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The Constitution: wonderful, if we can keep it

15 February 2008

Many reviews of books about public policy give the impression that the reviewer went directly to the last chapter, which describes the author’s recommendations.  Going to the good stuff works when reading Penthouse, but not Shakespeare (Hamlet:  everyone dies, so it is a tragedy).  The path to understanding the recommendations is a book’s content.  The destination may be wonderful, but is the path like a Roman road, or just two ruts in the dirt?

Chet Richard’s new book If We Can We Can Keep It recommends a new geopolitical strategy for America.  It is a heavy work.  Not in length (if a Nobel Prize is awarded to the book in 2008 with the greatest content/length ratio, Richards should start writing his acceptance speech).  It is heavy with detailed, clear, and innovative reasoning.

It deserves a review (I’ll do one eventually).  First, however, we should see the context – which tells us if the book is important.  Where is his book in the larger flow of thought about 4GW?

The art of war advances, like science, in two ways.  First and most common, are tool-driven revolutions.  Most of the progress in science has been from development of new tools:  from the telescope and microscope to X-ray diffraction (which revealed the DNA helix).  The same is obviously true of war:  iron, steel, breeding larger horses, the stirrup, gunpowder, internal combustion engines … and atomic weapons.

Second, there are concept-driven revolutions — famously described by Thomas Kuhn in his great book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (a must-read for anyone seeking to understand modern military theory and practice).  In science they are often personalized, as in the revolutions of Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Freud.  (Some, like quantum-mechanics, are associated with no one man.) ***

So it is with the military arts.  New concepts of warfare can be revolutionary (in several senses).  The feudal knight was supreme in Europe until the rediscovery that a body of men on foot could stand against cavalry.  Napoleon’s armies had the same technology as their foes, which Napoleon repeatedly crushed until they adopted his new ideas of organization and deployment.  Sometimes new ideas require new technology, such as the combination of German infiltration tactics and the internal combustion engine to yield blitzkrieg.

The past two centuries’ evolution in military theory can be seen through the “generations of war” framework.  There are other ways, of course.  Kuhn teaches us that a “paradigm” is a tool used by a group of people to facilitate communication and focus their work.  The best paradigm is that which at a given time yields the clearest communication and most useful insights for that community.  I will use the generations of war prism to describe our situation, aware that this can be described in other ways.

4GW is a concept about the way to win wars.  It has deep historical roots and slowly developed during the first half of the 20thcentury.  Brought to maturity by Mao, it has proven effective in many conflicts since WWII by allowing poorly trained and equipped local forces to defeat conventional armies.  4GW is especially effective against foreigners.  It allows local forces to leverage their natural “home court advantage” into a decisive superiority, both moral and in intelligence (i.e., knowledge of the geographic and social terrain).  We have learned this in Iraq, to our sorrow.  (Note:  allows, not guarantees.) 

In the last two decades western military theorists have worked to understand 4GW and craft ways it can be either used or countered by our forces.  This was given urgency following the publication in 1999 of Martin van Creveld‘s magnum opus Rise and Decline of the State, warning that developed nations might face internal foes (non-state entities) using 4GW against us.

Work on 4GW can be divided into five groups (see this for a fuller analysis):

  1. Those doing analysis — Analysts provide the foundation for all the others. 
  2. Visionaries, imagining solutions for the future — they are the best known (and paid). 
  3. Those developing practical solutions using new things (hardware, technology) — they get the most funding and often prove ineffective at 4GW.
  4. Those developing practical solutions using new ideas (theories, strategy, tactics) — the hot dot in 4GW writing in the west.  John Robb’s Brave New War.  Now Richard’s If We Can Keep it.  Comming this Fall:  Martin van Creveld’s Culture and War
  5. Those developing practical solutions in terms of how to change our institutions (people) — the final frontier in 4GW innovation in the west.

Progress is being made.  But can we implement these new ideas?  The new COIN tactics (FM 3-24, link to PDF here) offer an ominous lesson.  Introduced with such fanfare, their major impact so far appears to have been to act as a cover for {in Richard’s words} “the tactics which served us so well in Vietnam: massed bombings of civilian areas, search-and-destroy sweeps, and funding Popular Force militias.”  (for more on this see here)

So far the only one I see making substantial progress reforming our defense apparatus is Donald Vandergriff, with his work with the US Army’s officer training program.  (for more on this see here).  It is only incremental, but it can have a large effect over time.

