Friday, November 28, 2014

Fullbore Friday

Still finding some items worth bring back from the WWI FbF archives.

It is time to sing the praises of the pinnacle of what it means to be Fullbore. Time to remember, again, an exploit of the SMS Emden in the Battle of Penang.
On the morning of October 28, Emden, with her false smokestack raised to impersonate HMS Yarmouth and, in a rare lapse of Müller's sense of chivalry, flying British colors, slipped into Penang Harbor and picked out among the many vessels there the 3,050-ton Russian light cruiser Zhemchug. Built in 1903, Zhemchug had participated in the Battle at Tsushima in May 1905 but had escaped that debacle to be interned in neutral Manila. Now she joined her former Japanese enemies in the hunt for Emden, having arrived at Penang on October 26 to clean her boilers. Against the advice of Admiral Jerram, commander in chief of Allied fleets in Indochinese waters, who encouraged him to take extra precautions, Captain Second Grade Baron Cherkassov had gone ashore that night to visit a lady friend, leaving his ship with torpedoes disarmed, all shells stowed save 12 and no extra men posted on watch.

At about 5:13 a.m., Emden struck her British flag, raised the imperial German naval ensign, opened fire, and at 5:18 loosed her starboard torpedo. Half of Zhemchug's shells had been left by the after gun, which was put out of action when a blown-away ship's boat fell on it, and the other six shells were by the No. 2 starboard gun, which was pointing in the wrong direction. Her surprised crew dragged the ammunition to the forward gun and returned fire but scored no hits, one shell passing over the German cruiser and hitting a merchant ship in the harbor. After reversing course, Emden launched her port torpedo, which struck below Zhemchug's bridge and conning tower and blew her up, killing 89 of her crewmen and wounding 143. Deciding not to press his luck, Müller then headed out of the dangerous confines of the harbor. In August, a naval court at Vladivostok sentenced Zhemchug's captain and his first officer, Senior Lieutenant Kulibin, to a "house of correction" (3 1/2 years for Cherkassov, 1 1/2 years for Kulibin). Both officers were also stripped of their rank, their decorations and their status as members of the Russian nobility.

Of the French warships defending Penang, the third-class cruiser D'Iberville and the destroyer Fronde were laid up with boiler trouble. Although she herself suffered from bearing trouble, the destroyer Pistolet raised enough steam to take off in pursuit of the Germans at 20 knots. Meanwhile, Emden, mistaking an oncoming unarmed patrol vessel for an armed ship, fired on it and left it in a sinking condition, fortunately without inflicting casualties among its crew. Müller next encountered the steamer Glenturret and stopped her only long enough to ask her captain to convey his apologies for shooting at the unarmed vessel and for not being able to rescue Zhemchug's crew. Emden then encountered the remaining French destroyer, the 310-ton Mousquet, which fired one torpedo and engaged the Germans with one of her guns before being demolished in an uneven 10-minute fight. Emden's crew rescued one officer--whose leg would later have to be amputated--and 35 men and cared for them as best they could while raising full speed to outdistance the game little Pistolet, which they finally lost in a rain squall. Two days later, the Germans stopped the British Newburn and transferred the French aboard the steamer to be conveyed to Sabang, Sumatra, minus three who had died of wounds and were buried at sea with full naval honors.

While Emden lost herself in the open sea and lay low, the newspapers spread the word of her latest outrage against the Allies. In Germany, the Kaiser conferred on Müller the Iron Cross First and Second Classes and the Iron Cross Second Class to 50 men to be picked from among his crew.
The Swan of the East. Sigh - what a ship, a crew, and a Captain.

Learn her lessons - and watch out for those who also have.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Diversity Thursday

Recently I've posted a few DivThu that were meant to be positive and give you hope that we were making progress towards a color-neutral, modern, and fair nation - and in the whole, we are moving in that direction.

However, we are not winning on every front, that is the bad news. The good news is that those who wish to keep everyone broken in to sectarian camps to feed their own psychological shortcomings and fill their bank accounts can only make their argument further in an intellectual concoction of absurdity and implausibility. They can only survive when leaders are easily bullied and are weak-willed intellectual cowards.

Heather MacDonald over at CityJournal has a long article on what is going on in academia. You need to read it all for a lot of reasons. First, if you know anyone with at PhD from UCLA, for goodness sake don't call them "Doctor." They can't write a prescription, and odds are they write worse than I do. 

Second, the racist social justice warriors when they graduate from UCLA and other such schools cannot find real jobs in the civilian sector. They will drift towards government jobs. They will teach, they will administer ... and they will take those Diversity and Inclusion jobs that have grown legion in the armed services civilian cadre as the Fleet is starved of uniformed personnel.

They thrive off of our silence. They survive through terror ... the terror good people have of being denounced and/or having a hostile IG foisted against them. In this area they are winning. We are still waiting for senior leaders to stand up to them.

It is a good fight, and until we push back - our leaders will continue to bend to their will.

There are many examples in Heather's article. This is only one.
UCLA law professor Richard Sander taught an enthusiastic group of students in his first-year property class in the fall of 2013. Building on that class spirit, he proposed a softball match between his students and the other first-year property-law section. Sander’s students wanted to make team T-shirts and came up with a design featuring the logo #teamsander and a picture of their professor holding a baseball bat, embellished with such property terms as “replevin” and “trover.” A few days before the tournament, half of Sander’s students wore their T-shirts to class. An e-mail storm immediately broke out among the first-year black students, charging Sander’s class with microaggression.

Sander, you see, is the progenitor of an empirically sophisticated critique of affirmative action known as mismatch theory, which holds that racial preferences in academic admissions harm their purported beneficiaries by placing them in schools for which they are inadequately prepared. The work has not endeared Sander to the academic establishment, deeply committed as it is to its role as the dispenser of racial noblesse oblige. And UCLA’s minority law students saw in the Team Sander T-shirts a racial slight against them. In the words of the school’s Diversity Action Committee on Campus Climate, the students “felt triggered” by the shirt—an au courant phrase of campus victimology meaning that the shirt had engendered traumatic recollections of other racist abuse that the students had experienced. The shirts were a manifestation of “white privilege,” according to a Facebook commenter, consistent with “racist/classist/sexist comments made inside and outside of the classroom.”

This racial interpretation was wholly fanciful. Affirmative action had never come up during Sander’s class; some of his students were undoubtedly not even aware of mismatch theory. Their choice of team name was solely an expression of gratitude for his property-law instruction. Nevertheless, the first-year black students called a meeting for the next day to discuss their response to the alleged microaggression. Several of Sander’s property-law students attended, in the hope of rebutting the idea that the T-shirt was a political statement; some of the minority students objected to their presence, and the meeting devolved into a shouting match.

Sander’s students left the T-shirts at home for the softball game, but tensions remained high. Several students notified the legal gossip blog Above the Law about the T-shirt offense, and the blog gleefully ran a series of posts about “racism” at the UCLA law school. One post included an anonymous claim from a black student that the law school no longer assigns blacks to Sander’s first-year property classes (there were none that year in his section) because taking a class taught by an opponent of racial preferences is too “awful.” The anonymous source claimed that black students wouldn’t feel comfortable seeking additional help from Sander for fear of “contributing to his research” on mismatch theory by admitting that they didn’t understand a concept. This is an understandable, if unfortunate, reaction to Sander’s work, but it’s hard to see any way around the dilemma. Sander pursues his research on racial preferences in good faith and goes where the facts lead him. He happens to be a committed liberal, passionately dedicated to racial equality, who has come to the conclusion that affirmative action impedes black academic progress. No one has ever alleged that he treats all his students with anything other than respect. In any case, the creation of the Team Sander T-shirts had nothing to do with mismatch theory.

