A New Approach to Assault Weapons Control

It’s literally two sentences:

“Any firearm with a detachable magazine of any capacity, external feed mechanism of any capacity, or internal magazine greater than 10 rounds capacity, shall be considered a Class III weapon under the National Firearms Act (NFA). In addition, any and all external or aftermarket mechanisms designed to increase the rate of fire of an otherwise-legal firearm are comprehensively banned.”

First, this proposal bans no guns, which should mollify those who view firearms bans as unconstitutional, bad policy, incentives for black marketing, or simply unfair to law-abiding gun owners. By banning nothing, this proposal acknowledges and recognizes the need to protect rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. Rather, this proposal makes it possible for law-abiding citizens to exercise their rights to the fullest, while blocking those who might constitute a danger. It bans nothing; it does require owners to meet higher standards of accountability, making it at least a proposal not inconsistent with conservative values, and worthy of serious consideration across ideological lines.

Second, this proposal sidesteps technical arguments about what constitutes an “assault weapon”. There is such a definition (see above video), but there are so many variations and gradations that trying to establish a definition that satisfies everyone is often impossible.* Therefore, this proposal identifies the one design feature that allows users to kill large numbers of people very quickly, reload instantly, and continue killing: the large ammunition capacity and rapid reload capability afforded by detachable, high-capacity magazines, which serves no other purpose beyond facilitating the mass killing of human beings. Period. There is one environment, and one only, in which one may require this capability: a battlefield. This also prevents the kind of travesty that occurred with the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, when gun companies simply changed stocks and removed bayonet lugs to turn banned AK-47s into legal, so-called “sporters”, which were still every bit as lethal as the original weapons. While some detachable-magazine weapons carry less than ten rounds, the ability of the aftermarket to create higher-capacity replacement magazines is prodigious, making the classification of all firearms built with detachable magazines as Class III weapons essential.

Third, there is a burgeoning market in aftermarket items designed to increase the rate of fire of traditional semiautos, enabling them to fire at rates comparable to fully-automatic machineguns. These make previous controls on fully-auto weapons obsolete; this obsolescence, along with the fact that almost any semiauto can be made to fire this way, demands the classification of these weapons with other weapons that fire at those rates. Whether that type of sustained rapid-fire capability is the product of internal or external mechanicals is of purely academic interest. If it can fire like a machinegun, it should be regulated like a machinegun. And practically any semi-auto can be made to fire that way-for more examples than you can count, go to YouTube and type in “bump firing.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Did you see that? Who knew?

Fourth, this proposal does not require amending the Constitution, and may not even require the passage of new laws: it is possible that the changes to the NFA necessary to implement this law could be done administratively, bypassing the torturous and unlikely-to-be-successful legislative process. In any case, the NFA has been the law of the land for more than 80 years, and is unlikely to be overturned.

Note: this proposal does not ban ANY guns. Rights are respected. The overwhelming percentage of firearms would remain legal and available; this proposal applies only to weapons which have been specifically engineered to kill people in large numbers, and even then, requires only that prospective owners meet the standards that have applied to owners of fully-automatic weapons since 1934. As most, if not all, legal semi-autos can be made to fire in a manner indistinguishable from full-auto (so-called “bump firing”), they should be regulated in the same common-sense Constitutionally-approved manner that other full-auto weapons are (and have been) in the US for more than 80 years. We know it can work; there is precedent. Before the NFA, the Thompson submachine gun made the Twenties Roar; after the NFA, crimes involving legally-owned full-automatic weapons dropped away to almost nothing, and have remained there ever since.

Pass it. Pass it now.


*Generally speaking, an “assault rifle” embodies four design characteristics: a straight-line stock with a pistol grip (for recoil control during rapid fire); a detachable high-capacity magazine; a cartridge that splits the difference in power between a full-powered rifle, and the pistol bullets used in submachine guns; and  selectable semi-auto/ full-automatic capability (Semi-auto fires one bullet with each pull of the trigger; full-auto is the sustained rapid fire associated with machine guns.). While only the first three are included on most “assault rifles” sold to the civilian market, a wide variety of simple, inexpensive add-ons (such as so-called “bump stocks”, triggers that fire multiple rounds, and trigger springs and cranks), or even simply adjusting the way the gun is held, can enable the gun to fire in a manner indistinguishable from full-automatic, making the lack of select-fire less of a difference than it seems at first. Likewise, weapons that embody all these characteristics except the bullet, such as civilian-market Uzis, are included, as they lack only the ability to reliably kill at long battlefield ranges. Hence the use of the term assault “weapon” instead of assault “rifle.”


