Category Archives: War Commentary

Merry Christmas, And Happy New Year

And Happy Chanuka, to all my readers.

Posting will be light/non-existent for the next couple weeks. Patricia and I are flying to London tomorrow evening, for our first real vacation in a long time, and we’re scrambling around, while making a Christmas Eve dinner, to prepare for the trip. We’ll be there, and on the Continent (largely Benelux and France), and back on January 7th.

2016 has been a rough year (even ignoring the politics), with the death of Patricia’s eldest brother and mother, and all the time I spent in Florida getting the house ready to sell. But we sold it, and she has a new job, and we’re going to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Paris, where neither of us have ever been. We’ll try not to get blown up or stabbed or run over.

[Christmas-morning update]

I’ve always thought that the Wexford Carol was one of the most beautiful. Hard to imagine it being done better than this.

And on a lighter note, “I Saw Daddy Pat Down Santa Claus.”

[Update a few minutes later]

OK, this is heartwarming.

[Update a while later]

It’s that crucial time of year to give your cat an annual performance review.


In light of recent electoral events, on this 72nd anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, it’s worth revisiting an old news story from the battle:

World Outraged By Crude Surrender Response

December 22, 1944

BASTOGNE (Routers) A generous German offer of surrender terms was crudely rebuffed by an American general in this besieged Belgian town today, reinforcing the growing image of America as a brutish cowboy in the OK Corral, and almost certainly dooming it and its inhabitants.

The town has been under attack by German artillery almost since the beginning of the latest successful German offensive six days ago, and has been surrounded by German troops for the past two days. Its only defense has been the US 101st Airborn Division, under the command of General Anthony C. McAuliffe.

At 11:30 AM this morning, the German commander, General Heinrich von Luettwitz of the XLVIIth Armored Corps, sent negotiators in to arrange for the peaceful handover of the town. There are varying stories about what occurred next.

Some say that General McAuliffe’s response was a single word–“Nuts!”–a word that the German officer sent to negotiate had trouble translating back to his superiors. Other firsthand reports suggest, however, that the General actually issued a two-word reply, one in the imperative case suggesting that the unfortunate officer have someone engage him unwillingly in activity of a sexual nature, but one that was also more readily and universally understood.

In either case, the negotiations were ended, and with them any prospects for saving the town. As a result of the general’s needlessly insulting recalcitrance, the destruction of the town is now all but certain, and the lives of its terrified residents and defenders likely forfeit.

Surprisingly, some have defended the general, pointing out that the value of German surrender offers had been severely debased after the “massacre” of American POWs at Malmedy just five days earlier.

However, back in Washington, many were privately appalled. One State Department official noted that this could only diminish Americans in the eyes of the world as a heartless and base people, who don’t understand the exigencies and nuance of war. “General von Luettwitz is a noble aristocrat–not the SS troops at Malmedy, and anyway, we still don’t have all the facts on that. That town could have been spared,” he went on, “but General McAuliffe put his own ego and stubbornness ahead of the lives of the townspeople and his own men. But then, what do you expect from a hick who went to the University of West Virginia?”

Some at the Pentagon were dismayed as well. “Now we’re going to have to risk many more men to go in and save his sorry ass,” groaned an undersecretary. “Maybe Patton can do it, in between slapping enlisted men.”

The White House had no official comment, but staffers indicated that the general was perfectly justified in light of the Malmedy incident. It was clear that despite his incompetence and rashness, the general continues to have the president’s full support, and that the war effort would continue, despite its seeming hopelessness, as the tide of world opinion continues to turn against the nation.

(Copyright Rand Simberg 2004)

I wrote this during the politically correct Bush administration. It may have even more resonance today. And before you correct in comments, yes, I am aware of what school McAuliffe actually attended.