The day after the softball game, which the first-year black students and a few others in the opposing property-law section boycotted, law school dean Rachel Moran sent an e-mail to the first-year class about the T-shirt incident and the “hurt feelings” that it had caused. Rather than rebutting the idea that the T-shirts were racially disrespectful, Moran took refuge in epistemological agnosticism. She urged students to be “respectful of one another’s feelings and open to understanding different points of view.” In theory, this is anodyne advice, but unless Moran believed that the T-shirts were justifiably viewed as a racial insult, she should have corrected the students’ misperception and helped them gain some perspective on what constitutes a true racial offense. Moreover, if T-shirts with Sander’s name and picture could legitimately be seen as an attack on black students, then Sander’s very presence on campus must also constitute an attack on black students. Moran let that possibility hang out there.

The rest of Moran’s e-mail signaled where her heart lay. She promised that her administration would “facilitate constructive conversations in safe spaces for all of our students.” This melodramatic “safety” rhetoric, deployed so promiscuously during the Rust incident (and constantly thrown around by campus feminists as well), lies at the heart of academic victimology. Any college bureaucrat who uses it has cast his lot with the fiction that his college is dangerous for minority and female students outside a few places of sanctuary.

Meanwhile, Sander asked a dean if the school had, in fact, stopped assigning black students to his class, as Above the Law had reported. The school has no such policy, the dean told him. Another T-shirt-inspired rumor held that Sander somehow penalizes blacks in grading, even though grading throughout the school is blind to students’ identities. To the contrary, Sander learned, his first-year black students do better in his classes than in their other classes, earning a B on average, compared with a B-minus elsewhere. Sander asked the administration to put those facts out there to rebut the various falsehoods; it declined to do so, for fear of stirring up more protest.

Racial agitation continued into the new semester. The Black Law Students Association held a demonstration in February 2014, protesting the fact that there were only 33 blacks out of 1,100 students at the law school—apparently, the law school is to blame for the small pool of black college graduates nationwide and in California with remotely competitive LSAT scores and grades. The school twists itself into knots trying to admit as many black students as possible without violating California’s ban on racial preferences so flagrantly that even the press takes notice. In fact, both UCLA and UC Berkeley law schools admit blacks at a 400 percent higher rate than can be explained on race-neutral grounds, according to a recent paper by a pro-affirmative-action economist at Berkeley, Danny Yagan. No matter. The protesters wore T-shirts with 33/1,100 on them and made a YouTube video titled “33,” containing personal testimonials about the stress of being one of UCLA’s black law students: “It’s so far from being a safe space that it would be better for my mental health if I stayed at home,” said one girl. Other students complained that they were looked to in class to represent the black perspective—precisely the role that the “diversity” rationale for racial preferences assigns to minority students.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

LCS Collects Another Soul

You can add this to your list of evidence that one of the most negative secondary effects of the dog’s breakfast program that is the sub-optimal LCS, is the impact it is having on the credibility of our senior uniformed leadership.

Everything they (not the royal "we" I disowned any defense of LCS a decade ago) serve up in defense of the Little Crappy Ship winds up being a thin gruel and weak cheese buffet that rarely survives the follow-up question. Each time they make the effort to fill in for an industry spokesman, the more they let their professional capital drain through the scupper.

The latest to wallow in, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michelle Howard, USN. Via Valerie Insinna at NationalDefense, let’s roll up our pants and get squishy with it;
“My biggest concern and challenge is whether or not we end up being sequestered. That is my biggest concern and challenge to the LCS and the mission modules and for us to be able to replace those aging mine countermeasure ships out there,” she said
If that is your largest worry about LCS, then you've been in the Beltway too long. 

My largest concern with LCS is that it is going to force Maritime Component Commanders to order Sailors to go in to harm's way with an unnecessarily impotent warship with a glass jaw ... but ya'll know that.

Sequetor or not, if LCS is not funded, it is because it is not enough of a priority in the world's largest shipbuilding budget. It isn't a priority because there are things that are more likely to be of value ... because LCS is a fetish program, not a sound basis for a meaningful warship. Full stop.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert testified on Capitol Hill in September that if sequester is reinstated, the Navy will only be able to maintain a force of about 250 to 255 ships, she said. Today, it has a force of about 290, which means that “over the course of five years, we would have to reduce that force structure in order to keep other ships ready."
Of course it won't, and it has been unrealistic to try to sell a 313, 300, 290 ship Fleet with the known macro-budgetary issues in addition with full knowledge of what was coming after the 2009 election.

This has been a reality for half a decade for those who have seen the broader picture. In the face of a realistic budget, the Tiffany Navy pushed, planned, and built under CNOs Clark, Mullen, and Roughead set up following CNOs with the task of slowly walking the happy talk back, while they collected consultant fees from retirement. The last decade I warned of 240 - which was on the low end for even my estimates - well, 250 to 255 is now USN's worse case in the open? As Kaplan said with us seven years ago, American's Elegant Decline - indeed. All by choice.

Our discussions here last decade that brought us to 240 was based on two things - the undeniable budgetary pressures to come, and the lack of political and uniformed leadership to fight against it and make the sale. Could we afford a 313 ship Navy? Sure, all it would take is the ability to look past a decade of land war and, again, have the right political and uniformed leadership who could make the sale. We are here because we have failed there.
As to whether the Navy would have to cut the LCS total buy or to stretch out production of its 32 vessels, Howard said, “Until we know what would happen [with sequestration], we wouldn’t be able to make those decisions.”
What reactionary flapdoodle. Why not outline different courses of action? I know they are there. Sequestration should just be a decision point, nothing more. If the LCS isn't worth it - then it won't survive the rack-and-stack within the board. Any COA offered up, you known I'll "Press 0" and ask for the next record, but that is me. I'm just waiting for everyone else to accept the sunk cost, vote, and then let's all move along.

Now for the worst - yes it gets worst - part of the article.

OK, I try my best to be self aware. I know that if a LCS rescued me at sea, I would find a way to critique something about the ship that pulled my almost lifeless body from the water ... but ... what in the name of all that is holy is the VCNO speaking about?
"Definitely, in this case, you want to have something like LCS and its mission packages … because that ship is self deployable” and speedier than legacy ships, so it can quickly move to a denied environment and create “maneuver space for the forces to flow in behind us.”
Ummm ... please team; correct me if I am wrong. LCS is not self-deployable - hence the shore support plan for the next deployment from Singapore. We have also decided, especially in the MIW CONOPS, that LCS cannot go in to a denied environment any more than traditional minesweepers - unless you assume no air or surface threat in addition to mines. LCS requires other ships to protect it while it does MIW. Correct? 

Also, even if we create a benign AAW, ASUW and ASW environment - for LCS to be quicker to its area to conduct MIW - doesn't it have to come pre-configured for MIW when it shows up?

We've already moved past the "plug and play" CONOPS for mission modules, so if your LCS has the ASUW module and then it needs to do MIW, it needs to go to the rear support base, offload one mission package, get a new mission crew while loading the MIW and then xsit to the area needing MIW. Correct? That is if in some parallel universe you are able to do that. If not, you need to call home for MIW equipped, manned and trained LCS. Of which now and in the foreseeable future, we have none.

That cannot be faster than say a forward-deployed modern class of minesweeper such as the German Ensdorf-class that can put-put onstation at 18-kts. What am I missing?

