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Guest Post: Recommended readings, real and imagined for Military Leaders—Part II. Timothy R. Furnish, PhD

June 11th, 2021

Zen here – today we continue a series by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish, a longtime friend of ZP blog. Timothy Furnish is an Army vet and former civilian consultant to Special Operations Command with a PhD is in Islamic history. He’s written five books and runs the website Occidental Jihadist.

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Pournelle’s “Future History” Setting and Politics

by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish

Forty-seven years ago Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle published The Mote in God’s Eye. It’s not about religion, but about humanity’s first contact with aliens in the early 31st century. (I consider it one of the three greatest sci-fi novels ever—along with Frank Herbert’s Dune and A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.) A sequel by the same authors, The Gripping Hand, came out in 1993. Since then, some 22 volumes have been published dealing with that universe’s millennium-long backstory. The books are “hard” science fiction—that is, in the genre that strives for scientific accuracy and avoids mysticism, magic, and the like. (Star Trek is usually classified as “hard,” Star Wars as soft—if not downright squishy.) They could furthermore be classified as “military” sci-fi, which speaks for itself. 

A website with info on the stories and novels, as well as the Secondary “World” (more properly, universe) itself, is complete up through 2018—although another volume came out in March, 2020 (with even more to come, according to series chief John F. Carr, with whom I’ve been in contact). Many writers have contributed, although the heaviest hitters have been Pournelle (before his death in 2017), the aforementioned, and prolific, Carr, and S.M. Stirling (author of the superb Dies the Fire and its many “Emberverse” sequels). Larry Niven, the original co-author, largely parted ways with the series after the two seminal novels. But Pournelle—whose doctorate was in political science—had a great deal to do with shaping what has come to be known as his “Future History.”

In brief, this alternative history starts with the USSR surviving and joining with the USA in the 1990s to create the “CoDominium:” joint Soviet-American rule of the planet, carried out by the Grand Senate composed of American and Soviet politicians. CoDominium military forces, notably a Space Navy and Marines, are created. In the early 21st century an instantaneous interstellar drive is invented and by 2020 colonies are founded outside our solar system.  Before the century is up, there are at least 70 of them, many established by various countries on Earth, and/or by separatist and religious groups. The most important are Sparta, St. Ekaterina and Sauron. The first was founded by American professors who set up a dual monarchy with representative government. The second is Russian more than Soviet and eventually allies with Sparta. The last is run by “English separatists from Quebec and South African white expatriates” who soon embark on a program of genetic engineering to create a master race. By the beginning of the 22nd century, the US and USSR break their alliance and engage in nuclear war on Earth—making the stage of human activity the former colonies.  There are, arguably, four crucial aspects to this Future History.

First, although interstellar travel is possible, it has drawbacks. The Alderson Drive can only move ships between star systems, and is useless within one. There is no “warp drive” or ability to travel even close to light speed. “Starships,” whether commercial or military, take weeks or months to move within extrasolar systems in order to reach the “Alderson Point,” which is a “tramline” to another system. They then travel there instantaneously, but must repeat the slow process to reach the planets within the destination system. Ships do have powerful lasers, and nuclear weapons, but they fight each other at sub-light speeds. And most importantly in terms of military tactics, at least for the first few centuries of this history, armed forces that can be moved instantaneously between star systems still have to fight as infantry with rifles, artillery and the like on distant planets. 

Second, from the early 21st to early 31st centuries, there are no alien foes. All of the battles and wars take place between humans, albeit spread across hundreds of light-years. In this regard Pournelle’s universe resembles that of Frank Herbert’s Dune, in which homo sapiens is the sole sentient measure. Man’s inhumanity to Man is spread to the stars, but is thus that much more fathomable. 

Third, this Future History is cyclical. Dr. Pournelle was known to be a  fan of C. Northcote Parkinson. Parkinson’s primary thesis (besides his famous law) is that history “reveals…a sequence in which one form of rule replaces another, each in turn achieving not perfection but decay” (The Evolution of Political Thought, p. 9). Indeed, “there is no historical reason for supposing that our present systems of governance are other than quite temporary expedients.” The Western arrogance that “the development of political institutions has progressed steadily from the days of Lycurgus or Solon down to the present day” with “the ultimate achievement being British Parliamentary Democracy or perhaps the American Way of Life” is just that that (Ibid., p. 8).  In sum, drawing on anthropology as well as history, Parkinson sees the human cycle of political systems running thusly: monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, dictatorship. The final then institutionalizes into monarchy, and the process starts all over again. There are variations on each of the four types (see Parkinson, p. 12, drawing on Aristotle), but in toto those are adequate. Across space (literally!) and time, humans try each of these—sometimes more than one, simultaneously, on the same planet.

Fourth, the series is rife with Great Power conflict. The CoDominium initially serves as a hegemon, not an imperial power—the single most powerful polity, but unable to directly rule all the colonies. (See here for a succinct analysis of hegemony v. empire.) It’s largely a unipolar interstellar system, then. After the nuclear war on Earth, the system becomes multipolar, with various colonies—now independent planets—vying for the upper hand via their own fleets and military forces (both planetary and mercenary). Eventually Sparta emerges as the next hegemon, thanks in main to the fact that the bulk of the CoDominium Navy swears allegiance to the Spartan throne. Over the course of 150 years, Sparta then creates an Empire by consolidating—both peacefully and violently—most of the other human-settled planets into its rule. Pax Spartanica then lasts until the 27th century, when the First Empire falls mainly after exhausting itself in defeating the Nazi-like, genetically-engineered Saurons—during which human-occupied space was bipolar in conflict terms. Not until the early 30th century is the Second Empire (once again ruled by Sparta), proclaimed, consisting of over 200 planets, all human; that is, until 3017. 

[Up next: how these political divisions played out in various wars, on various planets and moons, across the centuries.]

Guest Post: Recommended readings, real and imagined for Military Leaders—Part I. Timothy R. Furnish, PhD

May 30th, 2021

Zen here – today we start a series by Dr. Timothy R. Furnish, a longtime friend of ZP blog. Timothy Furnish is an Army vet and former civilian consultant to Special Operations Command with a PhD is in Islamic history. He’s written five books and runs the website Occidental Jihadist.

