mm288: Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling fusion

February 17, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Mark Benjamin, writing in, opened our eyes this weekend with an exclusive look inside the U.S. Air Force’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And the illuminating article allows this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© to return to an abiding interest, what’s going on up there in the sky?

The changing face of military aviation

eighth in an occasional series

The series so far…





U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war



Go to war — Play videogames



Osprey: A Flying Shame



Abolish the Air Force



Proxy killers — Can you live with that?



A Maginot Line for the 21st Century



A shared obsession is a satisfying thing


The videogame theme has struck yr (justifiably) humble svt before. Take a look.

Read the rest of this entry »

mm224: Dec. 17, 1903: A seminal date in world history

December 17, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

MUDGE grew up at a time when everyone knew who the Wright Brothers were. Indeed, I believe that the one who survived beyond 1912 actually died the year I was born. And I just looked it up — Orville died exactly nine days after I was born, at the age of 76.

I’m wondering how many people care anymore that the first flight ever anywhere of a heavier than air powered airplane was made in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on Dec. 17, 1903, 104 years ago today.

I’ve been thinking about it all month, like I have every December since I was about eight years old.

Does anyone remember Landmark Books? I think I may still have some of those left from my childhood somewhere in the dungeon below the house, together with others picked up second hand for the next generation of MUDGElets.

Thanks to Google (where else?) found an interesting page on a site I’d never encountered before, Valerie’s Living Books with this description:

Landmark Books (American history) and World Landmarks (world history) are accurate, in-depth stories for young people nine to fifteen years old. These living histories were written by award-winning authors or by men and women who experienced the events first-hand. Written during the 1950’s and 60’s and illustrated either with two-color drawings or clear photographs, the books are informative, enjoyable, and well worth collecting and reading.

Reading level and content vary from book to book. Some are relatively simply written and are very appropriate for middle to upper elementary children. Other books, because their reading level is higher and the subjects they cover require a mature reader, may be best suited for young adults.

Explanation for the digression: I first learned about the Wright Brothers and their amazing achievement from one of the Landmark Books, “The Wright Brothers, Pioneers of American Aviation,” by Quentin Reynolds; I read and reread it countless times. What a tremendous inspiration. And what a terrific series of books, on so many fascinating and important topics.

Ironically, Valerie’s did not have a copy to show you, so I went to my trusty old/rare books destination, Alibris, for this:


Don’t remember the dust jacket, but this hardbound book and many others in the series were in aggregate one of the pillars of my childhood.

In this age of videogames and Nickelodeon, a parent could do worse than to find some Landmarks at a local used book emporium, or Valerie’s or Alibris, and put them in the way of your 8-14 year olds. A world full of important people, events and things existed for several billion years before they were born; they could get a clue…

Okay, though, back to the Wright Brothers. So, I always think about the first powered flight around this time and date; was even noodling around thinking that it might be a topical lead-in to a further discussion of one of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©‘s current concentrations, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles — we’ll get to it another day, thanks), when I encountered this story today at

Dec. 17, 1935: First Flight of the DC-3, Soon to Be an Aviation Legend

By Tony Long  | 12.17.07 | 12:00 AM

A Douglas DC-3 shown in flight.  | Photo: Corbis

1935: The Douglas DC-3 makes its maiden flight at Clover Field in Santa Monica, California. Despite a production history lasting only 11 years, it will become one of the most durable, long-lived and beloved aircraft of all time.

While it may be a legendary plane today, the Douglas Aircraft Company wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about getting the DC-3 off the ground. The impetus came from American Airlines, which wanted a plane that could provide sleeper berths for 14 passengers.

So if Orville and Wilbur were inspirations of my childhood, so then the Douglas DC-3 was an icon of that time also.

For they were still around when I first began looking up in the sky in the early 1950s; I dimly remember flying in one somewhere (or maybe I just hope I so remember! — I flew in piston-powered airliners several times in my youth), and during my childhood built more than one plastic scale model of that aircraft.