In the penultimate paragraph,
"How do you rework technology so that we can gain access to those areas and then be able to sustain access in those areas, so that if we had to, we could dominate in a warfight?” she asked.
No. You do not "rework technology" to gain access to an area you were kept out of due to Red's effective A2AD. You eliminate, destroy, and then make their surviving system deaf and blind ... and then degrade them further by another cycle of destruction. Then you move in once you mitigate the threat enough that you are willing to risk your high demand low density units.

You do that through strike. You need cruise missiles and other unmanned strike assets to kick in the door. That means you need long-range strike aircraft. You need electronic warfare systems. Oh, and you need strike. Did I mention strike? Things that kills the enemy and breaks his stuff. That way you "gain access to an area you were kept out of." It's been a solid operational concept for thousands of years. We should study it a bit more, methinks.

Yes, that is old think, I know.

VCNO is smarter and better than this - but she is being put out there to sell the unsaleable ... and it shows.

Maybe we can hire Gruber to do some consulting work. I bet he has some ideas and talking points we can use.
If you like your MIW capability, you can keep your MIW capability.
Um, no.

Hey, time for me to start getting ready for tomorrow's eating. I'll leave you with my opinion via a dramatic rendering of what we must do with LCS.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Alexander Visits West Point

Elizabeth Samet, author and English Professor at West Point has a superb article out, When is War Over. You can add this to our discussion on the proper education of the military laeder.

The entire article is well worth a full read; the below pull quote gets the mood right.
Major Portis is a practitioner, a man valued in military culture for his experience, but he came back to West Point to teach because he so forcefully believes in the necessity of studying with depth and care the stories of others to fill in the inevitable gaps in our experience. One of my students told him that the visit had given him some new perspective on the literature we were reading, but at the same time that literature was now helping the major to understand his war. Major Portis alluded to several things he wished he’d known before deploying.

Had he read accounts of Alexander’s march over the narrow passes of the Hindu Kush, he might have had an even richer appreciation for the challenges of operating in these mountains, especially in the winter. Had he read Babur’s 16th-century description of the region’s silver and lapis lazuli in “Baburnama,” he might have understood more readily the predicament of the Afghan miners who arrived at Keating attempting to sell stones for a song when the bottom fell out of the gem market. Had he read from the “Shahnameh,” he might have been more fully prepared for the diversity of religious rituals and cultural practices that characterizes this region.

AMERICANS love to start over. Those old epics Horace described, which begin in medias res, are not for us. An enthusiasm for fresh starts and opening gambits is elemental to our sense of ourselves as exceptional: the authors of an entirely new book. We are, perhaps constitutionally, ill prepared whenever we find ourselves in the middle of someone else’s story and more than a little reluctant to admit the ways in which an encounter with that story potentially works changes in us. Yet when we cannot “make it new,” we are forced to determine more precisely what compromise we can achieve, what price we are willing to pay for it, and what constitutes an end.

Alexander’s conquest looms large in the “Shahnameh.” Alexander is sufficiently self-aware to understand the vanity of his quest but unable to turn back: “I see that I’m to be / Hurried about the world perpetually, / And that I’ll never know another fate. / Than this incessant, wandering, restless state!” Asked repeatedly by the rival rulers he encounters what he wants in the end, Alexander finds it increasingly difficult to come up with an answer. There’s an insight here into the psychology of long campaigns, which tend to exhaust our ability to make sense of them.

As Major Portis circulated green tea and almonds around the seminar table, just as his Afghan hosts had done for him in Nuristan five years before, I began to think that the first step toward seeing the end is to come to terms with what it means to be right in the middle.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hagel: It wasn't fun while it lasted

SECDEF Hagel throws In the towel. He was brought in as an "I told you so" victory lap as Obama showed that Bushitler's wars were results of his bloodthirsty Haliburtontrilateralcommissionzionism. 

Well, the Islamic State rose and all the work we did in Afghanistan was thrown away and threatens to create the conditions for another Islamic State's rise. 

Wrong man with the wrong ideas at the wrong time. A good man though, just wrong. Who will replace him? I hope someone good. Just look at the horrors how that is the White House Nat/Sec team.


Little Nations Show how it is Done, Again

How do you do small-ish ships right?

Well ... I am green with envy, because our friend Chris Cavas has spent some time on a class of ship we should have instead of the Little Crappy Ship.

I give you the ABSALON derived IVER HUITFELDT-class frigate, Nils Juel NILES JUEL.

At 6,000 tons, she is right between the LCS and DDG-51. It really should be a DD, but I won't quibble - she is unquestionably built right;
The Danes claim Nils Juel and its sister ships were built for US $325 million apiece — an impressive accomplishment for a ship displacing more than 6,600 tons, fitted with a sophisticated combat and communications suite, armed with Standard, Evolved Sea Sparrow and Harpoon missiles, 76mm and 35mm guns, torpedoes and a helicopter, able to cut the waters at 30 knots and travel more than 9,000 nautical miles without refueling.

The price tag is often compared with the $440 million per-unit cost of the smaller US Navy littoral combat ship, which rises to well over $600 million apiece when the average cost of the LCS mission modules is factored in.
Of note, one of those 76-mm mounts is designed to take a 127mm (5-in) gun giving her a diverse, redundant, and effective multi-mission gun system.

most of the ship’s lower decks were designed by Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, with a focus on efficient, robust designs that are easy to maintain.

“The basic design is a Maersk design, with a hull similar to a container ship,” said Cmdr. Christian Horsted, the ship’s executive officer. “Things are very orderly, very well-arranged. It looks like the people who designed the ships have designed a lot of ships.”

Horsted pointed to the bridge and machinery room arrangements, which leave room to add improvements. “Things are really set up right,” he said, looking up at half-filled overhead wire ways. “The cabling runs leave lots of room for extra wiring for more sensors whenever they’re added.”
Did I say multi-mission? In addition to the guns;
- 4 x VLS with up to 32 SM-2 IIIA surface-to-air missiles (Mk 41 VLS)
- 2 × VLS with up to 24 RIM-162 ESSM (Mk 56 VLS)
- 8-16 × Harpoon Block II SSM
- 2 × dual MU90 Impact ASW torpedo launchers
And she can take a full sized helo.

Check out both the linked articles by Chris - he has more photos than just the two I stole to post here.

Reminder, Denmark is a nation of only a bit more than 5-million. Why aren't we building something like this - a nation of over 300-million more souls? If you didn't catch yesterday's Midrats with Bryan Clark - we talked about it a bit - but I think you already know the answer.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Commanding the Seas; the Surface Force with Bryan Clark from CSBA - on Midrats

How do we build the future surface fleet to ensure our forces maintain the ability to access to all regions of the world's oceans that our vital to our national interests?

Our guest for the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to discuss this and the broader issues related to our surface forces will be Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow at Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

A basis for our conversation will be his recent study for CSBA, Commanding the Seas: A Plan to reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare, where he articulates the operational concept of “offensive sea control” as the new central idea to guide evolution of the U.S. surface force. This idea would refocus large and small surface combatant configuration, payloads and employment on sustaining the surface force’s ability to take and hold areas of ocean by destroying threats to access such as aircraft, ships and submarines rather than simply defending against their missiles and torpedoes.

Prior to joining CSBA in 2013, Bryan Clark was Special Assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations and Director of his Commander’s Action Group.

