Wednesday, August 16, 2017

De Soto's Gold

The third book completed in the Colonel's summer professional reading program is Charles Hudson's "Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun; Hernando de Soto and the South's Ancient Chiefdoms."

The Colonel has long been fascinated by the notion of the exploration of the Southeastern interior by the Spanish two centuries before English-speaking colonies were established on the Eastern seaboard.  But, until now, that fascination had not carried much beyond the facts in the preceding sentence.  Hudson's book provides a narrative (complied from contemporary chronicles and supported by archeological evidence) of the de Soto expedition that not only puts flesh on the bones of the Colonel's skeletal knowledge, but provides detailed fatty tissue as well.

In the late Spring of 1541, an army of (mainly) Spanish explorers led by veteran conquistador Hernando de Soto crossed the Little Tallahatchie River somewhere within 20 or 30 miles of the Colonel's vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere.  The exact site of the crossing is impossible to verify -- the Colonel would like to think that de Soto's army (or at least exploratory patrols therefrom) actually traversed ground now a part of the Colonel's vast holdings.  The lands through which they marched (between the Chicaza chiefdom near present day Columbus, Mississippi -- 100 miles to the southeast -- and the Quizquiz chiefdom on the Mississippi River south of present day Memphis) was an empty wilderness, devoid of human inhabitants.  

The Colonel is old, but even he wasn't around at the time to be able to verify.   

The de Soto expedition had begun nearly two years earlier.  Launched from Cuba in May of 1539, de Soto's army landed in Tampa Bay and from there literally fought (both against geography and inhabitants) their way around to present day Tallahassee, thence north through Georgia, South Carolina, and well into North Carolina before turning westward through the Appalachian mountains into Tennessee, and from there, into Alabama and then across Northern Mississippi.   

By the time they crossed the Little Tallahatchie, the original strength (approximately 600) of de Soto's army had been reduced by more than a third.  But, they had killed far, far more than that number of the inhabitants of the lands through which they marched, searching for "La Florida's" equivalent to the exceedingly rich culture of the Inca, participation in the subjugation of which had already made de Soto a rich and influential man.  The aim of de Soto's exploration of the Southeast was purely conquest and colonization of a wealth-producing culture for which he would be the principal and not just a participant.  

De Soto's army was an amalgam of seasoned soldiers and treasure-seeking adventurers.  They were armed with weapons and clad in armor that was at the pinnacle of warfare tactics and technology at the time.  A third of the army were horsemen, employing tactics honed in centuries of conflict against the Moorish invaders of the Iberian peninsula.  It was the warrior culture that had developed from the Iberian Christians' response to and eventual reversal of the Islamic invasion of the Iberian peninsula that made conquest of the New World's richest and most powerful civilizations possible, even when Spanish armies were vastly outnumbered by the armies of those civilizations.  

The men of de Soto's army, according to Hudson, did not identify as Spanish.  Spain, as we know it today, did not exist in the 16th Century.  The power on the Iberian peninsula belonged to the regions of Castile and Aragon (united by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella late in the 15th Century); those regions themselves being recent amalgamations of several smaller and distinct regions (some of which even today agitate for independence from Spain).  Hudson says that, rather than as Spaniards, the men of de Soto's army considered themselves Castilian, or natives of the smaller regions or towns of Iberia.  But, primarily, they identified as Christians.  This primary identification by religion, born of centuries in opposition to Islam, was so ingrained that it caused them to view all others as infidels.  The inhabitants of the Caribbean islands, the Inca, the Aztec, and the inhabitants of La Florida (as they referred to the land to the north and east of Mexico) were infidels, as well.  Infidels were to be subdued by the sword, conversion to Christianity was to be a consequence of conquest.   

That they viewed the native inhabitants of the New World as subservient infidels, explains (but doesn't excuse) the cruel and rapacious nature of their actions against them.  At every encounter with a new village or chiefdom, de Soto assumed the position of a superior, demanding tribute of corn (the staple of the late Mississippian culture of the Southeast and the primary victual on which the army subsisted) slaves, and riches. If the natives were accommodating, de Soto accepted and rewarded their subservience and tribute with little more than trinkets.  More often than not, the larger chiefdoms, upon which de Soto descended, reacted violently. By the time the army was in the Colonel's neck of the woods they had fought pitched, set-piece battles with a half dozen different large chiefdoms and running skirmishes throughout their trek with dozens of smaller chiefdoms.  The army suffered heavy losses of men and material, and by the second year of the expedition were clothed no better than the natives.

But still, de Soto pressed on.  At each new village and chiefdom, de Soto had but one overriding question: "Where is the largest city, and is there gold?"  The Inca or Aztec analog in La Florida did not exist, and de Soto literally wore himself and his army out in the fruitless search for it.   

Two years after landing in Tampa Bay, de Soto reached the Mississippi River near present day Memphis.  As they did at each major river on their march, the army built large boats and crossed the Mississippi, bringing scores of horses, several hundred hogs, and a couple hundred native slaves with them.  The next several months were spent searching for cities of gold throughout present-day Arkansas and Southeastern Missouri.  They found only scattered chiefdoms eager to repel the invaders from their territories.   Nearly a year after crossing the great river, his hopes of finding a rich civilization to subdue dashed, de Soto fell sick and died on the west bank of the Mississippi.

Before he died, de Soto conferred command of the army to Luis de Moscoso.  The army now wanted no more searching for gold and physical sacrifice.  They wanted to go southwest to Mexico, where their countrymen had established "civilized" colonies.  Moscoso first scouted for an overland route, but discovered increasingly difficult geography and fewer native villages from which to procure corn as they traveled into what is now East Texas.  They turned back to their starting point on the Mississippi River, built and provisioned boats, and sailed down the river to the Gulf and then west to Mexico.  Less than half the number that began the expedition in Cuba three years earlier made it to Mexico.

As Hudson narrates each leg of the de Soto expedition, he takes great pains to describe what is now known about the native cultures at each contact point.  The picture he paints is of a myriad small subcultures almost all influenced in one way or another by the late Mississippian, "mound-building," culture.

Mississippian culture began in the Mississippi River valley around 800 A.D.   Archeologists, who coined the term "Mississippian" to denote it, have determined that the culture grew out of a shift from hunting and gathering to an increasing dependency on the cultivation of corn; a grain that grew easily and robustly in the alluvial soils of the large river deltas of the Southeast, returned high yields, and endured long storage.  The cultivation of corn, as opposed to the nomadic nature of a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, rooted people in place.  A collection of family farms became a village.  A collection of villages became a chiefdom.  And, as the natural conflict of man continued, stronger chiefs conquered and annexed lesser chiefdoms, or at least demanded tribute from them.  

The enduring, dominant, and perhaps most characteristic trait of mankind is warfare.  Conflict between neighboring hominids is as old as one wants to peer back into the geological record.  Warfare between small collections of people tends to be limited -- characterized by raiding resulting in relatively low casualties.  In the case of the Mississippian cultures there was no clear economic or political incentive in completely wiping out one's neighboring enemy.  In many cases enmity between neighboring chiefdoms actually drove the development of larger and larger political associations, with political centers of power growing hand in hand with religious ritualism and necessitating the building of larger and larger civilization centers. 