Fictional novels about war have been around for quite some time. Millennia, in fact, if we include The Iliad in the category (although Homer likely thought he was recounting actual history). The genre, more realistically, began with La Chartreuse de Parme by “Stendhal” in 1839, who wrote about the Napoleonic Wars in Italy. Such proliferated in 19th, then 20th century, with realistic novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front, about WWI, or The Thin Red Line, set in WWII’s Pacific theater. Military science fiction kicked in the genre’s door in 1959, with Robert Heinlein’s (in)famous Starship Troopers. The following decade alternate military histories began to proliferate, thanks in large part to Philip K. Dick’s famous The Man in the High Castle (which was made into an arresting Amazon Prime TV show, 2015-2019). Perhaps the most famous, and influential, military fiction books of recent years have been Stephen Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, about the Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae; and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, set several centuries in the future, during an interstellar war humanity is waging to survive.

I am a big fan of historical fiction in my world history courses, and always assign a relevant novel, such as Gore Vidal’s Creation. In military history courses, I have used Robert Graves’ Count Belisarius, Michael Shaara’s Civil War classic The Killer Angels, and Gates of Fire. 

In recent decades, such books have found their way onto some professional military reading lists. And why shouldn’t they? As genre author David Webb has said: “military science-fiction is science-fiction which is written about a military situation with a fundamental understanding of how military lifestyles and characters differ from civilian lifestyles and characters. It is science-fiction which attempts to realistically portray the military within a science-fiction context. It is not ‘bug shoots.’ It is about human beings, and members of other species, caught up in warfare and carnage. It isn’t an excuse for simplistic solutions to problems.” Certainly, a nation with a Space Force might find it worthwhile for future military leaders to study thoughtful, intelligent, well-written military fiction, set in the future as well as the past. Yes, there are some who would not deem it wise—for the danger exists that military fiction “confirms existing thought patterns of political and military leaders about future military conflict.” That is, “rather than fighting the last war, as the old axiom goes, military leaders may be more susceptible to fighting the fictional wars of their imagination, fueled by war fiction, instead of the conflict unfolding in front of them.” This same critic contends that “future war fiction, especially in the English-speaking world, tends to use super-weapons and surprise attacks as the two major plot devices.” 

As for the first objection, methinks it’s more contrived than concrete. The examples offered are unconvincing, and in fact one of them—that President Reagan, because of The Hunt for Red October, increased military spending—proves just the opposite, since Reagan’s defense build-up was largely responsible for the Cold War ending sans nuclear war.  Also, this objection presupposes that an educated leadership cannot distinguish between reality and fiction. Finally, not all futuristic military fiction in the Anglosphere utilizes “super-weapons and surprise attacks.” In fact, one major, largely-ignored series of such books employs the former rarely, and the latter not at all: Jerry Pournelle’s Future History.

Before examining the books and stories set in the universe created by Dr. Jerry Pournelle and further elaborated upon by S.M. Stirling, John F. Carr, and Don Hawthorne, as well as other contributors, let’s take a look at the fiction books on several major military institution’s recommended reading lists. In 2017 the Army Chief of Staff recommended professional reading list included 98 books, five of which were fiction: The Aeneid, The Iliad and The Odyssey (lumped together as one work), Gates of Fire, Singer & Cole’s Ghost Fleet (about a future world war between the US and Russia + China), and Marlantes’ Vietnam novel, Matterhorn. The most recent list from the US Army Chief of Staff includes only one fiction book, Anton Myrer’s Once An Eagle. That’s one more than the Air Force CoS recommends, however. Ditto for the JFK Special Warfare Center and School. Neither the Air Force chief, nor the folks who educate our special ops, think much of fiction, it appears. In 2019 the Commandant of the Marine Corps put out a list with dozens of books, including four fictions ones: The Killer Angels, Gates of Fire, Starship Troopers and Ender’s Game. But those are recommended only for junior enlisted, not at all for officers. And the 2020 list from the same office had removed even those. The Chief of Naval Operations does recommend some fiction, notably the aforementioned Matterhorn, as well as Singer and Cole and Starship Troopers. But the CNO also wants sailors to read Ibrahim X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist—which might well qualify as fiction, come to think of it. 

Contrast these with the 131-page list, nay volume, of approved books promulgated by the Chief of the Australian Army. A full 25 of those are fiction. These include the usual suspects: Pressfield, Heinlein, Card, Shaara. But also ones on the Romans, the British in India, the Napoleonic wars and even a few alternative histories, such as Robert Harris’ Fatherland (another “Nazis won WWII” take) and the even more surprising, and little-known, Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson—in which Europeans were wiped out by the plague, and the modern world is dominated by China, India and Islamic states. Last year two Marine Corps officers even suggested that The Lord of the Rings be read “because of the focus…on alliances, coalition building, and strategy.” (As the author of a book on the political history of Middle-earth, I strongly agree.)

I have read many (but not all) of the fictions books mentioned herein. And I can still say that Pournelle, et al., stands with—or above—any of them in terms of potential value to the professional education of military leaders.

[Up next: a detailed look at the politics- and war-riven interstellar setting, 2020-3018 AD, which grew out of Pournelle and Larry Niven’s famous novel The Mote in God’s Eye.

The Elegance of Distributed Lethality

December 22nd, 2020

[by J. Scott Shipman]

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In April of 2017 I was honored to speak at a Naval Postgraduate School Littoral Operations Center “Littoral Op-Tech” event in Cartagena, Columbia. This was supposed to be my last Op-tech event, as I was winding down the effort to make our submersible boat a reality. As it turned out, I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia about a year later—and that was my swan song.

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The core of this talk was based on four bullet points the late Wayne Hughes wrote on a piece of paper sometime in 2016 and asked me to deliver to VADM Tom Rowden. I had mentioned that I was scheduled to be in a meeting with the admiral the following week, so Wayne wrote four bullet points as points of departure for Admiral Rowden to consider as he attempted to execute his “distributed lethality” concept. The bullets were: Distributed Influence, Distributed Competition, Distributed Confrontation, and Distributed Interdiction. I made a copy and referred to them frequently and added to the list as I thought appropriate. Later in email correspondence, Wayne filled out his ideas of these bullet points and allowed me to use when I told him about this idea for the talk. These bullets are identified with (WPH).