If We Can Keep It offers a potential solution to this barrier.  Richards’ analysis and recommendations have two characteristics vital for political success.  First, they are simple and clear.  Second, he firmly roots them in American history and tradition.

I recommend this book.

There is some urgency to our search for solutions to 4GW

Our enemies are not sleeping.  Someday their understanding of 4GW will leap forward as with the publication of a book like “28 Articles: a guide to a successful insurgency against America.”   After reading that article, please read this brief Addendum

A Note on sources

*** The insight about the two sources of scientific revolutions is from Freeman Dyson’s speech at the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Teilhard de Chardin, given at Marist College, Poughkeepsie (14 May 2005). Posted at The Global Spiral.

For more reviewsof If We Can Keep It

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Other posts in this series about America, how we got here and how we can recover it

  1. Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006
  2. Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
  3. A report card for the Republic: are we still capable of self-government?, 3 July 2008
  4. Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
  5. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  6. A soft despotism for America?, 22 July 2008
  7. The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
  8. We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
  9. Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
  10. Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
  11. Fixing America: elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
  12. Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
  13. Fixing America: solutions — elections, revolt, passivity, 18 August 2008
  14. The intelligentsia takes easy steps to abandoning America, 19 August 2008 

For all posts on this subject see America – how can we reform it?.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. GLehmann permalink
    16 February 2008 9:05 pm

    The constitution is wonderful, but i think we need to step back a bit. Can the union be saved? This country is still young. In the words of Alice Bailey, we are much like people between the ages of 17 and 24. No one can tell us what to do, but we tell everyone else what to do. We are a nation of narcissists, as C. Lasch points out. There are just too many people going in too many different directions. Balkanization is not just something that happens overseas. It can happen here.

    Remember Yugoslavia or the USSR? I can see this country of ours becoming 2 to 4 separate entities. I see a secular US of the Northeast, a theocratic US of the Southeast, a libertarian US of the West, and a green US of the Pacific. Our military has shown that they can not control Iraq. What are they going to do with all the bubbas in TX. What will they do with the militias in Idaho? I don’t think the military has enough guns to control this country. They might control the big cities, but not the countryside.

    Communism kept us united. Now that it has died, the elites in DC are having a rough time keeping us afraid. History has shown in our own civil war that we are our own worst enemy. I don’t think the USA will survive to see the 22nd century

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  2. 17 February 2008 12:41 am

    Who can tell? But America is not our elites (if so, then we are doomed!) I have faith in us, collectively.

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  3. 17 February 2008 5:08 pm

    I still think the DNA of the American nation is strong, even if it’s skeleton is brittle and muscles are weak. We need to get back to knowing the Constitution, and keeping it. By knowing the Constitution, we reference our DNA to rebuild ourselves. By Keeping (i.e. practicing) the Constitution, we strengthen our composition.

    The elites who refuse to know it and keep it will be ultimately destroyed by their own hubris and vanity. But the American people will survive, by our energy, inventiveness, and common sense.

    Don’t compare America to the USSR or Yugoslavia. Both states were destroyed by nationalism. Though America has a huge problem with identity politics and illegal immigration, America is not beset by the same nationalistic forces & history that tore asunder the aforementioned states.

    Semper Fidelis,
    Smitten Eagle
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    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: strong, absolute agreement. I have said similar things in my posts, but not as well expressed as “DNA of the American nation is strong.”

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  4. zoagria permalink
    23 February 2008 11:59 am

    Fabius, I’d recommend you take a look at Charles S. Peirce, from whom Kuhn borrowed very heavily. Even a quick glance at C. S. Peirce’s wiki entry will give you an idea of why he’s generally considered one of the top two or three thinkers America’s ever produced. I assure you the laundry list of modern fields you’ll find associated with him isn’t a misrepresentation.

    (I have faith in the Republic as well, even posting as more or less an exile.) Best, A. Scott Crawford
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for the tip! His wiki entry is amazing.

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