And Wired told me something I didn’t know:

The first DC-3 flew Dec. 17, 1935, 32 years to the day after the Wright Brothers’ historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It was a good omen for an extraordinarily good plane. The DC-3 entered commercial service flying coast to coast, with an overnight stop, across the United States.

Talk about synchrony…

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Dec. 17, 1935: First Flight of the DC-3, Soon to Be an Aviation Legend

How absolutely, astonishingly, completely the world changed after December 17, 1903. Not quickly, at first. The Wright’s motorized, manned kite only flew 120-feet, less than the wingspan of many modern aircraft and, secretive and paranoid perhaps, the brothers took their time getting out the word, enough so that there were challenges through the years for the unprecedentedness of the achievement.

But then, men and women took to the air, eventually outer space, and the planet simultaneously grew smaller and larger as a result.

All because a couple of bicycle mechanics in the town of Dayton, Ohio read everything they could on the subject of heavier than air flight, thought they could do it better than the lavishly funded formal scientists of the day, applied their self-taught mechanical skills and creative problem solving abilities, including finding a safe but out of the way venue for their experiments, and, somehow, leaped into the sky.

The U.S. Air Force has an amazing museum of flight at Wright-Patterson Air Base in Dayton, the site honoring, of course, Wilbur and Orville. (By the way, if you and your kids have any interest in the subject, you can easily spend an amazing day wandering around more than 300 aircraft. Been there, with my then-17-year-old son; we opened the museum one Sunday morning, and closed it that evening. And, free admission! Thanks, taxpayers!)

Kitty Hawk, an otherwise unremarkable bunch of sand dunes, is memorialized by a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, (USS Kitty Hawk CV-63) the second to carry the illustrious name, soon to be decommissioned and in the news recently when the Chinese government turned it away from a ceremonial Thanksgiving visit to Hong Kong, and then objected when it transited back to home port at Yokosuka, Japan (been there! gaped at that huge ship there!) by way of the Taiwan Strait.


Finally, while we’re showing useful photos, have to share this one, the magnificent capture of that first flight, that first day of the current era of manned flight, from Wikimedia Commons.


A stunning portrait of a stunning, global civilization altering day.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


Note!: the links to Valerie’s Living Books, and Alibris used above is for the convenience of faithful reader and represents no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. It’s an artifact of Sequitur Service©. Deal with it.

mm183: Abolish the Air Force

November 2, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

From the “If it’s the weekend, it must be military” department, we bring you this fascinating analysis from The American Prospect.

Was sent this earlier today by MUDGE‘s ex-Navy son, who was interested, as is his parent, not due to his parochial leanings toward the maritime forces, but rather due to his interest in history, especially military history.

And the thesis here is based, not only on the present straitened circumstances in which the U.S. Air Force finds itself, fighting in conflicts using techniques in which it has little interest, and causing as a result inexcusable amounts of what is delicately called collateral damage.

No, the analysis expertly recounts the troubled history of the Air Force, built from the first on a flawed premise: the value of strategic bombing.


Abolish the Air Force

What it does on its own — strategic bombing — isn’t suited to modern warfare. What it does well — its tactical support missions — could be better managed by the Army and Navy. It’s time to break up the Air Force.

Robert Farley | November 1, 2007

In August of this year, reports emerged that British Army officers in Afghanistan had requested an end to American airstrikes in Helmand Province because the strikes were killing too many civilians there. In Iraq, the Lancet Study of Iraqi civilian casualties of the war suggested that airstrikes have been responsible for roughly 13 percent of those casualties, or somewhere in the range of 50,000 to 100,000 deaths.

This watershed comes at a particularly important time, as the Air Force observed its 60th anniversary this past September.

But it’s time to revisit the 1947 decision to separate the Air Force from the Army. While everyone agrees that the United States military requires air capability, it’s less obvious that we need a bureaucratic entity called the United States Air Force. The independent Air Force privileges airpower to a degree unsupported by the historical record. This bureaucratic structure has proven to be a continual problem in war fighting, in procurement, and in estimates of the costs of armed conflict. Indeed, it would be wrong to say that the USAF is an idea whose time has passed. Rather, it’s a mistake that never should have been made.