A New Progressive Platform

This is a cycle we seem to be caught in. The Republicans get elected, and govern like a cross between a barbarian horde and a drunken fraternity. Then, the Democrats come in, and have to do the expensive and unpopular work of fixing the problems…which makes them unpopular, allowing a new Republican horde to ride into town like a panzer division on acid, and start the looting and pillaging anew.
As long as we are caught in this pattern, progressives /cannot/ win any lasting victories. There will only be occasional pauses in the downward spiral. Yes, we need to win 2018, more than anything in the immediate future, but how do we break out of this cycle? The answer, it seems to me, is big ideas. We have been so focused on repairing the damage that we haven’t done anything honestly worthwhile in a very long time. ObamaCare came close, but not really: like HillaryCare 20 years earlier, it was hobbled by its attempt to work within the existing paradigm instead of embracing the kind of genuine restructuring that might have genuinely changed things. So, we’re talking about New Deal, Great Society big. BIG.

So, here’s my Big Idea Platform. I’d like to know what the people think of it.

1) The Election Reform Act
This act will include public financing of elections, based on the understanding that any transfer of a thing of value to a public official or political campaign should be considered an attempt to bribe that official, and an end to partisan redistricting. There are robust, mature systems of public financing around the world available for study and adaptation. It is long past time to end the system of legalized bribery that has captured the US government and rendered it unresponsive to the needs of the general population. Likewise, all redistricting shall be done by non-partisan commissions.

2) An “Apollo Program” for clean energy.
It will be based on solar, wind, and wave power. Such a platform shall include a new energy grid that harnesses distributed micropower generation and AI management, and a new generation of nuclear reactors capable of using existing stocks of nuclear waste as fuel. This will simultaneously reduce carbon and heavy metals pollution in the environment, mitigate climate change, and eventually rid the country of nuclear waste.

3) Universal healthcare.
This can include a true single-payer system allowing access to everyone while allowing private providers for those who wish to avail themselves of additional services. Again, robust, mature systems are available for study and adaptation. Possible models include France, Germany, Japan, Great Britain, and Canada.

4) A program of free post-secondary education or business investment.                                        Under this program, citizens will be able to either A), attend four years of a public university at public expense, B) access the amount of money four years of schooling would cost and use it as seed money to start a business, or C), any combination thereof: for instance, a student would be able to attend two years of technical school and then access two years worth of seed money funding for a start-up. Such a program will also include the forgiveness of all existing student loan debt, which is currently consigning two generations of Americans to debt peonage and acting as a huge brake on the US economy.

5) Raising the minimum wage.
This will include indexing the minimum wage to the inflation rate, putting an end to the degrading spectacle of continually having to beg for a continually-shrinking slice of the pie. Likewise, and for the same reason, Social Security benefits shall be indexed to the inflation rate.

6) Ending the war on drugs.
This will include the outright legalization of cannabis, the pardon of all federal prisoners held on simple possession charges, and the institution of a robust national drug treatment program for addicts. Under this program, regulatory authority will be transferred to the Food and Drug Administration, the DEA will be abolished outright, and asset forfeiture will not occur in the absence of a criminal conviction. This program will include a ban on the transfer of military equipment from the Department of Defense to civilian police departments, and a requirement that any civil judgement against a police officer must be paid by the officer personally. This program will hold that possession/intoxication itself is not a crime, but that criminal behavior, such as DUI, is.

7) Immigration reform.
Under this program, all immigrants, documented or otherwise, will be granted amnesty and allowed to stay if they register. This will allow immigrants to be protected under labor and civil law, ending the problem of legitimate business being undercut by underpaid, illegal labor. Any illegal employment of an undocumented worker shall be considered a felony. Likewise, immigrants convicted of crimes of violence, theft, fraud, espionage, or a pattern of criminal behavior, are subject to permanent deportation.

