Monday, August 29th 2005

The Miracle at Dunkirk and Operation Dynamo
posted @ 1:57 pm in [ ]
So I’m still reviewing Yugoslavia sources, and I have the TV on in the other room for background noise. I walked through there to get something to drink, and Antiques Roadshow was doing a show from Ramsgate. Ramsgate is about 50 miles across the English Channel from Dunkirk, and it’s one of the places from which hundreds and hundreds of little boats came to help evacuate Dunkirk.

They showed a few of the boats that were actually THERE. Apparently Ramsgate reenacts Operation Dynamo every 5 years on its anniversary, and this year, 54 of the original boats showed up for the celebration. One of them was The Sundowner, a yacht, owned by, entertainingly enough, a retired naval officer and the highest-ranking survivor of the Titanic’s crew, one C.H. Lightoller. Perhaps that should not have inspired confidence, but Lightoller had already lost one son in World War II, and he brought his other son along as part of The Sundowner’s crew of three. Having had less than 2 dozen people on board The Sundowner at a time, the Lightollers brought no less than 130 soldiers to the safety of Ramsgate. A sample of his account of what happened is here, along with some other brief, interesting perspectives. I think it’s part of an ad for a book. Sure makes me want to buy it.

The Miracle at Dunkirk, as Winston Churchill called it, is one of my favorite moments in military history. I’d like to talk about it in class, but the truth is that I can’t talk about it at all without getting all leaky and wet and sobby. You can’t see that happening, though, so I’ll tell you about it.

In the late spring of 1940, a substantial chunk of the British Army was in France trying to stave it off from the Nazis. They were not having much luck, and France got pretty well overrun in a pretty short time. Britain was in trouble: just about out of weapons and what-not at home, and having lost a lot of men and equipment. Hitler’s army was in much better shape. A huge piece of the British Army got cut off, and the German Army, having basically hauled ass all across France, was within striking distance of polishing off most of the British Infantry. It was trapped between the English Channel and the advancing army of Hitler.

Hearing of this, Winston Churchill sent word all over England for any boat over 30 feet to come to the aid of Britain. Tugboats on the Thames came. The Merchant Marine came. Every boat that could be pressed into service came, and they all helped evacuate the British and remaining French forces from Dunkirk across the English Channel to safety. Churchill and his advisors hoped to save some 10,000 souls. This was Operation Dynamo.

The miracle, though, was twofold. First, Hitler for some reason backed off Dunkirk. The allies were outgunned in the air war overhead by about 2 to 1, and the ground forces had punched a 50-mile hole through the British Army, separating it like an egg. His advisors fought as hard with him as they dared, because the British Army was all but in Nazi hands. It is speculated that Hitler just wanted to do things differently: he wanted to hold the air cover and get some really proper artillery to the northwest of France, and just plow through to the English Channel in a conventional ground assault. He needed a few days to get that together, and figured the pinned-down British Army wasn’t going anywhere. Others conjecture that at this point, Hitler didn’t want to annihilate Britain so much as subjugate her, so he didn’t want to wipe out the forces entirely. In any case, he held his ground for several days, which allowed the allies to evacuate Dunkirk. The British themselves assumed that The Battle Over Britain had been successful enough to buy them some breathing room, which was also partially true.

The second, and most wondrous part of the miracle came, though, when thousands of regular folks showed up with their own boats: rowboats, pleasure boats, sailboats, fishing boats, lifeboats, whatever they had, even if it was well under 30 feet, and sailed them across the English Channel under fire, taking as many soldiers as each boat could back across. Hundreds of citizens of Ramsgate, being so close to Dunkirk and having lots of small craft, saved an astounding number of those men from certain massacre, and were some of the first little ships to get started in the effort. They emptied their marina, as did other coastal towns, and were joined by thousands of their countrymen in thousands of tiny boats, essentially forming a lifeline flotilla across the English Channel.

