The English Professor Responds

A couple of days ago I pointed out When the clueless write about the mliitary, a case of an English teacher educating us on how the military is addicted to oil.

Michael Goldfarb
and John Noonan, in particular poked some major holes in the facts upon which the claim was made.

Here is what he had to say about this methodology:

In fact, what I see is some people–and I have to keep in mind that a lot of the comments in the past two days were positive–wanting to destroy the piece by pointing out errors of fact.

Apparently, this is yet another case of “fake but true”. The good professor uses piles of numbers to make and prove his case, then dismisses problems with those very numbers as unimportant to the “main issue”.

As a friend told me from the outset, one cannot take on the military in this country, without getting knocked about.

Ah. Mr. Sanders is merely a victim of the Great American Patriotism Movement run amok. Poor guy. It’s not that he’s talking nonsense; it’s that he’s being unfairly attacked.

As for the Standard, Goldfarb does not like the line, “The USS Lincoln helped deliver the opening salvos and air strikes in Operation Iraqi Freedom.” He says the Lincoln has no “guns.” I took that line from the Navy’s own web site. If I am wrong, the military has it wrong.

Here we have the problem in a nutshell, as they say. Mr. Sanders reads “opening salvos” and thinks it means guns. Goldfarb correctly pointed out that “has no ‘guns,’ other than those used in air defense” and Mr. Sanders says Goldfarb said it has no guns. Period. So he’s wrong about what Goldfarb said, if we’re splitting hairs here. Oh, and the Lincoln has no guns other than those used for air defense. Go to the page Mr. Sanders points us to for proof and search for the word “gun”. You ain’t gonna find it. 20mm guns on the CIWS are as big as it gets on the Honest Abe.

But Mr. Sanders doesn’t understand that he doesn’t understand. And that’s the problem.

He claims that only one aircraft carrier is not nuclear powered and so my claim about “ship tracks” is wrong. First, does he not think that nuclear power pollutes, or that no danger exists from an accident? What does he think one should do about spent fuel rods?

First, don’t try changing a debate about addiction to oil and dangerous fossil fuel exhaust into one about the dangers of nuclear power plants and the disposal of spent fuel rods. It makes it look like you don’t actually have a solid defense against the criticism.

I’ll skip a couple of paragraphs because the defenses are based on info from Chalmers Johnson books, and therefore fairly suspect when discussing matters of military fact.

He then correctly admits to errors about the fuel usage of Apache helicopters, which service actually flies Apache helicopters, and the service of the USS Independence in 2002. That’s nice.

Regarding F-22s in Iraq:

On a web site titled Foreign Policy in Focus, for February 6, 2007, a piece by Colonel Daniel Smith, US Army (Ret), suggests that while “the F-22 isn’t ‘ready for Iraq,'” that we will go ahead anyway for “you go to war with the army you have.” The essay goes on to cite all the flaws of the F-22 and to say that it will not perform well in Iraq, but that is one of the planes we have.

LOL. Ironclad logic, there. (Also, as probably all MO readers know already, it was good ol’ Rummy who made the “you go to war with the army you have” statement, something that’s very clearly explained in the Very First Sentence of the article. In bold, no less. Here’s the bit about F-22s in Iraq:

U.S. Air Force Gen. Ronald E. Keys is concerned that the surveillance suite of the $350 million aircraft may not be able to operate around Baghdad. Although nominally a fighter aircraft, the F-22 also can act as a signals intelligence interceptor, which would be its role in Iraq.

Get that? “would be its role in Iraq”. Not “is its role in Iraq”. Nowhere does it say that F-22s are in Iraq. Again, knowing that he’s being criticized for his military facts, Mr. Sanders apparently doesn’t bother to read or make much of an attempt to understand the source material he’s using to make his case. Here’s his comeback:

I will concede this one–though I do not think it is a big one–if I can have real proof. I do not know what that would be, since the military operates behind a scrim.

That’s generous of him. He’s offering to concede a point that, using his own source material, is clearly wrong. All critics have to do is prove that something isn’t happening. Oh, and he doesn’t trust military information. What a guy.

Regarding 1,000 Navy planes in the Gulf:

Let’s now turn to the question of the number of carrier task forces in the Gulf. First, from Reuters: “On January 20, 2007, the USS Stennis set sail for the Persian Gulf as part of an increase in US military presence within the Middle East. The Stennis joined the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the United States Fifth Fleet of operations. On May 23, 2007, the Stennis, along with eight other warships including the carrier USS Nimitz and amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, passed through the Strait of Hormuz. US Navy officials said it was the largest such move since 2003.” (Link)

How many ships does this total? Ten or Twelve? How many “carrier task forces” does that constitute?