8) The Federal government as the employer of last resort.
This can be thought of as a new WPA: anyone unable to find productive work can go to work for the government, building/repairing infrastructure, parks, public buildings, etc. This should make the institution of a Universal Basic Income unnecessary, although a cost-benefit analysis and comparison between this program and a UBI should be conducted.

9) The Fourth Amendment Restoration Act.
This will outlaw any and all warrantless electronic or physical surveillance of a citizen, and will include a Citizen’s information Bill of Rights, which will state that any business that compiles information on a citizen for sale or other distribution is required to notify that citizen and give the citizen the opportunity to dispute information included therein. Further, any business that profits from the sale of individuals’ information will be required to share those proceeds with the individual.

10) The Private Security Services Reform Act.
Private prisons, police forces, military contractors, and intelligence agencies, or any other businesses serving largely identical functions, are henceforth banned.

11) The Assault Weapons Control Act.
Any firearm design that includes a detachable magazine and a semi-automatic or autoloading action shall be considered a Class III weapon under the National Firearms Act. Further, the manufacture, sale, or distribution of any device designed to increase the rate of fire of an otherwise legal weapon, such as, but not limited to, trigger cranks, multiple-fire triggers, or so-called “bump-stocks”, shall be banned.

12) The Honesty in Commerce Act.
Any business that engages in systemic theft or fraud, as has been widely documented in, among others, the banking and auto-repair industries, shall be subject to seizure and liquidation without recompense to shareholders, and shareholders shall be held liable for crimes committed to their benefit. Likewise, the importation, manufacture, sale, or distribution of any device designed to access or steal from individuals, such as credit-card skimmers and car lock defeat mechanisms, shall be banned.

13) Adoption in total of S.1006, the “Equality Act”, to, finally, “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”

Feedback, suggestions, and comments are encouraged.

Remembering Hiroshima

(Disclaimer: this post solely represents the opinion of the author.)

On August 6, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, the climax of the gruesome struggle in the Pacific between the US and Japan. Approximately 90,000 people were killed immediately, and another 50,000 died within two years. Added to that was the toll paid by the survivors, and their descendents: radiation sickness, cancer, leukemia, mutation, genetic damage, and birth defects decades later add an incalculable amount of human suffering to the toll. Three days later, this Boschian tragedy was re-enacted, at Nagasaki.

It’s almost cliche, now, to dutifully go through the debate: the Japanese started the war, Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Manila, execution of prisoners, refused to surrender. The Bomb not only saved a million(?) Americans, but actually saved Japanese lives as well, by obviating the need for an invasion of Japan.

And so forth. For every one, there is a riposte, every charge, a justification. These justifications-and that’s what they are-are necessary, because they help obscure what the nuclear attack on Hiroshima was:

A massacre. A slaughter of the innocents. I don’t know what else you can call hitting an undefended city, containing few if any targets of military value, with a nuclear weapon.

You can call it justifiable if you want-I’ve given you the basic outline of the usual main points. Many do. But remember what you are doing: you are justifying the massacre of civilians, on a previously-unimagined scale. If massacres are justifiable, then where does it stop? It doesn’t, until it reaches its logical conclusion: justifiable genocide, as promoted in the Times of Israel last year.

Hitler and Stalin both thought massacres were justifiable, as seen in places like Babi Yar, Katyn Forest, the gulag archipelago, and the German concentration and extermination camp system. “Bomber” Harris was a big fan, as seen at Cologne, Hamburg, Dresden, and a hundred other incinerated cities. So was Curtis LeMay, whose firebombing campaign against Japan-hitting a major Japanese city every other day-made Harris look like a bush-leaguer. And of course, the Japanese officers who ordered the rape of Nanking, created IJA Unit 731, and killed hundreds of thousands in China, Korea, the Philippines, and Okinawa thought they were justified too. And Truman, who promised Japan “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on the Earth”, went to his grave justifying his decision.

Nobody escapes the truth. Either these acts are universally wrong, or they are not. And if the massacre on a vast scale is justified, then why not genocide? After a while, they start to become indistinguishable from one another. If it is morally acceptable to nuke a city, then what is forbidden? And why? Is there still something worse, where we can draw a line and say “We won’t do that”?

