Receiving

On this section of the series explaining the rationale behind why boot camp is so intensive we will be talking about Receiving and the first few days of boot and why they are so crucial to the training that will follow. Receiving is a period before training begins. You arrive at boot camp, but for the first few days or so, you don’t actually train. Officially, boot camp hasn’t actually started. Functionally, receiving phase is necessary for little more than getting your paperwork taken care of. You just do paperwork getting into the federal documentation system. You will receive all your gear and start your initial process into “getting ready” for bootcamp. Of course, it’s the way you do all of this that is important. The fact that boot camp hasn’t actually started shouldn’t imply that recruits are relaxed, just waiting around, or playing Madden on the couch by any means. The entire time recruits are still hounded, hassled, yelled at, screamed at, hurried, stressed out, and berated for at least part of every inch of every step they take by inexplicably angry men standing around every corner. There’s more, though.

Later in that first night, a recruit will go through the numerous immediate rites of passage that are part of the boot camp, and more broadly, the Marine Corps and military experience all together. That first night provides recruits with the rather impactful physical transformation and uniformity that will be necessary later on to build unit integrity. The first of which, is when they get the haircuts.

Why is the haircut so important? To be completely honest, it is part of the erosion of individuality. What? Yes, the erosion of individuality. Sure, the official response is that the military haircut is to ensure that military member’s gas masks secure properly (which is true), but in the indoctrination phase, it is necessary for that other psychological reason, repression of individuality and the building of unit cohesion.

Why should a warrior lose his individuality? Individuality is what makes him special and unique, right? It is what makes him valuable, right? It’s what the modern American culture is based on! While this is true, in theory, it can also be a problem if you are trying to make an individual into a team oriented warrior.

Individuality makes recruits feel special and unique. It makes them feel different and as if they might be above someone or something else, say, like being dragged through mud or forced to march fifty miles in the span of three days with no food or rest. They are better than the orders they might receive. Individuality makes people feel that, in some indescribable way, they are better than other members of the platoon. They are too good for the treatment that is part of the boot camp experience and transformation. You wash that away with uniformly matching haircuts and attire, and that sense of individuality erodes away. From day one, everyone is the same. In fact, during my time, being called “an individual” was an insult as it meant that you were a person who couldn’t put the needs of the others before your own. Yes, individuality is repressed as they will spend the next three months dressed the same, act the same, and look the same. It’s an important part of the transition. Eventually, individuality is encouraged again, later on after boot camp, such as the School of Infantry or their Military Occupational Speciality Training. As NCO’s it will be a major part of their Corporal’s Courses and Sergeant’s Courses, with senior members eventually moving on staff colleges, where the importance of individual leadership is central to their training. The military doesn’t want robots, but for those first few months, and beginning in receiving, it’s important to put the unit first in the mind of recruits. The best way to do that is make them all look as close to identical as is possible.

Now we move on to something else very important and why I say that it is “psychological” retraining. You go through the next few days running from place to place, doing this, that, this, that and you won’t even realize… you haven’t really slept in three days. Yeah, you will go through about three days without sleep upon arrival. The whole time you are completely exhausted while running on adrenaline or fear, and hearing over and over, that you are inferior. That is, inferior to real Marines, which you aren’t yet. You haven’t earned the title, after all. You aren’t thinking about it, but those little jabs at your personal self-image are sinking in. You are completely tired and these things build up. Without realizing it, you start to believe that these things which are being told to you are true, that there is a weakness in you and that you are less than the perfect person you could be. In your current state, eventually, your mental defenses will be weakened to the point you embrace them and that you must change to live up to the obligation you have taken up.

I want to say something that should be important to you as the reader:  The whole idea of getting people tired enough to accept subtle, but constant attacks on their psyche reads very much like brainwashing. Actually the clinical term would be classical and operant conditioning, but don’t worry about the fancy psychology jargon. The idea of it, brainwashing, conditioning, repression of individuality, mind games, or whatever you want to call it, scares a lot of people. They think about  military, and especially the Marines, using all these tricks to kill the humans inside and turn our children into some sort of mindless killbots. That isn’t true, I’ll be doing a piece later on why boot camp training isn’t brainwashing, but for now, I will agree that the techniques are severe. They’re much more severe than the stress from test day at a university and much more so than day-to-day stress at a job. We have to remember the fundamental mission of boot camp.

You have to train 18 year olds to run to the sound of gunfire and perform under fire and the threat of death.

When you are constantly being told that you aren’t good enough to be in the Marines, and constantly being reminded that you aren’t ready war… it is true. No eighteen year old kid fresh out of high school is. There are many habits that kids and civilians have that need to be unlearned for success in a life where matters of life and death are literal. Like we said, they have to run into battle, and that sense of self-preservation is damaging to the mission, the other members of their team, and in a way that doesn’t lend itself very easily to reason, themselves. When any individual isn’t fully involved in the mission at hand, they create an environment that decreases the chance of any of them getting back home. College will never provide a normal person with that dilemma and why “mind games” aren’t necessary for the creation of a normal office going, suite and tie wearing individual.

At this point we are still less than one week into bootcamp. Once they’ve accepted, whether cognitively or not, that they aren’t ready to be in war… that’s when they are ready to begin training. The recruits are about to experience Training Day 1, known as Black Friday. After Receiving and over the next three months, the recruits will face exercising in endurance, training in the arts of war, and learn to act and think as a unit. These are some of the more important things that are trained, but they can only happen once a recruit fully embraces the fact that they aren’t yet a warrior.

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My book, I Drew A Monkey in a Math Book now featured for Pivot TV’s Secret Lives of Americans

The book I wrote and published last year I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I’m Married has been featured for Pivot TV’s Secret Lives of Americans.

I Drew a Monkey and many other original non-fictions by American authors have been selected by Pivot TV to be showcased to promote their new series Secret Lives of Americans on Pivot TV.