Well, that’s basically the question of someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Stennis and eight other warships is one “carrier task force” (actually a Strike Group, but we’ll let that slide for now). There are two other carriers named, and they each have their own Strike Group. So we’re talking 25-30 ships total, not 10 or 12.

Regarding the link, it’s only for the last sentence of his quote. It’s to a Reuters story from May. The rest of the quote Mr. Sanders used in his article is actually from Wikipedia. As for the Fifth Fleet [area] of operations, it encompasses quite a bit of territory. Carriers helping out against pirates off the coast of Somalia in the Fifth Fleet AOO. But he goes on:

The web site Global Security (March 9, 2003) reports that “five carriers have been deployed to the region at the same time. . . an unprecedented floating air force. . .” The site says that the Kitty Hawk and the Constellation are already in the Persian Gulf. That’s in addition to the Stennis, the Nimitz, and the Eisenhower. “The Lincoln left Everett, Washington. . . and was ordered back to the Gulf.” We now have a total of six carriers, and who knows how many “carrier task forces,” since each carrier usually travels, according to Global Security, with a “battle group of at least two cruisers, a destroyer and a submarine. Aboard each carrier is an air wing with about 70 aircraft, roughly 50 of which are strike planes.” The DoD says that the Stennis actually holds ninety planes. Given the rest of the ships involved, the number is 1,000 or even more.

He must have missed that “(March 9, 2003)” part. The dead giveaway is the Constellation. She has been decommissioned since August of 2003. Again, Mr. Sanders should be a bit more thorough when double-checking facts that have been called into question. Sloppiness like this merely confirms what we thought: he just plain doesn’t understand the first thing about the military.

He then counts up cruisers, destroyers, and submarines and says that the totals contribute to the total number of aircraft. Besides a couple of helicopters on a few of the escort ships, Mr. Sanders, you’re wrong.


I stand by my claim here: the language the military uses shifts and changes; but Reuters does indicate the number of ships in the region is unprecedented. It is unusual; it is large. On top of this, as Chalmers Johnson points out in Sorrows of Empire: “The navy also can deploy up to five carrier battle groups, each with approximately seventy-five aircraft, cruise missiles, and atomic weapons, in the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf. A carrier battle group is composed of the aircraft carrier itself, two cruisers, two to three destroyers, a frigate, an attack submarine, and a combat support ship and is, in essence, a floating base.” I think I underestimated the numbers.

I think we overestimated your knowledge of the military, though that hardly seems possible.

Another complaint that Mr. Sanders makes about his critics is that they don’t address his point of military addiction to oil. First, I don’t think anyone with any knowledge of the military thinks the military doesn’t go through fuel like, well, like the military goes through fuel.

Secondly, in his rebuttal to critics Mr. Sanders made it clear that nuclear power is not good, either. I guess that leaves us with solar power for the land and air forces, and wind power for the navy. Hey, sails worked for navies for thousands of years, so don’t knock ’em.

Unless, of course, Mr. Sanders is opposed to the existence of a military. Given his deep understanding of the armed forces and his appreciation for what they do, this seems unlikely.

(Yes! I wrote that last sentence with a straight face!)

Mr. Sanders is welcome to list more partially-understood facts and Chalmers Johnson references to solidify his position if he’d like, but I’d recommend against it. He appears to have been taken a bit by surprise by the response his article got, and his reaction certainly doesn’t indicate that he’s up the challenge of defending his wild numbers against anyone with any knowledge at all. It’s certainly understandable that he isn’t a walking military encyclopedia, and even very knowledgeable military writers make errors. Mr. Sanders’ biggest problem seems to be that he doesn’t put a lot of effort into understanding his subject, particularly when that very understanding has been challenged.

Got your facts about carrier strike groups wrong? Okay, that’s bad if it’s a central component of your argument. But dig into it and make sure your response is solid and fact-based. Make sure that you know what you’re talking about when trying to refute criticism. Make sure the facts you use to ward off the fact-checkers are actually factual.

Mr. Sanders didn’t do any of this.

Michael Goldfarb notes that HuffingtongPost pulled the rest of Sanders’ series. Seriously, folks. If you can’t meet HuffPo’s standards, you’ve got problems.


  1. Worse, he fails to account for HMCS Charlottetown’s departure for the Gulf to join one of the carrier groups. Cheers

  2. Are you suggesting that the Lincoln’s 20 mm guns weren’t used in the opening salvo? BS. I have undocumented proof that we used those 20mm guns to knock out radar just a few hundred miles away in Mosul! Doubt me if you will, but I have the undocuments!