The Worship of Ammunition: An Interlude with Moon’s Church

Having recently watched documentaries of various dismal cults, notably Buddhafields and Scientology, I bethought myself of Moon’s Church, owner of the Washington Times, and my brief association with it ages ago. Thinking that it might be of sociological or psychiatric interest, I post the following. Early Seventies. Unpublished:

 

The tall scrawny freak with the red hair converted in the spring of 1972, several months before Jerry wandered, roaring, onto the scene. I had recently graduated from both Vietnam and college and, not knowing what else to do, was living with a collection of hippies at Stafford Court House, Virginia. The other freaks were the usual unemployed prophets, fruit-juice drinkers, tarot-card readers and desert patriarchs in from communes in New Mexico. Most were sane without being extreme about it. A few were psychic train-wrecks trying to reassemble themselves, and mind-burnt druggies who had learned to package brain damage as mystical insight.

The Sixties were waning fast. The freak years had been fun for those who could handle them, but by now everybody sensed that the ride was over. Kids looked sourly at the future, judged that the market for aged hippies was limited, and wanted out. They weren’t sure how to get there.

Seeking the escape hatch, the crowd at Stafford started changing religions the way other people changed their socks. For a while the preferred faith was acid. Everybody stared for hours at patterns in the upholstery, garnering wisdom. Then Buddhism held a corner on truth for a week, but faded. Hinduism had its brief moment. A bearded seer form somewhere out West once peered into my eyes with bovine serenity and said, “Hinduism. You know it’s true, man.” His cow-like assurance was like a current of water, carrying me along so that I thought, “Yeah, hadn’t thought of it, it is true, isn’t it?”

Finally the skinny red-head thumbed to Washington with his girlfriend, who had been a Moslem the week before, and returned full of confused faith in someone called Sun Moon. At first we assumed that anyone named Sun Moon must be an itinerant witch doctor from one of the desert tribes, perhaps a protégé of Carlos Castañeda. We soon heard that Moon was a Korean guru with holdings in an ammunition factory.

“I think I really believe it,” the red-head told me regarding the epiphany of the weekend. “It’s really, like, you know, true. I know it is.”

“What’s true?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

He wanted to believe that something was true. He didn’t much care what, and anyway he could find out later. Within two weeks several others from Stafford had joined Moon’s church. They were formally committed to the worship of a Korean arms manufacturer. The idea was curious, even for the times.

The Sixties were treasure years for the connoisseur of oddities: bikers, SDSers, hopheads, hallucinating paranoiacs, anything you wanted. Moon’s church, however, seemed a genuinely new kink in the social rope. For the next several months the lunar faithful (I tried desperately not to call them Loonies) was a hobby, sideshow, and source of free meals. Seen from the inside, from the level of the sidewalks of a giddy age, they didn’t bear much resemblance to later accounts in the newspapers. They didn’t bear much resemblance to anything.

Soon the Stafford believers thumbed up to the Moonie hives at 1611 Upshur Street, NW. I went along, wondering what to expect. The Moonies were not the only new product on the faith market. There was the New American Church, which worshipped the better grades of dope, and the Hare Krishnas, who seemed to worship attention and Georgetown, and something called Maharaj Ji, such a tender golden-brown butter ball that one’s instinct was to baste him. The Moonies were the first faith to crack the defense sector however. A faith based on ammunition was categorically worth seeing.

The Moonies had rented several adjacent row houses on Upshur and, as I soon learned, held picnics to attract proselytes, of which there seemed to be a bumper crop. We arrived looking like refried death and discovered a swarm of kids in suits, ties, stockings, pretty dresses, and a state of unearthly cleanliness. An attractive girl in an up-market blue dress hailed us with a bright smile. She was pretty, deliberately pretty, which was startling in an age of funk.

“Hi! I’m Linda Marchant. I’m so glad you could come. Won’t you join us?”

I thought to myself, “Soap.” Even today people think “soap” when they meet Moonies. But the outgoing friendliness was undeniably nice, very nice. They could turn it on and off like water, but it was nice. It appealed powerfully to the lonely and confused who, however they talked of Thoreauvian independence, were getting older and suspected they had missed an important boat. This assertive gregariousness, grown devious and systematized, later become known in Moon-talk as “love-bombing.”

Under spreading trees in the back yard, girls rushed about with bowls of salad. They all looked like Heidi. The guys looked like stockbrokers. Several other freaks stood around, kind of embarrassed but kind of…you know…digging it.

We all sat. After a brief prayer to a god as yet unspecified, whose chief quality seemed to be syllabic extension (“Faa-aa-a-a-ther….”) there were a few words about the sacred mission of the United States. Characteristically the Moonies told us very little about themselves. They preferred that a recruit find out what he was committed to only after he was committed to it, an idea acceptable to a surprising number of people. The peculiar gift of the Moonies was to pursue sincerity, frankness, and a revival of ethical values by means of deception, manipulation, and a disregard of ethics.

A heavily freckled kid next to me, explaining that he was in real life in the Coast Guard, said, “We ought to put naval mortars on the roofs. For protection.” Good idea. “Protection from whom?”

“Communists. They want to break up the church. These people need military advice.”

He kept looking up at the eaves.

Shortly thereafter, in hopes of working the fertile recruiting grounds of the University of Maryland, the Moonies established a splinter cell in Hyattsville in a decaying frame house that is now a parking lot. Like most political cells, it should have been padded. They began rehabilitating the house furiously in shifts. About that time I was angling for a job as a part-time special-education-and-computer-science teacher at Suitland Senior High, and hoped that maybe some of the Stafford converts might arrange to let me stay at the new hive for a week while I found an apartment. They couldn’t unless I converted, which was too much rent. For a week I lived in the back of my 1957 Chevy, the Blue Bomb, which had a mattress running from the back seat into the trunk. By day I helped the Moonies rebuild their house The stability of the set-up was uncertain. Instead of killing the termites, I noticed, the Moonies caulked up their holes.

At a Moonie recruiting session one night in an apartment in College Park Towers, I met Jerry, a short club-footed Nazi who liked blacks and Jews. Actually he wasn’t a Nazi, but said he was, which is stranger than being one. The Moonies were hawking the Divine Principle, as they called their theology, to a gaggle of freshmen. These latter were all agog, what with being at a real college for the first time, and hearing about a genuine exotic oriental religion and all. They had never heard of anything so advanced, not even in Wheeling.

At the time Principle involved something called the Base of Four Positions, which looked on the blackboard like a baseball diamond with God on second, Adam and Eve on first and third, and humanity at home plate. The idea was that Satan, currently in the guide of communism, had long ago gained control of the earth, and God kept sending people to try to redeem it. Abraham, Moses, and Jesus had all tried and failed. (“Oh Lord, whyfore hast thou forsaken me?” was considered corroborative.) Moon by implication was the next redemptive Marine to storm ashore on the cosmic beach.

People drifted and munched on potato chips. I was bored to the point of twitching but didn’t want to go back to the Chevy. The door opened and a deep bass voice growled, possibly not intending to be audible, “Hello. I’m looking for a bunch of maniacs…wait. I think I’m here.”

Jerry was about five feet six inches tall and nearly as wide, with bushy black hair, a tangled beard, and a big orthopedic shoe. A fierce angry energy radiated from him. We shook hands–he had the delicate fingers of a pianist-and he growled, sotto voce, “You don’t look like one of these. Are you?”

“God no.”

“Let’s go somewhere and talk.”

We escaped to the balcony. Jerry then spoke roughly as follows, always in staccato bursts. “Yeah, I’m getting a Ph.D. in political science…god, it’s nonsense…quantification of political behavior. I can make it work but who cares? These crazies, ain’t they something? It’s the decline of Rome all over, the Weimar Republic gone bad…four thousand years of progress for nothing…everything is downhill, heehee. This little Nazi is sick of it…If there any hope, it lies with the proles.”

Jerry called himself a Nazi, but purely as a rhetorical device. He lacked the ideology, the mean streak, any obsession with race, in fact any of the traits necessary to Nazism, and had in most respects the politics of an angry Democratic populist. He said he had been a real rostrum-pounding right-winger in school up north, but reality had grown on him.

“Right wing politics in nonsense. So’s left-wing politics. The center doesn’t have politics…Took me a long time to see that…God, it’s awful.” He was mad at everything in general, perhaps because of a difficult life and a crippled leg, or perhaps because of excessive observation. He was too rational to be mad at anything in particular.

Anyway, Jerry was drawn to the Moonies by their psychiatric interest, by his lack of anywhere else to live, and by Caroline Libertini of the Hyattsville nest. Lib was a basic broad-hipped Italian earth-mother with bronzed skin and high cheekbones that looked almost Indian. She radiated the Italian womanly virtues, genuine in her case, like an antenna: Warmth, security, friendliness, concern, and a funny sense that you were part of her family. The lonely and shell-shocked fell in love with her, absolutely inaccessible though she was, whereupon the Moonies tried to convert them. I don’t think it was conscious tactics, but it worked.

Soon Jerry was following her around like a growling congenial puppy. Then he moved into the Moonies’ tiny unfinished basement on the tacit understanding that he might convert any day now, which he had not the slightest intention of doing. It was strange to see him stomping around the kitchen making spaghetti or acting as a towel rack for Lib, a troll among Snow White’s dwarves. Beneath the fuming, he was sociable, and they were pleasant by ideology.

The Moonies didn’t know what to make of Jerry. They themselves were given to indirection, manipulation, diplomacy, and a certain understatement of the truth. Jerry had the finesse of the Wehrmacht. Upon listening to a circuitously phrased obliquity intended to get him to do something, Jerry would amiably say, “Dumbest goddam idea I ever heard. What idiot thought of that?”

 

“Hey, Reed, gimme a hand moving my hate. Gotta lot of hate to move,” Jerry said to me one day.

By this he meant a large collection of screwy far-right books. He also referred to mail as hate: “Gotta go check my hate-box.” Soon we were laboring up and down the stairs to his bare cubby hole with some of the strangest literature known to man: Six-volume sets about the communist influence behind the fluoridation of water, and disintegrating works by obscure syndicalists. I felt trapped in a comic book: In the basement of a weird Christian cult somewhere in the nation’s capital, a right-wing troll and his accomplice, a crazed hippie anthropologist, discuss the destruction of America’s brains by toothpaste….” Jerry banged away with hammer and scrap wood. He didn’t believe in his books any longer, but he collected them as a connoisseur.

“Need some more hate shelves.”

“Jerry, this stuff is nuts.”

“Yeah, bonkers. Real loony-tune stuff. Let me show you something really wild….”

We became friends, in part because of a common fascination with the curiosities inhabiting the ground floor. We discussed them endlessly in the beer dens of the University. Jerry would sit bristling with horror and foretell the collapse of society.

“It’s all over. You see, don’t you? Cults are the sign of collapse. The Orphic mysteries all over. Except they’re sexless. Like monks. I’m going to go to Canada and live. Tell them I went to Mexico, will you?”

Sexless they were. Despite all the mass gimme-eight-hundred-volunteers weddings, mostly in the future then, they were as hostile to sensuality as the early Christians. The few married couples had pledged four years of abstinence to Fa-a-a-ther. I forget why they thought he wanted it. Dating outside the church was discouraged. So was dating inside the church.

“Oh, twaddle,” I said, “It’s just…well, auto-therapy.”

“It’s brainwashing. Just like a North Korean POW camp. You see how much sleep they get? None. They don’t sleep. It’s destroying their biochemistry.”

“Moon doesn’t make them crazy, Jerry. He just collects them. I think.”

Actually I had to admit that Jerry might be right. No sleep, constant frantic activity, the unvarying presence of the group, rigorous discipline, lots of ritual. Maybe it did gum up the old metabolism.

The Moonies were a peculiar phenomenon: Extremists of the center, militant middle-wingers. Yet theirs was a cultural, not a political, centrism. They were kids who had grown up in the optimistic brick-box suburbs of 1953 when the economy was booming and it really seemed possible that all of humanity, after thousands of generations of struggle and evolution, might finally get a washing machine. On countless Saturday mornings the Moonies had watched Superman jump out of the window in a howl of wind while the announcer intoned approvingly of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” which were then thought to be synonymous. Two Buicks and glossy teeth were ingrained in their psyches.