He served in the Navy headquarters staff from 2004 to 2011, leading studies in the Assessment Division and participating in the 2006 and 2010 Quadrennial Defense Reviews. His areas of emphasis were modeling and simulation, strategic planning and institutional reform and governance. Prior to retiring from the Navy in 2007, he was an enlisted and officer submariner, serving in afloat and ashore including tours as Chief Engineer and Operations Officer at the Navy’s nuclear power training unit.

Mr. Clark holds a Master of Science in National Security Studies from the National War College and a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Philosophy from the University of Idaho.

Join us live if you can with the usual suspects in the chat room and offer up your questions for our guest, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Listen to internet radio with Midrats on Blog Talk Radio

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fullbore Friday

I'm still on a nautical WWI kick. An encore FbF.

What is duty? What can leadership accomplish? What is the ultimate price one pays for the two? What is your measure? How do you measure? Is your crew ready when the call comes? Are you ready?

While we are at it - tell me what is really "new" and "revolutionary" and "unknown" about asymmetrical warfare at sea?

Back to the old school - a story almost beyond belief, the
SMS Konigsberg.
With Captain Max Looff in command, SMS Konigsberg sailed out of Kiel on the 25th. of April in 1914, she passed through the Mediterranean, passaged the Suez canal, stopping at Aden, where her Captain even dined there with the British Governor, all very civil in time of peace, but even the , war clouds were looming on the horizon.

The cruiser made it to Matzetumbe, outside the port of Dar-es-Salaam by the 6th. of June 1914.
The Austrian Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Serbia on the 29th. of June...Captain Looff received the code word EGIMA, meaning his country was at war with England, now Konigsberg became the hunter.

First Blood.
On the 6th. of August 1914, the British SS City of Winchester was in the Gulf of Aden, making her way to London, She was crammed full of general cargo, including the 1st. of India's seasonal tea crop. Her Captain, George Boyak, now found his ship in company with a cruiser, which he thought was British, searchlights lit up his command, and he was asked by signal lamp " What ship and nationality?" He dutifully responded with the ship's name and port of registry, but was then ordered to stop.

The arrival on board of a German Naval Officer with his boarding party made the Captain suddenly realise his ship was now part of history, the first British ship to be captured by Germany in WW1, and the first victim of the Raider Konigsberg.
The afternoon tide of the 19th. of September carried Konigsberg out to sea, and she set a course for Zanzibar. The following morning she destroyed the Channel Pilot Boat off the harbour entrance, and Pegasus came within range at 9,000 yards, and the German ship opened fire. Within 20 minutes the British cruiser was down by her bows and giving off heavy smoke. Looff made good his escape heading back out to sea, and a broken piston rod crosshead in one of the ship's main engines forced her Captain to return to the Rufiji Delta...Two days after Konigsberg had sunk Pegasus, the German cruiser Emden ( a sister ship to Konigsberg ) had boldly steamed into the harbour of British Madras and bombarded it. The British had now had enough, and the 5,400 ton Royal Navy cruisers Chatham, Weymouth, and Dartmouth, were all sent out on a find and destroy mission seeking out Konigsberg.
When Chatham stopped and searched the German ship Prasident, she found orders to ship coal out to the Rufiji Delta, then on the afternoon of the 20th. of October a landing party from the British cruiser was combing this Delta area. A sailor shinned up a tree, and was able to detect the disguised masts of both Konigsberg and Somali poking up through the forest canopy. Chatham promptly called up her sister ships, and the blockade began.

The attack begins.
On the 2nd. of November the three British ships commenced their bombardment, but Looff promptly moved his two ships 2 miles further upstream. A few days later, Somali was hit by Chatham's gunfire, set alight, to soon become a total loss, one down and one to go! On the 9th. a British freighter Newbridge was sunk as a block ship in the mouth of the Ssuninga channel, but really to no effect, as Konigsberg never was able to obtain enough coal for her to make a dash for the open sea.
The British went about very systematrically charting all of the cruiser's defences, and two shallow draft River Monitors, Severn and Mersey were sent off on their way to the Delta where they finally arrived in June of 1915.
At 0645 ( 6.45 AM ) the Monitors opened fire at a range of 10,000 yards, and soon after the German cruiser responded with return fire, and by 0740 ( 7.40 AM ) she had gained two hits on Mersey who was forced to retire, leaving Severn to continue the assault, she opened the range another 1,000 yards. Although the rather incredible number of British rounds fired added up to 635 from their 6 inch guns, only 3 of them actually struck Konigsberg.
Now four days of quietness descended on the scene, but early on Sunday morning of the 11th. of July, British aircraft circled Konigsberg, to announce a renewal of the action.

By 1115 ( 11.15 AM ) the Monitors had entered the River, and within 30 minutes the German ship opened fire with four guns of her main armament, but she could not match the rate of fire from the Monitors who began to score hits along her entire length. In addition, the German was short of ammunition, her middle funnel was brought down, smoke poured from her hollow mast, a fire started close to the forward magazine, by 1300 ( 1. PM ) Konigsberg was lost.

Abandon Ship was ordered, and the crew scrambled down the ship's side, taking their wounded with them. Shells from the Monitors continued to pour into the stricken German cruiser. First Officer Koch placed torpedo heads in position to blow out the ship's keel, and at 1400 ( 2 PM ) on the 11th. of July 1915, these heads detonated, SMS Konigsberg heaved slightly, then with a roar, the hull blasted apart, she heeled over to port, and sank into the ooze of the Rifiji River.
Konigsberg armament salvaged.
The Germans quickly salvaged the ten main armament guns from their stricken cruiser, to use them in the East African land campaign. In Dar-es-Salaam workshops, gun carriages were fashioned to carry these Naval guns, now formed into land artillery.

Fate of the crew from Konigsberg.
From the original crew of 350 Officers and Sailors, only Captain Max Loof and 14 others survived WW1, to eventually return home to Germany.

This rather bizarre chapter in the early part of WW1, stage in the more remote region of German East Africa, proved that a resourceful Captain Looff, and his crew could tie up more formidable enemy forces for many months before sheer numbers overcame his resistance. An intriguing story from a now distant past.

By a strange twist of fate, two 4 inch guns from Konigsberg have survived today, one is in Mombasa, and the second in Pretoria. The Mombasa gun sits close to one salvaged from the British Cruiser Pegasus, in WW1 each ship fought against each other at Zanzibar, now the two guns peacefully coexist side by side.
You SUPPOs and CHENGs should read the whole thing - and it is a good example of how the British took one bit of carelessly kept information to their advantage, for you N2 types. What a story.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

And now, we test the built in safety system ...

Just one short note about the President's speech tonight.

I'm not all that excited or fevered over it. The founders of this nation did their best to build a constitutional republic based on the rule of law.

They built the system we have fully expecting that there would be those who would abuse their power and not work within the constitutional system in order to get things done that they like, because the can't force the system to work for them.

This is one of those extra-constitutional moments. It is what you get when you elect people such as President Obama.

We have two other branches of government who are now charged to be the anti-bodies to excess and overreach.

Let them work. If the antibodies do their job, the system will, as designed, fix the problem. If they do not function, then the republic takes one more step towards death.

Republics have a tendency to do that eventually, die. Our founders, who studied in detail failed republics in the past, tried to design a system of republican governance that would have safety systems in place to stop past errors from coming up.

To work though, it takes an informed people and politicians who are people of good character and good will.

So, let's see what happens.

I have faith in the Constitution I swore an oath to. I support its system, and if it works - great. If not, then we have a very interesting few years to go.

