1 Sept 03
A “stealth failure” from a friend in UT:
“A customer stopped at a Seven-Eleven after leaving my shop and a subsequent desert shooting exercise with his prized DSA FAL, which he placed in his Chevy Blazer between the seats, sticking straight up in plain view. Someone at the Seven-Eleven saw it and called the police. As he left the 7 Eleven, he discovered a police roadblock waiting for him. No one was hurt, but it was exciting. They cut him loose after several hours.”
Lesson: The public is being incessantly conditioned by pinko politicians to believe gun owners are criminals, that self defense is immoral, and that being deliberately defenseless is a virtue. We are supposed to want to be victims, and when we refuse to go along with that mendacious line of thinking, we are vilified. All of us who are unapologetically not defenseless are thus increasingly viewed with suspicion and apprehension. Accordingly, our guns need to be out of sight and absent from casual conversation, always. The stealth existence offers the only real protection.
8 Sept 03
From a friend who just attended a week-long pistol course at a well known school:
“We shot 1000-1200 rounds during the course of the week. Most students brought 1911s. All of them had ‘customizing’ and aftermarket parts. All 1911s experienced feeding and ejection problems, some chronic. Several broke parts and went down after the first two days.
There was a single Taurus pistol. It fell apart the first day.
An SIG 220 ran well all week, as did a G21. Both were ‘out of the box.’
This school likes 1911s, but the performance of the ones in this class was less than inspiring, particularly those that had been ‘customized.'”
Lesson: The 1911 system is inherently sound, but its devotees will not be dissuaded from tinkering with it. Usually a bad idea, as we see.
10 Sept 03
SIG’s “K” Trigger Update
Last weekend, I got the chance to run live rounds through a SIG 229 (40S&W) that was equipped with a “K” trigger. I expressed the opinion that this new system will quickly displace the manual decocking lever that most SIGs come with now, and my opinion was not changed. SIG is now taking police department orders. The K-trigger will be available to the general market in 2004.
The K-trigger will be offered as an option on the 226 and 229 (which will be called the 226DAK and the 229DAK). Single-column pistols, like the 239 likely will be eligible for the new trigger inside of a year, as modifications need to be done to the inside of the frame. The new trigger will not be available as a retrofit, as, again, the frame needs to be modified. It will be offered on new guns only.
The K-Trigger is short and smooth at a consistent 6.6lbs. It is not a two-stage trigger like the one founds in Glocks. There are two links (trigger reset points). The shallow one yields a slightly heaver press (7.5lbs). The deep link re-presses at the same 6.6lbs. The point is that the pistol will fire from either link, and it will drop the hammer for a second time on a dud round (from the second link). Hammer spur is gone (along with the decocking lever), and the system can be used in conjunction with either a regular or a short trigger.
The traditional SIG self-decocking system features a long trigger pull at a constant, eleven pounds. It is called (appropriately) a “flat revolver.” That system will continue to be produced, although the K-trigger, as opined above, will quickly supersede it. In fact, the K-trigger will also supersede SIG’s manually decocking system.
I will have and carry a 229 in 357SIG with the K-trigger shortly and will get a chance to give it a thorough workout over the next number of months. I am convinced now that, if SIG markets this new system aggressively, they will significantly dig into Glock’s market share.
10 Sept 03
“Light rails” (“accessory” rails) on pistol frames are all the rage these days. Police departments insist on them, even when they have no specific plans to mount flashlights (or lasers) on pistols. Accordingly, many departments are now ordering holsters designed to accommodate pistols with flashlights attached. For patrol officers, I suggest this is a bad idea.
Without a flashlight affixed to the pistol, the holster’s snatch resistance is critically compromised. Thus, when Surefire comes out with a new flashlight six months from now, and the departmetn orders them, new holsters will have to be ordered also, in order to accommodate the new flashlight. In the interim, officers dare not holster their pistols without (the old) flashlights attached.
A regular holster works much better. The flashlight can usually be attached to the gun after it is drawn and removed prior reholstering. SWAT officers may want a flashlight attached all the time. Most of us others don’t.
