Online Advice

Online advice is everywhere, and I do realize that as someone posting online, and sometimes giving advice, I’m part of the trend I’m about to complain of.  Naturally, I don’t think I’m the kind of problem others are, but equally naturally if I’m staring at myself in a mirror…that’s not really what I look like to the world.  So the person who finds most internet advice shallow to totally wrong is likely to be…shallow and/or totally wrong.   Here’s your box of salt–iodized, Kosher, Himalayan pink, sea salt, or whatever you like…sprinkle freely on what follows.

Categories of online advice include the military, the political, the psychological/emotional, the physical health/wellness, the fashion (in home decorating or clothes or cars or…), and the skills-based (writing, woodworking, cooking, gardening, animal training, child-rearing, etc.)  Plus lots more but those are the ones I see most.  Some of the advice givers are clearly knowledgeable and skilled, with varying levels of expertise, to be sure, and strong opinions, but I’ve found some of these useful in expanding my own understanding of something.  Others are all opinion and no real expertise, and some are mere rants.  It often seems that most people on the internet are determined to change other people–how and what they eat, how they dress, how they treat specified others (spouses, lovers, children, old people, co-workers, bosses, employees, pets, and so on.)  And to a varying degree, a lot of that advice annoys me, especially if I have my own knowledge base in the area under discussion.  (Yes, I’m absolutely certain I annoy others with some of the advice I’ve given, and that some of the annoyance is justified.)

Just as “one size fits all” socks for women annoy me (because they don’t fit ME, bigfoot that I am), “one size fits all” advice annoys me.  Nobody should eat X?  Nobody “needs” Y?  Everybody should do Z every day/night/morning?  NO.  My large feet are braced firmly in the mud at the edge of that assumption and I refuse to be led or driven into the toxic pond of “Everybody should/shouldn’t–”  eat/not eat/wear/not wear/do/not do whatever it is.  Although, being quite normally illogical in places, I have my own little list of permanent shoulds/shouldn’ts.   Hills that I may not die on, but will defend with vigor when they bulge out under my feet.  (Data is a plural noun, the singular of which is datum.  The Oxford comma prevents confusion and therefore is just fine, I don’t care how many terabytes you claim dumping it would save.)   The aversion to universal statements (nobody/everybody/all) appears to have been inborn; my mother complained repeatedly about my habit of finding exceptions where she found universals.  Since babies can’t talk at birth, I assume the “Yes, but…” was just a tiny bit of neural stuff back then, and unfolded into its annoying potential when I started coming into contact with her rules.  And other rules.  And, ultimately, internet advice.

But to get back to the origin of this post, I started it a week or so ago when annoyed with the low quality of the online advice re: Ukraine I was seeing.  Political/military advice tends to be rigidly binary (“nuke ’em” or “end war”) and comes, apparently, from men (primarily) who play computer or board war-games and have seen lots of movies/videos in which nuking the bad guys wins the war, and men and women who don’t understand why everyone can’t just love one another.  That post displeased me on second and third attempts…and this one might, too, but hasn’t yet.

I wanted to suggest (yes, giving unasked advice) that people who are interested in the history behind this war, and the military history behind how the Russians are waging it and how the Ukrainians are waging it should hunt up certain sources in either general or specialist libraries (or buy more books, if the budget and space allow.) Ukrainian and Russian history are a lot longer than US history (and human presence in that area is older yet), and so is the history of conflict between (taking a deep breath) invaders from the south, coming up around the margins of the Black Sea, invasion from the west, invasion from the east (mostly nomadic tribes from the steppes, some very powerful), invasion from the north (Vikings, among others.)  This is not an area known for long stretches of peace and harmony among the various influences.   For a long time, a great trade route ran through it north-south as well as alongside it (on the Black Sea side), at its height connecting Persia (along a branch route) and China with the Mediterranean powers.  Few traveled the whole route, but trade existed, as it did from eastern Europe to the British Isles, so that Saxon gold was set with amethysts and rubies and garnets and emeralds from a continent away.  Mountain ranges existed, but not to the exclusion of either invaders or traders, and the level ground that made Ukraine a famous breadbasket  lured those who wanted to feed their armies, czars and other war-leaders among them.

Borodin’s famous opera Prince Igor concerns the defense of the Rus prince’s city against an invasion of “Tatars”–warrior hordes from the east.  There are still Tatars in Ukraine.   When Islam gained control of what is now Turkey, Turkish sultans tried repeatedly to get control of the entire Black Sea, including its northern shore (just as they had overrun Greece, the Balkans, and subjugated the Greek cities of the south coast of the Black Sea, which had been there (by then) for close to a thousand yearsand Russians tried repeatedly to keep them out.  More northern Europeans (Sweden in particular, also the Austrian Empire) wanted the Turks kept far, far away.   (Worth remembering the centuries in which Islamic leaders made serious inroads into southern and eastern Europe as well as deep into Africa, India, and Indonesia, and controlled much of what had been Mare Nostrum, “Our sea” to the Romans.  History supports its favorites only for a while, and then cheers on their invaders.