By the time the army of de Soto arrived in the Southeast, the great Mississippian cultures had reached their zenith and were in decline.  In many local cases the decline had been cataclysmic, with little left but native remnants who knew nothing about the builders of the great earthen mounds around which they lived.  In some cases, great swaths of territory were completely devoid of inhabitants where once great numbers were extant.  The cause of the Mississippian culture's collapse is unknown, but was certainly either warfare, climate change, epidemic disease, or habitat destruction and crop failure; or a combination of all or parts of the above.   

Even the mighty chiefdoms -- Apalachee, Cofitachequi, Coosa, Chicaza, Quizquiz, Utiangue, Anilco, Quigualtam, and others -- thriving when de Soto arrived, were themselves gone a century later, the remnants of which coalesced into new tribal collectives, namely the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creeks, and Seminoles.  Contrary to uneducated popular belief, even these tribes were not 100% native American blood -- European and African interbreeding began with, and exponentially expanded from, first contact.   At the time of their removal from the Southeast in the 19th Century, each of the "five civilized" tribes were amalgams of many disparate native ancestors, European descendents, and former African slaves, each bound only by a shared language and relatively recently adopted cultural practices. 

The great irony of the de Soto story is that in the Spaniards' frantic search for instant wealth in the lands of La Florida, they catastrophically failed to see the forest for the trees.  The wealth of what became the Southeastern United States was not what gold or silver the ground did or did not produce, but the ground itself.  Had de Soto chosen a strategic position on the Mississippi River or any of the other major tributaries that either fed into the Mississippi or the Gulf of Mexico and established a colony, he could have eventually ruled an agricultural kingdom larger and richer than any on earth at the time.

Strategic myopia has always been, and will likely always be, the great limiting condition of man.                                                            

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Eclipsed

There's a building sense of excitement here at the approximate astronomical center of the known universe (also known as the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere).

A solar eclipse is scheduled to appear overhead the Big House here at Egeebeegee, headquarters of the Army of Northern Mississippi.  

The Colonel has been busy in preparation for the big event.  The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda was missing him the other day and found him working in one of his fields. 

"Hey, Knucklehead," she called out, "it's way past your nap time and it's a jillion point five degrees out here!  What are you doing?" 

"Marking off parking places.  What's it look like the Colonel's doing?"  Sometimes the Colonel gets a wee bit exasperated at the questions from his bride.  Particularly when it's a jillion point five degrees outside and the Colonel is overheated and in need of a nap.

"It looks like you're using up the last of my orange spray paint.  Don't you have something better to do?"

What could be a better use of the Colonel's time than making a jillion point five dollars renting parking places to observe the solar eclipse?  Sometimes the Colonel gets a wee bit exasperated at the lack of situational awareness from his bride.  "Don't you know there's about to be a solar eclipse overhead the Colonel's vast holdings?  The sun will be blocked for a few minutes and midday will be dark as sunset."   

"Big deal," the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda sneered.  "That happens every time a thunderstorm comes along."

"Well, dear, thunderstorms happen all the time, but the moon doesn't cover the sun but once or twice in your lifetime."

"Silly man.  The sun is a jillion point five times bigger than the moon.  How can the moon cover the sun?"

The Colonel stood and faced the love of his life, sucked in a humid heap of the stuff that passes for air during August in Mississippi, and began his hip pocket lecture on orbital dynamics, the positional relationship of planetary objects in the inner solar system, and the rarity of the moon's shadow crossing any point on the earth's surface.

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda recognized the tell-tale signs of the beginning of one of the Colonel's stupefying, hours-long lectures, and cut him off with the hand and arm signal signifying "Oh, please just shut up."  

"Okay, okay.  I get it.  The moon is going to cross in front of the sun as it goes overhead and it doesn't happen very often.  But, that doesn't explain why you're marking off parking places in one of your fields."

"Not just one of my fields, Sweetthing.  All of 'em.  We're gonna be rich.  Don't you see?  This eclipse is only going to be visible in a narrow strip of land as the sun crosses the Northern Hemisphere.  People from places outside of that narrow strip are going to pay big money for a spot inside the path of totality to sit and watch."

"Sounds like the path of total nonsense to me.  Another one of your get rich quick schemes.  Remember how the 'pet tree' idea turned out?"

"Look, the Colonel can't help it if the public doesn't recognize a fad when they see it.  Pet trees are just an idea whose time hasn't come yet."

The Colonel stepped off another three spaces and started painting another line in the grass.  "There's another 900 bucks."

"Nine hundred dollars!  You're charging nine hundred dollars to park in one of your fields?"

"All of my fields," the Colonel reminded Miss Brenda.  

"Why nine hundred?"  The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's voice had changed to the tone that indicated she was afraid to hear the answer.  "Why not an even thousand?"

The Colonel was ready for that question.  "Sweetie, we are just south of the path of totality.  We are only going to see about 90% of the eclipse here.  So, the Colonel is going to offer a discount."            
     

   

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Eye of the Beholder

An amazing discovery has been made here at the approximate astronomical center of the known universe -- time is a race horse.

An inexhaustible race horse.

An inexhaustible race horse with a bur under its saddle.

An inexhaustible race horse with a bur under his saddle and the bit in his teeth.   

Thirty-nine years ago, today, the Colonel's best friend -- the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda -- gave birth to the first Gregory man-child of the last generation...

Wait..., thirty-nine years!?!

How is that possible?  

When the Colonel hit the rack last night he was only 21.  When he woke up this morning, he's s..., he's si... he's sixt...

He's stinking old, is what he is.

And, so is Number #1 son...

Want to know the wonder of life-long love?  Check this out.  Whenever the Colonel looks at the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda he sees the teenage girl with whom he fell in love.

He also sees the twenty-something young lady who bore him sons -- two of 'em in less than 16 months (and brought home a daughter, a few years later, too!).  He sees the gorgeous gal in the picture accompanying this post.

Ain't hard, really.  She still looks like the picture.   

And, yet the oldest of our children is only a few years shy of being twice as old as his mother was when she gave birth to him.  

Joshua Lee Gregory announced his entry into the air-breathing domain just before evening chow time on the 10th of August in 1978.  

He's been making his presence known ever since, and the world hasn't seen the best of him yet.

Happy Birthday, Josh!   

Monday, July 31, 2017

Rainbows and Unicorns

So..., this happened a few years ago. 

They had no earthly idea what life had in store for them.  All they knew was that they wanted to go through the rest of it with each other.

The first couple of years were hard.  

Then it got harder.

And, then it got harder still.  

Frankly, it gets harder every day.  

The SEALs say, "the only easy day was yesterday." The SEALs stole that saying from a marriage veteran.   

Turns out life, and marriage, ain't for sissies.  Wedded bliss is a myth.  

A myth riding on a unicorn.  

A myth riding on a unicorn sliding on a rainbow.  

A myth riding on a unicorn sliding on a rainbow eating a bottomless bucket of rocky road ice cream.  

A marriage joins two separate lives and builds a different one.  That different one will be what the two together will make it  -- good or bad, fruitful or barren, long or short.  The marriage stagecoach rolls over rough road.  Change and challenge ride shotgun.  

