Category Archives: Weapons Usage and Employment

Marathon Bombing Response Report: It’s Ugly

Other pressure cooker (and containing bag) remains of the bomb planted by Tamerlan Tsarnayev. FBI.

Pressure cooker (and containing bag) remains of the bomb planted by Tamerlan Tsarnayev. FBI.

There’s a reason they held this turkey until Friday night — it’s ugly.

The report also clarifies three things about the critical wounding of transit cop Richard “Dic” Donohue, Jr:

  1. Another cop did it;
  2. It’s a miracle he was the only cop wounded; and,
  3. They’re still trying to cover it up, and protect the cop who did it.

The Donohue shooting is probably the single most ate-up thing of the many wretched failures and blunders that took place during the bombing response. The uncontrolled mobbing, panicked lockdown, and contagious firing of the police response stands in stark contrast to the incredible job done on the medical side of things by a seamless combination of professional responders and citizen volunteers.

Indeed, it was a citizen who located the surviving suspect within a half hour of the time the cops gave up on their lockdown and dragnet-search, which found nothing but did delay the finding of the suspect and did impede the medical response by keeping staff away from the hospitals, and actually impeded the ambulance carrying their own guy to the hospital.

Here’s the summary:

A firefight ensued between the suspects and responding officers. As the shooting continued, additional officers arrived on scene from Watertown, BPD, MSP, Cambridge PD, and Transit PD. Over 200 rounds of ammunition were expended between the two sides.

The report talks about the shooting, but the suspects only had one gun and a few magazines. They did, however, have some homemade explosives, including “grenades” (which were mostly ineffective) and at least two more pressure-cooker bombs, which have to be taken seriously. For example, this was embedded in one of the cars on the scene:

watertown shootout bomb in car

Note that it not only tore through the door but it bent the much stronger structural-steel doorsill/rocker panel, typically one of the strongest components of a unibody. These two Up Brothers might seem like harmless buffoons, until you realize that by this point in time, they’ve shot a cop dead at point-blank range and that was after they killed three people with these bombs, and wounded 200-plus more, including 16 who suffered traumatic amputations.

The Tsarnaevs were violent criminals, terrorists, and they needed and deserved to go down hard. The police response wasn’t always helpful towards that end, and there are a lot of lessons that a cover-our-hiney approach will prevent from being learned.

In the course of the firefight, the first suspect was wounded. When he ran out of ammunition, he threw his gun and charged at a Watertown officer who subsequently wrestled him to the ground in the street. Meanwhile, the second suspect was able to enter the SUV and put the vehicle in gear. While fleeing the scene in the stolen vehicle, he struck the first suspect and dragged him a short distance with the vehicle, compounding his injuries.

tamerlan skidmark


Above: the scene. Below: Tamerlan, dead. He’s been rolled and searched by this point.

tamerlan dead again

As the second suspect fled the scene, a responding officer from the Transit PD was shot and critically wounded. The officer was transported to Mount Auburn Hospital, where medical professionals resuscitated him and performed life-saving surgery.

Did you notice that? Let us lay out the facts for you:

  1. The two sides of the firefight were the Tsarnaevs (with one black-market, defaced-serial-number Ruger pistol between them)… tamerlans ruger…and in the other corner, an uncoordinated swarm of cops from at least five agencies.
  2. The Tsarnaev with the gun (Speedbump, aka Tamerlan) shot his gun dry and threw it at the cops, and charged the cops. But the firefight, now one-sided, continued. Because the police were arrayed in a 360º Idiot Ambush around the suspects, they all perceived incoming and returned fire. Fortunately, they can’t shoot for $#!+.
  3. A Watertown cop tackled Tamerlan and took him down. But the one-sided, leaderless, uncontrolled “firefight” continued.
  4. Then brother Dzhokar (Flashbang) got in their jacked vehicle and took off… running over Speedbump and mortally injuring him. (Yes, he was killed by his and his brother’s incompetence, not the random, unaimed contagious fire of dozens of cops).
  5. As Flashbang exited, stage left (in Boston, all sides of the stage are left…), the police drumfire finally connected with someone — Dic Donohue, a Transit police officer. Note the passive voice: Donohue “was shot.” No wonder they’re all gun banners here, they never get the word about the people doing the shooting.

The deeper you drill down in the report, the worse it gets. It wasn’t a planned law enforcement response: it was lawless chaos, reminiscent of the Keystone ineptitude of the LAPD Chris Dorner response.

Take the swarms of cops in Watertown:

Thousands of law enforcement officers arrived in Watertown from across Massachusetts, other New England states, and New York. Many of these law enforcement officers did not come in re- sponse to a mutual aid request, but self-deployed to the area once it became widely known that one of the Marathon bombing suspects was at large in the town. These officers staged at the parking lot of the Arsenal Mall in Watertown; although officers received basic logistical support, including food, water, and toileting, few were provided oversight, situational awareness, or guidance. While most officers did not deploy into the field from the staging area on their own, there were a significant number of occasions when officers responded based on information or calls they heard on their radios, at times placing themselves and the officers with the authority to respond at risk.

Realizing that Donohue was critically wounded and exsanguinating, cops (CWCID) started treating him even before paramedics arrived (which was almost momentary). That part of the response went well… until they tried to transport him.

Officers on the scene tended to Officer Donohue to slow the bleeding with pressure and a tourniquet.

Many had already been en route from the Officer Collier murder scene in Cambridge.

At 12:51 a.m., Officer Donohue was loaded into the Watertown Fire ambulance for transport, but egress from the area was challenging given the numerous police vehicles parked in the vicinity and blocking street access. To circumvent the congestion made by the multitude of police vehicles and allow for the two paramedics to remain in the rear of the ambulance with the patient, a Watertown PD officer drove the ambulance to Mount Auburn Hospital, the nearest medical facility. Mount Auburn Hospital was approximately two miles away from the shooting scene, but did not have a trauma center. Nevertheless, the EMTs aiding Officer Donohue believed he would not survive a longer ride to a facility with a trauma center, and directed that he be brought to Mount Auburn. Officer Donohue had to be resuscitated upon arrival at the hospital, but the medical team at Mount Auburn was able to save his life.

That was a good and nervy call by the EMTs. A hospital that might not save him, now, was a better call than bringing his bloodless dead body to a better hospital that could have saved him if it wasn’t so far away. And more police CWCID, a cop took the wheel of the bolance so both EMTs could work on the patient. That probably broke elebbenty-twelve rules, and they ought to give that guy (and the EMTs) their shiniest medal.

