CSotD: The Unknown and the Knowable

Matt Wuerker (Politico) cites the phrase “Fog of War,” which began, as he suggests, on the battlefield, but has spread markedly.

According to Wikipedia (or whoever they copped it from):

The first known use of the exact phrase in text dates to 1896 in a book titled The Fog of War by Sir Lonsdale Augustus Hale, where it is described as “the state of ignorance in which commanders frequently find themselves as regards the real strength and position, not only of their foes, but also of their friends.”


It’s a very real thing. Even with the commanders on a hill with a clear view of “the Valley of Death,” it remains unclear what orders Captain Nolan delivered to Cardigan which touched off the catastrophic Charge of the Light Brigade and what Raglan actually intended to have happen.

And Custer would not likely have charged with 210 men if he’d known there were at least 8,000 Cheyenne, Arapaho and Lakota camped at the Little Bighorn, yielding a military strength of some 1500 warriors. Apparently, his Crow and Arikara scouts had only seen the Cheyenne village at the end of the encampment, not the additional villages that stretched down the valley.

Which is why some military historians insist that battles are rarely won but are more often lost.


Regardless of who caused what, the winners get medals and the losers get cashiered and perhaps neither deserves either.

Bill Bramhall notes the not-so-great results Putin is experiencing in Ukraine, his advantage in the fog having been to isolate himself and disband most of the political system which would otherwise be holding him accountable.

The second and third panels in Wuerker’s cartoon now come into play, because, while it seems clear that the Ukrainians are enjoying an unexpected (certainly by Putin) degree of success on the battlefield, it also seems that we’re seeing various shots of the same tractors and that reports from the battlefield are both intentionally goosed to increase morale and unintentionally skewed by genuine fog of war.

The distinction between what is reported on the news and what is reported on social media is itself a bit foggy, since the need to be first outstrips the need to be right even among professionals these days.

You may want to follow @oryxspioenkop on Twitter, since they are gaining a solid reputation for cutting through the fog coming from both sides, reporting what seems verified, discounting what seems dubious and — wonder of wonders! — admitting uncertainty when things are uncertain.


One fact that seems to have been confirmed is spoofed in this Guy Venables piece, which is that the Russians have lost four and possibly five generals, as well as the deputy commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

However, there is fog in this as well, since Russian military structure appears to put such senior officers in far more vulnerable positions than other armed forces would risk. If we had lost Patton, Eisenhower or Bradley in WWII, it would have signaled a much more disastrous failure because even those who went to the front didn’t go to the front of the front.

I’ve also seen reports that they’re being picked off by snipers without any confirmation that they’re being picked off by snipers, though the story reverberates well.

Still, whether they’re being picked off or just blowed up real good, having them killed cannot be part of anyone’s battle plan.

The challenge in all this Fog of War being to toss out the obvious bullshit from both sides and then try to place the remaining reports in perspective, with an appropriate grain of salt.

As the song says, believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear.

Update: https://thetriad.thebulwark.com/p/counting-the-dead


Updating Jack Webb

I received a review copy of Red Scare, a graphic novel by Liam Francis Walsh, the other day. It’s aimed at a young audience but has a fair amount of meat on its bones and is readable by other audiences as well.

The story, set in the early 50s, combines the polio pandemic with the Red Scare to blend the story of Peggy, a young girl who has lost a great deal of mobility and is quite bitter about it, with the fear of communism that swept the country, then brings in the fantasy element of a strange man and a glowing rod that gives Peggy the power of flight.

My quibble with the book is that, until I got to the author’s note at the end (which I hope is also in the final version of the book), I didn’t realize that he was riffing on the movies of that era. The story is more fun, and makes more sense, if you think of it as parallel to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or those frantic Jack Webb style anti-communist films of the time.

Which will be lost on the core audience but works for older readers, and I hope the youngsters don’t take it as history, because people couldn’t really fly then, either.

Red Scare hits bookstores in May.


How to Succeed in Comics by Really Trying

April 30, 2004, Friend-of-the-Blog Brian Fies began posting pages of his proposed graphic memoir, “Mom’s Cancer,” to rec.arts.comics.strips, seeking feedback as he developed the project.

Members of the group often posted their work, but this was far above anything else there, as we praised and debated each succeeding page.

The idea for the book began with a sketch of his mother as he sat by her side during chemo and grew into an Eisner-winning memoir that became a milestone in melding cartoons and medicine and — as I noted in this reflection on the book a decade later — was of very great comfort to a very dear friend.

Brian went on to success with a variety of books, and recently gave a talk on how he grew from that fellow asking for feedback to what his publisher, Abrams, now describes as a celebrated author and illustrator.

Then he decided to put those reflections on his website.

If you’ve got any ambitions in the direction of succeeding in comics, or in succeeding at much of anything, you need to read what he’s got to say.

Then stop reading and start working.