The Colonel and the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda said their "I do's" forty-one years ago, today.  Had she seen, as she looked into his eyes at the altar, what life with the Colonel was really going to be like, Miss Brenda would likely have hiked up her wedding dress and bolted for the door.

She would have seen three decades of vagabond living, packing and unpacking earthly belongings sixteen times.  

She would have seen the Colonel leave the house at zero dark thirty in the morning and not really know whether he would be home for dinner that night..., or a year later.  

She would have seen herself raising three children with absolutely no help from the Colonel as he skylarked around the globe keeping the world safe for democracy.  

She would have seen years of carefully crafting a homelife while the Colonel carved out a career in a business whose stresses and demands threatened the very existence of a happy home.  

She would have seen all of the social events at which she patiently and smilingly made small talk while the Colonel cruised and schmoozed the room.

She would have seen horrors, fights, disappointments, tears, and frustrations.

She would have seen more than any sane person would knowingly accept as a desirable future.

Truth is, at frequent inflection points in their wedded long war, the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda would have been well within her rights to let the Colonel hear her slam the front door for the last time.

She didn't.  The Colonel loves her more than life itself.

More, even, than his favorite shotgun.       

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Making Generals

The Colonel has witnessed considerable hand-wringing from the enuresis-prone journalistic masses concerning the "over-militarization" of the current American administration.  Such concern, in the Colonel's not-so humble opinion, betrays a complete and inexcusable lack of subject matter knowledge.

For the Bama and LSU grads: They don't know what they are talking about.

It may come across as a bit parochial of the Colonel to say so, given that they are his contemporaries, but as far as his experience and historical study tells him, this generation's crop of flag officers (generals and admirals) are the best this nation has ever produced, and among the best the world has ever seen.  

Allow the Colonel to explain why.

First of all, since the inception of the All-Volunteer Force, competition for commission as an officer in our Republic's military has been increasingly stiff.  To qualify for a commissioning program, a candidate must score in the top tenth percentile of college entrance exams, effectively meaning that the officer corps is drawn from the top ten percent of young Americans.  In addition to high aptitude, an officer candidate must possess a near spotless moral background -- no arrests, no drug use, no documented anti-social behavior.  Completion of undergraduate studies and possession of a bachelor's degree is required for commissioning. 

Secondly, today's American military officer receives the most intensive initial training of any military in the world.  And, then, that officer receives yet another round of intensive training to qualify him or her for a specific specialty.  New officers spend anywhere from one quarter to one half of their obligated service (four to six years depending on commissioning source and occupational specialty) in initial and specialty training.  By the time new officers join their first operational unit, they have all they need to be successful, except experience.  

That leads us to the third point.  Experience as a military officer is one of the most valuable, yet underrated qualifications of any man or woman in their twenties attempting to enter the civilian job market.  By the time they are 26, American military officers have led, in highly strenuous training, if not battle, groups of men and women numbering 40 to 100, on continuous missions replete with life and death decisions.  By the time officers reach high flag rank, they have led thousands of men and women in the most challenging environments, operating the most technologically complex systems, and conducting the most dangerous tasks on the planet.    

Fourthly, the American military is today one of the world's most finely tuned meritocracies.  It isn't perfect.  But, advancement in our Republic's military is truly "what you know and did" and only marginally influenced by "who you know and what you did for them."  It is possible to hitch one's wagon to a rising star, but that will carry you only so far.  The military's assignment apparatus stirs the officer corps to a heady froth.  It is rare to serve more than a couple of 2 or 3 year tours with the same folks over a twenty-year career.  Promotion and command screening boards are fairly adept at spotting and negating favoritism.   

Fifth, our Republic's military has the foremost continuing education program in the world, military or civilian.  By the time an officer has surpassed twenty years service and been advanced to the rank of colonel (Navy captain), he has typically attended two or three professional military education (PME) schools and possesses one or more advanced degrees.  This Colonel's PME is typical of a Marine officer -- at the 8 year mark, a year at a school to prepare him for operations at the battalion level; at the 15 year mark, a year at a school to prepare him to think strategically and act operationally as part of a high-level staff in a joint (with other services) and combined (with other nations) environment; at the 21 year mark, a year at a school to prepare him to employ not just the military components of power to further national strategy, but the political and economic, as well.  At the 17 year mark, this Colonel, on his off-duty time, completed study for a Masters of Science in Human Resource Management.  Oh, and graduation from the Navy War College at the 21 year mark came with a Masters of Arts in National Defense and Strategic Studies.  Again, this Colonel was nothing more than a typical Marine Colonel.    

Sixth, before colonels (Navy captains) in our Republic's military can, by law (Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986), be considered for advancement to brigadier general or rear admiral, they must have served in a joint assignment.  Each service is a little different, but generally a colonel will also not be advanced to general without command time (combat command time, preferably) at every rank at which that particular service bestows command.  In the Marine Corps, if a ground officer (aviators are a little different) hasn't commanded at the company (180 Marines), battalion (800 Marines), and regimental level (3000 Marines), he ain't getting a look at a star.

Advancing through the officer ranks is an "up or out" proposition for the most part.  If a captain fails selection to major twice, he is out -- without opportunity to stay for the coveted twenty-year "retirement."  A major must typically make lieutenant colonel to stay beyond the twenty year mark.  Promotion opportunity to major and lieutenant colonel (Navy lieutenant commander and commander) varies by service, and from year to year as personnel requirements change to meet congressional force structure authorizations, but, generally, 70 percent of captains make major and 60 percent of majors make lieutenant colonel.  This Colonel, a member of an unusually over-strength cohort, survived promotion opportunities of only 60 percent to major, 47 percent to lieutenant colonel, and roughly 35 percent to colonel.  

From a crop of hundreds of highly qualified Marine colonels at the, roughly, 26 year mark, a small handful (a dozen or so, on average) are selected for advancement to brigadier general -- low single digit promotion opportunity.  

Once an officer is advanced to the flag ranks, his responsibilities, and the expectations of his decision-making prowess grow exponentially.  

And, it is still "up or out." 

Advancement from one to more stars is a whole 'nuther ballgame.  Fail selection to major general (two stars) or rear admiral, upper half (don't get the Colonel started on the strange rear admiral ranks), and you retire.  Advancement to three and four star ranks are actually billet appointments, with no time in grade or service requirements.  For example, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, was nominated for the rank of major general and two months later appointed to a three star billet.  The Colonel is not completely sure, but he doesn't think General Dunford ever actually wore two stars. 

By the time officers reach the three and four star ranks, as well as during those assignments, they have operated at the very highest levels of government, participating in the formulation, and execution, of plans and policies to support national strategy in all three overlapping spheres of national power -- economic, diplomatic, and military.  The Colonel dares to say that almost any three or four star officer in our Republic's military has as much education and experience in diplomacy as all but the most senior foreign service officers, and certainly far, far more than the typical political hacks who follow a candidate from state or local government to the White House.    