The shooting of Donohue was only the first case of uncommanded, indisciplined, contagious fire. They did it again when they mistook other cops for the suspects, even though neither the cops nor the vehicle (a black full-size domestic pickup; the suspect vehicle was a small silver Mercedes SUV) bore any resemblance to the suspects. (Shades of Dorner, again). In this case the cops had, not quite a mad minute, but a number of mad seconds, and fortunately ceased fire before their eyes-wide-shut marksmanship could hit anybody.

An unmarked black MSP pickup truck is incorrectly reported as a stolen vehicle. The occupants of the pickup truck are a MSP Trooper and a BPD officer, both of whom are in plainclothes. As the vehicle drives down Adams Street in Watertown, a few blocks from the scene of the shootout, an officer on scene fired at the vehicle and its occupants. No one is injured.

But the random assemblage of random, ill-assorted, leaderless and unaccountable cops weren’t done. They collapsed into firearms incontinence again again, when they had the unarmed, wounded Flashbang (Dzhokar, nicknamed because he’d burned himself badly with one of his own IEDs) cornered in a boat.

Officers immediately responded to the home. The first officers on scene requested support from tactical teams and EOD units. A large number of law enforcement officers self-deployed to the scene after overhearing radio traffic about the location of the suspect. Within moments, more than 100 officers had gathered in front of and behind the home.

Note that the cops had eyes in the sky, and the eye in the sky had a thermal image of the wounded Flashbang:

dzhokar thermal boat


The boat was engaged from both sides and from dead ahead. However, Dzhokar wasn’t hit.

watertow boat damage

Several moments later, a responding officer fired his weapon without appropriate authority in response to perceived movement in the boat. Other officers then opened fire on the boat under the assumption the initial shot was fired at them by the suspect. Shooting continued for several seconds until a senior officer ordered a ceasefire.

After the MSP Airwing’s infrared camera confirmed that the suspect was alive, law enforcement officials made several attempts to coerce the suspect from the boat.

In both of the last two incidents the report seems to minimize the firing. Audio of the incidents doesn’t sound like one guy or a few guys firing.

One of the findings of the report is, not surprisingly, an absence of weapons discipline:

Weapons discipline was lacking by the multitude of law enforcement officers in the field during both the firefight with the two suspects near Dexter and Laurel Streets, and the standoff with the second suspect who was hiding in a winterized boat in a residential back yard. Although initial responding officers practiced appropriate weapons discipline while they were engaged in the firefight with the suspects, additional officers arriving on scene near the conclusion of the firefight fired weapons toward the vicinity of the suspects, without necessarily having identified and lined up their target or appropriately aimed their weapons. Officers lining both sides of the street also fired upon the second suspect as he fled the scene in a vehicle.

Note what the report said. Cops from both sides of the street shot at the vehicle as Flashbang ka-thump-a-thumped Speedbump and fled. That’s when poor Donohue got shot. But look at this false diagram which was submitted as evidence in the Flashbang trial — it suggests that cops were shooting at Tamerlan when they hit Donohue. Nonsense, they were just firing blindly in the vague direction of a car, and Tamerlan was already down for the long count. This diagram is a complete fraud, yet it was submitted as evidence and widely publicized — that’s how far they’re going to CYA whoever plugged Donohue. A politician’s nephew?



Shortly after the firefight, an unmarked MSP black pickup truck was erroneously reported as stolen. This vehicle, with two occupants in it, was then spotted driving on Adams Street, near the scene of the shootout, and fired upon by an officer. Upon further inspection, it was deter- mined that the occupants of the vehicle were a BPD officer and MSP trooper in plain clothes, both of whom were unhurt.

Weapons discipline was again an issue during the operation to capture the second suspect who was hiding in a boat parked in a residential backyard. An officer fired his weapon without appropriate authority in response to perceived movement in the boat, in turn causing many officers to fire at the boat in the belief that they were being shot at by the suspect. Each of these incidents created dangerous crossfire situations.

Massachusetts police training on firearms is so poor to be nonexistent, or even counterproductive. (Remember Framingham PD, which blew a non-suspect’s head off because they teach keep your finger on the trigger and your M4 off safe?) Mostly, they teach rookies to hate and fear firearms, so it’s not surprising that most of them fail to master them.

Fortunately, their combat marksmanship was even worse than their fire discipline, preventing from doing more than hundreds of thousands of dollars of property damage (which has gone unreimbursed: patch your own bullet holes, peasants) and crippling just one unlucky cop.

The biggest failing is that there are no lessons taken on board from this. Despite the occasional words of self-criticism, the report makes no attempt to identify the irresponsible cop who plugged Donohue, probably because the investigators didn’t really want to know. Overall, the report is saturated in smug self-satisfaction:

Overall, the response to the Boston Marathon bombings must be considered a great success.

You keep using that word….

The Instant that Ended a Police Career

In his entertaining narrative of the early US Space Program, The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe writes that, while The Right Stuff couldn’t be precisely defined, you knew who had it — and who lost it. “It could blow at any seam,” Wolfe wrote.

A career in the police or military is kind of like that. While some golden calves get more top cover from leadership than is good for the organization or the nation, for the average guy or gal, it approaches a zero-defects environment. One good screwup — the kind of thing that’s a Major Minus Spot Report in Ranger School, outside the school environment — and the effort you’ve put into your career to date is an irrecoverable sunk cost. This is the story of a patrolman whose single, understandable act of temper ended his and several other careers.

In the denouement of a case we discussed last year, a fired policeman who bounced a mouthy suspect off the wall a couple of times is sitting with a tough decision many who are not policemen face: take a plea and jail sentence, or risk a jury or bench trial and a longer sentence for something that you definitely did?

Nobody knows which way former Seabrook, NH officer Mark Richardson will decide, probably not even Richardson, at this point. It’s a true dilemma.

At first, Richardson got away with the Veteran’s Day, 2009, assault, but in 2014 the victim’s lawyer got hold of the police station surveillance video and the victim put it on YouTube. Reaction was swift: Richardson and an officer who pepper-sprayed the victim after he was down were fired by Chief Lee Bitomski, and two supervisors who falsified records to hide the assault rocketed back down to Patrolman. Here’s the video. Richardson is the big guy (he’s about 6’7″; the suspect weighs about 140 lb, IIRC, roughly half Richardson’s weight):

Anti-cop activists went wild with the video, making it a key scene in the refrain of a rap video, “This is what happens when you call the cops.” (Actually, what happens when you call the cops is that the cops come, which can be good or bad. At a minimum, it’s a good time to lock your poodle in the basement). Here’s that video, you’ll recognize the Seabrook footage when it comes up:

The court raised the stakes for Richardson by handing him the plea in the same session in which it passed sentence on another cop for an unrelated, and less violent, assault. That guy will spend a month in the jug and 11 more on an ankle bracelet, assuming good behavior.  The nine-month sentence Richardson has been offered is likely going to be served the same way, but he can’t know that before he makes his decision.