In the 20th century, the Georgian-Russian bandit-turned-dictator Stalin saw Ukraine as important to his plan to destroy the former society and build something “better”–and so he destroyed the existing (very successful) Ukrainian agricultural system, and imposed his own, intentionally starving the population until the remnants submitted and he could replace them with ethnic Russians (exactly what Putin is doing, removing captured Ukrainian civilians to remote areas of Russia and planning to insert yet more Russians (he did that in 2014 to the Crimea, too.)  Ukrainians resented this, whether they were Tatar-Ukrainian, Greek-related-Ukrainian, or any other variety of Ukrainian; they resented it enough to cooperate with the Germans, until the Germans proved just as nasty as the Russians.  Russians are still mad at Ukraine for their period of German cooperation in WWII, preferring to ignore the intentional starvation of Ukrainian farmers that came first.  Humans (not just Ukrainians and Russians, but also you and me) are historically good at holding onto grudges and keeping them alive and toothy through generations.

The new war had driven me back to some books on the shelf I hadn’t re-read for some years, largely because of the concussions, which had made that kind of book hard to follow, but once I got stuck into them again, things fell rapidly into familiar patterns.   Cordesman & Wagner’s three volume series  The Lessons of Modern War isn’t as “modern” now as it was in 1990…Volume III’s “The Afghan and Falklands Conflicts” is about the Russian experience in Afghanistan, not the United States experience, in which it is obvious that though the Russians may have learned (temporarily) some lessons from their failure in Afghanistan, they’d forgotten those lessons when deciding to attack Ukraine, and the United States had, in an all-too-familiar way, ignored Russia’s experiences when it decided to invade Afghanistan itself.  Weapons change with technological change; mindsets harden into mental concrete and certain patterns repeat through generations of soldiers in a given culture.   And when I watch a war enthusiast use a computer game to show how someone in a simulated airplane  flying over a simulated landscape can destroy a simulated Russian convoy with amazing ease, I know that individual’s background does not include any actual military experience in war.  It’s fun (as simulated war can be fun; it leaves out all the messy bits,  the smells in particular, the real intensity of the noise, the gut-churning realization that the bullets snicking into the leaves over head are NOT a simulation–which can be terrifying or deliciously exciting depending on what kind of a neural setup you’ve got and whether it’s a live-fire exercise in training or the even more realistic experience of having someone intending, hoping, to kill you permanently dead.)   I have friends who’ve computer gamed aerial battles and naval battles and I’ve board-gamed some…those can be educational, but they’re utterly unreal, moving the symbols of tanks and troop units here and there according to the game’s rules.

The real thing, as after-battle and after-war analyses show, may be turned into a game and played with friends or family…but in life it’s totally other than neat marks on a map, rules set by the game designer, taking turns, throwing dice or otherwise determining who gets to do what.   It’s violence, chaos, red in tooth and claw, far less predictable (“No plan survives contact with the enemy” or, I would add, with the assumptions of politicians so ready to show their patriotism and so often unwilling to risk their own or their own offspring’s skins.)  So I take the enthusiasm of those with no background with a mental shrug; they may be well-meaning but their knowledge base is an upside down pyramid of optimism.  Those with the right background and experience–and remaining mentally sound enough not to radiate a crackpot spectrum or frank mental illness–are definitely worth the attention of someone who wants to understand.  There are some of these on the internet but they’re not the loudest, the busiest, the talking heads on local TV.   They say what they’ve got to say and don’t waste time in futile arguments with the ignorant, the gormless, the theorists.

And once again it’s after midnight and I couldn’t get to sleep.  Maybe now.

[EDIT…went to bed that day w/o actually posting this…DUH.  Now it’s two-three days later, and *almost* midnight and I *will* post this.   With an addition important to anyone here who wants to write any fiction dealing with any military now or in the future.   This You Tube video:

