are fools aplenty in merchant, but too many honorable folks as well. And the happy ending is too improbable: The disguised woman lawyer wins the case. The Jew loses his money and converts, everyone marries, and the missing ships reappear, as if by magic. A tragic-comedy, like Dr Horrible’s sing along blog; is something else. There are fools and mistakes, but not totally unexpected ending is unhappy. It happens in life too, but I prefer it when God writes it otherwise.

It seems to me that the battle of Bunker Hill was one of God’s comedies, or tragic-comedies depending on which side you look. Drunken Colonials build a bad fort on the wrong hill in the middle of the night. Four top British generals agree to attack the worthless fort with their best troops just to show them, and the result is the greatest British loss of life of the Revolutionary war — plus the British in charge of the worthless spit of land. It’s comic, despite the loss of life, and despite that these are not inferior people. There is a happy ending from the American perspective, but none from the British.

I can also imagine happy tragedies: tales where honorable people battle and produce a happy result. It happens rarely in life, and the only literature example I can think of is  1776 (the musical). You see the cream of the colonies, singing, dancing, and battling with each other with honorable commitment. And the result is a happy one, at least from the American perspective.

Robert E. Buxbaum, September 17-24, 2015. I borrowed some ideas here from Nietzsche: Human, All too Human, and Birth of Tragedy, and added some ideas of my own, e.g. re; God. Nietzsche is quite good on the arts, I find, but anti-good on moral issues (That’s my own, little Nietzsche joke, and my general sense). The original Nietzsche is rather hard to read, including insights like: “A joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling.”

Why I don’t like the Iran deal

Treaties, I suspect, do not exist to create love between nations, but rather to preserve, in mummified form, the love that once existed between leaders. They are useful for display, and as a guide to the future, their main purpose is to allow a politician to help his friends while casting blame on someone else when problems show up. In the case of the US Iran-deal that seems certain to pass in a day or two with only Democratic-party support, and little popular support, I see no love between the nations. On a depressingly regular basis, Iranian leaders promise Death to America, and Death to America’s sometime-ally Israel. Iran has acted on these statements too, funding Hezbollah missiles and suicide bombers, and hanging its dissidents: practices that lead it to become something of a pariah among its neighbors. They also display the sort of nuclear factories and ICBMs (long-range rockets) that could make them much bigger threats if they choose to become bigger threats. The deal just signed by US Secretary of State and his counterpart in Iran (read in full here) seems to preserve this state. It releases to Iran $100,000,000,000 to $150,000,000,000 that it claims it will use against Israel, and Iran claims to have no interest in developing multi-point compression atom bombs. This is a tiny concession given that our atom bomb at Hiroshima was single-point compression, first generation, and killed 90,000 people.

Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile, several stories high, brought out during negotiations. Should easily deliver nuclear weapons far beyond Israel, and even to the USA.

Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile, new for 2015. Should easily deliver warheads far beyond Israel -even to the US.

The deal itself is about 170 pages long and semi-legalistic, but I found it easy to read. The print is large, Iran has few obligations, and the last 100 pages or so are a list companies that will no longer be sanctioned. The treaty asserts that we will defend Iran against attacks including military and cyber attacks, and sabotage –presumably from Israel, but gives no specifics. Also we are to help them with oil, naval, and fusion technology, while leaving them with 1500 kg of 20% enriched U235. That’s enough for quick conversion to 8 to 10 Hiroshima-size A-bombs (atom bombs) containing 25-30 kg each of 90% U235. The argument in favor of the bill seems to be that, by giving Iran the money and technology, and agreeing with their plans, Iran will come to like us. My sense is that this is wishful-thinking, and unlikely (as Jimmy Carter discovered). The unwritten contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

As currently written, Iran does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. To the contrary, John Kerry has stated that a likely consequence is further attacks on Israel. Given Hezbollah’s current military budget is only about $150,000,000 and Hamas’s only about $15,000,000 (virtually all from Iran), we can expect a very significant increase in attacks once the money is released — unless Iran’s leaders prove to be cheapskates or traitors to their own revolution (unlikely). Given our president’s and Ms Clinton’s comments against Zionist racism, I assume that they hope to cow Israel into being less militant and less racist, i.e. less Jewish. I doubt it, but you never know. I also expect an arms race in the middle east to result. As for Iran’s statements that they seek to kill every Jew and wipe out the great satan, the USA: our leaders may come to regret hat they ignore such statements. I guess they hope that none of their friends or relatives will be among those killed.

Kerry on why we give Iran the ability to self-inspect.

Kerry on why we give Iran the ability to self-inspect.

