Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Yes, BUT...

 h/t Wilder

















This is all John Wilder's fault.



Yes, the John Wilder. (I love that meme-joke. It still cracks me up. And God bless his parents for the set-up.)

As in, gone and written another good piece. Homework prep: RTWT. It's not that long today. (Bonus: in fairness, what it lacks in length, it makes up for with bikinis, as usual.) But there's another side to that coin - perhaps even a whole sackful of other coins - and a few other codocils, addendums, caveats, etc. etc.

---

Did you read the OP referenced?

Good.

Now we reference a quote therein, one with which many of you are familiar:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.
Specialization is for insects. - Robert Heinlein

Classic Heinlein, from a writer who is, for any rational person, canonical, whether we're talking about Starship Troopers, Tunnel In The Sky, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, or any dozen other cherished sci-fi classics.

But let's talk turkey here:

Heinlein, in that quote, was full of sh*t. And he knew it.

The quote sounds great, sure. And we can agree with the sentiment, to any degree. Hell, we've referenced the same quote on this very blog. But it's still a load of codswallop and bullsh..., er, rose fertilizer. As we will demonstrate.

Any human being should be able to change a diaper

Okay, granted. Last I looked, no degree needed, to this day.

Plan an invasion

So, how'd that work out for the amphibious "genius" anyones from Sandhurst who planned Gallipoli? And followed it up with the Dieppe soiree? And monkey-f**ked the American plan at Sicily in WWII, very nearly snatching defeat from what could have been a decisive victory? And would have rogered Normandy, given half a chance? Turns out, anybody can not plan an invasion. The Marines had been perfecting such things for twenty years before WWII. Actually,  more like 160 years, but still. And clueless Navy newbs would have made the same hash of Guadalcanal as the Brits did at Gallipoli, had it not been for some old-breed tough bastards. It was a near thing. Did the Army learn anything? Not until they'd mucked it up a time or three themselves. Read up on how Operation Torch went in North Africa. And then Anzio. So maybe expecting people to have a wee familiarity with the concept, over years and decades, isn't something every human being is going to have time to bone up on. Majors and colonels plan invasions. Guys with from 12-30 years moving through an up-or-out promotion system, besides being weeded out rather ruthlessly by bullets, bombs, shrapnel, and various other nastiness.

Butcher a hog

Look up the life expectancy and disease rate from improperly handled and prepared pork prior to 1930 or so. We'll wait for you.

Conn a ship

Not "sail a sailboat", nor steer a stinkpot runabout on the Inland Waterway, but "conn a ship". Every human being, Lt. Heinlein (U.S. Naval Academy, class of 1918)?? Says the man with a bachelor of science from the U.S. - and the world's - premier institution of seamanship, for the greatest navy in world history, after 4 hard years graduating 20th out of 243 midshipmen. Renaissance man speak with forked tongue.

How many ships routinely go down now that there are regs governing who can conn one, compared to past times? And ask the sailors on the McCain and Fitzgerald what happens when "diversity is our strength"  retardation and shoddy watchstanding practice lets "anybody" conn a ship. And shout it loud, because Arlington cemetery is a long way off.

Design a building

Been to Pisa, Italy? Too far back in time? Okay; anybody seen what happened to the "Future Is Female" walkway at Florida International U.?

Write a sonnet

Turn your radio to any modern music station. Shakespeare it ain't. Case closed.

Balance accounts

How much is your home state in the hole financially, both now and in the near future? What's the national deficit, just this year? How about the national debt? What's the average debt load of the average American, this minute? The amount of savings held in the bank by the average person? Yet again, case closed.

Build a wall

"Texas. Maybe you've heard of it..."

Set a bone

IIRC, practicing medicine without a license has been illegal in 50 states since at least 1900, even before Heinlein was born. Just saying.

Comfort the dying

Like diapering babies, no licensure or cert required, since ever.

Take orders

Ditto.

Give orders


And if you've watched and waited behind people at the drive-thru, you already know they're not Mensa members, college graduates, or certified by anyone, not even the Florida Clown College.

Co-operate

No certification required. Common sense is another thing entirely.

Act alone

Anyone who has ever herded cats or kindergarteners knows this is no great human accomplishment. And no certification required, nor necessary.

Solve equations


No certification nor degree required to operate at this level (nor will any be attained either), but we note with some humor that it takes Ph.D.s from MIT, CalTech, etc. to achieve the first landing of an interplanetary probe not on the surface of Mars, but actually 58 feet into  it, because they couldn't remember meters per second is not the same velocity as feet per second. "Secant! Tangent! Cosine! Sine! 3.14159! Q! E! D! Gooooooo Tech!"

