No More Task Force Rogue Ones: A Tactical Analysis of the Raid on Scarif

Disclaimer: this should not be read as not wanting more Rogue One-type movies; we need more Star Wars films like this.

Also: SPOILERS.

There’s a common phrase that you’re apt to hear in discussions on Army readiness: “No more Task Force Smiths.” For reference, Task Force Smith was a rapidly cobbled together unit of infantry and artillery that was shipped to Korea in the opening phase of the Korean War. Intended to show the North Koreans that America wasn’t messing around, TF Smith instead demonstrated that the U.S. Army had completely misread the resolve of the North Koreans. TF Smith was literally driven over, suffering over 50% losses against the enemy armor. It was a lesson in humility – one that the U.S. Army is still struggling with to this day: how could the Army that defeated Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan in 1945 struggle against a rag-tag bunch of communists five years later?

Simple: the Army had let preparedness slip and thought that the mere presence of U.S. Soldiers would cause the North Koreans to not attack; and the North Koreans were not a rag-tag force, but instead battle-hardened, well-equipped troops who were used to winning. It was a bloody lesson.

osan_bazooka_team

Bazooka Team at the Battle of Osan, 1950. The bazookas proved barely effective against North Korean tanks. (US Army Photo)

So what does this have to do with Star Wars?

The Rebel Alliance needs to learn the same lesson that the U.S. Army was handed in 1950, that good troops cannot overcome poor planning and even worse resourcing.

In short, no more Task Force Rogue Ones.

In Rogue One, we see a prime example of a basic U.S. Army tactical action: a raid. A raid is defined in ADRP 1-02 Operational Terms and Military Symbols as, “An operation to temporarily seize an area in order to secure information, confuse an adversary, capture personnel or equipment, or to destroy a capability culminating with a planned withdrawal.” The mission is simple: conduct a tactical raid on the Imperial base of Scarif to deceive the enemy as to the real point of attack. In this case, the main offensive action is a special operations penetration into the Imperial record holdings on Scarif to seize and extract the data files of the Death Star. 

The raid is set off balance at the outset by the Rebel Alliance’s determination not to support operations against Scarif because they cannot verify intelligence reports that the Death Star plans are located on Scarif and that they might hold a secret to the battle station’s weakness. This leaves the raiding party without conventional support, such as tactical lift and close air support. However, the commander of a special operations detachment, Captain Cassian Andor, volunteers his detachment to Jyn Erso for the mission. This force is composed of light infantry and numbers approximately 20-30 troopers. Armed with mainly light weaponry, they are capable of swift movement, infiltration, and demolitions. However, with no crew-served weapons and very few anti-armor guided munitions, they are not equipped for sustained conventional battle. Cassian directs his men to take anything “that isn’t tied down” to augment their meager supplies. Critical to their operation are demolitions charges, which they are able to acquire.

Jyn and Cassian commandeer a captured Imperial shuttle and initiate movement to the line of departure. While in transit, Jyn and Cassian develop their tentative plan: the two of them accompanied by a strategic analysis droid named K-2SO will infiltrate the records facility and attempt to steal the plans to send to the Rebel Alliance. Taking a droid that essentially fulfils staff officer functions might seem strange, but they went to war with the droid they had, not the droid they wanted. The special operations detachment will fan out in small teams around Scarif and set demolitions charges at multiple sites to confuse the enemy as to the whereabouts of the real attack. However, the leaders of the raid fail to plan any further past this point.

