Category Archives: Book and Film Reviews

Empties back in pocket in gunfight? Urban Legend?

Bill Jordan, US Border Patrol, circa 1965.

Bill Jordan, US Border Patrol, circa 1965.

This is one of those stories that will never die, because every instructor (us, too, they said sheepishly) has found it useful as a way to hammer home the importance of training as you will fight. (We’ll quibble with some parts of that on another day: for instance, nobody should do 100% of range fires with hemmet and bodammoor, and any military unit that requires that is commanded by Simple Jack). Here’s the story, as recounted by one of our mo’ entertaining commenters:

But at a certain point, too much bad practice will get you killed.
There were always field reports of cops back in the day trained to shoot on square ranges, found dead after a gunfight as they were trying to put their ejected brass in their pockets, just like the penny-pinching departments had drilled into them at the range year after year.

It’s such a great story, that everybody who doesn’t know where it came from thinks it’s an urban legend. Massad Ayoob thought it came from cop talk about the Newhall Incident (multiple CHP killed in the 1970s). In this link Caleb mentions self-promoting assclown Dave Grossman, who is an Old Faithful of bad information, and Caleb, being a smart guy, discounts Grossman’s typically unsourced bullshit. Then, though, he paraphrases Mas citing Bill Jordan as a possible source of what he calls “anecdotal evidence from 2nd and 3rd hand parties”.

In his Handgunner article, Ayoob mentions that former Border Patrol officer Bill Jordan wrote in the 1960s of officers finding spent brass in their pockets after a gunfight with no recollection of picking it up. Unfortunately, that information is anecdotal at best, and as we’ve seen with the Newhall incident, anecdotal evidence from 2nd and 3rd hand parties isn’t reliable.

Apparently Caleb hasn’t checked the reference, which is easy enough to do. Jordan does indeed include the story in his book, No Second Place Winner, but it’s not, as Caleb seems to think, an apocryphal story. Jordan names a name and refers to a single, specific incident. So for Urban Legend hunters everywhere, here’s your chance to bag that trophy. I give you, Bill Jordan, US Border Patrol, circa 1965. We have added some paragraph breaks to introduce some desperately needed white space:

A question often asked of themselves by young officers is, “How will I comport myself in the face of fire? Will I stand up or will I break?” On the surface this would appear to be a question which can be answered only if it becomes an actuality. As a matter of fact the answer can be given with very little chance of error. Almost invariably a man, provided he does not have too much time to think, will automatically do what he has been trained to do. Again provided that his training has been thorough and intensive.

An example in support of this statement comes to my mind: A few years back a Border Patrol team became involved in a discussion with some contrabandistas in which they were considerably embarrassed by one of the smugglers holed up in some brush about 200 yards away. His presence unduly complicated the proceedings in that he was armed with a .30-30 rifle with which he was enthusiastically underscoring points in the argument made by the main group of his compatriots. The Border Patrolmen were armed only with .38 Special revolvers which put them at somewhat of a disadvantage under the circumstances. However, two of the three men applied themselves to the task of routing the nearby enemy while the senior officer, Sam McKone, took up the question of the rifleman in the brush.

They tell of a western epitaph which reads, “Here lies Tom Jones. Committed suicide by betting his pistol against a rifle at 200 yards.” This could be a normal result of such a contest, but Sam McKone is not one of the Jones boys. Among his other marksmanship awards is a gold medal declaring him to be a Distinguished Pistol Shot.

Additionally, being shot at was not a matter to distress Sam unduly, since it was not exactly a novel occurrence in his life. To make a long story short, by applying a little Kentucky windage and an educated trigger squeeze, Sam scored three hits which made the rifle shooter lose all interest in the fate of his companions and start thinking solely of his own welfare, here and hereafter.

What has all this to do with the statement that a man will do unconsciously as he was trained, provided the training was thorough and extensive? Well, after the fight someone noted that McKone’s pocket was bulging and politely inquired as to what might be spoiling the drape of his trousers. Puzzled, Sam thrust in an exploring hand. The pocket was full of fired cases. During the fight, without realizing he was doing so, McKone, an old reloader, had saved every empty!

And there you have it — the probable ur-instance of the story of the guy who saved his brass in a gunfight. And no, he didn’t wind up dead. Jordan’s book was a huge success for a shooting book, and generations of shooters have read it, and, as you can see by the excerpt, it’s entertaining to read. A lot of his ideas on revolvers and leather have fallen obsolete in the last 50 years, but a great deal of good info is in there, and it’s one of the classic books of pistol shooting.

You can find it online here, and download it in .epub (iBooks), .mobi (Kindle), or scanned, OCR’d .pdf file and a handful of other formats. The scan is of the 1977 printing of the 1965 original. It’s a very worthwhile book, even back in the seventies when we bought it for the first time.

Incidentally, in the Massad Ayoob article referenced by Caleb in the quote above, he references a “forthcoming book” on the Newhall murders by Mike Wood, which did indeed come forth, in 2013. The book is called Newhall Shooting – A Tactical Analysis: Survival Lessons from One of Law Enforcement’s Deadliest Shootings, and despite the cringe-inducing “tactical” in the title, it’s a fantastic book — and germane to this discussion.

On pages 56 and 57 of that book there is an extensive footnote about the facts of Officer Pence’s brass (which he ejected onto the ground, it was not in his pocket) and some informed speculation about how the brass-in-pocket story got started: at the same time as many Newhall-driven changes in training, CHP also changed training to eject empties onto the ground, not to save them. Here’s a tiny excerpt of a very long footnote:

In the wake of Newhall, the CHP made an intensive study of training practices and made many corrections to ensure that bad habits that would jeopardize officer safety on the street were not taught during training. One of these corrections was a requirement to eject brass onto the ground during training and to clean it up later, rather than eject it neatly into the hand and drop it into a can or a bucket, as has been the practice before. It is believed that instructors and cadets of the era may have mistakenly believed that this change in policy was due to a specific error made by Officer Pence during the fight. The myth began, and it was innocently perpetuated throughout generations of officers in the CHP and allied agencies.

Wood’s book, like Jordan’s, is outstanding, but we can’t give you a link to a free one — you’ll have to buy it like we did.

