Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In Which We Resume Our Tale

I spent two weeks in Siwa Oasis, and whenever I wasn’t exploring the Mountains of the Dead, crunching my way along the salt-encrusted verges of the western lake, or roaming the narrow alleys of the village, I was made welcome by the elderly linguist. Although I was not allowed to attend the poetic recitations, he very kindly took me with him all around the village where he made an incongruous picture, dressed in his jacket and tie, towing a retinue of 20 or 30 Siwan urchins in his wake. Everywhere we went, the Siwans waved and called him by name.

Although there were still things to see in Siwa, the desert stretched away before me, promising deeper mysteries and greater excitement, and as I was still young enough to believe those sorts of promises, I repacked my belongings and planned the next leg of my journey. Planning so far had been easy. Using a map, I had estimated the distance between Marsah Matruh and Siwa at 180 miles. Sixty miles seemed a reasonable daily goal, so I bought breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three days, and then I doubled that amount of food. For water, I estimated my daily requirement, and then I tripled it. Back in 1988, nobody worried a whole lot about dehydration; certainly, nobody walked around their office building clutching a water bottle all day long, so in those dark ages, a triple ration of three days’ worth of water was not a huge amount, even though, at eight pounds to the gallon, I definitely felt the weight.

The system worked fine on the ride to Siwa, although that leg of the trip had not been without its hardships. I had heard that nights in the desert were cold – as cold as the days were hot – but it is a strange characteristic of Cretan summers, the third of which I had just spent happily, that they are so warm and pleasant that they render one incapable of believing that Cretan winters can be miserable, cold, and wet. Thus, I am ashamed to admit, I was completely unprepared for the knifelike wind that rose every evening as soon as the sun had dropped below the horizon, and the bitter cold it carried into the pitiful shelter of my tent.

The wind was punishing in two ways. Not only did it convey the cold straight to the marrow of my bones, despite the fact that they were encased in every stitch of clothing that I owned and swaddled in a sleeping bag, but it also rattled my tent unceasingly, with a loud and urgent shaking that prevented me from sleeping and which, I was certain, masked the approach of Ali Babba and all his 40 thieves, no matter how noisily they crept up on me. This took a fair amount of getting used to.

The days were more pleasant. As I was riding in the fall, temperatures were not as punishing as they might have been at the height of summer. I had no way of measuring, but I doubt that it was ever hotter than 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, I was riding a newly paved road, and it was easy to make good time, even on a bicycle that bore the weight of all my earthly possessions. I made my 60 miles a day without difficulty, which allowed me plenty of time to make camp before night fell and the wind began.

Leaving Siwa, though, there was no road. Actually, there was a stubby beginning of a road, which extended about half a mile beyond the perimeter of the oasis, upon which labored in a desultory manner, eight or ten Egyptians, who seemed, if they were in any way descended from the builders of the Pyramids, to embody convincing arguments against the theory of evolution. They barred my path with threatening gestures and indicated that, until I took their photograph, they would not let me pass. I owned two cameras at that time, a magnificent 1960’s era Contaflex 35mm SLR, with a bewildering assortment of lenses, and simple point-and-shoot, in which, for circumstances such as these, I never kept any film. I arrayed the dusty road workers before their decrepit Mercedes truck in order of their height and took their picture. I reversed their order and photographed them again. Then I posed them in order of age and snapped another frame. I had them mount the truck and wave at me from the cab, after which I shot them all standing on the bed of the truck. I was working up to some nice semi-nude shots when they finally got tired of the whole business and let me go.

While that unpleasant image lingers in you imaginations, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my friend Ben, who presented me with the Contaflex and a quick lesson on photography prior to my first visit to Egypt, in 1987. That camera and all its lenses served me without fail, until my reluctant surrender to digital photography many years later.