So, amidst the jingoistic chest-pounding and nationalistic roars on one side, and the solemn memorial of the dead divorced from the acts of the leadership who brought this horror upon them on the other, remember Hiroshima, sacrificed on the altar of the justifiable massacre as an offering to the gods of vengeance. A vast, boiling, multi-colored monument to the failure of human beings to rise above their base, brutal, bloodthirsty programming. Remember the dead, the hibakusha, and the downwinders. And remember, even after all this time-it could still be you, your kids, your family.

We are all downwinders now.

Ferguson Is Your Future Too

(I wish I could say I wrote this, but alas! This post is the work of the Institute’s Cherubic Adonis, the victim of a particularly nasty tech issue.)

This is your future, America. The events in Ferguson, Missouri are a symptom of a broken country. You know it’s broken. You see the damage and you look the other way because it isn’t your children who are being killed at a frightening pace by authority figures in our society. But one day soon, it will be you and your children who are the victims. They will be drawn into the battle on one of the two sides.

Either all Americans share certain “inalienable rights” or none of us do. The problem stems from your own inability to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Prejudice. Now, when I say prejudice, I don’t automatically mean race, but racial prejudice is a big part of the problem. People can be prejudiced in any number of ways. Political prejudice (left vs right), economic prejudice (rich vs poor), intellectual prejudice (intellectual elites vs common man), sexual prejudice (men vs women) are all equally as bad for our national health. Until we, as a society, recognize that we all have value, none of us will really be worth a damn.

Local police forces are now paramilitary units who use counterinsurgency and urban-warfare doctrine to establish control of their areas of operation at any cost. Now, I realize that many people will read this and say, “Oh, you’re exaggerating. This is an isolated incident” but is it really? Take a look and you’ll see that these atrocities occur with staggering regularity in America. Some folks think that this squall will pass (and they may be right), but I guarantee you one thing, this storm isn’t over.

Looking the other way when someone’s rights are being violated doesn’t strengthen your rights. It weakens them. Sooner or later you or people like you are going to become very upset about something (perhaps a big gubmint takeover of *insert cause here*) and they are going to go to the streets because of it. When they do they are going to find out what many minorities in America already know: America does not care about you. America cares about its image and it won’t tolerate you making it look bad on the news. America is a sixteen-year-old girl taking a selfie. America is a self-absorbed douchebag talking into their Bluetooth in the checkout line at the grocery store. America will step over your bleeding (and maybe dead) carcass on its way into a Starbucks to get their caffeine fix. America only cares about America. You aren’t America. America isn’t you. You have become a cog in a machine and if you get worn out or break down, it won’t matter. The machine will continue grinding away. Today it’s Ferguson, Missouri, but soon it will be YourTown, USA. It won’t be fair. It will hurt.  You’ll whine about it and maybe your friends and relatives will be killed or maimed by the “authorities” but don’t expect anyone else to care, because you don’t care right now. In fact, expect people to giggle with glee at your misfortune. Expect to be made into a meme. Expect to be shot through the door when you ring the doorbell and cry for help. Expect to be exploited, first as political fodder and then as comedy, because that’s what America does.

I leave you with an old quote about America by Carl Schurz, “My country right or wrong.” Most people have heard it before but that’s not the whole quote. The whole statement reads, “My country right or wrong; if right to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Until we are all prepared to set America right when it is wrong there won’t be any right to celebrate.

The Covert Action Virus

Twenty or so years ago, I had a conversation with a soil scientist of my acquaintance, who had recently returned from an extended trip through Central America. He had been teaching alternative farming techniques to peasant farmers being squeezed into less and less available land, as part of a private aid group. It sounded to me like an ideal gig for the Peace Corps, so I was surprised when he answered: “Uh-uh. No way. If you’re in Central America with the Peace Corps, everyone just assumes you’re CIA. Nobody will talk to you, and you can’t get anything done.”
I was taken aback, given that, as the Peace Corps itself says:

Persons who have been employed by an intelligence agency, or otherwise have been associated with intelligence activities, are ineligible to serve as volunteers. This exclusionary policy is one aspect of the broader, long-standing policy of maintaining an absolute separation between Peace Corps and intelligence activities conducted by the U.S. government. This absolute separation is necessary to protect volunteers’ safety and to maintain the trust and confidence of the people in the countries in which volunteers serve.