The Battle Of The Bulge

It’s the 72nd anniversary of the beginning. Several years ago, I did a piece on how today’s media would have reported it:

Back in Washington, despite lofty rhetoric from the White House about the “liberation” of Europe, many had always been skeptical about the prospects for defeating Germany. As they correctly point out, the Germans are after all defending their homeland, and no matter how bad the alleged depravations of the Nazi regime, all familiar with the German character know that they can be depended on to fight to the death against any foreign invader, no matter how well intentioned. Many of the German dead or captured for the past few weeks have been adolescents, some only fourteen or fifteen years old, with dead, untrained yet willing hands clinging to their rifles. Seeing such images of dedication to the cause, it’s difficult for many to believe that victory is possible.

As a result, the new setback has renewed rumbling among some that the time has come to seek an accord with the Nazi regime that could allow a withdrawal from Europe with honor, and not lose any more American troops in a hopeless cause, let alone bog them down for an unforeseeable period of time. “It was Japan that attacked us, not Germany,” pointed out a Senate staffer. “We need to focus our resources on the true enemy in the Pacific.”

Some staffers on Capitol Hill implied that the timing itself of the offensive was suspicious. “Hitler wanted Roosevelt to be reelected, so that he could continue to fight a war against a sick, senile incompetent. Had he started this offensive before the election back on November 7th, everyone would have seen what a disaster this president has been on foreign policy, and Hitler would have had to confront a young, vibrant Tom Dewey.”

Those fascists, always interfering with our elections.

The Abandoned Frontier

Mark Steyn reflects on the passing of John Glenn. I don’t agree entirely, and I think he misses some key points, one of which was that Apollo was a battle in the Cold War that didn’t have much to do with space. With regard to Charlton, anyone who thinks we’re in technological decline, and unable to do great things any more hasn’t been paying attention to what’s been happening in microelectronics, microbiology, and yes, spaceflight. I’d suggest that Mark read my recent essay on the need to get over Apolloism.

[Update a while later]

Henry Vanderbilt weighs in over at Arocket:

Apollo was amazing, yes. But it did things the brute-force, massively-expensive way. Just look at the size of a Saturn 5 ready for liftoff, versus how much came back. Multiply that by the size of the payroll for the hundreds of thousands building and operating it, spread over a handful of missions a year. That’s a lot of expensive aerospace talent and hardware spent on every mission – billions worth.

Of course, they had no choice but to do it that way. They had an urgent national goal, a tight deadline, an effectively unlimited budget – and a 1962 technology base. One example: The computer that flew a Saturn 5 weighed as much as a small car – and was less powerful than the chips we put in toasters.

Two things happened after Apollo, one immediately bad, one eventually good.

The bad thing is that in the seventies, bureaucrats took over, and did what bureaucrats do: They carved into stone doing things the Apollo way. Shuttle resulted: gorgeous, yes, but only somewhat less expendable and slightly less labor-intensive than Saturn 5. And, alas, somewhat more fragile.

For decades this bureaucracy defended their billions-per-mission turf and defeated all efforts to do things less expensively. (In fact it’s still trying, with a MANY-billions-per-mission bastard offspring of Shuttle and Saturn 5 called “Space Launch System”.)

But the other thing that happened is, back in the eighties a few of us saw this bureaucratic logjam forming, and looked into whether space really had to cost billions per mission. We concluded it didn’t. We began pushing the different approaches it’d take to get costs down to where all the useful things we might do in space begin to be affordable.

It took a lot longer than we hoped getting into this. But thirty years later, commercial space companies are doing things at a tenth of traditional NASA costs. And that’s even before the really radical new technologies kick in, like the reusable flyback boosters just entering test in the last couple of years.

I won’t defend the wasted decades. (It wasn’t us wasting them, though at a number of points we could have been less naive about how ruthlessly the bureaucrats would defend their turf.)

But at this point, despair over the wasted decades is obsolete. Costs are coming down fast, huge possibilities are opening up. We could still blow it, yes. But compared to even just five or ten years ago, right now the future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.

Henry Vanderbilt
Space Access Society
(founded in 1992 with the intent of being no longer needed and disposed of in five years. yeah well.)

As I said on the Space Show the other week, the future for human spaceflight has never been more exciting.