As the highway men resumed their tasks, I resumed mine, setting my sights southeast, toward the 400 mile-distant oasis of Baharia, the path toward which, while it was not paved, was still discernible, and when unclear, was at least marked by telephone poles, many of which tilted drunkenly in the undulating dunes. This was my first look at real desert, as I had expected it to look. The 180 miles from the coast to Siwa was certainly desert, but it was alternately scrubby and rocky, and seemed more like Arizona than Sahara. This though – the endless waves of sand that stretched before me – this was real desert, and it was an awesome, frightening sight.

It was also a difficult surface to ride on. It was usually solid enough that my tires didn’t sink in, but once in a while, and without any warning, I would roll into a soft spot, my front wheel would bog down, and the bike would try to pitch me over the handlebars. I did not enjoy that. I already had as much weight as possible over the rear wheels, with light stuff like clothes, tent, and sleeping bag in the front panniers. It finally occurred to me to lower my tire pressure enough to broaden the contact patch with the sand, and that constituted a significant improvement. Sometimes the sand make a disconcerting, almost musical sound, as it compacted beneath my tires.

More soon.

Grey Death

It's been a busy week for Kiki the grim reaper.  In the last nine days, she's dispatched two small rats, a dove, a pidgeon, and this mouse, all of which she very kindly brought home to show us.  The two small rats were still alive, and she had a great time chasing them up and down the hall before I finished them off.  This mouse was already dead, but she still played with it for quite a while.  I took it away when she started eating it.  The crunching sound kind of creeped me out.  She made it clear she was unhappy with me, but I think she'll get over it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

My Travels in Arabia Desertia (How I Was Saved by Berber Nomads)

Pajamas Media has an interesting article on the role of Berbers in the battle for Libya.  Berbers, an ethnic minority that preceeded the Arabs in North Africa, have been of interest to me since they saved my life in the eastern Sahara in 1988.

Having finished an enlistment in the Air Force, I was shocked to find that, four years after my first attempt at college, I was no better prepared for a second try.  (It pains me to admit this now, but I spent those years industriously applying myself to the hard work of not growing up.)  What does one do when one's military obligation has ended but one has made no plans for the future?  One takes to the road.

I had been stationed on the island of Crete when I left the Air Force, and it was from there - the port of Iraklion - that I caught a ferry to Alexandria, having sold everything I owned aside from a mountain bike, some spare parts, and some camping equipment.  From Alexandria, I made my way west, following the paths of Rommel and Montgomery, past al Alamein to Marsa Matruh, where I registered with the Egyptian Military Police for permission to enter the desert.  (The Libyan Frontier is a "controlled" area.) 

I spent an hour in that sweltering office, drinking tea and watching a gecko make his precarious way across the ceiling in search of flies.  It was apparent from the one-sided phone conversation I was hearing that, a. Nobody wanted to take responsibility for my presence in the desert and, b. Everyone concerned was in complete agreement that I was Megnoon (crazy).

Maybe because I was considered crazy, the prospect of arguing with me seemed even more odious than that of searching for my dessicated remains at some undetermined point in the future, so I was presented with my Tusrih (permit) and sent on my way.

My first exposure to the Berbers was in Siwa oasis, which I reached after three days of riding due south.  After days of various earth tones, the green of the oasis is a shock.  It is probably a good thing that, as the road winds and descends past tall sandstone formations, one catches only glimpses of that fertile ground.  By the time I had wended my way to the bottom of the depression, I'd had the chance to adjust to seeing plants and life again.

Siwa is bordered by a freshwater lake in the East, and a highly saline lake in the West.  All available space in between the two is crowded with date palms, olive trees, and, if I recall correctly, grape vines.  A tiny island in the center of the salt lake is graced by a hot spring.  The spring feeds a bath, the stones of which were laid to accomodate Cleopatra, who came to visit the oracle for whom the oasis was known.  I spent some very pleasant hours lazing in the bath, dappled by the shade of palm trees, soaking away the desert dust.

One afternoon, I was walking through the village at the center of the oasis, a village referred to by Alexander the Great as ancient.  The villagers, at least when I visited, were still living in some of the same buildings that had impressed Alexander with their age, although some of them had been damaged by the area's only recorded rainfall, which was in 1956.  As I turned the corner of one of those buildings, I ran smack into a little grey-haired man, who was dressed very smartly in a tweed sportcoat, grey slacks, and a tie.  It had been so long since I'd seen anyone so attired that, had I not knocked him down, I would have though he was a mirage. 

