How much would you pay for this dead reb?
First a quick clear-up on something I said yesterday. These clear-up urges seem to come with the daily posting territory. Every night I go to bed thinking I should’ve said something better, or added a link, or something like that. But the good part is, I can come back the next morning and do it.The point I wanted to clear up today was why V/STOL technology is a sensible design cost for some planes and not others. We were talking about the Harrier, where it’s not a good idea. That’s because the Harrier is a fighter, and as inflight refueling gets better and better, the need for good shock absorbers and V/STOL on a fighter goes down, because a fighter has no reason to land on what those Gettysburg guys would call “bad ground.” (I never heard people talk about “ground” as much as in that movie; it was like listening to landscape gardeners in uniform.) In fact, if a fighter or fighter pilot touches the ground at all before it gets home, something has likely gone seriously wrong.
But STOL makes sense for transports like the C-17, because touching the ground in rough places is a big part of that plane’s job. And even the “V” part of V/STOL is a worthwhile investment in a rescue/transport like the V-22, because its whole mission is putting down in unexpected, unimproved places.
Now for the meat of the blog, har har har: Who’s been planting bodies?
According to our own SecDef, Gates, Muamar Qaddafi and his Mua-minions have been going around moving bodies, planting them where there’ve been air strikes to make it look like we’re killing civilians.
The story goes that Qaddafi’s been handling the whole production in-house: first he kills some people—the story doesn’t say who or why, but most likely rebels—then his guys toss the corpses in trucks and take them to bomb sites where they arrange the bodies like Macy’s window decorators or fashion designers (I swear, war these days is getting way too close to fashion, like I said about the mannikin idea) and take Western reporters to see them so one of Big Q’s English-speaking sons can yell “Genocide!”
And not to interrupt myself but can we have some kind of NCAA standard minimum introduced on the whole G-word? Like, “You cannot claim genocide unless you can show that at least one percent of your population is dead.” The Paraguayans, the most heroic unknown nation in all history, lost about half their civilian population and never claimed genocide. Instead they claimed what real warriors always claimed until around 1950: they said, “Never mind, fuckers, we’re still comin’ for ya!” And they did. Fought to the last man, then the last woman and child. A magnificent people, shame nobody remembers them.
But that was then and this is wimpytown. That’s the main thing to remember: how weird it is that your own side’s dead bodies (or bodies you can claim were from your side) are valuable now. That’s new in warfare, a sign of the weird, weird moment in military history we’re in right now. You go back in history and it’s the winners who gloat over the dead bodies of the losers. I remember trying to read up on Tibetan military history—that was a fiasco, right up there with marching on Moscow—I came across a tidbit among the gibberish where the Tibetans, who were always fighting with the Mongols, collected the ears of all the Mongols they’d killed in this battle, and there were so many ears the cart axles broke, bla bla bla…and then they put the ears in a public square and they stank so bad it was always known after that as “The Square of the Stinking Ears.” I know, I know: Tibetans are weird. But the point is, that was a pretty typical pattern: put the killed enemy’s head on a stick, stand it at the village gate to show everybody you’re bad people, not to be fucked with.
Still happens sometimes. Lot of GI’s in Nam collected ears. Tiger Force made it almost a parttime job, making necklaces out of ears. Bloody Bill Anderson rode around with a necklace of Union scalps. (Imagine that, in Missouri, in August? Man, I wouldn’t want to be downwind of Bloody Bill on the way to an ambush. On the other hand, who’s going to tell him his scalps are stinking up the joint and drawing flies?)
That’s the tradition. This stuff Gates says Qaddafi’s doing, that’s something new. This is about making it look like your own side has suffered lots of casualties. In traditional warfare, who wants to do that? You want to minimize your own losses and exaggerate the enemy’s. Not no more, folks. That’s the sign of this new (and crummy) era in warfare: you win by losing, you win by making the world believe you’re being massacred.
Imagine trying that on the Romans: “Look at these corpses! We’re being massacred!” Centurion nods and says, “Fine, but could ya hurry it up? I’ve got a quota of you Franks to fill, we’re s’posed to [reads orders from scroll] ‘kill every living thing by sunset’ so make it snappy, these villagers won’t kill themselves!”
Slowly though, as people stopped seeing death every day, corpses got valuable, got all full of emotion. One interesting case I came across: you know those famous Matthew Brady pictures of the aftermath of Gettysburg? There’s one that shows a rebel sniper lying dead by a rock wall. Looks like he was shooting from there when he was hit. But it turns out that one of Brady’s Mick assisstants, Tim O’Sullivan, dragged a dead reb 40 yards—in July, in Pennsylvania! These guys must’ve had nostrils of steel!—to lay him out at a better spot.
But that’s just sort of a fun side-note. It wasn’t til our times, the late 20th early 21st century, that you could gain an advantage by making it look like you’d lost a lot of people. The most effective use of moved corpses was Kosovo. Now there was a rotten little war from start to finish. First the Serbs’ militia, tired old men, kicked the shit out of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a nasty bunch of heroin dealers, organ traders and pimps claiming to be fighting to liberate Kosovo’s Albanian majority. Then the KLA won by taking the dead bodies of their men, who were useless as fighters, and making them valuable by planting them with their weapons removed as “civilians killed by the brutal Serbs.”
The UN teams saw, counted, and believed the bullshit. Next thing you know we’re bombing Serbia (losing a Stealth fighter in the process, which ended up in the hands of the Chinese—smart move, sending our most expensive secret plane against a low-level target like Belgrade!). [Read The eXile's investigation into the staged massacre at Racak here.]
The value of a dead body only came along with modern guerrilla warfare and the notion of martyrs, because guerrilla wars tend to start off with some kind of suicidal attack like the ones the Muslims staged in Southern Thailand a few years back. They stood around waving machetes outside fortified police barracks and got mowed down. What you do then is take the bodies home, make a big fuss over them, stage giant funerals—funerals are very, very important in guerrilla culture—and generally talk them up. Since most of these guys are barely trained or untrained, they’re not worth much alive—like those KLA men who were totally uselsss as live fighters—but they can be valuable as Hell once they’re dead. It’s just a much easier job, lying still in a coffin. Not nearly as easy to mess up as your basic L-shaped ambush, which is a very tricky thing. Hell, the average recruit can learn to be a good corpse in a tenth the time it takes to make a decent live guerrilla fighter.
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