The Court of Last Resort

the court of last resortBefore that was an Innocence Project, long before, there was The Court of Last Resort. Erroneous and false convictions have always been anathema to lovers of justice, and one of those justice lovers was a man named Erle Stanley Gardner, a man who had two highly successful careers.

If you remember the name Erle Stanley Gardner today (a lot of people remember him erroneously as Earl), it’s probably because of his second career: as a writer of legal and detective dramas. He was a hugely prolific writer, turning in 66,000 words a week, ever since he began writing for pulp magazines for 1¢ a word. (Later, his stories would run in the solidly respectable Saturday Evening Post, and he’d be paid much better). His best-remembered legal dramas featured his most famous creation, crusading defense attorney Perry Mason, who invariably got the real murderer to confess on the stand, setting his innocent client free. Gardner’s first career was as a defense attorney, so there might have been some wish fulfillment in his writing.

Even people who have never read a word of Gardner’s writing know Perry Mason, from the black-and-white TV series of that name, featuring Raymond Burr in the title role, that ran for a decade, 1957-66, and closely followed the Gardner/Mason formula. Impossible defense case, innocent client, courtroom confession, roll credits. Gardner was credited and paid as creator of the series; we don’t know how much writing he did.

(The show was successful to the end; it only ended because Burr was tired of playing Perry Mason, and the next season he was back as a detective in a wheelchair in a series named Ironside, also a long-running hit, this time in color).

But what has all this to do with The Court of Last Resort? Patience. We’re getting there. Before we return to Gardner, and Mason, we will say that in law, the Court of Last Resort is the highest authority on a given case. It is where you appeal to just before you’re all out of appeals. For a criminal defendant, it’s the last legal hope before “toothbrush day” (or before, in Gardner’s era, having your execution scheduled). Hold that thought while we discuss Mason some more.

We haven’t read the whole canon, but doubt that Perry Mason ever had a guilty client, unlike, well, every other defense attorney there ever was. Gardner had been one of these attorneys, one of the old-school guys who learned as an apprentice to a lawyer, and never attended a day of law school. He had seen guilty men walk and innocent men clapped in irons, and as a true son of the Constitution, the latter case bothered him far more than the former. But for most of his life, he could do nothing about it. It was only when his writing, originally done simply to supplement the uneven pay of a trial lawyer, made him wealthy and famous that he could do something about it. Let’s let his bio at IMDB take the story from here [brackets denote our edits]:

As a lawyer, Gardner became the bane of the legal establishment when he helped co-founding The Case Review Committee (colloquially known as the Court of Last Resort), a professional association of concerned lawyers who sought to investigate and reopen cases wherein a person might have been wrongly convicted [of a] serious crime. Beside Gardner, other founders included LeMoyne Snyder, a physician and lawyer who write well-regarded homicide investigation text books; Dr. Leonorde Keeler, a pioneer and authority in the use of the polygraph in criminal proceedings; former American Academy of Scientific Investigators President Alex Gregory (another polygraph expert who replaced Dr. Keeler after his death) [and] renowned handwriting expert Clark Sellers; and former Walla Walla Penitentiary warden Tom Smith. The Mystery Writers of America bestowed its prestigious Fact Crime Edgar Award on Gardner in 1952, for his non-fiction book The Court of Last Resort (1957), which detailed one of the Court’s first investigations.

That anachronism is in the IMDB bio. Our copy is a paperback version, dated 1954. Along with the book, The Court of Last Resort generated a short-lived TV show, sort of a reality show before reality shows were cool. The show began with a reenactment of the crime at issue.

The most prominent case the Court was involved with was the murder conviction of Dr. Samuel Sheppard, who staunchly proclaimed his innocence of the murder of his wife. The Sheppard case provided the basis for the fictional The Fugitive (1963) TV show.) During the initial phases of the Sheppard appeal, Gardner polygraphed members of the Sheppard family. He had hoped if the results were favorable, he would then administer the lie detector test to Sam Sheppard himself. However, when Sheppard family members were tested, the polygraph results indicated guilty knowledge. Consequently Gardner declined to test Sam Sheppard, and the Court of Last Resort withdrew from the case, even though Gardner believed in Sheppard’s innocence. Sheppard was later freed by a Supreme Court decision that held that Sheppard had not gotten a fair trial due to pre-trial publicity that tainted the juror pool. The Supreme Court case was won by F. Lee Bailey, who also won acquittal for Sheppard during the subsequent retrial. Polygraph tests have never been allowed into evidence in a U.S. court due to their unreliability. Gardner ended his active membership in the Court of Last Resort in 1960. The Court – which conducted preliminary investigations of at least 8,000 cases — eventually disbanded.

Some time ago we came across a copy of a possibly never-read paperback of The Court of Last Resort. Its covers were stiff and is pages brown and brittle, but we had to read it. It is striking just how closely the efforts of the Court of Last Resort in the early 1950s parallels the efforts of the Innocence Project and other civil rights efforts today.

So that was Gardner, then: a California liberal who never wanted to jail anybody, and who probably blamed the guns? No, that wasn’t Gardner. He was as keen on seeing the guilty punished as he was on seeing the innocent exonerated. And far from blaming guns, he was an enthusiastic sportsman himself, and an early activist against nascent anti-gun efforts of the 1950s and 60s.

The Law that LeakedOne example of this activism was a short story, The Law that Leaked, that ran in the outdoor magazine Sports Afield in three consecutive issues beginning in September, 1950. Almost as long ago (2007), Random Nuclear Strikes (what a name for a blog!) scanned the appropriate pages of Sports Afield and made it available to 21st century outdoorsmen. RNS has an introduction to the series, and a post that collects links to all the posts. The story is a good one — imagine a slightly more believable Red Dawn, thirty-plus years ahead of time. (In fact, if you do read the story, you’ll wonder if it wasn’t in the back of John Milius’s mind).

It’s amazing to think that 64 years ago, Erle Stanley Gardner was fighting the malevolent forces of registration and confiscation, and 64 years later we’re still fighting a new generation of the bastards. (Note that the Dave Kopel post on his recommended ten 2nd Amendment books has been nuked from, but you can find it in .pdf facsimile of its America’s 1st Freedom print version on Dave’s website).

Erle Stanley Gardner became rich and successful and admired — and he was a college dropout. He shaped a generation’s view of the law, and he never spent an hour in a law-school class. He shaped many an American’s view of the courts and the law, and generally in a positive way.

