We brought you the best COVID-19 memes on the internet… and just when we thought we couldn’t make any more memes, or laugh at them for that matter, we realized the absurdity of trying to homeschool and work and exist and teach and cook and Zoom and do it all for the foreseeable future.
May the odds be ever in your favor, homeschooling parents. We’re sending you all our virtual vibes. And drink of choice.
1. I dunno
Fake it ’til you make it, bud.
2. All the options
Sometimes there are no good options.
3. Scribble scrabble
Wear masks. But maybe not outside at recess. But maybe at recess. But not if you’re eating at your desk. But what if you’re eating at recess?
4. Hold your breath
You’ll probably only lose your voice though if the kids stay home.
5. Poor Billy Madison
Nah, just put on Hamilton.
6. Screen time
To be fair, Netflix has some great educational programs. I mean how else would you teach business practices other than letting your kids watch Narcos?
7. Schedules are important
7:00: Kids console crying parents.
No really, everything is fine!
9. 90s kids
To be fair, Zack Morris practically babysat us.
Hilarious but DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!
At least this kid has on pants.
12. Wishes for fishes
Pour all your money into the fountains, people.
Make sure your kids have a red stapler…
We’ll never forget 2020. As much as we’d like to.
Be careful what you make fun of!
There’s that growth mindset…
Nothing to see here.
Where’s Jenny when you need her?
Homeschooling parents: Really putting the “win” in wine.
It’s been a long five months. No judgement here, Marge.
21. Tiger King
We wanted to love it. We really did.
But to be fair… who does?
Well at least your kids will learn something about science as they watch you age…
Whether you’re sending your kids back in person in full PPE or prepping for virtual learning, we’re wishing all of your kids (and all of our teachers!) a great school year… and fast internet, well-lit makeshift classrooms and lots of patience. Here’s to you, parents and educators!
About 90 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune carried out a mock air assault in Iceland in October 2018 as part of the initial phase of NATO’s largest war games since the end of the Cold War.
The NATO war games, called Trident Juncture 2018, will begin on Oct. 25, 2018, in Norway and include more than 50,000 troops from 31 countries.
According to NATO, the purpose of Trident Juncture is “to ensure that NATO forces are trained, able to operate together, and ready to respond to any threat from any direction.”
But the war games are also largely seen, by the East and West, as de facto training for a fight with Russia.
Along with the carrier USS Harry S. Truman, the US has sent about 14,000 troops to the games, and the initial mock air assault was to help prepare Marines for a large-scale amphibious assault to be carried later in Norway.
During an operation aimed at eliminating ISIS’s last stronghold in Syria, a US-backed militia captured five foreign fighters including a school teacher from Texas who once sent his resume and a cover letter to the caliphate.
“Dear Director, I am looking to get a position teaching English to students in the Islamic State,” the letter reads.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish fighting group backed by the US, announced Jan. 13, 2019, that its fighters had captured Warren Christopher Clark, a 34-year-old from Houston. The New York Times obtained documents found in a house in Mosul, Iraq — including a resume and cover letter — that Clark reportedly sent to apply for a job teaching English in the caliphate.
A photo released by the Syrian Defense Forces reportedly shows Warren Christopher Clark after his capture in Syria.
(Syrian Defense Force)
The letter, which was verified by Seamus Hughes of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, and bears the signature “Abu Mohammed,” said to be a pseudonym, according to the Times. A resume accompanying the letter ends in 2015, which may indicate when Clark began working for the Islamic State. The documents obtained in Mosul show that before landing in Syria, the University of Houston graduate spent time teaching in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, according to the Times.
The SDF identified a second man as American, but the Times reported that Zaid Abed al-Hamid is more likely from Trinidad.
To date, only four Americans have been captured in battle in Iraq and Syria, according to George Washington University experts. According to the Times, US officials have not yet confirmed the SDF’s report.
If Clark and Hamid are returned to the US, they will join a small number of former ISIS militants extradited — according to GWU’s database, of 72 identified Americans who have traveled to join the caliphate, 14 have been returned to face charges.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The question that kept many a Cold Warrior awake at night was usually one of how to keep anyone in the chain of missile launch command from starting a nuclear war without considering the consequences, if they weren’t 100 percent sure of a Soviet first strike, or worse, just firing nukes off on a whim? But someone wondered – what if someone had to die to be able to launch the U.S. arsenal?
Do we get to choose who? Because I have some ideas.
Like the old urban legend of Special Forces operators being forced to murder a dog, or their dog, or whatever animal the urban legend mentioned, imagine how the thought process of launching a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union might have changed if one of the key holders had to die for the United States to be able to launch its missiles. This was the thought experiment posed by Harvard law professor Roger Fisher. Fisher wanted to consider the idea of surgically implanting the launch codes in a human body.