I’d now like to turn to fusion technology, an area I know better than most. Nowhere does the treaty say what Iran will do with nuclear fusion technology, but it specifies we are to provide it, and there seem to be only two possibilities of what they might do with it: (1) Build a controlled fusion reactor like the TFTR at Princeton — a very complex, expensive option, or (2) develop a hydrogen fusion bomb of the sort that vaporized the island of Bimini: an H-bomb. I suspect Iran means to do the latter, while I imagine that, John Kerry is thinking the former. Controlled fusion is very difficult; uncontrolled fusion is a lot easier. With a little thought, you’ll see how to build a decent H-bomb.

My speculation of why Iran would want to make an H-bomb is this: they may not trust their A-bombs to win a war with Israel. As things stand, their A-bomb scientists are unlikely to coax more than 25 to 100 kilotons of explosive power out of each bomb, perhaps double that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But our WWII bombs “only” killed 70,000 to 90,000 people each, even with the radiation deaths. Used against Israel, such bombs could level the core of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. But most Israelis would survive, and they would strike back, hard.

To beat the Israelis, you’d need a Megaton-size, hydrogen bomb. Just one Megaton bomb would vaporize Jerusalem and it’s suburbs, kill a million inhabitants at a shot, level the hills, vaporize the artifacts in the jewish museum, and destroy anything we now associate with Israel. If Iran did that, while retaining a second bomb for Tel-Aviv, it is quite possible Israel would surrender. As for our aim, perhaps we hope Iran will attack Israel and leave us alone. Very bright people pushed for WWI on hopes like this.

Robert E. Buxbaum. September 9, 2015. Here’s a thought about why peace in the middle east is so hard to achieve,

Major blunders of the American Revolution

As nice as it is to discuss the brilliant men and great battles that allowed the American colonials to win the American Revolution, there is another way to see things –perhaps less enjoyable, but just as legitimate: looking at the great dunderheads and mistakes that allowed the greatest military power on earth to be defeated by a small group of undisciplined rabble. Here follows brief essays on my three top dunderheads: two British, one French. No one realized they were dunces until much later.

Pride of place goes, I think, to King Louis 16th of France. He helped us to win the war, and lost his own empire in the process. King Louis had nothing to gain by funding the American cause. And he had quite a lot to lose in men and money. He lost his ships and men in Rhode Island, lost colonies in India and the Seychelles, and spent millions he’d need when the famine of 1789 came. Worse, by supporting America, Louis put the bug of Liberty in the French ear. Far better (for Louis) would have been if he had waited, non-committally for another 3-5 years as the Dutch and Spanish did. He could have continued to host and honor Franklin, could have continued to sell weapons (to both sides) and could have even encouraged hot-head volunteers like Lafayette to go over and fight. We might still have won (see below) but at a greater cost to us and a fraction of the cost to the French monarchy. Let us thank God for fools. Here are my thoughts on when to get involved in a foreign war.

The basic issue of big-scale blunders is not seeing the disaster that hides behind a small-scale victory. And that tends to be funny.

The basic of every great dunderhead is not seeing the disaster that hides behind a small-scale victory. And that tends to be funny.

British admiral George Rodney is my second, honored dunce. He had many victories, especially after the war was lost, but his major war achievement was not-relieving Cornwallis at Yorktown, and thus losing the war. In early 1781, Rodney was defending Jamaica and other British “Sugar Islands” in the Caribbean while waiting for orders to either fight the French fleet or relieve Cornwallis. As it was, he did neither but instead attacked a Dutch-held, Caribbean island, St. Eustatius. Rodney noticed that British freighters were being hijacked by pirates and that the island was a major trading port to the American colonists. By going after these pirates, he gained booty, but left the rest of the empire under-gunned. This allowed French Admiral, de Grasse Tilly to defeat Admiral Hood in the Caribbean; allowed him to take Tobago for the French. And then, while Rodney was still protecting his St Eustatius booty, de Grasse circled back to Virginia in time to bottle up Cornwallis. British Admiral Graves tried twice to dislodge de Grasse, but without Rodney he hadn’t the firepower. Cornwallis surrounded the day Graves gave up his second, failed attempt.

Rodney’s choice was one of greed, self-interest, and glory-seeking at the expense of British national interest. It isn’t unique in the Revolution or in British military history. Clinton’s move to attack Philadelphia when he was supposed to aid Burgoyne caused the loss of Burgoyne’s army and got the French in on our side, but I judge Rodney’s screw-up bigger if only because Cornwallis’s defeat ended the war and lost America.

Finally, I give the third-place dunce cap to General Banastre Tarleton, otherwise known as “Bloody Ban,” the most hated man in America. Tarleton was the son of a noted slave trader and mayor of Liverpool. He tended to win battles, but as fictionalized in the movie, The Patriot, he rarely differentiated rebel from loyalist, burning farms and churches of both. He also became known for “Tarleton’s quarter”, killing his enemies after they had surrendered. In the long run, this sort of thing turns your friends in to your enemies, and so it did here.

