Category Archives: history

It Was The Worst Of Times

Brown’s Law of History: History doesn’t repeat itself. It just gives pop quizzes to see if you were paying attention.

This article by Dominic Sandbrook is perhaps a bit alarmist, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Anyone who has studied much history knows that the most terrible, unthinkable things do sometimes actually happen. Citizens of the West today are fat and complacent, but not immune to the same tragedies that have befallen fat and complacent civilizations many, many times before.

Could This Be…Good News?

The Department of Defense has issued a new Defense Strategic Guidance statement, coincidentally just a few days after I sent the White House my suggestions for cutting the budget. I’ve read the document and, rather to my surprise, it makes a great deal of sense. It appears–and much depends on how it is actually implemented–to return the US to the sort of strategic planning that prevailed through most of the 20th century.

First, a bit of background. Throughout the 20th century, it was a strategic goal of the United States to have a continental ally in any major military involvement, and let them do most of the dying. Whether it was France in WWI, the Soviet Union in the European theater in WWII (and China in the Pacific), or South Korea and South Vietnam, the goal was the same; let someone else provide the mass of infantry that was going to take most of the casualties, while the US provided air, naval, and armored support. Even when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, a major goal of US policy was to involve troops from local allies. Syria and Egypt, as well as other local powers, contributed significant forces. This was not merely a political gesture, to show that the United States was not acting alone, but a continuation of sound US strategic policy. Even in Afghanistan in 2001, the US initially provided leadership and firepower (and large amounts of cash), while local allies did most of the fighting.

The lack of a local ally for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a major failure of US diplomacy and planning. (Turkey was the obvious candidate, but could not be induced to even cooperate, much less participate in the invasion.) As a result, US forces had to provide most of the manpower (and relatively significant casualties) for most of the war. Perhaps the fallback plan was to use a reconstituted Iraqi army in the allied role, but if so that too was bungled and only in 2008, five years after the start of the war, was the new Iraqi army ready to take over significant operations.

The new Strategic Guidance statement talks a very great deal about allies. I think the DoD has learned a valuable lesson about the costs of going it alone. (I mean no disrespect to the British and other allies who contributed troops, and suffered losses, in Iraq and Afghanistan, but their roles were comparatively minor.) There are numerous sentences like “U.S. forces will plan to operate whenever possible with allied and coalition forces.” This is good strategic sense. In particular, India is emphasized as a key ally. I have been saying for at least twelve years that securing India as an ally should be a key goal of US strategy and diplomacy, so it is pleasing to see this finally recognized at the highest levels.

The new strategy, boiled down to its essentials, is this:

‘We can’t afford to keep doing what we’ve been doing, so we’re going to concentrate on the areas that really need our attention, and make sure we have local allies to help us out.’

This is a perfectly reasonable plan. Naturally, many people object to it, ostensibly because it means abandoning certain features of recent strategic doctrine, but more realistically because lower military spending means some corporations will make less money.

For example, a stated goal of recent US strategic planning was the ability to fight and win two wars at the same time. The new goal is, if it is necessary to fight two wars at the same time, to fight one as a delaying action while winning the other, then concentrate resources on the other to win that as well. This seems like a significant change, but it really is not. The ‘win two wars at once’ capacity, you see, never actually existed. The doctrine fell apart when it was put to the test. To fight the war in Iraq, it was necessary to put the war in Afghanistan on hold, and it could only be resumed in a serious way as US forces were withdrawn from the Iraq war. The new doctrine is not a change; it simply recognizes circumstances as they actually exist.

A couple of other points are worth mentioning. The new statement includes this statement:

“Likewise, DoD will manage the force in ways that protect its ability to regenerate capabilities that might be needed to meet future, unforeseen demands, maintaining intellectual capital and rank structure that could be called upon to expand key elements of the force.”

This is interesting on two levels. First, it recognizes that the DoD would need to expand to fight a major war and intends to keep the capacity to do so. This is nothing new; WWI and WWII were both fought mostly with men who had been civilians a few years before. It also means that as manpower is reduced a greater proportion of officers will be retained. Officers, in other words, are less likely to lose their jobs than enlisted men and women. That is important not only for its implications on future mobilizations, but on current careers and politics within the DoD.

“We will resist the temptation to sacrifice readiness in order to retain force structure, and will in fact rebuild readiness in areas that, by necessity, were deemphasized over the past decade.”