I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I’m Married is the true story of how I met my wife Jennie and our awkward teenage romance that followed. The book began as little more than a simple blog post about what it is like being married at the age of 18 and life 10 years later. As I began to catalog more and more of our story, I realized that what I had written was far more than just a blog post. It was a full chronicle of the the year leading up to when we were married and the precious memories that serve as the genesis of our family’s story. In the end, it was a poor man’s gift to his wife on the morning of their tenth anniversary, dedicated to her and shared with anyone wishing to experience a true teenage romance.

I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I’m Married includes our personal coming of age story between two lovers on the in the twilight of childhood and adult life.  You’ll see our real life twists of fate, pitfalls and triumphs together, what we learned along the way, and the anecdotes of the misadventures of youth, including, but not limited to a touch of vandalism and the rewards that come with taking risks.

I hope you enjoy the first few pages of our Book of Love. Some of it is transcendental. Some of it’s just really dumb. Check out the full text on Wattpad: I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I’m Married or follow my other blog The Writer’s Block to get future updates, along with updates to my future works including the upcoming novel on the future of war.

If you’re interested in knowing more about The Secret Lives of Americans read this intro as published by The Observer.

Secret Lives of Americans, a series that gives viewers an up-close and intimate look at individuals’ lives as they expose their innermost secrets to the most important people in their lives. Each episode touches on a different issue — eating disorders, HIV, immigration, food insecurity, student debt, healthcare, and several more.

The series, shot entirely by the subjects themselves, gives viewers an opportunity to experience immersive and intimate documentation, and hear firsthand about the inner turmoil caused by the subjects’ private struggles.  And, while these are personal stories, Secret Lives of Americans sheds light on pressing issues that affect not just the individual highlighted, but a large section of the general population as well.

For all those interested, Secret Lives of Americans can be viewed here: Watch Secret Lives of Americans on Pivot TV (Promoted)

What the Star Spangled Banner Means to an American

I’ll answer your question with another. Why isn’t America the Beautiful our National Anthem, or America (My Country Tis of Thee)?

It’s a good question. America the Beautiful has all the hallmarks of a good national Anthem. It speaks with joy of a bountiful land, rich in beauty and touched by the grace of God. It speaks of happy people and gleaming cities.  The song also cries out to the vast diversity of wealth, the vastness and the grandeur of the American landscape from sea to shining to sea. That makes for a really good anthem, and for most countries, that would be the national song.

America the Beautiful is, pointedly, a beautiful song which speaks on much of why America is a wonderful place to live and why so many have found happiness in it. It doesn’t, however, capture the American identity. The Star Spangled Banner, does.

If you travel to any other part of the world, you will find people proud of their land, proud of their history, and proud of who they are. The same is true for Americans, but what is different about Americans, is that they are not defined by that land. Most countries of the world define who they are by the land beneath their feet. America isn’t a commonality of ethnicities. It isn’t a fortune born from geographic chance. Being American is a set of ideals and has little to do with the beauty and bounty of our land.

Consider this, what does it take to be an American? It’s a lot easier than becoming a German, an Englishman, or Chinese. No matter where you came from, if you move to those lands, you will never be one of them. They may grant you citizenship, and that may even be easier than for us, but they will never grant you membership into their tribe. The word “nation”, by the way, originally meant an ethnically linked collection of tribes. Throughout most of the world, Nationalism, still means exactly this. In most nations of the world, you are who you were forever born to be. If you move from India to Cairo, you may be given rights as a citizen of Egypt, but no one will ever say that you now and forever more a real Egyptian. If you move to Japan, you will never be Japanese. If you move to Brazil, you will never be Brazilian.

America is different. All of us came from somewhere else. The only thing we actually have in common is an ancestry with a shared sense of drive, independence, a common desire to pursue prosperity, and to live freely. At one point, each of our ancestors made the choice to make great sacrifice and come to a distant country, work hard, and make something of yourself for the betterment of you and your family. So long as you are willing to do that, so long as you are willing to join our “nation” with the goal of improving it with a hardworking spirit, and defend it with an equal sense of pride and loyalty – You are an American.

Daniel Kamakura‘s answer to this same question sums this mentality well talking about his mother when she took the Oath of Allegiance.

What mattered is what the Oath meant to them: that they were now Americans–full stop. No ifs, ands, or buts. U.S. citizens, free and clear, without caveat or reservation, and entitled to all rights, privileges, and obligations thereof.

So one might agree, at this point, that America the Beautiful isn’t the greatest choice for an American anthem, as it doesn’t really describe the American experience and what makes an American. Perhaps another, perhaps, America (My Country ‘Tis Of Thee) would have been better? This one is also a beautiful hymn, lyrically masterful, and delivers both the moral virtues Americans hold dear, as well as pay homage to the land itself. Poetically, most would agree that it is superior to the current anthem, so what is missing?

For this, only a true understanding of the Star Spangled Banner can communicate what makes it stand out from all other songs about America, and any other national anthem in the world.

The Story Behind the Star Spangled Banner

The Star Spangled Banner commemorates an event, but more importantly, it commemorates a struggle. In the poem, the flag of the United States flying over a fort on some night during the war of 1812, wasn’t just a battle standard. It was more, still, than just a flag representing a nation weak, young, and learning how it might stand against an old empire with world-wide strength. That night, as we later discovered, it was a symbol of the American Experiment. The American Experiment was this ridiculous idea that people from around the world, people wanting to seek opportunity, to seek equality, to seek freedom of faith and freedom of opinion, and finally seeking freedom from oppression, may form a nation, a collective of tribes, tribes not born of race and geography, but of ideas and ethics. The American Experiment was audacious enough to suggest that people would fight for these flimsy self-evident truths, without the slightest command from the aristocracy; their moral and intellectual betters, the feudal lords or great emperors. It was foolish enough to believe it could endure against an old world so vast and powerful, that the sun never set on its reach.