The total count of rescued soldiers (British and French) varies with the source, but there is general agreement that out of the 10,000 Churchill hoped would be saved, about 330,000 were actually evacuated from Dunkirk in less than a week: May 30 to June 4, 1940, I think. The British war effort galvanized and began to rally–it was a major turning point and a major “What-if” moment of World War II. What if only that 10,000 had been saved? What if the marinas of Britain hadn’t emptied, and just the Merchant Marine had come? What if nobody came at all? It was still tough–the British Army had had to leave much of its equipment behind and did take some not insignificant casualties during the Battle of Dunkirk–but it could have been pretty much wiped out that week. Fascism might have triumphed but for thousands of tiny boats and the civilian heroes who brought them.

This is the thing about wartime. Citizens want to do their part. They don’t just want to send soldiers, they want to be involved in the effort. If the war isn’t for something the citizenry can get exercised enough about to actively want to help out, you’ve got no business fighting it. If your country is not under attack and you can’t muster the volunteer forces to go fight somewhere else, you’ve got no business doing it. When you have to PAY mercenaries and civilian contractors to fight your overseas battles, it’s time to cut your losses and go home. If you have to trick people into signing up, the justification for war is suspect. If an elected leader, who after all, WORKS FOR THE PEOPLE, will not discuss the matter with them, the republic is in serious danger. One of the minimum requirements for a successful war is civilian support: if you don’t have it, you just can’t win. Any strategist worth a crap knows that a war is more than soldiers and equipment–only a senseless one becomes that.

The ongoing Iraq War has been senseless for a long time. Most Americans, if they even understand what’s going on, are lukewarm about it. Ironically, the ones who are the most gung-ho about it are those who think Iraqis attacked the World Trade Center on 9/11. “Contractors” are being heavily relied upon in Iraq–and by some accounts outnumber the soldiers, and kids are being recruited out of high school and sold a bill of goods so they’ll serve. To those who think it’s okay to “stay the course” with some ill-defined indefinite plan, think about this: Would anyone on the Persian Gulf come get our soldiers if the worst happened? Would the Sultan of Oman, or Bahrain, lend his yacht to the effort? Would our pals the Saudis take every private vehicle that would make the trip to Iraq to get our people? Would Americans by the thousands, using their own resources, find some way over there to carry our soldiers out of harm’s way? Would every seaworthy boat on the Tigris and Euphrates come to their aid?

This is a conflict that we will not win, and I say that as an expert security strategist who specializes in the patterns of human conflict. All the signs of disaster are there. We are as invincible as the late Roman Empire, as the Athenians confronting the Melians, and as the Axis powers themselves. The rules of warfare aren’t just there to be friendly: they reflect the lessons of history. Agressors rarely win. If you’re hiring mercenaries to fight your war, you’re already screwed. Don’t fight multiple wars in multiple countries at a time–it spreads your resources too thin. There is nothing more vulnerable than an empire that thinks it’s invincible. If you think you’re fighting a pre-emptive war, you are probably morally on the wrong side of it.

If we cannot physically go to Iraq and save our soldiers, a few at a time, like the civilian heroes of Operation Dynamo did, it is time to save them through other means. Our children, our brothers and sisters, our spouses, our parents, our lovers–they are being used as tools and weapons of a corrupt and blind administration, and they are far too precious for that. Write letters, make phone calls, write emails, demand answers, PROTEST. Make your voice, your pen on paper, your homemade sign, your Small Ship.

Saturday, August 27th 2005

Screw Fred Phelps and his whole famdamily
posted @ 10:23 am in [ ]

[Post-publication Note (2/06): There's a bit of bad language in this post. I'm afraid the bad language is just too central to the ideas I'm trying to convey, so if that kind of thing bothers you, DON'T READ THIS, okay?]

So I just got this email from our delightful hostess, Lisa, pointing me to a hilarious blog entry of someone I don’t even know but that I already like. Clearly, her head is on straight and she’s funny. What’s not to like? Normally, I’d do a more savy link, but check out this delightful title on your way to check out this delightful story (complete with delightfully horrifying photographs):

Yes, Fred Phelps, fuck you very much.

Now, normally, I don’t like to give assholes like Fred Phelps too much of my brain time or energy because that would please him, and I think the only pleasure he deserves is a swift anal penetration and prostate massage from another man. Or perhaps a male donkey. I’d prefer to expend all that hate energy doing something that would really piss him off and benefit me a lot more than it would him, like having saucy homosexual fantasies or seeing The Aristocrats again.