This means that the DoD will not try to maintain troop levels if it doesn’t have the funds to arm, equip, and train them properly. Quality is more important than quantity and the most important feature of a military organization is its firepower and combat capacity, not sheer manpower. The number of people in uniform is a convenient benchmark for politicians to pick up and try to score points with, but it matters relatively little if the troops have to be used.

Overall, I am pleased with the new strategic doctrine and matching cuts in DoD spending. The strategy is solid and the cuts, while they don’t go nearly as far as they could (and, I believe, should), are a good start. It recognizes both the strategic realities of the world as well as the necessity of a strong economy to maintain a strong military. Well done.

The Rich and Society

French Aristocrats are considering fleeing again. Unlike the last time, they aren’t threatened with being beheaded, just with having to pay their fair share in taxes. To save a little money, they’re thinking about abandoning their country and living somewhere else.

To me, this is additional evidence that the very rich aren’t members of the society they live in; they’re parasites on it.

A History of Oil

A somewhat simplified, but essentially accurate, history of oil.

9/11 + 11

In New York, we’ve created a monument to our loss of the War on Terror, a celebration of fear and pointless, oppressive security. News stories everywhere urge us to ‘never forget.’

Here’s the best way to commemorate the 9/11 terror attacks: Forget. Move on, enjoy your lives. Live, without fear.

The 11th Hour

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent.

May such sacrifice in the name of greed and pride and stupidity never be necessary again.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.”

–John McCrae

* * *

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
. . . .
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

–Siegfried Sassoon

Politicians in Uniform

Here’s a good piece on General Petraeus. I sometimes forget that everyone doesn’t know these things. Of course generals are more politicians with carefully crafted public images than genuine military leaders. Also, a ‘troop surge’ is what we used to call ‘reinforcements.’

Col. MacGregor is wrong about one thing, though. Roman generals, at least during the years of the Republic, weren’t battle-hardened professionals. They were politicians, taking a military command so they could start a war and further their civilian political careers. Their ambition and amateurish bumbling got a lot of good troops killed, and lost a lot of battles.

In other words, our Generals aren’t so different from the Romans.

Heavy Metal

There is some compelling evidence coming out that America’s crime wave of the 20th century was caused by leaded paint and gasoline. Interesting.

Changing Stripes

Mark Lynas, long time campaigner against genetically modified foods, discovers science and changes his mind.

A few stand-out points:

Our food technology is largely stuck in the 1950’s.

The Amish are ahead of the rest of us here. Being technologically lapped by the Amish is embarrassing.

No one has ever died or been made sick by eating genetically modified food, but lots of people have been made sick, and died, eating organic food.

The More Things Change….

A law from 13th century England:

“These are the articles which our lord the King commands to be kept in his City of London for the preservation of his peace. Firstly, that whereas murders, robberies, and homicides have in times past been committed in the City by night and day, it is forbidden that any one walk the streets after curfew tolled at St. Martin le Grand with sword, buckler, or other arm unless he be a great lord, or other respectable person of note, or their acknowledged retainer, bearing a light; and if any be found doing the contrary they are to be committed to the Tun, and the next day brought before the Warden or Mayor and Aldermen, and punished accordingly.”

A proposed law from 21st century America (emphasis added):

“Mrs. Feinstein’s measure would exempt more than 2,200 types of hunting and sporting rifles; guns manually operated by bolt, pump, lever or slide action; and weapons used by government officials, law enforcement and retired law enforcement personnel.”

(I may update the quote when the full text of Senate Bill 150 becomes available.)

In Feudal Europe, different laws applied to nobles and commoners, and many jobs and government positions were only available to the nobility. Among other things, as noted above, commoners were much more restricted in what weapons they could carry. That helped to ensure that those on top, stayed on top.

One of the fundamental concepts of the American Revolution and the founding of the United States is that “that all men are created equal.” That is, that there should be no legal distinction between nobility and commoner, that all men are equal before the law and have equality of opportunity. You can’t be barred from a certain job, or subjected to different laws, just because of your parents’ social class. This is the concept that made the American and French Revolutions of the 18th century such incredibly radical events, that terrified the established order. Six or seven million people died in Europe in the effort to stamp out the idea of ‘liberty, equality, and brotherhood.’

Increasingly, our elected officials exempt themselves from the laws that the rest of us must follow. Insider trading, OSHA, financial accountability, the Freedom of Information Act, subpoenas, whistleblower protection, and so on. Now they’re proposing a law that would massively restrict the weapons that commoners can own, but exempt the ruling class.

At least we can stop pretending now about that whole, “that all men are created equal” stuff and just admit that we’re the commoners, they’re the noble ruling class. How bad could it be?