"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

'Tis the season to...

...actually get to go home and see my family? That would be nice.

I'll finally get to this weekend, though, and not have to leave again on Sunday since we're starting our Christmas leave block. Instead of 48 hours of visitation I get a whole two weeks! It's like Christmas! (ah right, it really IS Christmas. Since the only sign that it's even winter here has been a few days of rain rather than sunshine, I can be forgiven for my lack of situational awareness. I hope). This year the SoCal Browns will be spending the birth of our Lord at home, with our very first REAL Christmas tree, which evidently smells very good though I've only been home once to enjoy it since we got it. Aaron enjoys riding his toddler Razor scooter from the back of the house to the front and pointing to a small ornament with a picture of me and Bree and asking if that's mommy and daddy. It sure is, though five minutes later he'll ride back in and check again just to make sure nothing's changed. It hasn't. Wash, rinse and repeat, and there you have the day's entertainment (also entertaining is the fact that he feels obliged to wear his helmet while riding the scooter indoors. At least we're raising a safety-conscious child, though someone who doesn't know the family that well might wonder if he's prone to seizures).

Boy, it's been awhile since I've written anything. Not that there's a lack of subject matter, but I've been more productively occupied in sorting out how to run my company (still working out the details, BTW). Plus, since I left my laptop at home, the only internet access I have is through my phone and it's very hard to type long messages on a digital keyboard. So, this state of affairs will probably continue so long as I'm running the battalion's H&S company and doing air officer stuff on this side. It's just as well, I suppose, since it's not really kosher for an officer of my position to be writing material that could influence junior Marines, on the extremely small chance that someone outside my family and few friends stumbled across it. Some of you are no doubt choking on your Cheerios and thinking, "hey, he said that before and was back-sliding two months later. Lying liar." Indeed, I didn't resist the urge very long. But I think I will now, since I'm in a fishbowl like never before. Suddenly being in charge of over two hundred people gives you a new perspective. So take this one to the bank, folks (try to pick one that didn't need a bailout, though).

Indeed, the only thing I seem to have time for at the end of each day is plowing through Battlestar Galactica a second time. SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I finished season 4 (again) last week, and came to a couple of conclusions. 1) My original gripes about the finale still stand, but somehow I find myself caring a little less. I watched some of the commentaries from the producers, which confirmed what was long obvious: come the last season, the only thing they knew for sure was that the Galactica had to find Earth and the details would come later. So they found Earth not once, but twice, and the Final Five were pulled out of a hat. They were also hamstrung, as many shows were, by the writers' strike, which came right when the survivors of the Twelve Colonies stumbled upon Earth One as a charred cinder. Had the show been ended at that point, it wouldn't have done quite as much damage as the strike did to other shows (I'm talking to you, HEROES). Depressing as hell, yes, but at least the story would've reached its stated goal. However, they finagled another half a season, and then had to figure out where to go from Earth. So they went to another earth, with various angels and demons and unfinished story threads and info dumps along the way. Not ideal, I know. But I still think that last half of the series was redeemed by two things: the mutiny and about 75% of the finale. The mutiny was BSG at its bloody story-telling best, and the producers DID close one major story-line, which was what the hell to do with Tom Zarek. They solved that one exactly according to his character. As for the finale, I already knew I'd be disappointed at Kara's 'revelation' and the contrived way the producers finally fleshed out the opera house vision (along with Hera's mighty destiny as a petri dish for a new strain of biped), not to mention Lee's decision to become a Luddite and the inexplicable enthusiasm with which the 30,000 other survivors joined him. Oddly, I think this knowledge let me enjoy it more, because there's still some great stuff within. The final battle at the Colony still got my blood pumping, especially when Adama took the Galactica to ramming speed. And when it was all over and the fleet rejoined around Earth Two, the writers gave us some of those poignant personal moments that helped make the series so strong. Kara's tender good-bye to Sam (and his whispered reply); Roslin's last flight over the promised land; Adama's wordless farewell to Roslin; and even Baltar's belated guilt over the treatment of his father (and, I like to tell myself, everything else he ever did): all were subtle, well-crafted, and deeply moving. Who gives a crap that Hera's only good for her DNA (and may be one of the most kidnapped children seen on television, with the exception of Kim Bauer, though at least Hera has the excuse of being only five and not fantastically stupid)? You were INVESTED in Adama, Roslin, and Starbuck, you watched them get beat up and run down for four years and never quit, and it HURT to finally have to watch them go. You know it did. No really, you know it, it's not just me. Stop lying to yourselves.

2) Yeah, remember five pages back I said there were two conclusions? The other is this: Bear McCreary, who composed the show's music, is a genius. There were a couple of scenes that reminded me of just how much a good soundtrack can make good drama great drama (one, I think, was when Apollo was 'farewelled' on the flight deck as he moved on to civilian life, the other, when Adama flew Roslin around for the last time). So I went to iTunes and downloaded some (ok, all) of the music for seasons 2-4, and I was right: McCreary's music was vital to making the show as good as it was. I will caveat this by saying that I do not recommend downloading every track for every season; I'm sure you expect it of me but I don't expect it of any normal person. Much of it consists of the same theme reworked for different scenes throughout the series, as one would expect of soundtrack music. However, there are plenty of 'core' themes and songs that highlight the power of his work. For the casual enthusiast, I'd recommend "Roslin and Adama" from season 2, "The Dance", "Battlestar Sonatica", "Heeding the Call" and "All Along the Watchtower" from season 3, "Gaeta's Lament" (truly moving and spooky), "Farewell Apollo", "Kara Remembers", and "So Much Life" from season 4. Season 1 wasn't available on iTunes, but don't worry, I'll review that for you too. The last show that I could think of which featured truly enhancing music was the X-Files, but even that I don't remember as being so well-composed as McCreary's.