Right now, the President is followed around by a military officer who holds the “football,” a suitcase that contains all the codes needed to fire off a nuclear weapon – or all the nuclear weapons. But what if the President of the United States had to kill the man who held the football to be able to extract the codes? Would it be so easy to launch?
Fisher’s rationale was that a President being briefed by Pentagon officials would have to talk through what was about to happen in a very matter-of-fact, unemotional way. He would be repeating lines of codes, ordering unspeakable horror in the blandest way possible. Fisher thought the President should have to make an emotional stand in order to fully execute and understand what he was about to do – to ensure that it was absolutely necessary, he should kill the first casualty himself.
The codes would be in a capsule near the heart of the volunteer holding the football, and now the football included a large, sharp knife for the President to use. This way, there would be no chance the volunteer would survive the interaction with the President, and the President would see the results of what he was about to do. In Fisher’s words, “Blood on the White House carpet. It’s reality brought home.”
Over the past few days, you’ve been collecting exit signatures for your check-out sheet, and low and behold, you’re almost home. The process has been relatively straightforward up until this point.
The last item you need to get signed off is from the Central Issue Facility, or supply, where you need to check in all of your gear. Supply is one of the last stops a service member makes before obtaining their official DD-214.
Sounds easy enough, right?
Wrong. If one aspect of your gear is not check-in ready, integrating back into civilian population will be delayed.
So check out our list of what it typically takes to check in your gear and move on with your life.
(This is based on many true stories)
1. What it looks like when you’re on your way to the central issue on a Friday afternoon.
Oh, come on. (Images via Giphy)
2.When you walk inside and all you see are other troops waiting in a long a** line.
There’s too many to count. (Images via Giphy)
3. To add insult to injury, everyone who works there looks slow and grumpy.
Why do I hate life? (Images via Giphy)
4. After waiting what felt like an eternity, you finally haul your heavy gear over to the counter and begin the checkout process.
So heavy. (Images via Giphy)
5. You make it to the counter, and just as your morale has been boosted, you realized you’re at the slowest worker’s section.
Please, hurry the f*ck up! (Images via Giphy)
6. The clerk starts to review all your gear, pulling everything out piece-by-piece — most of which you never used.
And we mean most things. (Images via Giphy)
7. After completing the inventory, the clerk finds an issue with your almost squared away paperwork. All of your gear is clean enough to pass, but there’s a missing signature.
No way freakin’ way. (Images via Giphy)
8. Your superior officer’s signature is missing for an expensive piece of gear which got destroyed while you were deployed. The clerk informs you that you can either pay for it yourself or get the signature before you can get out of the military.
You can’t believe what you’re hearing.
I ain’t paying for sh*t. (Images via Giphy)
9. You speed back to your company HQ to find your CO.
Pedal to the metal. (Images via Giphy)
10. You dash into the HQ in search of the man or woman who can set you free.
Where are they? (Images via Giphy)
11. You find your superior, he or she signs the paperwork and then your emotions take over.
This may be wrong but it feels right. (Images via Giphy)
12. Now that you got your signature, it’s time to head back to central issue.
Almost to the finish line. (Images via Giphy)
13. You get back the central issue building and attempt to eyeball the person who helped you earlier to avoid waiting in line again.
Every job has its unexpected perks. Even being a Marine Corps aviator in World War II had some unexpected benefits. This is because Marines make do, as the saying goes, and are used to making the most out of whatever Uncle Sam provides them to get the mission done. They will even make miracles happen when it’s not part of the mission.
That’s just what Marines do, even when it comes to ice cream.
You read that right.
Everyone loves ice cream and I state that firm belief as someone who has been lactose intolerant his entire life. Marines these days give the Air Force a lot of smack for (almost) always having sweet treats present wherever there’s an Air Force dining facility. But let’s be real, after a few days, weeks, or however long being deprived of even the simplest luxury, a bit of ice cream goes a long way. Marine aviators in the Pacific Theater thought so, too.
The United States captured the island of Peleliu from Imperial Japan after more than two months of hard fighting toward the end of 1944. Marines on Peleliu were within striking distance of the enemy, but since there was no real threat at the time, they were not on combat patrols or supporting operations elsewhere in the theater. The Marines were getting bored and if you’ve ever made it past basic training in any branch of the military, you know there are few things more inventive or more dangerous than bored Marines.
The crew of the USS Lexington raided the ice cream stores after being torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942. That’s not a joke.