Jyn gives the force a quick mission brief that lays out the course of action as, essentially, they will attack until they meet the next obstacle, and then adapt and overcome it. This is the next failing of the task force – they fail to complete a comprehensive mission brief that includes an objective rally point, actions on contact, evacuation of casualties, priority of reports, accountability of personnel, a map reconnaissance, rehearsals, actions on the objective, and task organization of the detachment into assault, support, and security elements. This failure to plan places the task force  – Task Force Rogue One – at a severe disadvantage as they are heavily outnumbered against a combined arms garrison force.

rogue-one-33

Tactical movement by team, using cover and concealment. (Lucasfilm Ltd)

Once the shuttle lands on Scarif at the de facto objective rally point (ORP), the infiltration team seizes Imperial officer uniforms and enter the data archives center using deception. The special operations teams exfiltrate the shuttle, leaving a small security detachment for the ORP and shuttle. No leader’s reconnaissance is conducted and there are no fallback positions identified for the teams. As each team fans out to their objectives, movement is tactical and each team is prepared for enemy contact. The teams keep local security and communications with the infiltration team. Once at each objective, the teams isolate the sites by infiltration and deception, neutralizing enemy guards at each site without alerting the entire garrison. Demolitions charges are placed at installations all around the Imperial facility, awaiting the order to detonate. However, although each team falls back to a covered position, they do not establish support by fire positions or identify exfiltration routes back by to the ORP.

Once inside the archives facility, Cassian gives the order to detonate the charges, making the raid kinetic. Rather than detonate the charges and fall back, each team remains in place to engage the garrison troops in order to make the raid seem larger than it is. However, due to their lack of casualty producing weapons and an exfiltration plan, it turns into a suicide mission. Imperial Stormtroopers mass their firepower on the special operations teams, pinning each one in place. Rebel firepower is diminished further when Rebel troops tend to their wounded rather than provide accurate cover fire. Having gained local fire superiority, the Imperials deploy heavy armor onto the Rebel flanks, cutting off lines of escape into the more covered jungle areas. The Rebel light fighters are quickly broken up into smaller, more vulnerable groups that attempt to head away from the armor, which gives the AT-ACT gunners direct fire capabilities against them. The Imperial armor herds the Rebels towards the beaches on the islands that make up Scarif’s topography. In the open, on poor footing, the Rebels are easy targets for the armor and following Stormtroopers.

source

Anti-armor guided missiles prove ineffective when fired at the vehicle’s frontal armor, displaying a tactical weakness in TF Rogue One, a weakness that is easily exploited. (Lucasfilm Ltd)

Disaster is momentarily avoided by close air support that comes from the few Rebel fighters that manage to enter the planet’s shield defense system before it is closed. The Rebel spacecraft quickly destroy the Imperial armor and Rebel transports land additional reinforcements. However, with no overall command and control of the operation, the task force is again overwhelmed, segmented, and destroyed in detail by Imperial Storm and Death Troopers. Indeed, with no overall command and control of the various forces, the raid was doomed to total failure from the outset. Luckily, the infiltration force manages to obtain the data and transmit it to the Rebel fleet, just before the Imperial base on Scarif is destroyed by the Death Star.

rogue-one-18

A Rebel U-Wing flies CAS for ground forces while Imperial armor moves to envelop and encircle Rebel ground forces. Phased planning would have prevented Rebel Forces moving piecemeal into the fight. (Lucasfilm Ltd)

Operationally, the raid is a success since the end state was achieved, i.e., acquiring the Death Star plans. However, the Rebels sacrificed the entire task force – and a significant portion of their fleet – in exchange for a small shot at obtaining the Death Star plans. Tactically, the raid was a failure. Had the task force adhered to the U.S. Army’s doctrinal outlines for conducting a raid, they would have been able to at least harbor some of their badly-needed forces for the future. As it was, Task Force Rogue One met only five out of the ten performance measures that the U.S. Army uses to evaluate a successful raid.

Rebel Intelligence bears no small part of the blame for the destruction of Task Force Rogue One for failing to properly vet their sources. Had Jyn been an accepted member of the intelligence community, Mon Mothma would have been able to rally the Rebel Alliance around the mission and give it the support that it needed. Hung out to dry, Task Force Rogue One stands as an example of the limits of operating by group consensus as a military organization and a warning against poor planning measures.