Analyze a problem

Most people can do that. The brighter ones actually do it well. The rest get stuck on the first four letters of that, and can't get their heads out. In any case, yet again, no certification required.

Pitch manure

Pretty sure we've had this one nailed down since before Heinlein ever wrote it down.

Program a computer

Uh huh. I bailed out of computer science my freshman year and never looked back, and haven't programmed anything since Hammurabi and Lunar Lander, in BASIC, with punch tape. Say, how's that whole "learn to code, bro" plan  been working out for the Geek Squad since the 1980s? I wouldn't know, I've been working 8 days a week, and all I know how to do is turn the damned thing on and click on the screen icons.

Cook A Tasty Meal

No degree, been doing that since I was 14, ever since Mom's "so you won't starve to death as a bachelor" lessons as a barely teen. Only need a cert to do it for money, and given the number of times I've gotten the Food Court Two-Step at  the food court, the standards for that are still too lax.

Fight efficiently

Rifle expert, first six times I tried it. AFAIK, "One shot, one kill" is about as efficient as one can get (unless folks fortuitously stand three deep in a straight line). Cert? Not required, but I did get a sheepskin from MCRD, Class of '84. And it's nothing anyone can't master any weekend with a 10/22 at an Appleseed Shoot. Given who taught plebes weapons handling at Annapolis, this is not news to Heinlein either, since NLT than 1925 A.D. or so.

Die gallantly

I live in hope.

And BTW, the average honeybee is by turns an environmental engineer, building subcontractor, security guard, obstetrician, childcare worker, reconnaissance pilot, news reporter, and agriculture worker, all in one lifespan, and all while serving as a Minuteman kamikaze pilot in the Bee National Guard for life. So even insects don't specialize, and all this was known to Heinlein then, as it is to us now.

So it's pretty clear, Heinlein knew he was talking out his own ass, fluently, even when that little ditty was still wet ink. And, to be fair, his point was that everyone should be good at all those things, not just do them. Which, looking at them all, is more a life-long bucket list than anything, because it'll take that long to check all those boxes, and some will never happen.

Gifted amateurs like Isambard K. Brunel are all well and good, for 200 years ago. We had That Guy locally, where I grew up. His name was William Mulholland. He emigrated to America from Ireland, and started out as a literal ditch-digger for the city of Los Angeles, scraping mud out of the irrigation canals that supplied the bustling metropolis of 10,000 with all the water that could be gotten from the muddy semi-annual creek known as the Los Angeles River. He was an uneducated, unlettered, self-taught civil engineer who worked his way up to chief engineer of the city from scratch, just because he could figure things out. He had worked his way up to chief engineer when he and a former L.A. mayor took a horse-and-buggy trip up the backside of the Sierra Range near the turn of the last century, and bought up land, in order to legally secure rights to water for what the city planners hoped would someday grow to 100,000 residents. Mulholland thought they were fools, and expected several millions. No points for guessing which side got that correct. He then devised a plan that no one had done, to move water uphill over several mountain ranges, hundreds of miles, in giant iron pipes and through-mountain tunnels, which, by the way, no one in the history of Ever had done before. It succeeded spectacularly, because although the water had to go uphill at times, Mulholland, despite lack of any formal surveying training or engineering pedigree, sussed out that it then went downhill even further, creating a giant siphon, and actually generated power rather than needing it, by the time the water got to L.A. It's literally half the reason L.A. ever came into existence as anything but a sleepy cow town backwater in the first place, and he figured it out, with nothing but common sense and a high school diploma, and it opened in 1913.


What undid him? That same lack of a college diploma or engineering pedigree or certifications.

He was working on another project, still large and in charge, and he placed an earthen dam in one of the canyons north of Los Angeles. What he didn't know was that the rock there was a terrible location for a dam. Which hydraulics, geology, and physics all demonstrated rather rudely one night in 1928, when the whole thing collapsed, killing at least 431 people (they've found bodies up to as recently as 1994) in the ensuing flood, ending Mulholland's career, and he died a broken man.

---

Specialization is what happens in stable societies, because that's what works. It's not bad, nor lazy. Nor inherently good. It just is.