Far from being a mirage, he was a Berber language expert from Switzerland, who had developed an alphabet for the local dialect, and had spent a large part of his career in Siwa, learning the language and, when I was there, sitting with the last living Berber poets, and capturing their epic recitations in letters.  When I met him, (His name was something like Visicheylle, but I haven't been able to find him online yet.) he was on his way to the little store, to buy a couple of Cokes.  Apparently, the World's Oldest Berber Poet liked to drink Coke while he recited.

I'm out of time for writing now, but I'll complete the story of how I was saved by Berber Nomads as soon as I can.  I'll also see if I can dig up some of my old photos and maybe even find the correct spelling of the name of the linguist I knocked over.

Studies have shown a direct correlation between the speed with which I return and the number of comments I receive on my blog, so if the suspense is killing you...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Somebody Tell Mugabe

to do something about that skid mark under his nose.  I mean, really.  That caterpillar makes Hitler's soup strainer look downright luxurious.  That's the thing about dictators of crappy third-world cesspools - nobody is going to stand up and say, "Hey, Robert, that thing makes you look like you've got a sinus infection.  Here's five bucks for some disposable razors."

Which explains, I guess, this whole deal:
By the way, Col. Qaddafi -

Maxine Waters would like her clothes back.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thanks Guys!

Many thanks to my friend in the ether, Bob Belvedere, who kindly selected the post below for his Righteous Rant of the Day.  If you're not a daily visitor to The Camp of the Saints, (See my blog roll for a link) I highly recommend that you amend your habits. 

Bob came by my post via the irascible Donald Douglas, proprietor of the American Power Blog, and another whom I am pleased to count among my ether friends.  (Should he take offense at being called irascible, I hasten to quote Ezra Pound, who said, "I Have Never Met a Poet Worth A Damn that was Not Irascible."

Thanks guys!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The New York Times - Ignorance Times Twelve

Ah, the New York Times. Once the paper of record, now the paper that has broken all records for idiocy and irrelevance brings us the ruminations of a dozen "Americans who don’t labor in politics or the media" on "what they’d do if they were president."

Searching for, " ideas that might challenge or inspire, " Jesse Kornbluth assembled a group of 12 illuminati and asked them what they would do if they lived in the White House.

The responses, which come from professors, authors, a CEO, a nun, the president of something called the Children's Zone in Harlem, an artist, an inventor and an astrophysicist, read like a perverse combination of Rainbow Fish and Pedro's campaign speech from Napoleon Dynamite. (Vote for me and your wildest dreams will come true.) 

One numbskull (a Harvard professor, no less) said he would "lead a campaign against the skyboxification of American life..." It seems the professor thinks that people are too separated from each other.  Rich people, sheltered in their skyboxes, don't get out and rub elbows with the poor, he says.  "The affluent retreat from public schools, the military, and other public institutions, leaving fewer and fewer class-mixing places."

Ah yes, "class-mixing places." Like Harvard, right?  Two tips for you, professor.  First, the mixing of the classes has nothing to do with the presidency.  Second, to borrow from Michael Jackson - if you want to make a change, don't wait to become president.  Start with the man in the mirror.  Step away from your skybox job at Harvard, and spend some time teaching at a community college.  We'll all benefit from your example.