Diversity Thursday

This is progress.
Today, the Project on Fair Representation announces the filing of two lawsuits challenging the racial preference admissions policies of Harvard and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The complaints can be found at

The plaintiff in both lawsuits—Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA)— is a newly-formed, nonprofit, membership organization whose members include highly qualified students recently denied admission to both schools, highly qualified students who plan to apply to both schools, and their parents.

The Harvard lawsuit alleges the university is engaging in a campaign of invidious discrimination by strictly limiting the number of Asian Americans it will admit each year and by engaging in racial balancing year after year. These discriminatory policies in college admissions are expressly forbidden by the Fourteenth Amendment and federal civil rights laws.

Students for Fair Admission's complaint highlights data and analysis that strongly suggests that white, African-American, and Hispanic applicants are given racial preferences over better qualified Asian-Americans applying for admission to Harvard.

Additionally, the complaint demonstrates that Harvard is not in compliance with the new "strict scrutiny" standards articulated in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The Fisher opinion unambiguously requires schools to implement race-neutral means to achieve student body diversity before turning to racial classifications and preferences.

The UNC-Chapel Hill lawsuit alleges that, like Harvard, the University is not in compliance with the new Fisher strict scrutiny requirements. Students for Fair Admissions explains in its complaint that UNC has admitted in an amicus brief it submitted to the Supreme Court in the Fisher case that the school can maintain, and actually increase, racial diversity through race-neutral means if it ends its race-based affirmative action policies. Students for Fair Admissions argues that this compels the university to end its racial classifications and preferences and adopt some combination of race-neutral policies instead.

The discrimination against Asian-Americans at Harvard and both schools' blatant failure to comply with recent Supreme Court directives with regard to race preferences are emblematic of the behavior of the vast majority of competitive colleges throughout the country. Because of this, Students for Fair Admissions asserts in its complaints that racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are inadministratable; a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and federal civil rights laws; and must be ended as a matter of policy and law.
This is how you fight it. Drag it out in to the light where it cannot survive.

Sad thing is - the military used to be at the cutting edge of race relations - now we are seem to be stuck in the Nixon Administration. It should simply be, "Shall not discriminate on the base of race, creed, color or national origin." Should be, but isn't.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

LCS: the Audacity of Hype

Time for another Salamander pro-tip: Shipmate, don't feed your reputation to Vaal! A commissioned officer does not have the duty to sound like a spokesman for the defense industry. You're a customer, not a stockholder. 

Your duty is to your ship, shipmate, self - not program, multinational corporation, talking points. 

It is not your job to say things that don't survive first contact with the follow-on question; it corrodes your integrity and to be frank - it makes the other kids laugh behind your back.

Once again we have a Grubertastic LCS article out, throwing more tropish strawmen against the wall to ... well ... heck ... I'm out of FODish metaphors to mix. Let's just dive in, shall we?

Jennifer Hlad over at S&S gets us started;
The USS Fort Worth is slated to depart Monday for Asia, where it will operate largely out of Singapore for 16 months, the longest deployment of a U.S. Navy ship in more than 42 years.
Good googly moogly; we can't even make it out of the opening paragraph.

This claim is not only ahistorical, it is a slap in the face to everyone who has actually made real long deployments - most recently BATAAN and SHOUP.

Let us be very clear about how we define a deployment. A deployment is a crew and a ship. Together. Away from homeport, and returning. Not including usual personnel turnover, the overwhelming majority of the crew leaves with the ship, stays with the ship, and then returns home.

By the definition they are using here, every Forward Deployed Naval Forces ship has been on deployment - some for years.

You are not deploying for 16-months if you are doing this;
...the crew of 54, plus the 24-person aviation squadron, will swap out early next year, and that group will be replaced again late in 2015, said Cmdr. Ken Bridgewater, the ship’s commander. The crew will switch out a third time before it returns to San Diego. After 16 months, the Fort Worth will be replaced by the USS Freedom.
Use that STEM education, Shipmate. 16-months divided by three crews comes to; three 5.3 month deployments. That is ship-swap, not deployment.

At least Jennifer, very gently, points this out.
Navy officials told Reuters news service that this would be the longest deployment of a U.S. Navy ship since the carrier Midway was under way for 327 days in 1973. The Midway used one crew.
Who is this "Navy official" and how do we send them TAD to the NHHC for some self-guided education after we give him a wedgie and open a bar tab with is Visa as he unwads his panties?

Oh, wait ... hug your YN ...
Capt. Randy Garner, commodore of LCS Squadron 1, said the ship offers extensive automation, which means it can do more with fewer people. Crews operate without any administrative tasks, so those costs have been transferred to supporting shore commands.
OK; so, we have a waiver from Millington for no FITREPs, EVALs, awards, travel paperwork, responding to ADMIN messages, and various sundry other reports while deployed? Really? I'd really like to see what is and is not considered "administrative tasks."

Here is where we are all just going to get sad.
One of the advantages of the ship’s design is that the crew can switch out modules quickly, said Cmdr. Mark Haney, the ship’s executive officer.

“As long as you can put it in a conex box, you can put it on an LCS,” he said, standing just a stone’s throw from boxes with overflow berthing inside.
Oh no, XO. Sigh. Let's hoe this row again, it seems to have gotten weedy.

There are no modules to swap out. You are deployed with an impotent PMC Surface Warfare module. MIW, ASW, etc modules are either many moons away from being deployable, or are PPT thick. There is no proven infrastructure in place to swap out the modules, and if - again all this is theory as there are no operational modules out there ready to go. Unless you define quickly as a week+ offstation for swap out - then that is simply an aspirational statement, not a reflection of reality.

This capability is what we are trying to figure out - but we are not in a position to make that PPT in to flesh. The fact we are five years after LCS-1 was commissioned and we are still at this stage tells us all we really need to know about this ship and the program in general. Remember, we fought and won WWII against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Empire of Japan in less time.

Oh, more beers on my tab, please.
The Navy planned the LCS to have a core crew of 40 sailors and mission and module crews of 15 to 20 sailors, according to a July Government Accountability Office report on the USS Freedom’s 2013 deployment to Singapore. It later increased that number after finding sailors were overworked and not getting enough sleep.
You read that here almost a decade ago, and by others who published papers earlier than that saying the same thing.
The Navy expects to have an LCS manpower study done next year, although the GAO report sees potential flaws in the findings.

“Manpower studies do not account for the issue of core crews relying on mission module crew and contractor ship riders to assist with their core crew functions,” according to the report.
I don't know. What more can we say?
"It’s all about giving flexibility to the forward commander, based on how much money we have," Garner told Reuters at his office after a tour of the ship, which is due to leave on Monday for Singapore and the Pacific region.

"It’s an amazing return on the shipbuilding dollar for us, versus what we’ve done in the past," he said.
Laugh, cry, or scream? Votes anyone?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What Ukraine is Teaching the West About Itself

As summarized over at NRO, George Weigel has brought up the deeper importance about what we have seen in the last year in
Ukraine. Many, your humble blogg'r included, have spent a lot of time focused on the Tactical and Operational play-by-play, with a stab at the Strategic now and then.

Weigel goes deeper and makes the point that what is going on is so much more important and meaningful than what we are being shown or are appreciating.

You need to read it all, but here are a few pull quotes to ponder;
The first aspect of the Maidan’s providential character has been the subject of our reflections all day. The religious communities of Ukraine — Orthodox, Roman and Greek Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim — have cooperated as never before over the past year. And they have done so in the face of severe Russian aggression in various forms: political aggression, military aggression, and even ecclesiastical aggression. In the process, a baseline, a new foundation, has been set for ecumenical and interreligious cooperation in building a vibrant civil society for the free, prosperous, aDemocracy and the free economy are not machines that can run by themselves and virtuous Ukraine of the future.