The flag mentioned in The Star Spangled Banner has little to do with a piece of cloth waving in the percussion beats of bomb blasts. It just took such an event to show us what we were. My nation is a collective of tribes, bound only in a moral commonality, baptised in a joining together of wills, and tempered in a battle that tested it’s true value, and the value of its first champions. The Star Spangled Banner represents us. This hymn tells the story of an idea that stood little chance of hope, but still remained aloft. It reminds us that we often only only will see the virtues of our American Experiment, in the lights of its us of terrible struggle. More so, than this, The Star Spangled Banner reminds us that the ideas pioneered by the American Experiment are those worth fighting for, those worth enduring for, and which we may fearfully doubt in our darkest hours, but that, in the end, are themselves unstoppable, unyielding, and impossible to overcome.

The Star Spangled Banner serves as the eternal symbol of the American Experiment with no equal. No other anthem can capture this idea by just listing the virtues of a nation or the beauty of it’s land. No other anthem could capture a spirit of a people like a victorious battle hymn of a desperate time. Most of all, no other anthem could remind Americans, and the world itself, of what is required to maintain what that spirit stands for, and the inevitable legacy that struggle has given to all of us.

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Why has ISIS still not been defeated even after a year?

You ever notice kids burning ants?

America, the whole Western world really, is kind of like that kid. And the ant, well I think you are smart enough to know that is one of those jihadist terrorist murdermongers. Like the kid with his glass, we send over our multimillion dollar planes on their many thousands of dollar sorties, to drop a few $80,000 missiles to kill a few bad guys armed with AK-47s hiding in a hole. It is a massive, massive difference in force being brought to the table. That’s awesome, right? I mean, realistically, what could that ant really do to the kid?

Well, it doesn’t take a genius to realize where the strategic problem here lies. We won’t win the war on the “ants” by killing a few of them individually with our multimillion dollar “magnifying glasses”. Honestly, once the kid realizes that everywhere he looks, there is going to be a few more ants, he’s going to get bored, and eventually, he’s going to get bit by one of those little suckers he never saw coming in for a cheapshot. Mom will probably go into a panic and make the kid come back into the house. “I killed 10 ants.” The little boy proclaims to an ambivalent family. A doting Mom might even say, “Oh, good job son. You can do no wrong.” never thinking of the ants in her yard again.

The truth is that Mom, the family, and the little boy don’t get what has become obvious to everyone else. There is an infestation going on which is going to have to be handled by taking out the mounds.

Now we run into enough problems that I am going to drop the analogy momentarily. After all, killing an ant mound would involve something like dousing the mound in some lethal poison or putting out traps to poison the queen, which I am pretty sure the human comparison is laying down a cloud of chemical weapons gas or poisoning the water supply. I think that is a bad idea, genocide you know… just to be clear.

It does need to be said that there is a mound that does exist. What makes it so difficult to defeat, in this case, is the fact that this isn’t a physical mound that we could even just wipe off the map. This is a “anthill of ideas” or to paraphrase Sam Harris, “The Motherlode of Bad Ideas“.

What you have is a system that has adopted forced coercion over the local population, which essentially means that you can’t trust the locals, because they are more afraid of being murdered by the terrorists than they feel safe knowing that you are around. The Islamic State also runs its social circles in a way that is more or less, and I am not exaggerating, like evil Kremlin spies mixed with the Nazi secret police all headed by Fundamentalists Islamic Preachers. It’s seriously sick and a forceful means of taking over communities in a way that looks peaceful to outsiders, assuming we didn’t notice the beheadings of apostates, stoning of wives, or the throwing of homosexuals off of buildings. Compound this with the fact that Islamic terrorists have also adapted terrorism into their tactics since at least the 1950’s in their fight against the French in Algeria where the killing of moderate leaders and those influential opposed to them is commonplace. As I said, this compounds the problem because it kills off those Muslim leaders who would advocate for the removal of the Islamic State, while silencing opposition within the community.Over time, all of this combines to have an extremely negative effect of literally transforming a population of 1.5 billion people.

To put some data to that statement, here is a graph of a poll done in the Middle East of mostly Arab Muslims. While the world should still delight that most the graph is red, it still showed that as many as 11% of Muslims in that region actually support what the IS is doing.

If you were to say that these percentages held true for the entire Muslim population that would be around 140 million people. So that you know, that couldn’t be said thirty years ago, so something is going on terrible in that part of the world.

Ok, now we have a broader understanding of the problem. We aren’t just dealing with the terrorists who are dressed up like, well, terrorists.

We are actually dealing with fanaticized populations who are either all being systematically converted, or, more than likely, are too terrified ( i.e. terrorism) to speak out against the ruling regime. That means, getting back to that, “You can’t trust the locals” idea, that everyone in the region is complicit with the Islamic State, like I said, either because they are fundamentalists or because they are simply trying to buy their security through favors to the madmen who have proven over and over that they would kill them if they didn’t.

Circling back to happy metaphors, that means that 90% of these ants you see below, are actually good people; terrified people, but good people nonetheless. 2% are no holds barred murderous terrorists. The 8% or so remaining are just wrong headed and given maybe a few more generations, might see that throwing homosexuals from three story buildings is socially unacceptable. That said, all 100% of them, in some capacity, are furthering the aims of the Islamic State, whether through willful alliance or forced submission. With that in mind can you spot the terrorists?

No, but because of the 90% of the people who haven’t yet been purged through annihilation or forced refugee status, we can’t exactly go the way of the Amdro option. In case you don’t realize, Amdro is a powerful fire ant killer that wipes out whole mounds dead with a chemical cocktail of 10,000 kinds of unnatural unpleasantries. If you’re slow, I’m making an allusion to the nuclear option, or as some people have said in dumber parts of the internet, “Glassing That Desert”. Speaking of depraved acts of callousness, by the way, a recent Amnesty International report currently showed that something like 1 in 120 people alive today are living in refugee status, and no one seems to care unless I write a post with cute ant cartoons.