Finally, Gardner thought that civil rights were important — all civil rights. We know this not because of what he said, but because of what he did. He’s been gone now for decades, but deserves to be remembered — and for more than just Perry Mason.

American Sniper Trailer

Video first. Then, impressions.

Visually, Bradley Cooper — yeah, that’s Bradley Cooper — does a pretty amazing Chris Kyle. He also manages to radiate Chris’s good-guy decency in the scene. It looks like Clint Eastwood has directed another very intense film, perhaps as intense as Letters from Iwo Jima. But we’re a little troubled by the cut between the here-and-now of combat and memories of home. It’s a Hollywood device to suggest the warrior’s stress, but it’s overdone: our military puts a lot of effort into ensuring that the guys in combat will focus in combat.

You’ll have plenty of downtime to second-guess yourself, and have flashbacks of Herself and the Posterity, later.

On the gripping hand, however, it’s a rare sniper movie that shows the overwatch, observational, and intelligence-gathering aspects of the sniper’s job. The real sniper team is not Murder Incorporated; it’s the commander’s very best set of eyes and ears forward.

That happens to be pretty handy when some individual needs killin’, true enough.

We don’t suppose that Hollywood will ever get everything right, but we’re pathetically grateful as a neglected puppy when they get something right.

Fox News had an interview with the mom of Kyle’s good friend, Marc Lee, whose death is depicted in the movie. Debbie Lee say’s Marc’s last letter home will have a place in the movie.

[W]hat I do over here is only a small percent of what keeps our country great. I think the truth to our greatness is each other. Purity, morals and kindness, passed down to each generation through example. So to all my family and friends, do me a favor and pass on the kindness, the love, the precious gift of human life to each other so that when your children come into contact with a great conflict that we are now faced with here in Iraq, that they are people of humanity, of pure motives, of compassion.

We mentioned Kyle’s fundamental decency; that whole letter is a window into Lee’s. Small wonder that the two of them were friends. What a pity that they both have been taken from us. And what a challenge it is, to take their place. As the poem of a century ago said:

To you, from failing hands, we pass
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
Should you break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, although we lie
In Flanders Fields.


“Book” Link: the Rhodesian African Rifles

Most of the writing about the Rhodesian Army concentrates on three specific units: the Rhodesian Light Infantry, the SAS, and the Selous Scouts. One of the most effective regiments in the Rhodesian army was the Rhodesian African Rifles, a unit in which other ranks were all black natives, and which led, or tried to, anyway, in developing black African officers. The RLI was a white unit, as was the SAS; the Scouts were a mixed-race unit, like the RAR.

Commander and sergeants major of the RAR (identified by name in the book).

Commander and sergeants major of the RAR (identified by name in the book).

All of these units, and the overall strategy and tactics of the Rhodesian UDI government, were significantly more effective than a simple comparison of available forces would suggest. Why was that?

While the other three units participated in the high-profile cross-border operations, the RAR most we operated inside the country. There were reasons for this, and they come out in the volume we’re currently reading, thanks to DTIC. It also answers some of the questions about why the Rhodesians were so effective, and most interesting of all, it suggests why the RAR was effective, even though its officers and men were came from three different, and sometimes politically opposed, ethnic groups: white Englishmen, black Ndebele (relatives of the Zulus) and black Shona (the ethnic majority in Rhodesia and today’s Zimbabwe).

The Rhodesian African Rifles: The Growth and Adaptation of a Multicultural Regiment through the Rhodesian Bush War, 1965-1980 is actually a thesis, written by MAJ Michael P. Stewart as a Command and General Staff College graduation requirement, and it’s over 160 pages of deep dive into RAR history and sociology. Stewart notes the cultural differences between the RAR’s battalions, as well as the cultural “secret sauce” that made the unit not only one of Rhodesia’s most effective, but the only one the Zimbabwe government could count on when faced with a coup threat by the Matabele minority ZAPU party and its well-armed ZIPRA wing in the first year of majority rule. The abstract tells you what Stewart thought that “secret sauce” is: regimental tradition and spirit:

The Rhodesian African Rifles overcame profoundly divisive racial and tribal differences among its members because a transcendent “regimental culture” superseded the disparate cultures of its individual soldiers and officers. The RAR’s culture grew around the traditions of the British regimental system, after which the RAR was patterned. The soldiers of the RAR, regardless of racial or tribal background, identified themselves first as soldiers and members of the regiment, before their individual race and tribe. Regimental history and traditions, as well as shared hardships on deployments and training were mechanisms that forced officers and soldiers to see past differences. The RAR is remarkable because these bonds stayed true through to the end of the war, through incredible pressure on black Rhodesians to succumb to the black nationalist groups and cast off a government that was portrayed to them as oppressive, racist and hateful. Through the end of the Bush War, 1965-1980, RAR soldiers remained loyal and steadfast to their regiment, and that must be their legacy. In the end, the values of the government were irrelevant. It was the regiment that drew these men in, and their loyalty was more to their comrades and their heritage than to any particular government or cause.

While Stewart depends heavily on previously published works, and on Rhodesian historian Dr JRT (Richard) Wood, he also conducted 30-odd interviews with former RAR officers and warrant officers. He came away with a great admiration for them and their “worthy and noble regiment.”

As early as World War II, the RAR distinguished itself, against the Japanese in Burma. Stewart quotes an excerpt from Japanese officer’s diary, initially published in Christopher Owen’s 1970 The Rhodesian African Rifles.

[t]he enemy soldiers are not from Britain, but are from Africa. Because of their beliefs they are not afraid to die, so, even if their comrades have fallen, they keep on advancing as if nothing had happened. They have excellent physique and are very brave, so fighting against these soldiers is somewhat troublesome.

When officers of the Imperial Japanese Army take note of your fearlessness, you’ve arrived.

The unit heritage, history, culture and traditions provided something to unify everyone; the badge combined Ndebele and Shona symbology, but the basic trust was man-to-man and mutual leader-subordinate respect.