There’s scant sympathy here for the suspect/assault victim, a crumb who was spitting at cops, except for this: no one deserves to be beaten by police, and as a society you can’t let police get away with it. The officer was, at once, creative in using the wall as a weapon (remember, everything is a potential weapon if you let your imagination free), and tragically mistaken to lose his cool with a mouthy crumb of a suspect. Is that sphincter muscle worth losing a job over? Worth going to jail for?

We believe NH is the only state in the country that makes assault by police a specific crime. The legal theory is that it helps to hold Granite State police to a higher standard than mere citizens. The immediate fact is that it leaves Mr Richardson with a tough decision. But the dilemma was of his own making.

Shooting Went Well, We Joined the Range

plastic_targets_fig_fmIt’s an hour drive (hey, you Westerners, before you start telling us how far away your range is, remember we’re in New Hampster, where everything is in everything else’s pocket, and the map usually has a call-out for the NH line, like all the other snack-sized states in the Northeast.

Anyway, the range is Granite State in Hudson. We could tell it’s near the end of the month from the sheer quantity of Staties out harvesting speeders on Highway 101. We like it better than our old indoor ranges, Bob’s (which is in MA, and therefore a non-starter with NFA stuff) and Manchester FIring Line (a similar set-up to Granite State, which is new). We were previously members at Manchester but very seldom saddled up and went. We have bought a life membership in Granite State, so we hope to shoot more in future winters. We also belong to a local fish and game club that has outdoor ranges.

Still, we have to doff our cap to Manchester Firing Line for this note-perfect FAQ entry:

20. May I shoot two guns at the same time, like I see in movies?

No. The gun-handling that you typically see in movies is unrealistic and unsafe, and we do not allow it here.


And at the Firing Line, the owner’s impressive (really) Class 3 collection is on display.  But they can be standoffish sometimes. (Not always, mind; they can be great, too). Still, at Granite State, one of the staff, John, had a father who was in 10th Group when we were in that unit in the 1980s. Another staffer is a guy who hooked us up with some 416 mags when those were hard to find, years ago. And Granite State has the nice lounge where we can plan, brief, and later, debrief a shooting session. All in all, we liked Granite State better.

That’s the Where. But What did we shoot?

Our mission today was threefold, with a fourth “extra”:

  1. Do a little pistol shooting with the M9 (actually a commercial 92FS, but near as dammit to an M9);
  2. Check Kid’s first AR lower build for function (we attached it to a proven and zeroed 16″ upper with an M68 CCO on it);
  3. Check the M4 SBR (the Afghan build gun) for function and perhaps sight it in.
  4. Function check some Magpul PMags that had been sitting around in their wrappers for a couple of years.

Goal was to fire no more than 100 rounds of 9mm ball and 200 rounds of M193. (Granite State has a restriction on steel-penetrator rounds). We didn’t even fire all the 5.56. We shot till we were ready to move on and enjoyed the ride home.

Kid shot very well with the Beretta. (Why did we choose the Beretta, and not the CZ or the Glock? Spare mags. We knew the Beretta had its three factory mags in the case; and the other handgun mags are “God knows where.” We gotta get a Job Box or something like that for mag storage). In fact, he shot better than we did. And one of the range staff gave him some light coaching, and he shot better. (He’s the Ex’s kid, not ours. We wish he was ours — he’s that kind of young man).

The Beretta, though, put him through a number of malf drills. It has never jammed before but it is a relatively recent one with all the cheesy plastic and pot-metal MIM parts.

Conversely, both of the ARs ran like they’re supposed to. Zero malfunctions. Likewise, no squawks on the PMags. Kid enjoyed firing his own build. It wasn’t necessary to adjust the zero of the new Colt SBR; it seems to have been adjusted, if it needed to be, at the factory.

Bottom Line:

We had fun, we converted money into noise and small holes in paper, we learned what we went to learn, and did we mention we had plenty of fun?

How Far Will a Paper Go — to Make a Good Shoot Look Bad?

The answer was in yesterday’s Palm Beach Post, where a writer named Jorge Millan had to twist, wrestle, and even torture the story to give it The Narrative® spin that he, or his editors, wanted: that a self-defense shooting in Jensen Beach, FL, was a bad shoot. Millan’s helical reasoning is hidden behind the Post’s paywall, but we’ll gist it for you.

The slant begins with the headline. The online version is Woman: Veteran who shot boyfriend pulled trigger too soon,” but the tree-bark edition says, “Woman says veteran pulled trigger too soon.” Note that both versions are quick to frontload the Scary Veteran bit.

Millan’s sole source? A bum who lives underneath an overpass. Her boyfriend, another bum, was beating her when a third bum began to squabble with the boyfriend. They were all (by the female bum’s admission) royally drunk.

A citizen, Josh Anderson, who was fishing with his family, asked the bums to stop. Instead, one of them assaulted him. He warned them, drew his gun, warned them again, and when they pressed the assault fired two shots. This was all witnessed by multiple people. The bums have lengthy (if petty) criminal records, for property crimes, violent crimes, and drug crimes such as cooking meth in a hotel room.

But to learn this you have to follow the jump from the front page of the local section to deep in the middle of same (B5, to be precise), and then you see why the Sheriff and detectives working with State authorities were so quick to call it a good shoot.

Because Millan leads, and closes, his article with uncritically typed statements from a friend of the two perps who are suffering in hospital (from drug withdrawal as well as gunshot wounds, no doubt), who was actually a participant in the events, and whose story is contradicted by multiple independent witnesses, who all back up the shooter.

You can tease this out of his article, but only if you read the whole thing with a critical eye. If you just glance at it, which is probably more attention than one of this guy’s articles deserves, you get the pure, undiluted Palm Beach Post party line: crazed veteran hopped up on Stand Your Groundium popped two lovable drunks for no reason, except for pure bloodymindedness and the fact that they were attacking him, but let’s not dwell on that, shall we?

If you see a 550SL trolling around under the Jensen Beach causeway, it’s not the usual lawyer looking for relief from one of the women of easy virtue there: it’s a lawyer looking to find a woman of easy virtue and partner up on a lawsuit.

They’ll be assured of fawning press in the Palm Beach Post.

Land Mines vs. Booby Traps vs. IEDs.

Those three are the most hated, if not always the most feared, enemy weapons. Much as WWII bomber crews loathed flak more than fighters (their gunners could shoot back at fighters!) the unattended (or command-detonated) explosive device is more loathed than direct fire. Tom Kratman nailed this in his military science-fiction novel, A Desert Called Peace, which we’re still reading.

“I don’t even like the idea of land mines,” Parilla muttered.

“No one does,” Carrera agreed. “Not until you have a horde of screaming motherfuckers coming to kill you and all that stands between their bayonets and you is a belt of land mines.”