One squadron commander, J. Hunter Reinburg, figured he could probably raise morale among his men if he could fix one of his F4U Corsair fighter-bombers to become a high-altitude ice cream maker. It wouldn’t be that hard. His crews cut the ends off a drop tank, created a side access panel, and strung a .50-caliber ammo can in the panel. He instructed the mess sergeant to fill the ammo can with canned milk and cocoa powder. All he had to do was get it cold enough to freeze – no problem for a high-altitude fighter.
There was something to Reinburg’s thinking. Ice cream has long been a staple of American morale. During the years of Prohibition, ice cream and soda jerks replaced bar nuts and bartenders for many Americans. Ice creams were marketed toward helping people cope with suffering during the Great Depression. When World War II broke out, other countries banned ice cream to enforce sugar rations — but not the United States. Americans loved the sweet treat so much the U.S. military even planned to build a floating ice cream factory and tow it into the Pacific Theater.
For Marines stranded on a hot island with no fresh food and no refrigeration, high-altitude ice cream was a great idea.
I need to get me one of those old-time ice cream makers.
Army Air Corps bombers had been making the sweet treat in the same way for years, flying at frigid high altitudes while the hum and vibrations from the engine churned the milk and sugar into frozen ice cream. For the Marines, the first run was a disaster. Reinburg circled the island at 33,000 feet for 35 minutes. When he landed, the mixture was still liquid. But Marines don’t give up so easily.
The second run saw ammo cans bolted onto the underside of wings to keep the ice cream base far from the hot engines. The mixture froze, but didn’t have the creamy texture the men wanted so badly. The third run was the most inventive of all. This time Marines rigged the ammo cans themselves with propellers which turned a screw inside the ammo cans, churning the ice cream as it froze.
This time the ice cream was perfect. The only hitch was they forgot to let the Operations Officer, a Colonel, have a ration of ice cream.
During a surprise trip to Iraq, his first such visit with US troops in a combat zone, President Donald Trump says he has “no plans at all” to withdraw US forces from the country, where they have been present since the 2003 invasion.
Trump had not previously said he would pull US troops from Iraq, but the trip comes after he abruptly announced the withdrawal of some 2,000 US troops from Syria — a decision that reportedly prompted Defence Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation — and reports emerged of plans to remove about half of the 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan.
Mattis, who will leave office at the end of 2018, signed an order to withdraw troops from Syria on Dec. 24, 2018.
Trump, accompanied by his wife, Melania, travelled to Iraq late on Christmas night, flying to Al Asad air base in western Iraq and delivering a holiday message to more than 5,000 US troops stationed in the country. He is expected to make two stops on the trip, according to The New York Times.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.
(Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill)
The trip was kept secret, with Air Force One reportedly making the 11-hour flight with lights off and window shades drawn. Trump said he had never seen anything like it and that he was more concerned with the safety of those with him than he was for himself, according to the Associated Press.
The president said that because of gains made against ISIS in Syria, US forces there were able to return home. US officials have said the militant group holds about 1% of the territory it once occupied, though several thousand fighters remain in pockets in western Syria and others have blended back into local populations.
Trump said the mission in Syria was to remove ISIS from its strongholds and not to be a nation-builder, which he said was a job for other wealthy countries. He praised Saudi Arabia this week for committing money to rebuild the war-torn country. The US presence there was never meant to be “open-ended,” he added.
Trump told reporters traveling with him that he wanted to remove US forces from Syria but that Iraq could still be used as a base to launch attacks on ISIS militants.
If needed, the US can attack ISIS “so fast and so hard” that they “won’t know what the hell happened,” Trump said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Have you ever been lost for words in how to approach a serious conversation? As military spouses, we may feel vulnerability is a bad thing, but it’s crucial to have meaningful, heartfelt conversations. Have you ever shared legitimate fears, hoping for a safe space to find relief, and were met with jokes or platitudes? Here are a few ways we weave vulnerability into our conversations.
Please, Sir, can I have some more?
Asking for what you need might sound demanding, but this request allows the other person to know what you’re looking for to support you better. Ideas for phrase starters could look like: “I’m looking for encouragement…advice…a reminder I’m not crazy and can do this,” Sometimes as listeners, we advise because we want to help when the other person is just looking to vent or verbally process. Knowing this information beforehand gives the listener insight into how to respond in a way that nourishes each of you.
Let’s take it to the next level
What do you do when you want to have a serious conversation and do not want to be brushed aside or met with sarcasm? Using this ‘level’ tool, you can set the tone for discussion beforehand.
Level 1 is everyday chat, light-hearted fun.
Level 3 is, ‘I want you to take me seriously and hear me out; please don’t make light of this.’
Level 5 is divorce talks or a year-long unaccompanied tour announcement. A high stakes all-hands-on-deck conversation.