No more Task Force Rogue Ones.


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About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.

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54 thoughts on “No More Task Force Rogue Ones: A Tactical Analysis of the Raid on Scarif

    • Its a bigger failure for the Empire than it was for the rebels.
      The empire fail to control their own base of communications, they fail to react correctly or timely to the enemy fleet that suddenly turns up, they fail to have anything in the way of anti-aircraft until their reapers turn up. THEN when the star destroyer Executrix and the Death Star do get there, the rebel fleet is clearly routed and on the hoof and the CLEARLY know that the data is already transmitted and that they now have control of the sky’s and that dirt side is contained even AFTER all of that they decide to wipe out the entire planetary facilities.
      Despite the fact that they’re in complete control of the planet side.

      Talk about an own goal…

      The rebels may not have “won” that fight but the Empire very definitely LOST it.

      Like

  1. This is, in a word, genius. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one sitting in the cinema thinking “oh come on, that’s not a mission briefing!”, and looking at the opening scrawl for ep IV afterwards and wondering if that was a victory for the rebels, what does defeat look like?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Weren’t the Rebels kind of screwed from the outset as a result of their lack of intelligence regarding Scarif? They don’t know the terrain aside from the planetary shield. On top of that, none of the people in charge are actually trained military officers. Jyn is practically a civilian and Cassian’s primarily a spy. K-2S0, one presumes, should know better… but they’d already told him to shut up about their odds.

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  3. Reblogged this on John Robin's Blog and commented:
    I love this critical analysis of the Rogue One Task Force. Recently I remarked on how happy it made me to have actors of such caliber as Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman taking their roles in Comic Book movies so very seriously. In the same way, this kind of response to one of my favorite Intellectual Properties makes me so happy. It is wonderful that we now have a large segment of the population that are willing to invest in our stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. For as much as I’m willing to acknowledge that the Empire and the Rebellion both have flawed military protocols, the main question being: would a properly-conducted raid have made a better story to the eyes of the target audience than the one we witnessed?

    It would seem that the production crews of Rogue One thought that the operational outcomes of a raid carry more storyline weight than the tactical aspect of said raid. True, Scarif was an Imperial operational failure, but to be fair, most Hollywood producers don’t expect their audience to know a whole lot about military tactics.

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    • I think it is worth noting that, with regards to the Imperials, it is explained in the supplementary materials (specifically the Rogue One Visual Guide) that while the troopers themselves were well drilled and responsive to orders, the officers viewed assignment to Scarif as a vacation and had grown lax and unready for combat.

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      • The problem with that is that most of the movie’s audience will never read “the supplementary materials”. Also, such ‘explanations’ are usually little more than retcons.

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    • That last is not what is going on with R1, it is just that this is how a Hollywood Producer thinks missions are planned and executed.

      Like

  5. The Rebels are crippled from the get go as while a Majority of their Officer Corps comes from the Former Republic/Empire, they really do not have training facilities that are permanently based, thus it’s hard to pass on proper skills for different environments,as well as tactical and strategic command philosophy in anything resembling a unified fashion. Most of thier various fleets operate on a cellular structure that do mostly hit and fade operations. Yavin from what I have read was the Rebel High Command. And we all saw how much of a mess that place was, just trying to keep the various cells working with each other

    The Empire has it’s own problems as it literally can build more equipment than it has properly trained Officers and Soldiers to use said equipment. Not to mention it’s personnel are highly indoctrinated (think Old Soviet Model) in the usage of tactics and various doctrines, thus leading to some flaws in deployment and tactics. According to the lore, The former Grand Army of the Republic was largely allowed to retire its experienced corp of troopers and officers as the new Imperial Army and Navy came to the fore (with some exceptions for the Stormtrooper Corps), which makes me shake my head in amazement, wondering who thought this was a good idea. Add in the Infighting between the various Imperial service branches and it’s a wonder the rebels don’t do more damage.