Want to see a society where everyone can do everything? Go to any country from Trashcanistan to Shitholia, and observe their mud hut architecture, and their shit-flavored combination village well/swimming hole/washing machine/sewer. Let us know the average infant mortality and life expectancy thereabouts, and ponder the perennial question of why tsunamis and earthquakes lead to a great post-event mud hut housing boom. And why is it, do you think, that most modern cities seem to be located on a mound 50-300' deep thick, made up of the debris, garbage, and sh*t from the previous inhabitants?

Countries and societies where anyone can do anything are called primitive for a reason. This is why advanced societies brought the wheel to sub-Saharan Africa, and metal, horses, and the concept of livestock to the Americas.

Specialization and certification have been a thing since medieval guilds, a thousand years hence, exactly as fascinatingly and engrossingly laid out even in modern novels. The castles and cathedrals that awe-inspiringly stand to this day were built by master masons. The ones you don't see, because they were tried by amateurs and jackholes, aren't there.

Done right [pro-level caveat, right there] certifications and pedigrees keep the riff-raff out. Ask a generation of altar boys and scouts (referenced in JW's last post before this one) what happened when anyone could become a priest or scoutmaster. Before people like Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton turned nursing into an actual profession, it was about as reputable as acting, being composed almost entirely of good-for-nothing unmarriageable spinsters too dumb to cook and too lazy to do laundry, and washed up old syphilitic whores. (Really; you could look it up). Nowadays, with college degrees and background checks, we've almost gotten rid of all the spinsters!

I have no illusions about certifications and credentials. They have and will always be misused and abused. In 1910, anyone could buy and fly a plane. In the 1950s and '60s, passenger airplanes going down in flames was a regular occurrence. At times, multiple ones in the same week. Nowadays, with everything about the airline business from mechanics to builders to pilots to controllers vetted and regulated up the wazoo, major commercial aviation has killed nearly no one on an American carrier since 9/11. We've gone years (2009-2018) with zero deaths on major commercial carriers, while passengers and flights have expanded a thousand-fold and more over early years.

Yet, exactly as I've told hundreds to thousands of nursing students, my license or anyone else's only guarantees that on any given day, there's an 80% chance the holder won't kill someone outright through egregious stupidity or ignorance. That's all it demonstrates, and all it's meant to. The guy who graduated last in his medical school class is still called "doctor".

But the obvious psychopaths, sociopaths, idiots, and absolute morons are almost entirely weeded out. That's what specialization gets you. 

That leaves only entertainment, journalism, the practice of law, and work in government to absorb those folks, and of those, only lawyers have to jump through any hoops. For the rest, most interviews are done on kneepads or couches, which explains most of what rises to the top in those fields.

In short, we're not forcing the right occupations to jump through the right hoops.

If every entertainer, journalist, and government worker (including politicians) was required to do, say, 4 years' honorable service in an armed branch of the military (thus excluding most of the Air Farce and Notional Guard - sorry guys) and get at least a 75% Fresh rating from their peers in every unit they ever served in to be qualified, think back and see how many of the current crop of douchenozzles in those trades would instead be frothing lattes at Starbuck's, or shovelling sh*t for the local septic company, instead of picking your pockets and shilling for open communism 24/7/365.

Everyone should, indeed, not just do many things, but do them as well as the professionals, to the extent such is possible, but everyone should be a specialist at something far exceeding their general abilities. That's where the money is, that's where society advances by leaps and bounds, and that's where we are most fully ourselves. You don't have to be as good as the experts in everything, but there damned sure ought to be something you can point to, that puts you in the upper ranks, even among peers.

To not be that, is to be a mediocrity among humans, which not only ought to be criminal, it's exactly what most criminals are, and where they rank.

Don't be a mediocrity among men.

Specialization is for everyone.

FIFY, Heinlein.

23 comments:

Terrapod said...

Heh! Thanks for that bit. Also thanks to Annapolis, I can indeed check off a fair amount of the Heinlein list. Methinks he was just projecting his life experience with author's embellishments (out the ass, indeed). Found that while I can conn (steer) an 18,000 ton ship, I was at the time, not good at global navigation (waaay pre GPS) and eventually did not enter the service.

Michael said...

Aesop I respect your thoughts but a point of clarification please.

Given a Certification is *supposed* to mean you have professional level of training (Yeah RIGHT in Cis Gender studies eh?) a few points in defense of ole Heinlein.

First I respect that you agree WITH Heinlein that honorable military service should be a requirement to vote or hold office. No sweat equity in our country No Vote, no Public Office.