By stating the level, you give the person you are hoping to talk with an understanding of where you are mentally.
Hurry Up and Wait
Be prepared to wait if you ask for a level 3+ conversation. If they are in the middle of a project, they may need to get back to you later to give you proper attention. Adding more care to our conversations is a gift. Providing clarity on the topic helps them mentally prepare as well. For example: “Hey, hun, I’d love to have a level 3 about your deployment next week, we need to make a plan,” or, “Hey, mom, level 5, I’m four months into a one-year deployment, with three kids. I’m not okay. I need help.”
When we share the topic of conversation and use an easy tool like levels, we can let people know the seriousness of our feelings before the discussion even starts. Using these tools can change the conversation from one of frustration to one of vulnerability and met hearts.
In 2018, Navy veteran Anthony Price burned through more than 450 gallons of gasoline and three sets of tires. He spent more than 700 miles in the rain, many days in temperatures above 100 degrees, and at least one day in the snow. He did all of it to honor the families who lost a loved one to America’s wars. And he’s going to do it again in 2019, as he has for the past six years.
The Gold Star Ride of a lifetime.
Price began his ride for Gold Star families in 2013 as a means of calling attention to those families and saying thank you in his own way. Since then, he has been to more than 44 states, enduring extreme temperatures and conditions just to ensure the families of fallen service members are taken care of. As the Gold Star Ride website says, “We ride because they died… We do the work that our fallen heroes would do if they hadn’t fallen for all our freedom.”
Soon the Minnesota-based Price and his fellow riders were a full-fledged nonprofit, dedicated to the mission of helping those in need. Gold Star Riders actively support, comfort, and provide education benefits to Gold Star Families throughout the United States directly with personal visits via motorcycle. They also vow to partner with any group who actively helps these Gold Star families.
“The families themselves are not looking for any stardom or any fame or any glory,” Price says. “They’re just looking for someone to remember, to remember a huge sacrifice.”
The title of Price’s book is a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s “Bixby Letter,” a letter the 16th President penned to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. In it, the President is said to have written his regret at her loss and his attempt to console her by reminding the mother of the Republic they died to save. He ends the letter with “Yours, Very Sincerely and Respectfully.”
Price in an interview with a Fox affiliate.
The letter is an apt reference, as Price describes on commercial producer Jordan Brady’s “Respect the Process” Podcast. Price mentions that he would talk to twenty or so people a day, on average, for two months straight. He found that 19 of those 20 didn’t know what a Gold Star Family was. In one case, even a Gold Star Family did not realize they were a Gold Star Family.
To be clear, a Gold Star Family member is the immediate family of any military member who lost their life in military service – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, and children.
“One of the reasons we do this is because no one else was doing it,” says Price. “Every once in a while I hear someone say ‘you’re adding an element that makes [the loss] a little more palatable… the work you’re doing is helping me make sense of the tragedy I have to go through.'”
Russia reportedly plans to arm its most advanced fighter jet with a powerful hypersonic air-to-air missile that can take aim at aircraft nearly two hundred miles away, making them a potential threat to critical US air assets.
The Su-57 multipurpose fighter jet, a fifth-generation stealth fighter built for air superiority and complex attack operations that is still in development, will be armed with the new R-37M, an upgraded version of an older long-range air-to-air missile, Russia Today reported Sept. 27, 2018, citing defense officials.
The Russian Ministry of Defense is reportedly close to completing testing for this weapon, the development of which began after the turn of the century.
With a reported operational range of 186 to 248 miles and a top speed of Mach 6 (4,500 mph), the R-37M is designed to eliminate rear support aircraft, critical force multipliers such as early warning and aerial refueling aircraft. Russia asserts that the missile possesses an active-seeker homing system that allows it to target fighter jets during the terminal phase of flight.
While Russia initially intended to see the weapon carried by the MiG-31 interceptors, these missiles are now expected to become the primary weapons of the fourth-generation Su-30s and Su-35s, as well as the next-generation Su-57s. The weapon’s specifications were modified to meet these demands.
The Russians are also apparently developing another very long-range air-to-air missile — the KS-172, a two-stage missile with a range said to be in excess of the R-37M’s capabilities, although the latter is reportedly much closer to deployment.
Mockup of the KS–172 in front of a Sukhoi Su-30.
China, another US competitor, is also reportedly developing advanced long-range air-to-air missiles that could be carried by the reportedly fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighter. The China Daily reported in January 2017 that photos of a J-11B from the Red Sword 2016 combat drills appeared to show a new beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.