Having said all this, I understand that it is a difficult problem. What I don’t understand, is how with the best minds in the world supposedly working to solve this problem, President Barack Obama made it clear after speaking with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during the Group of Seven (G7) nations summit in Germany less than a month ago, that he still doesn’t have a plan to deal with it. Whatever your personal view on whether the United States and the West going to Iraq should have happened, we are now and for many years to come, tied to the fate of that region. We, like so many others, have major responsibilities there. 

That’s why so many people like me are so very disappointed with the overall work done by the White House and the State Department over the last six years to quell these exponentially growing international disturbances.

While there have been many victories for the Obama legacy, it can’t be understated enough that Iraq will stand as one of the greatest black marks on his record going right back to his original speeches saying that the United States should pull out as quickly as possible before he even reached the presidency. Given the mess with the IS, it is pretty obvious now that it was a mistake to just uproot and leave. I’ve made the point before that the United States didn’t leave as much as the Iraqis offered terms of their stay that were unacceptable, and the administration did little to prevent it. The problem that myself and many political analysts have had, was that there was very little done to attempt to negotiate out of that situation. This leads many to assume that the situation was just a convenient out to fulfill campaign promises to leave Iraq by the 2012 election, while also having the political insurance for later that it wasn’t “technically” the fault of the Obama State Department if anything bad happens later, headed at the time by Hillary Clinton. It’s an issue of bad faith. The administration left Iraq, knowing that they couldn’t handle their own security at the time.

Look, it was made obvious to me growing up since sex ed class, pulling out is never an adequate form of protection. As an Iraq vet, now watching the region I served in overrun by terrorists, I can’t help but ask why it was allowed that after years of bringing that country into a state of order, it was allowed to descend back into utter chaos though negligence of the highest order. Yes, it was in a state of order when we left, which is proven most ironically by the very site dedicated to showing how much we failed there.

Now, the website iraqbodycount.com is publishing data showing that some areas of Iraq are facing worse carnage than they ever experienced during the Bush era.

17,049 civilians have been recorded killed in Iraq during 2014 (up to Dec 30). This is roughly double the number recorded in 2013 (9,743), which in turn was roughly double the number in 2012 (4,622). These numbers do not include combatant deaths, which even by the most cautious tallies have also seen a sharp rise in 2014.

Yet, we still have no plan. What’s worse, is that the movement being carried on by the Islamic State is one which is easily spreading outside of Iraq and Syria. Now, IS militants are attacking and pushing out major population groups in Libya more than two thousand miles away from Iraq and separated by at least three countries. I honestly don’t know why people aren’t talking about this more.

While the President’s team has surrounded himself with a lot of very good press recently, it just seems like there isn’t time to deal with what is, realistically, the most vital issue threatening world security today. In the words of his current Secretary of State, John Kerry, made in one of the most outlandishly uncalled for attacks on the single group of Americans doing the most to prevent the spread of fundamentalist terrorism, the United States military:

“You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Well, the administration hasn’t done their homework and they haven’t made an effort to be smart, so now, as Kerry predicted in 2006, they’re stuck in Iraq.


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Will Terrorists ever use Drones?

Absolutely.

I was doing research for a book I am writing on the future of war, and I explored this topic. Since using drones to commit terrorist actions hasn’t really been a thing yet, (Criminals yes. Terrorists, not quite) I decided my best place to research would be to drive down to a local remote controlled hobby shop near where I used to live and just ask a few questions. I had to introduce myself as an old Marine and Sci-Fiction writer before asking any of my other questions, because leading off with, “I’m interested in knowing how I could make a flying bomb.” would have probably not gone over so well. What the guy said amazed and terrified me, more so, his assistant who quickly developed a new respect for his nerdy boss.

What the conversation left me with was a firm understanding that terror drones will be a part of the future of warfare that the military is, unfortunately, going to have just as many problems with as we give to the bad guys. Here are a few of the key take aways that I have developed from the conversation with my friend at the hobby shop and my own experiences in Iraq fighting a counter-insurgency war.

We are taking about VBIEDs – Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices which, during my day, meant car bombs that were either parked or driven to places where they were used. In the future, we might start seeing these things in the air. A few things need to be kept in mind though when thinking about VBIEDs or IEDs of any kind.

1) Payload

The most important element for a terrorist weapon is the devastation it can inflict. During the Iraq War, that devastation was massive. That’s because the terrorists had access for much of the war to unused artillery rounds taken from Saddam’s Iraqi Army after the fall of his regime.

I’ve seen more Humvees leveled by these things than I care to remember. They are seriously massive communicators of destruction, but also, serious limiters of capabilities if we are talking about drones.  Those things weigh around 40 to 80 lbs. Yes, it would be terrifying if one of those dropped from the sky (they are artillery shells after all), but there is no practical way for most drones available today that are terrorists (I’ll get to that in a minute) to carry something like that. Take Amazon’s plan to start droning things all over major cities. They are limited by weight because those adorable little propellers are not going to be able to carry something as massive as an IKEA bookshelf (between 40 to 80 lbs).

That means that the weapons are going to have to evolve, or at least become more potent. They aren’t going to be able to carry massive bombs capable of doling out huge earth shattering explosions. They are going to need to carry smaller explosives. That doesn’t mean they will be less deadly. No, in the future it might be possible to load up pipe bombs, smaller IEDs, loaded with shrapnel in the form of screws, bolts, nails. This weapon doesn’t level buildings or destroy armored vehicles like the above option did, but it has the ability to brutally maim people who are close enough to the blast, making them visual advocates and symbols for the depravity of the terrorists for years to come. Drones carrying these could fly it directly into a crowded restaurant, through the window of a politician’s office, or even over the stands of a crowd at a sports stadium.