This was my reply to Lisa, who thoughtfully put me, and thus you, onto this great entry: Niiiice. Thanks for sharing! Phelps really is an earwig in the rice canister of humanity. He needs a serious mooning, all right. Maybe a big gay pie in the face.

Now the wheels start turning. I like the idea of pieing people very much. It’s funny, it gets the point across, nobody gets hurt, and it’s really embarassing to assholes who can’t laugh at themselves, who, let’s face it, deserve it most. I mean, if you just walked up and shot his ass, Fred Phelps would be a martyr to some, he would be immortalized by media attention, and however badly his ass NEEDED shooting, you would probably go to jail (even though I think “he needed killin’” is indeed a legitimate legal defense in Kansas), and then there would be lots and lots of other court, too, and your life would be inexorably tied to Phelps’ “flock” as they took turns giving you shit, suing you, and what-not. Court sucks, and so do people who think Fred Phelps is good. Who really needs all that suckiness? It’s like the worst kind of scorching, lethal VD: one moment of intense pleasure, followed by years and years of needless suffering. Whereas pieing is pretty tough to prosecute. Picture the court proceeding:

PROSECUTION: Your honor, Mr. Phelps was brutally pied by the defendant.
JUDGE: He was what, now?
P: Pied. The defendant threw a pie in his face and rubbed it around, and everybody laughed.
J: Hmm, I’m not sure that’s a crime so much as it’s Vaudeville. How do you think it would play in Peoria?

So now I’m thinking, and I mention to Lisa that I know a guy who claims he will kill people for $30. Now, I’m sure he wouldn’t really, but you cannot beat that price with a stick! Beatings start at an affordable $10 - $15! I mean, you could get someone’s ass kicked basically for money you could find in the couch. Also, since he has a real talent for physiology–not to mention his excellent grasp of clinical application–I am fully confident that he knows exactly what to do to inflict a maxium of damage. Cheap AND effective: he’s like the baking soda of petty assault! He also claims he will pie people for free. He is such a prince, I bet if we paid for gas and a pie, he would even drive us there, pie Fred Phelps for nothing while we watched, and drive home. He’s that kind of guy. If we fed him on the way, he’d probably even pretend to be gay WHILE pieing, just to add insult to, well, funny insult (getting a pie in the face just isn’t an injury–trust me–I been pied).

Let me know if you want to contribute to the gas money fund.

Thursday, August 25th 2005

The crusade
posted @ 12:44 pm in [ ]
How goes the dissertation crusade? Some of you have been asking what the story is, since I was posting daily and now I’m not. No worries–I’m still plowing ahead. I finished my source collection, and I’m reading and quote mining–probably for the rest of the week, anyway. Lots to get through, and generally not the part of the writing process that generates daily, blogworthy, tangible results.

I could say that progress is happening because the Yugoslavian conflict of the 90s, and the elements that made it what it was, are sharpening up in my mind. I could say that Tito’s reign is probably less of a factor than I had thought it was; as a totalitarian, he could really have been a lot more brutal, and his repression was, well, kind of stabilizing, and even somewhat prosperous for a while (compared to other countries in the region, anyway). This is interesting to me because I had originally placed the seeds of violentization in Tito’s capable hands, but I think maybe the process really began when he died and the early stages of violentization just came quickly afterward, being completed later but faster than my original impressions of how it went. We’ll see how it ends up, though. I have a bunch of critiques of Tito that I have yet to get through–some of them contemporary. Maybe history is just being kind to him because Melosevic makes Tito look like Havel.

I could say that progress is happening because I’ve identified some possible “near misses,” which is kind of the only way to do a qualitative control group in a situation like this. Czechoslovakia and Poland didn’t melt down the same way Yugoslavia did, and they had a lot of the same issues. I’ll keep thinking about that.

I could say that progress is happening because the stack of books that are Post-It flagged and on my desk is growing while the stack of pristine books that came straight from the library is shrinking.