“China has developed a new missile that can hit high-value targets such as early-warning planes and aerial refueling aircraft, which stay far from conflict zones,” the state-run media outlet reported, citing Fu Qianshao, an equipment researcher with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Slow, vulnerable rear-support aircraft improve the overall effectiveness of key front-line fighter units, such as America’s F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, which just conducted its first combat mission. The best strategy to deal with this kind of advanced system is to “send a super-maneuverable fighter jet with very-long-range missiles to destroy those high-value targets, which are ‘eyes’ of enemy jets,” Fu told the China Daily, calling the suspected development of this type of weapon a “major breakthrough.”
The missiles being developed by US rivals reportedly have a greater range than the American AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), giving them a potential edge over US military aircraft.
The Russian Su-57 is expected to enter service in 2019, although the Russian military is currently investing more heavily in fourth-generation fighters like the MiG-29SMT Fulcrum and Su-35S Flanker E, which meet the country’s air combat needs for the time being. Russia canceled plans for the mass production of the Su-57 in July 2018 after a string of development problems.
There is some evidence the aircraft may have been active in Syria in early 2018, but the plane remains unready for combat at this time. Military analyst Michael Kofman previously told Business Insider that the Su-57 is “a poor man’s stealth aircraft,” adding that it doesn’t quite stack up to the F-35 or F-22.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.
For the person of leisure (POL):
~ Footwear fabricated for you by warzone friendlies ~
Matthew “Griff” Griffin’s company, Combat Flip Flops, found its mission somewhat off the beaten path of American vetrepreneurship — somewhat outside the parameters that veteran-owned businesses usually set for themselves.
Returning from his tours in Iraq, the former Army Ranger found himself wondering what role, if any, the private business sector might play in stabilizing some of the international communities that the U.S. military has been laboring through the first decades of this century to liberate.
Many vets return from war looking to brush the dirt off their shoulders and get on with the business of living as free and fortunate Americans. The businesses that veterans found are most often designed to put other vets to work, while giving back to veteran causes here on the home front.
And make no mistake, that is good and proper — and WATM goes out of its way to shine the light of public awareness wherever we find such stories unfolding.
But Combat Flip Flops’ approach is just different enough to make us pause and reflect. Is there another way, now that we’re home, to support the mission we fought overseas to advance? Matthew Griffin thinks so.
Combat Flip Flops sells goods – from the eponymous sandals and sneakers to bags, scarves, and accessories – that are manufactured by workers in war-torn countries, the proceeds of which go to fund business development and education for the people of those communities.
Griffin’s goal is to attack the vicious cycle of poverty begetting local violence begetting regional instability begetting the kind of endemic violence that requires U.S. military intervention.
Combat Flip Flops currently manufactures its shoes in factories in narco-insurgent Columbia. Their employees in Afghanistan, many of them women, make their scarves and sarongs. They sell jewelry made from detonated landmines and funnel a portion of the profits back to mine-clearing efforts in Laos. And they’re always looking for new synergies.
Combat Flip Flops is investing in the economic health and social well-being of communities living in the wake of warfare. They recognize that, by the very nature of the mission, veterans and active duty personnel are the de facto sales reps of 21st century American democracy to some of the most at-risk communities in the modern world. And when combat in these areas concludes, the message shouldn’t just be “You’re Welcome.”
With the right kind of private sector support, it can be shorter and much more profound. The message can simply be “Welcome.”
The 2017 We Are The Mighty Holiday Gift Guide is sponsored by Propper, a tactical apparel and gear company dedicated to equipping those who commit their lives to serving others. All views are our own.
Speaking of Propper, they’re giving away twelve tactical packs filled with gear from our Holiday Gift Guide. Click this link to enter.
After nearly two decades of counter-terror operations the world over, the United States military is now shifting its focus back toward great power competition with the likes of China and Russia. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the past two decades have left the U.S. military particularly well suited for the war at hand, but not very well positioned for the wars that are feasibly to come.
During this era of counter-terror operations, China has had the opportunity to seek higher degrees of technological and tactical parity, while having the benefit of not being actively engaged in expensive combat operations on the same scale. That has allowed China’s sea-faring power to grow at an exponential rate in recent years, with an active fleet of more than 770 vessels sailing under the banners of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy, their militarized Coast Guard, and a maritime miitia that takes its orders from the Chinese military as well.
Chinese Navy on parade (Chinese state television)
The addition of China’s massive ballistic missile stockpile, including hypersonic anti-ship platforms the U.S. Navy currently has no means to defend against, has further established China’s advantage in the Pacific. Even if the U.S. Navy leveraged every vessel in its 293-ship fleet, American forces would still be outnumbered by Chinese ships by more than two to one. Importantly, however, the United States likely couldn’t devote its entire fleet to any single conflict due to its global commitments to security and stability, especially regarding essential shipping lanes.