In conclusion, the senior officers of our Republic's military have reached the pinnacle of leadership in the most complex, mission-oriented, and internationally-engaged meritocracy in the world.  Their "discipline," a term often used more disparagingly by civilians than not, is not to be confused with the notion of blind obedience or unthinking robotic execution.  The discipline instilled in today's American military, and exemplified by its senior generals (with radically few exceptions), is the unerring compulsion to selflessly do the right thing for the right reasons.  Modern American military discipline suborns self to the organization, nation, and, ultimately, the Constitution, the sole entity in support of which American military officers pledge their honor and lives.

Wring your hands over "militarization" of our government if you wish to show your ignorance.  As for the Colonel, he'll take an American general over a Chicago community organizer, Texas oil man, or New York millionaire any day of the week and twice on Sunday!                                    

Friday, July 28, 2017

Pro Reading, Vol I, Ed 2: Pax Romana

With lots of air conditioned time on his hands this hatefully hot summer, the Colonel has reinvigorated his heretofore moribund professional reading program.  This post recaps his impressions from his latest grey-matter wrinkle-forming endeavor -- Adrian Goldsworthy's "PAX ROMANA."

The founding of Rome is shrouded in myth.  So, too, is the conduct of Roman expansion and imperialism.

What we "modern" humans believe about Rome -- republic and empire, expansion and fall -- often borders on the inane;  consisting of oversimplified classifications based on little more than a comic book depth of study.  Goldsworthy attempts the impossible -- explanation of the myriad political, economic, cultural, and military aspects of the Roman system and civilization that evolved over nearly a millennium, from a hilltop settlement on Italy's Tiber River to an Empire that stretched from Britain to Arabia, from the Caucuses to the Atlas Mountains and held sway over upwards of 70 million people (nearly a fifth of the population of the entire globe) at its zenith, in an easily read single book.  The author does this with a segmented examination of each of these factors and sub-factors, replete with well-documented deep dives into specific examples to illustrate his points.  While not an exhaustive look at the Roman Empire, Goldsworthy provides a foundational view of the era known as the "Roman Peace;" a good starting place for any serious study of the Roman Republic and Empire. 

Peace, like "love," is an abstract and oversimplified term.  Pax Romana was not particularly peaceful in its application, the definition of peace depending on at which end of the pilum and gladius one found oneself.   At the height of its power, Rome maintained a leveling presence across a score of annexed provinces formerly beset by such a high level of internecine warfare that advances in "civilization" were all but impossible.  Prior to Rome, incessant warring tribalism prevailed.  Under Roman rule, tribalism still existed, but its violence was suborned and tamped by fear of Roman application of much greater, more organized, and often indiscriminate, force.  Age-old inter-tribal grievances and hatreds still simmered, and occasionally boiled over, but the inevitable application of Roman power kept major warfare under enough control that energy normally devoted to fighting with neighbors was channeled into commerce, city-building, and scientific progress.

Goldsworthy attempts, with noteworthy results, to reconcile the disparate views of historians and commentators on the reasons for Roman expansionism and, later in the life of the Empire, reluctance to continue to expand.   

Ultimately, Roman expansionism can be traced back to the evolution of early Roman governance. Early in the Sixth Century B.C., as Rome transitioned from monarchy to republic, the rich ruling class formed the governing body for which Rome is famous -- the Senate.  Machinations for power and influence in Rome centered on the Senate.  The Senate ran Rome, and its provinces as it grew, through political appointment.  The currying of favor with the members of the Senate (from within and without) for political appointment became the fuel that fired the Senate.  Serving in the Senate, and one of the executive offices appointed by the Senate, was a path to social and financial aggrandizement.  

At the pinnacle of appointed power in the Republic was the office of consul, two of which were appointed each year and alternated as the principle consul each month.  At the conclusion of their year in office (which could not be held again for ten years) consuls were assigned duties as the Senate's representatives outside of Rome.  Those duties included defense of Rome's frontiers at the head of one or more legions (apportioned by the Senate).  Victory in battle was richly rewarded and great social status was garnered thereby.  This incentivized aggressive military adventurism as successive generations of consuls sought greater glory than the previous.  Defensive military operations to maintain limited borders and protect inter-city trade routes gave way to offensive operations to conquer territory that was exploited for the benefit and enrichment of the citizens of Rome.

Goldsworthy's conclusion, then, is that expansion was a logical extension of the political system and its underlying social drivers, family honor chief among them.  And, as the borders of Rome expanded, the included territory subdued and eventually annexed as a province (with the attendant all-important Roman citizenship that brought with it), the requirement for defense of expanded borders (as well as maintenance of provincial "peace" and order) spurred growth of the army.  A large army made more expansion possible.  

But, a large army, at the head of a portion of which a power hungry politician might challenge the constitutional order, ultimately resulted in the transition from a Senate-controlled Republic to an imperial order at the head of which one man reigned supreme.      

By the Second Century, A.D., Roman emperors began to employ an expansion-limiting calculus.  One part of the equation was fear of an internal challenge to one man's imperial power.  Another part of the equation was the economy of legionary occupation -- some conquered territories, while expansive, produced far less wealth than was required to maintain legions in the territory.  Goldsworthy notes the occupation of Britain as an example of this deficit cost of empire.  

In "Pax Romana" Goldsworthy spends considerable time examining the relationship between Roman central government and the provincial governments and local governments of "occupied" territories, and makes a great case that Roman genius for infrastructure was matched by genius for governance.  In particular, there was little Roman attempt to govern and administer at the local level of occupied territories beyond adjudication of major disputes deemed a challenge to peace and order.  Indeed, the view of heavy-handed Roman rule backed by the overwhelming might of ever-present Roman legions is largely myth.  Even at its largest, the army of Rome (both legions and provincial auxiliaries) was nowhere near large enough to provide constant presence throughout the empire, and was instead positioned primarily along the frontiers.  The vast bulk of the legions, by the Second Century A.D., were garrisoned along the Limes Germanicus (German frontier), leaving many provinces completely without the presence of a legion.  However, the belief (based on experience) among local leaders in the provinces and occupied territories was that misbehavior (open rebellion, or even unrest threatening Roman interests) could be met, eventually, by deployed force sufficient to regain control.   Thus, the threat of force, and not its actual application on a regular basis, was the backbone of the Pax Romana.  

The military might and global political dominance of the United States, particularly since the middle of the 20th Century, has drawn comparisons with Pax Romana, many going so far as to call the period Pax Americana.  As with any comparisons between different historical eras, generalities often cloud the discussion and prevent examination of details most pertinent to lessons-learned.  Arguably, the United States has maintained an empire of sorts since 1945.  The United States' navy has ensured freedom of navigation necessary for the vast majority of world commerce upon which American society has thrived and grown rich.  Treaty allies around the globe have enjoyed peace and prosperity guaranteed by the deterrence of the United States' overwhelming multi-dimensional military superiority.  American borders and territories have remained inviolable for almost three quarters of a century, for much the same reason.

The last territories occupied by the United States to be admitted into the union as states (analog to Roman provinces) were Hawaii and Alaska at the beginning of Pax Americana.  Indeed, Pax Americana has been marked by a lull in American territorial expansion that saw the size of the American empire double every 50 years from 1783 to 1945.  What accounts for this?  Arguably a similar calculus to that made by Roman emperors in the later half of the Roman Empire's run -- the feared deficit cost of expanding and maintaining an empire, and the feared dilution of personal political clout -- slowed and then halted American expansion.  

