American Elephants


Do We Need a ‘Green’ Military, or a Military that Can Fight? by The Elephant's Child

The House Armed Services Committee’s proposed Pentagon Budget contains a provision that could bring a screeching halt to the U.S. military’s ambitious experimentation with biofuels.  This is a very good thing.

Actually, it was probably the president’s ambitious idea. President Obama seems to be a true believer in anthropogenic global warming, whether from conviction on his own part or from conviction urged by the support of Big Green is unknown.

The Army has been developing alternative fuel technologies for ground vehicles, such as a high-tech steam engine that can run on a variety of fuels, including biofuels. The  Army is contracting with Cyclone Power Technologies developer of the all-fuel, clean-tech Cyclone Engine, and Advent Power have been awarded a contract to develop a compact 10kW auxiliary power unit designed to increase operating efficiencies and decrease fuel usage of ground combat vehicles.

The committee sensibly voted to ban the Department of Defense from purchasing alternative fuels that cost more than traditional fossil fuels.

The Air Force has been test-flying a 50-50 blend of camelina and jet fuel in public displays of its high-performance Thunderbirds demonstration team. Camelina is a weedy plant in the mustard family.

The Navy has been testing a variety of biofuels in ships and aircraft, including its Blue Angels demonstration team. Along with camelina, the Navy’s tests include algae and waste grease. The Navy has spent a whole year in an all-out effort to launch a Green Strike Group by mid-June, in time to participate in the multinational Rim of the Pacific  (RIMPAC) maritime exercise. Every member of the Green Strike Group, including both ships and aircraft, must run on green fuel.

When the Commander-in-Chief supports clean green fuels, the military salutes and says yes sir.  But the world has changed, or rather our knowledge of the energy situation in the world has changed. America is awash in accessible fossil fuels. The Navy attended a “Sustainable Maritime Fuels Forum in Australia earlier this Spring, and toured local biofuel facilities. Yet Australia has become a fossil fuel powerhouse, with plentiful resources for hundreds of years.

Governments are picking winners and losers with their usual wisdom. One after another of President Obama’s “green investments” is going broke. Europe is backing away from wind and solar as fast as they can— even sunny countries like Spain. Both wind and solar rely on fossil fuel energy as the required 24/7 backup. The math doesn’t work. Without subsidies and mandates for fleets or utilities to purchase biofuels, there would be no market.

The House Armed Services Committee has it right. If all this alternative energy costs way more than our own traditional fossil fuel; subsidies and mandates from the government to attempt to force their  bright ideas on an unwilling military, that don’t, as yet work, is folly. Our military has enough problems with ill-advised downsizing,  presidential leaks, and failure to understand the military’s mission. They don’t need to be messing around with alternative fuels as well.

It is very odd that at the same time the military is being forced to downsize, and desperately needed replacement of needed equipment is cancelled, we are indulging in wispy ideas that small experiments in alternative fuels can be expanded to supply massive quantities of fuel to run the military. The math doesn’t work. Growing crops to compete with fossil fuel takes vast acreages of land needed for food; and is only conceivable if the price of fossil fuel is extraordinarily high. The president is trying to make that happen, but the people aren’t going to go along.



Memorial Day Began in the Aftermath of the Civil War. by The Elephant's Child

It was after the worst war in our history that we began to officially celebrate Decoration Day, when the graves of the fallen were decorated with flowers, and ceremonies of remembrance were held.  It was three years after the Civil War ended on May 5, 1868 that Major General John A. Logan, head of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), declared that Decoration Day should be Observed, and the last Monday in May was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all across the country.

The first national observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac River from Washington D.C.. The Arlington Mansion, the former home of General Robert E. Lee, was draped in mourning. Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant presided over the ceremonies, and after the speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

There were so many fallen, the traditional numbers were 618,222 — 360,000 from the North, 258,000 from the South. Demographic historian J.David Hacker combed through newly digitized census data from the 19th century, and recalculated the death toll and increased it by more than 20 percent — to 750,000. At that, Dr.Hacker made assumptions and the numbers are only an educated estimate. The data suggested that 650,000 to 850,000 died as a result of the war. He chose 750,00 as the midpoint. That meant 37,000 more widows and 90,000 more orphans.

Here is a fascinating photographic essay about the places of the Civil War 150 years ago, with 48 images. Photography was still in its infancy, but war correspondents produced thousands of images bringing the harsh realities of the frontlines  to those at home in a new way. Remember that the United States was only 85 years old at the time. Here are some of the people of the War, the generals and the ordinary soldiers, the slaves, the President, the heroes and the dead.

I lost four great, great uncles in the Civil War, two on each side. One in the battle around Richmond where he was badly wounded and died from his wounds. His older brother and brother-in-law drove a wagon up from South Carolina, near the Georgia border, across South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia to bring his body home. His brother was killed at Snickers’ Gap, the only Confederate to die in that exchange. Their younger brother was in the South Carolina Calvary and survived the war.

On the Union side, the Ohio soldiers fought in the war down the Mississippi valley. One, I know only as “Uncle Frank who was killed in the war” for I have a tintype portrait. The other, I believe from the dates, was wounded at Chickamauga and died from his wounds.

War is terrible, and none was ever more terrible than the War between the States. but the nation healed slowly, and remained a strong union. “As we here highly resolve, these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”




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