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As far as I know, Distributed Lethality as a focus evaporated when VADM Rowden retired, but in my opinion his initiative was refreshing and much needed. Perhaps this little missive will resurrect some interest and spark new interest.

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If this collection of ideas seems a bit “all over the map,” it is because it is. The talk was meant to be given with slides, and to generate discussion. This is also my first foray back to blogging in too many years. I apologize in advance it this is too long and conversational—or too navy-centric. Charles left some big shoes to fill.

Setting the stage with quotes and ideas:

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“…strikes may in all instances be necessary but they will not in all instances be sufficient to achieve a national military purpose…[and] a fleet is incomplete which has not elements that can operate in waters next to the enemy coast.” From Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, Second Edition, pg 249-250 by Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., CAPT, USN, Ret (emphasis added).

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“Where missiles are concerned, the contest between the offense and defense is marked by a serious differential in starting points. In practical terms, the offense has a huge and nearly motionless target to hit and needs to hit it only once. One large missile warhead is equivalent to something like five or ten direct hits by a sixteen-inch gun. The defense, on the other hand, is required to intercept an extremely fast and quite agile flying object, sometimes hardly detectable in the various phases of its trajectory, which can be launched from any operational dimension and often—for design purposes, every time—completely by surprise.” From The Littoral Arena; A Word of Caution, by RADM Yedidia “Didi” Ya’ari, Israel Navy, Naval War College Review, Summer 2014 (emphasis added) (this was a reprint suggested by Wayne Hughes who wrote, A Prophet For Our Times to accompany the rerelease.)

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“Future wars in which LRPS (Long Range Precision Strike) systems predominate will involve efforts by all sides to find adversary platforms while hiding their own from the enemy’s ISR and targeting systems. In the “hider/finder” competition, a mobile platform that can hide in clutter (such as environmental or electromagnetic noise, dense traffic areas, on and under the water, etc.) will likely survive and be capable of offensive action. This will become the paramount element in contested seas, straits, and littorals. The offensive action of targeting and counter targeting is decisive, and no navy ever triumphed at sea without having the offensive advantage.” RADM Walter E. Carter, Proceedings, May 2014

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These three quotes identify challenges that are just the tip of the iceberg one must encounter if there is any hope of success in the littorals. If history is our guide, the littorals are a life and death environment. Whether a defender or an aggressor, how a navy fights in coastal green water more often than not decides who wins and who loses.
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US VADM Tom Rowden, Commander of US Naval Surface Forces introduced the idea of “distributed lethality.” In a January 2015 article in Proceedings he and his colleagues wrote:
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“For more power in more places, the Navy should increase the offensive might of the surface force and employ ships in dispersed formations known as ‘hunter-killer surface action groups.’
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With respect to VADM Rowden, I would suggest a slight modification:
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“For more power in more places, the Navy should increase the offensive might of the surface and subsurface forces and employ ships in dispersed formations known as ‘hunter-killer surface action groups.”
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These hunter-killer action groups would be an elegant solution to challenges faced in the littorals. So let us quickly examine some of the attributes and advantages Distributed Lethality brings, bearing in mind many of these examples overlap.
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Distributable Options. The number of platforms will often determine the number of options available to leadership. Fewer platforms limits options in an almost binary fashion—ships are either available or not. As magnificent as some of our big deck multipurpose warships are, they can’t be in two places at once. The more ships, the more choices and the more flexibility across the spectrum.
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Distributable Presence. Presence is a message without words. The Freedom of Navigation Operations conducted in the South China Sea recently are a good example of the power of presence to send an unmistakable message. As William Beasley wisely suggested in the November 2015 issue of Proceedings, the US Navy needs to “close the presence gap.” Beasley “steals” a line from former Naval War College Dean CAPT Barney Rubel and defines “presence” — “it means being there.”
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Distributable Influence. (WPH) A large number of affordable surface [ JSS: and subsurface] ships can be widely distributed—or aggregated—on demand anywhere in the world where our presence is wanted and we are needed. I added subsurface ships to Wayne’s list because knowledge of the potential for additional subsurface presence will influence the decision-making process of an adversary.
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Distributable Competition. (WPH) A large number of lethal ships that are capable of cooperating to make sneak attacks using a wide variety of targeting capabilities, and can be based forward in peacetime at small cost in friendly ports.
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Distributable OODA. John Boyd’s OODA loop for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act is a complex, yet simple diagram of decision making (or learning) and engagement. The larger point I want to illustrate with this slide is the power of Distributable Situational Awareness (observe) (manned or unmanned), Distributable Orientation (multiplied across platforms) (mostly manned, but aspects could be assigned to an algorithm), Distributable Decisions, and Distributable Action (manned or unmanned). Implicit in OODA is explicit knowledge of Commander’s Intent, where individual Commanding Officers possess the knowledge and capability to execute Commander’s Intent throughout the full spectrum of options.
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Armed with their commander’s intent, their human senses and ship sensors a ship’s captain will possess a level of adaptability/flexibility that we will never be able to pre-program into an unmanned system, or implement from remote control. From the Battle of Salamis over 2,000 years ago to the War on Terror, the history of warfare is replete with examples of human ingenuity and bravery overcoming what seemed like at the time impossible odds. As CAPT Frank Andrews wrote in a 1958 Proceedings article:
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“But let no one forget that one and only one element will finally sway the balance, when a country must defend the things for which it stands. That element is people, people who believe, people who will act, people who can think, people who have what it takes to outfight the enemy.”
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We believe there are roles for unmanned vehicles, but we advocate manned solutions over automation for there are things people can do that computers will never be able to do, make no mistake: our people are our edge. In the event of hostilities, navies will need resilient and survivable platforms to adapt, scout, and attack and create:
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Distributable Uncertainty. War is the business of the previously unthinkable. If history is any guide, man’s unmitigated barbarity and ability to conjure novel methods of death and destruction will continue. The outcomes won’t change, though the methods and pace will stagger our sensibilities, so we might as well stagger the enemy first. Shaping the mind of the adversary, in his planning and assumptions. The benefit of creating uncertainty is the creation of novelty in the mind of the adversary.
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Distributable Confrontation. (WPH) A large number of lethal ships the enemy understands will attack his fleet and commerce if shooting starts the larger number of lethal ships will conduct lethal attacks at an affordable cost to us and he is forced to devote his time and energy to defending against an attack at a time and place of our choosing with a force large enough to cause him great loss. The late naval strategist Herbert Rosinski said:
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“At sea there is no halfway house between victory and defeat, because there is no difference between what is needed for defense and what for attack. One side only can gain security at the cost of the other—or neither.”
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Distributable Interdiction. (WPH) Ships that will team with international partners to assert the right level of maritime interdiction all the way from occasional inspections up to a full distant quarantine or blockade.
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Distributable Deterrence. A credibly armed Fleet, large enough to be distributed/dispersed should dissuade any potential adversary of the inherent folly and hazard of engagement. As Colin Gray points out, “with deterrence the enemy gets a vote.” Deterrence is connected at the hip with credibility. Credible people, doctrine, ships and weapons combine to establish deterrence in the mind of the adversary. The best fight is the one that never occurs, where angst and second-guessing are artifacts for the historians.
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Back to Nuts and Bolts, or as a friend in the intel community called “ground truth”