How Armies Use Mines

In military usage, mines, which may be emplaced by combat troops or by specialist engineers, are used as artificial obstacles to hinder or channelize enemy forces, or as ambush initiators. It is good practice to initiate an ambush with the greatest casualty-producing weapon, or greatest shock-producing weapon, available to you, and the authoritative WHAM! of a Claymore is an excellent way to send a message to the enemy, when that message is: “Die, die, die!”

Note to national policymakers: If that’s not the message you’re trying to send as a matter of national policy, you may have selected the wrong tool when you chose the military as messenger.

In a well-executed ambush, the Claymore blast is followed by overwhelming firepower and then, very rapidly, by a lift and shift of fires from the objective to the enemy’s potential escape routes, while troops assault across the objective to ensure the total destruction of the target element, and to gather any intelligence that can readily be gained from their still-warm bodies and shattered equipment.

Just because enemy units are armored, there’s no reason not to initiate your ambush with a command-detonated mine. The Claymore has long had anti-tank equivalents in off-route AT mines, essentially a remote-command-launched rocket that you aim in advance where you expect the enemy armor to be. We don’t know how far these go back, but the first one we used to use was based on the old 3.5″ rocket launcher (the Super Bazooka invented in WWII and used in Korea after the 2.36″ one proved useless on T-34s). The US also has a set of shaped charges and platter mines that have a limited standoff capability. Most American troops never see or train with these devices; for whatever reason, they’re not a training priority, but they’re in the inventory.

The main use of mines, despite that long digression about ambushes, is to fortify positions. A minefield of this type has very limited utility if not covered by friendly observation and fire at all times; otherwise, the enemy can simply blow or lift the mines, something that, like mine emplacement, can be done “retail” by combat troops or “wholesale” by engineers. For this reason, the Hollywood trope of the patrol caught in the minefield is actually a very rare occurrence off-screen. You do not actually find your patrol in a minefield on a nice sunny day with the leisure to probe for mines with a stick (and please, not a bayonet). You find your patrol in the middle of the mines, usually a night in the foulest weather imaginable, and under accurate enemy direct or indirect fire.

In addition to mines that can be placed by troops, minefields can be emplaced hastily by engineer equipment, including sophisticated mechanical minelayers that lay mines in a ditch or holes the machines themselves dig, and pods that can scatter mines from aircraft, usually helicopters or (these days) UAVs.

Minefields emplaced by civilized troops for defensive purposes are, by international convention, marked with recognized international symbols. This is part of why mine, booby-trap, and IED warfare by irregular forces is often hated by regulars; the irregulars do not comply with these rules and norms, and so are thought to be fighting underhandedly. (The guerrillas, for their part, see it as merely doing what they can in an asymmetric fight).

The other part of forces’ loathing for enemies’ mine warfare is, as Tom’s character Duce Parilla seems to have internalized, you can’t fight back against a mine. The guy who killed or maimed your men is long gone. (Of course, you can fight back against minelayers, but the fight is indirect and requires you, too, to play to your asymmetric strengths). This feeling of frustration by mine-warfare attack (in this case, by booby traps that produced casualties) was a key ingredient, along with inadequate officer selection & training and bad leadership at all levels from corporal to Corps, in the misconduct of Americal Division troops that became known as the My Lai Massacre.  They were so tired of taking casualties by booby trap, and so badly led, that they took out their fear and frustration on enemy noncombatants instead.

As tragic as the outcome was for the simple peasant families of My Lai 4, the murders were a great victory for the Communists in the key center of gravity of the war — the minds of the American public and their elected leaders. It was part of an array of events that drove a schism between the military and the media that endures almost 40 years later.

So What’s the Difference?

Mines, Booby Traps, and Improvised Explosive Devices are three somewhat overlapping categories of (usually but not always) explosive weapons.


Mike Croll defines landmines as:

mass-produced, victim-operated, explosive traps.1

In American usage (Croll was a British soldier and, subsequently, NGO counter-mining expert), “landmines” also includes command-detonated weapons like the Claymore. It was once customary for patrols to use a Claymore wired with a tripwire and a pull or pull-release firing device to delay pursuit; this usage has been banned by American military lawyers who were, we are not making this up, inspired by Princess Diana.

Booby-traps are distinguished from mines by dint of not being made en masse in factories, but as Croll points out, “the difference can be academic,” and it’s certainly not significant to the victim. While no non-explosive victim-operated weapons are currently in production worldwide, non-explosive traps have been used since prehistoric times (Croll also traces the archaeology of caltrops and Roman obstacle fields in his book). In the early years of the Vietnam War, US forces did encounter Malayan Gates, punji pits, and other non-explosive mantraps; as the war ground on, the enemy improved his logistics and regularized his forces, and such bulky, hard to make, and easily detected traps gave way to explosive weapons.


Improvised Explosive Devices encompass everything that blows a fellow up, and that didn’t come out of the factory in the form in which it ultimately is used. The ED is often I from factory weapons that were not envisioned by their inventors as traps, command-detonated, or suicide mines. This definition of IED includes explosive booby traps, of course, as a subset. The many forms of suicide IED are also a subset; suicide weapons have approached mass-production status in Iraq and Iran, with such markers of production status as dedicated circuit boards.

We’ve provided a couple of Venn diagrams to help you sort ’em out, but as Croll himself notes, there’s a considerable gray area. An AT mine can be fitted with a pull-release device or pressure plate and deployed as a massive overkill anti-personnel booby trap, for example. So perhaps instead of having solid borders, the circles should shade into one another.

But we’re with Parilla and Carrera. We hate ’em, unless we’re behind ’em and anticipating the banzai charge of the Third Shock Mongolian Horde.


1. Croll, p.ix.


Croll, Mike. The History of Landmines. Bromley, England: Leo Cooper, 1998.

The Nuremberg Defense Did Work

The Nuremberg Defense did not avail the Nuremberg defendants, but it turns out it does have a use. A Park Forest, Illinois policeman, one Officer Taylor, used the Nuremberg defense: “I was just following orders!” to escape responsibility for one of the most irresponsible, tactically inept and cowardly police uses of force we’ve ever heard of.

The Circumstances of the Use of Force

An 95-year-old man known to be suffering from dementia was noncompliant and belligerent to nursing home workers, and they called the police. The police responded. The man was fending workers off with a long shoehorn, and retreated, alone, into a room when the police arrived. After brief discussion they entered with a shield, a shotgun, and a Taser. What happened inside the room was not observed by any credible witness, but the Taser was discharged without contact with the victim, but the shotgun, loaded with less-lethal “beanbag” rounds, was emptied into his thoracic region at contact range.

The police waited for the man to die, but he did not, and they eventually called EMS to transport him to a hospital. He was subsequently transferred to a trauma center, where he died from his wounds.