The next suggestion is from a poetess, and it's worth quoting in its entirety.
I’d grant the very rich the boon of helping them help others, as a form of gratitude for their good fortune. I’d also connect every creative writing program with a hospital, a school, a library, a prison, a neighborhood center — workshops in the supermarkets! (“Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!”)
You'd grant the very rich (according to whose definition?) the boon of helping them help others...  Is there a reeducation camp somewhere in your plan?  So you'd force them to "help others," right?  Because they don't already?  Where does Bill Gates $10 billion donation to charity (29 January, 2010) fit into your calculations? And you'd connect every creative writing program with a hospital?  Sure, because people in hospitals have nothing better to do than help people learn to write.  As for connecting them with schools - that's a novel idea and I approve wholeheartedly.  You might want to rethink that part about connecting them to prisons; I see tragedy just over that horizon.  Or were you thinking of just low-security joints, like the ones where you'll send the very rich who refuse to accept your generous boon?  As for the aisles full of husbands, avocados, tomatoes and whatnot.  I'll admit it.  I have no idea what you're talking about.

The next contributor said,
 I’d tell the nation that I was powerless to control the war machine, Wall Street, big oil and the other interests that run the country, and I would urge Americans to form a new political party not beholden to them.
I'm not even going to bother with that one.  All I can say is, good luck running on the "powerless" ticket.

The CEO's contribution was slightly better.  He at least acknowledged that our economy isn't a zero-sum game, but then he said he would  "appoint a blue-ribbon committee" to "imagine innovative industries," which, of course, would be aided by tax code that was supportive of sustainable industries.  How about this; if you're ever president, just get out of the way.  A free-market economy doesn't need a blue ribbon committee to come up with innovative industries.  People will do that for themselves if government isn't intervening in every aspect of their lives, and if they aren't being punished for their success.  (Take note of that, poetess.)

Maybe one of the best responses came from this Pepperdine University professor. 
With my staff, I would decide what my administration was for.
Wow.  You need your staff to tell you what you stand for?  And you intend to figure that out AFTER you're elected?  Sheesh.  The article doesn't mention what he teaches.  I wonder if he knows, or if he's still trying to figure it out.

The next contributor is all about being a president with "passionate clarity."  Her presidency would be only one term, and it would feature "a stable and productive economy; an environmentally viable planet; a humane, efficient government capable of educating its young and protecting its vulnerable members." How can I argue with any of that?  After so many years of presidents who stood against those things, it's refreshing to see a president in favor of Utopia for a change.  And to think she'll do all that in one term.  Awesome!  Then we can all have ponies!

This is the part of my blog where I'm going to make people mad.  I don't mean to, but it's going to happen and I'm powerless to stop it, because I'm going to criticize a nun.  Yes, there are no holds barred on my blog.  Mr. K's next prospective president is a nun, writing from the Holy Wisdom Monastery in Wisconsin.  And if what she says is passing itself off as wisdom there, then I hold out little hope for her and her sisters, because if she were president she would,

 invest half of our defense budget in children, young people and in energy conservation.
I'm just going to leave it at that, ok?  There's no sense kicking the sister while she's down.  And besides, there's much more fun to be had with the president of the Children's Zone, who is all about spreading "sacrifice," updating our "social contract," and paying our country back.  I'm all for renegotiating the social contract.  In fact, if he's referring to the New Deal, I think it should be done away with altogether.  What bothers me most about this input is the subtle implication throughout that we owe the government.  Wrong.  Backwards.  Dangerous.  Do away with the notion that we work for the government.  Strip away all the bureaus, departments, and agencies that have accumulated along the nation's arteries for decades.  Do away with entitlement and the idea that government can distribute largess.  That's the kind of "sacrifice" we need, but I don't think that's what he's referring to.

The ninth contributor had this to say,

I would invite all of the members of Congress to join me in an improvisation retreat. We would spend the time practicing saying “yes” to each other and really listening to one another’s offers.
I'm supposing she is only suggesting practicing saying "yes" now that Congressman Anthony Weiner is out of office. There's more, of course, and some of it's even sillier, but you have better things to do, don't you? 

Reading the tenth contribution is probably not among those better things, so let me summarize it for you.  This is from a painter, who's done some very nice landscapes and portraits, and has won quite a lot of acclaim for his work.  This is good, because he should never be president.  He says that legislators should be required to live outside the US for two weeks.  He doesn't say why.  Nor does he seem to realize that they do this anyway.  They usually call those "fact-finding" trips, or some such thing, and they always find a way to make taxpayers foot the bill.  I could muster some enthusiasm for his idea if those legislators stayed  wherever they went, but otherwise I don't think it's a good idea.