That said about Specialists kicking ass on Generalists. George Washington's farmer-tradesmen-part-time soldiers did pretty good against the MOST Professional Army in the known world. Some would argue a bit better once Lafayette came in to establish military level discipline. The Russian Peasant-draftee soldier did pretty good against the most successful and professional Wehrmacht. Our own US Soldiers were blessed to meet up with the shattered remains during D-Day. Ask Napoleon about invading Russia eh? Those barely trained Russian peasants are nasty folks.

The VC and the Afghans seem to have GREAT Success bleeding the treasury and lives of the Professional Armies' that SHOULD have Kicked their Asses.

I never underestimate that old man on the porch who may LACK Certifications of any sort given they were a farmer (the ultimate Generalist) or worked MANY Jobs with out formal training in their lives. That stubborn old cuss MIGHT just Die to get you Killed.



Nick Flandrey said...

Reading the Little House on the Prairie books with my kids over the last year, I was struck by how much Pa knew, and how much he could do by himself. Roughly, the books are set in the late 1800s, and everyone on the frontier was expected to do about the same things as Pa. Sure, he specialized in carpentry, and trapping, and he was a piss poor farmer, but the range of stuff he could do well enough to keep his family alive and contribute to his community was astounding. Frontiers tend to select for competence over time, so it is logical that anyone spending any serious time in a frontier area would be competent.

Heinlein was probably broadly influenced by that generation of men, and also wrote about frontier environments, so it's natural that his characters and mindset would reflect that.

There is also the meme (for lack of a better word, and used in it's true sense) common in Science Fiction of the time of the "competent man." LOTS of stories feature an "ordinary" man with an extraordinary range of knowledge and ability, doing 'what needs to be done'.

So I take his quote less literally, to mean that one should try a bunch of things across the whole spectrum of human endeavors, have a broad and general competence, and have a bias toward action and doing.

I'm still working on that list...

n

(and I know you know the difference between placing an order and giving an order...)

Mark said...

Certification is a good thing, provided those doing the certifying are doing so based upon actual useful skills required by the profession in question. Otherwise the cert isn't worth the paper it's printed on, and may even have made the paper worth less because the ink would stain your butt if you tried to use it for TP.

There was a time when a High School diploma was a valuable credential, it meant you could read and write English fluently, you could handle math up thru algebra, maybe some geometry or trig, you had a working knowledge of Newtonian physics, chemistry, and biology (maybe some geology or astronomy as well), and you could get by in at least one foreign language. Plus boys took wood, metal and/or auto shop, girls took sewing, cooking and/or home economics. Plus typing. In short, that diploma was all you needed to be a productive member of society, you could work in an office, or doing skilled labor like carpentry, auto repair, drafting, etc. Or you had the fundamentals to continue your education and become a doctor, lawyer, nurse, engineer, etc.

What percentage of college freshmen now require remedial math or English, just to get them to the point where they can handle their basic course-work? How many people hold BS or BA degrees who STILL can't add two plus two and reliably come up with a sum less than seven?


Mark D

Weetabix said...

Jeez, but you take things literally.

I'm pretty sure Heinlein meant a person should not be only a specialist.

Mulholland Schmulholland. If we're picking siphon heroes, I'll take Daniel Bernoulli. But the Egyptians had them, too.

And I used to enjoy hunting birds along the Davidson Ditch near Fairbanks. Not in the siphons, though. And I think they came slightly after Mulholland's work.

Aesop said...

@Michael,

If you think mercenaries fighting occasionally, and shooting splatter-gun Brown Bess smoothbores in mass formations per supposed "rules" against frontiersmen shooting rifled German squirrel rifles and fighting against wild animals and savage Indians every day of their lives makes the Hessians the more professional army, I cannot help you.

If you think any soldiers fighting ill-prepared against the most brutal winter on the planet had anything to do with the Russian Army's abilities, I cannot help you.

If you think the industrial might of America versus the postage-stamp cottage industry of Germany was professional versus amateur, rather than Goliath vs. David, I cannot help you.

If you think the "professional" US Army in Afghanistan, when the average US soldier has 2 years in uniform, and the average Afghani tribesman has been fighting someone literally every day of his adult life since ever, going back to Alexander the Great, I cannot help you.

I pray you, frame the equation correctly before you work the dials to achieve a sum.

John's point, like yours, that certification does not necessarily equal competence is always well-taken. Any gifted amateur may surpass even a well-certified and properly-trained expert. Those are exceptions that prove the rule.
Now square it up, and put any 10,000 amateurs against 10,000 certified and degreed professionals, and tell me which town you want to live in, and built by whom.
Say, New York, London, Paris, or Rome versus the capitols of Trashcanistan or Shitholia.
Turd World construction has to be seen to be believed.