Today, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are both actively seeking ways to mitigate China’s numbers advantage, as well as the area-denial bubble created by China’s anti-ship platforms. Multiple possible solutions are being explored, ranging from hot-loading Marine Corps F-35Bs on austere airstrips on captured islands in the case of the Marines, to the Navy’s ongoing development of the MQ-25 aerial refueling drone that aims to extend the reach of America’s carrier-based fighters. Still, thus far, there has been no magic bullet. In fact, concerns about a near-peer conflict with China has even prompted several high-ranking defense officials to question the practicality of America’s fleet of super-carriers, both because of their immense cost, and because of the likelihood that they could be sunk by China’s hypersonic missiles long before they could get close enough to Chinese shores to begin launching sorties of F-35Cs and F/A-18 Super Hornets.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Mohamed Labanieh/Released)
The fundamental challenges a war with China would present are clear: Finding a way to mitigate the risks posed by advanced anti-ship missiles and offsetting the significant numbers advantage Chinese forces would have within the region. In the past, we’ve discussed the possibility of arming commercial cargo ships with modular weapons systems in a “missile barge” fleet as a means to bolster American numbers and capabilities. Another feasible option that could even work in conjunction with this strategy would be issuing “letters of marque” to private operations, effectively allowing non-military forces to serve as privateers for the U.S. government.
The Capture of a French Ship by Royal Family Privateers by Charles Brooking
American Privateers or Pirates?
The concept of issuing letters of marque to American privateers was recently discussed by retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian and Brandon Schwartz in the U.S. Naval Institute’s publication, “Proceedings.” Although the idea seems almost ridiculous in the 21st Century, the legal framework outlined by Cancian and Schwartz is sound, and one could argue that their assertions about the viability and strategic value of privateer fleets are as well.
Cancian and Schwartz argue that privateering is not piracy, as there are laws governing it and precedent for the practice established in past U.S. conflicts, including the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
“Privateering is not piracy—there are rules and commissions, called letters of marque, that governments issue to civilians, allowing them to capture or destroy enemy ships. The U.S. Constitution expressly grants Congress the power to issue them (Article I, section 8, clause 11).” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
However, despite their argument being technically right, it’s difficult to dismiss how the piracy narrative would almost certainly affect public perception of the use of privateers, and potentially even the conflict at large.
While the United States could argue that privateers operate with specifically outlined rules and commissions, even the American public would likely see American privateers as pirates. And because America has found itself trailing behind nations like China and Russia in terms of manipulating public narratives, that narrative could indeed hurt not only public support for the conflict; it could even jeopardize some international relationships.
The Pride of Baltimore, left, and the Lynx, two privateer vessels, reenact a battle of the War of 1812 in Boston Harbor during Boston Navy Week 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Elisandro T. Diaz/Released)
Privateers are not pirates in the literal sense only because a government is sanctioning their piracy. In the eyes of those who don’t recognize America’s authority to grant such permissions in far-flung waterways, the two terms would be interchangeable.
Regardless of vernacular, the United States has used this approach to great success in the past. Although the last time American privateers set sale was more than 200 years ago, their approach was modern enough to set precedent for a return to the concept.
“The privateering business was thoroughly modern and capitalistic, with ownership consortiums to split investment costs and profits or losses, and a group contract to incentivize the crew, who were paid only if their ship made profits. A sophisticated set of laws ensured that the capture was ‘good prize,’ and not fraud or robbery. After the courts determined that a merchant ship was a legitimate capture, auctioneers sold off her cargo of coffee, rum, wine, food, hardware, china, or similar consumer goods, which ultimately were bought and consumed by Americans.” -Frederick C. Leiner in “Yes, Privateers Mattered“
In the event of a large-scale conflict with a nation like China, that potential narrative blowback may be a necessary evil. However, the ramifications of that evil could be mitigated through a concerted narrative effort to frame privateer actions in the minds of the populous as an essential part of a broader war effort that has the American people’s best interests in mind.
In the War of 1812, privateering saw such public support (in large part thanks to the profits it drove) that some took to calling the conflict the “War of the People.” Managing the narrative surrounding American privateers could make the concept far more palatable to the American people.
As for the legal aspects of privateering, you can read a thorough legal justification for the practice in a separate piece written by Schwartz called “U.S. Privateering is legal.”
(Italian Center for International Studies)
The role of American privateers at war
China’s massive fleet of vessels in the Pacific can be broken down into their three command groups, all of which ultimately answer to China’s People’s Liberation Army. China’s maritime militia accounts for approximately 300 vessels, the militarized Coast Guard has 135 more, and the PLA-Navy itself boasts an ever-growing roster expected to reach 450 surface vessels by the end of the decade.