The police produced a knife that came from a set in the facility’s kitchen, and after working on their stories together, the three officers agreed that the 95-year-old attacked them with the knife. Unlike anyone else involved in a use of force, police are typically allowed days to work their stories out together with attorneys, before submitting to interviews. By the time these cops were interviewed, they were so thoroughly rehearsed that what they did sounded reasonable to the fellow cops questioning them.

The Initial, False, Police Report of the Use of Force

The initial police reports contained a false narrative of the victim’s resistance and the police use of force. The report said that several policemen fired beanbag rounds; only one did. They said three shots were fired and two hit; in fact, the autopsy revealed that five shots were fired at near-contact range and all five hit. The three policemen who made these false statements are also the only ones who have put a knife in the victim’s hands (the employees at the facility saw him only with a shoehorn). As usual, there have been no consequences to the officers for their false statements or testimony.

Medical Treatment of the Victim

While he was injured in a medical facility, it was not the sort able to provide care for victims of violent trauma. After a long delay, the patient was finally allowed to be moved to a local hospital. When it became clear that his wounds were beyond the local hospital’s treatment capability he was moved to a trauma center. He died about thirty hours after being shot as a consequence of his wounds, the delayed treatment, and his old age and frailty.

The Circumstances of the Court Decision

The court made its decision with the gallery packed with hooting, uniformed policemen, demanding the judge accept the Nuremberg Defense. The judge obligingly did. This is barely distinguishable from when the courts consider the case of a gangbanger, and the gallery is filled with unruly members of his gang displaying their gang colors. The only difference is, that the court tolerated it from this particular gang, displaying their gang colors.

There is much in common between the inside morality displayed by, say, Hells’ Angels or Crips (or executives of Goldman Sachs), and that displayed by the police. Anything a member in good standing does is okay, providing he does it to an outsider.

Even murder. Now, this was not murder, but it was incredibly gross negligence, on the part of Taylor, and especially his superiors and trainers. The incentives are all wrong, because whatever the ultimate civil case judgment or settlement is, it will be borne by the taxpaying citizens of the jurisdiction, who already have the burden of a hazard like Taylor among them.

How We Came to Hear of This Case

We were tipped by Herschel Smith, who wrote about it here. Herschel calls it a murder, and explores it from a Christian viewpoint. We explore it from a tactical viewpoint.

The Many Failures of the Park Forest PD

  • Failure #1: Going High-Order on a Contained Subject

The guy was in his room in the nursing home. He wasn’t going anywhere, and he wasn’t a threat to anybody in there, apart from himself. Sooner or later he would come out and get bagged. But the cops had fangs out, and went in after him, without much preparation, much of a plan, or any real idea what they were going to do, except “bust in there and see what happens.” Impatient cops drive a lot of outcomes like this. (Remember Waco?).

  • Failure #2: A Stupid Plan

Their plan was weak all across the board. Intimidating the subject into surrendering (which had already failed several times) was their Plan A. Some people say that expecting repeated action to produce a different result is insane; in this case, the effective word was “stupid.” They pulled their already-failed Plan A, and mirabile dictu, it failed. (And these geniuses were actually surprised. This is why departments whose personnel policy sets an upper bound on Cop IQ are screwing up). So then Plan B was a Taser, whose limitations will be explored momentarily; Plan C was, then, deadly force, but the cops thought it wasn’t: they intended to use less-lethal rounds to center of mass inside the ammunition’s lethal range. These guys and their supporters have never considered how bad that plan really was: try to operate it, and it rapidly reduces to “Let’s go in and kill the guy!”

There was also no probable outcome that didn’t involve injury to someone, probably the victim, but no call was made for EMS backup. This didn’t jump out to the officers as an oversight at the time, in part because no one reviewed the logic, or lack of the same, of the plan.

  • Failure #3: Flubbing a point-blank Taser shot. With no second shot option.

Ever hear the old trainer mantra, “two is one, one is none”? Of course you have. They went in with one guy with only a shield, one guy with only a Taser, one guy with only a shotgun with beanbags. There are failures aplenty in this, but one key point of failure was when Taser Guy’s one less-lethal shot went wide (at point-blank range; this whole thing took place in, essentially, a hospital room). Yet that bozo is still out on the street, despite a failure at a simple marksmanship task under stress, a failure that led to a citizen’s death. Think he’ll do any better if called on to fire real rounds some day? The best guide to future behavior is past behavior, and this guy got Buck Fever.

Of course, the dirty little secret of the Taser is that, even though when they demonstrate it to you in the academy they have zero problem making you write on the floor and vow never to do this again, the damn things have a much lower reliability rate in the real world, where the intended recipient isn’t wearing a cotton shortsleeve shirt and standing perfectly still. They miss, they bounce off, they tangle in clothing and don’t complete the circuit. A Taser is truly a one-is-none weapon, at least to the degree you can count on the thing, and that reinforces the sheer bozosity of the decision and plan to make a deliberate assault on a subject without a second Taser. Their Plan B offered, in real-world terms, no better (and arguably worse) than 50/50 odds.

  • Failure #4: Contagious / Panic Fire

At this point the only thing left was to blast the guy, although the cop didn’t realize what he was doing was lethal force. One aspect of this that has not been explored, is that Taylor did not fire a shot, reassess, etc. He instantly went cyclic on his shotgun and only stopped firing when it was empty. His explanation was the usual PBA lawyered-up mantra, “I was in fear for my life.”

If he’s that scared, he’s a coward, and a hazard to everyone when he’s armed.

  • Failure #5: Point of Aim

Taylor fired all shots at center of mass, and at point-blank range. A DOJ study notes that “Law enforcement personnel are generally trained to aim for the “center of mass” … but users of impact munitions should be aware that individ­uals struck in these areas are also more susceptible to seri­ous injury or death, especially at close ranges.” The same study found five fatalities hit in the chest with bean bag rounds, and one hit in the neck, all at close range (out of some 300 use of less-lethal munitions). (The only other lethal encounters in that study were officers who thought they were firing less-lethal rounds, but weren’t). It’s clear from reading the report that these rounds are not safe to be fired from within approximately 30 feet — they’re definitely lethal at inside-the-room range.

It’s unlikely that these cops ever read this report. It’s unlikely that their department’s leaders ever did.

Supporters of the police in this case note that the subject, a frail 95-year-old man, had armed himself with a kitchen knife, and therefore, deadly force was justified. But this is an ex post facto rationalization — the officer in question thought he was using nonlethal force. His training (as well as his leadership) failed him.