The next-to-last (You're relieved, aren't you? ) suggestion comes from the inventor, who says schools should "get rid of binary right and wrong answers," because, "Experimentation is learning." Here's an empirical study to test his theory.   You're in a cage with a grizzly bear and a rifle.  Would you like to have been taught how to load and fire the rifle, or would you prefer to experiment?  Yes, experimentation is learning, but I would like the guy who works the cash register to understand the binary right and wrongness of making change.  Call me old-fashioned.

Thankfully, the astrophysicist disagrees with the inventor.  "... objective realities matter," he tells us.  And I must confess I'm relieved to hear it.  If elected, he tells us, his job would be to "bring an objective reality to the electorate so it could choose the right leaders in the first place." I'm all for that.  Jefferson (or Franklin, or both of them) is credited with having said that a republic relies on an educated, virtuous population, and I agree that, to a large extent, our current situation is due to a voting population whose understanding of our republic seems to be inversely proportional to the number of people eligible to cast ballots.  At least two generations have been raised to think that government can and should provide for them, and we are reaping the fruits of that deception now.

And that brings me to the underlying theme of these 12 statements.  Despite their obvious educations, not a single one of their contributors seems to have a clue about what the role of president is supposed to be.  Not a single person referred to the Constitution, and not a single person mentioned the primary responsibility of the republic's chief executive, which is, first and foremost to maintain the nation's security. 

Our nation's founders never intended the president to be focused on the daily lives of Americans.  He (or She) was intended, as was the entire federal government, to be focused outwardly.  To represent us among the nations and to keep us secure from depredation.  It was never expected that a President of the United States would concern himself with education, distribution of wealth, or class-mixing.  (Is it just me, or is that not an abhorrent phrase?) None of that is the president's job, and none of it should be.  Education, the accrual and distribution of wealth, association with those who do or do not look like you - these are the personal concerns of free men and women.  They are the responsibilities of those who are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.  Government that claims these duties for itself is by definition tyranny, something these twelve, Mr. Kornbluth, and the New York Times, would do well to understand.

Friday, August 19, 2011


I was just reading a March, 2007 report from the Government Accountability Office called "Defense Acquisitions: Assessment of Selected Weapons Programs, GAO-07-406SP" (Yes, I know, but there was nothing on TV.) when I came across this little gem:
As entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid consume a growing percentage of available resources, discretionary programs—including defense—face competition for the increasingly scarce remaining funds.
Does that seem backward to anyone else, or is it just me?  In a nation whose constitution lists defense as one of the very few responsibilities of the federal government, why in the world is defense spending considered "discretionary" when entitlements that have no consitutional mandate are not? 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

This and Many Other

burning questions are the topics of Iowahawk's most recent posts:

I let my Mexican drug lord license expire. Am I still eligible for the free machine gun program?
If you haven't been by lately, I suggest you quit wasting your time reading my blog and head on over to his.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Like John Bolton

Have you seen this? In his article in last week's Human Events, John Bolton, former scourge of the UN, straight-talker, and one of the few men who can quote Adam Smith with credibility, spells out a truer "State of the Union" address than has ever been delivered by a sitting president. 
The debt-ceiling legislation’s trigger mechanism, with its grave risk of disproportionate cuts in defense spending, is potentially even more draconian. America’s national security is not just another wasteful government program, especially in perilous times like today. We are heavily involved in two major conflicts, the long-term global War on Terror and the critical effort to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Recent confirmation that Iran, on the verge of becoming a nuclear power, is materially aiding al-Qaeda only underlines the risk of massive U.S. defense cuts.
He spells out how US economic strength and national security are linked indivisibly, and in so doing, makes himself, in my eyes, the best example of presidential timber yet seen.

The question is, will he run?

Communists and Unions? Say it isn't so!