There were also informal traditions, one of the most amusing being the African soldiers’ secret nicknames for their white officers:

African soldiers had a name for every officer in the regiment. It was a sign of acceptance for a white officer to be given a name by his soldiers, from Lt Col F.J. Wane (named Msoro-we-gomo, or “the top of the mountain”), who served with the Rhodesia Native Regiment in World War I and then rebuilt the RAR in 1940, to a young subaltern (named “Mr. Vice” after his father’s position in the Rhodesian Air Force), or Captain (later Brigadier in the Australian Army) John Essex-Clark (named Mopane, after the tall, slender hardwood found in the Rhodesian bush). The names were not always particularly flattering or exalting, but the existence of a nickname demonstrated acceptance of an officer among the ranks of his soldiers, and were shared with the officers only occasionally by the NCOs of his platoon.

The best traditions, in our experience, are organic and spontaneous. The naming of officers is a perfect example.

There was also a uniquely RAR adaptation on the TO&E, the Platoon Warrant Officer, in effect a platoon-level sergeant major — something a bit grander than the American platoon sergeant, and a bit more dedicated to the propagation of unit culture.

He knew, taught, and exemplified the history and values of the regiment. Without exception, every former officer interviewed spoke with special respect and reverence for this class of leaders in the regiment.

Coming in to this multitribal, multiracial environment, the successful officer was the one who best learnt his men’s language and culture, and who led by example.

RAR troops with FALs and MAG-58.

RAR troops with FALs and MAG-58.

Finally, Stewart notes that the lessons of the RAR, the African soldiers who fought like lions against African nationalism, are exactly on point to those, native and foreign, trying to build multicultural armies today, in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere.

The Rhodesian African Rifles: The Growth and Adaptation of a Multicultural Regiment through the Rhodesian Bush War, 1965-1980 is not the last word on the RAR — Stewart admits it’s too dependent on the views of former officers, and the enlisted men’s viewpoint is largely missing and left to a future researcher. But it’s an excellent work that you ought to enjoy reading, if the Rhodesian bush war interests you, or if you might be charged with unifying disparate groups under a single command.

You can download the .pdf or read it online from DTIC, and if DTIC reorganizes their files again and breaks that link, you can pull a copy from Rhodesian African Rifles – a556553.pdf

Saturday Matinee 2014 037: Lilyhammer (2012-14, TV)

Lillyhammer S1We’re hesitant to review a TV show that’s still running, as a positive review from this site has been the kiss of death before. Still, we’re not Judas on a mission… more like Hardy expressing his great regard for the dying Admiral. So we will send a kiss the way of Lilyhammer, the consequences be damned.

Lilyhammer is a Netflix production for which two seasons are available online; the first is also available on DVD in the USA. It stars musician and actor Steven Van Zandt as “Frankie the Fixer,” a New York mobster placed in the Witness Protection Program, and, at his own request, in the city he calls “Lilyhammer,” which he took a shine to while watching the Winter Olympics in 1994: Lillehammer, Norway. The constant theme of the show is old-school conservative mobster Frankie, in his new identity as half-Norwegian, half-Sicilian-American Giovanni “Johnny” Hendricksen, clashing with the liberal, touchy-feely culture of modern Norway.

For anyone, it should be fun. For an old Norway hand like all us 11th Group remnants (the group was disbanded 20 years ago last month, which we were remiss in not mentioning. The human sacrifice was part of a Clinton-era jihad against SOF, tucked inside that perennial Washington sacramental rite, defense budget cuts), well, for us it’s must-see TV. It’s the biggest hit ever in Norway, where it’s produced; Van Zandt shares writing duties with Norwegian creatives, and the beautiful winter scenery of Lillehammer and environs is practically a character in the show.

LillyhammerIf you’re a mobster trying to scare people, a nearby Olympic city with all the winter-sports installations has its charms. Being taken for a ride is bad enough, but “a ride” on the luge track is a whole new level of intimidation.

In Norway, things are a little different across the board, but enough like the USA that a visit to Norway — especially an extended visit, or a period as an expatriate — trips Yanks into a cognitive Uncanny Valley. Scandinavia had a huge impact on the USA, on the structure of towns across the country, on accents and culture in a region. The fabled upper-midwest civic engagement we know today as “Wisconsin (or Minnesota) nice” has its roots in Scandinavia (many of the emigrants from Sweden and Norway alike carried Swedish passports, as the two nations did not separate until 1905. Naturally, they did it bloodlessly and amicably — very Scandinavian). In any event, the producers of the show are keenly aware of this Uncanny Valley effect and they manage to inflict it both on the characters (for the USA is as foreign-but-familiar to the Norwegian characters as Lillehammer is to Americans) and the audience.

As Johnny applies Mob Way techniques to solve Norwegian problems (waitlisted at kindergarten!), trouble in the form of brutal British mobsters, his old compatriots from La Cosa Nostra, or incorruptible cops, continues to find him.

Acting and Production

Van Zandt took a risk in this show of being typecast as a mobster, after his star turn as Silvio Dante, Tony Soprano’s right-hand consigliere. Another Soprano alumnus, Tony Sirico, shows up in Season 2, playing Frankie/Johnny’s brother the priest. But the real strength of the show is in its Norwegian cast, playing characters who range from a homey police chief turned crime novelist, to two hard-of-thinking brothers, to a dirty old welfare bureaucrat.

This illustrates some of the ensemble cast -- and the fondness for visual quotes, here from McHale's Navy.

This illustrates some of the ensemble cast — and the fondness for visual quotes, here from McHale’s Navy.

The producers and directors have a lot of fun with the show, and no doubt we miss some of the snarky little quotes they insert from classic films. In Season 2, for example, we’ve seen The Godfather crop up, and a hilarious homage to Saving Private Ryan. These scenes aren’t wedged it — they advance the plot, but they’re also the crew’s way of having a little fun, and inviting the audience into an in-joke with them.

Since much of the dialogue is in Nynorsk, you’re going to need the subtitles.

Accuracy and Weapons

The film is art, not current events, and weapons are a sideline to the characters and story. There are only a few howlers. (For example, in one Season 2 episode, “Johnny” is teaching his infants to shoot a revolver… when a Norwegian friend appears shocked, he says not to worry, the safety’s on. Er, yeah. What’s next, a suppressed Model 29?

British and American criminals are shown having no qualms about violating Norwegian gun laws. At one point early in the first season, Johnny shows how he has smuggled a revolver into the country. (Pro tip: that will not work in real life. You will wind up in Norwegian prison, which, on the upside, is not all that bad).