  • Failure #6: Not Understanding Beanbag Rounds

The Beanbag 12-gauge is much beloved by police because of its low cost — a few dollars per round — and belief that it can be deployed without training. Here we see one consequence of that mistake. There are several variations of the load, but they have a checkered history. The initial rounds were discontinued after a fatal shooting in 1971, and replacements came back on the market — at a slightly reduced velocity — only years later, after the emergence of an officer safety culture that accepts 10% fatalities from a round marketed as nonlethal.

After all, once you shoot ’em they all had it coming.

The beanbag round leaves the shotgun at 300 to 400 feet per second and at close range frequently produces broken ribs and sternums, cardiac arrest, internal-organ damage and internal bleeding (this last, plus the age of the patient and the delayed treatment wel’ll cover below, was what killed this guy).

  • Failure #7: Delayed Treatment of the Victim

Finally, we have the latest thing emerging, which is: the police not yielding the scene to medical responders until they’ve done the necessary: cuff the victim, safe their weapons, recover their taser darts, and coordinate and rehearse their “I was in fear for my life” stories. Only then did they let the nursing-home staff examine the distressed man, and only then did anybody realize he needed medical help, so only then did anybody call for EMS.

Given his age, frailty, and the trauma from the point blank discharge of five 300-400 fps beanbags into his thorax and abdomen at contact range, the guy might have been toast even if Taylor’s attack had taken him on the loading dock of the ER, and the police then facilitated, rather than hindered, his treatment. But the fact is they didn’t expedite his trip to hospital.

Taylor has beaten the criminal rap, and he’s back on the street. Don’t you feel safer already?

Sometimes the Worst Gun Wins, and other Lessons from History

In Smith’s The History of Military Small Arms, the author claims to see a  parallel between the introduction of the Dreyse Needle Gun and the history of military small arms in general. To wit:

Dreyse Needle Gun with fabric cartridge and projectile showing primer location at projo base. From The Firearm Blog.

Dreyse Needle Gun with fabric cartridge and projectile showing primer location at projo base. From The Firearm Blog.

When the Dreyse was introduced into the Prussian service it was a “military secret” of the first order. Like most “military secrets” it was a secret only to those naive branches of the military who never seem to be aware of what has been done in their line—those artless individuals with which every country is regularly afflicted, and who strangely enough seem to be nearly always in a position to make policy while submerging the real experts who are present in any army.1

The Dreyse shouldn’t have been a surprise to anybody, as the technology had been patented by a Swiss circa 1830, when the Prussian generals who would command Dreyse-wielding riflemen were subalterns. And while the Dreyse Needle Gun had an edge on the French Chassepot, it wasn’t that big an edge, really.

The Chassepot. Funny: the Scandinavian museum that has this one thinks it's a Dreyse.

The Chassepot. Funny: the Scandinavian museum that has this one thinks it’s a Dreyse.

The edge was that the Dreyse was able to use a metallic cartridge, even though these images show a fabric one (even though the illustration shows it with a fabric cartridge). But in the Americas, Union cavalry was armed almost exclusively with breechloaders, and in significant part with breech-loading repeaters, generally firing fixed rim- or center-fire ammunition, by war’s end. Having the Dreyse gave the Prussians a momentary advantage over the muzzleloader-toting Austrians, who soon thereafter followed such leaders as Britain (with the Snyder) and the US (with the Allin conversion) and rebuilt its muzzle-loaders into breech-loaders.

Here's another view of the Chassepot, action closed. The stylistic resemblance to the much later Mosin-Nagant repeater is eerie; did it inspire that design?

Here’s another view of a Chassepot, action closed. The stylistic resemblance to the much later Mosin-Nagant repeater is eerie; did it inspire that design?

Out in the real world, small arms development is seldom secret, and when it is, it is seldom kept secret for long. Engineering and science have long been observed to proceed, worldwide, at the same pace, and weapons of war face something akin to the evolutionary pressures faced by animals under natural selection (minus, perhaps, sexual selection, although the natural competitiveness of armies leads to a pursuit of bragging rights and pride internationally that has some parallels, but with much less power).

1898 .30-40 Krag carbine

1898 .30-40 Krag carbine

It is an interesting fact that, when two armies meet in the field, both sides are almost always convinced that their equipment is superior. When it turns out not to be for one side, an even more interesting fact is that weapons superiority is not always, or even often, decisive. No grunt came away from Cuba or Puerto Rico still believing that the .30-40 Krag, selected by the USA over the Mauser because the Krag had a simpler and easier-to-inspect magazine cut off “to save ammunition in combat,” was the superior rifle. Ordnance’s error in prioritizing that, or perhaps in accepting the priorities given to it by the generals, was clear, and the guns were scarcely still before Springfield was directed, although perhaps not in the words of a later Smith & Wesson executive, to “copy the m’f’er!”

Yet, as deficient as the US mix of Krags and trapdoors was vis-a-vis the 7mm x 57 Spanish 1893 Mauser, a technically superior rifle was not enough to make up for the many other technical and tactical deficiencies the Spaniards faced in trying to hang on to their colonies. Weapons are complex enough to present many features and capabilities, and survival-oriented officers and soldiers quickly learn to exploit their system’s strengths and overcome its weaknesses. The Germans learned to fight against the superior mobility of American and Russian tanks; the Allies learned to fight against the German’s better armor and armament. Meanwhile, a “secret” weapon is only secret until it’s used; after that, the enemy knows its effects, and his own engineers and ordnance men can figure out what the weapon was — as every nation’s scientists and engineers are at, to a first approximation, the same level of knowledge. (The classic example of the limited life of a  secret weapon is the way the Soviet Union went from ignorance of the potential for a nuclear weapon to leapfrogging US/UK development of fusion weapons in 4 years).

Napoleon’s maxim about the relative weight of the material and the moral in war is as good an explanation as any for the phenomenon: sometimes the guy with the worse gun wins.


  1. B. Smith (2013-07-13 00:00:00-05:00). The History of Military Small Arms (Kindle Locations 910-914). Kindle Edition.


Bureaucracy vs Mobilization

The Golan Heights saw the largest tank battles since WWII in the East.

The Golan Heights saw the largest tank battles since WWII in the East.

When Ori Orr returned to Israel after several years away, including a US staff college, just before the 1973 War, he faced cultural shock. The Israeli Army of 1967 — indeed, the whole society of 1967 — was robustly egalitarian, strikingly so by European or even American standards. A private might use his battalion or division commander’s first name; officers drove themselves and tended their own uniforms. This Army had won great victories on all fronts in 1948, 1956 and 1967, forced Egypt to knuckle under in the 1970 War of Attrition, and fully expected that if the Arabs moved in the direction of a new war, they’d get a new beating.