In the event of a war with China, the American Navy would have more than its hands full engaging with such a massive force, limiting its ability to cut China off from one of its most significant revenue sources, overseas trade. China’s reliance on shipping products to other nations has helped its economy grow rapidly, but it also represents a strategic disadvantage, as Cancian and Schwartz point out, if America can find the means to disrupt this exchange.
“Thirty-eight percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) comes from trade, against only 9 percent of U.S. GDP. Chinese social stability is built on a trade-off: The Chinese Communist Party has told the people they will not have democratic institutions, but they will receive economic prosperity.” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
In 2018, China’s merchant fleet was already approaching 2,200 total vessels, thanks to massive external demand for inexpensive Chinese exports. America’s Navy would likely be stretched too thin to actually blockade such an expansive merchant fleet. Like with aircraft, America’s preference for large and expensive ships that are capable of fulfilling multiple roles has offered increased capability but significantly decreased numbers. At its peak during World War II, the U.S. Navy boasted more than 6,000 ships. Today, the Navy has 293 far more capable vessels, but none can be in more than one place at a time.
American Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, for instance, are too big and expensive to task with waiting out Chinese ships hiding in foreign ports, and would likely largely be assigned to Aegis missile defense operations. This is where American privateers could offer an important service.
American privateers wouldn’t be tasked with engaging the Chinese Navy or even with sinking merchant ships. Instead, they would be tasked with capturing Chinese cargo vessels, offering them a multi-million dollar bounty on each, and quickly compromising China’s ability to sustain its export sales.
“Since the goal is to capture the hulls and cargo, privateers do not want to sink the vessel, just convince the crew to surrender. How many merchant crews would be inclined to fight rather than surrender and spend the war in comfortable internment?” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
Of course, despite Cancian and Schwartz’ dismissive take on how apt Chinese crews would be to fight to maintain control of their ships, it’s important to remember that these privateers would likely be engaging in close quarters fighting with Chinese crews or security on board. As American privateers proved more costly to the Chinese government, an increased emphasis on protecting these cargo ships would almost certainly follow.
This begs an essential question: Where do you find privateer crews?
Private security contractors in Iraq (DoD photo)
Private infrastructure already exists
While the concept of American privateers seems borderline fantastical, the truth is, the United States has already leveraged the premise of using non-military personnel for security and defensive operations the world over. American security firm Blackwater (now Academi) is perhaps the highest-profile example of America’s use of private military contractors. In fact, contractors in Iraq have reached numbers as high as 160,000 at some points, nearly equaling the total number of U.S. military personnel in the region. At least 20,000 of those private contractors filled armed security roles.
So while the term “privateer” or even pirate suggests an entirely unconventional approach to modern warfare, the premise is already in play. Terminology may dictate perception to a significant degree, but in practice, privateering wouldn’t be all that different from existing relationships the United States maintains with private security outfits. Further, private security firms, including Blackwater, have already operated at sea in a similar manner to privateers, from Blackwater’s armed patrol craft policing Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa to countless armed and privately owned boats patrolling the Indian Ocean today.
In 2007, Blackwater acquired the McArther from the NOAAS. (WikiMedia Commons)
Many such organizations, with existing infrastructure and established relationships with the U.S. government, would likely seek and win contracts, or letters of marque, in the early days of a burgeoning Sino-American war, and stand up their own forces far more quickly than the United States could expand its naval force in the same volume. Rather than building ships and enlisting crews, the United States could simply authorize existing ships with existing crews to go on the offensive against China’s commercial fleets.
The American government’s experience with military contractors throughout the War on Terror means these relationships would not be as without precedent as they may seem, and the existing private military industry would make American privateers a quick and effective means to grow America’s offensive capabilities.
China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea (shown in red). A conflict with China would undoubtedly play out here. (WikiMedia Commons)
A complicated solution to a complex problem
Of course, there are many variables at play when discussing a future conflict with China. Incorporating privateers into such a strategy admittedly seems rather extreme from our vantage point in 2020, but it’s important to note that there is no precedent for what something like a 21st Century Sino-American war might look like. The massive sea battles of World War II may offer some sense of scale, but the rapid advancement of technology in the intervening decades creates a hypothetical war that is simply incongruous with the World War II models.
America does boast the largest and most powerful military in the world, but China’s rapidly expanding and modernizing force has not been growing in a vacuum. From space operations to warship construction, China has been developing its war-fighting apparatus with America specifically in mind. China isn’t interested in competing with the United States on its terms and instead has been focused on identifying potential American vulnerabilities and tailoring new capabilities to leverage those flaws.