This charming communist might need to be sent for reeducation even before the capitalists go.  Maybe then she'll understand that the "workers" in Libya are about as far from Communism as they can be.  Then again, history was never a favored topic of the great Communist thinkers - at least, not as it actually happened. 

This is one of several signs posted by Reaganite Republican from a May Day march in Los Angeles this spring, all of which demonstrate the close ties between some of the nation's leading unions and the various factions of the Communist Party.

Here in Portugal, it's not uncommon to see banners bearing the hammer and sickle, and to find advertisements along the roadsides for Communist and "Progressive" festivals and marches.  Back in the States though, at least when I used to live there, it seemed people were less likely to buy into all that nonsense.

Even if they hadn't read works like Milton Friedman's Free to Choose, and Capitalism and Freedom, (both of which I highly recommend) Americans seemed to have an innate understanding that Communism works only if it can strip away everything that provides an incentive to human beings to work hard and be productive.  We also seemed to appreciate that a byproduct of that process was a drab, joyless existence, dominated by distrust and envy, and regulated by an all-encroaching government.

If we're losing that understanding, or if we are deluded into thinking that unions in their present form are not Communist entities, then these photos, which I found via Maggie's Notebook, ought to help.

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Arch, A House, And an Aqueduct

Here's another of my paintings of Lisbon landmarks.  This is the Arco da Rua Augusta, which gives onto the Praca do Comercio.  Through the arch at the end of the street, you can see the statue of King Jose I, which graces the center of the Praca.

Although the statue was designed to be viewed from the opposite side (You're looking at his horse's backside from this direction.) I prefer this view because the Rua da Augusta and the Arch make a nice frame within a frame.

This isn't in Lisbon, but it's one of the houses in my neighborhood that I've been wanting to paint for a long time.

And this is the Aqueduct that brought water to Lisbon's west side, across the Alcantara Valley.  I posted another painting of this aqueduct a couple months ago, and wrote about how it provided the location for the infamous serial killer of Lisbon, who, in the late 1700s, threw more than 70 people over its sides.

America's Cup Sailboat Racing

Since the 4th of August, the America's Cup sailboat races have been going on between Cascais and Tamariz Bay, which is just below my living room window.  This year features a new format, with very fast (35 knots) carbon fiber catamarans competing in various events.  The boats, whose masts are over 70 feet tall, raced in four types of races: open events, which were 9-boat fleet races, speed trials, where they raced all-out for 500 meters, match races, where the boats raced one-on-one, and a final fleet race, which was held yesterday. 
While the boats were racing, there was a fleet of vessels timing them, marking the limits of the course, and following them with photographers.  Even a couple of Portuguese Navy patrol boats were on scene.  There were also three helicopters filming the race from above the entire time. 

The large, three-masted sailboat in the background of this photo is one of a couple beautiful old ships that offered vantage points for race-watchers.  For a fee, you could embark in Lisbon for the short run up the coast, anchor just off the course, and watch the races close-up while eating and drinking.  The first day of the races, one of these ran aground.  Lots of little vessels tried to tow her off, but she had to wait for the tide to come in and lift her.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Riots in England - Democracy in Action

Plenty has been said about the riots in England, so I'll let my words be few.  The riots are nothing more than the emergence of democracy in its purest, most efficient form.

Democracy is, of course, nothing more than majority rule.  And if the majority wishes  to ransack your shop and burn your home, who do you think you are to stand in the way of democracy?  Why, you'd have to be old-fashioned to think you have anything to say in the matter.  In fact, you're probably one of those people President Obama referred to - one of those bitter hold-outs, still clinging to your God and your guns, and the antiquated notion that democracy is a thing to be greatly feared.

Well if you are, then I'm glad to know you.  You're probably already aware of this, but for anyone who isn't, it bears mentioning that there's a reason our Founders gave us, not a democracy, but a federal republic.  Its purpose is not to empower the majority, but to protect the rights of the most endangered minority - the individual. 