The second providential aspect of the Maidan “revolution of dignity” points outward, toward the West. For this revolution of conscience — which now coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Revolution of 1989 and the collapse of European Communism — teaches five lessons the West badly needs to relearn about its own civic and political project, and the relationship of religious conviction and moral truth to that project.
Yes, religion matters. Especially when times are rough - it matters a lot.

He goes on to flesh our his five points, but here they are;
- Freedom is never free.
- Democracy and the free economy are not machines that can run by themselves.
- Historical and moral clarity count.
- Reality-contact is essential for the future of freedom.
- The ecumenical movement within the Christian churches must be recalibrated for the 21st century.
He exactly points out one observation many have made - many of the same people who at the end of the Cold War were Soviet apologists and on the wrong side of history - are now there again.
The vulnerability of the West to Russian propaganda today is a direct result of the post–Cold War failure to culturally delegitimize — to shame and shun until they had acknowledged their errors — those who, for reasons of ideological intoxication or stupidity or both, had misrepresented the realities of Communism in political life, in the universities, in the press, and in the religious communities. Unrepentant and unchastened (indeed, in the case of academics such as Stephen Cohen, boldly defiant), many of the purveyors of falsehood then are the purveyors of falsehood now. Those who made excuses for Soviet aggression then make parallel (and in some instances, identical) excuses for Russian aggression now.
Even in the former Soviet Union - a place run by the most anti-Christian philosophy outside the bloody edges of Islamdom, the Church didn't just survive - it is still a player.
In my recent interview with Major-Archbishop Sviastoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the archbishop had a message for the West: “This is not only about us; this is about you.” That is exactly right. The Maidan is about us, about the West: It has been a profound reminder of the truths on which Western democracy rests. Ukraine is not a country far away, populated by a people of whom we know very little. Ukraine’s quest for a free society has become a mirror in which the West, looking at the courage embodied in the Maidan revolution of conscience, can measure its own civic, political, and moral and cultural health.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Seamanship 202: Shouldering as taught by Armada Española

Yes, I have watched it about four times - and I smile more and more.

Greenpeace - I cannot stand those publicity hound poseurs. I actually applied for a summer job with them in the mid-80s - snort. I guess they didn't like that I was in NROTC ...

Anyway, I lost all respect for them in the early 1990s when I was on the receiving end of one of their little photo-ops. Great to see the Spaniards giving them what for. Greenpeace's arrogance expecting everyone to play with their games is just pathetic ... but funny to watch.

Note to Greenpeace - a RHIB is a weapon. When you approach a ship at 20+ knots, you are armed. The Spanish showed more restraint than you deserve.

Oh, and if you are going to play varsity, you may want to get the right gear.
Although we can’t confirm this at this time, the injuries sustained by the Greenpeace activist, an Italian national, occurred after she was knocked out of the boat and was hit by a propeller.

The Spanish Navy acknowledges the incident and was quick to point out that all the propellers on their RHIBs are shrouded, while the Greenpeace activists’ boats did not have shrouds.
Hope you heal up soon and then accept responsibility for your injuries.

Hat tip gCaptain

Saturday, November 15, 2014

13 Years in to the War with John A. Nagl - on Midrats

13 years in to a the long war, what have re relearned, mastered, forgotten, and retained for future use? What have we learned about ourselves, the nature of our latest enemy, and the role of our nation? What have those who have served learned about their nation, their world, and themselves?

Iraq, Afghanistan, the Islamic State, and the ever changing global national security ecosystem, how are we now, and where are we going?

Our guest for the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to discuss this and more will be  John Nagl, LTC US Army (Ret.) D.Phl, using he most recent book Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice as the starting point for our discussion.

Dr. Nagl is the Ninth Headmaster of The Haverford School. Prior to assuming responsibility for the School in July 2013, he was the inaugural Minerva Research Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was previously the President of the Center for a New American Security. He graduated from the United States Military Academy Class in 1988 and served as an armor officer for 20 years. Dr. Nagl taught at West Point and Georgetown University, and served as a Military Assistant to two Deputy Secretaries of Defense. He earned his Master of the Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and his doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

Dr. Nagl is the author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam and was on the team that produced the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

Join us live if you can with the usual suspects in the chat room and offer up your questions for our guest, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Listen to internet radio with Midrats on Blog Talk Radio

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fullbore Friday

For some reason, my inbox this week was full of woe of the infantilization of our junior officers.

It made me thing of one Navy Lieutenant. Just 27 years old. What did his CO trust him with? An encore FbF from 2008;

Fate. In time she catches all. Like her sister ship, the Swan of the East, she was a beautiful ship manned by the best there was. Finding herself and her sisters at the other side of the world from home and safety, surrounded on all sides by those who were hunting them and wanted them dead, they bravely headed through the gauntlet on the way home, knowing full well the odds - an epic tale.

On the way, she faced the fleet of the greatest naval power of her day and handed that power her first defeat on the High Seas in over 100 years at the Battle of Coronel. Turning the corner home, she found herself and her sisters, all five of them, spoofed, spooked, surprised, chased, fought and defeated by that same power in the Battle of the Falklands Islands less than two months later.

All her sisters are dead, and finding herself wounded and falling apart, she retreats away from the gauntlet waiting in her way home. Wandering as she finds a place to rest in the middle on nothing;

Approximately one month later, SMS Dresden was the only German cruiser to escape at the disastrous Battle of the Falkland Islands, her turbine engines proving faster than her expansion-engined squadron mates. The ship then headed south back around Cape Horn to the maze of channels and bays in southern Chile. Until March 1915 the ship evaded Royal Navy searches while paralyzing British trade routes in the area.
She waits. She waits for an old enemy, HMS Glasgow.
On March 8th, the Dresden put into the Cumberland Bight on the Chilean island of Mas-a-Tierra (AKA Robinson Crusoe Island). Due to lack of supplies and parts for the worn-out engines, the ship ceased to be operational. Six days later, on March 14, 1915, British warships found the elusive German cruiser.
What do you do? The Commanding Officer, Kapitän zur See Fritz Emil von Lüdecke knew,
After a few shots were fired, the Dresden ran up a white flag and sent Lieutenant Wilhelm Canaris, who would become a famous Kriegsmarine admiral during the Second World War, to negotiate with the British. However, this was merely a ruse to buy time so the Dresden's crew could abandon ship and scuttle her. At 11:15 a.m. the Dresden slipped under the waves with her war ensign proudly flying. Her crew of about 300 men was interned in Chile for the duration of the war, with about a third electing to remain and resettle in Chile at war's end.
The right call, a good call. She and her crew could hold their heads high, including the one that later served in the Royal Navy. Made quite the diplomatic kerfuffle in its day, as reported by the NYT here. Ok you smart types, look at that good LT's name. Yes, that Canaris - another story for another day.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Curtis LeMay and Robin Olds Just Ordered the Entire Bottle for Their Table

I don't really quite know what to do with this. I kept looking for a, "Duffleblog Production," but alas, no.


Perhaps someone else can speak for me here.

Hat tip Matt.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leadership, Peaches, and Disturbing the Universe at Annapolis

Back in July I had a moment; a poem I struggled with and frankly dismissed decades ago hit me in the back of the head - hard. 

I was mad at myself that back when Reagan was President I didn't take the opportunity to see past my immature brain to dig in to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot.

There was more there; a lot more - but I didn't know how to find it.