The view, common in Tarlton’s regiment, was that this was at least partially a religious war. If a congregation wasn’t Anglican — a church with the king as its head — it was a “sedition shop” and needed to be eliminated. He wasn’t totally wrong, but it rarely goes down well; for example the Sunni vs Shiite, Hamas vs ISIS wars. He certainly undermined Benedict Arnold’s claims that King George was serious in granting religious freedom.

A religious dissertation on why resistance to the king is obedience to God.

A religious dissertation: resistance to a tyrant is obedience to God.

When Tarleton was given the job of capturing Marion Francis, the Swamp Fox, his approach, with Major James Wemyss and Captain Christian Hock (or Hook), was to burn the farms, churches, and plantations of anyone in the area. In one of Wemyss memoranda, he writes he had “burnt and laid waste about 50 houses and Plantations, mostly belonging to People who have either broke their Paroles or Oaths of Allegiance, and are now in Arms against us.” Note the word, “mostly.” These methods did succeed in drawing out the Swamp Fox, but it also drew out most everyone else in the south, even those who’d given up on the revolution. The now-farmless farmers enlisted and produced enthusiastic counter-attacks at Gibson’s Meeting House, Hill’s Iron Works, Fishdam Ford (Wemyss capture), Williamson’s Plantation (Huck’s Defeat), Blackstock’s farm and Cowpens. By the end, the colonials had even figured out how to use Tarleton’s enthusiasm against him.The right way to deal with your enemy is with focus and mercy, as Grant treated Lee at Appomattox. Tarleton’s methods would have made the Revolution a centuries-long, religious war IMHO, if the French had not gotten involved on our side.

Robert Buxbaum. July 16, 2015. If you have other classics of stupidity, please tell me. I’d like to recommend two books by A. J. O’Shaughnessy: “An Empire Divided,” and “The men who lost America.” As a final note: after the war Tarleton retired to Parliament where he served until 1833 as a fierce advocate for British slavery. Britain ended their use of slave workers in the Caribbean and south Africa in 1833, but didn’t stop their use in Ceylon and areas of East India company until 1843. Most Slaves who came to the new world did so in British ships.

Gatling guns and the Spanish American War

I rather like inventions and engineering history, and I regularly go to the SME, a fair of 18th to 19th century innovation. I am generally impressed with how these machines work, but what really brings things out is when talented people use the innovation to do something radical. Case in point, the Gatling gun; invented by Richard J. Gatling in 1861 for use in the Civil war, it was never used there, or in any major war until 1898 when Lieut. John H. Parker (Gatling Gun Parker) showed how to deploy them successfully, and helped take over Cuba. Until then, they were considered another species of short-range, grape-shot cannon, and ignored.


A Gatling gun of the late 1800s. Similar, but not identical to the ones Parker brought along.

Parker had sent his thoughts on how to deploy a Gatling gun in a letter to West Point, but they were ignored, as most new thoughts are. For the Spanish-American War, Parker got 4 of the guns, trained his small detachment to use them, and registered as a quartermaster corp in order to sneak them aboard ship to Cuba. Here follows Theodore Roosevelt’s account of their use.

“On the morning of July 1st, the dismounted cavalry, including my regiment, stormed Kettle Hill, driving the Spaniards from their trenches. After taking the crest, I made the men under me turn and begin volley-firing at the San Juan Blockhouse and entrenchment’s against which Hawkins’ and Kent’s Infantry were advancing. While thus firing, there suddenly smote on our ears a peculiar drumming sound. One or two of the men cried out, “The Spanish machine guns!” but, after listening a moment, I leaped to my feet and called, “It’s the Gatlings, men! It’s our Gatlings!” Immediately the troopers began to cheer lustily, for the sound was most inspiring. Whenever the drumming stopped, it was only to open again a little nearer the front. Our artillery, using black powder, had not been able to stand within range of the Spanish rifles, but it was perfectly evident that the Gatlings were troubled by no such consideration, for they were advancing all the while.

Roosevelt and the charge up Kettle Hill, Frederick Remington

Roosevelt, his volunteers, and the Buffalo soldiers charge up Kettle Hill, Frederick Remington.