12 Sept 03
Hard Luck Ambrose, July 1864
Irwin McDowell had made a hash of things at the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) in July of 1861, sending the signal to everyone that what would eventually become known as the War Between the States would well and truly be a bona fide war, and that it would last longer and claim far more lives than anyone thought it possibly could. President Lincoln immediately sacked McDowell for McClelland.
Sarcastically called “the Virginia creeper,” McClelland appeared to Lincoln and the rest of the nation to be moving too slow against the rapidly organizing Confederates. Lincoln finally lost patience with McClelland’s slow progress and sacked him in favor of affable and well liked Ambrose Burnside. Burnside himself warned Lincoln that he “was not competent to lead such a large army,” but he got the job anyway. Lincoln would live to regret not taking Burnside’s own advice- twice!
Burnside’s signature beard/mustache combination gave him instant recognition, as the increasingly desperate future of the Union fell unceremoniously upon his shoulders. The modern term, “sideburns,” comes directly from Burnside’s name.
Burnside promptly lived up to his own low expectations of himself at the Battle of Fredericksburg, VA in December of 1862, where he directed one pointless charge after another against entrenched Rebels on Marye’s Heights. His foolish charges all failed, and Burnside himself became so despondent upon seeing the purposeless slaughter that he decided to lead the last charge himself, which amounted to a death wish. He was ultimately talked out of it by his staff, because they would have all been killed too!
With his virtually leaderless army now on the verge of mutiny, an exasperated Lincoln sacked Burnside for Joe Hooker (who would, in turn, be outwitted by Robert E Lee and Tom Jackson at Chancellorsville and then himself be superseded by John Pope). Burnside, thoroughly embarrassed and discredited, was subsequently shuffled to the rear and should have been shuffled out of the army altogether, but he kept his rank and stayed in the fight. Two years later, he would, one last time, lend his own special brand of blundering incompetence to the Union war effort.
The twin (and nearly simultaneous) disasters at Vicksburg, MS and Gettysburg, PA in July of 1863 had marked the beginning of the end for the Rebellion. There was now no chance of foreign intervention by the British, and Lee was fighting what amounted to a spirited retreat, but he had lost none of his tactical genius and still had some surprises up his sleeve!
The assault on Richmond, VA in July of 1864 (part of Ulysses S Grant’s “Overland Campaign”) lead by George Meade (now a subordinate, under Grant), featured a resurrected Ambrose Burnside in command of the Union IX Corps. Directly in Burnside’s path of advance was an entrenched Confederate position at Petersburg. Colonel Henry Pleasants, one of Burnside’s subordinates and a former mining engineer, told Burnside that he could tunnel under the Confederate positions, emplace explosives there, and then blast a gaping hole in their line. Burnside’s men could then rush to the rear, and all the way to Richmond, in a stunning breakthrough. The end of this terrible War would finally be at hand.
Burnside was skeptical at first, but Pleasants was an excellent salesman as well as a gifted engineer, and Burnside was finally persuaded to give the plan a try. Even Grant, fresh from his own disaster at Cold Harbor, gave the go-ahead, although his staff remained skeptical. Pleasants and his men dug the tunnel with enthusiasm and expertise, overcoming all obstacles. When it was completed, they packed it with several tons of black powder, more black powder than Pleasants, or any of his men, had ever seen before in one place. Pleasants didn’t know how big a bang it would make, but he was confident it would be adequate. It was far more than “adequate!” In fact, the explosion was so big that it made an enormous. asteroid-like, crater. A gap was blown in the line of the astonished rebels to be sure, but the blast was so stunning, many of Burnside’s own troops fled to the rear in terror!
The follow-up infantry charge was slow and disorganized, because Burnside himself was far to the rear hiding in a bunker, afraid and having apparently lost interest in the whole operation. The commander of the assault troops, General Ledlie (a train engineer by profession), a pathetic alcoholic, was drunk and incoherent! As soon as the charge commenced, he also fled to the rear.
As a result, Union assault troops quickly disintegrated into little more that a hoard of tourists. They should have simply gone around the crater and brushed aside the remaining confederate defenders, but, without leadership, they charged, pell mell, into the crater itself. The crater seemed to have a mesmerizing effect, as wave after wave of leaderless Union troops, nonchalantly sent forward by a detached Burnside, were attracted into it. Most of them died there in a slaughter worse than Fredericksburg!