The inverse, however, is also true. Because of this exclusionary policy, the Peace Corps would in fact make an excellent cover for an agent. This goes to the very nature of the deception that is the core of what intelligence agents do: it does not matter what lie is believed, as long as a lie is believed. As long as the target believes something that is not true, he/she can be manipulated. Which means that everything is a potential cover story, a legend, and a potential target for infiltration and exploitation. Every bureau, every commercial outlet, every information source is a potential target. Every cell of the body politic is susceptible to this, either proactively or by being compromised; a virus of deceit, secrecy, and covert action.

The problems with this are obvious, and became apparent to me again this morning, when I opened Firedoglake and saw USAID Fake HIV Center in Cuba Undermines Global Health Efforts. I followed the links; the gist, as reported by the AP, is that “Over at least two years, the U.S. Agency for International Development — best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid — sent nearly a dozen neophytes from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Peru to gin up opposition in Cuba.” These untrained agents, supplied with encrypted flash drives, and codes for communications, “posed as tourists, visited college campuses, and used…[a]n HIV-prevention workshop one called “the perfect excuse” to recruit political activists.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the operation was set up by the same contractor that dreamed up the failed “Cuban Twitter” project.

This program is being defended by the Obama Administration: according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, the program “enabled support for Cuban civil society, while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desires Cubans express for information and training about HIV prevention.” Note the moment of honesty: the secondary benefit of the HIV awareness program was HIV awareness. The first was covert action.

This type of covert action is not rare, as Peter at FDL goes on to elaborate; nor is it just medical aid being used as cover. The fake NGO that was used to decapitate a FARC unit in Columbia is missing, but he includes the fake hepatitis vaccine program in Pakistan that helped identify Usama bin Laden-since then, the Pakistani Taliban has outlawed polio vaccination and killed 60 vaccination workers, allowing polio to make a robust comeback. Another one Peter could have pointed to was the role of the NED-the National Endowment for Democracy-in Ukraine, where it has spent tens of millions of dollars on a wide variety of programs. As  One of the founders of the NED-“whose purpose is to support foreign organizations sympathetic to US foreign policy goals” explained it in 1991“A lot of what we do was done 25 years ago covertly by the CIA.” And so it is: whether it be Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Albania, Iran, Cuba, Mongolia, or Venezuela, the NED is there. No wonder Putin was pissed about US operations in Ukraine. Every dollar spent there was intended to lessen Russian influence. Every single aspect of the “civil society” NED is supporting there can be considered a covert operation targeted on Russian interests.

And that’s the real issue-the meta-issue. The effect of using everything as a cover for covert operations is the certain destruction of the ability of people to have faith in institutions that, in a democracy, require faith to operate (rampant conspiracy theory-the guaranteed response to pervasive secrecy-has the same effect). You can have democracy-or you can have deceit and covert action. You can have citizen participation-or you can have counterintelligence programs designed to “expose disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize…” You can have journalism-or you can have Operation MOCKINGBIRD, in which the CIA compromised dozens of journalists and fed them CIA propaganda. You can have community policing-or you can have Phoenix Program-style counterinsurgency as law enforcement, in which pervasive surveillance, secret and unconstitutional police methods, and Special Operations teams combine to “neutralize threats.” Radley Balko reports an average of fifty thousand SWAT raids annually in the US…we have come a hell of a long way from “to serve and protect.”

And that’s the point-when everything is a covert action bureau, or cover, that is all it is. It cannot be an institution that operates by deceit and covert violence, AND be a democratically-controlled institution responsive to citizens’ needs. You can have democracy, and freedom, and all the messy processes that democratic institutions require to operate; or you can have the expediency, secrecy, deception, and violence of government-by-secret-police-agency. When your service providers collect and sell your information; when your cell phone is tracked by retailers in the mall; when your movements are tracked via car tracking, facial recognition programs, and ubiquitous cameras; and when your police subvert oversight by deceiving responsible authority, your institutions have become spy agencies, whose tools are secrecy and deception: anathema to self-government in a free society. A paradigm of covert action, or a representative democracy. You cannot have both.