China’s Type 002 Aircraft carrier (Tyg728 on WikiMedia Commons)
Large scale warfare between technological and economic giants would play out differently than any conflict we’ve ever seen. In order to emerge from such a conflict successfully, America has to do much more than win. Once the price of victory begins to compromise America’s ability to sustain its way of life thereafter, that victory becomes less pronounced.
In order to win in such a conflict, the United States will need to dig deep into its bag of tricks. On the home front, it would mean finding ways to rapidly expand America’s industrial base to replenish vehicles, supplies, and equipment as they’re expended or destroyed on the front lines. The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, and Space Force will all be required to communicate and rely on one another in ways never before accomplished on a battlefield.
And China’s massive numbers advantage would have to be mitigated somehow. American privateers, or pirates as the press would surely call them, might just do the trick.
There’s something about football that just lends itself to the melodramatic emotions of our youth. It’s the closest socially acceptable approximation to gladiatorial combat young men in our modern civilized world can pursue, and as such, it tends to hold an honored place in our hearts. The gridiron is where we proved our mettle; Where we found that toughness within us we always hoped was there.
And then, just like that, it’s gone. For most of us, football ends right around when real life begins, and you’re left with no choice but to trade in your pads and passion for a steady job and a pile of bills. Although I once had college football aspirations, an injury cost me that opportunity, and I found myself working as a race mechanic alongside a dozen other “coulda beens”–if only we’d made that one last tackle, dodged that one block, or chased the dream while our knees were still strong enough to hack it.
I joined the Marine Corps at 21 years old and with no intention of finding my way back onto the field. I had found my way to rugby after my college football “career” ended, but as I checked in to my first duty station at 29 Palms, California, neither was on my mind. That is, until I noticed the battalion team practicing just a few blocks away from my barracks room.
The next season, I earned myself a starting spot on the battalion team, which led to a spot on the base team, and eventually, to the first of two Marine Corps championships. Those successes, however, were hard earned… as playing ball for the Corps wasn’t quite like it had been back home in the hills of Vermont.
Playing pulling guard meant I at least got a running start before I tried to smash these dudes.
You’re playing against Marines, some of whom are battle-hardened veterans.
As Al Pacino once so eloquently put it, football is a game of inches. For all the strategy, practice, and technique involved, football is one of the few places left that sheer toughness remains a high-value commodity. Sometimes, when everything else is even, it’s the guy that’s willing to hurt that’ll get the job done. Sometimes you have to choose between the game and your safety. Knowing that reaching for that ball thrown across the flats against a zone defense will almost certainly mean taking a helmet to the sternum and choosing to do it anyway isn’t something you’re taught. It’s just who you are.
In most leagues, you’ll be lucky to find a few players willing to throw their bodies into the grinder for a “W.” In the Marine Corps, we already live in the grinder. Infantry units field teams between combat deployments, Marines attend football practices between training rotations in martial arts and on the rifle range. Mental and physical toughness is a prerequisite to success in the Corps, and as such, the playing field is ripe with men willing to hurt in order to achieve their goals.
The things we do to have a Sergeant Major hand us a wooden football.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Scott Schmidt)
Service members thrive on competition (and that can really suck).
Playing football in the Marine Corps comes with a level of competitive social pressure that can really only be compared to some high-level college teams. When you’re on a squad with a shot at some trophies, you’re representing more than the team itself, you’re representing your unit. The commanding general may not give a sh*t about your last inspection, but he does about the score of this week’s game. A slew of wins can make you feel like a celebrity, but a bad loss can make you ashamed to show your face at work… or in front of your commanding officer.
Marines, perhaps more than other services, are in a perpetual state of competition. Like Ricky Bobby, if we aren’t first, we’re last… and nobody’s going to let you forget it.
We’re all here with a job to do.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Albert F. Hunt)
The Corps always comes first.
If you play football for a successful college program, you’re expected to keep up with your grades, but otherwise, the sport is your job. Marine Corps football can be a lot like that–with the obligations of the sport occasionally taking precedence over other duties (like when you go TAD/TDY for away games), but at the end of the day, the Marine Corps is a warfighting institution.
Infantry units, for instance, often had their seasons cut short by field requirements or combat deployments. Players on your team would be pulled from the roster to augment a deploying unit. Last season’s star quarterback may miss this season because he has to travel for training or worse, because he’s been injured or killed since we last took the field. Football is a way of life for most that love the sport, but nothing supersedes the Corps. We’re Marines first, football players second, and if we’re lucky, we eventually get to be old men writing stories about our days with an Eagle, Globe, and Anchor on our helmets.