I have formatted, though, and done a little writing and note taking in the main documents, so there’s a little something tangible to report. Part II is broken up into 7 pieces: 5 pattern studies, an introduction and a conclusion. Together, they make up 33 pages right now. So here are the current totals:

Part II, Pattern Study 1 (Yugoslavia): Pages, 5; words, 773.
Book: Pages, 140; words, 33,863.

Sunday, August 21st 2005

Part I is in the can!
posted @ 5:29 pm in [ ]
My printer is currently horcking up Part I of my dissertation. My printer is often persnickety, but it seems to really like the long haul–and this may very well be the longest haul I’ve ever put it through. So far, so good. Tomorrow, I hand it in.

The totals:
PART I FINAL (for now, anyway): pages, 84; words, 20,477
The book: pages, 135; words, 33,512
Pages today: 5
Words today: 1144.

The printer counts backwards from 84. It’s down to page 28, the end of my lit review. I throw away the scribbly little Post-It note upon which I’ve been recording my totals so I could post them here. Why not start a fresh one? Page 26, how Athens is like Horowitz and the importance of studying violent quiescence and near misses.

Tomorrow I start Part II, the pattern studies. Kosovo is first. I’ll try to do source collection while I’m on campus tomorrow, but won’t promise not to take a day off instead. Page 20, where I compare Athens’ nature vs. nurture dilemma with the agent-structure debate in my own field. Unless my committee is insane, they’ll love it. But maybe they are. Page 17, where I politely almost call one of the sources my committee chair insisted upon an obtuse idiot. Taking a risk there. Page 16 finishes. It’s as far as I can go right now. Phillip has gone out to get me another ream of clean paper to feed the printer. All I have left is recycled, with the U.S. Consitution printed on the other side–a perk of the distance learning class–I get to keep the extra handouts. This is no draft, though, and clean paper is a necessity. 15 pages to go, plus a cover sheet.

The printer waits to be fed. Petra waits less patiently to be fed. I pet her velvety face.

A week ago, this seemed impossible.

Saturday, August 20th 2005

Week in review
posted @ 4:01 pm in [ ]
So today represents a full week of writing every single day. I’m surprised to report that it has been quite manageable. Most of those days, I only wrote for 1 1/2 - 3 1/2 hours. Part I is just in need of editing–it’s more or less together. I’m still on schedule to hand it in Monday.

Part I: pages, 79; words, 19,333
Book: pages, 130; words, 32,368
Words written today: 1,235

Words: 9605
Pages: at least 26 (might be more by different counts–you’ll notice that today the page count actually went down although there are more actual words in there–such is the editing process).

Friday, August 19th 2005

…and I call it “The Aristocrats!”
posted @ 3:18 pm in [ - ]
Last night I saw what may be the most hilarious movie I have ever seen in my life. I’m still snickering about it today. The Aristocrats is like the Olympics of bad language with a dream team of about 100 famous comedians participating. Apparently “The Aristocrats” is a joke comedians tell each other and rarely, if ever, tell their audiences. But they do know it… and it’s disgusting!

Basically the joke only has a beginning: a guy walks into a talent agency; and a punchline: “…and I call it, ‘The Aristocrats!’” In the middle, the teller describes the most disgusting family act imaginable: bizarre sex between family members, bestiality, bodily fluids, human waste… and attempts to be as utterly gross as possible. Each telling is distinctly different. A very scant few of the dozens of great highlights: Whoopi Goldberg doing a hilarious rendition of people singing in unison with thier own foreskins pulled up over their heads; Cartman from South Park, specially animated just for the movie; a card trick telling the story; Bob Saget telling a particularly raunchy version, including mentioning that he does not condone incest and frequently does PSA’s exhorting people not to f*ck their families, then asking for a copy of the tape to send to the kids from Full House and cracking up; George Carlin’s embellishments; and my personal favorite: a mime. I have never found mime funny, but wow.

If you can take incredibly raunchy language (some people at the theater where I saw it, despite repeated warnings, were so grossed out they left–but I laughed my ass off), SEE IT. See it now! Seriously, for the money I spent on movie tickets, popcorn and beer (yaaaay, the Mayan now offers beer!), I have never had that good a time on that little money in my adult life. It was way better than if I had gone out to dinner for the same amount.