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An affordable and executable set of solutions will be needed to make the most of these ideas. We believe essential elements of these action groups should be a combination of manned and optionally manned, subsurface and surface platforms. For the subsurface vehicles the price per hull should not exceed $250M and for the surface platforms the price should not exceed $100M (though we should aim for $70M). We should buy these ships in numbers. The broad concept of operations for these vehicles would be to operate and compliment our growing number of unmanned underwater vehicles, and our SSNs, where appropriate.

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For the subsurface realm we have concept model we call a “Hoss Boat:” a small, stealthy, air breathing lightly manned submersible boat designed to operate and fight on the surface or submerged. Our boats have a long surfaced endurance, able to patrol or project force in the littorals as a real-time, networked asset.
Since Hoss boats are small they can operate in shallow coastal water (in the 20-10 fathom curve range). Our boat combines stealth and persistence on station to greatly complicate a potential enemy’s tactical situation. Hoss Boats can hide in coastal clutter such as environmental or electromagnetic noise, dense traffic areas, the hundreds of islands in the SCS (or the Baltic Sea) to increase stealth in places where we’d probably never send an SSN or traditional SSK. Since she can hide on and under the water, unlike a traditional surface craft in the same environment she would likely survive and be capable of persistent offensive action.
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“Submarines are difficult to find and hard to destroy. Even fairly crude submarine forces can attack surface ships or other targets with a great deal of stealth, making them perfect for countries with limited resources. The threat of such an attack is a powerful deterrent in Asia, where coastal defenses are vital.” (Eric Talmadge. Battle for control of Asia’s Seas Goes Underwater, Associated Press, 19 January 2012)
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We planned her initial primary mission to be anti-surface ship (ASuW) warfare, holding at risk both combatants and when appropriate, other surface assets. She would also have a robust AA capability for air threats. This boat could also be used for scouting/ISR missions operating as a real-time, networked asset, although she is not bandwidth or network dependent and will be able to independently detect and destroy adversaries. We believe these boats could be built for about $250M per hull, considerably less than SSK/AIP solutions, and the resources required to deter them would have a favorable affect on would-be belligerents.
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Recently we added a small surface missile boat to our portfolio of possibilities, with the working moniker Hoss-Surface. While this boat has not been drawn her mission sets are similar in some respects to the submersible, and radically different in others. While both will have an anti-ship mission, the surface boat should have variants allowing for additional missions (ASW-MIW, for instance). Given the environments where she will operate, the radar cross section should be reduced as much as possible. Compared to an LCS, she won’t be fast at a modest 25 knots. Her main battery should include at least eight Norwegian naval strike-type anti-ship missiles and the largest gun the design will allow, but 30 caliber minimum. Our working price estimate is less than $70M per hull.
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Both of these boats can provide navies with a needed capability to distribute lethality that are survivable and offers more offensive flexibility at a lower cost. Lightly manned and highly automated, our boats would provide a “man-in-the-loop” level of situational awareness. It would be appropriate to interject here that instead of a binary choice manned or unmanned, both designs should be capable of working in concert with unmanned vehicles across the spectrum and incorporate “optional manning” as initial design consideration.
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The title of this talk describes Distributed Lethality as “elegant,” as indeed it is, but Distributed Lethality will continue to be a myth if at least three significant obstacles aren’t overcome. (1) No budget growth, (2) an acquisition process is too slow and complex (3) hard force structure choices. The Navy cannot control the first two without Congressional support, which will not happen quickly. Thankfully, within the Navy a fairly vigorous debate on force structure is on-going. If we frame the force structure debate through the prism of a Winston Churchill quote: “Now that we have run out of money we have to think,” our predicament comes into sharp relief and alternatives appear. Trust me: poverty focuses the mind.
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To its credit US Navy has embraced innovative technologies, but in ship building we have over-specialized (mostly because of economy) in large-deck multipurpose warships that are so complex and expensive they take years to design and build and of such value that every ship becomes a capital ship—too precious to send into harm’s way when the purpose of a warship is to fight and win when necessary. In too many cases, the budget will not endure the addition of the number or ships necessary meet our commitments using existing plans and acquisition assumptions/processes.
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It would seem the less complex and expensive alternatives we have suggested would fit the bill, if only we could speed up the acquisition process. There must be a way. Why? Because the status quo is not sustainable, safe, nor secure. How can we overcome these problems and challenges? We could begin by casting off what Angus K. Ross called some of our “lazy assumptions.” In an institutional bureaucracy like the Pentagon; lazy assumptions are ubiquitous because they are the path of least resistance. Some examples: the status quo is fine, we can shape any environment, our current acquisition process of buying/building ships optimizes for budget scarcity, unmanned will make all our dreams come true, etc., etc. At the risk of trafficking in clichés: If everyone is saying the same thing, someone isn’t thinking.
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What is the answer? No easy answers exist, but we could begin by setting aside a small amount of SCN and dedicating to less complex and less expensive smaller ships. The late Captain Wayne P. Hughes provided the scaffold of this approach in his essay for Proceedings in 2018.
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One immediate benefit to less complex ships would be shorter times between design, build and deployment. Right now the cycle time between design and deployment is approaching 20 years—where obsolescence can invalidate a solution before it hits the Fleet. There used to be a phrase, “low cost, technically acceptable,” and we would do well to remember as we move forward.
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Distributed Lethality properly deployed is the marriage of the strategic and the tactical. While more platforms options to distribute will largely be a function of strategic force structure planning, the capabilities conveyed by the increase in available ships provides tactical commanders on the scene who can adapt and attack—as their decisions more often than not decide who prevails.
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Distributed Lethality is elegant precisely because increased numbers of ships and the capability to adapt on the fly to achieve our ends: maritime dominance.
If we were to take a poll from the representatives of the militaries represented here today and asked if you want your navy to have more options and firepower in your area of responsibility my guess is there would be a resounding “YES.”
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We need alternatives and will stipulate there are many from which to choose. Our boats would be a cost effective way to influence war in the littorals in our favor, but there are other solutions to be sure.
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Making Distributed Lethality a reality is within our grasp if we possess the imagination to reach beyond the status quo and think differently. As Marc Andreessen once said, “True innovations don’t follow a pattern.” Our platforms and options offered by others are an innovation in how to fight that does not follow a prescribed pattern. On the subsurface front, as a student of military history I believe we’re reaching the point when an offensively disposed subsurface force will be needed in growing numbers. In a world of ubiquitous precision-guided munitions, surface ships will be increasingly at risk in areas where navies will need to have eyes and potentially provide fires—specifically in contested coastal shallow waters—the littorals. All navies will need a deeper subsurface bench.  We need also to explore surface design alternatives that are affordable and stealthy enough.
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The USN needs manned highly capable submersible craft and stealthy small missile boats that can be bought in numbers, to achieve a lethal, numerous and credible presence that can dramatically change warfare in the littorals.