For those shop-keepers, sales-staff, and homeowners in England who've seen their world turn to ashes this week, you have my sympathy.  More importantly though, I hope you have to will and the ability to fashion a government that protects your rights, instead of one that denies you even the most basic one of all, the right to defend your property, your life, and the lives of those around you.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Supply Your Own Caption Day

There's a punchline in here somewhere, but I'm too busy to find it.  Please feel free to supply your own.  Special bonus points for those that make fun of the French.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Lisbon Trolley

I'm working on a series of smaller (6 X 4) paintings of iconic Lisbon images.  This is to prepare for my first show in Portugal, which I hope will be in October.  I finished this one tonight.  The hardest thing about it was getting the color balance right in the photograph I took.  It's still not quite right, but it'll have to do for now.  Tomorrow I'll re-photograph the painting in natural light.  That should be a lot better.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Counter Insurgency and the Constitution

Just as it used to be fashionable to talk about the "Revolution in Military Affairs," defense experts and analysts are now talking about "Counter Insurgency" as the new way of waging war. At the NATO Operational Planning Course in Oberammergau, Germany, and at the Joint Combined Warfare School in Norfolk, Virginia, students learn not about operational planning for warfare, but about planning to cope with insurgencies after combat operations are complete. That each course seems to take for granted our success in major combat operations is cause enough for concern, but a less obvious issue is what this says about our nation’s changing attitude regarding war, and how far that attitude has shifted since the founding of our republic. From President Thomas Jefferson, who built the US Navy to fight the Barbary Pirates, to President William Jefferson Clinton, whose National Security Strategy deepened our commitment to Military Operations Other Than War, to President Barack Obama, whose approach to Libya is making new law, US notions about war have moved farther and farther away from constitutional precepts. For anyone who swore to defend the Constitution, this should be a matter of interest.

There is little in the Constitution that suggests our founding fathers recognized what we now refer to as the spectrum of armed conflict. But the problem is not that our founders failed to equip our leadership for that broad range of activities. The problem is that they never intended us to apply a grey scale to what they saw as a black and white issue. The Constitution recognizes the necessity of war, and sets forth the process for declaring it. What it does not recognize is the state of violent un-war that we have come to accept as normal.

President Roosevelt’s description of December 7th, 1941, as a “day that will live in infamy,” has passed into public memory, but what few recall is that he uttered those words during a joint session of Congress, at which he asked for a declaration of war against the Axis powers. Within an hour, his request had been granted, and the United States focused the totality of its energies on defeating her newly declared enemies. Although we have been involved in considerable military efforts in the intervening 70 years, no other president has repeated that request. Also, not coincidentally, we have never been as focused, or as united in our efforts as we were during the years of World War II.

We entered a state of violent un-war in 1950, with the “police action” in Korea. In the three years of active fighting there we lost 25,600 lives. As if this weren’t enough, there were two other casualties as well, the original intent of the authors of the Constitution, who could not have conceived that such an extensive effort could have been made without a declaration of war, and the notion of war as a unifying national effort, which could not help but wither in the absence of a declaration.

While there may be compelling political reasons to refrain from declaring war, it remains to be seen whether their gains outweigh the disadvantages that come from deviating from the Constitution. Aside from contributing to a growing disregard for the rule of law itself, there are immediate and practical problems that arise from the start. In failing to declare war, we limit ourselves in every way, and we give a free hand to those who oppose us.

This is because the declaration of war is more than just a formality. Not only does it send an unambiguous message to those with whom you intend to fight, providing one last chance for them to meet your demands, but the declaration of war is also a message to ourselves, calling us to unify politically, economically, and emotionally. It is not for nothing that it is Congress that is charged with the responsibility to declare war. In a body known more for deliberation than for deliberate action, a declaration serves to pin them down. But fail to call it war, and we can be certain that neither Congress, nor the US population, nor the strategic levels of our military will be able to fight it as one. War, we know, is supposed to be Hell, but the media and the public are led to expect that contingency operations, and nation building, and Military Operations Other Than War shouldn't be. The media, which were largely cooperative in the Second World War, see no reason to be so in engagements that are less than war. They (perhaps rightly so) convey a more cynical view of non-war, a view that affects public perception and helps shape political support – or lack of it – for the effort.