And now for the daily totals:
Part I: Pages, 75; words, 18,225
Book: Pages, 132; words, 31,133
Words today: 1,114

Thursday, August 18th 2005

Running total
posted @ 4:25 pm in [ ]
Part I: Pages, 70; words, 17,111
Book: Pages: 127; words, 30,019.
Words written today: 1001.

The funny thing is, I wasn’t even going to write today. I’d had a lot of other stuff to do, I was tired, and I figured I’d cleared so much yesterday that it would be okay to skip today. But then I thought, well, the best thing about this past week has been the regularity of just sitting down to DO SOMETHING, so I thought, okay, I’ll just key in some stuff from this last source…

Now that all the quotes and all the stuff is keyed in there, I have to rearrange and fill in some stuff, then edit it and hand it in. I’m thinking Monday. Gonesh protect me from the obstacle of lifedrama.

Speaking of Gonesh, I have a little Gonesh figure carved out of a Betelnut that sits next to my computer monitor. My friend Aradhna brought it back for me from India to help me remove the obstacles in my life that keep me from getting finished and out of school. He’s working overtime this week. Yay, Gonesh!

Wednesday, August 17th 2005

Daily totals
posted @ 2:44 pm in [ ]
Part I: pages, 66; words 16,110
Book: pages, 124; words 29, 018

So yeah, like, 12 pages today. How d’ya like THEM apples?!

Tuesday, August 16th 2005

The running total…
posted @ 3:01 pm in [ ]
Part I: Pages, 56; words, 13,110.
Book: Pages, 115; words, 26,018.

Part I is officially more than half of the book in terms of word count. Hard to say when the page count will catch up…

Monday, August 15th 2005

Today’s totals
posted @ 3:38 pm in [ ]
Part I: Pages, 52; words, 12,035.
Total document: Pages, 111; words, 24,943.

I don’t think I’ve ever written close to 25,000 words in a single document/project before. I may try to get a little more done today, just to cram in those last 57 words. It also looks like tomorrow, Part I will likely become more than half the document. I got more formatting finished today, too.

In yesterday’s posting, I forgot to mention one other factor from the last few weeks that contributed to the “falling into place” feeling. I did sort of an introspective meditation, asking myself why I was so ambivalent about my process. I mean, I’ve done some good things while in this program, but I sure knew it was time to move on. Why was I sometimes avoiding writing? Why wasn’t I just on fire about doing it? True, just about every stage of the program has been a ridiculous, politically-infused hurdle whose trials had little to do with my actual competence, but all the more reason to get past it. I tend to be pretty fearless. This is the part of the program I’ve actually been looking forward to, and when I’m actually writing, I’m generally enjoying it. What the hell was the holdup?

I couldn’t say exactly what processes I went through while poking around in my subconscious, but I always find that the answers to my questions about myself or my behavior are in there. Once I felt I had figured it out and began shaking it off, I found I had written a single sentence on a Post-It note: “Staying in school is not keeping you young; it’s just holding up your life.”

Did I consciously believe perpetuting my studenthood was keeping me anything other than in a perpetual state of low-grade outrage? I don’t think so. But the idea of being a full-fledged grownup continues to lack some crucial scrap of appeal. On the other hand, finishing one’s formal education forever and general adult stability are dripping with serious, full-blown appeal. I’m sick of the life of the doctoral student. In many ways, it’s annoying and squalid.

Obviously, upon rational consideration, this grain of ambivalence, predicated on the idea that being in school makes/keeps one young/youthful, dissolves. Am I freaked out about getting older and running out of time, and concerned that I may be having a long, mild midlife crisis? Sure, you bet! But not finishing my dissertation and getting on with my life was making it worse, not better.

So over the past few days, I’ve written close to 1000 words a day. If I could keep that up, I’d have this project finished by Halloween. It’ll be a lot tougher by the end of August, though, when I have to go back to working multiple jobs. I’ll settle for the end of the calendar year.

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