Guest Post – Ashes in California: A reflection on the end of my father

November 27th, 2020

[mark safranski / zen ]

This year saw the passing of Charles Cameron, the longtime managing editor and co-blogger here at ZP. Charles is deeply missed by everyone who read or blogged here and to honor him on what would have been his birthday on Friday, we are publishing a memorial essay by his oldest son, Emlyn Cameron.

Ashes in California: A reflection on the end of my father

By Emlyn Cameron

In his mid-seventies, my father, always reluctant to do anything that might benefit his health, had a heart attack. A year later he had another one. This time he would undergo open-heart surgery. His physical condition meant the operation would put him at greater-than-average risk of dying.

The night before the surgery, I decided to walk to his hospital and talk to him. Telling your parent what you’d like them to know before they die is unhappy work. In my case, I got dizzy, and my face went numb and mostly immobile, and I felt as if I had a large bruise spreading deep in the tissue of my chest.

I had hoped it would bring him some fulfillment to know the effect he had upon his son. But, I doubted that when the issue of death ultimately asserted itself he would be in a position to care. My real aim was to make his death easier for me. This was part of a long attempt to steal incrementally from and lessen the store of grief I’d feel when he finally died.

I had started by trying to outright deny him the privilege of dying: When I was small, it occurred to me that Father wouldn’t be around forever. He was in his mid-fifties by the time I was 10, already unhealthy, and even other healthier, younger people died. I checked this with Mum, who confirmed my worry. So, I tried to go over his head – I asked God to step in and make a compact with me on the order of I’ll be good and pious if you’ll give my father a permanent reprieve. 

Santa Claus stuff. 

Some years later, in my early teens, I tried instead to maximize time with Father, despite my parents’ divorce: Every trip to a thrift store, or Saturday cruise between yard sales, in his battered sedan, and every heat-choked afternoon spent combing through his storage unit became essential. If I could spend enough time with him, maybe I could skip out on saying, “I could have, should have seen him more.” Whenever he drove away, I stood by the curb waving until his car evaporated at the horizon. Sometimes this would go on until my arms ached, or the blood refused to make the journey up to my fingertips and I had to use my arms in shifts. The way the street was quiet and empty and unchanged after he was gone made me uncomfortable. Eventually this ritual seemed silly and wasteful, so I gave up. 

I tried a more circuitous path. My father and I had always been similar in our temperaments but extremely different in our interests. Now, I played that up. I was more contemptuous than necessary, said “no” whenever possible, and highlighted our differences. If I renounced a certain amount of my ability to see him and show him my total affection, it seemed to me that made the occasions when I did so more meaningful and the weight of his eventual death less of a loss.

Living with him for a while near the end of high school, I stuck rigidly to my plans to be out of the apartment as often as possible, though he invited me to spend evenings watching movies with him; Pointed out the flaws and limited results of his flitting and optimistic approach to life – always working on some new, abortive book project, always living paycheck to paycheck and relying on good fortune to prevail. I unloaded my more militant, cynical, and ambitious ideas on him and heckled him for not cleaning his dishes. For his part, like Bazarov’s father in Fathers and Sons, he smiled and adored me for my cavalier and dismissive attitude – every correction was proof that his boy had grown up bright and bold, an improvement, however bizarre, on his old man.

After I’d left for Oregon to attend college, Mum called. She had taken Father to the emergency room for chest pains. It was his first heart attack. In spite of all the time I’d spent trying to think my way around grief or fear, I was nervous, desolated, and a little excited by the drama of it all. Friends of mine drove up from Sacramento so they could give me a ride to the hospital. The sun sank behind the hills. We drove fast through the dark fields of rural northern California. The road ahead was foggy. The cabin of the tiny Volkswagen, where the blaring radio glowed, held the only visible light. My friends joked. I gripped the hand beside me.