The bottom line

Key characters include Johnny Henriksen and Torgeir Roar.

Key characters include Johnny Henriksen and Torgeir Roar.

Lillehammer is good TV — maybe great TV. Van Zandt would be entertaining doing almost anything on screen, but he’s ably supported by a brilliant cast of mostly Norwegian players. Wry fun is poked at both the ignorance of a typically insular American — at one point, Johnny describes a lefty Norwegian character as “redder than a baboon’s ass,” and on learning he studied in Prague, says it’s no wonder he got that way, hanging out in Russia with the commies. (What he says on being informed that Prague is not in Russia is even funnier). But there are also plentiful jokes made at the expense of Norwegian immigration do-gooders and integration-resistant immigrants, hard-of-thinking criminals, and bumbling cops.

For an interview with Van Zandt about the show, see this link at Rolling Stone. They’re hopeless when they write about national security or international affairs these days, but pop culture for the boomer generation is their sweet spot.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • DVD page:

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page: ikke (none).
  • Rotten Tomatoes review page: none.
  • Wikipedia  page:

Today Only: Tales from the Teamhouse Volume III, Free Download

tales from the teamhouse IIIForget whether this one has a Hognose story or two in it, think they’re in earlier ones. That means this one’s probably better. These were collected back in the 1990s and published under the auspices of the late Ben “The Plunderer” Roberts, a Vietnam SF soldier turned real-estate entrepreneur.

These are a series of books of stories and reminisces of SF soldiers from the 1950s to today. Normally they’re available in paperback, but the Kindle format is new. A great many of the original authors are now no longer with us, including SGM Reg Manning, CSM Rudy Cooper (a three-war vet), and many others.

Today only, Kindle download of Volume III is free at this link. (As long as the price shows as $0.00, click the “Buy Now” button).

Tales from the Teamhouse Volume II is also available on Kindle, but they cost actual money. Some grifter thinks he’s going to get $350 for the paperback of Volume II… good luck with that. Volume I is only available in hard copy at the moment.

There’s always some rumors about a Volume IV. For that to happen, I think Old Mountain Press (run by Tom Davis, a Navy and Army SF vet) needs to see that Volumes I-III have a following.

Two Adventure Novels by Old Favorites

At a bookstore recently, we scarfed up a few novels to use as intellectual breaks from work and time-killers, not that time-killing is really a thing around here. Two of them are of interest because they’re from authors we’ve been reading for 40 years, and who are still writing. Having finished the books, we found them both flawed, but we liked one much more than the other, and found they had some things in common.

The authors are Wilbur Smith, whom we came to like for his great stories of Africa, his own native ground; and Frederick Forsyth, who grabbed us by the stacking swivel with the same novel that put his name on the map, The Day of the Jackal, back in the 1970s. 

The Vicious Circle. Wilbur Smith

smith_vicious_circleIn the Smith entry, Vicious Circle, his protagonist, the head of a small, professional Private Military Corporation staffed largely by fellow SAS vets must deal with an attack that has personal as well as global implications, and is thrust into a situation where men are not what they seem, at first. The plot is complicated and intricate; Smith has not lost his knack for pacing or for exotic locations, and his action scenes are stirring and cinematic.

Where the book failed was in characterization. The good characters are so good, so decent, so loyal that they make an e-type silhouette look deep and complex. And they are deep and complex, compared to the villains, who are so bad, so evil and so corrupt that they seem to have been crossed with crocodiles, simply bringing higher human logic to the primitive violence of the saurian eating machines.

The paper thin characters meant that, when Smith dangled a character who was not what he seemed, Helen Keller would have seen the tells before Smith could spring his reveal. So instead of, “Holy crap! That guy was really a good man, not a terrorist!” you are more likely to think, “About time, I saw this coming two chapters ago.”

And the violence was so graphically described that it passed beyond realism into some kind of sadistic prurience. In our view, it is enough to know that Character X was the subject of a brutal homosexual gang-rape. We do not need to know the injury by injury, thrust by thrust details of the crime. If some bestial form of death is visited upon an innocent character (and it surely is), we do not see the narrative advanced by page after page of gruesome detail. Then, the characters’ reactions to this violence are not always realistic. (The rape victim establishes a permanent relationship with his principal rapist. Sure, that happens all the time, right?)

While the story is set in the world of today, and the villains initially appear to be some of the usual bad guys, there’s a predictable TV Movie twist, and the true villain turns out to be — a corporate guy, corrupted by the blood of the Nazi that flows in his veins.  This is less a spoiler than Smith evidently thought it would be, thanks to his never using a hint of foreshadowing when a billboard with lights and motion is potentially at hand.

If you want to read Smith at his best, we’re going to have to send you to his back list. Look for copyright dates pre-1990 for his very best stuff.

The Kill List. Frederick Forsyth.

forsyth_kill_listThe Kill List is, likewise, a story that could be next week’s headlines. A mysterious propagandist has been making videos, inciting young Mohammedans to leaderless, isolated acts of terrorism. In Britain, the USA, and elsewhere, previously unnoticed singletons are whacking second-, third-, and fourth-tier political and national-security figures, inspired to acts of suicidal martyrdom. The only things that tie the disparate cases together are fundamentalist Islam, and video incitement.

The List of the title is not kept by the terrorists. They do not have to hit specific targets, they can do what they want to do — destabilize their enemies, and perhaps provoke overreaction — by hitting any targets. No, the List is the list prepared and approved by the American President.

The book explores some serious concepts, like the limits of droning identified leaders, both as national policy and CT operational art. But it does that in the context of a cracking good adventure yarn.

Forsyth’s characters, including his terrorists, are more complete constructs than those of many novelists. They do things for reasons; they have internally-consistent or at least -reconcilable belief systems. They’re not, most of them, superhuman in abilities, talents or perfection.

A true test of a novelist’s art is the reader’s emotional state as the book draws to a close. In the last 100 pages, are you looking forward to what comes next? Or are you dreading the last page, the one that tells you your time with these characters is at an end? We were relatively sorry to see Forsyth’s characters off. This may not be his greatest book, but after Vicious Circle we were asking only to be entertained by one of our own favorites, and bedamned if we weren’t.