2) Cost

Cost is king for weapons manufacturing, as with anything. Terrorists aren’t going to have the multimillion funds that first world nations do to produce highly sophisticated weapons like the Reaper or Global Hawk drones used by the Americans, nor will they have their $80,000 Hellfire missile. Terrorists run on shoestring budgets and they’ve done quite well at it.

Part of my conversation with the hobby shop guy dealt with cost. I had a design for a terror drone and he made me realize just how bad an idea it might be. For example, for the situation above that required a pipe bomb in a stadium, you would need at least a few thousand dollars to make such a weapon. That sounds like nothing compared to the costs of creating the F-35 Strike Fighter, but when you think about the volume that terrorists need to create the terror effect they desire, those costs are extremely prohibitive. Take the below for example. These are estimates on the number of rocket attacks which were delivered from the Hamas terrorist organization.

It can be a lot. Below is Iraq. Terrorists are featured in red.

As I said, when you deal with high volume operations, unit costs can be prohibitive. In the Hamas/Israel example, one of the most used rocket designs, the Qassam, can be built for as little as $800 American. Considering what that can do with it’s 9 pound warhead over a 17 mile range, that’s a pretty good deal.

But to produce a drone, like what we think of as drones that can carry the kinds of warheads we are talking about will be much more. Some tech analysts have stated that the Prime Air drone (Amazon) could run as much as $50,000 a piece to deliver a 5 lbs “package” to anywhere within 10 miles (in under 30 minutes though!). That is way too much for a sensible terrorist to ever consider paying, especially when you consider that if those things are near enough to the ground, they are getting shot down by everything from surface to air missiles to slingshots.

What my colleague instead suggested would be something akin to balsa wood gliders. Balsa wood is an incredibly light and cheap material used for toy planes and RC hobbyists. Taken from the hands of children and old men, though, these tools could be used to some devastating effect. They are made of cheap materials which are widely available. You can even buy them in kits. Once they reach altitude, they don’t have to use the engine for guidance and can glide silently to their terminal destination. And lastly, they are small, made of light materials, and slow moving. I am not an expert on radar, but that scary. It sort of sounds like a large bird.

I’ll provide this as a proof of concept. Note that the vast majority of the cost of this plane goes into its aesthetics and ensuring it can be recovered, both unnecessary for a suicide drone. It’s also important to know that the RC – Remote Controlled – element isn’t necessary. All flight paths can be programmed into modern systems.

3) Complexity

One of the things that has prevented more people from suffering the threat of terrorism is the complexity involved in various systems. Bombs are pretty complicated to build and not just anyone can make one. Since, historically, terrorists have had two main pools of recruiting to choose from, fanatics and the unemployed, rocket scientists have not been easy for the average terrorist leader to come by. Most of the time, a few key bomb masters, such as an Algerian chemistry student who joined against the French forces in the Algerian War, are the leaders of the munitions manufacturing process. When they are killed, they take with them large amounts of the enemy’s capability to do harm. If they don’t leave quality apprentices, then the movement may have been ended with the death of only one man. Usually, those individuals who carry on in the master’s footsteps are less capable in most regards.

Take colloquially, the example of Jesse Pinkman.

In the show Breaking Bad, a brilliant chemist, Walter White teams up with scumbag degenerate methhead Jessie Pinkman in a scheme to cook meth. In the early part of the show, it is comical to see how inept Jessie actually is at the science of cooking. Walter bestows his knowledge and by the time that the series ends, Jessie is an expert of cooking meth as good as Walter’s.

There is a point to be made here, though. Even at the end of the show, Jessie isn’t as good at cooking than his teacher Walter. Even after a year of intensive training, he is only an expert of cooking Walter’s way. He will forever lack Walter’s exercise in the science of chemistry which would allow Walter to produce many, many other kinds of recipes, if he chose. Jessie may know the way he was taught, but could never produce alternative products or where he wasn’t allowed to use quality materials and processes similar to his teacher’s. He can’t improvise like Walter could.

Wow, that was tangential example, but it serves the point that complexity in operations is an extremely limiting factor. You take the few evil geniuses out, then their apprentices are left without the ability to improvise on parts, resources, implementation, or usage because they came into the act of making bombs as a terrorist who only cares about killing and not as a lifelong scientist who then joined a terrorist operation.

Now let’s take that bomb and stick it in a drone. The first obvious problem is that you are going to need people who can build and service drones, something very few people know how to do yet. The information is out there and growing in the RC communities, but it still isn’t a respected art form in the terrorist world. So let’s say we take out a few of the engineers who know how to make the birds fly. That will be a setback for them. Let’s say instead, we take out the guy who knows how to program them on their automated missions. That’s a major setback. Let’s say we take out the guy who knows how to build the warheads. That’s a huge setback because now the other two are demoted down to nerdy RC enthusiasts. Now, let’s say that they have all these geniuses rolled up into one. How replaceable is that guy? How long before he can pass off what he knows? How hard would it be to disrupt the communication networks he possesses? How devastating would killing that one guy  be? Would his people be able to adapt?

Depending on the complexity, not often, but in some cases, yeah. In the case of the Amazon Death Drone, no. What happens if the terrorists are cut off from making the engines that powers the propellers? What happens if the application they use to pilot the drone is brought down? What if the chemical they use to either fuel the thing or build the bombs gets internationally outlawed or embargoed? As I said, will they be able to adapt, or a better question, how many compromises will these people be able to make before the weapon is no longer lethal?

The fact is, terrorists have to keep weapons system as simple as possible or they can’t replicate their processes. For a terrorist organization to work, it can’t revolve around the genius of a few masterminds. It needs to be weapons that can be produced by many people, even those with very little education. Pinkman could keep a drone program up for a while, but eventually, he wouldn’t be able to adapt to circumstances and changes in the environment in the way that Walter White would.