And a certified Gender Studies Whatchamacallit is absolutely the professional jackass, charlatan, simpleton, and fool one would expect such certification to imply, in 100% of cases.

@Nick,
Never did any military officer or NCO give an order with any less expectation of flawless obedience than did any customer at the drive up window, since ever, as anyone who's worked retail knows to their cost. The only advantage accruing to the military order is the ability to appropriately discipline failure to comply, on the spot, with draconian efficiancy and instant due process. The mechanism of ordering (hence the term) in each case is exactly the same, which was why I chose it.

Weet,
I'm taking Heinlein at his word. Your point and mine, that no one should only be a specialist, is absolutely true.
But Robert A. didn't say that. (Would that he had done so.)

He said quite plainly that specialization was for forms of life at the level of ants and bees.
He was wrong about insects (who don't really specialize as he implied), and he was wrong about people, and what's more, he said both knowing he was full of it.

And I say that liking the guy and his works. He was talking out his literary hindquarters when he wrote that bit, and going way out over a chasm to make the point. But it sounds good, doesn't it? (It takes one - who may occasionally do the same methodology - to know one. ;) ).

Grey Fox said...

"If you think mercenaries fighting occasionally, and shooting splatter-gun Brown Bess smoothbores in mass formations per supposed "rules" against frontiersmen shooting rifled German squirrel rifles and fighting against wild animals and savage Indians every day of their lives makes the Hessians the more professional army, I cannot help you."

Good grief. Nothing of that description even remotely resembles the way the Revolutionary War was fought. Get ahold of a copy of Matthew Spring's [i]With Zeal and Bayonets Only," to start with.
https://www.amazon.com/Zeal-Bayonets-Only-1775-1783-Commanders/dp/0806141522

Re rifles: Very few rifles in the Continental Army after 1778 or so, BTW - few professional officers in the Continental Army had much regard for them. Most of those eagle -eyed frontiersmen armed with rifles after that point were generalist farmers acting as militia, particularly down south where arguable the decisive campaign was fought in 1780-1. The British interestingly, also issued rifles, not just the much ballyhooed Ferguson breechloader (which actually saw very little service) but also the Pattern 1776 Rifle (in much greater numbers). Also the Hessians had their Jaeger Corp armed with rifles, who were quite effective throughout the entirety of the war. See DeWitt Bailey's work on English Flintlock Military Rifles if you are curious.
Muskets were preferred over rifles for line infantry because they were the best tool for the job, period. Much faster rate of fire, better reliability in sustained fire, and lack of accuracy didn't mean much when visibility was reduced to 20 yards or so by powder smoke.


As for the notion that only military guys should be allowed to vote or hold civil office, I'll refrain from comment except to observe that we tried something very much like that back in the Middle Ages. You might also want to read up on the controversy surrounding the formation of the US Army in the 1790s - As shocking as it may sound, the Founding Fathers weren't quite as enthusiastic about the military as are a lot of modern Conservatives. If you have access to JSTOR Lawrence Crest's "Republican Liberty and National Security: American Military Policy as an Ideological Problem, 1783 to 1789," is a good place to start.

5stonegames said...

Its telling R.A.H. didn't have kids. If you are extremely smart and have nothing else going on like raising children maybe you could learn to a decent job at all of those things and specialize in one , Heinlein's specialty being writing.

Otherwise you have kids, you have time for work, family and if very lucky a hobby. That's it.

John said...

I love it.
And, there are very few words I'd disagree with in the entire post. Von Mises (he of the incredibly heavy tome "Human Action") wrote about just this in the book I just mentioned. He noted that you could, if you really wanted to, break a rock with another rock. You could get gravel that way.

Ugh, Grug make gravel.

But it's horribly slow. You could, if you had patience, get a hammer. But, first, someone had to make the hammer, which involved mining ore, smelting, and then casting or forging the head and mating this with a wooden handle. Plus, you could use the hammer to smash avocados and make whack-a-mole.

A hammer is much better than hitting a rock with another rock, but it’s more indirect. Even better is to wait until a chemical industry forms, wait for dynamite, use that hammer and a drill to pop a hole in the rock, drop in some dynamite, and make lots of little rocks, all at once. Von Mises successfully showed that indirect methods are much more efficient than direct methods. They do require specialization.