Arguing against expansion on the basis of short-term cost is the tactic of the politically small-minded and strategically short-sighted.  
The Colonel has long held the rock solid belief in his doubt-free military mind that when Rome ceased its expansion -- particularly its Second Century A.D. failure to devote the energy and resources to the conquest of the lands and peoples beyond the Limes Germanicus -- and settled into a strategic defensive posture behind fortified borders, the inevitable loss of strategic initiative to the enemy began.  Not only does occupying strategic defensive positions and adopting a strategic defensive posture surrender the strategic initiative to the enemy, but it is destructive to the strategic morale and strategic physical fitness of the nation.  Once the initiative is lost, responding to threats becomes an exercise in withdrawal and accommodation, the end result of which is national irrelevancy.  

This is not to say that "pauses" in strategic expansion, in order to consolidate gains, assimilate populations, and recapitalize the sources of strategic strength (economic infrastructure, political policy, and military forces), are not in order at carefully considered inflection points.  But, strategic pause must always have the chief aim to prepare for resumption of the strategic offensive.   

The causes of the Roman Empire's fall have employed more academicians and sold more books than nearly any other question in the history of man.  There is no one single factor that explains the collapse of the greatest empire in history, although many have advanced their own anti-expansion agendas by positing that imperial overreach was responsible.  While the administration and defense (internally, as well as externally) of Rome's empire certainly strained the limits of the transportation and communication technology of the time, Rome's genius for infrastructure (cities, roads, aqueducts, etc...) made administration of a far-flung empire possible.  

"Strategic overreach" is a concept adopted by the intellectually lazy and morally weak, to explain political failure to consolidate gains, and, more importantly, political failure to capitalize on the initiative of the strategic offense.  In the case of the United States, strategic expansion of the Republic has always been opposed by local, tactical, political machinations.  Politicians fear dilution of their power and oppose any redrawing of the map that will, in their view, change the balance of power or diminish their influence.  The question of annexation and eventual admission of territory into the Republic as states has always been argued along political lines.  Few have been the statesmen who have looked beyond the pettiness of personal political gain or loss and focused on the benefits of expansion under our Constitution for both current citizens and those who will become citizens.  

Pax Romana raised the overall standard of living and lowered the threat of violence and war for a quarter of the world's population.  Rome's collapse (precipitated in great part by its defensive response to external threats) plunged that portion of humanity into such a terrible time that we now refer to the "middle ages" (the era between Pax Romana and the Renaissance) as the dark ages.  The American republic's collapse would arguably plunge a far greater proportion of the globe into another dark age.  Pax Americana will last only so long as our Republic's leadership suborns petty personal political position to the expansion of American greatness.

It ain't looking so good at the moment...                           

                              

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Own It

Great pinnacles of success and fame all too often have their co-dependent depths of failure and disgrace.

And, often, the faster the rise in prominence, the more dramatic the fall from grace.

A good man and a good coach (not a perfect man, nor a perfect coach) fell from grace last week.  There, but by the Grace of God, go all men.  And, as with all men in disgrace, this good man has no one to blame for his fall but himself.

But, then again, maybe that's not completely true.  Maybe some of the fault for a good man's tumble from a pedestal of prominence belongs to those of us who put him there.

We shine glory on public personas, in particular (but by no means exclusively) winning college football coaches.  We, not so much they themselves, build cults of personality around the men who lead our favorite teams.   The coach becomes a mythic being, bigger than the team he leads.  We follow his every utterance, yearn for a glimpse of him in public, seek his signature on a souvenir, cheer the announcement of his name.  

We Ole Miss Rebels made Hugh Freeze the celebrity he became.  

We own the broken man that he is today.

Oh, we can claim to have been misled, hoodwinked, sold a bill of goods.  But those claims are as empty as the Gatorade bucket after a big win.

Hugh Freeze was, is, just a man.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  But we made him more, encouraged his hubris, winked at his feigned humility, and, ultimately, abetted his transgressions.  And, now, Rebel Nation is angrily reducing a good man (not a perfect man) to something less.   

Own it Rebel Nation.  Don't wash the stink of it off of yourself until your contrition is complete.  Don't pretend to be shocked at behavior that should not surprise even the most morally-greased long-distance swimmer in the bitter cold cesspool of human nature.

Hugh Freeze didn't create by himself the bubble of personal perfection that surrounded him like a glowing aura.  He had lots of help.  

Rebel Nation help.  

Mississippi help.  

And, the good Lord knows we Mississippians have a near mortal headlock on the wearing of clean clothes over dirty bodies, presenting ourselves as upright in the daylight while crawling on our bellies in the dark.  

Hypocrisy is our birthright. 

So, let's not kick any harder at the prostrate form of a good (not perfect) man fallen from grace than we would want ourselves to be kicked.

Oh, and this sordid story is not through in its telling anytime soon.  Not by a long shot.  This is the gift that keeps on giving for sports writers and other journalistic moralizers.  This stick will be poked into our eyes for years to come.  We should be inured to that -- there are plenty of other sticks to the eyes we Mississippians have suffered, and will continue to.  

And just when we think the wound has healed enough to remove the bandage of public shame, the scab will be ripped off by the next good (not perfect) man, whose edifice of our adulation we have built on the shifting sands of unreasonable expectation, comes tumbling disgracefully down.  

Own it, Rebel Nation.   We are Ole Miss.                    

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bit By Bit

The Colonel is a bit of a futurist.

Emphasis on a bit.

When the Colonel was an active duty lieutenant colonel of Marines, a general officer added the following reviewing officer comment to a semiannual fitness report:  "... a bit of a visionary." 

While not exactly damnation by faint praise, the general's comment was just ambiguous enough to allow future promotion boards to read into the Colonel's record whatever they wished.  However, this post isn't about the vagaries of performance evaluations and their impact on advancement.  That's all muddy water downstream of a creek crossing, as far as the Colonel is concerned.

For the purpose of this post, he would like to think that the general's perception about the Colonel's foresight does have a bit of validity.
        
His love of history and the lessons of the past inevitably feed the Colonel's imagination for what lies ahead.  Depending on what he's been reading lately, his imagination wanders down one of two distinct paths influenced either by geo-political or technological advance factors.  He's wandering wordy down the latter path this morning.

One of the technological advances that fascinates the Colonel is the science of additive manufacturing (AM).  Or, more colloquially, 3D printing.  The Colonel is a bit of a believer that AM will be more of an economic disrupter than just about anything we've seen since Al Gore invented the internet.

The international standard for AM -- ISO/ASTM52900-15 -- defines seven categories of AM processes within its meaning: binder jetting, directed energy deposition, material extrusion, material jetting, powder bed fusion, sheet lamination and vat photopolymerization.

The Colonel ain't got the first clue what any of the above means. There ain't much math and science in his soul.  His liberal arts education, in and of itself, is hampered by the fact that the Colonel didn't go to college...; he went to Ole Miss.  