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    • which is where this whole examination breaks down. the Rebel alliance cannot, and SHOULD NOT be compared to the US armed forces, the rebel alliance operationaly has more in common with a group like Al quida then the US armed forces

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    • The behavior at Rebel HQ reminded of what I have read about CSA command structure (or lack thereof). Every planet (state) deciding by consensus where each of their armies will participate. I do not believe Lee was appointed as General over all the forces until a few months before Appomattox.

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  7. Where was the S2 in preparing for this op? Was there any preparation for heavy weapons, such as those which proved decisive in the tactical punishment sustained by the force?

    I also saw zero rehearsals which, any Ranger knows, is an essential element of mission planning and highly indicative of the likelihood of a No-Go op, which the author of this report issues. Not even a brief-back, or map rehearsal.

    Force protection was clearly a low priority, but the mission was accomplished, which tends to cause us to lose sight of lessons-learned. This is a needed analysis.

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  8. Task Force Smith?
    Wasn’t this force under the command of General Maj. Gen. William F. Dean (24th ID), who was captured by NorKor forces in August ’50?

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    • Dean was captured in Daejeon, about a hundred miles to the south of the Task Force Smith location.. The Task Force Smith battlefield is now on the end of one of the subway lines from Seoul. There’s a great museum there and you can easily discern how the ambush was set up and how it was flanked.

      There’s a another memorial at the Daejeon train station mentioning Dean and how Daejeon was leveled in the later battle there.

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      • I served in Vietnam with one of the officers in TF Smith, LTC Carl Bernard (the 2LT). He was awarded a Silver Star for his actions in Korea, after his platoon was surrounded and lost for three days before he brought it back to US lines (such as they were). He never talked about Korea, and I only found out about it when I read the history of TF Smith a few years ago.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. But why would they need planning when they’ve got the estranged daughter of the guy who drew up the plans to the Death Star? So what if she hadn’t seen her dad in fifteen years, and so what if she had no more idea about where the plans would be than any random person on the street. She’s a central character!

    Okay, the movie is such a mess that very little of it makes any logical sense. My assumption is that the first idea the writers had was that the rebels got the plans from the chief designer’s daughter, suggesting a plot based on family relations and intrigue as the daughter runs all kinds of risks to slip the plans to a rebel spy. But apparently the next idea was to focus on a rogue assault team, ala The Guns of Navarone or The Dirty Dozen.

    Somehow the writers just stuck the daughter from the first plot idea into the second plot idea. It’s daft. It’s like making a fictional WW-II movie about slipping the secret design of the Junkers-Jumo jet engine to the Allies, via Monika Franz, daughter of its developer, Anselm Franz (who also designed the engines for our Hueys, Cobras, and M-1 Abrams), but then stupidly deciding to make her character an estranged daughter raised in Los Angeles who becomes a P-51 pilot who strafes the Jumo factory. It’s worse than useless to have that kind of character be related to the designer in any way. It’s like taking Hilter’s American nephew and sticking him as the central character in Band of Brothers, without once having any story line that revolves around his relation to his evil uncle.

    And then the Disney writers’ madness just got worse. Why is the main switch for the shield generator in the middle of a beach? I’ve done power systems for a lot of major factories, and not once has a beach ever been considered as a location for their main power feed. And how could the contractors build the Death Star if there’s only one set of plans kept locked in a secret vault? What the heck did they go by when they had to cut steel? And if the chief designer was the saboteur, why didn’t he just rig the core to blow up when a rebel texted *99 to 1-800-DEATH-STAR? He’s the chief designer. If his plans say a box of thermal detonators is supposed to be in a locker next to the core control room, the contractors are going to put a locker of thermal detonators there. And of course the whole story blows out the Episode IV claim that rebel engineers had found a flaw in the Death Star. They were outright told there was a flaw in the Death Star because they had a message from the Imperial designer who put the flaw there.