And I have no disagreement that this is, (by far!) the more efficient way to do it in a stable society. That stability has waxed and waned throughout history, indeed, throughout many careers. Why did the journalists hate it when their “learn to code” mantra gets thrown back in their faces when they were booted to the curb? Because journalists are rich kids who weren’t smart enough to get into law school.

I have had (sort of) a Swiss Army Career™. I’ve developed a particular set of skills (not the Liam Neeson ones) that have allowed me to do a lot of different things, but I’m only an expert in one or two. But that suite of “pretty good” skills has allowed me to, like a Swiss Army knife, be incredibly useful from time to time. Had I limited them to a single expertise, I would have been less valuable, and much less employable. As I look at the success level of many of my colleagues, it has been due to their variation in skills, rather than their expertise in a single skill that led them to success – and some of them are wildly successful.

Steve Martin can do several things at a world-class level, (including comedy, and acting), and is really good at musicianship and writing and sort of okay at singing. Together, this blend elevated him to a national treasure. (And no, I’m not comparing me to him, just using him as an inspirational example) If Martin had stayed as a standup, odds are that, as fashions change, he would have been a “Remember that guy with the arrow through his head in the 1970s? He was funny,” trivia answer. He would have been the Gary Mule Deer of his generation.

Certification? In a highly technical world, it is (sadly) essential to keep people alive in certain professions (and in certain responsibility levels). But Mulholland’s error can be found again and again, even with credentialed professionals – re: Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which was designed by the best and the brightest. Stuff happens when you push the envelope of what we can do. Part of the reasons that people don’t die on commercial airlines (very much) anymore is because we’ve discovered most of the ways that the airplanes can fall out of the skies. Because airplanes fell out of the skies.

I’ll admit that, off of RAH’s list, I haven’t conned a ship, I haven’t set a bone, and I haven’t yet died. I do think I could plan an invasion as well as Churchill did at Gallipoli. Probably better. I have done most of the others if you replace “hog” with “deer”.

Yes, that exact list? Okay, it’s not my list. But I’ll bet that you (and most people who end up here) have multiple talents on a comparable list. You can do lots of things that Bob never could have done – heck, I bet your list is better.

This is *now* my longest reply ever, and it might get longer next Wednesday as I expand upon it.

See, you’ve inspired me!

Always the best,
-JW

Aesop said...

@Grey Fox,

1) One doesn't get to cherry-pick the R.W. to "after 1778". Nice try.
2) Re: "Professional" officers in the Continental Army. See Gen. Washington's frequent and blistering commentary regarding same. [cf. "unicorns"] By 1783, some bare few had achieved functional competence. To say any more would be to claim overmuch.
3) Yes, random blasting was preferred for traditional infantry. So, how did the C.A. trying to be "traditional infantry" work out for them, in general?
Washington's mission wasn't to win. It was to not lose. Exactly like Lee 70 years later, when he tried to win outright, he got his ass handed to him by superior forces with copious supplies, more often than not.
Sun Tzu: Know yourself, know the enemy, know the ground.
The first rule of being a professional army is to fight your strengths and exploit the enemy's weaknesses, at times and places of your choosing.
The second is to secure a functionally limitless fount of supplies.
Washington eventually had the French (whom we bled dry, btw), so we won.
Lee had no one, so the South lost.
The NVA had Mao and communism in general; SVN had us, until they didn't.

Most - not all, but the key points - of the Revolution looked like Opening Day:
when the Continental army tried to stand toe to toe with British formations, it went about like Lexington Common; when they played to their own strengths instead, it went like everything from Concord Bridge to Boston.

Aesop said...

@JW,

Back at ya.

Best Wishes.

Georgiaboy61 said...

@ Michael

Your comments echo a theme seen frequently in military history, that of amateurs besting the professionals, or at least giving them a very hard time. It is doctrine, or once used to be anyway, that it took from seven to ten troops on the ground to neutralize/defeat one guerilla fighter or irregular. The U.S. Marine Corps learned that lesson during its "small wars" period circa 1900 to the start of the Second World War, which result went the Small Wars Manual of the Corps, published in 1940 - a work heavily-relied upon by modern COIN theorists when writing the Army/Marine Corps manual of COIN operations which came out a few years ago.

In the late 1800s, early 1900s alone, we and the British both learned expensive lessons about the potency of irregulars. The British were severely-tested by the Boers in South Africa at places like Spion Kop before finally besting them,and we learned some of the same lessons in the Spanish-American War in Cuba and in the Philippines, plus the subsequent Philippine Insurrection against the Moros, et al. for some years afterward.