Then somehow they had fallen into the fetor and anomie of the Sixties. For them the age was not a time of thumbing through glowing green mountains and having adventures. They were the casualties. They had waked in too many sour crashpads, engaged in too much thoughtless sex, done too many drugs. Moon’s church was the way back. It was the faith of clean shirts and fanatical normalcy. Thus they managed to be those strangest of creature, zealots of moderation.

I was still living in the Blue Bomb when Jerry saw his first prayer session. The Moonies knelt in the living room as the spirit moved them, put their foreheads on the floor, and gasped, “Fa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a…ther!” with a little explosion on the last syllable. Then a tumult of prayer would burst from the penitent, mostly apologizing to Fa-a-a-ther for the pain caused by errant humanity. Then they looked at Jerry and me to see whether inspiration might have taken hold of us. Invariably it hadn’t. The first time Jerry looked at me in candid dismay. “This isn’t happening, is it?” he whispered.

“Why?”

“It can’t be happening. That’s obvious.”

“Oh.”

“It’s the end of civilization.”

Later, Jerry learned to grin an aw-shucks-fellers, maybe-next-time grin. The Moonies waited, figuring he had to crack sooner or later.

Washington had now discovered the Moonies and contemplated them with a pleasant sense of alarm. The war in Vietnam had grown boring. Here was a new lunacy to titillate the jaded palate of the Potomac Byzantium. With luck, the Moonies might do something horrid and interesting.

Liberals, easily puzzled by unfamiliar categories, decided the Moonies were fascists. Almost everyone assumed that they had some hidden agenda, the reason being that they had no obvious agenda. Generally ignored was another possibility, that they had no agenda at all, a suspicion supported by the eerie pointlessness of everything they did. All zealots are narcissistic tragedians, wrestling with destiny beneath their inner Klieg lights, and not especially interested in practical results. This is a truth that few in Washington could afford to concede so they figured the Moonies had to be up to something.

Actually they seemed to be engaged in the passionate, urgent, frantic pursuit of nothing in particular. Nothing they ever did had an effect. Their propaganda persuaded no one, and wasn’t well calculated to persuade. If Moonery was a conspiracy, it was a conspiracy without a purpose.

One day in late fall they came running into the house from a local shopping mall, faces red with cold, an ecstasy of self-sacrifice lighting them like bulbs.

“We’ve been having a Rally for God! It was great!”

“Yeah! People were spitting on us!”

They constantly invented new religious tics. For a while they made a fetish of standing for a second of silent prayer before entering any door. Then there was Holy Salt which they sprinkled around at times of solemnity. I’ve seen sumo wrestlers do the same thing.

One evening in winter I dropped by to see Jerry in his cubby hole and found the whole cell bundling up.

“Hi! We’re going to Holy Ground. Want to come?”

Holy Ground, it seemed, was a patch of earth on the Mall which Moon, for mysterious reasons, had declared sacred. Stranger things have happened, though probably not much stranger.

“Sure, why not?”

Off we went down Michigan Avenue. They were bubbling and happy, infused with the usual sense of warmth and illusory direction. They knew Fa-a-a-at-ther was with them, pulling them through life like a rope, and they left a broad wake of enthusiasm. At the Monument they piled out, well-groomed and middle-class and home at last from the alien ideologies of scag and Lenin. They rushed to a spot apparently located by triangulation, stood in a circle, and looked reverently at the sod. It had grass on it.

The church was starting to get a bad name, not so much because of anything it really did as because it stole children–or so the parents preferred to put it. With few exceptions the Moonies were so warped by a wretched home life that they became susceptible to Moon–but this was not the wisest thing to tell parents whose kids were buzzing and clicking.

And there was the practice of Divine Deception, which is exactly what it sounds like. Some of it was airport technique (“Hi! I’m taking a survey….”) but through the years a lot of kids would go to what they thought were summer camps, only to find out later that they were at the robot factory. Angry apostates told tales of psychological ruthlessness that wobbly proto-Moonie egos couldn’t take. The Moonies responded that anyone who wanted to could leave. Unfortunately many of those sufficiently off balance to be Moonies in the first place were not good at independent action.

The Moonies earned their worst reputation among those groups who produced the most Moonies. Jews seemed especially hard hit, perhaps because they were especially vulnerable. The Jewish Moonies, all from secular families, had the usual Moonie problems of unloving homes. They also had the additional burden of not being Jewish enough to feel rooted in it, but too Jewish to be entirely at home in the surrounding society, and not about to convert to Christianity to assuage their spiritual yearnings. So they ducked the question by joining Moon.

Kids from military families also showed in up numbers. Having authoritarian fathers possessed of a certain combative simple-mindedness and not much affection, and having gone through the terrible insecurity of moving and losing their friends every two years, they needed something warm and fuzzy to hold onto. A fair number of Catholics showed up, feeling at home in a heavily ritualized faith. So did kids from Protestant families in which a great show is made of Christianity for the purpose of browbeating the child and out-holying the neighbors. The parents were furious, twenty years too late.

For a while Jerry resisted my view that the Moonies were dynamic idlers, but the evidence kept coming in. For example, they held what everyone called a Nuremberg rally on the Monument grounds. It was wonderful. Scaffolding went up. Technicians in white jump-suits scurried about, assembling great banks of phenomenally large loudspeakers and a big platform for dignitaries. An enormous speaker’s platform went up. The reverend Moon’s face in cyanotic blue began to peer from posters on every fence in the city. Sound buses drove crazily through the streets. Suddenly in front of Woodies would come an unintelligible blare of loudspeakers. A bus would turn the corner, plastered with blue Moons. As it drove past bellowing nothing understandable, which echoed from buildings (“Arblewargmonumentwunhwarbworworworld”), scrubbed faces peered out with the characteristic crazed expression, hands waving mechanically. “Join us, join us!” The impression was of a mechanical asylum worked by a spring.

On the day of the rally the big speakers roared, perfectly intelligible from anywhere on the grounds. The technicians had not been amateurs. The grounds began to fill as an efficient Moonie organization bussed people in from Philadelphia. A hootenanny outfit began singing to pull in more audience. The chestnut smell of dope wafted about in clouds. The scale, the volume of sound, were Orwellian. The moment demanded a howling demagogue to bay hatred at the cosmos. This was it, everybody figured with a little frisson. The Moonies were going to demand that Nixon be made Reichschancellor. Instead, the political speech was brief, a hiccup in the hootenanny, and said America was a great country and the world depended on us, and now have a nice day and back to the music. That…was…all. I walked through the crowd, mostly hippies and inner-city blacks, and asked what the rally was for. Hey, man, I don’t know, wanna toke?

I didn’t know either. Neither, I think, did the Moonies.

One night Jerry and I were sitting in my largely bare apartment, drinking beer and trying to figure out Moon’s Barbie Dolls. He started talking about himself, and I suddenly realized why he knew so much about nickel-and-dime politics. He was a celebrity of sorts. A few years back on the strength of his then-impeccable conservative credentials, Jerry had gotten a job with Liberty Lobby, which exists in the airy region where the right wing runs out of feathers and empty space begins. Discovering a lot of virulent anti-Semitism in the Lobby’s files, he had decided that Liberty Lobby was nuts, stolen the files, and given them to Drew Pearson.* There was a certain brutal directness in Jerry’s approach to things. The resulting expose had somewhat tarnished his reputation in the circles of the loon Right, and left him unsympathetic to cults, political or otherwise.

Who did he like, I asked? Well, just sort of folk, he said. Especially the under-folk, such as blacks, and those who had otherwise suffered discrimination-you know, Italians, Jews, Poles, Indians, and so on.

God, I thought. I’m living with a liberal Nazi.

The ferment rose again at Upshur Street. The Moonies were gearing up to smash world communism. The trouble was that, being mostly kids, they identified communism with the student Left, the only Left they knew. Consequently they attached great importance to the Trotskyite left-deviatonist schismatics of the International Bracero Labor Party’s Maoist-revanchist wing, consisting of two half-literate sociology majors who were about to graduate and become management interns. The central hive on Upshur Street seethed with excitement. They began having workshops on the techniques of political action. Jerry and I showed up for one of these.

We got a chilly welcome. Friendliness to the Moonies was a political technique only, their real interest being their spiritual scar tissue. They got real cold real fast.

“Are you expected?” asked a prim girl who reminded me of a motel manager. All Moonies reminded me of motel managers. I’m not sure what brought on the freeze, but I think too many hippies had learned that you could, as at the Salvation Army, get a free meal if you listened to the prayers.

“We’re from Hyattsville,” I said, thinking it would be adequate explanation.

“Who do you wish to see?”

“Barry Cohen,” I told her, Barry being head of the Hyattsville cell.

“One moment. I’ll check with Mr. Cohen.”

Mister Cohen? Another administrative lunge. First names were too informal for a movement that saw itself as a spiritual IBM. The frost princess finally let us in. The basement was full of folding chairs. A fellow with a flip-chart was lecturing approximately as follows:

“To be effective we have to know the enemy and how to counter his techniques. The communists and their allies use street theater, for example, a powerful technique. What do you do when you see three SDSers dressed as Vietnamese peasants with American soldiers beating them? We have to learn to speak effectively, how to handle hecklers. And remember, it won’t be easy or pleasant. We will be abused, even beaten up. Possibly some of us will even lose our lives….”

Hard and lonely work, I thought, but somebody’s gotta do it.

“Martyrs looking for a stake,” growled Jerry. “It’s the end, I tell you. This stuff is spreading.” Jerry’s problem was that he took the collapse of civilization personally.

To demonstrate counterhecklerism, the instructor appointed some Moonies to simulate the SDS and launched into a speech on American values, a big Moonie theme.

“And save….”

“Fascist pig! Fascist pig!” shouted the heckler-appointees, warming to the role. The speaker, demonstrating correct countermeasures, waited in lofty silence and continued with heightened feeling.

Jerry was chortling with delight. “Aw right! Belt out that hate! Let’s hear some good hate!” The Moonies weren’t sure what to make of this, not understanding that his was the technical appraisal of a student of maniacs.

“Hate! Hate! Hate!” shouted Jerry encouragingly.

“Stop giggling, dammit,” I said, “or they’ll turn on us.”

The Moonies thought they were combating communism, but really they were just scraping up fill dirt for the inner emptiness. None of it mattered at all.

Nothing lasts, not even the end of civilization. One day Jerry got seriously fed up with political science and decided to go to Florida and live by tuning cars. Exposure to a political-science department will make any sensible person want to work with engines. My teaching job ran out. For that matter, the Hyattsville hive was showing sings of falling apart: Only the hardy can stay with a cult for long.

One last time Jerry and I sat in the apartment with a case of beer, trying to understand Moon’s giddy sideshow, lobbing the empty bottles across the room into a cardboard box.

“Its the age of the cult, amigo,” he said. “They’re starting the slide into the mist. The whole show’s gone bonkers…If there’s any hope, it lies with the proles.”

The next day he disappeared southward. I never heard from him again. I packed the Blue Bomb for a drive to California, planning to go on to Taiwan and learn Chinese. For several years I heard nothing from the Moonies. Then in maybe 1979 I bumped into Diane Something-or-other in Dupont Circle, a nice kid from the Upshur Nest. She wore a turban and spoke of her devotion, to Islam, which had given meaning to her life. Her eyes were unhappy and she was looking a bit old for that sort of thing. Moonies? Oh, she had passed that stage. We said we should have lunch soon and, by tacit agreement, didn’t.

*Drew Pearson was a noted political columnist.

 

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China Tech: Interesting Bits and Pieces

To one watching the advance of Chinese science and technology, or to me anyway, several things stand out. First, the headlong pace. Second, the amount of it that appears aimed at making China independent of the West technologically and getting the United States off Beijing’s back. Third, the apparent calculated focus. It looks like intelligent design, as distinct from America’s competitive scrabbling for profit by special interests, the hope being that this might inadvertently benefit the country as a whole.

In short, the Chinese seem to Have Something In Mind.

As I have mentioned before, China came out of nowhere to become the world leader in supercomputers. Also in high-speed rail, of strategic importance in its plan to united Europe and Asia economically. Heavy investment in solar power offers to ameliorate its dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf, vulnerable to blockage by the US Navy. Then there is  DF21D terminally guided ballistic missile, specifically intended as a carrier-killer in what China regards as its home waters. The list could go on at length.