But, luckily for the Colonel, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the disruptive arc of this ICBM (innovative computing ballistic missile).  The impact of AM on many areas -- commerce, off-planet exploration, warfare, and healthcare, to name a few -- will be similar to the secondary explosiveness of the revolution in computing witnessed over the last half century.

AM has the potential to be the final nail in the coffin, currently being built by E-commerce, for brick and mortar commercial enterprises.

If you are in the second half of your life expectancy, think back to the 1970's (if you are a life rookie, still in the first half of your life expectancy, just follow along and nod in wonder as the Colonel increases your knowledge).  Computers -- specifically: electronic digital programmable computing devices developed in the middle of the 20th Century -- were the province and property solely of government agencies and very large businesses.  Within a generation, computers (transformed by advancing from vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits) had become infinitely more powerful, fractionally less in size, and exponentially more affordable.  By the middle of the 1990's nearly every home had a ''personal computer" (PC).  A generation later, a billion of us on this big blue marble carry a "smart phone," each with exponentially more computing power than all of the computers with which NASA sent rockets carrying men to the moon. 

Connected via the internet, personal computers and smart phones have revolutionized consumer commerce.  The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis' economic research publication, FRED, shows in the graph below that as of the latest fiscal quarter (Q1, 2017) E-Commerce retail sales as a percentage of total sales has risen from less than one percent at the turn of the century to 8.5% today.  The growth curve displayed below looks pretty darned consistent to the Colonel's untrained eye.  The extrapolated expectation is that the percentage of retail sales conducted via E-Commerce will continue to grow steadily for the foreseeable future.         

"Disruptive" technological advances create new markets, challenge existing industries, and transform the means by which consumers access information, products, and services.  Seen as a "disruption," E-Commerce has undeniably changed the way consumers purchase retail goods, and this change will likely only accelerate going forward.  Disruption, ordinarily denoting a negative action, should not be viewed through that restrictive lens.  Disruptive technologies and innovations have regularly appeared on the scene throughout history.  Disruptive innovation has negative consequences for those that fail to adapt and positive consequences for those that early adopt.  The Colonel believes, with just a bit of vision, that AM (certainly capitalizing on, and leveraging, the revolution in connected computing) will be even more disruptive than the revolution in connected computing.

Using the personal computer analog, AM should follow a roughly similar line of advance.  Today, 3D printers are primarily the province and property of large commercial concerns and educational research, such as digital computers were in the middle of the last century.  Just as advances in digital computing inexorably moved computing power from large to smaller institutions, from libraries to homes, from desktops to hands, advances in AM will likewise, the Colonel believes without a shadow of doubt in his military mind, be marked by the same waypoints.

At some point in this innovation timeline, retail outlets will adapt to AM (if they haven't already begun to -- the Colonel is far from omniscient on the subject).  Imagine a store front with a very shallow back end. At kiosks up front, customers access products via computer (if they haven't already done so via their own web interface device) and place an order for an item to be "3D printed."  The retail outlet's automated system inputs the item's program to the relatively expensive (too expensive for home use at this point) AM machine which "prints" the item while the customer waits (as AM "matures" the wait will not be long).  The retail outlet has no inventory, except for the raw material used by the 3D printer. 

If you buy the premise posited in the last paragraph, now imagine the disruption to the current manufacturing and shipping industries. Significant portions of manufacturing will shift from relatively centralized to radically decentralized.  A significant portion of the shipping industry will shift from delivery of raw materials to factories, movement of intermediate forms of the final product from factories to assembly facilities, and movement of finished products through supply chains from distribution centers to retail outlets.  Instead, an increasing segment of the shipping industry will shift to delivery of raw materials to radically decentralized locations.  The overall template of shipping does not change radically, but the potential simplification of the supply chain offers economies of scale and time.  Not even considering, at this point, the impact of drone delivery mechanisms... 

Now, again using the personal computer analog, imagine AM machines, two generations hence, in every home.  The Colonel wants a new hammer.  He purchases the digital program via his internet interface and sends it to his personal 3D printer, which converts, via AM, raw material (from a variety of raw materials self-contained in his personal 3D printer -- think different colored inks in current 2D printers) into a hammer.  Or a dish.  Or a coffee mug.  Or a vehicle repair part.  Or components for a new smart phone.  The possibilities are as endless as they are exciting.

And, because the technology of AM is scalable and potentially self-replicating, the future is..., well, pretty darn exciting.

Couple AM with neural-machine interface (now becoming reality) and autonomous AI, and you have the potential for some serious disruption. 

We ain't there yet, but it's fun (or frightening, depending on your perspective) to think about.  And while he thinks about it, the Colonel will go mow the lawn.

The Colonel is looking forward to additive manufacturing his own autonomous, grass-height sensing, intelligent lawn mower.  That's when he'll know the future as really arrived!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Professional Reading, Volume I, Edition 1

The season of heat has begun here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere.

Doesn't do any good but to accept it and adapt to it.

The Colonel's adaptation amounts to avoidance.  He still has plenty of chores and projects to knock out across his vast holdings.  He just has had to prioritize and temporize while the temps and attendant Mississippi humidity push the heat index well into the triple digits.

There was a time...,  back in the day...,  when the Colonel was a bit younger, and a lot less wise, that he relished the heat and humidity.  He waited until the sun, and its warmth, was at its zenith to go for his daily run.  The heat energized him.

Not so much, anymore.

Heat exhaustion is now the Colonel's shadow.  And, so, because the Colonel is shooting to live to be 120, he adapts and temporizes.

Early mornings are for outside chores and projects.  The rest of the day is for indoor activities.  And, as there are only so many inside chores and projects on the CRIPPLE (Colonel's Really Important Planned Projects List, Enumerated), the Colonel has decided to reinvigorate his professional reading program.  

Until a decade ago, when there was still the possibility of the Colonel participating in the Third World War, and the participatory requirement to draw on history's lessons learned, he maintained a rather robust reading program.  Over the past decade, his normal 20 to 25 books per year has dwindled to, shamefully, 2 to 3.

So, beginning this season of heat, the Colonel will draw on his albeit dwindled reservoir of self-discipline and push the page count.

He will, as the two dozen of you who regularly waste precious rod and cone time perusing posts hereon may have frighteningly  concluded, post hereon a review of each book, to include applicable lessons learned for the future of our Republic (or, in case the American Republic decides to belly up, the future Tallahatchie Republic -- to be initially headquartered here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere).

The Colonel recently concluded Peter Cozzens' relatively even-handed and noteworthily nuanced "THE EARTH IS WEEPING, The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West."  The author's treatment, in a captivating and descriptive narrative, of the thirty-year war of concentration and attrition against the Native American tribes west of the Mississippi, is replete with examples of governmental inter- (and intra-) agency disconnect, strategic policy -- military operations mismatch, civilian and military leadership ineptitude, and failure to understand and appreciate enemy desires, will, and capability.  