With a skeptical press, a public that is not unified, and politicians who are concerned with making popular choices, we cannot help but be unprepared when the IEDs start dismantling our resolve. We are unprepared because, in the failure to declare war, we have already ceded the initiative, and broadcast a message that tells our enemy and the world that we are unwilling to do whatever it takes to win. Instead of war, we will conduct counter insurgency, but we have failed to recognize a basic fact of life: Insurgency is war, fought at your enemy’s initiative.

And how do we respond to that initiative? With one hand we try to destroy (as we should) but since we are not at war, we try to build with the other hand simultaneously. This does not work. Counter Insurgency doctrine calls for civil efforts to separate the population from the insurgents, but this cannot be done with schools and roads and other bribes. Even if it could, none of our gains would be meaningful, because we would always face the possibility that our enemy could outbid us. Instead, we must convince populations that harboring insurgents is too costly and too dangerous, and the only way to do that is to inflict a lot of pain. My southern relations have no love for Sherman, but even they would agree that he was right about one thing. To end a war quickly, you have to burn your own path to the sea, and much of what you burn through will be civilian infrastructure. This necessity of war is not recognized in counter insurgency, or Military Operations Other Than War.

So failing to follow the Constitution leads us to half-hearted military efforts. This, in turn, leads directly to an inability to bring those efforts to a satisfactory close. If you do not wage war in a manner that is sufficiently brutal, you will undoubtedly fail to press what remains of the enemy's leadership for a public, complete, and unconditional surrender. This is deeply unfortunate, because nothing else will work to give the population permission to cease its resistance. In the Second World War, we expected tremendous resistance in the Japanese homeland, and when resistance failed, we expected wholesale suicides. We had neither, because we had the presence of mind to make a public ceremony of the Japanese surrender, and because the emperor himself addressed the Japanese people by radio, and told them the war was over. More recently, we have made war (or none-war, if you please) on people who have suffered for years under brutal dictators. Despite the hardening effects of that suffering on their societies, we expected them to give up after only a few hours of battle. We thought that Iraqis, who for years feared crossing the street without permission from Saddam Hussein, would suddenly shift their support to us when he went into hiding. Then we expected it would happen when he died. We're still wondering why we don't enjoy broader support from Iraqis. It's because, no matter how much they feared their leader, he was still THEIR leader, and absent an official surrender from him or his representative, they were left without orders to stop fighting. To put it into Oprah-speak, they have no closure. Without closure, without permission to stop being what they've been for 40 years, or, in the case of the Japanese, for centuries, they find it very difficult to make the psychological leap.

We're of no help to them in making that leap if, while we're trying to destroy insurgents, we're building schools and digging wells. We should be doing nothing of the kind. Suffering is what is needed to make the population shift its perspective, and alleviating the suffering at the same time we're administering it does not help. The Japanese people went from preferring suicide to laying down their arms and accepting occupation because they had suffered grievously first, which made the surrender acceptable and meaningful. If we had been passing out lead suits and airdropping food at the same time we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our message would have been seriously muddled. It's no different in Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else.

As MacArthur demonstrated, there is plenty of time for magnanimity after the surrender. After the surrender, kindness means something. It's appreciated. How else can we account for MacArthur's popularity in Japan after the war? Before the surrender though, these well-intended gestures are seen as a sign of weakness, and they are skillfully exploited.

If our presidents returned to the constitutional practice of calling upon Congress to declare war, we could have a national debate before we committed our military to "kinetic actions.” If Congress declines to honor the President's request, then the endeavor should be shelved. And if an effort is too insignificant to merit a declaration, then it is most likely not serious enough to warrant the loss of American lives. If, however, Congress consents to declare war, that declaration will have a galvanizing effect on the population, just as it should have a sobering effect on the leadership. Failure to subject ourselves to this process erodes respect for the Constitution we swore to defend, just as it deprives us of these other beneficial effects.