In much of America, the Chinese are dismissed as being “unable to innovate,” inventiveness being thought of as unique to white men. Thinner ice has perhaps never been trod. 

The Chinese are smart. They are certainly capable of high-grade engineering and scientific research. (Eg., Beijing Genomics Institute) The line between imaginative engineering and invention is blurry. Note that on the numbers China can potentially bring to bear five times as many engineers as America can and, while they are well short of this, twice as many would be–is?–the beginning of a new world. 

While Beijing works to benefit China, rapidly increasing its techno-industrial clout, Washington spends insanely on weaponry. It is trying to apply a military solution to a commercial problem. America crumbles economically, politically, culturally, but has the very best bombers.

Example of non-inventiveness:

Step One, From a while back, “China Activates World’s Longest Ultra Secure Quantum Communication Network..” Beijing to Shanghai.

Quantum communications is based on the behavior of entangled photons. Said behavior is obviously impossible, but apparently nobody has told the photons, so they do it anyway. (Unless all the world’s physicists are smoking Drano. This possibility is worth considering. If interested, quantum entanglement. Also Quantum Key Distribution.) The point is that if anyone tries to intercept the transmission, it becomes obvious. A weakness is that you need repeaters every sixty miles, which reduces security.

Unless you do it in space:

Step Two: China launches world’s first quantum satellite. Having done the landline, they move to orbital experimentation.

Step Three, Bingo!  “China Just Took the Lead in the Quantum Space Race”

This being a big deal, I clip from Asia Times:

On Thursday, a team of Chinese scientists released findings from a breakthrough study that makes China the indisputable leader in the field of quantum communication, an achievement that could be of immense strategic importance.

The study, led by Pan Jianwei and published in Science magazine, successfully demonstrated the ability to distribute entangled photons across unprecedented distances, from space to earth, opening the door for the practical application of cutting-edge, ultra-secure communication.

The unprecedented distance was 1200 kilometers. Beijing  might be regarded as trying to establish world-wide communications secure against NSA and, eventually, a whole internet proof against Fort Meade. Whether one regards this as engineering development or innovation doesn’t seem to make much difference.

Chinese Solar-Powered Plane Flies at 65,000 feet”

It apparently could stay aloft for months. The stories dealing with it suggest that the purpose might be long-term surveillance of countries, meaning spying. In any event, it is a neat technological trick, especially from people who can’t innovate.

Then we have, from Phys.org,

“China launched its most powerful rocket ever on Thursday, state media said, as the country presses on with a program which has seen it become a major space power.”

The point here is not that China is ahead of America in space–it isn’t–but that it is coming on fast. Engineering, engineering, engineering. Dismissive Americans point out that the US was on the Moon in 1969 and that China is piggybacking of American technology. True. And Irrelevant.

From the National Interest: “The World’s New Leader in Super Deadly Hypersonic Weapons: China?”

Chinese Quantum Radar 

Quantum radar is another application of entangled photons. The link gives a semi-technical overview. The important point is that in principle it allows detection of stealth aircraft.

The Chinese assert that they can now detect stealth aircraft at 62 miles with enough accuracy to compute a fire-control solution. This means that radar stations with slightly overlapping fields of detection, say a hundred miles apart, could detect incoming aircraft with easily enough time to shoot them down.

If this report is true, it is potentially devastating for the US Air Force.  So far as I am aware, Chinese claims of technical results have heretofore been accurate.

The Air Force has invested very, very heavily in stealth. In bombers, the hugely expensive B2 and the planned hugelier expensiver B21 are dead meat if detached. In fighters, the F22 and the F35 Bankruper—Lightning II, I meant to say—will lose their main selling point if detectable. The F35 in particular has made compromises in performance to make it stealthy and, if detectable, is just a so-so fighter. 

Next: “Enter the Nimble Dragon: China sees nuclear future in small reactors”

SMRs (small modular reactors) have capacity of less than 300 megawatts (MW) – enough to power around 200,000 homes – compared to at least 1 gigawatt (GW) for standard reactors….”

China is aiming to lift domestic nuclear capacity to 200 GW by 2030, up from 35 GW at the end of March, but its ambitions are global.”

Small reactors (a bit larger than a bus) are important if you want to electrify a remote city without the overkill of a standard plant or the expense of long transmission lines. China is not the only country working on mini-nukes (or on anything else mentioned in this column), but it can now play with the big boys. Again, small reactors are an abrupt entrance into a major technical field. Note “global ambitions.” A Reuters piece describes “an ambitious plan to wrest control of the global nuclear market.” Planning and doing are not the same thing, but if I were a nuclear market, I would be uneasy.

For whatever reasons, the American media do not much cover technological advance in China. Ignorance? Arrogance? Is it just the American tendency to regard the rest of the world as unimportant? Maybe a little attention would be a good idea. A steady stream of advances comes out of the Middle Kingdom. In some fields, the Chinese lead the world. In others, they are behind but not be much, and gaining. Could be important. Especially if they learn to innovate.

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GIGO and the Intelligence of Countries: Disordered Thoughts

Apologies to the reader. Perhaps I wax tedious. But the question of intelligence is both interesting to me and great fun as talking about it puts commenters in an uproar. It is like poking a wasp’s nest when you are eleven. I am a bad person.

Clearing the underbrush: Obviously intelligence is largely genetic–if it were cultural in origin, all the little boys who grew up in Isaac Newton’s neighborhood would have been towering mathematical geniuses–and obviously the various tests of intellectual function have, at least among testees of similar background, considerable relation to intelligence. Some individuals have more of it than others. For example, Hillary, a National Merit Finalist, scored higher than  99.5 percent of Illinois and can reliably be suspected of being bright. Some groups are obviously smarter than other groups. Mensans and Nobelists are smarter than sociologists. Of course, so are acorns.

But knowing that a thing exists and measuring it are not the same thing.

Years back, Marilyn vos Savant had a quiz column in which a question was: “Two bugs in a jar reproduce, doubling their number every minute. The jar is full in an hour. How long does it take to half fill the jar?”

I will speculate, subject to correction, that to anyone who has worked with computers, at least at the register level, the answer is obvious on inspection.  I will further speculate that those of equal intelligence, including mathematical ability, but graduates of liberal arts, will have more trouble with it. The nature of a base-two exponential expansion is probably not obvious to someone who has never seen one.

If this is so, it would seem that experience affects the ability to solve problems such as one finds on tests of mental ability. Does this increase constitute an increase in intelligence?

Children in my demographic cohort were steeped, boiled, drowned in problem-solving and manipulation of symbols. The alphabet. Writing. “Mommy Beaver has three sticks and Little Baby Beaver has four. How many….?” Long division. Linear simultaneous equations in two unknowns. Derive the quadratic formula. Division of fractions. Endless word problems: If a tank is three-quarters full when it contains ten gallons, how many gallons….All of this by the eighth grade.

Would this lead to better performance on standardized tests, to include most IQ tests, compared to that of our (imaginary) identical twins raised in the Appalachian backwoods? Whatever the difference, it would be due to experience or, if you like, culture.

Virtuosity in taking tests is similarly affected by experience in taking tests. Like most in my generation, I was subjected to unending tests: an IQ test in the second grade when my teacher thought me retarded (as many readers still do). Some sort of Virginia test. PSATs. NMSQT. SATs. GREs. Marine Corps General Qualification Test. FSEE. And so on.

As I suppose others did, I learned the technique for acing tests. Run through all the questions rapidly, picking the low-hanging fruit, putting a tick mark by those questions not instantly obvious. Run through again, answering those of the tick-markeds susceptible to a minute’s thought, double tick-marking the really difficult ones. Then to the really hard ones and finally, with an eye on the clock and knowing how the tests are scored, eliminate one or two answers on the remaining ones and guess.

People who don’t know this, and try to go straight through, may not even finish.

Among the lumpen-IQatry, the tendency is to regard SATs, NAEP, and so on as surrogates for IQ, and thus for intelligence. This is error. The SATs in particular are not intelligence tests and were never intended to be. Their function was to measure the student’s ability to handle complex ideas in complex normal English, which  is what college students used to do. The tests did did this well. The were not intelligence tests as their scores were functions of at least  three things, intelligence, background, and experience in taking tests. IQ =  f(a,b,c…)

Of course vocabulary is part of normal English. Consequently the famous objection that a ghetto kid would not know the word “regatta,” making the tests unfair, makes no sense. He would also not know “expurgate,” “putrescent,” “turpitude,” or “exponent.” However intelligent, he would not be ready to read university texts.

Today many students take SAT-prep courses which seem to raise scores quite a bit.  If so, this largely invalidates the tests and very much works against those who cannot afford or have not heard of the prep courses.

Curiously, people who you would expect to solve problems readily sometimes don’t. When I was maybe sixteen, in its letters columns New Scientist asked, “why does a mirror reverse letters from left to right but not from top to bottom” Obviously a mirror does not reverse letters, but for a couple of weeks readers advanced theories as to why they do. At least one of these involved considerable mathematics. This surprised me since the dim presumably do not read New Scientist.

Now, countries. Equatorial Guineans are said to have a mean IQ of 59. In the absence of demonstration to the contrary, I am perfectly happy to believe that they are not very bright. (The CIA Factbook puts literacy there at 95%. You figure it out.) However, the distribution being symmetrical, more than half of them have an IQ under 60. This is in the realm of serious retardation. A substantial fraction would be below 45. Is this plausible? How can they remember to find their way home at night?

Maybe they have a lot of homeless. Someone should study This.

Oddities abound. For example, purebred Mexican Indians are said to have a (mean) IQ of 83, indicating borderline retardation and suggesting that they should be at very low levels of intellectual achievement. They are. OK. So far, so good.

Colombians are said to have an IQ of 84. They run a modern country with all the credentials of airlines, telecommunications and the like. That one IQ point must be a pretty strong one, with a gym membership perhaps anabolic steroids in the medicine cabinet. Or maybe the scale is phenomenally non-linear. Or something.

American blacks are said to be at IQ 85. Being more intelligent than Colombians, they should certainly be able to run modern countries–unless maybe their one IQ point difference runs backwards. It begins to look as if each IQ point needs to be examined separately for individual behavior. And of course if blacks can run complex enterprises, that they don’t must be due to white privilege or slavery. Gotcha.

Then the Irish, long said to have a mean IQ of 86 (before being promoted to 100, perhaps for good behavior) had a First World European country. We conclude that IQ has no reliable relation to national outcome.

Curiously, in the third century BC the purebred Mexican Indians invented writing and  an exponential-positional number system, and made extraordinarily accurate astronomical observations. This would seem peculiar in the mildly retarded, but perhaps these were really smart mildly retarded Indians. Now, in the past, any time I have suggested that Mexicans might have done anything requiring intelligence, I have been assured by commenters that only white Mexicans could have done it. All right, I concede the possibility that only white really smart mildly retarded purebred Indians invented writing.  What else could explain it?.

Look, I have a disordered mind. I can’t hello it.

Now, unless we believe that an 83 IQ is sufficient to invent number systems–do we?–something must have drastically lowered the intelligence of those white purebred Indians. What? Since we are all good Darwinians, there must have been strong selective pressures for stupidity. This suggests a very modern organization of society. Here we enter the ghostly realm of genes assumed to exist acted upon by selective pressures that can neither be measured nor shown to have existed to produce effects which cannot be correlated with the pressures that may or may not have existed. 

But these are deep waters better left my superiors.

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Oncoming Racial Doom: The Clash of Cultures

Curiously, what made me give up all interest in the problems of blacks was not their virulent racism, the horrendous rates of crime, or the parasitism. Instead it was the assaults by blacks and their fellow travelers on Confederate monuments, particularly in New Orleans. Similarly, the banning of the Confederate battle flag at Gettysburg, for God’s sake. For reasons doubtless opaque to the historically ignorant, this annoys me.  Why should the least productive, most criminal, most dependent of the population rewrite history that in any event they don’t know? The erasure of the South and the Confederacy by people most of whom couldn’t spell it, of Washington and Jefferson and Lee by grifters, race hustlers,  wanton illiterates and the Brownshirts of Black Lives Matter…enough.