    Hopefully Disney will hire better writers for the remaining episodes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “And how could the contractors build the Death Star if there’s only one set of plans kept locked in a secret vault? What the heck did they go by when they had to cut steel?”

      That part actually makes sense. The contractors would only get the plans to the particular section they are working on. In fact, to the extent that a lot of structural and systems elements would be fabricated off-site, a lot of the contractors would probably have little-to-no idea what the end product would actually be. Only a very small number of heavily-vetted, high-level people would have access to the full plans.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed, modular construction of sophisticated large-scale products like aircraft and ships is a common practice. Realistically, that would be the only practical route forward for building a mobile station the size of a small moon – if assembled purely from individual components in a single system, it would take so long that you’d never be able to maintain security on it, and the project would be vulnerable to spoiling raids during construction. But thousands of anonymous individual modules shipped in from other systems would permit relatively ‘rapid’ (for certain values of ‘rapid’) final assembly, and any sabotage would only affect fairly small and easily replaced modules.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Remember, the original reason for finding Erso was to locate Garrera based on intel that he had information that could help them locate her father. She was never supposed to become as involved as she was.

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  13. I wonder if in the hands of a better writer, the detailed planing could have been used to build up the tension (each iteration of the plan shows a flaw that has to be overcome) until you reach the “aha!” moment and know you are able to have a good chance to execute.

    The execution still has to deal with the fog of war (no plan survives contact with the enemy and all that), so the second act sees the audience on the edge of their seats: did the planning team *really* manage to account for every contingency? Can the troops on the ground *really* execute a complex plan with multiple sequels and branches? (Think of “Blackhawk Down”)

    Yes, realistic movies can be just as or much more exciting than comic book movies.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The movie was a testimony to slavishly following Teh Stoopid.

    Operation Rogue One had to have no survivors, because all those loose character ends had to be tied off before A New Hope.

    So in service of that plot point, a half-assed and wholly implausible suicide mission was exactly what the script needed, thus what the audience got: cinematic high art, in service of an atrociously childish plot.
    Apologies, Charlie Brown, if you thought Lucy was going to leave the football right there where you could kick it.

    That said, this analysis is pure wordsmithing genius!
    Moar!
    ASO only has the entire clowncarnucopia of a century of good and bad Hollywood war movies to pick from, and actual tactical lessons are where you find them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • A “fog of war” moment or intelligence failure could just have easily produced the full-wipe of the raid, whilst the raid itself could have been well-planned for what the Rebels *thought* they knew. There’s no need for the Rebels to be fumbling clowns in the face of the plot inevitability. Indeed, a competently-run raid failing in the face of unknown factors could be far more dramatic – hopes for a successful exfiltration dashed, and you would get the drama of watching the Raiders come to grips with their changed fate, and buckling down to do their utmost in the face of their grim new reality.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. AT-AT’s would sink in the sand. They weigh too much.

    Also, ships coming out of hyperspace don’t have shields up, so that Star Destroyer would have taken considerable damage from the smaller ship hitting it.

    Fighters could do very little damage to a capital ship unless used in very large numbers. Yet the whole battle is just fighters shooting at other fighters and capital ships. The capital ships don’t shoot at each other (or at the shield portal). Of course this is all done because fighter combat looks cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. The flaw in the analysis: He compares this Rebel raid to an Army operation, instead of a Naval one. Both the Rebels and the Empire seem to be more Naval in their “thinking”.

    Like

  17. Overall, this was very well written. The Rebel Alliance cannot be blamed for ignoring the Army’s TF Smith rules, however, because the raid in question happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Probably before the Korean War.

    Liked by 1 person

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  19. I agree with the analysis but I have to disagree with the conclusion.

    “Had the task force adhered to the U.S. Army’s doctrinal outlines for conducting a raid”…. if the task force had adhered to US Army doctrine for conducting a raid, they would still have been waiting for intelligence confirmation of the objective when the Death Star construction was completed and the fully operational Death Star destroyed their base.