Sorry, I spent way too long making that point. There are, however, alternatives that are simpler than what we normally think of as drones. These methods already have abundant supplies and designs in existence for the would be terrorist to experiment with and provide the flexibility he needs to do terrible things. The hobby shop guy I talked to was really adamant about the balsa wood, enough I realized he’s thought of this before.

What do I see happening?

I hypothesize for my story that weapons like the one pictured above, (yep) may be loaded with apps created with the purpose of using GPS enabled phones to autonomously steer planes like this. Being that DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is actually funding efforts to make software programming something that is super simple for everyone, this feat might actually not be as complex as think. Thanks DARPA. Once in flight these planes, perhaps a few hundred dollars a piece up to the point, might be capable of being loaded with small pipe bombs or, more practically, napalm. Napalm is any chemical that has two qualities, it is very sticky and it will burn a long time. Napalm is also extremely cheap, made from readily available materials anywhere, and easy to use. There are even recipes all over the internet that will make you sad about humanity. Being that the plane itself becomes part of the warhead using napalm, it will literally be a weapon raining fire from the sky. En masse, that can be a weapon that is devastating, cheap, and easy to use.

Oh, and if you were keeping track, the military definition for this a cruise missile, but thanks to the advances in modern military technology, available to just about anyone for only $500. Enjoy the future.


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Do cheap, readily available civilian drones potentially pose a new and unique threat in terms of terrorism?

Facts and Misconceptions about what is a Wounded Warrior.

Approximately what percentage of veterans have a service level disability?

USMC Cpl. Raymond Hennagir looks to pass the ball, during a wounded warriors practice inside the Karen Wagner Sports Center at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to prepare for the Warrior Games.  For The News & Messenger
USMC Cpl. Raymond Hennagir looks to pass the ball, during a wounded warriors practice inside the Karen Wagner Sports Center at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to prepare for the Warrior Games. For The News & Messenger

It’s really high, but not for the obvious reasons people suspect. The reason for this isn’t because we all suffered from some car bombing, like a few of the warriors pictured above. Those numbers are actually quite low relatively speaking. The reason is more connected with day-to-day type work environment disabilities. For most, it is simply the chronic bodily maltreatment over the course several years in the military.

Take my example. I am about as average as a Marine deployed to Iraq probably gets. I am not yet thirty, but I have to see a chiropractor regularly like I was fifty. My back issues started literally weeks after my second deployment to Iraq. We traced the cause to wearing an eighty pound flak jacket, supported entirely on my shoulders, for eight hours a day, seven days a week. Turns out, in the bullet proof vest industry, you have to have a balance between ergonomics and ballistic protection. In a risk/reward scenario, I prefer back pain. That injury rated me 10% service connected disability.

Another one came from hearing damage I suffered from being a rifle and pistol coach for two years, literally standing inches from weapons going off all day. We had hearing protection, but there is only so much the 25 cent softies can do.

That is realistically what happens to most of the military injured. The jobs are just hard on the body. That isn’t to say that all people are as lucky as I was. The records are very clear in that in the wars, so far, there have been 6,845 dead, and 52,300 wounded. That being said, what doesn’t help anyone is the almost criminal misrepresentation by news agencies such as the Huffington post, making numerous posts saying that because of injuries like this, a million troops are now counted as “wounded from combat” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Huffington has taken an extremely liberal definition of the word “wounded” by misquoting this definition from the International Business times:

“All that can be said with any certainty is that as of last December more than 900,000 service men and women had been treated at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics since returning from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

VA Stops Releasing Data On Injured Vets As Total Reaches Grim Milestone [EXCLUSIVE]

To be clear, if I were to break my leg tomorrow for something that happened six years after leaving the military, and go to a VA hospital to see if there is anything they could do to help me, I could count in this number. However, in the Huffington Post article: 6,845 Americans Died and 900,000 Were Injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Say ‘No’ to Obama’s War., an article with the seemingly intended purpose of arguing against intervention against the ISIS ( the Islamic terrorist nation and their murderous tirade through the Middle East) based on half truths and misinformation. The writer, H. A. Goodman, blatantly links this figure of 900,000 wounded with the Pentagon quote that more than half to two-thirds of Americans killed or wounded in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been victims of IED explosions” implying that upwards of 400,000 to 600,000 people were wounded by roadside bombings. Being that the actual figure of people wounded by roadside bombs is somewhere closer to maybe 20,000, as a veteran, I’m appalled by the way Huffington Post is misrepresenting us.

The reason for this rant on the HP is because they are doing a severe disservice to actual veterans by misrepresenting what is going on with us through their politically agenda layden postings. In other articles, they’ve expounded on this figure, stating that everything from a single episode of dizziness to actually being shot counts as being “wounded in action”. Meanwhile, public perception of ailments such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) has turned into something that makes people so aware of the problem, that instead of understanding the diseases and the realistic numbers behind them, people just assume we are all broken from the neck up. Also, being that somewhere around only two million deployments of individuals occurred in either Iraq or Afghanistan, this 1 million wounded number that keeps being brought up gives the illusion that fully half of all veterans nearly died or are seriously messed up from going to Iraq or Afghanistan. Since these veterans, in reality, faced less than a 1% chance of ever being injured in the war, it doesn’t help me if I go in for a job and have to face the silent prejudice of “probably has PTSD” because of poor reporting like this. This is the disservice that selective, agenda based reporting like this is doing.

Shame on you Huffington Post. Be better.


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Why do People Like Full Metal Jacket So Much?

The first time I watched Full Metal Jacket, I was in a tent in Kuwait on my computer, waiting for a plane to take me to Iraq for the next seven months. As a Marine, I felt like it was one of those movies I was supposed to have seen by this point, and the lull directly before going off to war seemed like a good time to do it. It left me very confused, in part, because the movie is famous for it’s actual depiction of war and warriors, but also because it was so very, very incorrect with my own experiences of being a Marine. It was only years later that I began to realize exactly why so much of the movie seemed off to me. It wasn’t a movie about warriors or even about a war; it was a movie trying to make a point, which stuck with the film’s target audience.