The new war had driven me back to some books on the shelf I hadn’t re-read for some years, largely because of the concussions, which had made that kind of book hard to follow, but once I got stuck into them again, things fell rapidly into familiar patterns.   Cordesman & Wagner’s three volume series  The Lessons of Modern War isn’t as “modern” now as it was in 1990…Volume III’s “The Afghan and Falklands Conflicts” is about the Russian experience in Afghanistan, not the United States experience, in which it is obvious that though the Russians may have learned (temporarily) some lessons from their failure in Afghanistan, they’d forgotten those lessons when deciding to attack Ukraine, and the United States had, in an all-too-familiar way, ignored Russia’s experiences when it decided to invade Afghanistan itself.  Weapons change with technological change; mindsets harden into mental concrete and certain patterns repeat through generations of soldiers in a given culture.   And when I watch a war enthusiast use a computer game to show how someone in a simulated airplane  flying over a simulated landscape can destroy a simulated Russian convoy with amazing ease, I know that individual’s background does not include any actual military experience in war.  It’s fun (as simulated war can be fun; it leaves out all the messy bits,  the smells in particular, the real intensity of the noise, the gut-churning realization that the bullets snicking into the leaves over head are NOT a simulation–which can be terrifying or deliciously exciting depending on what kind of a neural setup you’ve got and whether it’s a live-fire exercise in training or the even more realistic experience of having someone intending, hoping, to kill you permanently dead.)   I have friends who’ve computer gamed aerial battles and naval battles and I’ve board-gamed some…those can be educational, but they’re utterly unreal, moving the symbols of tanks and troop units here and there according to the game’s rules.

The real thing, as after-battle and after-war analyses show, may be turned into a game and played with friends or family…but in life it’s totally other than neat marks on a map, rules set by the game designer, taking turns, throwing dice or otherwise determining who gets to do what.   It’s violence, chaos, red in tooth and claw, far less predictable (“No plan survives contact with the enemy” or, I would add, with the assumptions of politicians so ready to show their patriotism and so often unwilling to risk their own or their own offspring’s skins.)  So I take the enthusiasm of those with no background with a mental shrug; they may be well-meaning but their knowledge base is an upside down pyramid of optimism.  Those with the right background and experience–and remaining mentally sound enough not to radiate a crackpot spectrum or frank mental illness–are definitely worth the attention of someone who wants to understand.  There are some of these on the internet but they’re not the loudest, the busiest, the talking heads on local TV.   They say what they’ve got to say and don’t waste time in futile arguments with the ignorant, the gormless, the theorists.

And once again it’s after midnight and I couldn’t get to sleep.  Maybe now.

[EDITED 2-3 days later because I never posted that, and now have an important (I think) addition.]  If you’ve ever wanted to write fiction with a military component, there’s a video of a press conference with some Russian POWs in Ukraine, conveying a reality of feelings among invasion troops who feel betrayed by their country…there’s English translation (good, bad, or indifferent I couldn’t say) but you really don’t need much if it.   The title is wrong–it wasn’t Russian pilots but men from a squad of ground troops who were sent into Ukraine the first day (I think) of the war.  Watch the faces, the gestures, etc.   The youngest, on the left end of the row.  The oldest, in the middle, who speaks first.   These are your potential characters; this is what they should look and sound like (no two alike, but all in the same mess, whatever it is.   A private, two drivers, one guy in security/intelligence, experienced, inexperienced, men who had believed what they were told ahead of time, who learned they’d been lied to.  Some very telling details *are* in the narratives, also useful to writers.  I have, in the new-but-not-working Vatta book, some soldiers who “disappeared” in the attempted coup in INTO THE FIRE, technically deserters, though they deserted from cooperating in the mutiny.  In my mind, when I was writing those sections (more than a year ago)  they looked and sounded (but for the exact content of the talk) like these men.  Exhausted, depressed, resentful, hopeless, most of them.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WO4i25gNwU

 

Here’s a snippet from the still-not-written and untitled Vatta book that I instantly connected with these Russians:

Where: Slotter Key, the continent Voruksland, isolated logging camp in far north woods

When: about 4 years after the insurrection in INTO THE FIRE

Who: POV is Raoul Grattin, formerly a sergeant in the 34th Mountain Exploration Battalion, formerly rotated in and out of Miksland under the command of Colonel Greyhaus.

Raoul Grattin glanced back at his…what should he call it now, shrunken as it was from the night they had fled the northern base?  Even as recently as this time last year, it had been larger, twenty-six of them, and they’d arrived as thirty.  Now they’d come to bury the fifth of their dead in a year, a bog burial, as was the way of things here.  Four other men he had known for years had sunk in this bog and now it was Fordin’s body they’d watch sink into the dark water.

The others looked back at him; no one spoke. Four of them carried the log they’d hollowed out,  Fordin inside it under a pegged bark cover, the best they could do for a coffin.  He’d died of the choking fever, like four children in the village and their parents. Others had lived through it.

Grattin’s thoughts were darker than the bog water, colder than the day.  Why had he ever thought he could lead these men to safety?  He’d failed them.  Failed Fordin and Dnavos and Perss and Convin and–maybe not Gan, who’d insisted he could cross a raging stream, but he hadn’t talked Gan out of trying, either.

Orniz came up beside him.  “Sarge?”

“Yeah.”  Grattin pulled himself together.

“They’ll want us back on the saws.”