    This story is as much about intelligence failure and institutional paralysis as it is about a lack of detailed tactical planning.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Alas, as a Star Wars fan, I could give a shit about the Rebel Alliance’s operational mis steps. It was a good movie – something Star Wars fans had to wait too long for. And while the character’s decisions were emotion driven, sometimes emotions are right. And indeed often the rational decisions are not. Either may be based on faulty, mis interpreted or outdated data. Indeed, emotion driven ops aren’t some strange thing only remembered via black and white Task Force Smith pictures. Emotion drove OIF 1’s 11th Aviation Regiment attack on the Medina Division. It went ahead despite clear indications the Republican Guard fully expected them, a rushed schedule, and poorly coordinated SEAD. (And I’ll add the entire idea of using MLRS/ATACMs for SEAD was itself stupid as fuck – a poorly thought out prop to a ill conceived out post Cold War Attack Aviation doctrine.) Trust me, there’ll be more Task Force Smiths. Small scale if we’re lucky but never small enough.

    As a retired staff officer, I’m grateful for your blog. It provides a flow of common sense that, while it will never wear down the granite stupidity constituting our military bureaucracy, just might penetrate at key places and times to positive effect. (It actually happens sometimes.) However, I’m not going to spend much time reading it. A content scan brings up familiar complaints that date, if you can believe it, to the 1980’s and earlier. Too many constitute sad, bad memories requiring further exposure to time and liquor.

    Liked by 1 person

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  22. Thank you.
    Watching the amateurs in the Rebel Alliance fumble about is painful. The Imperial forces are hardly much better, if not *quite* so bloody incompetent. Really, they’re less sophisticated than a horde of club – waving primitives, for all that they have advanced weapons. Neo-barbarians. Someone needs to whip a little doctrine on them.

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  24. It appears that no one has pointed out the serious flaws in Imperial data security. The classified data archive *is* correctly air-gapped against external intrusion, and physical security seems to be adequate for most circumstances.
    However, once the physical security is cleared, digital security seems to be non-existent. The access console does not appear to require even a username/password to access any data within the archive, much less two-factor authentication allowing access only to data that the individual user is authorized or cleared for. Furthermore the vault clearly allows for the physical removal of fixed storage media, rather than requiring that the user make an authorized copy of the data should it need to be accessed at another location.
    This presents a huge security risk in a facility that apparently stores the architectural and engineering data for Imperial facilities, as well as who-knows-what else.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. In your intro you pose the question: “how could the Army that defeated Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan in 1945 struggle against a rag-tag bunch of communists five years later?” This question is part of your answer. The Red Army did the heavy lifting in the defeat of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front and, in the West, the US Army did its part within a coalition effort, along with allies such as the British, Canadians, Free French, exiled Poles, etc, etc. The notion that the United States alone defeated the Germans is patently false. But the US Army bought into their own hype post-Second World War and, thus, their hubris propelled them into such blunders as Task Force Smith. Just my $0.02.

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    • The assumption that the Red Army did all the “heavy lifting” in WWII and/or that the US war effort was somehow an insignificant part of the overall allied force is very nearly nonsense. Yes, the Red Army did tie up much of the German military effort (both troops and other resources), but the Western Front really was predominantly a US military effort with considerable Commonwealth support and a trivial assortment of other forces (most of which required more support than their military results were worth).

      The real answer to the question “how could the Army that defeated Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan in 1945 struggle against a rag-tag bunch of communists five years later?” is that we treated World War II as a WAR, with full mobilization of both military and ‘civilian’ assets, but in Korea we never did take the effort that seriously because we felt we were fighting “a rag-tag bunch of communists” that we KNEW did not present any actual threat the the USA.

      This is a mistake that the US has made repeatedly since then.

      The very concept of OOTW is an oxymoron that squanders lives.

      Like

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