One Problem with Both Books

Both books do a poor job of describing firearms and their operation, and contain small and grating errors. Nobody’s errors rise to the level of “he screwed his silencer onto the revolver” or “gripping the grenade pin in his teeth” or “he recognized the assassin’s gun instantly as a .380 Bulgarian Magnum.” But they get close, and for a gun guy, it’s jarring.

There are a lot of other small errors. A small Forsyth explanatory paragraph deftly describes the Lockheed C-130 Hercules with poetic economy:

The most frills-free airliner cannot compare with the rear of a C-130. No soundproofing, no heating, no pressurization and certainly no beverage service. The tracker knew it would never get quieter, but it would become savagely cold as the air thinned. Nor is the rear leakproof. Despite the oxygen-delivering mask on his face, the place was by now redolent with the odors of kerosene and oil.

In fact, the cargo compartment of the C-130 is pressurized, and has been since the first one flew in 1955. Forsyth actually missed a trick here: he is describing a HALO insertion, but one of the most remarkable details of such an operation is that the plane is pressurized until shortly before reaching the drop zone. As the plane bears down on the release point, the jumpers breathe oxygen from an onboard console and the plane is depressurized and the tailgate opened. The jumpers switch to bailout bottles and test their oxygen rigs as part of their prejump checks. As soon as the jumpers are clear (unless there is reason to monitor them from the tailgate), the gate is closed and the plane repressurized. Getting this right would have kept Forsyth from wasting the talent and effort he clearly applied to that small excerpt above, at least with knowledgable readers.

In another gaffe, a real-life figure, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is described as being “from the Jordanian village of Zarqa.” Zarqa is actually Jordan’s second city, the historical home of the Arab Legion. It’s a few miles from Amman and has a population of some half-million souls. Some village!

These kinds of small errors are only distracting, of course, if you know they’re errors. Most of you probably haven’t been to Zarqa this year, unlike us. And there are fewer of them in The Kill List than there are in Vicious Circle; we just happened to use examples from The Kill List because that’s the book nearest at hand when writing the review.

New in the Library: Gun Design & Construction Tomes

This one turned out to be redundant.

This one turned out to be redundant.

The Weaponsman end of the Unconventional Warfare Operational Research Library has a few new volumes today. The problem with today’s Amazon dump is that finding the time to read these books will be problematical, especially as two of them are full of sheet music, and require that the problems be worked to really get the benefit of the book.

The first, though, turned out to be a reprint of an old Clyde Baker revision of Col. Townshend Whelen’s Amateur Gunsmithing. This version is called Modern Gunsmithing: A Manual of Firearms Design, Construction and Remodeling for Amateurs and Professionals and it dates from 1928. Most of it appears to be Baker’s work, with three or so chapters from Whelen on the art of barrel making; but despite the subtitle, there is hardly any information on firearms design. The sole exception appears to be Whelen’s thoughts on practical barrel design, and we already had an older hardcover of this book, with more illustrations, than this one.

Armament EngineeringThe second two books are by a Canadian engineering professor, H Peter. The Peter books are collegiate textbooks, which use as examples the conceptual design and engineering substantiation of artillery pieces and tank main armament, but they can be adapted to smaller-calibre guns. They are Armament Engineering: a Computer Aided Approach (2003) and Mechanical Engineering: Principles of Armament Design (2004), both are published on-demand by Trafford and available at Amazon. They show how to apply modern engineering methods using common software like Matlab and even Excel. Principles of Armament Design even includes a CD of Peter’s programs.

While the latter books are indeed aimed at someone who’s going to be designing guns with bores measured in multiple inches, there’s a ton of practical mechanical engineering methods that will educate and perhaps entertain the wannabe rifle designer as well. For the non-technical reader who is interested in concepts and history, rather than the very statics and mechanics of arms, these books probably get too deep too fast, and don’t include enough explanatory text.

Here’s an example: these are the headings of the first chapter of Principles of Armament Design, which is called “Design of Gun Barrels”:

1. General Considerations for Gun Barrel Design

Calibre-Wise Classification of Gun Barrels

Effect of Barrel Wear on Accuracy of Guns

Major Influences in The Design of Gun Barrels

Safety Factor in Barrel Design

Stress Effect of Recoil Forces on Gun Barrels

Vibrations of Gun Barrels

Heating of Gun Barrels

Bending of Gun Barrels

Cook Off

1.2 Theories of Failure of Gun Barrel Materials

Basis for Failure Theories

Theories of Failure Associated with Gun Barrel Materials

The Maximum Shear Stress or Tresca Theory.

The Maximum Distortion Energy or Huber-Von Mises-Hencky Theory

Two-Dimensional Stress Case

1.3 Conventions Used in Gun Barrel Design

Gun Pressure Codes

Computed Maximum Pressure (CMP)

Rated Maximum Pressure (CMP)

Permissible Individual Maximum Pressure (PIMP)

Allowable Stress

Elastic Strength Pressure (EST)

Safety Factor (SF)

Allowance for Eccentricity

Droop, Attachments and Manufacturing Influences on Gun Barrel Wall Thickness

A big honkin' gun on the cover... that was a good start.

A big honkin’ gun on the cover… that was a good start.

The remainder of the chapter walks a student through the design of a monobloc large caliber gun barrel (Peter defines “large caliber” or “heavy armament” as >30mm, with smaller caliber weapons going into a “small arms and cannon” bin). All of Peter’s design examples are for large caliber weapons and their equipment, such as recoil-management apparatus, and mechanical and powered elevating and traversing gear.

One important note for readers and students worldwide is that Peter uses exclusively international units (the metric system). The French Revolution might have failed at everything else, but they did introduce a lasting system of weights and measures.

The computing demands are not too exotic, and the math is college-freshman math. The computer here is a helper at doing the mathematics, and no fancy engineering computation (such as finite-element analysis) comes into play.

If math makes your hair hurt, and you don’t have any ambitions to design anything, you might still learn a good bit about artillery design and construction today from Professor Peter. But these books probably aren’t the best choice for that reader.

PS. A Non-Weapons Entry in the UWORL

We also have a new book, Bright Light, by Steve Perry, another New England SF vet (although he grew up in California). Steve served in MAC-V SOG at FOB 1 and was a relative rarity, a recon-running medic. Bright Light, which gets its name from the code name of personnel recovery missions in the Vietnam War, is Steve’s memoir of his SF and SOG service. You can learn more about Bright Light and Steve, and buy the book, here. (We bought the book and the e-book. We believe in supporting SF authors. Like us, they joined a minority group).