The Army of 1973 was complacent thanks to its long string of victories, especially the decisive win of 1967. And it had succumbed to the slow creep of bureaucracy and stratification. Senior officers had staff cars, drivers, batmen. In 1967, even cabinet ministers didn’t get such perks.  Orr didn’t think it was a change for the better. It offended his egalitarian sensibilities (he would later be a Member of the Knesset and a government minister for the small-s socialist Labor Party). In fact, he had returned to an Army that had thrown over its battle-born radical beginnings to become leadenly bureaucratic. In a very short time, the IDF would have to lose its peacetime bureaucracy.

Or die.

Emblem of the 679 Tank Brigade.

Emblem of the 679 Tank Brigade.

On the first day of the war, freshly appointed reserve tank brigade commander Orr found that he had subordinates of both the 1967 and 1973 stripes. (Note that the following is a horrible translation from Hebrew to English; the translator was ignorant of military vocabulary like “mobilization” and “armorer,” and frequently uses what Mark Twain might have called “a second approximation of the word.”)

Mickey, the adjutant officer, decided to register the men only after they were assigned a vehicle, before leaving, because he understood that there was no other way to ascertain that the men were registered in their units. This sped up the absorption process.

Mickey, for whom Orr was suitably thankful, was a 1967 officer — damn the rules, get it done. So we may digress for a moment into what they were trying to get done.

Israeli Centurion 1973An IDF reserve unit of the period was a hollow shell with a permanent, full-time cadre of four or five officers, and a handful of specialist warrant officers or NCOs. They maintained the equipment in a mobilization-ready state, in theory, and in the event of a mobilization, they planned on having two weeks’ notice to absorb reservists, shake down the unit, clear any vehicle squawks or supply shortfalls, and get ready to fight. Unlike an American Reserve or Guard unit, or a British Territorial Army unit, there weren’t regular, frequent drills, just infrequent and irregular micro-mobilizations for training. The Arab attack caught the Israelis flatfooted on a holiday, and Orr’s situation was compounded by many small ills. His unit hadn’t done training recently. It had obsolete Centurions with at-end-of-life gasoline engines and balky manual transmissions; they’d already been shifted from being parked in their tactical elements to being parked in the order they were going to the depot for a diesel and automatic shift mobility upgrade.

New to the unit, he didn’t know anybody (but thanks to the small size of the IDF Tank Corps, he’d soon find old friends). And his time in command was, when the Syrians hit a relatively miles away, measured in days (his first order had been to put the tanks back in tactical order). He approved Mickey’s quick-thinking rule-breaking. But he also had the Spirit of1973 in some of his cadre.

Tankers' individual weapons were probably, mostly, 9mm Uzi SMGs in 1973. We've been unable to find images of an IDF arms room circa '73.

Tankers’ individual weapons were probably 9mm Uzi SMGs in 1973. We’ve been unable to find images of an IDF arms room circa ’73.

While absorbing the soldiers , I hear the loud voice of an argument coming from the weaponry area. I left the dark area. The active-duty gunsmith recognized me first, and it took a little longer for the reserve soldiers until they spotted my rank. The gunsmith turned to me almost shouting, “They want to take out weapons without signing for it.” I looked at him in amazement. The world around us was trembling but I had still not managed to inculcate into the very last of the soldiers that we were at war. “Open the door and quickly give each soldier his weapon!” I ordered. At first, he looked at me in disbelief. I guess that I was the only one from whom he would have agreed to accept such a command to change the order of his universe.

One is reminded of legend of the ammunition boxes of Isandlwana. Orr didn’t make the historical reference, but he was less than thrilled with this encounter with one of the 1973 type of bureaucratic Israeli soldier.

I informed the maintenance officer of the instructions that I had given. I didn’t hide my anger at the fact that he had not managed to internalize the message to his men that we were at war, already from the afternoon. NOTE 1

Orr had his first tanks in action against the Syrians 15 hours from receiving the warning order, well short of the 24 hours thought to be the minimum, and far from the two weeks that Israeli strategists had expected their reservists to have. To accomplish that, he sent the tanks with limited ammunition — they had AT ammo but no HE, and in fact only had 2/3 of their basic load. When the commander of this element, Nitzan Yotzer, asked for more time to load his tanks, Orr told him:

Nitzan, the Syrians don’t know how much ammunition you are missing. True, we were educated that in battle, you go out when everyone is full, but there is no time. The Syrians need to see tanks shooting at them and blocking off the routes. We need to make an effort to reach you later with the ammunition. Note 2

Yotzer’s element, a few tanks and a few reconnaissance men in jeeps,  went out and ran into Syrians “east of Tel Tzabah, at the Katzbiya Junction.” The  Syrians weren’t expecting resistance so early, and Yotzer’s Centurions at least temporarily the Syrian advance at 0200 on 7 Oct 73 — just 12 hours after the attack at 1400 on the 6th, and 15 hours after the initial alert came to Orr.

They would not be out of the woods at all. The Israelis discovered, in those first hot minutes, a disturbing thing they hadn’t expected of their Arab enemies: the Syrians were not intimidated, and they had come to fight.

They wouldn’t find the next surprise just yet, because the Syrian forces here were a unit with older T-55 tanks, evenly matched to Yotzer’s old Centurions: but the Syrians’ armored elite in T-62s, unlike the Israelis, could see in the dark.


  1. Orr, Ori. Yom Kippur War: These are My Brothers. Contento De Semrik: Kindle Edition, 2013. Kindle Locations 1449-1465.
  2. Orr, Ori. Yom Kippur War: These are My Brothers. Contento De Semrik: Kindle Edition, 2013. Kindle Locations 1518-1524.

Is it Time to Scope Out Scopes?

its dead jimIron sights are obsolete. Britain saw this one, and acted on it, before the United States did. (So did Germany, even earlier; but then they backed off). The plain truth is that iron sights are obsolete, outdated, dead; they’re not just resting or pining for the fjords. They’ve shuffled off their mortal coil and joined the Choir Invisible.

They’re dead, Jim.

As a shooter, you should still understand and be able to use the many kinds of iron sights that have been used on rifles, pistols, and machine guns over the last few centuries. The shooting fundamentals work the same (with the self-evident exception of sight picture and sight alignment) regardless of what kind of sight you’re using, but the iron sight imposes physical, temporal and human factors obstacles that optical sights do not.

The most important of these factors is that an optical sight, whether it’s a traditional telescope, a red-dot, or a holographic sight, puts the aiming point and the target in the same focal plane. How important is this? It’s vital. It reduces the time spent to align the shot (more than compensating for the initial delay imposed by a magnified sight with a limited field of view, it lightens the shooters neurocognitive load, and it reduces hit dispersion downrange.

It’s the nature of a human eye that, unlike a camera, its an extremely complicated piece of hardware that is normally used in pairs to collect a dynamic and changing amount of light that is resolved, not upon the focal plane of a retina, but by the software of a brain resolving, merging and interpolating light data.