Confederate defenders, stunned but still expertly led, immediately assembled on the far ridge of the crater and began firing down into the hapless and utterly disorganized Union throng, who were by now milling about aimlessly. Confederate reinforcements, under General Mahone, soon arrived and turned the defeat into a complete rout. A Confederate commander, struck by the pitiful and lopsided slaughter, finally shouted at the few Union troopers who remained alive and said, “Why don’t you surrender?” A lone Union trooper replied, “Why don’t you let us?” Then, in their first and only display of coordinated action that day, Union troops all simultaneously dropped their weapons and put their hands up. Shooting stopped. Union troops were marched off as prisoners, although many black soldiers (several black units were involved in the assault) were shot on the spot by enraged Southerners.
Meade finally got through to Burnside and ordered him to stop the “advance,” salvage as much as he could, and retreat. Grant described the fiasco as, “the saddest affair I have ever witnessed.” The War, which could have effectively ended that day, would now go on for another nine months.
Burnside was fired, for good this time. He would never command troops again. He went back to his native Maryland where he eventually became governor and later a US senator. With his trademark beard now white, he tried (in vain) until the day he died to resurrect his well known reputation as the incompetent bungler who was directly responsible for countless unnecessary casualties.
After the War, Pleasants went back to the mining industry. Ledlie was court-martialed, slapped on the wrist, and went back to the railroad.
Lesson: It takes a special species of incompetence to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Pleasants was a genius and a hero, but, teamed with ditherers, atta-boys, and drunks, his brilliant plan still failed. Ultimately, the blame for putting unqualified people, people who had painfully proven their incompetence, into important positions, falls on Lincoln. He should have known better. Thousands paid the price for his poor decision- twice!
15 Sept 03
Interesting comments from a LEO friend in the Midwest:
“At a recent Simmunitions drill, we exposed officers from the area (including the state capitol) to a situation based on a real incident from a year ago. One of our officers was then interviewing a female domestic battery victim. In the middle of the interview, the suspect (husband) appeared and attacked the victim and our officer with a claw hammer. Our officer dealt with the attack by emptying his canister of OC and then, after it began to take effect, batoning the suspect in the common peroneal nerve on the left leg. A single blow dropped him to the ground. In the meantime, both the victim and the officer were chased around the squad car by the suspect, who couldn’t see well but could charge and still clearly represented a deadly threat!
We reenacted the scenario with a flexible script. Twenty percent of officers hesitated significantly when the victim was attacked via the hammer. Some eventually defaulted to deadly force, but only when the suspect directed his attention at them. It was the collective opinion of the training staff that officers were far too indecisive and far to slow to act when it came to the use of deadly force when it was clearly indicated.
You might find it interesting that members of the Governor’s Security Detail, when presented with the same scenario, all reacted with deadly force immediately. None of them displayed the slightest hesitation or vacillation!
Nice to know the governor (at least) is so well protected.”
15 Sept 03
We just completed an Urban Rifle/Shotgun Course in Illinois. During our low-light exercise on Saturday evening, one of our students used an AR-15 with a three-dot, night-sight setup similar to what one finds on pistols. It was an abomination!
The two rear dots are too close to the shooter’s face to do anything but compromise his night vision. The front dot was nearly impossible to see when it was superimposed on our steel targets (illuminated by road flares). This student, who shot well during the day, was unable to hit with any regularity at night. He is getting rid of the dots!
Another student used an ACOG. Again, the red crosshairs in the center of the reticle disappeared when superimposed on steel targets at night. The scope was mounted on the carrying handle of this student’s AR-15, making a normal cheek weld impossible. He had an aftermarket cheek piece installed in order to solve this problem, but it continuously interfered with the normal operation of the charging handle. Again, this student’s equipment was more a hindrance than a help.
Another student’s rifle was equipped with a close-eye-relief, 4X scope. As we have come to expect, he continually got targets mixed up. He could usually hit; he just kept hitting the wrong target, because he got lost in his scope.
Students with conventional, iron sights did best, because their equipment didn’t get in their way. They learned to develop a symbiotic synergy with their rifles instead of naively expecting that some attached miracle-gadget would magically substitute for personal competence and common sense.
17 Sept 03
In our defensive rifle and shotgun programs, I am emphasizing that students are well advised to keep the muzzle of their longarm angled downward, with that butt in its shoulder index as much of the time as possible. When mounted at eye level or in the depressed/ready position, I advise that the support hand we well forward on the forend, grasping it firmly, rather than merely resting the forend on an open hand. One is well advised to have strength on his weapon.
Retention is the reason. If an attacker can get within arm’s reach and get under the barrel, pushing it up and toward the shooter, the shooter will find subsequently getting the weapon pointed at the attacker to be nearly impossible. He will probably have to default to his pistol, and fast! On the other hand, if an attacker can only grasp the barrel and forend from the top, the shooter can simply fall backward, the effect of which will be to get the weapon pointed at the attacker.
Retention is the forgotten imperative in much longarm training. Forget it at your peril! Much of the defensive longarm work that we do is at what would normally be considered pistol ranges. In fact, many times a pistol would be a superior weapon for such tasks. However, if one finds himself armed with a rifle or shotgun during such close-range encounters, he will probably not have the option of changing weapons. That being the case, retention becomes a crucial issue.
We must thus ask ourselves every time we train (with any weapon for that matter), “How retainable is my weapon when I’m in this posture or when I’m performing this technique?” Put another way, “If someone made a serious attempt to disarm me right now, what would I do in response, and how successful would I likely be?”
Frail, impotent, and weak stances and postures may work fine during competitions, but remember, when participating in a quaint shooting contest, nobody will suddenly try to rip your weapon out of your hands and then shoot you with it. Next time you’re confronting dangerous suspects, someone just might!
18 Sept 03
A faint and distant voice from the front:
“Our guys are getting good hits during CQB, with both M-4s and M9 pistols, but the bad guys are just not going down. They usually die eventually, but, in the short term, they stay on their feet, stay conscious, and continue to shoot at us. We have been, and continue to be, extremely unhappy with the poor terminal performance of both these calibers and issue ammunition, and we have tried to give voice to our unhappiness, particularly in view of the fact that this same problem has been well known since Somalia, and nothing has been done in the interim.
We do report these failures through the chain of command, but uncheerful information always gets filtered out and watered down. The end “report” describes us all as happy little campers. However, the bottom line is that the 9mm FMJ and the 5.56mm 62gr ‘penetrator’ are dismal failures as military ammunition, no matter what Pentagon atta-boys try to tell you.”
Comment: We should not be surprised when internal “studies” reveal that all equipment issued to our soldiers and Marines works great and just couldn’t be better. Such “reports” are indeed comical in view of the above. The only real purpose of these “reports” is to enhance the careers of the people who arrange to have them written (with all the “conclusions,” of course, known in advance).
When I was in Vietnam thirty-five years ago, the 55gr hardball round that we used in our M-16s was, at least effective in taking the fight out of bad guys, so long as it didn’t have to go too far or penetrate anything. The new 62gr “penetrator” still doesn’t penetrate anything, and the over-stabilized bullet is a complete failure in ending fights.
Of course, 9mm hardball is a joke, as we’ve all known for many years.
It was a foolish and inexcusable mistake to ever select 9mm pistol and 5.56mm rifle as military calibers in the first place. The Pentagon still doesn’t want to face facts. Indeed, they don’t even want to know the facts! While they continue to dither, brave men die.
18 Sept 03
The trouble with Zylon:
I’ve been hearing much about a failure of a Second Chance Zylon vest, which recently resulted in an officer being injured in PA. Unfortunately, the story is true, and Zylon has subsequently been called into serious question.
Dick Davis, my long time friend, invented soft body armor thirty years ago and heroically tested it on himself. Some say it was foolish to shoot himself while wearing his product, but that was the only way Dick could get a skeptical police community to take notice. They did, and the rest, of course, is history. Many other companies have come along since, but Second Chance was the first, and my loyalty has always been with Dick Davis. As a young patrolman, I was, in fact, one of his first cash customers. Since those early days, nearly every significant development in soft body armor has been single-handedly invented and developed by Dick and his company. He is not only a hero, but an innovator too. Unfortunately, new management has taken over at Second Chance, and Dick, although still in the picture, is no longer calling the shots.
Until recently, most soft body armor vests have been made from kevlar fabric, in one form or another. Other materials made brief appearances, but kevlar has stood the test of time. Zylon is made by a Japanese manufacturer and showed great promise as the successor to kevlar. All body armor manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and made Zylon vests (until recently), although Second Chance was the only manufacturer that made a product exclusively from Zylon. It was a Zylon vest that failed to stop a 40S&W bullet in PA. However, in all fairness, there have been over thirty saves by Zylon vests too.
What is the problem with Zylon? Some have suggested it deteriorates with age, but the vest that failed was less than six months old. Some say heat is the problem, but exposure to heat has no effect during testing. Before going into its first vest, Zylon was thoroughly tested, both in-house and independently, and, indeed, approved by NIJ. So, no one really knows what the problem is. It could be a quality control issue at the factory or an inherent problem with the material itself that never manifested itself until now. Presently, no one can say for sure. As an obvious precaution, all manufacturers, including Second Chance, has stopped production and sale of vests containing any percentage of Zylon. It is safe to say that, for better or worse, Zylon is history.
To its credit, Second Chance is offering, free of charge, supplemental (kevlar) panels to all owners of Second Chance Zylon vests. The panels elevate the vests to nearly Level III protection. At present, none of the other manufacturers are even addressing the issue.
If you own a Second Chance Zylon vest, you should contact Second Chance, get the supplemental panel, and install it immediately. I wouldn’t worry after that.
If you’re going to acquire a new vest, stick with kevlar. After thirty years, we know it works. My vests are all Second Chance and all kevlar, and I wear them with confidence.
23 Sept 03
M9 pistol (Beretta 92F)
There is much stirring recently within the USMC and several other serious military units with regard to the 9mm M9 pistol, which displaced the 45ACP 1911 pistol back in 1985. In the intervening eighteen years, the M9 pistol has gained the dubious title of the most disliked, most disparaged, most unpopular firearm ever issued to American soldiers since the discredited French CSRG (Chauchat) light machine gun was foisted upon American soldiers in WWI.
I remember the JSAP project that selected the M9. The M9 was supposed to supersede all other pistols, so there would be only one pistol in the entire military system. The move to 9X19mm caliber was preordained, since that is the pistol caliber that was (and still is) used by our NATO allies. The fact that US soldiers had a separate pistol caliber was never an issue during WWII, Korea, or Vietnam. But, by 1985 this discrepancy apparently became intolerable, at least in the minds of “one-world” politicians.
The cover story was that the Beretta pistol outperformed all others during tests. The real reason was, of course, the Italians wanted to sell us expensive guns and also get a manufacturing foothold on US soil. So, they threatened to close our air bases in Italy if we didn’t buy their overpriced pistols. In other words, the “selection process” was politically influenced, as it is for most other military equipment.
In any event, eighteen years later, the M9 has shown itself to be reliable, but not durable. Parts breakage is the big problem. Thus, keeping them running is the real issue, particularly when they are fired a lot. The pistol is big, fat, bulky, and not suitable for concealed carry, as is often a requirement these days, even for soldiers. The system for operating the two-stage decocking lever is surely learnable, but, as we all know, the Army is afraid of guns, indeed petrified of loaded guns, so soldiers (even officers) are commanded never to load the pistol anyway. Smart ones ignore such stupid orders, get competent training (outside the military), and then carry their pistols loaded anyway, as I have reported.
So legion have been the complaints about the M9, that SIG pistols have now made their way into the system, and even 1911 pistols (in 45ACP) can be seen in the hands of certain elite units that have enough political autonomy to ignore orders to use only issue gear. We’re now back to multiple pistols, the exact thing the JSAP project was designed to end forever.
Suggested solutions range from dumping pistols altogether and issuing short rifles instead, to returning to the 1911. Neither extreme is likely to see the light of day. Indeed, there is a movement within the USMC to return to the M14 rifle and the 308 round, and, though I am in sympathy, that probably won’t happen either. As I have reported, the American military is getting a new rifle caliber (6.8mm) and a new rifle to shoot it. We may end up with a new pistol also, probably in 40S&W caliber.
In the interim, we all need to understand this: We don’t carry pistols, because they’re effective. We carry pistols, because they’re convenient. If they are inconvenient (bulky, hard to operate), the point would appear to be lost. We carry pistols as a deterrent against unexpected threats. We carry rifles when we are facing expected threats. Rifles are not convenient to carry, nor are they concealable, if you add “ineffective” to that list, once again, the point would appear to be lost.
Pistols need to be convenient and concealable, marginally effective. Rifles are going, of necessity, to be inconvenient, so they need, at least, to be effective. It’s a simple formula. One can only wonder why the American military bureaucracy, after all these years, still can’t seem to get it.
24 Sept 03
From a friend in WI:
“Wisconsin’s CCW bill will likely go off and quietly die this year. The repeated problem here (as in other states) has been the dismal political ineptitude of the legislation’s proponents. Were it not for that, we would probably have a law in effect now.
Example: Last week, we had a high-profile, self-defense shooting here in Madison. It involved a local woman who deftly shot and killed two home invaders. Immediately seizing the opportunity, a showy local proponent of licensed concealed carry got on the evening news and, describing the woman as a saint, applauded her and declared that this is exactly why a CCW law is needed. The commentator (of course, no friend of gun owners) reminded him that the woman didn’t require any kind of permit to defend herself in her own home. In addition, he pointed out that this “saintly” woman is actually a local crack dealer, and the inept decedents were two of her (apparently) unhappy customers. He made the interviewee look like a complete idiot, which he, unfortunately, is. Bungled interviews such as this surely put a bad face on our CCW campaign. The media, in fact, seeks out dithering buffoons like this whenever they want to discredit an issue they don’t like.
Our local DA has decided not to charge the woman, despite the boisterous ranting of the decedents’ relatives, who can’t believe this woman had the audacity to actually defend herself with gunfire against the abortive attack of these two (thankfully departed) thugs. One presumes these same relatives would be standing solidly behind their criminal kin at the murder trials, had the home invasion not been successfully repelled.”
Comment: As Second Amendment advocates, we must always be well spoken and have our facts straight. Some of us make poor spokesmen, no matter sincere we are. Those of us in that category need to leave television interviews to others.
As Lincoln once put it, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt!”
24 Sept 03
From a friend on active duty:
“Based on the Iraq experience, the DAMPL (Department of the Army Master Priority List) is out. Here are the highlights:
There are no more CAT 1 (really ready) or CAT 2 (sort of ready) units. Only units that are deployable immediately and those that are not. One of the reasons the 507th Maint Co got lost and ambushed in Iraq is because it got shoved in to the action without much of its equipment. It never should have been deployed at all.
On short notice, we are going to have to be able to deploy something other than just light infantry. Heavy backup is going to have to be (for the first time) instantly deployable too.
The division HQ, as we have known it, is history. In its place we need a task-oriented, modular command and control unit, instantly restructureable, instantly mobile.
An Army leader who balks, drags his feet, or complains about working in a joint/coalition environment will be fired. Political autonomy is history.
For once, we need to be honest about the capabilities of our helicopters, and stop flying them over heavily defended positions without support and without any real chance of recovering downed aircraft and crews.
Unit cohesion is critical. We need to stop the practice of individual replacement, and keep units together. When a unit is no longer combat effective, it needs to have its mission adjusted accordingly or be cycled to the rear.
We’re getting out of the installation management business. Property management companies take better care of on-post housing and facilities than any housing office ever did.”
Comment: To its credit, the Army is trying, under the prodding of Donald Rumsfield, to correct and upgrade, admitting (some) mistakes and trying to find real solutions. I’m not sure I agree with all of the foregoing, but progress is being made. It can’t come too soon!
29 Sept 03
Adrianople, 9 Aug 378AD, “The End of All Humanity, the End of the World”
As the Millennium turned, the stormy Hsiung-nu tribe in China, like so many others, found itself progressively marginalized. By the year “Zero,” they were fleeing in the only direction they could- west. “White” was the term Chinese used for westerners, and the Hsiung-nu were so dubbed. Eventually, the “White Hsiung-nu” lost contact with their relatives in China as they fled further west. Ultimately, they ran into the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire. Finding “Hsiung-nu” difficult to pronounce, the Romans shortened it to “Huns.” The Huns had no “infantry.” All were mounted, and their horsemanship was astonishing. They had no heavy metal armor, so their mounted formations were swift and light, and their horse archers and stirrup-equipped lancers were second to none.
The Huns shared a great strength with the Romans: ingrained military organization. Roman legions had easily defeated fractured tribes in Germanica (Goth), Gaul (France), Iberia (Spain), Africa, etc. So intense was their internal squabbling, Barbarians (the “outer ones”) just couldn’t unite in any meaningful way to opposed unambiguously ordered Roman Legions. As a result, they were, with a few notable exceptions, “defeated in detail,” and all eventually became Roman vassal states. Many of their warriors were subsequently incorporated into Roman Legions.
That eventually became a fatal weakness, in both camps. Both Hunnish and Roman armies gradually became swollen with mercenaries of dubious loyalty. In both camps, what began as an “army of conviction” evolved into an “army of convenience.” At the same time, there was an important philosophic difference between the Huns and the Romans: Romans were interested in real estate. They wanted to conquer, colonize, and then form a permeant tax base- in that order. Huns, nomads by nature, were interested only in expanding their warrior hoards. They wanted to conquer, strip the locals of valuables, increase their numbers, and move on- in that order. Neither national philosophy was destined to weather the storms of history.
When the Huns encountered the nimble Alans on the eastern Roman frontier, they defeated them easily. The Huns were organized; the Alans weren’t. As they pushed further west, Huns next encountered the Ostrogoths (“Eastern” Germans). They went down to defeat in exactly the same way, as did the Visigoths (“Western” Germans). Many Alan and Gothic warriors subsequently joined the Huns. That was all just fine with Rugila and his nephew, Attila, the Hunnish leaders.
In 330AD, Roman Emperor Constantine, in an effort to ecumenize the Empire, moved the imperial capital from the City of Rome on the Italian Peninsula southeast to Byzantium on the south shore of the Black Sea. Not surprisingly, Byzantium was subsequently renamed “Constantinople” after him, and also not surprisingly, the Empire permanently split into Eastern and Western Segments in 395AD, each with its own emperor, each claiming to be the “legitimate inheritor” of the first Roman emperor, Octavian Augustus’, throne. The Western Roman Empire would not survive the following century.
Up until 375AD, Roman Emperors had all been generals, with mud on their shoes, and they thus had the respect of the legions. Many, of course, were also world-class lechers, but they were still considered qualified to be emperors by virtue of their personal experiences and accomplishments. That all ended with the succession of Gratian in 375. Barely more than a teenager, Gratian was neither respected nor feared. The loyalty of the legions and the unity of the Western Empire simultaneously began to crumble, as citizens looked to religious clerics, instead of civil leaders, for national affirmation. Unfortunately, religious leaders proved themselves no more worthy of respect that had secular ones.
The winter of 406 had been particularly cold, so cold in fact that, on the last day of that year, the Rhine (which was then the eastern border of the Western Roman Empire) froze solid, something that had happened only a few times in recorded history. Goths, Vandals, Alans, Franks, all fleeing the Huns, pored across. Roman legionaries on the opposite shore were unable to stop the hoard of “illegal aliens.” With its once famous Legions now made up almost entirely of mercenaries, the City of Rome was considered too vulnerable, so the capitol was moved to the compact, walled city of Ravenna. Just in time as it turned out, as Aleric, King of the Visigoths, sacked the City of Rome in 410. With that, the entire Western Roman Empire descended into anarchy. During the year 410 alone, there were six, separate western emperors. Installed via bribes and political intrigue and removed via murder, they monotonously came and went. The record was set by Emperor Sinerich, who, in 415 held the throne for all of seven days, only long enough to murder his rival’s children before he himself was murdered.
By 475, the Empire’s holdings had shrunk to the Italian Peninsula itself and several regions in southern Gaul that were still “Roman” only because Goths and Huns regarded them as insignificant and hadn’t gotten around to invading them yet. The dubious title of “The Last Emperor” was claimed by Romulus Augustulus (“Little Augustus,” actually an insult). Ruling briefly from Ravenna, he was knocked off the throne by invading Ostrogoths in 476 (who considered him so impotent, they didn’t even bother to murder him). Imperial succession had finally come to a merciful end. In 487AD the surviving vestiges of the once-mighty Western Empire dissolved completely. From that point forward, squabbling Ostrogothic warlords held sway on the Italian Peninsula, but none displayed interest in the (now meaningless) title of “Emperor.” The Dark Ages had begun.
The Eastern Roman Empire continued (in name, at least) until Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, renaming it “Istanbul”. Ottomans had interbred with Huns (and others) to create “Turks.” Turks then assumed the role of the military arm of the Islamic religion.
It was the Western Roman Empire that Charlemagne (Charles the Great) in Gaul (France) attempted to resurrect with his “Holy Roman Empire” in 800AD.
During the existence of the Roman Empire, there were four notable defeats of the Legions, among many victories:
>An unprepared City of Rome was sacked by Celtic tribesmen in 387BC
>With his famous “amoebic defense,” Hannibal deceived and decisively defeated Rome’s best at Cannae in 216BC, during the Second Punic War
>Rome’s entire 17th, 18th, and 19th Legions were wiped out by Goths at heavily forested Teutoburger Wald in Germanica in 9AD
>Rome’s best are again defeated decisively, this time by Huns, at Adrianople on 9 August 378AD (present-day Edirne, Turkey)
The Battle of Adrianople is considered the “beginning of the end” for Western Romans. During the battle, the Emperor Valens himself, was killed. Roman infantry attacked a circle of wagons occupied by Huns (with their Alanic and Gothic mercenaries). Roman formations were then counterattacked by Hun “heavy cavalry” (stirrup-equipped lancers) which left Roman infantry formations in disarray. The defeat convinced Roman war planners, who had for years depended on infantry tactics they had learned from the Greeks, that heavy cavalry had displaced infantry as the “Queen of Battle.” As a result, reliance on heavy cavalry would dominate the thinking of war planners throughout Europe for the next thousand years, and, in fact, would come back to haunt Christian Crusaders at Hattin eight hundred years later.
Roman general Aetius returned and defeated Attila and his Huns at Chalons in western Gaul (France) in 451, using his Franks as infantry (the French didn’t like horses) and his own Gothic heavy cavalry. However Aetius, fearing another Cannae, made the same mistake that would be made by Meade centuries later at Gettysburg, PA. He didn’t finish the fight, and Attila’s army was allowed to escape. Aetius would live to regret it, as Attila and his hordes, unpredictable as ever, invaded the Italian Peninsula in 452. Nothing less than a personal conference with Pope Leo persuaded him not to sack the City of Rome.
Attila had an astounding military origination, but only he could make it work. He died (or was murdered) right after marrying a beautiful German woman in 453. Shortly thereafter, his fearsome army began to disintegrate. What remained was crushed at the Battle of Nedao in present-day Hungary (454AD), not by Roman legions, but by Germans. The Hun era in Europe came to an abrupt and permeant end. Most native Huns remained in Europe but never formed a cohesive force again.
Lessons: An army of mercenaries can never substitute for an army of patriots, and sleazy, faint-hearted, and corrupt national “leaders,” who do not command respect, can never “stand in” for honorable and fearless heroes. During human history, civilizations come and go, no matter how strong, no matter how advanced. There are no guarantees and no “Divine Protection.”
Personal honor, decency, and courage are the basis of any successful civilization. Moral and virtuous citizens for the rock of any successful society. Toleration of, and eventual encouragement of, corruption, iniquity, and sleaziness unfailingly mark the decline of a civilization.
Unfinished battles and unfinished wars will invariably come back to haunt the “victors.” Leaving an enemy in tact is a virtual guarantee that you will be compelled to face him again.
We ignore the foregoing at our peril!