They, being the village men, for whom they labored in return for scant food and ragged clothes.  He took a long breath.  “Jase Fordin, 34th Mountain Exploration Team, our brother for thirteen years in Miksland and back here, we bring you to your final rest, and swear on our honor to get word of your passing to your family…”  Though how and when he did not know.  “…and being without a chaplain, and without the proper texts, we send you into Eternity counting on your gods to welcome you properly despite our dereliction.”  The So we swear at the end was ragged, but firm enough in every voice.  Grattin led the way into the bog on the way of poles they’d placed the first time they used it for this purpose, and then stepped into the water, easing into its icy embrace.  The deep hole was in front of him, slightly to his right; he turned and reached for the end of the log.  “It’s a poor ship, brother,” he muttered, “but the best we have.”  He shoved it down toward the water. The old mostly rotted log filled, then pulled itself away from the others’ hands, and finally his.  Veick reached out, grasped his wrist, and helped him back to the pole path, up out of the bog, and they walked back to the village, each silent with his own thoughts.  Grattin’s boots squelched and left black slime tracks when he walked across snow.

His thoughts were as black as his boots.  They were dying, one by one, in squalor and misery and he was supposed to–had to–figure out what to do.  They must get away from this village, this vile, ugly place where they were hard-used and hated.  Hated for being soldiers, not for being deserters.  Hated for having better guns, not for anything they’d done.  They should leave, but go where, and how?

 

8 thoughts on “Online Advice

  1. With you on “one-size-fits-all”, “datum”, “data”, and the Oxford comma.
    Do the war games, online and board, include penalties for damage to civilians, civilian infrastructure, and environment? After all, if the goal of the invasion is to obtain more arable land, it is probably counter productive to destroy the arability of the land being fought over. Or so it seems to my Vulcan mind.

    The You-tube link shows up at the end of the second copy of the post at the end of the last paragraph before the snippet.

    1. I have often had trouble with the linky-thing here in Word Press…I think I just don’t “get” how to make it work reliably.

      The board-type war game I played with my husband decades ago did not include any penalties for damage except for loss of one’s own military component. That was the thinking then. Environment was never mentioned. I’ve never played computer or online war games, but suspect that they, too, do not include allowances for damage to civilians, intrastructure, environment. Nor do games account for the lies nations tell the world about their intentions in starting a war: it’s been clear that Putin’s intent was to depopulate Ukraine in order to create more culturally/racially Russian space and move ethnic Russians into it. To depopulate it by killing civilians, removing some to concentration camps in Siberia (some would die, some would be raised as Russian and become ethnically Russian), by killing refugees on the way to temporary safety. That was *instantly* obvious to Ukrainians themselves (after being through previous rounds of “kill ’em all, then we have land to move into and make ours.”

      Which is why the Ukrainians have fought so hard and so intelligently. They know Russians want them dead, not just defeated in place. They know they can expect no mercy if they surrender. They are in what’s known militarily as “death country” which brings out every microgram of determination and cunning in a fight for survival…not a battlefield fight for survival by individuals, but an existential fight for survival as Ukrainians. Russians should have known better (but Putin, like Trump, is mentally bent) from their own experiences in Leningrad during WWII.

      The Republicans should have known better before pushing women the way they are now.

  2. I’m with you on one-size-fits-all, data, datum, the Oxford comma, and the “value” of much on-line advice.

    For anyone interested in the history of Ukraine, this book is quite readable (though I must admit to not looking up every location, nor puzzling out correct pronunciations of names of people or places).

    https://www.amazon.com/Gates-Europe-History-Ukraine/dp/1541675649/

    I got it through my local library, and have made my way into the 20th century.

    Amazon quotes a review:
    A New York Times bestseller, this definitive history of Ukraine is “an exemplary account of Europe’s least-known large country” (Wall Street Journal).

    1. Thanks for this recommendation, William. It sounds quite possible but my book-buying budget is down right now due to commitments elsewhere. It goes on my list. (Local library is very small and there’s not an all-county library I can check out books from.)

    2. Elizabeth: Thanks to a recommendation from another Rice alum, I’ve been enjoying the use of an app called Libby. It allows me to easily find and check out e-books from my county library system. It’s a free service. (Free to me, at least. Somebody had to pay to create the app, and presumably there are fees the library pays for use of the books…) Most books I’ve checked out come through Amazon to the kindle app on my iPad, downloaded and available for reading off-line. One had to be read in the app, while connected. Certainly the selection of books has limits, but it might be larger than your book-buying budget, particularly for books that might prove interesting to read only once. This is how I found and read the history of Ukraine.

      I just checked the app, and see a “Central Texas Digital Consortium” of 64 libraries, including the Georgetown library. I don’t know if yours is on the list, but could check for you.

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