How many think this but won’t say it?

Now I find the black mayoress of Baltimore–a city lovely and livable in the time of Mencken before being made a decayed war zone by blacks–threatening monuments in that city. Enough. Too much.

I was not always sick of the misbehavior of blacks. In the now infinitely remote early Sixties, when I was a student in the last all-white class in Virginia’s rural King George High–graduated ‘64–integration was just beginning.  To the  extent that I thought about race, the question was abstract, a matter of moral principles, of  ideals and fairness, unrelated to an actual people with actual characteristics who might not integrate well. Blacks had been mistreated. If given the opportunity they would rise and join American civilization. That they might not occurred only to those with experience, which did not include me.

When my parents, wiser than I–if it is possible to be wiser than a seventeen-year-old–said that integration would not work. I didn’t believe them.

Time went by, and it didn’t work. Trouble began. Blacks became hostile, .demanding this and demanding that. Neighborhoods became dangerous. Schools, newly mixed, encountered The Gap, intractable and immortal,  that is the heart and cause of our racial disaster.  The riots arrived. Racial attacks on whites became common, covered up by the media. This censorship possible in the days before the internet.

The country began, though I didn’t recognize it at the time, as n.either did the country, treating blacks as a different category of humanity who could not be expected to obey the laws and rules or the expectations of civility.

For a while my sympathy held.  I was very young. Further, I had no experience of a school with a large black population. I justified the behavior of blacks as consequent to former privation. Surely it would change. 

 It didn’t. Years passed. We saw  corrupted schools, lowered standards, white flight, and journalistic dishonesty. More cities burned.

 For decades white America made a desperate attempt to raise blacks to the level of the First World. It didn’t work. Instead saw a dragging down  of society to the culture of the ghetto. Blacks were behaving as usual as spoiled brats. Anything that upset them, as everything did, any expectation that they behave, led to cries of racism and depredations by such as Black Lives Matter.

As I  mentioned, my parents had said that blacks were could not function in the First World. It seemed that they were right. Desegregation had not worked, nor integration, nor quotas nor affirmative action nor Head Start.  What didn’t work was turning blacks into members of a European civilization in which they had no interest. It would have worked no better had blacks lived in China, Japan, or Russia.

Nothing worked and nothing is going to work. There is clarity in this realization, a clarity to admitting what is actually happening. It avoids tortured reasoning to show  that the dysfunction of blacks is due to anything and everything but blacks themselves. One need not make endless excuses for endless bad behavior, for the crime and dependency, the racial attacks, and the degradation of society.

The culture of the ghetto opposes everything usually believed proper in an advanced  society: high academic standards, equality of opportunity, good English, minimal obscenity, equality under the law, low rates of crime, reasonable self-reliance, freedom of speech. Black culture, intensely racist, encourages none of these and opposes most. It is tribal, based on identity, instead of principle. 

For many, this is a difficult realization. Decades of unrelenting propaganda have trained us that blacks bear no responsibility for anything. Are they gunning each other down in city after city? It is because of guns, though whites have guns and do not kill each other. Do they perform abysmally in schools that they themselves control? It’s because of slavery, though there hasn’t been a slave in the country for 150 years. Are they irresponsible in their reproductive habits? It’s because of poverty, although they are not poor.

In this they differ from the rest of humanity as I have known it. I have lived in China, Thailand, Mexico, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and have traveled in some fifty other countries. All shared what might be called the core values of civilization. Blacks seem not to. Yes, many exceptions, varied degrees, but as a culture, they were, are, different. Would that it were not true, but it is.

Look at the foundations:

Education is the keystone of any modern civilization. Blacks alone care nothing for it. Exceptions, yes, but again, overall? No. The countless schools entirely controlled by blacks are the worst in America. They do  not improve.

Fox News:  “6 Baltimore schools, no students proficient in state tests” (of reading and arithmetic.)

Maybe the mayoress of Baltimore should pay more attention to this and less to statues she doesn’t like. She will not. If she were going to, she would have.

Accounts like the foregoing are routine, normal, expected. We have heard them for fifty years. Usually they include boilerplate about terrible obstacles, murdered relatives, addicted mothers, incarcerated youth, etc. These accounts invite pity and try to blame everything on whites. There is mandatory wonderment: What can be the cause of the academic gap? Doubtless white privilege, slavery, invisible discrimination, microaggressions, something, anything but blacks themselves. But whites can’t make black children do their homework, their daughters of thirteen avoid reproduction, their young males refrain from  killing each other. Whites are not their mother.

75% of black California boys don’t meet state reading standards

What is going on here? Learning to read is not difficult. Elsewhere poor people, people of color–I loathe that phrase–and poor people of color do it routinely. According to the CIA Factbook, literacy in Thailand is at  97%; Malaysia 95%; Mexico, 95%; and Colombia, 95%. The possible reasons for not learning in twelve years what white and brown kids do in three are low intelligence and lack of interest. Take your pick. The failure to learn imposes a heavy burden on society. Wild thought: Make welfare dependent on literacy.

Ask yourself, “Now what?”

Whether academic failure is cultural or genetic makes no difference, since neither is subject to change. Instead of requesting more rigorous textbooks and disciplining their children to study, blacks insist that courses be enstupidated for their benefit, that they be admitted to schools and courses for which they cannot qualify, that they get grades they did not earn. This is now normal. Nobody, black or white, liberal or conservative, expects blacks ever to do anything for themselves.

Of course one might ask why blacks would have any interest in most of what has been taught in American schools.  Europeans trace their intellectual  lineage from the invention of writing in Sumeria in the mid-Fourth Millennium BC through Greece, Rome, the Renaissance, their  literary heritage from  the Gilgamesh Epic through Tolkien. Blacks had no connection with this and did none of these things. It isn’t of their culture.

Cities have been the heart of the intellectual and artistic in all civilizations, as for example  Athens, Rome, Florence, Vienna, New York. By contrast, blacks have destroyed city after American city after American city. Trenton, Camden, Newark, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, Gary, Flint, St. Louis, New Orleans, Milwaukee. At one time in all of these one could live, walk at will, send one’s children to the schools. Now, no. Violence, crime, racial attacks,and  illiteracy drive the civilized to remote suburbs. This is  not my culture and I see no reason to apologize for it.

Manners have been part of all civilizations. Civil societies everywhere impose a degree of control over obscenity. Everyone knows about sex and excretory functions. We leave them out of conversation. We can speak a sentence of three words without saying “motherfucker” five times.

Some perfectly ordinary rap “lyrics”:

“Then you roll your tongue, from the crack back to the front

Then suck it off ’til I shake and cum nigga

Make sure I keep bustin nuts nigga

All over your face and stuff”

 

This offal is excused because “it is their culture.” Exactly. When you cannot control abominable behavior by one group, you cannot control it for any group. Here is perhaps America’s gravest problem.

Virulent racial hostility–i.e., racismis deeply ingrained in black culture. Blacks hate whites, Asians, Hispanics, and Jews. Not all blacks of course, or to the same degree, but it is the centerline of black culture. It is what counts and shapes the future. 

Anyone doubting the universal racial hostility of blacks might read White Girl Bleed a Lot, or Chinese Girl in the Ghetto by Ying Ma. She arrived in Oakland with her family, dirt poor, speaking no English.  She recounts–as do many white kids in black schools–endless racial abuse, taunting, stealing of food by blacks. (All on her own, incidentally,  she worked her way up and ended with a law degree from Stanford.  Apparently she found no lack of opportunity.)

 

One may see the depth of the hostility in the regular practice of making heroes and martyrs of blacks, usually criminals, killed by white police while utterly ignoring the many hundred of blacks killed every year by other blacks. This is a memorial to Freddie Gray of the Baltimore riots.

Headline: “Trayvon Martin’s parents accept posthumous aeronautical science degree”

A measure of the fairyland world of American politics is hat a criminal, killed attempting to beat a security officer to death, should solemnly be awarded a posthumous degree in something he probably could not spell. It is amusing–why not quantum chromodynamics?–but pathetic. The canonization reveals the separation from reality of, apparently, most of an entire race.  It is of one cloth with affirmative action and racial quotas. No substance, much pretense.

 

Parasitism

Dependence on whites is the backbone of black culture. Free breakfast for their children, free lunches, subsidized housing, free housing, AFDC, affirmative action, racial quotas, waivers. Nobody, not blacks, not whites, not the most dewy-eyed liberal expects blacks ever to live without charity from whites. Don’t believe me? Ask an ardent civil-libertarian when he expects blacks to have caught up and not need affirmative action. Never. It is just another entitlement. Whah mah free stuff?

Political correctness ensures that we cannot even talk about the problem. If  you suggest that blacks stop shooting each other, you are a racist. If you suggest that they study, you are a racist. If you suggest they get married before reproducing, you are a racist. It will continue until either America slowly deflates or hell breaks loose.

 

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General Lee Speaks: Had it Figured Out

“The consolidation of the states into one vast empire, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all that preceded it.” Robert E. Lee

The man was perceptive. Amalgamation of the states under a central government has led to exactly the effects foreseen by General Lee. 

In, say, 1950, to an appreciable though imperfect extent America resembled a confederacy. Different regions of the America had little contact with each other, and almost no influence over one another. The federal government was small and remote. Interstates did not exist, nor of course the internet, nor even direct long-distance telephone dialing. West Virginia, Alabama, Massachusetts, New York City, Texas, and California had little in common, but little conflict arose since for practical purposes they were almost different countries. They chiefly governed themselves. The  proportion of federal to state law was small. 

It is important to note that regional differences were great. In 1964 in rural Virginia, the boys brought shotguns to school during deer season. Nobody shot anybody because it wasn’t in the culture. The culture was uniform, so no one was upset. It is when cultures are mixed, or one rules another, that antagonism comes.  Such shotgun freedom would not have worked in New York City with its variegated and often mutually hostile ethnicities.

Regions differed importantly in degree of freedom, not just in the freedom of local populations to govern themselves but also in individual freedom. It made a large difference in the tenor of life. If in Texas, rural Virginia, or West Virginia you wanted to build an addition to your house, you did. You didn’t need licenses, permits, inspections, union-certified electricians. Speed limits? Largely ignored. Federal requirements for Coast Guard approved flotation devices on your canoe? What the hell kind of crazy idea was that? 

Democracy works better the smaller the group practicing it. In a town, people can actually understand the questions of the day. They know what matters to them. Do we build a new school, or expand the existing one? Do we want our children to recite the pledge of allegiance, or don’t we? Reenact the Battle of Antietam? Sing Christmas carols in the town square? We can decide these things. Leave us alone.

States similarly knew what their people wanted and, within the limits of human frailty, governed accordingly.

Then came the vast empire, the phenomenal increase in the power and reach of the federal government, which really means the Northeast Corridor. The Supreme Court expanded and expanded and expanded the authority of Washington, New York’s store-front operation. The federals now decided what could be taught in the schools, what religious practices could be permitted, what standards employers could use in hiring, who they had to hire. The media coalesced into a small number of corporations, controlled from New Yorkbut with national reach. More recently we have added surveillance of everything by Washington’s intelligence agencies.

Tyranny at home, said said General Lee . Just so. This could  happen only with the consolidation of the states into one vast empire.

Tyranny comes easily when those seeking it need only corrupt a single Congress, appoint a single Supreme Court, or control the departments of one executive branch. In a confederation of largely self-governing states, those hungry to domineer would have to suborn fifty congresses. It could not be done. State governments are accessible to the governed. They can be ejected. They are much more likely to be sympathetic to the desires of their constituents since they are of the same culture.

Aggressive abroad, said General Lee. Is this not exactly what we see? At this moment Washington has the better part of a thousand military bases around the world, unnecessary except for the maintenance of empire. America exists in a state of constant war, bombing Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Somalia, recently having destroyed Iraq and Libya. Washington threatens Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China. Its military moves deeper into Africa. Washington sanctions Cuba, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, to no effect. It constantly tries to dominate other nations, for example adding to NATO.

None of these wars and little if any of the imperial aggression interests more than a tiny fraction of the country’s people. To whom can the war against Afghanistan matter? Libya? Few people have heard of Montenegro. Does its membership in NATO or lack of it affect Idaho? 

