storm of iron

One-third of our marks in the third year – one-sixth of my degree – come from the 40-credit dissertation module. This is an essay of 12,000 words. Third year is a way off, but this year we have a dissertation prep module of 20 credits that it at least helps to know your subject for, and one of the more important aspects of dissertatin’ is to court a tutor. Each tutor can supervise five students.

My primary target in this was Rob Thompson, true bro among academics and my favourite tutor of last year. It emerged today after my Vietnam lecture that he tends to get around 40 applicants for his five slots (as, like the other war-academics, he does popular fun subjects involving stuff blowing up, rather than gender studies of medieval literature or the Counter-Reformation from a post-feminist perspective or whatever.) So after my group research and lunch of prudently made sammiches, I sat down at a table in the Starbucks in Muirhead and bashed out some potential ideas. Rob’s office hours are 5-6.

Plan A was on the development of small arms and infantry tactics in WW1. I threw out a bunch of tentative ideas that could be expanded to as much or as little as I wanted: the introduction of explosive infantry weapons for assaulting trenches (grenades, minenwerfer, Stokes mortar), the employment of close-in weapons such as shotguns and machine pistols, the use of “walking-fire” light machine guns, and how all these devices went hand in hand with developments in small-unit fighting and infantry tactics. Then, backup plans included the development of infantry weapons in the British/Soviet/US military over the 20th century (pick 1, or comparative analysis) and a few other interesting arguments and stereotypes.

I met Rob having a fag-break with Toby (he who still hasn’t given us the essay questions we should have had two weeks ago – for the 4,000 word essay that’s worth 20 credits) outside Strathcona. I outlined Plan A to him and said “right, is this dissertation material, or just 12,000 words of gunwank?”

He told me that the subject was fine, gunwank was not a drawback and I clearly know what I’m talking about, but that the point of a dissertation is to argue – what was my argument? I’m interested in WW1, but not sure I know enough about the later stages to not end up looking silly. So, I started outlining aspects of Plans B and C. “I could argue that the American infatuation with the legend of the frontier marksman affected their procurement and weapon designs in the 20th century?” I offered.

Then we talked cheerfully about dissertations and guns for about twenty minutes.

Options that presented themselves:
– a take on my original WW1 thing, but using weapon changes to argue more specifically for developments in fluid warfare at the time – units at Passchendaele begging for Lewis guns over grenades – the necessity of precisely targeted infantry firepower as flexible defence in depth became more in vogue and artillery bombardment was less effective in overcoming a line
– arguing for the AK and M16 as evocative of a national philosophy of war – the AK’s selector switch goes safe-auto-semi and has crap but easy to use notch-and-post sights at 100m graduations, the M16 is safe-semi-auto and has good aperture sights (with dials!) That is to say, the M16 is designed for accurate, aimed shots, in line with the American philosophies of individual marksmanship. The AK is for suppressive fire while closing, reflective of Soviet doctrine to always be fluid and always on the offensive.
– the use of small arms in Vietnam and the idea that, at a squad level, US/ARVN forces were actually undergunned. I reckon I could do this well; I avoided going for Vietnam because I was worried that would just end up as an AK-47 vs M16 HURR STOPPAN POWER thing, which has been done to death a thousand times, but apparently there’s still ground to tread. Rob says that the AR-15 (as opposed to the AR-10) was designed specifically so that small-statured ARVN soldiers could use it, and though airborne at LZ X-Ray used it to great success, its general US adoption wasn’t planned – which is an intriguing line…
– arguing the whole American infatuation with the idea of the frontier marksman (tied to the success of the Garand) kept them in overpowered 30-06 rifles and slowed the adoption of effective assault rifles in intermediate cartridges, in particular .280 British – and how 5.56 was too far the other way, and is biting them even now in Afghanistan…

We talked, and while I’m not certain, I’m most attracted to the platoon-level firepower thing in Vietnam. However, Rob has said that he knows what I’m capable of and will provisionally offer me one of his places, just to be certain what I want next week. So after all that, I’m still not certain what my actual subject will be, but the securing a tutor part – the biggest load on my mind – is now off it.

And if all else fails I guess I can do this…

(Philip, if I get a 2:2 my because my dissertation mark ends up saying “subject matter clearly result of fevered delusions, suggest counselling and possible custody”, I’m… going to steal your overcoat and attache-case of Bad Jokes.)


9 thoughts on “storm of iron

  1. Heh, I can’t help thinking that “gender studies of medieval literature” and “the Counter-Reformation from a post-feminist perspective” are so much more interesting to me than “subjects involving stuff blowing up”. :P


    I’ve heard it argued that the AK-47 is actually a support weapon that is always used incorrectly, to great effect.

    • brosencrantz says:


      Well… sort of.

      The AK is an infantry rifle designed to be used as an infantry rifle, but the whole Soviet concept of “infantry rifle” is somewhat similar to our conception of a light support weapon. It was designed to be fired automatically, on the move, by a man coming at you as part of a large group of men coming at you. It doesn’t matter that you can’t get sub-MOA accuracy out of it, because he’s going to be running and shooting. Which isn’t to say that AKs weren’t supposed to be aimed, just that their design has to be taken as part of the Soviet philosophy of always being moving and dynamic, suppressing the enemy while you close with him. They were designed very much for the less well trained marksman, with loose tolerances and reliability in mind.

      Which, it so happens, is also ideal for illiterate child-soldiers in third world shitholes who don’t bother using the sights anyway.

  3. meteorakuli says:

    Jeremy, congrats! Sounds like you have shitloads of ideas already. I think the monster bird idea has promise, especially if you combine it with a poststructuralist Lacanian theory of language. :P

    Also…I’m two years away from needing to find a dissertation tutor, but I already have my eye on a an awesome specialist in gender theory. Ahahaha.

    …we can still be friends, right?

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