The Germans suffered greatly at the hands of partisans, underground resistance movements, and other irregular forces during the Second World War,and had to divert an enormous amount of personnel and resources to "secure" areas heretofore thought to be under their control. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in the summer of 1943 embarrassed the Nazi State, and Hitler and his generals were forced to level the city to defeat the irregulars, many of whom were pitifully-armed and trained, but determined to resist at any cost.

As noted military theorist William Lind and others have noted, one of the trends we've seen over the last seventy-five years or so is the blurring/dissolution of the line between civilians and soldiers. This trend was greatly accelerated during the post-war era of anti-colonialism, decline/failure of empires, and the like.

Michael said...

Aesop I am reading todays Bayou Renaissance Man's blog entry about "Thugs rule the streets of Portland" and also know so far the streets of New Somalia in Minneapolis MN.

Are these the Specialists of the Left that are rampaging around their Permissive Environment and CALLING the Police to Protect them when trouble comes to THEM?

They seems very capable GIVEN their direct support from the Leftist government in cowing the Generalists in these areas.

I am eager to get your analysis of this blog posting from Peter.

You have no idea how many times I edited myself writing this, BUT reality is our freedom of speech is dead or at least Lawfare Material for your Kangaroo Court show trial. Ask the Jan 6th folks about that. We still have people in jail with out charges over the "insurrection" as the Feds try to get them to plea deal.

As I am not a specialist just a retired Army Medical sort I am very interested in how to deal with situations in the NON-Permissive Environment we seem to be trapped in my our Sockpuppet and his handlers.

Bear Claw Chris Lapp said...

Voting, as if it mattered. Heh

All are correct to a degree and incorrect to some degree. Brunel did not do what was said, the many people who worked where those accomplishments were achieved did, apparently he was a great leader. Bee's do specialize, some are workers, some are harvesters but only one in the house is queen.

Great write-ups and comments by all because they make us think about things and I thank all of you for that because I to am only a jack of all trades and master of none.

Buckeye Leatherneck said...

Got my USMC sheepskin in '84 as well. MCRD PI, Hotel Company, Platoon 3061...Semper Fi

T said...

Since I don't have your email, Aesop, I'll leave this right here. You may have already seen it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I48aCskFJ6U

This should be quality entertainment. I may need more beer & popcorn.


Termite

Opie Odd said...

I just wanted to say "thank you" for adding John Wilder to your blog roll about two years ago. It significantly increased my supply of free ice cream.

Opie Odd

Grey Fox said...

Part I
1) There were many companies of riflemen at the outbreak of the war, some of whom were actually good troops. Many were not. Morgan's rifle company was lost at Quebec in 1776, and a lot of the rest were lost at Long Island the same year. There were only two companies remaining (Col Edward Hand's and one other) during the Trenton-Princeton Campaign, IIRC. What remained by 1778 (about 500 men) were rolled together in 1778 into one corps under General Morgan and fought as part of his Light Infantry Corps at Saratoga. After Morgan's retirement they served in Sullivan's campaign against the Iroquois in 1779, after that I think they were returned to the main army and may have been integrated into other regiments and rearmed with muskets at that point, though I might be wrong - the book that would tell me most reliably is currently in storage.
That is why I picked 1778 - there was only one unit of riflemen in the Continental Army at that point. From at least that point onwards, most of the rifles used were in the hands of militia (of both sides) down South or along the frontier. The classic "rifle victory," King's Mountain in 1780, was a complete militia victory against a foe comprised mostly of Loyalist militia backed up by a couple hundred Loyalist regulars (60th Royal Americans, who were probably as experienced as the British regulars at that point).

2) "Mad" Anthony Wayne's antipathy towards riflemen is well known, and he was far from incompetent. Look him up if you are not familiar with him.

3) "Random blasting" worked very, very well, actually. Unsupported riflemen were vulnerable to bayonet and cavalry charges - see the inability of Morgan's skirmish line at the Cowpens to stop Tarleton's cavalry from driving them back into the safety of the militia line, despite being armed with rifles and outnumbering the Loyalist dragoons 120 to 50. Muskets had the firepower necessary to stop charges and break up enemy formations - they were the assault rifles of the day.