In a confederacy, states would have to approve a war. Few would unless the United States itself were threatened. They might well refuse to pay for wars not in their benefit, or to allow their sons, daughters, and transgenders to be conscripted.

But with a central government, those benefiting from war can concentrate money and influence only on that government. For example, military industry, Israel, big oil, Wall Street. Wars might carry the votes of states with arms factories. Other states would decline.

In principle, the Constitution should have prevented the hijacking of the military that we now suffer. As we all should know, and some do, America cannot under the Constitution go to war without a declaration by Congress, the last one of which occurred in 1941. But a single central government can be corrupted more easily than fifty state governments. A few billionaires, well-funded lobbies, and the remoteness of Washington from the common consciousness make controlling the legislature as easy as buying a pair of shoes.

And thus, just as Marse Bob expected, the federals are out of control and make war without the least reference to the nation. If America attacks North Korea, or Russia, or China, we will read of it the day after. The central government, and only the central government, decides. A few days ago I read that the Pentagon contemplates sending thousands of additional troops  to Afghanistan. This combines tyranny at home and aggression abroad. Who wants to  send them? A few neocons in New York, the  arms industry, a few generals, and several senators. It could not happen in a confederacy.

Will this, as General Lee predicted, prove “the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all that preceded it.? Wait.

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Memorial Day and the Rising Gorge: More than I Can Take

Apparently I have missed Memorial Day by being on the road in Guanajuato. I gather I should have thanked Our Boys for their service to the exceptional nation. I will pass. My tolerance for nauseating twaddle has diminished with the years.

To begin with, “Our Boys,” so affectionately denominated, are not our boys but suckers of the ruling rich. Think not? Think again. Ending the draft protected the sons of the well-off from military service and the military from anti-war movements. If you draft the moneyed elegants of Princeton, you get resistance. Instead the oligarchs send the expendable children of the lower orders. Who volunteer.

Further, the soldiers are not heroes but mercenary killers morally indistinguishable from hitmen for the Mafia. A kid joins the military, perhaps never having heard of the Pentagon’s next target country–Iraq, Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan, wherever. It doesn’t matter. They are just countries.

Then one day come orders from Washington to go kill people in the country du jour. The kid does it. He doesn’t know the people he kills, who have done nothing to him and threaten neither him nor the United States. If ordered, he would as readily attack Switzerland–or Americans.

Guido and Vito. You tell me the difference.

“Our Boys” are not patriots. A recruit signs up because he needs a job, or from boredom, or thinks being a soldier might get him laid in Asia, or wants college money, or to prove himself. Patriotism is an aftermarket bolt-on. It can get you free drinks in a lot of bars. Especially if you have a wound. Wounds usually come from bad luck or incompetence, but you can peddle them for drinks.

The public, middle class and up, does not “support the troops.” The majority do not serve, do not know anyone who does, and avoids soldiers as sex-crazed riffraff. Which is not too far off the mark.

I grew up aboard Dahlgren Naval Proving Ground, a naval weapons-development base on the Potomac in Virginia. The daughters of the mathematicians, physicists, and officers were strongly discouraged from dating sailors. They were, though no one quite said it, dirt. Can you imagine Ivanka Trump going out with an enlisted Marine? To Billy Bob’s Rib Pit?

How many of those celebrating Our Boys at Breitbart or National Review  have  been to a Legion hall recently? Ever? Carried a rifle? Know what one is?

Our Boys are not making sacrifices for America. They are being sacrificed, used to promote the interests of Big Oil, Israel, the Neocons to the extent that there is a difference, the arms industry, and the imperialists. They are certainly not defending America, which is in no danger at all from Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Afghanistan, or the rest. Do you wake up shuddering in fear of attack by Yemen?

Our Boys do not fight because they want to but because we force them to. If they choose not to, they  are called “deserters” and “traitors” and face heavy jail time. A few men enjoy war and go back, tour after tour–I know several of these–but most, given the chance to come home without penalty, would be gone yesterday. If you don’t believe me, make them the offer and see what happens.

American soldiers are not good guys, decent people, armed Boy Scouts promoting democracy and policing the world to rid it of evil. They start as normal lower middle class kids, yes, no worse than anyone else, but training soon brings them around. They learn how to place a bayonet in an enemy’s kidneys so that the shock and agony will drop him. At least we did in Parris Island in the summer of ‘66. They learn how to take out a man’s face with a vertical butt stroke. Chiefly they lose the normal aversion to killing. All of this is necessary in soldiers. Our Boys.

The abandonment of all human decency is the soul of military culture, and a needed abandonment. A pilot bombing Baghdad knows that he is splattering people, that they have done nothing to him or his, that he is leaving children screaming at what is left of Mommy with funny things coming out of her middle and gurgling. He knows this because it is impossible not to know what five-hundred-pound bombs do. But he does it anyway. He doesn’t care. If he did, he wouldn’t do it.

In the age of PR, the military will speak of “surgical strikes” and “collateral damage.” Officers, who are liars and politicians, become angry if pressed on what they are really doing. They don’t care, at least don’t care enough, or they wouldn’t do it, but they know that disemboweled kids play badly with the public. That you see no photos of bleeding viscera in the media is a measure of the control of the press by those profiting from war.

Soldiers are evil. They don’t start that way, but the military changes them. If you read military history you will find that, from Joshua to yesterday, armies have butchered whole cities, looted, raped, burned, tortured. It is what armies do. Dresden, Hamburg, Nanjing, Hiroshima. How can you not think this evil?

Having been trained to kill, they do. Seeing their friends die horribly after stepping on the mine, they come to hate the dinks, slopes, sand niggers, Krauts, gooks. Revenge has a powerful appeal. Seeing a lot of mutilated corpses, cartilage glistening white, produces numbness. Another dead gook. So what?

It happens easily. The day I arrived at the Amtrac compound at Danang in 1967, a VC had been killed the night before outside the wire. They brought him in, I don’t know why. He was lying on the ground, apparently having taken a full magazine of 7.62, arm almost cut off with bone sowing and flies crawling on open eyes going cloudy.

Several other Marines were taking turns holding his head up by the hair for trophy photographs. So what, I thought. He was dead. It wasn’t an atrocity. Just guys kidding around.

Our boys. Me included.

But atrocities happen, regularly. Some can’t be argued, such as Lt. Calley’s mass killing at My Lai. Many soldiers deny what they have done, or kid themselves. A pilot bombing a village because sniper rounds came out of it will see no atrocity.

Militaries today have learned to be sensitive about these things. They invariably are called “isolated incidents.” An isolated incident is business as usual that has been detected by the press. Countries insist that their soldiers don’t do the things every other army has done since the first human picked up a pointed stick. Germans will tell you about the “clean Wehrmacht.” Yeah. 

Memorial day. Let’s hear it for Our Boys.


Last week various readers took issue inexplicably with my preternaturally insightful explanation of the media. In defense I offer to anyone interested an explanation of war correspondents.

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Notes of a Reformed News Weasel: Understanding the Vacuity

Do you wonder why the legacy media are such puzzled otherworldly twits? Why, for example, they had no idea what was happening in the recent election? Why they seem to know so very little about America or much of anything else?

Some thoughts from a guy who spent a career in the racket:  

Ask journalists when they were last in a truck stop on an Interstate, last in Boone, North Carolina or Barstow, California or any of thousands of such towns across the country. Ask whether they were in the military, whether they have ever talked to a cop or an ambulance crewman or a fireman. Ask whether they have a Mexican friend, when they last ate in a restaurant where a majority of the customers were black.  Whether they know an enlisted man, or anyone in the armed services. Whether they have hitchhiked overnight, baited a hook, hunted, or fired a rifle. Whether they have ever worked washing dishes, harvesting crops, driving a delivery truck. Whether they have a blue-collar friend. Know what the Texas Two-Step is, have been in a biker bar.

Now do you see why Trump surprised them?

Next, ask how many went to fancy schools like Oberlin, Swarthmore, Amherst, the Ivies, Bard. Ask how many even know someone who graduated from a land-grant school. Ask whether they know an engineer.

Now look at how much they write about each other for each other. Look at the endless coverage of what Maddow said about what Hannity thought about O’Reilly’s harassment of soft-porn star Megyn  and how much she might make at CNN. Ask how much time they spend comparing ratings. They are fascinated by themselves. 

Ask them how many have ever worried about paying the electric bill, had to choose between a new winter coat or paying the cable, or known anyone who did.

They don’t know America, and they don’t much like it.

Ask them whether they are rich. They will say no, and believe it. Yet when friends drop in, the question will be whether to eat Turkish or Thai on the Hill. For much of America, dinner in a Turkish restaurant on Cap Hill, where the waiter puts a white napkin in your lap and the bill for four with drinks and tip is $180, would be the adventure of a lifetime.

In Washington, a two-bedroom apartment in a very old building across  Connecticut Ave from the zoo, with the original steam radiators, goes for $2500 a month. An 835-square foot two-bedroom condo in Colonial Village, just across Key Bridge in Arlington, Virginia,  starts at $2450. Fifteen years ago, such a closet sold for $300K.. 

Colonial Village, Arlington, Virginia. Worth at least twenty percent of what you would pay for it.

Now ask how many journalists voted for Trump. Close to zero. Virtually the entire press corps is of one mind and slants the news to the point of verticality. In the absence of Trump, they are almost as heavily Democratic. Most don’t know  they are doing it. It’s just that they are so obviously…right. They are not reporters. They are advocates.

It is more than having the same politics. They have no conception of such romantic notions as freedom of expression or the interplay of ideas. You will never see a policeman given five minutes, uncensored, to describe what really happens in the streets or a gun owner, not chosen to be a buffoon, allowed to explain his position. If you told them that the media are tightly controlled, they would think you a right-wing loon.

Journalists are not stupid, running to well above average in intelligence. You could form a large chapter of Mensa by raiding newsrooms in Washington. However, with a fair few exceptions, they are not intellectuals, not contemplative, not studious. They are high-pressure fact-accountants, competitive, comfortable under tight deadlines, aggressive, combative, quick but shallow. This can be a serviceable substituent for stupid.

In a curious process of self-delusion, they imagine a world that doesn’t exist and then try to live in it. For example, they don’t know what cops face in the ghetto because they have never been in the ghetto and don’t know any cops. They dismiss anyone who tells them that things are not as they think. Their confidence is invincible, for do not all their friends say the same things?

Their ideological attachment to political  correctness is–obviously–strong. This is particularly stark with respect to race. Week after week, year after year, we read on the internet of whites beaten, burned, punched, of stores looted by flash mobs and wrecked in brawls. The perpetrators are always “teens” or “troubled youths.” If you ask reporters why they never mention race, they say things like “race is irrelevant. A crime is a crime.” But let a white cop shoot a black attacker, and nothing matters except race–not truth, guilt or innocence.

They see no hypocrisy in this. They believe that they are just expressing Right Values. Since they talk only to each other, nothing contradicts them.

Coverage of most things is either bad or nonexistent because the media have neither the time, resources, nor inclination to cover much of anything. Most outlets are crippled by the nature of their medium, political correctness, narrow focus, and lack of curiosity. 

For example, television is the medium of the illiterate and barely literate. (People who can’t or don’t read all have televisions.) It lacks the staff to have specialized reporters, has to avoid offending anyone so as to keep the advertisers happy, has very little time to spend on a story which it has to keep at a sixth-grade level to avoid losing much of its audience. It has to be politically correct so as to impose appropriate values. It can’t upset big corporations because that’s  who owns it. 

Newspapers can assume perhaps a tenth-grade and better readership, but they too must be PC, worry about the advertisers, and they too lack staff. Big papers will typically pay attention to State, DoD, Congress, the political parties, and themselves. Most of the government simply isn’t covered. When is the last time you saw a story about HUD, Commerce, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Energy, or Education?

That’s why the mainstream media are largely vapid and predictable. It is why the internet, not bound by political correctness or controlled by corporations, able to specialize, to serve intelligent readers, is now primary.

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The China-US Arms Race: If One Arm is Right, the Other Will Be Left, No?

This worthy and public-spirited column seldom dives into the thickets of military hardware, which it regards as excessively technical. However, the arms race between China and Washington is of enough gravity that its more exotic armaments may be of interest. Herewith, the truly dangerous weaponry of the contending sides.