Errors in Firearms Materials are Nothing New

Recently, the gang at Small Arms of the World posted a World War II vintage German language weapons manual (subscription required) that focused mostly on German service submachine guns.1 The manual was developed by a retired officer, Colonel Schmitt. Col. Schmitt was a prolific author of small arms and military manuals (of the sort that might be popular with earnest young soldiers, and youth looking forward to military service). He was also the editor of a range of war maps. His materials appeared though the publishing house of R. Eisenschmidt, located on Mittelstraße 18 in Berlin NW7.

At first we thought so the introductory material would be useful in an ongoing research project on early submachineguns. Even though this is not a primary source on early SMG’s, it’s an earlier secondary source than many of the documents we’ve been working with. So we thought it might be authoritative. Indeed, it starts off making sense, and it’s chock full of interesting material; but there are enough errors to give us considerable pause. Let’s start with the sensible bit (our translation):

General Information for all MPs Found in Units

The MP is a weapon that is particularly suited for close combat.

Due to the weapon’s stability in automatic fire, a tight grouping of bursts of fire is enabled. Small targets can be engaged with good success at distances to 100 meters, and larger targets up to 200 m. Beyond 200 m distance, ammunition expenditure is unlikely to meet with success.

The low number of cartridges that can be carried by troopers, and the heavy ammunition demand in the front line, constrain the employment of the MP to snap missions at short distance and to close combat.

This is good, interesting information. But can we trust it, about the MPs that were carried in the first world war? Certainly, we want to trust it; Colonel Schmitt must surely know what he’s talking about, mustn’t he?

Very soon, we come upon information that turns out to be less than trustworthy, on the same page of this same document:

The following models are currently employed:

  • MP 18I (System Bergmann)
  • MP 28II (System Schmeisser),
  • MP Erma (System Vollmer),
  • MP 38 (smooth receiver),
  • MP 40 (receiver with flutes), and
  • MP 34 (with mounted bayonet M.95).

The MPs only fire the pistol cartridge 08 (cal. 9 mm) except the MP 34 which to date only fires the Steyr cartridge (9mm). 2

(The unusual use of superscript Roman numerals in the MP 18 and MP 28 designators is like that in Schmitt’s original).

Now, the world of early German MPs is grey enough that we can let the distinction between “System Bergmann” and “System Schmeisser” slide. (As we understand it, Schmeisser was the primary designer of both, and the magazine housings were generally marked with “Schmeissers Patent” for the double-column, single-feed magazine, but the guns were made by Bergmann).

But notice, that the good Colonel has the MP.38 and MP.40 exactly backwards. While there were many other changes between the 38 and 40, and additional running changes in production (like the two-part “safety” bolt-handle, sometimes called an MP.40 feature but actually introduced as a running change in the MP.38), one of the key improvements in the MP.40 was the lack of fluting, which allowed more rapid, less costly manufacture.

It wasn’t just a single error, for if you skip ahead to where Schmitt treats the MP.38 and .40 (as a single section of his book, which makes perfect sense given the guns’ near-identical nature)3, he makes the same error:


The footnote (with asterisk) refers to a reference to the receiver, higher on the page, and reads, “On the MP.38, the receiver is smooth; on the MP.40 it is provided with flutes.”

We assume that Colonel Schmitt was truly an expert, and that he took good care with his manuals, which he knew would be bought and read by Wehrmacht troopers and those soon to be Wehrmacht men. But here’s an example of a mistake he made on a simple thing. It reinforces the importance or critical reading of sources, even of period sources (and even primary sources).

It’s also important to weigh the expertise of a source with the left and right limits of his knowledge… his expertise’s “range fan,” if you will. Combat soldiers may have their heads full of mistaken ideas about the development and manufacture of their weapons, and design engineers, contract managers, and hands-on manufacturing workers may be in the dark about how their products are employed in the field.

And everybody’s human, and makes mistakes. Nicht wahr, Oberst Schmitt?

This is one place where 21st Century scholarship has an edge. If poor old Schmitt made an error, by the time he heard about it R. Eisenschmidt could have printed 20,000 copies of the booklet with the error. If a blogger makes an error, he’s called out on it in the comments forthwith (don’t ask us how we know this).


1. Schmitt, Colonel. Maschinenpistolen 18I/28II/Erma/38/40/34; Leucht-Pistole, 2er Auflage: Beschreibung und Zusammenwirken der Teile, Beseitigung von hemmungine; Ausinandernehmen und Zusammensetzen; Schulschießübung. Leuchtpistole mit Munition.  (English: Submachine guns MP 18-I, MP28-II, Erma, MP 38, 40, and 34; Flare guns; 2nd Edition: Description ). Berlin, R. Eisenschmidt: 1940. Retrieved from Small Arms of the World archive (subscription required):

2. Schmitt, op. cit., p. 5.

3. Schmitt, op. cit., p. 23. 

Saturday Matinee 2014 032: Inchon (1982)

Olivier InchonInchon is one of those movies like Ishtar, Heaven’s Gate, or Waterworld. Many more people have heard of how dreadful it is than have actually seen it. We haven’t ever seen Heaven’s Gate or Ishtar, but when we finally got around to seeing Waterworld, we discovered that its reputation hid a pretty decent B actioner, poisoned by too large a budget and too much hype. (We’ve argued before that constraints, like tight budgets or rigid formats, often have a salutary effect on artists). Inchon was a war movie about one of the most dramatic reversals in all of military history: a battle that was full of interesting characters, remarkable events, and human striving in its most elemental. Surely someone could make a great movie out of that. Furthermore, no review of Inchon fails to note that its impresario was Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church; we wondered if maybe there was a little bias happening there. (We certainly see that in reviewers’ treatment of Tom Cruise. Cruise is a very, very competent actor, but reviewers seem to hate him for his unusual religion; could a similar bias have influenced Inchon reviews?)  So we exposed our fair glazzies to the entire duration of the thing — the original, 2 hour 20 minute long extravaganza.