Soon the infantry took San Juan Hill, and, after one false start, we in turn rushed the next line of block-houses and intrenchments, and then swung to the left and took the chain of hills immediately fronting Santiago. Here I found myself on the extreme front, in command of the fragments of all six regiments of the cavalry division. I received orders to halt where I was, but to hold the hill at all hazards. The Spaniards were heavily reinforced and they opened a tremendous fire upon us from their batteries and trenches. We laid down just behind the gentle crest of the hill, firing as we got the chance, but, for the most part, taking the fire without responding. As the afternoon wore on, however, the Spaniards became bolder, and made an attack upon the position. They did not push it home, but they did advance, their firing being redoubled. We at once ran forward to the crest and opened on them, and, as we did so, the unmistakable drumming of the Gatlings opened abreast of us, to our right, and the men cheered again. As soon as the attack was definitely repulsed, I strolled over to find out about the Gatlings, and there I found Lieut. Parker with two of his guns right on our left, abreast of our men, who at that time were closer to the Spaniards than any others.

From thence on, Parker’s Gatlings were our inseparable companion throughout the siege. They were right up at the front. When we dug our trenches, he took off the wheels of his guns and put them in the trenches. His men and ours slept in the same bomb-proofs and shared with one another whenever either side got a supply of beans or coffee and sugar. At no hour of the day or night was Parker anywhere but where we wished him to be, in the event of an attack. If a troop of my regiment was sent off to guard some road or some break in the lines, we were almost certain to get Parker to send a Gatling along, and, whether the change was made by day or by night, the Gatling went. Sometimes we took the initiative and started to quell the fire of the Spanish trenches; sometimes they opened upon us; but, at whatever hour of the twenty-four the fighting began, the drumming of the Gatlings was soon heard through the cracking of our own carbines.

Map of the Attack on Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill in the Spanish American War.

Map of the Attack on Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, July 1, 1898 The Spanish had 760 troops n the in fortified positions defending the crests of the two hills, and 10,000 more defending Santiago. As Americans were being killed in “hells pocket” near the foot of San Juan Hill, from crossfire, Roosevelt, on the right, charged his men, the “Rough Riders” [1st volunteers] and the “Buffalo Soldiers [10th cavalry], up Kettle Hill in hopes of ending the crossfire and of helping to protect troops that would charge further up San Juan Hill. Parker’s Gatlings were about 600 yards from the Spanish and fired some 700 rounds per minute into the Spanish lines. Theyy were then repositioned on the hill to beat back the counter attack. Without the Parker’s Gatling guns, the chances of success would have been small.

I have had too little experience to make my judgment final; but certainly, if I were to command either a regiment or a brigade, whether of cavalry or infantry, I would try to get a Gatling battery–under a good man–with me. I feel sure that the greatest possible assistance would be rendered, under almost all circumstances, by such a Gatling battery, if well handled; for I believe that it could be pushed fairly to the front of the firing-line. At any rate, this is the way that Lieut. Parker used his battery when he went into action at San Juan, and when he kept it in the trenches beside the Rough Riders before Santiago.”

Here is how the Gatling gun works; it’s rather like 5 or more rotating zip guns; a pall pulls and releases the firing pins. Gravity feeds the bullets at the top and drops the shells out the bottom. Lt’ Parker’s deployment innovation was to have them hand-carried to protected positions, near-enough to the front that they could be aimed. The swivel and rapid fire of the guns allowed the shooter to aim them to correct for the drop in the bullets over fairly great distances. This provided rapid-fire accurate protection from positions that could not be readily hit. Shortly after the victory on San Juan HIll, July 1 1898, the Spanish Caribbean fleet was destroyed July 3, Santiago surrendered July 17, and all of Cuba surrendered 4 days later, July 21 (my birthday) — a remarkably short war. While TR may not have figured out how to use the Gatling guns effectively, he at least recognized that Lt. John Parker had.

A new type of machine gun,  a colt browning repeating rifle, a gift from Con'l Roosevelt to John Parker's Gatling gun detachment.

Roosevelt gave two of these, more modern, Colt-Browning repeating rifles to Parker’s detachment the day after the battle. They were not particularly effective. By WWI, “Gatling Gun” Parker would be a general; by 1901 Roosevelt would be president.

The day after the battle, Col. Roosevelt gifted Parker’s group with two Colt-Browning machine guns that he and his family had bought, but had not used. According to Roosevelt, but these rifles, proved to be “more delicate than the Gatlings, and very readily got out-of-order.” The Brownings are the predecessor of the modern machine gun used in the Boxer Rebellion and for wholesale deaths in WWI and WWII.

Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum, June 9, 2015. The Spanish-American War was a war of misunderstanding and colonialism, but its effects, by and large, were good. The cause, the sinking of the USS Maine, February 15, 1898, was likely a mistake. Spain, a decaying colonial power, was a conservative monarchy under Alfonso XIII; the loss of Cuba seems to have lead to liberalization. The US, a republic, became a colonial power. There is an inherent friction, I think between conservatism and liberal republicanism, Generally, republics have out-gunned and out-produced other countries, perhaps because they reward individual initiative.