You cannot have both, and there will be no progress until this question is answered, definitively. Subverting change in defense of the status quo, after all, is what intelligence agencies do. Our government is infected with a virus, that has seemingly moved into every cell; healing America will require, first, a robust immune response from a citizenry that will not be able to suspend the necessary weight of disbelief much longer, and second, an intense vaccination course to keep the patient from  relapsing.


The Great Crusade: Remembering D-Day

(Updated for 2014)

The date was June 6, 1944. The biggest invasion fleet ever assembled was about to depart their ports in Britain, on the way to their landing areas, the beaches of Normandy, France. It was the launch of the “Great Crusade”-Operation OVERLORD, the 1944 seaborne invasion of France by the combined forces of the US, Britain, Free France, Belgium, and Poland, and the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe, occupied by the Nazis since the lightning victory of 1940. Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower nervously fingered the note in his pocket: the note in which he defended his troops and accepted full responsibility for the failure of the invasion. There was reason to worry: while success may seem inevitable in hindsight, poor weather had already delayed the invasion by a day, the degree of success in Allied deception operations was unknown, and the Germans in the West had had four years to prepare their defenses AND were being commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the famed “Desert Fox” who had taught the Allies such painful lessons in mobile warfare in North Africa in 1942. A thousand troops had been killed just practicing for the invasion, when the landing craft were surprised by German E-boats. The rough seas were destined to sink many of the ‘swimming’ tanks, and the minefield-clearing flail tanks developed by the British were not included in the American order of battle. It was a gigantic gamble, with the highest possible stakes. Long demanded by Stalin and obsessed over by Hitler, this invasion was considered the decisive engagement of the war by Rommel’s superior, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. While this is debatable, its role as a decisive engagement is beyond question.

As the defining event of the Twentieth Century, the Second World War and the experiences of those who fought it, both individuals and nations, became central to the identity of the participants: Britain had Dunkirk, the Blitz, and El Alamein, the US had Pearl Harbor and D-Day (and the A-bomb), and the Soviet Union had Stalingrad, Kursk, and Berlin. The character and behavior of every major participant was informed by the experience. The State of Israel was formed as a result, and both Germany and Japan underwent major cultural shifts, both in dealing with defeat and in confronting the reality of their conduct of the war. For better or worse, the world would never be the same.

The narrative of D-Day is also an essential building block of the discourse of heroic Americans storming ashore into the teeth of German fire to liberate helpless Europe groaning under a Nazi boot, and the root of a million resentful “we saved your ass from speaking German” reminders from Americans insulted by European perceptions of them as arrogant, uncivilized rubes. In reality, given the speed of the Soviet advance from the East, the likelihood is that the US, rather than saving anyone from speaking German, instead actually saved a whole lot of people from speaking Russian. The Soviet Army had crushed the bulk of German mobile forces in the East at Kursk in July 1943, and the Soviet march towards Berlin that then began had stopped only to occasionally resupply and reorganize, and to crush fanatical German resistance. The German response was to transfer the vast majority of its remaining forces to meet the onrushing Russians, and this reduction of available German forces was an important factor in the success of the D-Day invasion. And success was essential: had OVERLORD failed, it would not have been possible to try again until the next year. The alternatives, such as the Red Army standing watch on the Atlantic Wall in France, the invasion of a France held by Stalin instead of Hitler, or the use of atomic weapons against Germany, the Soviet Union, or both, are nearly unimaginable. In short, for millions, the stakes could not have been higher.

The OVERLORD invasion also heralded the true opening of the long-delayed “second front” in Europe; while forces of the Western Allies had been engaged in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, and the combined air forces of RAF Bomber Command and the US Eighth Air Force had been bombing Germany since 1942, these actions represented piecemeal commitments to the war against Hitler, and constituted no direct threat to Hitler’s position in Europe. The delay in opening this front had fueled Stalin’s belief that the Western Allies were dragging their feet in order to force the Soviets to bear the brunt of the fighting and the lion’s share of the losses. This belief was reinforced by British attempts to conduct peripheral operations more designed to assure the solidity of the British Empire after the war, especially in the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and India. After the Tehran Conference, when Stalin made this belief plain and mentioned the possibility of a Soviet-German truce, the plans for OVERLORD were set for May, 1944.  The D-Day invasion is often mischaracterized as “the biggest/greatest invasion of all time,” and other such hyperole. The biggest invasion of all time was Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, and the biggest coordinated military operation ever was Operation Bagration, the 1944 Soviet offensive in the East that followed closely after D-Day in the West.  OVERLORD was, however, the largest amphibious invasion ever, one of the most complex operations ever, and the apex of the amphibious invasion as military operational art, rivaled only by Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Inchon.