C-919 A Chinese narrow-body intended to compete with the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737. Designed and built in China by Comarc. Not quite up to Boeing’s standards, not as fuel-efficient, uses a lot of Western-manufactured parts. (Think  of it as a 1966 Toyota with wings, nothing to worry about.)  Comarc has 570  orders for the 919, almost entirely in China. That’s 570  orders nobody else will get. The domestic market will provide the oomph to improve. By 2024 China is projected to be the world’s largest market for airliners.  

Not to worry. They can’t innovate.

US Nuclear Weapon Upgrade Program: “CBO estimates that nuclear forces will cost $348 billion between FY 2015 and FY 2024. Three independent estimates put the expected total cost over the next 30 years at as much as $1 trillion.”

Artist’s conception of planned $100 Billion Chinese-Made City in Malaysia. Near Singapore “Scares the Hell Out of Everybody.” Will have 700,000 people, almost entirely Chinese. Pundits assert that in twenty years China will own Malaysia.
The Gerald R. Ford, $12.8 billion + $4.7 billion R&D (estimated). The Navy wants ten.

Sunway TaihuLight, World’s most powerful supercomputer, a Chinese design built with Chinese silicon. China leads the planet in supercomputers, both in power and numbers.

 

The B21. Yes, there is a seat for Robin.

The B21 is a new thermonuclear bomber for  the Air Force. “The head of the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command… envisions some 175–200 bombers in service.[8] Initial operating capability is expected to be reached by 2030. ”at a cost of $550 million each (2010 dollars).

It was rumored that Armour Star would be the lead contractor for the B21, but this was cancelled as being unduly candid.  The B21 will funnel huge amounts of money to Northrop-Grumman and, in the event of a thermonuclear war, will arrive at the bubbling remains of targets several hours after the Navy’s D5 Trident II missiles get there. The aircraft relies on the assumption that, in thirteen years when it enters service, anti-stealth technology will not have reached the point of making it even more obviously useless.

This marvelous revelation from Wikipedia: “In July 2016, the U.S. Air Force stated they would not release the estimated cost for the B-21 contract with Northrop Grumman. The Air Force argued releasing the cost would reveal too much information about the classified project to potential adversaries.”  As, for example, taxpayers

One accepts yuan. The other doesn’t. Can you guess?

Columbia, the Navy’s upcoming new nukey-boomer, formerly ORP, Ohio Replacement Program. “The total lifecycle cost of the entire class is estimated at $347 billion.”: Wikipedia

Chinese freight cars in Europe. More all the time.

A Few News Blips

China is the greatest trading partner of the US, Germany, Japan, India, and Australia, among others. Russia’s biggest trading partner is Germany, followed by China.

“China is already South East Asia’s largest trading partner and is now one of the largest investors in the region.”

Argentina’s top trading partners: Brazil, China. The top trading partner of South America is China.

Trump’s proposed increase in US military spending is almost as big as Russia’s entire defense budget.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”:  Sun Tzu, Chinese

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Sally Cone Hits the Dating Scene: Kind of Weird, but Maybe….

Oh Lord, where is my Haldol? Recently I saw online a documentary on sex robots. The reporteress, a short-haired woman seething with quiet indignation,  Viewed  With Alarm the very idea. Progress is rapid on these love assistants, she said. They move. Some do, anyway. They talk, but not too much. Before long they will have skin-temperature silicone. Today we have all those deplorable men sitting home, lonely and isolated, choking their chickens and pondering suicide. Soon they will instead be rocking and rolling with Robo-Barbie.  This worried her. She said.

If this be true, the why, one wonders, do men want sexbots? Aren’t there already women all over the place at skin temperature?  Sez me, it’s because women have lived too long in a monopoly economy and so let down quality. It used to be that men had jobs and money, and women had that, so they married to let each get some of what the other  had. The woman had to be agreeable as a selling point. Now women have jobs and don’t need men, or to be pleasant. Some are nice anyway, but it’s no longer a design feature. Of course they often end up old and alone with a cat somewhere on upper Connecticut Avenue, but they don’t figure this out until too late. Anyway, they stopped being agreeable. They learned from feminists that everything wrong in their lives was the fault of men.

It is a real problem: American women are inoculated from birth with angry misandry insisting that men are dolts, loutish, irresponsible, and only want sex. (To which a response might be, “Uh…What else have you got?”)

Of course, in some cases women, real ones, offer a lot. Even in America, women exist with intelligence, a sense of humor, maturity, and a recognition that marriage  isn’t a guarantee of uninterrupted bliss. Such women are a delight, both of them. The problem is knowing when you have one. They all talk a good show as long as things go well. When they don’t she gets a lawyer, the kids, child support, and moves to Okinawa with a colonel she met in a meat bar.  You never see your kids again.

No, this didn’t happen to me, but I see a lot of it.

Dating an American woman entails both high overhead and high risk. The costs are great in time, money, and emotional discomfort. She will grow on you, or try to. Sooner or later the dread question will arise, “Is this relationship going anywhere, or what?”

The wise answer is “Or what.” This will arouse that sleeping horror, relationship talk. Spare me, oh God, spare me, I’ll do anything. Then, unless the monastic life appeals to you–at this point it may–you will go out and do it again. It costs work, time, money and anguish. This suggests the wisdom of getting a vasectomy and a sexbot.

OK, back to sexbots. The short-aired reporteress  wondered why men could be interested in such confections instead of real women, the tone being one of elevated moralism and horror. Beneath the usual factitious objectivity one could hear, “How could...what is wrong with….?” and so on.

In the documentary, the short-haired reporteress talked to an ugly anti-sexbot crusader woman who said testily that using sexbots “objectified women.” (To me it sounded more like womanizing objects, but never mind.) These two dragons continued to  the effect that sex was about intimacy and closeness and bonding. I wondered how they knew. But understand: They weren’t worried about competition. Oh no. They wanted to preserve intimacy and bonding. They were worried about those poor miserable men.

Uh…yeah.

In modern America I see no sign that women are concerned about masculine misery, and indeed that most of them rather like the idea. Be that as it may, the reporteress went to various factories of custom women which had body parts lying about ready for assembly according to checklists from clients. Business, the makers report, is brisk. To judge by the number of rubbery honeys–they really are lovely–in mid-birth, they would seem to be truthful.

 

You could do worse.

Consider the charm of a sexbot. She will be not only beautiful, indeed perfect, but perfectly beautiful just as you want her to be. She will have an “Off” button. She will have user-selectable personalities instead of changing wildly and unpredictably as happens with human women. You can choose  sweet, furiously lustful, kinky to taste, shameless hussy, Honkytonk Angel, whatever floats your boat. She won’t do relationship talk. She will do quickies and nooners without complaint, never have a splitting headache, and never have three-day huffs that no man can figure out. Fast, easy, back into her closet, and you can get to work again.

Variety appeals. It will be unlimited. There will be streaming services. Realdoll.com offers “Extra Faces.” Feminists sneer at this as mere masturbatory fantasy. To which a guy might respond, “What you mean “mere,” Sugar Britches?” Anyway, America was built on self-reliance.

Of course what the shocked and appalled women are really concerned about is competition. They are dismayed at their coming automation. While women are more sexual that men–the better ones are, anyway, usually Democrats–men are more urgent about it. This gives women great power as they are the only sexual outlet men have, except in Scotland. Now they watch the coming sexbots with the unease of a McDonald’s worker watching the installation of an automated burger-flipper.

And the competition is more than skin-temperature silicone.  With goggles offering three-D virtual reality, a young man can do the deed with silken-skinned smokey-eyed temptresses in the opium dens of Shanghai or engage in furtive passion with the mistress of Pablo Escobar in secret palaces of Medellin. History nuts might give Messalina a toss.

The social consequences will be profound. Marriage will decline sharply. (“What? That again? We always have leftovers.”) Women will have to find something to offer that Sally Cone doesn’t. What?

True, in many foreign countries women are feminine, agreeable, realistic, often delightful, and not waiting to get in touch with their inner cobras. They appreciate a decent man who doesn’t hit them, cares about the kids, and provides a good life. They consequently behave in  way that makes him willing to come home at night. Further, Asian women don’t talk through their noses and sound like kazoos. But not every man can move to Mongolia. 

Finally, it might be worth keeping in mind that a rich vein of hypocrisy underlies the prissy female  horror at men coupling with electrically-heated plastic. As many studies have shown, women watch porn too, and  buy vibrators, objectifying men, or at least part of one. (And men are sexist? I mean, Sally Cone is at least all there, and if her personality comes in a memory module, at least she has one. Or several.)

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The Marine Corps, 1966: Not Too Many Snowflakes

This is criminally long. It will probably leave no  space on the internet for anything else. It was published in the magazine of Army Times in 1979. It describes a Parris Island that no longer exists. In fact it describes a world that no longer exists. The thought of some  effeminate Sanowflake telling a Marine DI that he needed a Safe Space so he wouldn’t feel uncomfortable, poor darling–well, it just charms me. He would develop a whole new understanding of “uncomfortable.”

Anyway, the piece will resonate with a few Marine old-timers now long in the tooth. Semper fi.

 

Boot camp. Yawning gateway to military life, an adventure outrageously funny and frightening, source of a lifetime of lies, all growing worse with each bull session. No one forgets boot. Get two GIs together over a bottle of gin, talking about old times, and sooner or later the talk will turn to tales of boot, a few of them true.

Not many, though. It is all right for most stories to be based on fact, but the better recollections of boot have only a nodding acquaintance with truth. Facts inhibit flexibility. They stultify.

But boot is more than tall tales. It is part of American life. We talk of being a peaceful nation, but usually we have a couple of million men and women under arms and often a war going. A high percentage of Americans spend time in the military. They shape it, and it shapes them.

A particular aspect of the national character appears in the organized anarchy of military life. Literature finds the military a feast — Catch 22, M*A*S*H, A Farewell To Arms, Dispatches, and all the rest.

Boot is a gateway. Here’s to basic, as I remember it, as everyone remembers it, as I saw it in going back this year. A boy’s first great taste of life.
Next to finding a Portuguese man-of-war in the bathtub, the worst thing that could happen to a kid of 20 in 1968 was getting to Parris Island at a grainy-eyed two in the morning, flat exhausted, and meeting a drill instructor. Everyone’s heard the tales. DIs will pull your fingernails off one by one, make you run until your knees corrode, bury you to the neck in sand and leave you for the mosquitoes.

When the bus pulls into the swampy lowlands of South Carolina and Parris Island signs appear, it all becomes plausible. And there’s no…way…out.

I arrived on a chartered Greyhound crowded with Richmond boys who suddenly suspected that they weren’t a Few Good Men. It was a raw deal all around–cottony taste in the mouth, somebody else sure to get the girl back home, bus reeking of stale sweat and beginning fear, no thought yet about dying in Asia, just a sort of uh-oh feeling.

The driver had picked up a sergeant at the gate to give him a ride. “You wanna get off before the stampede?” the driver asked. Stampede? It was ominous.

On that loneliest morning I’ll ever see, my introduction to the Marines–the Green Team, the Crotch, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children–was a little man 32 feet wide and about as high as my chin. He had killed Smokey the Bear and stolen his hat. He had a voice like Krakatoa in full eruption, and his name was Staff Sergeant Bull Walrus. At least I think it was.

He exploded into the headlights like one of hell’s more vicious demons, trembling with fury.

GiddawfadatgawdambusNOW!” he bellowed, blowing several windows out of the bus–I swear it, three windows fell out–by which we understood his desire that we disembark. We did so in sheer terror, trampling one another and no longer worried about our girls. To hell with our girls. Bull Walrus was clearly about to tear out throats out with his bare teeth, that was the important thing.

There we were, The Few, The Proud, standing in deep shock with our feet in these silly golden footsteps painted on the pavement. Move one inch, Walrus screams, and he will do unspeakable things, after which our girls will no longer want us. I figured they kept Walrus in a dungeon by day and just let him out to torture recruits by night.

We were groggy with fatigue, minds buzzing with adrenaline, and Walrus is inspecting our suitcases to take away glass objects. So we won’t commit suicide with them, see.