Throughout the period in question, both sides continued to fail to grasp the enormity of the task presented them as the inexorable tide of treasure-seekers and homesteaders flooded westward.  In particular, the Plains tribes failed to cease their fierce internecine warfare (nearly until they were extirpated in all but a fraction of their former territory by the US Army, the Lakota Sioux considered the Crow and Pawnee far greater enemies than the whites) and unite to strike concentrated blows against the Americans until it was too late.  And, even when they did concentrate -- to the everlasting infamy of George Armstrong Custer -- they did so only temporarily and without a united follow-up campaign that may well have resulted in a negotiated peace that could have given the Indians a multi-generational peace on terms favorable to them.  

While there were many on both sides of the conflict who sought, and attained, deep understanding of the opposing side, they were far too often in the minority and rarely significant enough in the decision-making process.  Without understanding of the enemy, insufficient military resources (most of the small post-Civil War US Army was detailed to occupation and Reconstruction of the South), and with completely ineffective control of the American civilian population along the borders with and through (railroad and California-bound wagon trains) Indian territory, the Federal government was perpetually playing catch-up with regard to the situation in the West.   

In the end, however, this clash of cultures was won by the culture with the preponderance of four things -- manpower, technology, economic resiliency, and political unity.   The Plains tribes demonstrated, on more than one occasion, the ability to concentrate appropriate force coupled with technological adaptation (many tribes often fought with modern repeating rifles against US Army formations whose soldiers were equipped with older single-shot, albeit breech loading, weapons), but their loosely confederated and semi-nomadic culture was solely dependent on what turned out to be, considering their numbering in the tens of millions, a surprisingly fragile resource -- the buffalo.  Interestingly, the Plains Indian "horse culture" (which existed for little more than a century and not millennia, as is the popular misconception) and warrior reliance on their mounts for tactical advantage was actually an operational weakness  --  experienced Army officers learned to time their campaigns against hostile tribes for late winter when Indian pony herds were weak from lack of forage.   

The only true strategic set-back inflicted by the Plains tribes on the Americans was done so serendipitously.  Incessant attacks on the Northern Pacific rail line (and defeat of an Army detail sent to defend its construction) caused shareholder panic.  The company bankrolling the construction went bankrupt and the ensuing panic resulted in the economic depression of 1873.  The rail line construction stopped and the Lakota wrongly assumed their tactical victory had accomplished their campaign aim to stop white encroachment via the "iron horse" once and for all.  They failed to follow up and once the depression ended, track laying recommenced.    

Perhaps the greatest lesson to be drawn from the Indian wars for the West is the warfighting necessity for political unity and unity of effort.  Rare is the national leadership that goes to war without at least calculating that the initial force ratios (manpower and technology) are in their favor.  Not so rare are those that fail to ensure political unity, and fail to protect, as well as marshal for war support the preponderance of, their economies in order to ensure the most rapid victory and thereby preserve the will of the people.                

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Out the Window

The Colonel has ADHD.  

Well..., at his age, it is more like ADFHD (F for formerly -- there ain't much hyper about anything that the Colonel is these days).

The AD is still accurate.  The Colonel is easily distracted; quickly bored.

Take his morning routine for example.  Take this morning's execution of the Colonel's morning routine, specifically.

With a large mug of strong coffee under his nose, the Colonel sits at his computer reviewing on-line news.  The coffee is beginning to work its magic.  To the right of his computer screen a large window provides a view of a significant swath of the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's gardens surrounding the Big House at Egeebeegee, headquarters of the Army of Northern Mississippi, aboard the Colonel's vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere.

The grass needs mowing.

The Colonel's morning tasks include making headway on the next great American novel.  The story is long, pages approaching the count of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  

For the millennials reading this post, an encyclopedia was a multi-volume, alphabetized, collection of summarized information.

For the Bama grads reading this post, it's the set of big books in the campus library below the sign "Do Not Color."

The crepe myrtles are blooming.  

Ten years ago, shortly after settling into their forever digs here at the center of the universe, the Colonel supervised as the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda moved more than a dozen crepe myrtles from positions crowding the Big House to locations throughout the carefully crafted, yet randomly arranged, gardens. The crepe myrtles are never pruned.  They are assuming shadetree stature.  With them, also from positions crowding the Big House, came more than a dozen large loropetalum bushes.

The loropetalums need pruning.

Standing ever taller at the far western edge of the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's gardens, a trio of young red oaks are doing their level best to turn a former open-range backyard acre into an open hardwood forest.  They were puny and alone a decade ago.  Stories tall now, their summer shade slides refreshingly across the yard in a slow dance with the southern sun.

The hummingbird feeders are running low.

Frenetic feeders, hummers.  The Colonel's flock -- probably 60 strong at this point -- can drain four large sugar water dispensers in hours.  The Colonel's sugar purchases probably keep at least one sugar cane farmer in business.

The Colonel loves to write; and he should be translating that love into action to finish his burgeoning narrative of crisis, pathos, and human nature.  

The view out the window wins again.  

                    

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

The summer of 1967, 50 years ago, holds special meaning for the Colonel.

He had just completed the fifth grade at Barrow Elementary School in Columbus, Mississippi.  It was the sixth different school he had attended in six years.  He would attend two more the next year in a different state, and six more before he graduated high school in a different country.

Mind you, the Colonel isn't complaining about his itinerant educational experience.  He's just stating facts.  His Air Force NCO father had little control over the frequency at which Uncle Sam moved the family.  

In 1961, the Colonel's dad got orders to Ben Guerir Air Force Base in Morocco.  (For the geographically challenged Bama grads reading this post, Morocco is just a little to the east of Auburn.)  Dad went ahead of the family, and the Colonel, his Mom, and little brother waited for a few months in Columbus (the folks' hometown) until family quarters became available in Morocco.  The Colonel started kindergarten in Columbus while they waited.

The Colonel finished kindergarten, and the first grade, in Morocco.  Then, the king of Morocco decided he no longer wanted the American armed forces' presence in his kingdom and the Colonel next found himself in an elementary school in Jacksonville, Arkansas, the home of Little Rock Air Force Base.  Three years and two schools later, the Colonel's dad received orders for Nha Trang Air Force Base.  

Vietnam.  

There was a war on and families weren't invited.

So, in the summer of 1966, the Colonel's family moved from Arkansas back to Mississippi.  

Dad headed for Vietnam. 

It was a long year.  

At the time, the Colonel's understanding of what was going on in Vietnam was a little fuzzy.  He wasn't alone in that lack of comprehension.  Most of what was understood about the U.S. effort in Southeast Asia in 1966 was gleaned from a few minutes of sonorous-voiced reporting on the evening television news broadcast and positive, carefully crafted columns in local newspapers.  Troop levels had doubled from the year before, but the sense was that the U.S. military would make quick work of the communist insurgency.

As 1966 waned and 1967 waxed, and the casualty reporting took on a far more ominous tone, the Colonel began to have the first sense of the real danger his dad might be in.  Dad was due home in early summer, and the countdown to his return became an increasingly urgent ritual.

The Colonel remembers sitting in the tiny apartment kitchen when the phone rang and his mother answered to hear her husband's voice telling her he was safely back in California and would be home in a day or so.  It was an electric moment.  And, the shocks would keep coming.