Full Metal Jacket was a movie for people who would never see war. It’s an anti-war movie about Vietnam where absolutely every element of war, warriors, the whole military experience, is shown as being something terrible, dehumanizing, and a pointless endeavour to detriment of all mankind. In 1987 at the film’s debut, it was it was exactly what people wanted to see from a war movie, because that narrative held true for millions of people.

FMJ does many things differently than most other war movies, namely because of the time period it was filmed in. If we look at different eras of the genre we see very different themes. Look at the John Wayne “Sands of Iwo Jima” or anything staring Audie Murphy, especially the one where he played himself, and you will probably be left with a very different feeling than if you were to watch something like Platoon, or even American Sniper. The early era focused on the heroism and unfortunate necessity of war due to the incontributable existence of evil in this world. They depicted warriors as heroes and the world as black and white.

Following this, the second major era attempts to break that in a sort of genre revolt. War movies began showcases war as a pointless affair, having no meaning than to make people suffer, both the participants and the victims. They go further into personifying the warriors, namely our own, as being universally deeply flawed to the point of being the villains, in efforts to make the genre more “realistic” and gritty. It’s noteworthy to also point out that this was the point when war movies were no longer being made by military veterans, and veterans were consulted less and less often in ensuring accurate tellings of their stories. Many stories from this period don’t even depict actual events, but only place them within actual time periods, such as the Battle of Hue City. Perhaps this was due to peace activists not involved in the war taking up degrees in liberal arts and film and entertainment. I can only really guess as to why the dramatic shift in war movies, around this time.

The third (the modern era) which I will say started around Saving Private Ryan, is the war epic. Your Black Hawk Downs, American Snipers, even the detestable Hurt Lockers, fall into this category. During that era, all war movies center around 1) Paying at least token respect to the individual troops, while 2) ironically showcasing each as deeply flawed because of the war, and 3) never given credibility to how war may benefit anyone (such as the Jewish people in Germany, the liberated France, or the empowered Kurds of Iraq). Modern war movies are themselves inheriting a stance of only being allowed to say something along the lines of “war is bad” and never veering from that rhetoric, while not socially being allowed to showcase the warriors as the deranged, murderous, barbarians depicted in Kubrick’s film. I guess that’s an improvement. This may be because in the modern era people felt more vulnerable after 9/11 and no longer accepted this view of veterans. It may be that more veterans have more social power to influence the way they are viewed via Social Media, as I am doing now. All that I can say for sure, is that something happened that broke from the way that second era war movies showcased us, from the way modern era movies do.

Having said that, no era is perfectly honest in their depiction of the military or of war. Take for example Black Hawk Down. I liked the movie, but it is filled with much of the spectral of the era while itself being the cinematic telling of one of the greatest modern military research projects in history. To make my point, my favorite line was when one soldier is given an order by a commanding officer, and replies, “But Sir, I’m wounded.” and the Officer replies back nonchalantly, “Everybody’s wounded.” I loved that line, but nothing like it happened in the book, which like I said, is one of the most factual retellings of events in modern history there is, so much so that the Army and Marine Corps, have adopted it as part of their reading programs for all non-commissioned and commissioned officers. All that to say, dramatic license for some is embellishment, for others, outright fiction and rarely is it priority to get the story right for history’s sake.

The honest truth is that all three, the military, war, and the individual warriors are extremely complex, but that complexity is too much for the average movie goer to be entertained by in only a two hour sitting. It is far easier to think of the average warrior as either a faceless bad guy, or a broken human because war is so bad, or keep overall ideas simple “War=bad, peace=good” and all things relating to one or the other falling into only one of those two categories. We’ve been made to think that war is some unsurvivable event, either physically or psychologically and that no normal person would be able to endure it, much less that some may see war as necessary and gain satisfaction from being part of one because they know their efforts provided some measure of good to others. (This sentiment in films correlates with the start of the Vietnam War and the end of the first era of war movies). Now, it is very hard for moviegoers to accept a purely heroic, purely rational, purely normal war hero figure because to do that they have to think of him as an average person, like us, who goes for a little while to do something important, unpleasant or not, and then going home to be normal again. Movies like that first present a false view of war and warriors based on stereotypes and tropes, one filled only with suffering and atrocities and with no good reason motivating thousands of rational people at all, then disturbs viewers a second way by making them uncomfortable with the thought, “Could I do those terrible things?” People don’t like that. They don’t want to identify with the common warrior that most of these movies depict. Part of them feels like the bad guy. This was the era in which Full Metal Jacket made its debut.

Having said all this, we can start to get into our conversation on Full Metal Jacket itself.

Full Metal Jacket is the perfect film to showcase second era war movies and the values they were meant to communicate. I am not saying that Kubrick told the truth in the least with the film, nor am I saying his goal was to try to lie to viewers. I think he is just trying to sell movies. He has to make a movie that doesn’t lead viewers into his way of thinking, whatever that may have been, but plays into their already existing biases and beliefs. That is how they identify with characters they know so little about and how they become emotionally involved. Movies don’t make money by correcting people’s notion of how the world really is. They make money by amplifying their beliefs to the point that viewers will tell their friends, “This is the truest thing in history of things and if you don’t watch it, you’re an idiot.” In 1987, no one was viewed anything that happened in the Vietnam War as anything similiar to WWII and the general consensus was that there was no point to it at all. With a legacy such as My Lai and the many thousands for a war more than 13 times more than were lost in Iraq, people wanted nothing to do with a “Sands of Iwo Jima” film depicting anything favorable about Vietnam, a heroic film depicting the period well wasn’t the type of movie that would have reached audiences. They were tired of the Cold War (which hadn’t yet ended) and had no sense that anything since 1945 having had any real value. Boil it all down, and FMJ depicts that belief. Note that it might not tell the truth that well, but it perfectly captures the mentality of the people of the time.