I imagine myself tearing out my carotids with an Arid bottle. Suddenly he is in front of me. I lied. He’s not 32 feet wide. He is 40 feet wide. He’s got arms like anacondas and his head is held on by a bolt.

He also is confiscating porn books, to protect our morals and read later. He reaches for a book in my suitcase and glares at me with eyes of tin and death. I realize, with calm that still surprises me, that he is going to murder me. The book is Medieval Architecture.

A recruit, a drill instructor told me much later, after I had been reincarnated as a journalist, “is the funniest goddam animal alive. He’s gotta be. You get these kids, some of them are street kids from the city, some of them farm kids, and these suburban kids who just don’t know nothing–every kind of kid.

“And dumb? Jeez they’re dumb. And they’ve got about three months to adjust to a complicated life they’ve got no experience with. They’ve got to learn how to think Marine Corps. Military thinking isn’t like civilian thinking.

“Half of ’em don’t even know how rifle sights work. Like this friend of mine is teaching a class about the M-60 machine gun, and he’s telling them its rate of fire, it’s gas-operated, and this skinny recruit says, ‘But where’s the gas tank?’”

“Jeez, they’re dumb.”

Sergeant Sly is a man with a sense of humor. He’s black, strac, and cocky — the DI cockiness that says there’s nothing on God’s green earth better than the Green Team, and I’m the coolest thing in the Marines, and, Prive, you gotta sweat to be as good as me. All DIs are like that, all the good ones anyway. Sly is a good one.

Sly runs recruits along the hot, dusty weapons ranges of Camp Lejeune — hot and dusty in summer, anyway. He tries to keep his recruits from getting hurt.

“All right,” he tells a platoon, standing in sweat-soaked utilities. Nothing looks quite as dispirited as recruits in a hot sun. “While you’re in the field, you gotta take certain precautions against the wildlife. I don’t have to tell you about some of it. Don’t feed the snakes, or try to pick’em up ’cause they’re pretty.

“I’m talking about the other wildlife. Most of it’s harmless, but one kind is bad news–what people down here call the Wampus cat. It’s related to the bobcat and it’s not too big, ’bout like a cocker spaniel, but you don’t want to make one think he’s cornered.”

Another afternoon at Lejeune. The recruits listen, barely.

A few scenes are so close to boot camp that they deserve inclusion here, embodying as they do terrors near to those of boot. A massive grinder at Camp Pendleton, California. A private, fresh out of training and spending a week on maintenance duty before his school begins, has been sent to pick up toilet paper for the barracks. Battalion issue has no box in which to carry it. He ponders, has an idea, sticks a dozen rolls on a mop handle, puts it over his shoulder like a rifle.

A bird colonel rounds the corner. The Marine is new enough to the real military that officers terrify him. Panic strikes. He hesitates and, driven by reflex or some buried death wish, gives a snappy rifle salute. The colonel’s jaw drops. His hat slowly rises on a column of steam.

You learn. It just takes a while.

Boot camp is a very quick education in the ways of the world–of many worlds. For a weird collection of people, the average training platoon beats midnight in a New York City bus station.

In my platoon we had a Mexican kid named Rodriguez who couldn’t speak English, a black kid who said he was Bill Cosby’s nephew, three college students–one of them a physical chemistry major, one a tiny blond guy who couldn’t have been more than 11 years old–and a bunch of judicial draftees. (“I’m gonna give you a choice, son,” says the judge. “Four in the slammer or two in the Marines.” It’s supposed to be illegal. So are a lot of things.)

Many of these judicial draftees were burglars from Tennessee. Free enterprise seems to be broadly interpreted in those parts and usually begins after midnight.

One of them was named Mulvaney. He had been caught in a second floor bedroom collecting someone else’s silverware. He preferred the Marines to the slammer, not necessarily a wise choice in those days. I later heard he got killed outside of Danang.

Anyway, Mulvaney was built like one of those Martian robots on the late show, arms like logs and the legs of an offensive lineman, and he had gray eyes and a long, slow smile that meant he was about to break your legs in 20 places. He didn’t get mad easily, but it was spectacular when he did.

For a college kid accustomed to settling disputes by reason, Mulvaney was a revelation. He didn’t care about right and wrong. Either he liked you, or he tried to kill you.

One night Mulvaney was standing fire watch in the latrine–the Marine Corps thinks they are flammable–and he somehow got into a fight with Rodriguez. A Mexican kid from Brownsville is not the best choice to throw hands with. We could hear it all down the squad bay — terrific thumps with a splattering sound like a sack full of hog kidneys hitting a tile wall, and not a word. Neither wanted to waste energy talking. It was one of those extended fights engaged in by men who simply like fighting.

Next morning it was hair, teeth and eyeballs all over the deck, and enough gore that you’d have thought they’d been slaughtering hogs. Both combatants looked like they had lost a discussion with a cement truck. Mulvaney’s left eye looked like an egg fried in blood and Rodriguez’s nose wasn’t quite where I remembered it.

“What you pukes been doing?” snarled the drill instructor. Pukes was the nicest thing they ever called us. He really wasn’t mad. Fighting was a sin, but not as bad as falling out on a run.

“Walked into the door, sir,” says Mulvaney, deadly serious.

“Wha’ sir?” says Rodriguez, looking puzzled. His English deteriorated when he was asked inconvenient questions.

For hours, Mulvaney and Rodriguez pounded round the grinder in full packs, holding hands and yelling, “I love Mulvaney more than poking my girlfriend.” When they finished, I bet they did. It was justice of a sort.

McCoy was the saddest thing I ever saw. McCoy was very tall with a long, sad face. He was disturbingly thin — your impulse on meeting him was to feed him — and beet-brown from heaven-knows-how-many-weeks in strength-building platoons.

McCoy didn’t have any muscles to enlarge. If he had any coordination, you didn’t notice it. His voice was soft and feminine and he was funny looking, a bad thing at boot. He reminded me of a clerk from a Dickens novel.

On the grinder he stuck up above everyone else like a weed and was always out of step. He tripped over his feet and fell into other people. McCoy struggled to do pushups until tears ran down his cheeks, but couldn’t do them. His back folded until his belly touched the ground, and when he got into the “down” position he couldn’t push himself back up.

The DIs wanted to get rid of McCoy. He didn’t belong in the Corps, they said. They offered him medical discharges and general discharges, and set him back time and time again, but McCoy wouldn’t quit.

Later we learned that McCoy’s older brother had gone through Parris Island and had been All-time Superprivate or something, a really hot trooper. McCoy wanted to finish to make his brother proud. He had never amounted to much and wanted to show that he could do it too. Trouble was, he had the guts for five Marines but the body for about a third of one.

The DIs bullied him to drive him out. They were practical men, and they knew he would die in Asia, probably getting several other men killed at the same time. They badgered him mercilessly and made him stand on tables and roar for the platoon. He’d stand there on a bayonet instructor’s table, surrounded by the platoon, and the DIs would torment him.

“Roar, McCoy.”

McCoy couldn’t roar. A muted groan came from his scrawny chest.

“Louder, McCoy! Let’s hear a Marine Corps roar!”

“Uhhhhh…oooo…uhhh…”

“Louder!”

“Make a muscle, McCoy.”

McCoy, looking sadder than ever, would tense his muscle for all to see and nothing would happen. But he wouldn’t quit because he was going to be a Marine and make his brother proud.

I forget how they finally got rid of him. If there is any possible way to do something wrong, a recruit will find it.

There was the ambidextrous kid at the grenade range at Lejeune. The idea was to stand between two walls of sandbags and throw the grenade over a high parapet. He pulled the pin and rared back to throw. Then he stopped. You could see the puzzlement in his face. No, that hand didn’t feel right. He casually tossed the thing in the air, caught it in the other hand, and threw it. By the time it exploded, the instructor was in the next county and accelerating.

I remember lying in lovely cold muck behind a log at Lejeune, firing at enemy oil barrels a few hundred yards away. It was one of those weird situations that occur regularly in the military.

Cold rain drizzling down my helmet and running neatly down my spine, my helmet slipping down over my eyes, and I’m in a firefight with a bunch of extremely dangerous barrels. The rifle is a worn out M-1 probably left over from the Napoleonic Wars, in use only because the government has several hundred billion rounds of ammunition for it.

The trigger mechanism is broken. Every time I fire it, the damned thing falls out and hangs down like a wounded clock. I slap it back. Bang, slap, bang, slap. Every fourth round, the clip pops out of the top of the rifle–spoing–and lands on my helmet.

Bang, slap, spoing, clunk, adjust the helmet. Bang, slap. I begin to see that it could be a long war.

A recruit was standing on a roof at Parris Island in the burning sun at parade rest. His DI had put him there to work on the roof and somehow had forgotten him. A passing sergeant noticed, stared curiously for a second, and bellowed, “Git down from there, prive.”

The private didn’t move.

“Goddamit, git down here,” bawled the instructor, unused to being ignored.

Nothing. The private looked deeply unhappy, but didn’t so much as twitch.

Another DI came along and yelled, but nothing moved the recruit. He gazed desperately ahead, either deaf or crazed by the sun. A group formed on the sidewalk, including a warrant officer, a lieutenant, and, finally, a passing light colonel.

The colonel snapped his crispest order. The private stared ahead. The crowd conferred, decided they had a mental case on their hands and prepared to send for a struggle buggy and some big corpsmen. Then the private’s DI returned.

“Jaworski, Ten-hut! Git your butt down from there.”

Down came Jaworski. From parade rest, you see, the only acceptable order is “attention”. The manual of arms says so.

“You see,” a drill instructor explained to me, “a recruit’s in a place he doesn’t understand at all, and nothing ever works for him. Back home, he knows the rules. Maybe he’s a big dude on the block, got it made. Not here. Everybody’s yelling at him and he can’t ever do anything right.

“So he figures he’ll do exactly what he’s told. It’s his way of protecting himself. If something goes wrong, he thinks at least it’s not his fault. This is what a drill instructor’s got to learn — nothing’s too crazy for a recruit to do if he thinks it’s what you told him. And you really got to think about it. Otherwise you can get him hurt.

“One time in winter a friend of mine, Sergeant Grunderling, had evening duty at some building and he wanted to go take a leak. So he tells this recruit who’s with him, ‘I’m going out for a minute. Don’t let anyone in who doesn’t know the password. You got that?’

“The recruit says, ‘Yes, sir,’ so Grunderling relieves himself and realizes he can’t remember the password. So he hollers, ‘Minter, open the door.”

“What’s the password?”

“I forget. Open the door.”

“I can’t do that, sir. You told me not to let anybody in who doesn’t give the password, sir.”

“Goddamit Minter, now I’m telling you to open the door.”

“‘No sir, I can’t do that.”

“Minter, it’s cold out here.”

“No, sir, I can’t do that.”

“By now Grunderling’s mostly frozen and so mad he can’t see straight, but he sees threats ain’t going to help him.

“Please, Minter, let me in. I ain’t gonna yell at you. I won’t do anything to you.”

“Aww, you’re trying to trick me.”

“No, Minter, honest, I ain’t trying to trick you. Open the door.’

“You’re gonna yell at me, aren’t you sir?”

“No, Minter, I promise.”

“Finally, old Minter opens the door and Grunderling nearly kills him. But he should have expected it. A recruit does exactly what you tell him.”

“You probably won’t see a Wampus cat,” Sergeant Sly continues, “but if you do, remember he’s fast. A cat isn’t built for endurance like a dog is, but he’s lightning in a dash. Don’t think you’re gonna tease a Wampus and run away when it starts spittin’ and howlin’.

“They’re not that fast — I mean, a Wampus cat can’t keep up with a cheetah or anything, but they’ve been clocked at 50. It takes a damn good shot to hit anything at that speed.”

A September day in a clearing at Camp Lejeune. Our company of trainees sits in weathered bleachers, scratching and, after three months of training, feeling as salty as three bosun’s mates.

A massive sergeant with a velvet Georgia accent is teaching us the care and feeding of a white phosphorus grenade, otherwise known as Willy Peter (and several other things unfit for a family magazine).

Willy Peter is an unpleasant weapon that throws white phosphorous around, a nasty substance that sticks to you and burns.