Dad had already told his family that his next assignment was England Air Force Base in Alexandria, Louisiana, and the Colonel had consulted the atlas and fingered the center of the state, telling little brother, "Here's where we're going next."  The Colonel didn't know much about Louisiana, but on the map it was nestled next to the two last places they'd lived, so it couldn't be all that different.

Riiight...

But, that culture shock wouldn't be the first..., nor the last.

However, the more immediate systemic shock would involve the re-integration of Dad into the tight-knit family dynamic that had developed in his absence.  The Colonel's dad wasn't domineering by any means, but while he had been gone the Colonel's mom had loosened up on a few things...

Like haircuts.  

When the Colonel's dad left for Vietnam, the Colonel wore a closely-cropped crew cut.  When Dad got home, the Colonel was sporting a considerably longer hairstyle.

The Colonel realizes at this juncture that those of you who have known him for most of, or any portion of, his adult life, know that "hair" and "the Colonel" are mutually exclusive concepts.   But, there was a time when one of the Colonel's most prized possessions, second only to his pocket knife, was his pocket comb...  

While Dad had been gone, the Colonel had..., ahem, fallen in love with his hair.  The blossoming love affair with his locks would last only another six or seven years, but it was a torrid affair, nonetheless.

 A memory of the look on Dad's face when he saw his formerly crew-cut, now mop-topped, sons for the first time no longer resides in an accessible portion of the Colonel's grey matter.  The Colonel is not even sure that the appearance of his two sons made much of an impression at that point -- in retrospect, it occurs to the Colonel that Dad was probably far more interested in the appearance of the love of his life.    

A day or so later, however, Dad seemed to take a closer notice of his progeny.

"You two get in the car."

"Where we goin' Daddy?"

"For a ride."

When the Colonel's parents took their children somewhere "sorta" fun, the destination was normally plainly announced.  When they took the Colonel and little brother somewhere either really fun or really dreaded, the destination was always cloaked in "for a ride."

Daddy wasn't bringing fishing poles and Mom hadn't packed swim wear, so the destination wasn't looking too promising on the 11 year-old excitement scale.  

When they parked in front of the shop sporting a barber pole in front, the Colonel checked his dad's hair.  Nope, Dad didn't need a haircut...

"Crew cuts," Dad told the barber.

"Daddy, noooo!," wailed the Colonel.

"Alright," Dad relented, "just get it out of his eyes off his ears."

The barber complied.  The Colonel sulked.  But, that summer was going to be a whole lot better than the last.

Dad was home.  

         

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Independence Morning

Forty years ago this morning, the Colonel was standing in formation on the physical training field at the Marine Corps' Officer Candidate School.  

It was a surreal moment.  

It was Independence Day, the 4th of July 1977.  But, for the 250 officer candidates (and their trainers) it would be no holiday.  It was business as usual.

"Business" that day meant 0500 reveille, a rushed breakfast, an hour and a half of calisthenics and a run, a rushed shower, a few hours of classroom instruction, a rushed lunch, a couple of hours of close order drill, more classroom instruction, a rushed supper, and several hours of gear and barracks cleaning -- all the while closely supervised by very vocal and highly demanding drill instructors. 

The candidates knew it was the 4th of July.  They knew that under any other circumstances they would be observing this day in a far different fashion.  And, yet...  there was not the slightest hint in the demeanor of their trainers that morning that suggested they had a clue that the day was the most significant of American holidays. The battle-hardened Marine senior NCOs with urgent, gravelly voices, and company grade officers with stern reinforcing looks, were doing their duty in the same superbly professional way; as if the day was the last day they would ever have to impart discipline.

The candidates had formed into 50-man platoon blocks surrounding a waist high platform on which a drill instructor stood, square- shouldered and square-jawed, crisply barking out the directions of the exercise routine.  With a couple of weeks' reinforcement, the words had already ingrained themselves in the candidates' psyche.  The Colonel's memory of them is as sharp as the way they fell upon his young, non-tinnitus-ravaged ears those long dewy Virginia mornings ago.

The drill instructor sang out, "The next exercise will be the Marine Corps Pushup!"

The candidates responded with a lusty "Ooorah!"

It wasn't lusty enough. "I said," the drill instructor's voice climbed an octave and ten decibels higher, "the next exercise will be the Marine Corps Pushup!" 

"Ooorah!"

"The Marine Corps Pushup is a four count exercise!  I will count the exercise and you will count the repetitions!  Front leaning rest position.., move!  

On the command "move," the candidates dropped quickly from the rigid position of attention to the pushup position, in the "up" position, bodies stiffly planked with heads inclined up and eyes locked on the Marine on the platform.

The move was not quick enough.  "Not fast enough, candidates! Position of attention, move." 

The candidates scrambled back to the position of attention.

"Front leaning rest position, move!"

The company of candidates dropped as one, as if hit by the same stun gun.

"Ready..., exercise!  One, two, three..."

On the completion of the first two pushups, which counted only as one complete exercise in the Marine Corps world of never too much of a hard thing, the candidates shouted, "One!" 

"One, two, three..."

"Two!"

"One, two, three..."

"Three!"  

There is something deliciously motivating about the Marine Corps Pushup...

...for the one leading the exercise.

That morning, it began to dawn on the candidates, as they pushed the planet away en mas, that something was amiss.  

The drill instructor had not announced, in the pre-exercise directions, how many Marine Corps Pushups the candidates would be doing.  

At the "ten" count, wheretofore the exercise had been complete, the drill instructor continued, "one, two, three..."

"Eleven!"  

"One, two, three..."

"Twelve!" 

"One, two, three..."

"Thirteen!"

The counting and the pushing continued.  The planet began to move ever so slightly away from the sun...

Yeah, maybe not...  But, it seemed that the exercise would not end until the problem of global warming was solved.

Sometime later, the exercise concluded.  The Colonel retaineth not the ability to recall the specific memory of exactly how many Marine Corps Pushups were executed that morning.  

As the candidates stood panting and "shaking out" abused arms and shoulders, rebellion brewed.

Suddenly, a candidate, possessed of a fairly good singing voice, if little sense of self-preservation, began to sing,

"Oh, say can you see?  By the dawn's early light..."

A few more brave souls joined in, "What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight's last gleaming."

Five hundred eyes turned to the Marine on the platform.

He was at the rigid, disciplined position of attention.  

So were the rest of the Marines and officers in charge of the company.

The rest of the company snapped to attention and the candidate choir filled the air with the best rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" the Colonel had ever heard, or has ever heard since. 

It was glorious!

As the anthem concluded, the Marine on the platform filled his lungs to announce the next exercise.  Before he could expel that air past raspy vocal chords, another candidate began to sing,

"From the Halls of Montezuma..."

Discipline reigned.  Marines stand at attention for the Marines' Hymn.

Marines and Marine officer candidates sang the song of their people.  All three verses.

It was glorious!

As the Marines' Hymn concluded and loud cheers echoed across Quantico's hallowed hollows, another candidate, hoping to forestall the continuance of physical exercise, began to sing,

O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain..."

Alas, there is no proscription for standing at the position of attention for "America the Beautiful."   

"No, no, NO!  Shut your mouths!  Position of attention!"

"The next exercise will be Mountain Climbers..."

It was a tall mountain.  The candidates smiled as they climbed.