There were two possible landing grounds:  Pas de Calais, directly across the English Channel from  Dover, and Normandy. Choosing Normandy over the more advantageous Pas de Calais created several important effects: dissension in the German chain of command, and the biggest deception operation of the war. Rommel, as the German ground commander, anticipated the Allied landings at Normandy, but his superior Rundstedt was convinced the stroke would fall at Calais. This was particularly important because it was the deciding factor in where to place two German Panzer (tank) divisions being held as strategic reserve. The disagreement eventually reached Hitler, who made a frustrated parent’s decision: neither would get the Panzers, which would be held in yet another place, and released only upon Hitler’s direct order. The consequences were catastrophic: Hitler was sleeping when the call to release the panzers first came in, and his staff declined to wake him and ask; and, in any case, the Panzers would have been unable to reach either, due to Allied air superiority.

The Allies had gone to a great deal of trouble to encourage Rundstedt’s belief: during the build-up, General George S. Patton, who had been recalled and disciplined after slapping a shellshocked soldier in a hospital, was put in charge of a mythical US invasion army mustering opposite Pas de Calais. Thousands of inflatable decoy tanks, trucks, and artillery pieces were built and deployed in pre-invasion configuration, and the air was filled with fake radio traffic. Rundstedt bought it. Had Rommel prevailed, the consequences at Omaha Beach in particular, where the US was very nearly driven back into the sea with heavy losses anyway, may have been catastrophic.

The five invasion beaches were Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold, and Juno. The  landings at Utah and Sword went fairly smoothly with light casualties, while the landings at Gold and Juno took heavy casualties, and the US landing at Omaha, though successful, was a bloodbath. Ineffective naval gunfire and aerial bombing had left many of the well-prepared and dug-in German troops intact and ready on the cliffs overlooking the landing beach. The resulting carnage nearly repulsed the American landings, and victory was in grave doubt, until a Ranger unit managed to scale the cliffs and eliminate the German positions there. The survival of the American beachhead was assured, and could finally begin moving off the beach; two months later, after finally breaking out of the bocage country around Normandy, the end was assured, with only the timing and final Soviet position remaining in question. As Rundstedt said, “the war ended in September.” That may have indeed been the case for any realistic possibility of a German victory in the West, the Battle of the Bulge notwithstanding, although millions of German civilians were still to face the wrath of a Soviet Army for whom the war wasn’t nearly over yet. D-Day is the iconic American experience of World War II. To have simply survived such an event is an act of heroism, as anything less than individual heroism in the aggregate would have been insufficient to the moment. The affirmation that may be taken from that, however, is tempered by the certainty that many, every bit as heroic, motivated, and determined, still found their deaths on the beaches of Normandy. Heroism was necessary, but it was not in and of itself sufficient: one’s position in a landing craft when the grenade went off was utterly beyond one’s control. This, then, shows the expression of necessary faith that is part  of every military operation, that confirms itself in the survivors while betraying the dead,  and leaves all to ponder the meaning of the sacrifice. The examples are all there. Faith. Heroism. Boldness. Honor. Confidence. Responsibility. Competence. Resiliency. Fortune. Imperfection. Humanity…. No wonder D-Day is such a defining moment in 20th century American identity-it should be.  Remember–D-Day, June 6, 1944. Happy D-Day, America!