And… to put it gently… Inchon has got issues. It’s fiercely didactic, diverges enough from reality that it begins with a weasel-worded disclaimer, and the cast, competent enough Korean pros and Hollywood “names,” do the best they can trying to make a leaden script float. It is bad, and it compounds the bad by being long. 

nork_blazes_away_with_a_sten_inchonA fortune was spent on this movie, but unfortunately for Rev. Moon’s aspiration to creat an epic, it was not spent wisely. You can see some of the decisions in the initial scenes of the 1950 NK invasion of the South, where an endless budget for extras in faux Nork uniforms is offset by the Norks’ arrival astride M48 tanks, and the cruelty of their machine-gunning of civilians is undercut by their choice of murder weapon: the Mark II Sten.

You’ll note that this exemplar of Kim Jong Il’s finest isn’t using the sights. He’s not the only one to open fire, unaided by any attempt to aim. There’s rather a lot of it going around in this film — and it wasn’t all in front of the camera.

Acting and Production

Some of the actors are clearly approaching career twilight. That’s true of Laurence Olivier, but he does an intermittently decent job as Macarthur, given the abominable script he’s stuck with. But it’s even more true of David Janssen, playing a cliché of a reporter. “You never miss a chance to bash him, do you?” another reporter asks Janssen’s character. “Of course not, I’m a journalist!” is the reply.  This stomp-three-times Hollywood foreshadowing tells you that (1) Janssen’s bark is worse than his bite, and (2) by the closing credits he’ll be a True Believer in the cult of Macarthur. We refuse to call this a “spoiler”; if you don’t see it coming, you’re watching the Braille Version. (The Janssen subplot doesn’t fully close, perhaps because he was inconsiderate enough to croak during filming).

Even the special effects are pathetic. An attempt to do the old “big-blast-and-launch-a-stuntman” effect, about twenty minutes in, runs afoul of the shoals of timing: the blast has dissipated before the stuntman hits the trampoline. Look, every production shoots a few takes like that, but they aren’t supposed to make it into the final cut. For some inexplicable reason, that one did. It was not alone.

Gazzara, Roundtree, and a rare period-correct vehicle, passing ROK extras with what looks like dummy Springfield 03A3s.

Gazzara, Roundtree, and a rare period-correct vehicle, passing ROK extras with what appear to be dummy Springfield 03A3s. The movie’s armorer seems to have been called to provide, “Guns, any old guns.”

The events of history are tied together by the lives of two couples, who are separated from one another for most of the movie: the first is a Marine officer (Ben Gazzara) whom Macarthur trusts enough to make him his eyes on the ground, and the wife (Jacqueline Bisset) that Gazzara is planning to leave for his Korean girlfriend. The second is a young Korean engaged couple who wind up separated from each other, too, but each colocated with his or her American counterpart. Seventies tough guy Richard Roundtree is believable as Gazzara’s American sergeant; Toshiro Mifune is wedged into a part that seems to have been written to apply the actor to the story, rather than use the actor to advance the story; despite that, Mifune does well.

There are some scenes that are memorable. About 35 minutes in, a series of deftly drawn vignettes set around a bridge that’s necessary for the Norks, equally necessary for the refugees trapped among them, and that the ROK army is determined to blow, bring the terror of a retreat to life.

But for every scene like that, there’s a forlorn signpost to the greatness this movie fell short of. An example is the chaotic ambush of a Nork column by a Korean irregular force clad in civilian costume. There’s no visible leadership, organization, and planning, just berserker action (with, among other things, ZB-26 LMGs, and the omnipresent Stens).

A good score can add a lot to a film. Here, the composer didn’t.

Accuracy and Weapons

We’ve mentioned the wrong guns before. And the wrong tanks, and wrong uniforms, and wrong everything. The aircraft are wrong. A Jeep is hit and blows up, the same pyro shot is used from several angles, and the jeep is a 1960s M151. The Marines’ helmet covers are Vietnam era.

It’s cringeworthy to have an American officer look through binoculars at obvious M47 tanks and says, “T34s At least, that’s what Intelligence says.” Look, intelligence is (and then, was) far from perfect, but it sure has a better batting average than this film’s cast and crew.

Later, Norks guarding a lighthouse are clearly from a better-equipped regiment than the ones at the beginning — they have MP40s instead of Stens. Sheesh. And their QRF has Thompsons. The US and ROK small arms are mostly correct — M1 rifles and carbines, M1919A4s and M2s, M3 Grease Guns and M1 Thompsons. But their combat vehicles are almost all of the wrong period.

All parties on all sides seem completely averse to the use of sights on any weapon. Occasionally, one is raised to several inches below the sightline, but mostly they blaze away from the hip. Fortunately, this movie did not spread that bad technique widely — too few people saw it.

As Douglas Macarthur arrives in Korea in the summer of 1950, so great are his powers that a 1955 Chevrolet is waiting for him. He not only beat Tojo and Kim Il Sung, he can bend time!

And, after making the night landing a key dramatic hinge of the movie, there are no shots of night landing. Only of a 6:33 AM landing on the island of Wolmi-Do, a rare example of an event a six in the morning with the sun, judging from the shadows, straight overhead.

We’ve been brutally critical of CGI in the past, but bad Asian movie CGI would be a signal improvement here.

There is little to no attempt to make the sights and sounds of combat realistic. Explosions are always gasoline fireballs; sounds are right off Acme Effects Disk No. 9.

The bottom line

Inchon is an archetype of the dreadful movie made by intertwining improbable personal relationships with major world events. It can be done well (the classic example being Gone With The Wind), it can be spoofed to perfection (Forrest Gump, although the genius behind that was novelist Winston Groom), and it can be done a lot worse than this (Michael Bay’s unbearable Pearl Harbor). It actually hews fairly close to the path of real events. But in the end, this is one of those where we watched so that you don’t have to.

On the up side, there are plenty of explosions and gunfire. So if that’s all you’re looking for, you can get a good fix. And the conclusion is uplifting, as Moon (and Macarthur) presumably intended.

(The true story of the Inchon invasion including the measures taken to secure the harbor islands is far better, and more dramatic, than the movie. So is the true story of Douglas Macarthur, who remains a greater figure — and a greater engima — than any of the many movies portray him).

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • DVD page:

This movie is not available on DVD.

  • IMDB page:

  • IMFDB page:

It hasn’t got one of these, either.

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page:

Well… it outscored Jaws II. There is that.

  • Wikipedia  page: