Tuesday, May 31, 2022


 “If you are a police officer and you think for even one second that you will not be able to run towards the gunfire, please quit now.”

Atlantic Beach, Florida, Police Chief Michelle Cook, 2018

Chief Cook (now sheriff of Clay County) referred to reports that a Broward County deputy had “failed to take action” during the Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 people.  The accused deputy’s trial is scheduled this year.

Following the massacre of 21 students and teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, this month, national focus again returned to police actions and obligations.  

After the Columbine, Colorado, school killings in 1999, the public demanded explanations for police actions or inactions.  Following protocol, officers established a perimeter and surrounded the scene, pointing their guns at the building.  Additional time was spent organizing a multi-agency SWAT team, calling for ammunition and equipment.

The two teenaged killers shot themselves about 50 minutes after opening fire.  SWAT entered one hour thereafter.  Subsequently in a televised interview, one of the officers mentioned concern about friendly fire in the confusion.

Professional debriefs noted that even local police had little or no idea of the school’s interior.  Officers interviewed some students who escaped early, trying to visualize the floor plan.

Subsequently, most metropolitan police and sheriff’s offices revised their active shooter policies.  In the Phoenix area at least two departments adopted a “run to the guns” philosophy, preferably with two or more officers first on the scene.  It makes sense, considering that large-scale shootings usually occur in the first ten minutes or less.

Though many PDs emblazon their patrol cars with the slogan “To protect and serve,” the Supreme Court has twice ruled that police have no obligation toward individuals.  The relevant cases are DeShaney v. Winnebago County (1989) and Gonzales v. Castle Rock (2005).

Meanwhile school shootings are nothing new.  The first recorded incident recorded occurred in Virginia in 1840 when a law professor was mortally wounded by a student. 

One of the dangers of focusing on firearms is that “gun myopia” ignores every other means of mass killings.

While excluding nearly 3,000 killed by terrorists on 9-11 and the 1995 Oklahoma City fertilizer bomb, here’s a brief survey of non-firearms mass murders:

In 1910 suspected anarchists killed 38 and wounded 143 using a horse-drawn wagon loaded with dynamite on Wall Street.  

Then in 1927 the Bath School bombing in Michigan killed 38 children and six adults—a worse toll than any U.S. school shooting to date.


In 1990 Julio Gonzalez killed 87 people at the Happy Land Social Club in New York City, mostly Hondurans celebrating Carnival.  He used a plastic bucket with $1 worth of gasoline, and a match.

That same year 33 Turkish intellectuals were killed when radical Islamists set fire to the group’s hotel.

In 2003 an unemployed South Korean taxi driver started a fire in a subway, killing 198 people with nearly 150 injured.

In 2014 and 2015, 83 Chinese were knifed to death in two attacks.

Massive school killings are not limited to the U.S.  In 2004 Chechyn nationalists took over a Russian school for three days, killing 333 people including 186 children.  

Among police and security professionals there seems growing frustration that the same mistakes still occur decades after Columbine and other atrocities.  The Uvalde massacre came just two months after area police completed refresher training for an active shooter.

Especially in today’s panicked “defund the police” climate, some officers insist it’s not up to cops to divert scarce resources to guarding schools among rising crime and violence.  To quote one law-enforcement friend: “If people want to have children, the parents need to protect their kids.  The cops have too much to do as it is.”

So what should we do?

One popular option seems limiting school access to a single entrance and exit.  The theory holds that an assailant would have to get past the gate guard—who likely would be unarmed.  But whether the guard or guards carry weapons, they could easily be neutralized.

Then the killer or killers have a building full of victims unable to escape.  Locking students in some rooms could reduce the number of targets, but certainly not all.

And as street cops remind us: “When seconds count, we’re minutes away.”

Think about that.

Meanwhile, trying to head off mass murderers is a complex onion of many layers.  There have been advance notices-warnings by some killers, including the Uvalde cretin who posted his intention online.  Apparently nobody took notice.

But the legality of so-called “red flag” laws remains questionable. The Fifth Amendment says that people’s rights cannot be infringed without “due process.”  Red flag laws rely on unverified, possibly malicious, allegations, with no “due process” opportunity for the accused to refute the allegations.

Schools do not help the situation with contradictory policies.  In just one example, last year a Georgia male teacher was suspended for laying hands on a female student who brought a gun to school and holding her until police arrived.  Apparently the school district dropped charges to avoid witness testimony.

In any case, a quick glance shows a clear pattern: School attacks averaged one or two deaths through most of the 20th century.  So what accounts for the huge increase since the 1990s?  That decade produced a 59% increase in attacks over the previous decade with an 80% increase in deaths.

There are of course several factors including reduced rate of committing potential killers to mental institutions—and then-Senator Joe Biden’s 1990 “gun-free school zone” legislation.  The law was overturned by the Supreme Court five years later (United States v. Lopez) but remains a de facto guideline for policy makers.  Technically, 18 states allow teachers or staff to be armed on-campus (with official permission) but few of those are implemented: they include liberal bastions California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Oregon.  

The NEA “educators” are solidly opposed to armed staff in schools by an overwhelming 68 percent.  Ironically, that’s one point less than a recent online poll showing Real Americans favor the concept.

So what should the policy involve?

Police can seldom divert scarce resources to guarding schools.  In fact, at two of the worst attacks, on-scene officers failed to purse the killers in time: at Columbine in 1999 and most recently in Florida. 

Much as many would concur with parents,  at least two parents were detained by police when trying to enter the Uvalde school.  One father was tasered and a mother was handcuffed.  

Meanwhile, police continued entering the school after a brief exchange of gunfire minutes after the killer began shooting.  Apparently he then locked himself in a classroom, safe from nearly twenty officers eventually assembled in the hallway.  They remained there until a staffer arrived with a key.  Police increasingly ask why the officers did not have breaching equipment to open the door.

We continue holding school fire drills though apparently the last significant school fire occurred in Chicago in 1958.  So why not expand active-shooter drills?

One solution:

Allow teachers and school staff to carry pistols, all day every day—and night.  Establish meaningful qualifications and training with at least four recertification events annually.

Require the academic “sheepdogs” to keep their weapon on them full time: no stashing in a desk or locker.  For maximum safety and security, wear the pistol unloaded with one or two magazines on the belt.  If the shooter prefers a revolver, carry speed loaders.  In either case, the gun should be worn in a retention holster to prevent an easy snatch-and-grab.  If the gun’s unloaded, it’s no use with the ammunition carried separately.  And in an emergency either type of firearm can be loaded quickly, though revolvers require more practice.

The ten seconds or less to load a pistol and chamber a round beat the best police response times (typically five to six minutes at best) all to hell.

One more thing:

President Donald Trump suggested paying bonuses to teachers or staff who qualify to carry guns in schools.  Some police recommend more: a fund that pays $1 million to anyone who kills or stops a school murderer. 

That’s something most taxpayers would support.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022


This month's entry appeared in American Thinker on April 21.

In Return to Paradise James Michener wrote, “In the South Pacific there is an island, dark and brooding.  It is not large as islands go, nor yet so small as to be forgotten when one has seen it.”


The island was Guadalcanal.


Nine sweltering degrees below the equator, the 90-mile-long island dominated the Solomons, 600 miles east of New Guinea.  With 7,500 foot mountains among its 2,000 square miles “the Canal” featured beaches, rivers, and a decent harbor at adjacent Tulagi.


Mitscher’s brooding isle occupied the strategic focus of the United States and Japan for six sanguinary months in 1942-43.  On July 4, 1942 an American reconnaissance plane noted the Japanese building a bomber-capable airfield on Guadalcanal.  The threat was implicit: with long-range aircraft, Japan could interdict Allied sea lanes to Australia and New Zealand.  


The timing was providential.  In June the U.S. Navy had blunted Japan’s six-month string of victories in the climactic Battle of Midway, affording a chance to shift from the defense. Commanding Japan’s Combined Fleet was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto who had led the Pearl Harbor and Midway operations.  


The Joint Chiefs in Washington seized the opportunity and authorized Operation Watchtower, America’s first offensive of the war.  The First Marine Division splashed ashore at Guadalcanal (code name Cactus) and nearby Tulagi on August 7, two months to the day after Midway.


America was blessed with experienced, competent leaders.  Major General Archer Vandegrift commanded the First Division, including subordinates such as Merritt “Red Mike” Edson and Louis “Chesty” Puller.  All had learned the brush fighting trade from the Central American “banana wars.”


The Japanese Army was tough and capable, but China was poor preparation for professionally-led Marines.  Time and again Vandegrift’s leathernecks gave better than they got.


Not so at sea.  In the first clash between the U.S. and Imperial navies around the monolithic Savo Island the night of August 8-9, Tokyo’s practiced torpedo men sank four Allied cruisers without loss.   


From Rabaul, New Britain, the Japanese Navy’s world-class bombers and fighters routinely flew 1,200-mile round trips to Guadalcanal—an astonishing feat.  The obvious answer was to get U.S. planes on the island, and the first Marine squadrons landed on August 20, “plankowners” in what became The Cactus Air Force.  Marine, Navy and Army squadrons operated from Henderson Field (named for a Marine hero of Midway) plus two other airstrips in coming weeks.  Fliers and mechanics said, “Cactus was the only place you could stand up to your knees in mud and get dust in your eyes.”


The late Vice Admiral David Richardson, a Guadalcanal fighter pilot, spoke for many.  “I learned that often how much courage a man has depends on how much food and sleep he’s had in the last 72 hours.”


Thus began a symbiotic relationship among riflemen, airmen, and sailors.  Control of the sea and sky frequently changed hands by day and night, and the Japanese perfected the nocturnal “Tokyo express” delivering troops and supplies by ship, then scurrying back north by day.  The Americans relied on coastwatchers—mostly courageous Australian planters and administrators—to radio of Japanese ships and planes.  “Thirty bombers headed yours” became a watchword.


The Americans were strapped for everything; Operation Watchtower was called “Operation Shoestring.”  But the defenders held on.  Guadalcanal became a strategic teeter-totter that summer and fall, the balance tipping in either direction.  In Hawaii the Pacific Fleet’s Admiral Chester Nimitz decided to change horses in Pacific midstream, replacing cautious Vice Admiral Robert Ghormley with an Annapolis football team mate, William F. Halsey.  In his splashy memoir “Bull” Halsey exclaimed, “This was the hottest potato they ever handed me.”  But on the eve of the campaign’s second carrier battle, he messaged his command, “Strike, repeat strike.”


The Battle of Santa Cruz on October 27 represented a Japanese tactical victory.  USS Hornet, which had launched the Doolittle Raiders against Japan in April, was lost.  But Yamamoto’s elite naval aviation arm sustained grievous personnel losses—even more than at Midway.  It was a long-term deficit that could not be regained.


Japanese battleships and cruisers pasted the Americans that month, concentrating on Henderson Field.  At dawn one morning the Cactus Air Force had one dive bomber operational.  But the aviators clung to their battered nest.


On the night of November 12-13, Rear Admirals Norman Scott and Daniel Callaghan led 13 U.S. ships against 14 Japanese plus transports intent on landing troops.  Scott and Callaghan were killed in the 40-minute nocturnal brawl.  Between them they lost six warships to three Japanese, including the battleship Hiei that succumbed to Navy and Marine aircraft after daylight.  


One of the lesser-known heroes of the campaign was Rear Admiral Willis Lee.  A brilliant analyst, he was a big-ship gunfighter in search of a gunfight, and he found it the night of November 14-15.  Leading the battleships USS Washington and South Dakota, he tackled a superior enemy force and blasted the Japanese Kirishima into sinking rubble.  “SoDak” lost power during the 30-minute slugfest, leaving Washington and her four destroyers to handle the chore.  Lee lost three “small boys” but prevented the Marines from sustaining another punishing bombardment, and proved his mastery of radar.


At length the Japanese recognized the inevitable and began a well-conducted evacuation in early February 1943.  Richard B. Frank, author of the definitive study, concluded that Japan left 30,000 imperial warriors to all causes on and around “Starvation Island.”  Meanwhile, victory cost more than 7,000 Allied personnel.  Along the way, Guadalcanal produced twenty Medals of Honor--ten Marine, six Navy, four Army. 


The U.S. and Japan both lost more than 600 aircraft in the campaign.  Twenty-nine American ships were sunk and thirty-one Japanese (plus six submarines) in four surface battles plus two aircraft carrier duels and associated operations.


Admiral Yamamoto did not long survive.  On April 18, 1943—anniversary of the Doolittle Raid—his plane was downed by Guadalcanal-based P-38 Lightnings.  It was the result of superb intelligence and exquisite timing over a 600-mile dogleg route to avoid detection. 


Halsey’s command raised its sights thereafter.  Allied landings on Bougainville in November put more land-based aircraft within range of the Japanese fleet base at Rabaul.  Though Allied squadrons began flying from Bougainville before year end, the aerial siege of Rabaul continued until VJ Day.  Australian troops were heavily committed to ground actions on Bougainville during the last ten months of hostilities. 


Today, though remaining associated with the British Commonwealth, the Solomons are an independent nation of six major islands and hundreds of lesser ones.  The nation eventually achieved independence in the 1970s but fell into decades of instability and violence despite international peace-keeping efforts.  Then in March of this year the Solomons signed a memorandum with China leading to likely military and naval basing.  


Beijing is spreading a wide trident’s net.  Strategically-located Kiribatai, retaining ties to the British Commonwealth, governs 32 atolls in the Gilberts.  In 2019 Kiribatai dropped its Taiwan relationship in favor of Beijing.  Sprawling near the international date line, Kiribatai covers hundreds of nautical miles north and south of the equator, totaling 1.4 million square miles.  Considering that Beijing has built islands in the South China Sea, developing bases throughout the Pacific seems assured.  


China, not America, will determine if the Guadalcanal legacy remains past or represents prologue.


Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The No-Fly Zone Debate

A slightly shorter version appeared in American Thinker, March 24th.


Should NATO establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine?

Aside from public airing of prospects for sending aging MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine, the larger question involves other nations establishing controlled airspace to reduce Russian airpower’s effect during its invasion.

The question turns on prospects for a clash of allied and Russian aircraft erupting into a wider conflict.  

We have been there before. Repeatedly.

In November 1944 Italy-based American fighters attacked a Soviet road convoy in Yugoslavia.  Accounts vary as to the cause: either a navigation error or the Russians’ failure to announce an unexpected breakthrough.  In any case, the P-38 Lightnings mistook the Russian vehicles for German and strafed them.  Reportedly among the dead was a general.

The Russian top cover descended, resulting in a dogfight that claimed two P-38s and four Yakovlev fighters.

Anticipating high-level problems, U.S. headquarters immediately sent the group commander Stateside.  And sure enough, Moscow demanded his execution.  However, Colonel Clarence “Curly” Edwinson retired as a brigadier general.

Throughout the Cold War, Communist fighters downed at least fifteen American aircraft, several in international airspace.  Additionally, surface to air missiles (SAMs) downed U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, captured in Russia in 1960, followed by Major Rolf Anderson, killed in his U-2 over Cuba two years later.

No wars ensued.

American and allied air forces clashed with Soviet jet fighters throughout most of the three-year Korean War.  At least six Russian planes were splashed by U.S. naval aircraft with four MiG pilots killed in one combat off Vladivostok in 1952.

Long after, Moscow acknowledged losing 335 planes and 120 aircrew among a total 299 personnel killed in Korea.  Against orders, some Soviet MiG-15s were pursued to destruction at their sanctuaries in Manchuria.  

No wider war ensued.

A much wider war did occur, of course, when General Douglas MacArthur’s notoriously sycophantic staff discounted intelligence of China preparing a massive offensive as Americans neared the border in 1950.  The quilted tide flooded south, eventually with something over 200,000 Chinese killed or missing before the 1953 armistice.

The Soviet Union provided massive support to Hanoi during the long Vietnam War.  The main contributions were jet fighters and surface to air missiles with technicians and trainers for each.  The official Russian figure is sixteen deaths in Indochina from all causes.

China was even more active, especially with engineering and anti-aircraft units.  Vietnam War scholar Merle Pribbenow places Communist Chinese casualties at 1,100 killed and 4,200 wounded through 1975.

No wider war ensued.

Soviet fighters destroyed a Korean Airlines jetliner off the Russian coast in 1983. Nearly 270 civilians died, including conservative Georgia Congressman Larry McDonald.

No war ensued.

No-fly zones have been enforced by coalition nations for longer than some readers remember.  For 12 years, 1991 to 2003, Operations Northern and Southern Watch divided Iraq into thirds, protecting Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south, leaving the middle portion available to Saddam Hussein’s government.

But NFZs pose inherent risks to operators.  In a bungled 1994 interception, F-15 Eagle fighters destroyed two U.S. Army helicopters with 26 fatalities from the U.S. and four other nations.  In 1998 Saddam Hussein’s forces began firing on coalition aircraft in NFZs without effect though U.S. and British jets retaliated. 

Northern and Southern Watch ended with the allied invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Operation Deny Flight was a 12-nation NATO exercise over Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1993 to 1995.  The most significant action erupted in 1994 when U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcons shot down four Serb jets that had bombed a factory.  Deny Flight expanded into Deliberate Force, authorized to attack a wider variety of targets.

In 2011 the U.N. approved a no-fly zone during the Libyan civil war, lasting from March to October.  Mostly the U.S., Britain, Canada, and France  launched aircraft and missiles against Muammar Qadhafi’s forces in that period and conducted a naval blockade.  Six other nations contributed operational or logistics support but each assigned its own name; America conducted Odyssey Dawn while Britain launched Ellamy, etc.

Today, rather than patrolling fighters in Ukraine airspace, undoubtedly NATO long-range surface to air missiles (SAMs) would be considered splitting hairs in Moscow, as presumably the result would be the same—a reduction in Russian sorties against Ukraine.  

NATO countries already have sent shoulder-mounted SAMs to Ukraine, most notably the U.S. Stinger that featured heavily in defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan.  Videos show Ukrainian Stingers destroying Russian jets and helicopters.

Uraine is almost the size of Texas, far larger than all of Iraq which is more akin to Wisconsin.  But maintaining a nation-wide NFZ might dilute or fracture the enormous international support for Ukraine.  A Ukraine NFZ would require a massive multi-national effort including tankers and round the clock maintenance-logistics.  The huge majority of civilian casualties are inflicted by artillery, cruise and ballistic missiles.  Therefore, NFZ aircrews would have to find those launchers but many are in Russia and Belaruss.

Assuming a Ukrainian NFZ, certainly the Russians would ramp up their anti-air capability, perhaps prompting the U.S. to deploy stealth F-22 Raptor with trouble-plagued F-35 Lighting II fighters, and even B-2 strategic bombers. However, stealth is no guarantor.  In 1999 a clever Yugoslav missile battery shot down an F-117 stealth “fighter”—actually a subsonic attack aircraft with no air to air capability—and reportedly damaged another.

Consequently, even committing stealth jets to Ukraine would require jamming aircraft to escort the strikers, and only the U.S. Navy retains that capability with its EF-18 Growlers.  Washington might be reluctant to show its stealth and electronic warfare hands in an arena removed from American interests. 

Retired Admiral Leighton Smith commanded NATO forces in Bosnia 1994-1996, being knighted for his leadership.  He has rare insight to no-fly zones, as he had been involved in Provide Comfort, recalling, “There was no opposition in Iraq. We had complete control of the air and made iron-clad promises to the Iraqis that any violation, or offensive action, would be dealt with immediately and with considerable force.”

Of a Ukrainian no-fly zone Admiral Smith says, “I don't know how you would control a NFZ in Ukraine without getting into it with the Russians. A very tricky thing to do unless we declare a humanitarian corridor, and patrol that to allow aid to flow unimpeded. Even then, maintaining an NFZ would be tough. I can't imagine what the rules of engagement would be!”

Admiral Smith’s air corridor is reminiscent of a concept from the dawn of the Cold War.  In 1948 Russia blocked allied land access to Berlin,100 miles inside the Soviet zone of occupation.  But rather than abandon their sectors of the German capital, the western powers launched aerial relief despite harassment by Russian fighters.  Lieutenant General Curtis LeMay, commanding U.S. Air Forces Europe, oversaw the 11-month Berlin Airlift, and no wider war developed.

But as always in comparing history to the present, “that was then and this is now.”