I then reached out to our resident English Professor at the front porch and friend, Professor Bruce E. Fleming PhD, from the Department of English at the United States Naval Academy. I had no idea if Eliot was in his stable, but I knew that one way or another, I wanted his take on Eliot.

Little did I know, but he knew exactly where this guy in his late 40s was coming from. It appears, he's seen this movie before.

Bruce did not disappoint. As I have typed this out, I have read his response three times - and each time I find something else to ponder.

If you don't like poetry or Eliot or whatever, I don't care. Suck it up and indulge me for a bit; take time and read what Bruce is offering here. As some of his former students might tell me, I picked the right Professor to ask for help.

Professor Fleming; the rest of the post is yours, and thanks again.


I teach at the Naval Academy, Annapolis. I’m in my 28th year. My students are typically 18-21, with a few older ones who were prior-enlisted, or who went to civilian schools before losing all their time by starting anew at the Naval Academy. (We accept transfer of individual courses from these, but not of years: the idea is that four years of Annapolis are so essential to the development of an officer—the fact that 80% of Naval officers don’t go the Academy be damned—that we don’t want to deprive people of any of them.) Still, without a rare waiver, they can’t be older than 23 on the day they swear in, right hand upheld, on I-Day, Induction Day.

So they are young. And worse (or is this, better?), they come with illusions about the Naval Academy that are created by our Madison-Avenue-level hype: the Naval Academy is full of “the best and the brightest,” we reject twenty applicants for every one admitted, we make (as our Web site says) “Leaders to serve the nation.” They find out soon enough (I say by October of their plebe, freshman, year, so I call it their “October Surprise”) that none of this is true: we have SAT scores lower than the nearby state school University of Maryland, the bottom 20% of our class needed a taxpayer-supported 13th grade at the Naval Academy Prep School (NAPS) to even be viable academically and even then usually aren’t, we define an “applicant” to include high school students applying to a six-day summer seminar—about a third of the “applicants” we claim, we recruit shamelessly for Division I athletics, and we don’t graduate “leaders” (which we never define) but only officers, which we have the power to create. The students expect what I call “jacked geniuses” and find mediocrity, and a million rules and “traditions” that serve no purpose except themselves. So it’s all intensely discouraging for the midshipmen.

You’d think that this discouragement, which is the dominant tone in T.S. Eliot’s epoch-defining post-World War I poem (1920) “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” would make this poem easy teaching at Annapolis. In fact, that’s what makes it hard going, as the students are almost all fighting against admitting their own disappointment: sensing it makes them twice as adamant about the dream that was denied them.

In November 2014, we’re marking the centenary of the beginning of World War I, then called the “Great War,” started by the “Doomsday Machine” (as some commentators have called it) of Great Power alliances. An astonishing number of them, whether friend or foe, were ruled by Queen Victoria’s grandchildren, so this marked the end of the Victorian era in a great killing machine that kicked in when the heir to the Austrian throne was shot by a single independence-minded Serbian.

The November show of a sea of blood-red ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower of London shows how many English and Commonwealth soldiers died: one poppy (as in the poem, “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow/beneath the crosses, row on row”) per English or Commonwealth man. And not to speak of the Germans, who joined for what their leaders sold to them as “defending the Fatherland.” I read the German-perspective view of the killing fields second semester with plebes, Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Same young men on both sides, same pointless death. The poppies at the Tower of London constitute an astonishing display of public art, one that actually means something (as opposed to the antics of Cristo and Jean-Claude, who wrap public things—the Reichstag in Berlin, the Pont Neuf in Paris—in acres of expensive cloth and binding—to what end?). Do our students realize that wars that begin with patriotic valor (one of the most famous of English recruiting posters shows a woman pointing the way to hesitant recruits: Women of Britain say “go!”) can end in bloody pointlessness that wipes out the young men of a generation?

That’s a lesson you’d think we’d want to teach at a military academy, and thus you’d be justified in arguing that that “Prufrock,” which many commentators hold to be a response to the Great War, would be essential reading. However I confess that I gave up on “Prufrock” for the midshipmen years ago. Call me pusillanimous. Or weak. Just like Prufrock himself, the title character of the poem, who worries what the point of being able to “squeeze the universe into a ball” might be, if the lady he’s interested in dismisses him with a weary “that is not what I meant, at all”? He worries a lot, our Prufrock. That his hair, legs, and calves are getting thin. That the “eternal Footman” (‘Footman’ capitalized: God? Social convention?) will snicker (make fun of him behind his back). That he does not “dare to eat a peach.” Or indeed dare to do much of anything: “’Do I dare?’ and ‘Do I dare?’” He gets through life, measuring it out “in coffee spoons”—presumably one predictable and boring social engagement after the other, where he seems to think better of it before deciding to “turn back descend the stair”—and notes the predictable small-talk of his social class: “In the rooms the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo”—but presumably without saying much that’s meaningful. All it does is pass the time before death.

All is predictable in Prufrock’s world, and all utterly pointless. And at the end, Prufrock (about whom we know little other than his strangely precise moniker—what is his first name?, and the fact that he moves in high, if dreary, society) knows that “the mermaids” (presumably the free beings of myth as opposed to his so-circumscribed life among the coffee-drinkers) “will not sing” to him. There is no escape. Just put one foot in front of the other, knowing his hair is growing thin, and that he no longer dares—to do anything, it seems. Not even to “eat a peach.”

Nor does anybody in lower societal strata with whom he has cursory contact have it any better: Prufrock walks at dusk through the city,

“When the evening is spread out against the sky/

Like a patient etherized upon a table”

and sees sad people leaning on the windowsills of rented rooms or cheap hotels, or restaurants with sawdust on the floor. The narrator calls himself “I” and addresses a “you”—presumably another person, or the reader? In any case the reader follows Prufrock through the low-rent district to the higher, where he passes his pointless social evenings. We’re not to ask about the lower classes, who never speak, though the fog and the smoke curl around the shabby buildings in which they live: we are on a mission, to “make a visit” and so we do not ask “what is it” (the absolute rhymes of this so-jazzy poem that otherwise meanders around a central theme bring us back to earth). Our choices seem to be sad and seedy on one hand or pretentious/hollow/boring on the other, which is a pretty discouraging choice. Still, it’s a “love song”—of formless longing for the sadness of it all, most likely, though countless freshman essays have been written “explaining” this strange title.

All this defeat and discouragement may be the metaphor of a post-War generation, and historically relevant, especially at Annapolis: it’s sort of how Vietnam went from keeping Communism at bay to writers like Tim O’Brien or movies like “The Deer Hunter” or “Platoon.” But try selling this discouraging, if intensely relevant, bill of goods to testosterone- or estrogen-crazed young people still chasing the dream of being a Navy/Marine Corps pilot, or (the highest goal) a SEAL. We got Bin Laden, after all.

For a time, several years in fact, I did try, and like Prufrock, gave up. It was too much of a slog. I love a challenge, nothing gets me fired up faster than daring the impossible. But this was just cruel, telling kids with the bloom of ignorant youth still fresh on their cheeks the sad fact that, for many generations, including probably their own, it all ends badly. Think of Iraq. Individual heroes, overall (arguably) pointlessness.

No, what midshipmen want is YUT. They want to be assured that the goal still exists, and is worth pursuing. And they want to be, and be around, winners. Prufrock is, let’s face it, a loser. He is educated and aware, but not, as we say at Annapolis, a stud. He whines, he admits defeat, he fails to go to the gym (people note “how his calves are growing thin”—not to mention his arms), he wastes his time in small talk measured out in coffee spoons and with too many women “talking of Michelangelo.”

