"This is a classic situation for a catapult."
By Tom Walker
n 2011, my sister, Mary Walker Baron, wrote an article for her blog, witsendmagazine.com, about that quote above. In case you may have somehow forgotten, it’s a line delivered by Melvyn Douglas, as Col. Claude Brackenbury, in the movie, “Advance To The Rear.”
At various inappropriate times, the somewhat addled colonel announces, “This is a classic situation for a catapult.”
Well, Mary gave you an excuse for not remembering it: “The movie was forgettable,” she wrote, “something about the Civil War.”
And, obviously, at a time when bullets and cannon balls were doing an excellent job of sending Union and Confederate soldiers into their graves, the Civil War wouldn’t seem to be a classic situation for a catapult. Sorry, Colonel Brackenbury.
rowing up poor on an Arizona desert ranch, Mary and I never had much of anything in the way of Tonka trucks or baby dolls to play with. But when we were kids, our dad made both of us some toys that proved to be a classic situation for our situation.
In fact, it was an early form of catapult: a shepherd’s sling, similar to the one David used to slay Goliath. Absolutely simple in design, our slings consisted of a leather pouch in the middle of two lengths of leather cord. There was a loop at the end of one of the cords that you placed over your thumb, and the other cord was held between the thumb and forefinger.
A small, round stone was placed in the pouch. You then swung the sling in an arc, and at the precise moment, you let go of the sling end of the cord. My faithful friend, Wikipedia, gives this explanation of what happened then: “The sling essentially works by extending the length of a human arm, thus allowing stones to be thrown much farther than they could be by hand.”
Oh yes, it did. As a dedicated slinger, I could hit the wood-plank walls of our corral with deadly, air-wailing stones from a hundred yards away. Finally, my dad asked me to do my slinging in another direction. I was wearing out our corral fences with my rocks.
|A shepherd's sling|
And like Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum, the Roman sling could blow your head clean off. Or maybe scare you to death. The researchers found holes drilled in the lead Roman bullets to make them wail loudly and terrifyingly as they flew through the air.
The war against the Scottish barbarians dragged on for nearly two decades. Eventually, the Romans retreated to a fortified barrier they had built known as Hadrian’s Wall.
Remnants of the Roman wall still stand, a tourist attraction and a monument to the futility of walls as a means of keeping unwanted invaders out. China’s Great Wall didn’t stop the Mongol hoards.
And funny, now we have a president who wants to build a 2,000-mile wall along the Mexican border. It’ll be GREAT! And BEAUTIFUL! And it’ll make some lucky wall builders RICH! Rich, courtesy of the American taxpayers.
But how many people will it keep from entering the United States? NADA!
es, but what, you might ask, does all this have to do with slingshots and catapults? Well, quite a lot, according to a May 24 opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by Max Brooks and Lionel Beehner, 'The Military's Shiny Object Obsession," Max Brooks is the author of “World War Z” and a nonresident fellow at West Point's Modern War Institute. Lionel Beehner is an assistant professor and director of research at the institute.
“President Eisenhower … foresaw a new age of collusion between politicians, defense contractors and those who wear the stars,” Brooks and Beehner write. “It was bad enough during the Cold War, but the dysfunction is even worse now. Consider that of the 63 largest Pentagon programs at the moment, 50 are over budget by $296 billion.”
It isn’t just money that gets wasted, the writers say; it’s lives. In Iraq and Afghanistan, while Americans were being killed and maimed by improvised explosive devises, the Pentagon was spending billions on air superiority fighter jets and anti-ballistic missile lasers.
Meanwhile, our soldiers were wearing uniforms so cheap they tore like tissue paper, and they rode in vehicles so lacking in armor that they tore like tissue paper when the IEDs went off.
An interesting fact from the LA Times article: “The term ‘shoddy’ comes from the flimsy, mass-produced shoes that ‘shod’ our troops during the Civil War.”
But what about catapults? you ask. What about slingshots?
Well, I think my point is that President Trump is trying to build something along the lines of a catapult with his proposed budget that asks for a $54 billion increase in defense spending. That seems to be the point Brooks and Beehner are making, too. As a candidate, Trump promised to slash the cost of military programs, but he now promises “to lavish the military with whatever it needs.”
So defense contractors will get RICH! RICH! RICH! building aircraft carriers, missile defense systems and other ultra-expensive catapults while more Americans lose their lives and limbs in future (or maybe ongoing) wars.
What we need are good slingshots, otherwise known as investigative reporters and writers like Brooks and Beehner. Trump calls them the enemy, but I call them heroes.