Father was swaddled in hospital clothes and thin blankets, his hair a mad mess. I took a video to keep with my collection of his voicemails.

“This is what I was like before,” he said, looking into the lens. He smiled, and then stuck his tongue out.

After that crisis, my approach softened. I was more interested in setting aside time, though not all of it, to see him; in behaving with tenderness when it seemed honest; and in talking proudly about him, and in agreement with him. 

When I sat by his hospital bed the following year, I shared what feeble, obvious sentimentalities I could: That I loved him, that I would miss him, that I appreciated all he had made me. I tried to keep it simple, in part so my voice would quaver as little as possible, and in part because – for all my consideration – I wasn’t sure what I could add to our time together. I remember crying. Not a great flow, but one or two warm, constricted tears, and I think he held my hand.

The next day, his operation was postponed. A friend who had been visiting him to talk about poetry took me to a drive-thru coffee shack.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do when he’s gone,” my friend said as we waited for our turn, the car idling in line. “Life’s going to be so different.”

“No, it’s not. It’s going to be painfully the same,” I said. “That’s the tragedy: We want the death to be big and life-changing but nothing changes. Every once in a while, we’ll get an idea to go see him and then we’ll remember we can’t. The world’s the same. Just a little poorer.”

My father came out of the surgery fine: an indefinite reprieve, a little longer to figure out how to make his death matter.

In 2018, I was accepted to grad school in New York. I credit this acceptance in large part to a personal essay I wrote describing my father’s ascetic approach to life — an apartment empty of most luxuries, but verdant with books, where all of his waking life, more or less, was spent studying and writing about the subjects of his passion — and how I felt that,irrespective of our many differences, if I was “my father’s son,” it was because I had inherited his monastic devotion to the subjects of my interest (My father, whose own pater had died well before Father was old enough to go to university, in turn credited his acceptance to Oxford to an essay about Bach’s B Minor Mass)

However, this acceptance — in combination with my family’s finances — meant I was going to be far from my home state indefinitely. Because I would not see many old friends for quite some time, and because Father had relinquished the apartment in which we’d lived together in favor of a nursing home, I stayed most of that summer as a guest of friends throughout California. It was only near the end of that summer that I saw him.

I visited him in his nursing home. Most of his things had been moved to the storage unit, but he had brought some small shelves with him. Across from the electric hospital bed in which he slept and worked, these had been deployed along the wall and filled with books on Russia, drone strikes, religious extremism, and protest art. Above his head was a photograph of his father, an officer in the Royal Navy who’d died young of a heart attack. Next to Father’s bed was a swivel table built to slide over his bed to provide a surface for food. His laptop occupied it and left only so much room as was filled by notepads and a mug stained with instant coffee grounds. Mum liked to joke that all my father had ever wanted was to stay in bed, writing, while food was brought to him, and he’d finally arranged it. She joked too that, when the nursing home had received him they had not thought he had the look of a long staying tenant. But Father had some secret vitality that was loathe to give up his endless work.

We talked about my classes. I was planning at that time to focus on conflict reporting and perhaps tensions in the Middle East. This enthused father, since it brought my interests within the sweep of his own. He also seemed to like it because I told him I thought domestic politics in the US was becoming so central to the news cycle that I might find myself working outside the spotlight of current events, and he was always proud when I found myself tacking against prevailing winds.

He told me that, when I was growing up in California he could always imagine my day to day life (even after the divorce) because he usually lived nearby by, and when I’d gone to college I attended a school at which he’d once taught so his imaginings could roam up to Oregon with me. He couldn’t say the same of New York and he asked me to write him a descriptive email once a week to help him out. 

I said no, I didn’t think I’d be able to keep that up, which made him laugh. When my father laughed, there was usually no sound. He just smiled with his few teeth (four in the front, on the lower gum) and his shoulders hopped and jumped in a pantomime of chuckling.

I told him I was going to record a video every day and, instead of a weekly email, I would try to send him a montage of a year in New York. I said this with some self reproach, because I was not sure if he would live a year. 

We had a long goodbye.

I went away and passed a glorious year in school. I found myself not following conflict reporting (I am a coward and fear death pretty patently, which rather limits the career options of a conflict reporter) and I also found myself increasingly fascinated by the topic of the American Right. I had found a field that felt as unifying to my own interests as religious extremism had been to my father’s career. 

I recorded a video most days, but did not set aside time to edit it into a whole. Instead I sent Father irregular emails and every so often we had a video call via facebook messenger. In our exchanges he welcomed my new focus as a kind of secant to his intellectual sphere.

So, for that first year and some change, we bonded primarily by exchanging articles that showed a convergence between our interests. Being a continent away, and trying to navigate my first experiences of continuous independence, I sought to balance my need to focus on daily life in New York and making the most of the new ways in which my father and I had found ourselves connecting. This did not usually translate into lengthy messages, but I tried to make my responses consistent and prompt. Promptness was especially important. 

And occasionally, without a better reason to say anything, the shadow of fear would fall over me and I’d send him an email or a twitter message just to say I loved him and hoped he knew, in case we went too long without speaking to do so again.

Eventually I tried something new with Father: He had been producing book reviews and short blog-post essays for many years. His focus had been Islamic fundamentalism and the wars in the Middle East, which had dominated current affairs for close to 20 years. My focus, domestic politics and the American Right, was increasingly central to current affairs now and an area that, while interesting to him, was not his primary concern. I was going to write essays and book reviews dealing with that topic, and he could edit them. If the finished product was good enough, he could post them as a domestic supplement to his writing on events abroad that would suit the political moment. In the process we could speak often and I could keep him apprised of what I was learning in an area of mutual interest.

So, from August 2019 on, my father and I worked on a series of essays and reviews together. He recommended works that had caught his attention or I broached a possible subject. Once a draft was complete, I would leave it with my father. He’d disentangle its clauses and disinter the submerged or incomplete ideas. Then, over messenger–our pixelated faces blurry and halting–he and I would discuss changes for hours.