18th century soldiers did not just stroll up to each other and start blasting away.The British actually advanced in a jog once they got within 150 yeards or so. The nature of black powder is such that guns, rifled or smoothbore, foul fast and become unreliable with sustained firing, so timing that first, most effective volley for maximum effect was crucial. That is why you sometimes see instances of troops advancing into enemy fire without firing until quite close, such as in front of Quebec in 1759 - in such cases the commanders had judged that the casualties ensued in the advance were of less import than the effect of that first volley on the enemy. Beyond that the age-old principles of trying outflank or break through the enemy formations in order to destroy his ability and/or will to fight applied just as much as it does today.

The rifle worked best when used as a supporting weapon or in skirmishing/irregular warfare. Even along the frontier, though, you find experienced riflemen choosing a smoothbore for social occasions, such Kasper Mansker prowling the woods for Indians around 1780 with his old British musket and Daniel Boone at Blue Licks with a long-barrelled shotgun loaded with six or eight rifle balls and sixteen or eighteen buckshot (Must have been hard on the shoulder!). I love the Kentucky rifle with a great love - I was just at the Kentucky Rifle Association show last week - but it was a hunting and homesteading weapon, not a battlefield rifle.

3a) (Just to put this one to rest - It is true that the British manuals did not include the word "aim." The command was "level," and they referred to target practice (which they did actually do) "levelling at a mark.")

Grey Fox said...

Part II
4) More specifically, Washington's job was to keep his army together as a threat to keep the British Army from dispersing to suppress the population at large, while the patriot militia did the work of suppressing the Loyalist population and discouraging them from aiding the British Army, as well as hampering British communications and foraging. The role of the militia has been largely overlooked, partly because most of the military history in this country has historically been written by military historians who have an institutional interest in downplaying the role of the militia, and because big heroic battles play better with the general population than accounts of the militia hassling "unreliables." David Hackett Fischer's "Washington's Crossing" has a nice account of how some of this worked prior to the Battle of Trenton, and "True for the Cause of Liberty" by the Gilberts (husband and wife team) is a nice unit history of the 2nd Company of the Spartanburg SC militia that gives a pretty good idea of how the militia fit into the overall course of the Southern Campaign.

5) The Continental Army (the minutemen were not Continentals, but militia) never fought at you describe, and they lost battles constantly until they grew competent enough to meet the British toe to toe on equal terms, using the same tactics. The Battle of Monmouth is pretty well recognized as the point at which the Continental Army finally achieved parity with the British. You will notice that this actually supports your argument for specialization much better than your claim of guys with squirrel guns hiding behind trees, so I'm not sure why you are resisting it.

As you might have guessed, I specialize in military history. :P

Reltney McFee said...

General comment: Aesop, thank you for eliciting thoughtful argument. I, perhaps, learn as much from (some) comments, as from your posts.

Unknown said...

I appreciate you breaking this quote down, because I have always rather hated. Yes, it's good to have as many useful and usable skills as you can, but even in Colonial America, as soon as anything resembling a village or small town popped up, not everyone had to know how to deliver a baby. The midwife helped with that, and while the neighbors might help the matter was the midwife's.

I don't know. You fisked it pretty good. I note in Wilder's article that he either forgot or just doesn't know that in her own account of her life Laura Ignalls Wilder had to be certified to be a teacher. Specialization seems to have been around forever like people have always been able to recognize when another person was good at something (even if they didn't want to admit it.)

~Rhea

John said...

Rhea,
Yup. Saw the certificate at the back of one of the Little House books.

Interestingly (or not!) prior to 1898, only three states operated state systems of certification where the state set all the rules and issued all the certificates. Teacher certification was a pretty loose thing.

The Overgrown Hobbit said...

Second Mrs. Rhea's comment on the fisking of Heinlein's claim.

I think the reason it resonates is what Mr. Aesop kept reiterating during the risk: "...that doesn't need a certificate." There really are things that ought to be part of one's inheritance from the previous generation.

Take changing a diaper. I used to (before the PTB shut me down) train about 20 - 30 local girls (and some boys) age 11+ to get their "Babysitting certificate" which included diaper ing to standard, cloth and plastic. A good thing, yes...But I how learned from my mom.

Why is it "obviously stupid" to need a certificate for some things but not others? I do not have an answer, but two thoughts:

We stand on the shoulders of giants. What should certification be but the written version of the word from those who went before? "This is up to standard."

There might be some happy medium of both special- and generalization. Martin Luther is claimed to have said that mankind is like a drunk on a donkey. He thinks the solution to falling off the left side is to get back on and fall off the right.

Again +++ for the takedown of that egregious quotation. Mr. Aesop's salty style is well-suited to the job!

Back to the Wilder Post!