I’m Not Saying I Agree…But I Understand

Chris Rock once did a stand-up routine where he talked about the OJ Simpson case, and his theme was, “I’m not saying it’s right-but I understand.” This is kind of how I feel about Ukraine: I’m not defending Putin, and I’m not saying taking the Crimea in violation of treaty was right-but I DO understand. Here’s why:

I had forgotten about Zbigniew Brzezsinski’s famous quote: “without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.” This kind of fanatical bipolar myopia isn’t really funny anymore, given that the Cold War ended a generation ago, but it seems to be the core of much US thinking toward the current crisis in Ukraine, much to the detriment of our understanding why Russia is doing what it is doing. With communism defeated, there was  little ideological reason to continue fighting, beyond the entrenched corporate interests of  surviving Cold War -era institutions and the knee-jerk opposition of the Grand Chessboard-type thinking that thought it was a good idea to, say, march NATO up to Russia’s border. The idea that Russia, and any Russian leader, has a legitimate interest in Ukraine complicates this simplistic Good Guy/Bad Guy  narrative, so attempts to undermine Russian influence in Ukraine are left out of the mainstream conversation, as are the activities of Western intelligence agencies in fanning the unrest, and the uncomfortable presence of a significant fraction of neo-Nazis in Ukrainian resistance.

This reactionary impulse may have something to do with US motivation in aiding the anti-Russian Ukrainians, and maybe some of the Ukrainians are simply US aid sponges,  but there is a long history of antipathy between Ukraine and Russia, even before Stalin starved somewhere around 3.5 million Ukrainians to death in the Thirties. This was repaid, of course, by many Ukrainians welcoming the Nazi invaders of 1941. After the war, a Ukrainian independence movement largely controlled by unreconstructed fascists fought on, until finally crushed by the Soviets.

Fast forward. During de-Stalinization, Crimea is transferred to Ukraine from Russia, though the Russian Black Sea Fleet is headquartered there.

Fast forward. When the USSR collapses, Ukraine has the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal on its territory. In return for giving them up, Russia signs a treaty guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity; this is the one broken-maybe-by Russia’s incursion into the Crimea. We’ll return to that momentarily. Also, US Secretary of State James Baker promises Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO will refrain from moving East if the USSR stands down. After the USSR dissolves, NATO, of course, immediately adds most the old Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe to NATO, which is why it so infuriated the Russians when Ukrainian President Yushchenko started talking about Ukraine, on Russia’s border, joining NATO, and expelling the Black Sea fleet from Crimea.

So, when Putin outbid the EU for favorable trade terms with Ukraine, he was operating within the accepted rules of the game. Meanwhile, the US is funding the Ukrainian resistance, and is wiretappedamong other things, picking the next leader of the resistance. Then, after Yanukovich’s “turn” toward Russia backfired, and the demonstrations got out of hand-the Russians brokered a deal to end the protests, and Yanukovich agreed to step down and transfer power to the Parliament.

That should have been the end of it; instead, the Ukrainian resistance reneges on the deal, essentially staging a coup d’tat even though they had already won. Furthermore, to complete the circle, there is a significant, visible presence of Ukrainian neo-Nazis in the Ukrainian nationalist movement.

And that’s why Putin is pissed. In his mind, he was playing a clean game, while Russia was being undercut by a covert op; he brokered a deal in good faith, only to see the Ukrainians immediately renege; and finally, the symbols of the hated fascists who killed at least 30 million Russians in the defining event of Soviet history are being prominently displayed, on Russia’s border.

There is simply no way in hell that any Russian leader is going to allow a hostile government with operational ties to Western intelligence to thrive in Ukraine-period. Especially one that reneges on its agreements, and is working hand in glove with both the US and NATO, who have lied to Russia at every step. Especially one that insists on rubbing its identification with the Nazis in Russia’s face. And, since temporal distance seems to have fogged people’s memories, Russia is a major strategic nuclear power and need have no fear of a conventional military threat, since attacking Russia is a prescription for national suicide.

Also, Russia is allowed to keep 25,000 troops in Crimea, although they are supposed to stay in their restricted area. That’s the treaty violation. There are no dragnets, roundups, or mass executions underway. Putin is walking a fine line here, asserting Russian hegemony in Ukraine without taking the irrevocable plunge of massive bloodletting. So far, he can still back out, and there are some signals that he may be looking for a way out. If he is, we should let him, since the alternative is for Russia to go all the way forward, and just take Ukraine, install the government it wants, and then withdraw to avoid a bloody counterinsurgency campaign. The closest analog in recent US history is probably the invasion of Panama in 1988.

So, I’m not saying it’s right, or saying I approve-but I understand.