My father and I, often interested in different topics or different parts of the same subject and hard to steer away from our preferred tracks, had not always been able to talk for very long or very constructively. Sometimes we spoke briefly along a mutual path; Sometimes we spoke at length but digressed ever further away from one another, each reaching for the conversational tiller. But, usually, it was at best one or the other between us and the conversations were (at least for me), frequently less about an organic back and forth that rarely appeared than about ensuring we had talked in any case.

But, during the months when we worked on these essays we kept steadily and naturally in close intellectual cooperation for whole afternoons. And at the end of day we had created something tangible together. 

I returned to California briefly in December 2019 for a friend’s wedding reception. While I was home, another friend took me to see my father. Father had had a portion of his foot removed, so I helped him into his wheelchair. 

I wheeled him out of the building, past other tenants. Many were moaning or seemed lost. Their vulnerability made me uncomfortable, especially as I rolled Father along and wondered if he would eventually be as unreachable. I did not think I would have the courage to visit him if his faculties eventually left him. Maybe that was why there seemed to be so few other visitors.

We drove my father to a Himalayan restaurant. He braced himself against my arm as he limped from the car to the door. We had a good dinner and spoke happily. When I took him home I said goodbye. This took quite some time, because I would give him a long hug and then I would delay leaving and talk awhile longer and then hold him again. 

Finally, I hugged him the last time. I bent down to his chair, he stretched thin arms up around my neck, and I held him a long time. I kissed the crown of his head. Age had made the fine hair and skin very soft. 

Then I joked that he had to be on his guard to live long enough for me to see him again when I could next fly into California. 

I flew back to New York and not too very long after the Coronavirus brought most things to a halt. My father, because of his age and his reliance on dialysis, was in a high risk category, but the nursing home closed its doors to visitors and reported no internal cases. From that point forward my brother and Mum visited him by bringing his favorite foods to the glass door of the nursing home and waiving when he was wheeled to the front. Then his food would be taken inside by a staff member to ensure containment wasn’t interrupted.

On August 11, 2020, my father sent me an article about William Bar and conservative jurisprudence via twitter. I thanked him. 

On August 12, 2020, my father sent me a link to an article by email and I put off responding. 

The next day I sent him a photo of a line from Ezra Pound that reminded me of something he’d told me once. He read it but didn’t respond. 

On August 28, 2020, my father had an outpatient surgery that went smoothly and my mum told me to email him, but I didn’t. I reminded myself a few times to do so, but I did not.

Ten days later, on Labor Day, I was having a beer with a friend outside of a bar in Brooklyn. Mum called and said that Father had had a heart attack in his nursing home and had been taken to the emergency room. She said she’d keep me informed.

I explained to my friend what had happened and said I wasn’t sure what to do, but that this had happened before and it wasn’t certain what it would mean. So we finished our drink and walked back to his apartment.

At 6:45PM, Mum texted me saying, “Still awaiting word. I think no news is good news in these circumstances.”

At 6:58PM my phone started to ring. It was Mum. It occurred to me briefly that she had said she would text me updates. I answered, finished something I was saying to my friend, and said hello.

“Hey Emlyn, so I’ve just talked to the doctor and something’s come up: Your father was flatlined for twenty minutes. They’ve managed to get his heart going but his brain isn’t coming back,” she said, calmly. “And they’ve asked me whether we want to continue having him on a ventilator, brain dead in a coma, or if we should let him go–” her voice broke, “–and I think we should let him go.”

I remembered that Father had liked to say that his body had just been there to carry his library card and his books. It struck me a little cruel that in the end it was only his brain that couldn’t be revived.

“I just thought you’d want to know.”

“Okay,” I said, and my voice shook, “Will you call me back afterwards?” She said she would. I asked her to put the phone near him when there was a chance, even though I knew he wouldn’t hear me, and to send me a photo of him since I couldn’t be there.

My mum put her cellphone near Father’s ear for a while. I said what I could, and for all the years I’d spent thinking about this moment, it was not much and it was difficult. I was glad I’d tried beforehand, and with more success I think, because, despite the sentimental need to say something, the time had passed. 

People say that the dead are “gone,” but I believe “over” is more appropriate. The aspect of people we love, their character and personality, is like a tremendous event occurring briefly. And, though his heart was still working, the tender spectacle of my father was over. 

Some time before, my father, who’d flirted coyly with religion all his life, had waylaid a Catholic priest present at the nursing home to perform last rites and asked him to visit

regularly to talk about theology. Mum arranged for this priest to come to the hospital and perform last rites for Father. My stepfather held up his cell phone on speakerphone, so that my younger brother — newly settled in his dorm room in LA — could listen in and Mum held the phone up on speaker phone so I could hear as well. The priest recited the Lord’s Prayer. The whole family, with the exception of Father and I, recited it with him.

When the ventilator was removed I heard a gasping, sucking noise. Mum assured me this was the ventilator and not Father. After that, it was uncertain how long his shallow breathing would sustain his body. 

Mum sent two photos of Father. It was hard to look at them. Like when I visited him a few years earlier and he had smiled into the camera and said, “This is what I was like before,” he was in thin hospital clothes and his hair was in a disarray. But he looked horribly abandoned now, not in the sense of a person but of a place. He looked empty and his face sagged, mouth open, in a way that reminded me of an old pumpkin sinking in on itself.

I had a few more calls with Mum that night, as I tried to keep a distant vigil, and my friend very kindly allowed me to use a guest room to take the calls. At one point, he put on some low, nordic music with a chanting sound and walked me to a small shrine he had on his book case, where he kept funeral cards from his grandparents and his grandfather’s pipe. He performed an impromptu service involving scented candles and smoking the pipe, then allowing it to burn (as if to allow someone invisibly with us to partake as well). Though he did not have a specific practice to offer me, he gave me this improvised ritual as a kind of sacrament to my father in recognition of his life, which was kind.

I began alerting people via text message. I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of a large wave of consoling messages, though the sentiment would not go unappreciated, and I felt oddly hesitant to tell anyone lest it should somehow turn out that a mistake had been made and I would have to walk back the announcement later. So, I told a relatively small group of people to begin with, people I spoke to so often or who were so close to Father that leaving it unsaid would be bizarre. Otherwise, I might have told no one.