As a child of the 50s and 60s MUDGE cut his teeth on Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, which ought to be required reading for all (and which I believe helped make draft dodgers out of huge swathes of the sons of the Greatest Generation, whose Air Force Heller eviscerates).

So I’ve long been suspicious of the value of strategic bombing, which was designed to undermine the enemy’s ability to prosecute war by crippling its industrial base, and as the years have passed, and my reading of history has expanded well beyond the comic novel, my suspicions have become sureties.

Before we continue, I need to stop.

What is written here is meant to cast no aspersions on the competence, courage and loyalty of the personnel in the cockpits and the equally dedicated people who support them on the ground. Indeed the official nephew of Mr. and Mrs. MUDGE is completing his senior year at a major university as a high performing member of Air Force ROTC and we couldn’t be prouder.

This is about the generals and the politicians who coddle them. Strategic and not tactical. I love you gals and guys in the trenches, and the shiny (or anti-reflective stealthy as the case may be) warbirds you fly and you keep in the air. This is only about those who direct you from the air conditioned D.C. offices. Those guys.

Okay, back to the story.

During the first years of the U.S. involvement in the European theater of World War II, strategic bombing was the only way for the U.S. to take the fight to Germany, but was a terribly costly way, and did not provide the overwhelming blow that its then Army Air Force proponents promised.

But, strategic bombing is what the Air Force was selling, and just after the successful end of the war Congress bought it.

Strategic bombing performed by the now independent Air Force did lots of work, but failed to win the wars against North Korea, or North Vietnam.

Arguably, airpower did succeed on its own in bringing victory in the 1999 Kosovo War. For 78 days, the NATO alliance bombed Serbian military and infrastructure targets in order to force Serbia’s withdrawal from the province of Kosovo. After increasingly serious threats of a ground invasion and the end of Russian support, Serbia succumbed to the NATO occupation of Kosovo. Even acknowledging the decisiveness of the airstrikes, however, the ability of a small country to stand against the world’s most powerful military alliance for almost three months does not speak well of the coercive capacity of modern airpower.

And now, strategic bombing seems to have an uncertain place in the type of asymmetric warfare the U.S. is fighting today.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Abolish the Air Force | The American Prospect

There has been something “off” about the Air Force, especially in recent years. The scandals at the Air Force Academy, which as one of the comments to the American Prospect story reminds us, is increasingly fundamentalist Christian in its orientation (anyone recall separation of church and state?) and where sexual harassment (an unfortunate and nasty feature at all of the military academies) has been particularly ugly.

Another aside: During the years the official son of Mr. and Mrs. MUDGE was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, we were proud members of the local parents organization, so we were in a better position than most to understand the very much harder than hard road that women midshipmen and cadets face at all of the Academies. And now one of those stalwart women, who went on to distinguished service in Japan, the Gulf and Washington, D.C., is now our lovely daughter-in-law. Are we lucky!

A third aside: I remember distinctly learning from a Naval Academy recruiter at one of those parents association meetings in the early 1990s that at the time, due to the post Cold War drawdowns of forces, there were actually more flight berths on offer to graduates of the Naval Academy (remember, all those floating airports, the Navy’s carriers) than for the Air Force.


Finally, as covered in several posts here recently, the air is increasingly filling with remotely piloted aircraft, the UAVs and UCAVs, most of them flown by enlisted personnel at consoles thousands of miles away. Not exactly Eddie Rickenbacker or Chuck Yeager, is it?


Did you catch the heart of the argument?

If strategic bombing won independence for the Air Force, yet strategic bombing cannot win wars, it’s unclear why the Air Force should retain its independence.


It’s it for now. Thanks,


Note!: the link to used above is for the convenience of faithful reader and represents no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. Deal with it.

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