He holds the lethal cylinder in his hand, tells us what horrible things it can do to Luke the Gook–who was then the hated enemy–and announces that he will trot into the field and demonstrate.

That is fine with us, as long as we can sit in the sun and relax. We watch with interest as he lopes into the grass.

For days we’d been watching weapons specialists trot into Lejeune’s clearings, and something spectacular always happened. Something blew up or went bang or made colored smoke.

So the sergeant gets out there next to this little steel hut he’s supposed to hide in while Willy Peter does his stuff. He chucks this incredibly vicious grenade downfield and ducks into the steel hut.

Two seconds later he streaks out at roughly Mach Four, like Tony Green on a punt return. He has the unmistakable gait of a man who is flat terrified. About that time Willy Peter goes whoomp! and the air around the sergeant is filled with long smoky trails of flaming phosphorous. He streaks on as if he took showers in the stuff, ignoring it, a mountain on the move in blind fright.

Somehow all that smoking agony misses him and he reaches us panting hugely.

“Goddam wasps.”

Training has changed. Ten years ago, reveille at Parris Island meant a GI-can lid sailing down the squad bay at oh-dark-30. The lights would come on suddenly and 10 seconds later a hundred recruits would be standing at attention in their underwear, half-conscious and miserable.

Now the GI-can lid is gone. So is much of the stress of training.

“What happened, some kid’s mother heard about it and wrote her congressman. He came down and said, Oh dear, ain’t this awful, what if they hit somebody with that lid. So they made us stop that.

“And one time a recruit died of heat stroke carrying his first issue to the barracks, so everybody’s mother started writing her congressman. Now we gotta carry recruits around in cattle cars.

“Hell, you can’t put thousands of people through military training without somebody getting hurt. It just ain’t possible. If they don’t train hard, they get killed in combat. They ought to shoot the doctor that let that kid in here in the first place. Congress doesn’t give a damn about training.

“And you know what? The recruits want training to be rough. That’s why they joined-to do something hard.”

Parris Island can make a Marine out of almost anything with a detectable heartbeat. What a kid wants most at Parris Island is out, and the quickest way out is to behave. Most kids have a well-developed sense of self-preservation and see the wisdom of obedience. A few are hopeless.

I remember a tall kid named Gurdy from the slums who was terrified of the water. He had a tiny cue ball of a head and held it to one side, like a rattlesnake. There was a mean, cautious defiance to him, the look of a trapped animal. Gurdy had lived so much on the outside of society that he didn’t realize you ever had do anything.

We were lined up at the pool for the swim test, if you could call it that. I think you had to swim about as far as most of us could broad jump. Gurdy stood there wild-eyed and strange, leaning his head one way and rolling his eyes the other. He didn’t say anything.

The rest of us were going through boot camp, but Gurdy didn’t know what he was going through. I guess he thought we were going to make him walk the plank. He was out of some remote tenement world of Chicago, and beyond even the military’s ability to handle.

We could see him getting crazier and crazier as the line got shorter. Tension was building up in him like a head of steam. Finally he broke and ran like a jack rabbit — just shot out the door and kept going.

God knows where he thought he could run to on Parris Island, where it’s hard for a fugitive in a bathing suit to hide. I don’t think he much knew himself, probably figured it was like ducking a cop in the city. It was the last we saw of him.

I had thought it was borrowed from some book like Battle Cry, but it happens: Private Mulligan walking down the squad bay at Parris Island, chanting, “This is my rifle, this is my gun…,” firmly holding onto both.

The worst hazard for a recruit is not shrapnel or even dismemberment by Sergeant Bull Walrus. It is tattoo parlors. These garish dens abound near big bases and prey on recent recruits longing for any evidence of manhood. New soldiers spend 15 minutes getting that impressive eagle, and then they spend 20 years pricing plastic surgeons to get their boyhood back.

Some recruits go stark nuts over tattoos — Wasloski, for example, a red-headed Polish kid from Chicago I met in the drab barracks of Pendleton.

Wasloski was crazy. He had an angular, pugnacious face with half the world’s strategic reserve of freckles, and claimed he had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, which for obscure reasons he called UPI, and had less judgment than a volunteer for kamikaze school.

God help him, Wasloski discovered tattoo parlors. It had to happen. He showed up at the barracks one night with a half-naked Vietnamese girl tattooed on his forearm. It was conspicuous to say the least. I mean, it had colors like a Day-Glo detergent box and probably had batteries.

Before it had healed the poor maniac had another on the other arm, and then on an upper arm. I don’t know where it ended, if it did. He’s probably got naked bar girls running up his spine.

Nothing is quite so military as a tattoo, and he wanted to be military. He just didn’t know that guys with tattoos spend the rest of their lives trying to get rid of them. If Wasloski ever has a girlfriend, which is barely possible, he’ll have to have his arms amputated. And maybe his back.

Junior enlisted men have a limitless capacity for avoiding work. Among the better recruits, this talent verges on religious inspiration. Trainees learn it quickly.

My first experience with this useful ability was watching a platoon that was walking in line across a sandy field to police up cigarette butts. Instead of picking up the offending butts, each man carefully pushed sand over them with this boots. They hadn’t planned it or seen anyone else do it. The idea simply came to them as the obvious response to the situation.

They left a spotless field. Thirty minutes later, wind blew the sand away and the place looked like a public dump. I suppose those butts had been accumulating for 30 years, buried repeatedly by generations of recruits.

Then there was McClinton, assigned to water the grass at a chow hall on a blazing California day. There wasn’t a puff of wind. The heat would have baked a camel’s brains, and asphalt was turning to a sticky ooze. McClinton was supposed to walk back and forth across the lawn, spraying each patch until it was thoroughly wet. A Russian would have done it, but the American trooper thinks for himself.

McClinton found the opening for a storm sewer in the ground in the shade beneath a tree. For three hours he stood in the shade and watered that grate. The grass never got wet, so he always seemed to be watering a dry patch. A hundred yards below, the gutter flooded.

“Now the Wampus cat isn’t any damn killer bogeyman, no matter what the locals say. All that stuff on TV about how it killed seven Boy Scouts in a swamp is so much crap. At least in my opinion. But it can get real savage, like any cat, and we do lose three or four recruits every year to it. It’s mostly their own damn fault because they don’t take the right precautions.

“When you put your tent up, just make sure you’re at least four feet from the tree line. Four feet, got it? And the Wampus cat tends to hunt on a north-south line, so I want those tents facing east and west. That’s all it takes, and the colonel won’t be chewing my ass because the Wampus cat killed one of my recruits.”

The beach at Lejeune, a chill gray day with fog wafting over greasy Atlantic rollers. A platoon of infantry trainees stands shivering beside the looming bulk of an amtrac–the old LVT P-5, the beach-assault vehicleof the Marines in those days.

It’s shaped like a steel loaf of bread with tracks. It runs up on the beach and drops its ramp, whereupon the grunts run out and get machine-gunned.

At least, that’s what the crewmen tell the grunts. The grunts are trainees. They’ll believe anything.

LVT P5. What I drove. Also known as a Wide Area Notifying Mine Detector. The gasoline tank was in the bottom. If you went over a mine, a four-hundred-foot plume of black smoke notified everyone within fifty miles.

The corporal in command yells and the trainees scramble aboard-37 of them. A trac is like a steel coffin, dark and cold inside, with only two small windows on the side.

Sometimes they become coffins for real. Once, a hatch was left open and a big roller came aboard, dragging the trac down in 150 feet of cold water. Nobody has heard from the occupants and, as this was some years ago, they are presumed dead.

The crew tell the grunts about it as the ramp closes.

The engine revs up to a deafening roar, hollow and sepulchral, for the dash into the breakers. The beast crashes into the surf and sinks to within a foot of its top, which is what it is supposed to do. Green water comes over the windows and shoots in streams through the minor leaks a trac always has.

The recruits don’t know this. They are very, very uneasy in this death trap, imagining the terrified scramble should it sink. There would be no hope of avoiding a watery grave.

A hundred yards from shore, the crewman stands under the machine-gun periscope and looks out like a U-boat commander.

He eyes the rollers, which break over the top, and says laconically, “It’s too rough up there, Charlie. Let’s take her down to 50 feet and hope the bulkheads hold.”

Three recruits faint. Trainees will believe anything.

I had this guy Handley, couldn’t do anything right,” one DI told me. “I mean, he was the kind of guy who tries hard, but everything he touches turns to crap. Big doofus guy outa Miami. You can’t persecute that kind of guy, because he genuinely is trying his best.

“One day Handley is sitting in this 10-holer latrine we had, along with about six other guys, all with their trousers around their ankles. Well, the colonel comes in to take a whizz, and Handley stands to attention and yells, ‘Ten-hut!’”

Oh-dark-30, a frigid morning at Lejeune. Our last day of training. We line up single file to go into the dark administration shack and collect our boot pay. We are harder and heavier than we were three months ago, a little cocky, confident, aware of new muscles. Inside the shack we have to stand to attention and do some silly boot rigmarole: “Sir! Private Smith reportingforpaycall-serial number twothirtyonetwentysixfiftyone Sir!” all in one breath.

We also have to stop just outside the door and count the crisp new bills. One of the squad leaders — Bergland, a beefy kid from Alabama — has been ordered to be sure we do.

He is feeling full of himself on the dark sidewalk and well he might. For the first time in his life, he is in charge of others.

A figure comes from the shack, like 20 before him, but counts nothing.

“Marine, count them bills!”

The figure doesn’t stop, so Bergland grabs him around the waist and pulls him back, unaware that he has grabbed the meanest gunny sergeant in Camp Geiger.

“Gityourbuttback…here…oh…my…gawd….”

Sir, what’s a Wampus cat look like?” a recruit asks Sergeant Sly.

“I wish I could tell you. You see, a Wampus is unusual in one way: It only runs backwards. It’s one of the mysteries of science. A lot of people have seen the back end of a Wampus, but nobody’s seen the front. That’s why you gotta run your tents from east to west, so the Wampus cat doesn’t back into it. And let me tell you, if you ever see the butt end of a Wampus cat coming in, you better kiss your ass goodbye, ’cause it’s all over.”

Noon in the Lejeune woods, chilly with autumn and the slowing drizzle, gooky red mud making sucking noises under our boots. Rain-laden pine branches brush across faces like cold hands. “S” Company is coming off the flame-thrower range for chow. Why the scene sticks in my memory I don’t know, but it is my most vivid impression of training: a company of sodden recruits, shivering.

There were inexplicable moments when it all came together and we were proud to be in the service, the real world, not pumping gas or pulling frogs apart in some tedious laboratory. A fair number of us would be dead in ten weeks, but we didn’t believe it yet.

Steam rose from the field kitchen, the only warm thing in the entire world, and we held out mess kits for the cooks to fill with savory glop. At 19 you’re too dumb to know when you’re uncomfortable. We were used to 3 1/2 hours sleep, at ease with rifles and seven-eighty-two gear, beginning to feel like Marines.

One blond kid with huge, round, blue eyes has lost his mess kit. He takes chow in his canteen cup–stew, spinach, bread, canned peaches dumped on top, string beans. It all goes to the same place, he says. When you’ve been up and running since 4:30, you don’t care what it looks like.

Sergeants bark at us, but act like we’re human, which may or may not show good judgment on their part. I line up with the rest of these olive-drab warriors at chest-high log tables. We eat standing up in the soupy clay, gray clouds rolling and twisting overhead. Someone passes a rumor that we have declared war on Red China. Some believe it. Some always do.

There is no such thing as a recruit with enough to eat. Chow wasn’t bad-not like at the chow hall where, when the cook scooped up the powdered eggs with an ice cream scoop, green water filled the hole.

Along the log tables are jars of peanut butter and jelly for making Geiger-burgers-two-pound sandwiches that keep you going through the training ranges of Lejeune’s Camp Geiger. Huge wasps and yellow jackets crawl around in the jelly jars.

The man next to me eyes a hornet the size of a heavy bomber in his jar. The beast is obviously dangerous. On the other hand, the Marine wants a sandwich.

It doesn’t pay to stand between a recruit and food. With a quick twist of his knife, he forces the hornet deep below the surface of the jelly and makes his sandwich with the top layers.

Others before him had done the same thing. I count seven buried wasps, some still twitching. You do what you gotta do.

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