The next day I asked for my four days bereavement leave and booked a flight home. In the afternoon, Father’s heart stopped. After that, when I informed people, I wasn’t sure if I should tell him he died Monday, as I believed, or Tuesday as the death certificate would likely state. 

Then I had dinner with some friends based in part on food my father had liked. We talked over what had happened. I got through most of it rather casually, until I tried to explain how I had waved at father’s car when I was a teenager. I began to cry and could only say, “I wrote it down. I wrote it down.”

The next day I flew out. As we approached California the landscape was obscured, but, unlike the trip through the darkened mountains to the north when father had his first heart attack, this time it was not fog: While I was away my home state had caught fire. Everything was hidden behind a pall of ash.

I stayed on a friend’s couch. The next morning the air quality was rated as unhealthy for the sensitive, and because I did not consider myself sensitive, I went outside to see the place I’d grown up. 

Every time I return, the buildings are much the same but seem a little smaller. I walked a street where Father and I had often visited a local Indian restaurant and a Goodwill during the time when I had volunteered for every thrift store run. While I was away the Goodwill had closed and the building stood empty. 

I looked towards the sun, which, through the smoke, looked like a blood moon. The layer of ash was so thick that one could stare into the sun indefinitely without one’s eyes watering. I wondered how long that would hold true.

I travelled with Mum to the crematorium, where I signed some papers and looked through a catalogue. We chose to do the simplest cremation and container and focus on where to spread the ashes. I asked if I could see my father and was told it would cost approximately $200, so I declined. 

I couldn’t see him in the hospital either because of the virus and the high number of bodies currently being held in their morgue. I understood the necessity and decided that I would focus instead on the meal I’d had with him at the Himalayan restaurant and the way it had felt to hug him when I said goodbye. That was probably better. 

It occurred to me that I would have to work hard to preserve that memory distinctly, because I would not feel his hair or soft skin again, or the way his arms reached up to encircle me.

In my time in California, Mum and I would have to sort his things to be sold or donated. Over the years, considering this ahead of time, I had made it a point to try to consider what to prioritize and if there was anything I would particularly want to preserve. I had a short list in my head.

Because I had taken my four days of leave starting Tuesday, and my flight back was early Sunday morning, I had three days left to help. Sometime after that, an antiquarian friend of my father’s was going to come and appraise what he’d left behind. 

Mum took me to the storage facility where my father had kept his library. We stepped out of the car, into air thick with smoke. It would have felt humid, except that it was palpably dry.

I unlocked the slatted metal door. I lifted it part way before it stuck, pinned by a collapsed tower of file boxes. I ducked under, shifted the tower, and pulled the door the rest of the way up.

The inside was a mess. In the heat cardboard boxes full of books, just about the sum total of my father’s worldly possessions, had degraded and slumped against one another or spilled entirely to the floor. A folding table with two old eMacs and an electric typewriter atop it had collapsed in a warped V. A stained mattress lay sideways against folded bookcases. 

I had hope that, even though the time was short, I could unpack it all and look through everything, determining what to save and what to let go. I trusted in a certain urgent determination to sort it all out by force of will.

We spent several hours going through box after box: My father’s books on games and game theory; His collected Jung; his material on jihad; some boxes of papers he’d written or read on millennial cults and Y2K when he’d worked for a think tank; and his poetry.

I found most of what I’d hope to find, and, in an unconsidered addition, a small yellow book of the sheet music for the B-minor mass, which I kept. As I sorted, Mum would occasionally point out something I had taken no notice of and pull this aside. Then she’d tell me some new story about my father’s life I had not known.

I found, also, a surprising number of books on my own pet subject, the American Right. Not collected because of me (they well predated my interest in the topic) but because they had been of interest to my father in their own right, if more tangentially and some time ago. There were many more than I had anticipated, and I realized that they had been on his shelves for years, there to see all the while. Because I had not yet come into my own before I had gone away and his things had been transferred here, I had never noticed. 

By the end of the first day of sorting we had gone through perhaps a third of what there was to uncover. We had spent a long time under the sun and, though the glare was not terrible yet, the heat still affected us, as did the smoke, and night was approaching.

Unable to keep everything that had been his, I opened an account with the same storage facility. It was smaller, but my own, and I took such as I could justify and moved it into my own keeping.

When we returned the air quality was rated Unhealthy and getting worse. I worked as fast as I could, but after a few hours we had only finished half the sorting and my chest had begun to tighten and my throat was feeling hoarse. 

A friend — whose own father had died when we were all in High School and who gave me such counsel as he could — came to assist us. With his help I made what was inside more organized, if not fully inventoried. 

My mum promised that she would go through it all with the antiquarian and if she saw anything she thought was important to keep she would do so. I gave her some suggestions and with regret shut the heavy metal door. I’d had my chance to make some sense of what had been left in my father’s wake and saved what I could, and I’d managed some but not nearly all of it. I felt a heavy sense of the inconclusive. 

The next day I would have to fly back to New York and get some sleep before I started work again. 

I could see the end of summer approaching. There was precious little to show for the year so far. 

Father wouldn’t be around to see the change of colors in the fall, or the spring of new life out ahead. 

That night Mum and I ate dinner together near the shuttered Goodwill. We ate in a restaurant that had monopolized my adolescent summer nights: Mel’s, a west coast phenomenon whose sock hop aesthetic is meant to be immutably quaint and familiar, embalmed in vinyl and fins. 

Outside the coronavirus was still raging and the wildfires were still burning. But, the day I’d flown in the local restriction on indoor seating had been lifted. 

The world was trying to go back to normal.

Steven Pressfield’s Video Series: The Warrior Archetype

November 10th, 2020

[mark safranski/ zen ]

During my long hiatus from blogging,  noted author and novelist Steven Pressfield developed a nice video series – The Warrior Archetype, I am putting Episode #2 as a sample below:

There are 25 episodes in all, with a strong but not exclusive emphasis on Sparta, with Steve reflecting on aspects of his writings and research in relatively short vignettes. Check it out here.


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