And now here I am, settling back in my chair to consider the void that exists in my life now that BSG is well and truly over (again). Methinks I won't be revisiting it a third time for awhile, just to keep the morsels savory (if Bree will agree to watch another episode with me, however, all bets are off). Incidentally, I got myself "The Plan" immediately upon release; you remember, the two-hour special by EJO that was supposed to blow the lid off the Cylons' long-secret "plan"? Well . . . there's not much there. There's a sneak peek for it on one of the disks in Season 4.5, and the sneak peek pretty much sums it up: the plan was to destroy humanity down to the last man, woman and child. Once that plan failed, the Cylons wandered off the reservation trying to make a new one. The story revolves around a love-hate relationship between two Cavil models, the Final Five, and humanity at large, and mostly serves as an excuse to re-shoot various scenes from different angles. It ends where season 2 ended, with the Cylons trying a new plan to co-exist with the humans on New Caprica. There are a few interesting moments - you get to watch the obliteration of the Twelve Colonies from a Cylon point of view (possibly the best lines of the episode feature various Hybrids describing the destruction on different planets; you KNOW the Cylons weren't playing around when even "the oceans of Picon are burning") and we find out just how Cavil was able to control the sleeper Boomer on Galactica; but very little is new. "The Plan" is definitely for those fans who just can't let the show go (stop pointing at me). If they come out with a special that tells us about the gods on Kobol, I'm in; until then, I'm skipping everything until the first Cylon War starts in "Caprica".

OK, I think I've said all there is to say about BSG (for which you are no doubt eternally grateful). What else have I been up to? Oh, I read "The Accidental Guerrilla" by David Kilcullen for some officer education last week. Our battalion CO has a number of books about COIN on his reading list, and we'll be doing monthly discussions on them until, well, the Marine Corps stops doing COIN. Kilcullen's words carry a lot of weight, since he was part of the Petraeus team that crafted the surge strategy in Iraq; given the surge's success, he's obviously a man worth listening to. His career as a COIN strategist is rather inverted, by his own admission; he spent years in the Australian military, but codified his theory as a civilian and observer in the post-9/11 world. He's spent a lot of time in a lot of very nasty places, and has talked to many of the players whose cooperation in prosecuting a successful counterinsurgency is crucial. He comes to a whole gamut of conclusions about what makes COIN work, though final conclusion is, essentially, that we shouldn't get involved in COIN scenarios in the first place because it simply plays into an al-Qaeda strategy of "exhaust and bankrupt". This conclusion has some merit when one looks at just how much our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost in terms of treasure and resources. His alternative is using, instead, the lightest military footprint possible, combined with a larger effort involving many nonmilitary players (State Department, NGOs, private organizations, economists, educators, etc), to find local solutions to removing the cancer of radical ideology without alienating the population our presence and turning them into 'accidental guerrillas' who are only fighting because we showed up. I didn't find this conclusion completely convincing, though; he seems to be saying that rather than devoting hundreds of billions to a purely military solution, we should devote it to a multi-pronged, well-synchronized campaign by both the military and virtually every other agency that could conceivably be involved in foreign assistance. In the end, we're still spending hundreds of billions of dollars, except on everybody else instead of just the military. He also shows a disturbing sympathy for the 'policing' attitude of counterterrorism, arguing that a certain level of risk is acceptable in order to avoiding playing into the "exhaust and bankrupt" strategy. I'd agree that we will never reduce the risk of terrorism to zero, and that pursuing a 'zero-tolerance' policy to the ends of the earth is unsustainable. But I was a little surprised that he ignored the evidence of the years before 9/11, which proved just how ineffective the non-intervening, 'policing' attitude was. After pulling out of Somalia, we followed the non-intervention policing model, using tools of law enforcement and remaining aloof from many an internal dispute, and what we got were progressively more violent and bloody terrorist attacks until finally 9/11 laid bare the failure of our efforts. I'm not saying the tools of law enforcement aren't effective - indeed, we've upgraded them to meet the challenges of the digital age, so that we can follow things like electronic money tranfers, cell phone calls, emails and even the IP addresses of jihadist websites to their source - but that only takes you so far. Sometimes, you still need to take the offensive, kick down doors, and kill people; and sometimes, the only solution may truly be to engage in wide-ranging nation-building (using the many good COIN recommendations he makes) to prevent a greater national security threat. Still, a compelling book about what works and what doesn't in the toughest kind of war, and putting his theories into action in Iraq saved countless lives and brought that country back from the brink.

Well, I think I've said all I need to say. And more. Merry Christmas to all, and next time I won't be so boring (Bree: yeah right).


The Sweeney's said...

Just thought you should know that I appreciate you putting the normal blogging at the beginning and leaving the blah blah BSG blah blah to the end. :)

PS I miss you and your wife and your mini me. The end.

Cincinnatus said...

JSwee, I appreciate and value your input on the format of my posts and will strive to remember that for future layouts. Each one of my readers is a valued customer and we here at Thermopylae, USA consider customer satisfaction to number one; or number five; well, it's certainly up there in the top fifty.

Fine. Geek stuff will be relegated to the end. But you should watch BSG because it's awesome and it rocks. So there.

We miss you too. Bree just hasn't been the same and you need to stop teasing her with all this spooning talk.