Unlike a camera, where the focal plane is just that, a plane, a retina is curved. Unlike a camera, where one pixel receptor of a charge-coupled device (or traditionally, one chemical grain of film coating) resolves the same shades or colors and responds the same to a given amount of light towards the periphery as its companion does at the center, our retinal cells are not all the same. The different kinds, which respond differently to light and color, are distributed unevenly. Unlike a camera, the human visual mechanism with its two eyes, brain, and “software”-driven focus is, at once, a wide-angle lens (with pretty lousy off-axis resolution, but good for movement) and a telephoto (which can perceive great detail, but only straight on).

And unlike a camera, human depth of field is not variable, although the location of focus is. What this means is that you can’t simultaneously focus on the front sight, the rear sight, and the target. Well the most important of those three items is the target, with iron sights you’re likely to miss it if you don’t focus on the front sight. Shooters must be trained (and must practice) to focus on the front sight like that.

So the eye is an awesome piece of engineering (or engineered hardware/software integrated system, really). But it has its limits. In optic land, your aiming point (whether it’s a dot or a crosshair) is superimposed on your target, in a single focal plane. Again, you must train for this, but it takes less training, and it leads to a more rapidly acquired sight.

The aiming point can be a crosshair, another reticle, or an illuminated dot. Each has its pros and cons. For rapid training it’s very difficult to beat the red dot. For distance shooting, numerous compensated reticles are available. Some sights try to provide both: any sight with a complicated reticle rewards study, understanding, and practice.


The military forces of the world have been slow in seeing this and issuing optics on a general, wide-scale basis. In fact, it’s taken most of a century for them to catch on worldwide. Before they were able to do so, of course, optics needed to improve: first they needed to be weather-sealed and fog-resistant (first achieved just before WWII), then needed coated optics for improved light transmission, and finally they needed to be ruggedized, or grunt-proofed, if you will. This last is not a small task, as the grunts of any army you could name take a perverse pride in their ability to destroy flimsy gear, and their definition of “flimsy” is eye-opening, if you are not a grunt.

Now, the armies of the world understood the benefits of optics for various artillery, aviation, and even machine-gun uses. (The US issued a dreadful Warner & Swasey telescopic sight for the Benet-Mercié Machine Rifle of 1909; the Imperial Japanese Army had scopes for the Type 92 (1932) medium and Type 96 (1936) light machine guns.

Germany started to do it in World War II, but they lost the war before they could universalize their general-purpose infantry optic, the ZF41. (ZF41, seen here on an FG42, was more common on G.43 and MP/STG.44 type weapons).


After the war, the Federal Republic was slow to adopt optics again, but by the 1960s was issuing a Hensoldt scope to designated marksmen. The current G.36 has its issues, but is optics-ready and issued with a range of optical sights.

Britain, bruised by international opinion, introduced a low-magnification, lighted-reticle optic in 1973, first in Northern Ireland for designated marksmen, then throuhgout the British Army. It never achieved universal issue, but its successor, the SUSAT for the problematical SA.80 rifle, did.

This SUIT (Trilux) sight appears identical to the  UK model, but is marked in Hebrew. Gee, wonder who used it?

This SUIT (Trilux) sight appears identical to the UK model, but is marked in Hebrew. Gee, wonder who used it?


Meanwhile, in 1977 the Austrian Army adopted the revolutionary Stg.77, known to the world as the AUG (Armee Universal-Gewehr), its trade name. The AUG was a bullpup design with a 1.5 power optic in an M16-like carrying handle, with rude backup sights on top of the scope housing. (Later AUGs used standard, rail-mounted modular optics).

Steyr AUG A1

In the 1980s, Canada issued the domestic Elcan C79 as standard on their new rifle, the Diemaco (later Colt Canada) C7, and the C9 general purpose machine gun. The US Army, whose motto in small arms sometimes seems to be “First? Us? Never!” adopted this sight as the M145 Machine Gun Optic (MGO). US SOF drove the adoption of optics in the 1990s, formalizing what had been a lot of single-unit experiments with the circa 2000 SOPMOD initiative. SOPMOD I saw the first version of the Aimpoint M68 and the Trijicon ACOG adopted. (General purpose forces adopted these optics, or improvements on them, very quickly thereafter).

Russian and Chinese forces are seen more and more frequently with optics and with modular sighting equipment.

If you’re still aiming with a peep or open rear sight and a bead or post up front, good for you. It’s great for marksmanship basics. But small arms history is leaving you behind. It’s time to scope out some scopes.

Unarmed Combat: Tai Chi vs … Fencing?

Sure enough, that’s what we’ve got here, in a clip from last year on Hunan TV. Tai Chi Master Wang Zhanhai goes into China’s most modern fencing center to match his skills against a young fencing expert, Coach Liu. The video is in Chinese with English subtitles (note that “taiji” is just the modern Mandarin transliteration of the old-style Tai Chi). Can open hands defeat a sword? On the sword’s home ground?

Well, there you have it, and if you’re like us you’re impressed with both athletes, but not entirely surprised that master-class with a weapon edges out master-class with open hands. Coach Liu, though, is surprised how hard he found it to count coup on Master Wang. It works in Master Wang’s favor that fencing is a sport that uses thrust-only weapons; several times, a saber slash would have undone him, but the ultimate generation of cavalry sabers (like the US M1913 designed by George S. Patton) were straight, optimized-for-thrust swords. Swordsmanship experts had decided that cuts and slashes were indecisive, compared to the forest of points produced by a cavalry charge, and the effect of those points is greatest if they are straight swords. (Even Patton had no clue how obsolete the saber was in 1913 already, but cavalry would be finished as a decisive arm within a year). Perhaps, if the war had not intervened, the cavalry would have brought back the Uhlan lance!

In SF there are two kinds of guys, the one that makes the commitment to some martial art (usually East Asian: Chinese, Japanese or Korean, but sometimes something exotic like Viking battleaxe fighting or Filipino butterfly-knife artistry). There seems to be one or two of those cats on every ODA,. And then there’s the more common fellow who learns the crude combatives and can administer a sleeper hold if he really must, but prefers to spend his time mastering modern warrior skills (like specialty crosstraining), and prefers to conduct combat using the ancient Chinese art of Ching-Chang Boom, dependent upon the ancient Chinese invention, gunpowder. We’re firmly in the camp of Ching-Chang Boom here, but it’s a pleasure to watch athletes like Master Wang and Coach Liu at work!

Events like this where two masters are paired are interesting, but in fact if you master some martial art, any martial art, you will be more capable than 99% of the people you might encounter, unless you’re like Master Wang and can’t resist trying your skills against experts in other fields. The confidence and mindset that Wang and Liu have here is a large part of what makes them winners. In life, it’s good to be the winner; in combat, it’s mandatory.