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comments on the movie 13 Hours

Posted by John Reed on

On Saturday, I saw the movie 13 Hours. As I often do with military movies, I went with a West Point classmate who was also my ranger and jump school classmate.

Former military better than active-duty

There actually were no active-duty military personnel in the Benghazi incident, just FORMER SEALs, rangers, Delta Force, and Marines working as CIA security contractors. In a sense, this the new military I have envisioned: Entrepreneurs not bound by military chickenshit like rank and saluting and saying “sir.” They just do the job without all the traditional military bullshit. This issue comes up in my forthcoming novel The Unelected President.

The Unelected President novel

‘Saddle up’ and ‘March to the sound of the guns’

I have been extremely critical of the current and recent US military in general. But this movie does a great job of illustrating one of the key compliments I have paid to the US military. They fight. They “saddle up” and “march to the sound of the guns.”

“Saddle up” is the phrase used in the military to say “let’s go.” You hear it each time you take a rest break on a long march—at the end of the break. It means stand up, put your pack on, put your helmet on, and grab your weapon and move. Move where? Toward the sound of the guns.

What does that melodramatic phrase mean? If you are already close to the fighting, it means literally what it says. That is exactly what the CIA security guys heard and did when they left the CIA compound to go to the consulate. In a less literal sense, it is what the ex-military guys in Tripoli did when they fought to get on a plane to travel the 400 miles to Benghazi to join the fight.

“March to the sound of the guns” was the key phrase General Westmoreland told my West Point class in a speech from the mess hall poop deck in the Spring of 1968 when we were about to choose our first assignments after we graduated.

I and most of my classmates did just that. We chose the U.S. as our first duty assignment, which, at the time, meant we would be in that assignment for four months, after which we would go to South Vietnam—and that’s what we did.

A great many of my classmates who got married right after graduation chose Germany as their first assignment—essentially because they felt they owed it to their wives to not die too soon after the marriage. Many, if not most of those, ended up doing a tour in Vietnam after a year or so in Germany.

I have a number of classmates who never served in Vietnam. They seem a bit sheepish about it.

Only 14 countries who fight

There are 196 countries on this planet. By my count, only about 14 of them have militaries who march to the sound of the guns and fight. The UK of course and their former colonies like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and America. The Germans fought in World War II, as did the Japanese. The Russians fought. The North Vietnamese fought us there. The Turks have fought. Ever heard of Galipoli? There were two sides there.

Israel fights.

Latin America and Africa?

No country below the Rio Grande has ever marched to the sound of the guns in history. It is hard to think of a country in Africa who ever fought in a war like, say, the Australians. Other than the Japanese or Vietnamese, you have to go back to ancient times to find Asians who fought successfully against other countries.

What war did China win?

China? What the hell war did they ever win? Their last war was a little dust up with North Vietnam and they got nothing but a bloody nose in that one. The Japanese kicked China’s butt in World War II. The main contribution of the Chinese volunteers in the Korean War was massive amounts of cannon fodder. We had air supremacy there even after they were in the war. We could have used nukes but were afraid of Russia’s nukes. The Chinese Army was just banzai charges with a bottomless pit of soldiers. No naval component. No lasting air component. And we learned after the Cold War ended that the Chinese regretted their participation in the Korean War.

I’m not going to list all of the 14 countries that fight effectively beyond their borders or within them in the case of a massive invasion by a foreign power. You figure out the rest.

NATO ‘allies’ with hardly any WW II military casualties or damage

Hint: divide the number of military casualties by the population in the last war they were in. Our NATO “allies” include a lot of countries with hardly any military casualties in World War II. Also, tour Europe and look at the World War II damage. The fighters have lots of it. Many of our NATO “allies” had almost no physical damage. Their secret? Very fast surrender.

Libyan ‘allies’ who run away from the guns and American bureaucrats who want a notarized certified order to help

In 13 Hours, you see both our “allies” in Libya running away at the first sign of trouble and U.S. bureaucrats paralyzed by their bureaucratic nature and lack of leadership. Unfortunately, you see the US military—the active-duty part—bureaucratically REFUSING to march to the sound of the guns in Benghazi.

Waves of morons getting whipped by a dozen civilian U.S. vets

The main military lesson of 13 Hours is don’t send a dozen guys to fight against wave after wave of heavily-armed groups of 40 guys. They sort of won anyway, but that’s because the Libyan enemy were generally very unprofessional and inept—street gangish.

Wet cloth under the door

A couple of technical points: When you are in a building that is on fire, you need to stuff wet cloth under the door to keep the smoke out. Ambassador Stephens died of smoke inhalation in the bathroom of the Consulate. There was a terry cloth bathrobe on the wall in the bathroom. They had a sink, toilet, and shower to wet the towels and robe. They could urinate on them if they had no other liquid. It looked like Stephens might have lived had he done that.

Exaggerated Hollywood explosions

The Americans fired the equivalent of what in Vietnam was called an M-79 grenade launcher in 13 Hours. In typical Hollywood fashion, the resulting explosions were far bigger than such a small munition would cause in the real world. I wrote about that crap in a web article:…/65654339-hollywood-vs-real-weapo…

Heavy Mortars

The only effective enemy tactic in 13 Hours was heavy mortars. The Americans heard the first shot leave the tube, and said “What was that?” Experienced infantrymen know that sound. (I was a communications guy, not infantry, but I graduated from ranger school, was a platoon leader in an infantry battalion in the 82nd Airborne, and a platoon leader in an artillery battalion in Vietnam. We heard and fired mortars at West Point and in the 82nd. I was essentially a heavy mortar squad leader in the 82nd tor more than a month doing rehearsals for a VIP demonstration.) Furthermore, in daylight, you actually see the mortar round in flight. It’s slow.

Real infantrymen yell “Mortars” when they hear that sound, and take cover. Mortar rounds fall almost like rain. Experienced infantrymen have enough sense to “get in out of the rain.” As the movie depicts it, the vets in Benghazi did not and two were killed as a result. These guy were on the roof. They stayed there for the mortar attack. No. You get the hell off the roof when you hear incoming mortar rounds. I think most of the American casualties, or half of them, were from that attack. Inexplicably, it lasted only briefly in spite of its effectiveness.

Otherwise, I thought the military details were pretty accurate.

Finally got help—from Libya!

Two days after the fight was over, a plane finally arrived to take the American security guys out—a Libyan plane. No American military help ever arrived. EVER!

Appalling leadership. The American military were bureaucratically paralyzed because Barack and Hillary were politically paralyzed. The active-duty U.S. military commanders will risk their lives—when ordered to do so. But they never risk their careers by acting without CYA paperwork in case it fails. And if their fellow Americans die because of their lack of action, they point the finger of blame at some unnamed bureaucrat other than them. Too bad for those who died, but not my fault. In Benghazi, four died and it was not the fault of any of the four million military and civilian federal government employees. Not a single one will admit to having had the authority to act. The only ones who did act, did so against orders from their CIA superior—who got a medal.

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