Generations of prematurely old college students have found an “objective correlative” (Eliot’s phrase) to their own malaise in this poem. But not many of them come to Annapolis. Ours are more idealistic. Oh, their dreams are shattered soon enough: most are in shreds come October. But they rarely admit this. Or the possibility that the dream doesn’t even exist at all? So how to peddle this vision of seductive doom to young people who still have not admitted to themselves that the pumped-up hyper-muscular world they thought they would find at Annapolis does not exist, that the mermaids are not going to sing to them? You’d think they’d see themselves in Prufrock—but they don’t. They see simply a man who isn’t a stud. So they’re not going to listen to him.

Of course what they ought to admit, in order to move on past their own despair, is that there are no mermaids at all. I tell them this, and point out that the moving on consists precisely of ceasing to listen for the mermaids they believed would surround them outside. Instead they have to listen to the voice of their inner mermaid, the one that gets them to the gym to work on their arms and calves, that teaches them to simply leave when those damn people begin yammering again with the same platitudes about whatever or whomever (can be Michelangelo, can be T.S.Eliot). Eliot’s poem never gets to this point, but I can.

But is this fair to Eliot? This poem was written by a man not yet 40 who had clearly plumbed the depths of discouragement. Scholars tell us the woman who finds him irrelevant echoes his first, rather crazy, wife. Comparative Literature types (like, I suppose, me, with degrees from U Chicago and Vanderbilt in comparative literature) link the flowing associations of the form to the French poet Jules Laforgue; my professor Donald Davie at Vanderbilt contrasted this with the more “rock-hewn” lyrics of contemporary Ezra Pound, underestimated in Prof. Davie’s view in favor of the (for him) inexplicably more likeable Eliot with his musical washes of theme. Sculpture (Pound) vs. music (Eliot), Prof. David taught. Sculpture was better.

Well, that’s too fine a point even for an English major at the Naval Academy, much less a sophomore Western Lit student, or a plebe. To me, Prufrock looks like what we all threaten to become, and so have to fight against: a man of little self-esteem, caught in a robotic pointless lifestyle, and carrying out (or not carrying out) apparently abortive relationships with the opposite sex. Me, I say: go to the gym, be confident about the things you’ve earned, and have lots of relationships with other people of the sex that seems right to you. It’s called being alive.

Prufrock, by contrast, is waiting to die: “I grow old… I grow old…/ I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” Damn it man, I want to yell at this Prufrock: DO something! EAT THE GODDAM PEACH! And then go on to do other things! FIND ANOTHER WOMAN! STOP GOING TO SO MANY COCKTAIL PARTIES! PUT DOWN THE COFFEE CUP! Go sweat some! Bro out! Chase women (or whatever): just DO IT!

I write the word “Nike” (as in “Just Do It”) on plebe papers that take too long to get to their point or make excuses for what they are peddling. So I say to Prufrock: NIKE!!!!!! He’s a how-not-to for our students, and that alone ought to make dealing with him useful to them. And his situation is arguably not one of his making. But in fact, midshipmen, in my experience, fail to see the “There but for the Grace of God” aspect to our hero. They just see somebody who’s despicable. They’re not wrong: he is despicable. But apparently he didn’t want to get where he is, and sees no escape. And sometimes there is no escape. How much of his situation is due to his having given up? And how much to his circumstances? Europe didn’t want to end up with a generation wiped out or mangled, but there it was. So now what? Just smile and be happy? Wallow in grief? Unclear, but in any case well worth the discussion—a discussion I now never even try to have.

Still, we should have this discussion, if not with the young—since something like this situation comes to us all. Sometimes I get emails from students of a decade, or two, before: typically they’ve had their times as studs, which requires constant charging forward and minimal introspection, and now are listening for the mermaids. Usually the mermaids are silent. They did the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan (to what purpose, they confess to me, they don’t know), got out, either are married (and don’t quite know what to make of that) or aren’t (and don’t quite know what to make of that either). Or they’ve figured out they are gay and now what? Or aren’t but the opposite sex isn’t cooperating. Or they have in fact stayed in the Navy (which usually means they’re divorced), but are disillusioned. Still, they want to hang on to retirement. Their emails are wistful. It all seemed so clear back at Annapolis: the institution was a washout so the Fleet had to offer the solution. And then it doesn’t. Welcome to Prufrock’s world.

Can I explain all that to them when they are 21 and champing at the bit to leave us for greener pastures, pastures which most of them discover don’t exist? Sure, I do my best to make clear to them that the only mermaids are the ones inside each of us, not outside: be true to your goals, discover yourself and be that person.

Sometimes the kind of person they want to be, hard though it may be for outsiders to USNA to believe, who frequently judge me based on my writings to be a grouchy old man, is me: I am an improbably youthful 60, do one-armed pushups to “motivate” midshipmen, remember their sports and whether they’re making progress (or not so much) on the papers, share current events, kid with them, let the tall jacked ones try on my suit jackets, and (they tell me) give them something to look forward to in their day. They work for me, I am fond of them, I model what I take to be good leadership in an institution that offers very few examples. So, at any rate, they tell me. I model confidence, they tell me, which is the mature version of their cockiness.

Of course, not all my students want to be me: I had a female student a decade ago who decided later she was into girls. She told me, more recently, bringing her wife by to say “hi,” that I was so comfortable being myself that she decided she had to be herself. She did USMC, and now has a fabulous job. So she’s a success story too. Modeling confidence doesn’t mean making clones. But if I didn’t swagger, they wouldn’t even pay attention.

Prufrock skulks rather than swaggering; he isn’t a success story, and he knows it. So they find it hard to listen to him. I hope my students do not end up as Prufrocks. This is the poem of an old-at-heart (if not old) man: it’s what threatens to overtake us all. It’s seductively beautiful, and we have to resist giving in to it—as if it were not mermaids singing, but sirens. Stop your ears with wax, I’d say to the midshipmen if I were willing to give this poem a try again, and bind Ulysses to the mast so that, alone able to hear the irresistibly beautiful song of the sirens in Homer, he would be unable to steer the ship to the men’s doom. Prufrock has an easy life, full of empty luxury, but it’s unfulfilling: the upper crust is vacuous, and apparently the lower-crust just sad.

But midshipmen rarely even give the poem the credit of finding it beautiful, or seductive: it’s enough for them that Prufrock’s hair and calves are unimpressive. They don’t realize that this is the fate that threatens to overtake us all—which means, them too. They can’t imagine being 40—but 40 was decades ago for me. I have former students who are 50. There is life after youth, blind, disillusioned-but-fighting-against-it youth, such as the college-age students at a military academy. I try to tell them that. They may listen, but I doubt if they hear. And I’m not even sure I want them to.

We leaders, when we stand before a cavernous space full of young faces, “prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet”: leadership is largely theater. So this is another lesson “Prufrock” could teach them, if they could only hear it. I try to get this point across to them anyway, but it’s not what they want to hear. They believe that leadership is all charisma and force rather than the day to day attention to detail it largely consists of. And they believe that, unlike Prufrock, they do dare: the self-doubt of a Prufrock, reserved for the more mature beings they will become, is still in the future. So I can’t, as I so desperately want to do, even show them how to combat it. It’s a disease that, they believe, will never afflict them. They’re wrong, so sadly wrong. But some things cannot be transmitted to the young, no matter how desperately they need to hear them. Which is why I’ve stopped teaching T.S. Eliot’s masterwork “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to midshipmen at Annapolis.