Take a look at the film’s hero/victim/protagonist, Pvt. J.T. ‘Joker’ Davis. He is symbolic on many levels which are meaningful to the time in which FMJ debuted. From before he is physically even seen on the screen, he is shown as a rebel, during the iconic introduction of the Drill Instructor played to near perfection by an actual Marine Corps Drill Instructor, R. Lee Ernie, where he outright mocks the Drill Instructor to devastating results. From that moment on, we sympathise with the character who obviously doesn’t belong here. Throughout the movie he is portrayed as not fitting in. He stands out from the brutish, womanizing, cruel or ignorant Marines, as most of them are depicted in the film. Davis instead is an intellectual, symbolized by the non-military regulation eyeglasses and the fact that his Military Occupational Specialty wasn’t infantry, but as a writer. He both stands for intelligence as well as truth, morally setting him above and opposed to the rest of the other “lower” infantrymen. Once he actually does deploy, he stands out as a continued rebel (remember he is morally and intellectually superior to all the other troops) by brandishing proudly the “Born to Kill” label sarcastically graffitied on his helmet and a peace sign on his flak jacket. Given that during the 70’s the symbol had more to do an anti-military sentiments than actual peace, Joker was Stanley Kubrick’s very deliberate attempt to make viewers see the character as being little more than the only rational, non-barbarian militant in the show, who is more a victim of circumstance than someone who wants to be a part of the war at all. All this combines to help viewers of a certain ilk, Kubrick’s target audience, identify with what the protagonist’s presumed views of what the war should be, when really, the truth is that the protagonist was written to personify the average viewer’s perception: “This is barbaric, this is senseless, this is wrong.”

Looking at the rest of the movie and you see a series of messages tailored for a moment in time, and that subgroup of Americans in 1987.

“War will utterly destroy the minds of good and innocent people.” Private Pyle was, to me, the worst part of the best part of the movie. He was over the top in personal treatment in how troops are treated in training, and major elements of his plot could not possibly have happened exactly because of the fate he met in the most acclaimed scene of the movie. Regardless, while the depiction of boot camp was novel for all war movies before or since, Pyle’s presence detracted from the film in a way that, for me, was little more than over the top sensationalism.

“War creates barbarism in American Warfighters where murdering innocent people is acceptable.” I’ve honestly never been able to deal with this scene, given what I have known and experienced in countless hours on the law of war, code of conduct, rules of engagement, and escalation of force training during my own time in the Marines. Honestly try to watch this scene and imagine your nephew or neighbor down the street being this evil, and also try to imagine everyone in the military just looking the other way as it happened.

Then there is the theme that “incoming warriors can only degrade the population of a region through their corruption and immorality.”

And finally, that the enemy that has been causing us so much harm is a much more impotent, underwhelming force than we had ever imagined, personified by nothing less than a little girl, making the American military machine appear, in retrospect to be the bullies and the aggressors.

Rob Ager, a Youtuber who has made a side profession of analyzing films, has even made a very potent argument for the numerous ways in Kubrick used metaphor to convey how military indoctrination forces young men into becoming rapists and killers through psychological rewiring of mind’s inner workings.

“Kubrick is acknowledging the universal truth about military brainwashing, soldiers who can’t be turned into brutal psychopaths by their Drill Instructors, can certainly be persuaded in the battlefields by the overbearing peer pressure of their lesser minded friends.”

If you’re curious, I must add at this point before watching, that the training that the Ager’s analysis and Kubrick’s film depict taking place in the first half of the FMJ, which is necessary for the following analysis and FMJ’s second half narrative to make sense, was nothing like what I experienced in Marine Corps boot camp. We never named our rifles girl’s names, we never slept with our rifles, there were no sexual connotations with them and the “This is my rifle, this is my gun” thing was never uttered in my tenure either. As a Marine Corps rifle instructor, I never even met anyone could explain to me what that meant. One can’t know if boot camp has changed and my experience is just because of reforms, or simply that Kubrick took a great deal more dramatic license than seems in hindsight unjustifiable.

In the end, Kubrick’s film does one thing exceptionally well, it tells the story many people wanted to believe to be the way it was. Was Vietnam hard? Yes, it was. Was it traumatic for many? Yes, it was. Was boot camp filled with mind altering psychopath building brainwashing? Umm… No. What Kubrick’s piece on Vietnam was can simply be called propaganda. It wasn’t the type of propaganda that encourages youth to join up or to make people support a war of one kind or another. It was quite the opposite, but still propoganda. It was a war film that used just as many inaccuracies to promote all the values of the anti-war movement prominent in the late sixties and early seventies and into the eighties, as the Nazi half truth films depicting the virtues of the German Third Reich. That said, it was filled with all the spectacle that makes a war movie entertaining, right down to the incredibly odd and ill fitting Mickey Mouse Club ending to the film.

So, to answer the big question, why did so many people like it? If I really had to guess, I would say it is because the movie boils down into under two hours everything they already believed about war. It supports their stereotypes, reenforces their biases, and conveys a message they have already accepted in their hearts and which society has generally accepted to be true, whether it actually is or not. When you stumble on something that so many people agree with, though few have experienced first hand, and which you yourself find inline with your own beliefs, you tend to declare it as the greatest thing ever made. I don’t know a lot of veterans who think that the Full Metal Jacket is the greatest movie ever made. Everyone laughs at the first half because, frankly, we all had scary drill instructors. Beyond that, I don’t agree that this is a very good film. It’s great propaganda for a certain viewpoint, or at best, a very good story about one very fictitious man’s journey, which unfortunately ended up misrepresenting the factual experiences of a whole generation of warfighters. That being the case, it really doesn’t surprise me that a democratic ranking forum would skew the results of an OK movie, when it has many moral and political undertones not obvious to many viewers.


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