Category Archives: Our Military

About the operation of our military. It’s strengths and weaknesses.

Martin van Creveld: A history of the turmoil in the Holy Land (you can’t understand the action without it)

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld gives a timeline of modern history for the “Holy Land” , putting present events in a larger context. While the struggle with jihadists has overshadowed that between Irsrael and Palestine, it remains a front line in the dispute between the West and East. We ignore it at our peril.

Protester with knife at Gaza

A masked Palestinian at a protest near the fence between Gaza & Israel (photo: REUTERS).

Turmoil in the Holy Land

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 22 October 2015
Posted with his generous permission

The Holy Land is in a turmoil. Certainly not for the first time, and almost certainly not for the last. For those of you who have forgotten, here is a brief timetable of the Palestinian-Jewish/Israeli conflict over the last century or so.

1860 –              Palestine, divided into three separate districts that also include parts of what today are neighboring countries, is governed by “the Unspeakable Turk.” Perhaps 80 percent of the population is Arab, mainly Sunni. But there are also some Christians—around 15 percent—and Jews. Christians and Jews are treated as Dimnis, second-rate people with fewer rights than Muslims.

1860 –              Following the Crimean War the Porte comes under pressure by the Western Powers. The latter demand, and obtain, concessions for their own citizens who live in Palestine as well a native Christians and Jews. As a result of the “Capitulations,”, as they are known, these minorities start drawing ahead.

1881 –              Jewish immigrants, mainly from Russia, start arriving and establish some new settlements. Right from the beginning, these settlements come under attack by local Bedouin who have always lived by plundering the peasantry. Thus the immediate background to the clashes is not political but socio-economic.

1897                The First Zionist Congress is held in Basel.

1904-1914       The so-called “Second Wave” of Jewish immigrants starts arriving. Zionist activists buy land, often from absentee landowners who live as far away as Beirut. The local fellaheen, seeing the land on which they have lived for centuries sold from under their feet, try to resist.

1914                Turkey join World War I on the side of the Central Powers.

1917                The Balfour Declaration, in which His Britannic Majesty’s Government recognizes the Jews right to a “National Home” in Palestine, is issued. As a result, the conflict, while still mixed up with economic, social, and religious issues, becomes political par excellence. Two peoples—“Arabs” (not Palestinians, a name that only gained wide currency during the 1960s) and Jews claim ownership over the same land. As they still do.

1918                The end of World War I leaves Palestine, along with Jordan and Iraq, firmly in British hands.

1920-21           The first Palestinian Arab Uprising, directed against the Balfour Declaration as well as the Jewish settlement.

1922                Winston Churchill, in his capacity a Colonial Secretary, arrives. He and his staff draw the borders between Palestine and the neighboring countries.

1929                Another Palestinian Uprising, triggered by a conflict over the Wailing Wall, breaks out. It is directed against both the British and the Jews. It is suppressed, but not before two Jewish communities, the ancient one at Hebron and the new one at Motza, right across the road from where I live, are wiped out.

1936-39           “The Arab Revolt” (note that people still speak of Arabs, not Palestinians). It, too, is directed against both the British and the Hews. It, too, is suppressed. But not before London makes important concessions. Those include 1. An end to Jewish land-purchases. 2. Limits on Jewish immigration, which from this point on is to bring in no more than 15,000 people per year for five years. 3. A promise of “evolution towards independence” within ten years.

1947-48           On 1 December 1947, a day after the UN decides to partition the country, the Jews and Arabs of Palestine go to war. By the middle of June, by which time the remaining British have withdrawn and the State of Israel has been official proclaimed, the Arabs have been substantially defeated. Armed intervention by the neighboring Arab states, aimed at assisting their brothers, also fails to achieve its purpose. By the time the war ends in January 1949 some 600,000 Palestinian Arabs, about half of the Arab population west of the Jordan, have been turned into refugees. The State of Israel is an established fact. However, it does not include either the Gaza Strip, which comes under Egyptian military rule, or the West Bank, which is annexed by Jordan.

1967                The June 1967 Six Days War brings the Gaza Strip, with an estimated 500,000 people, and the West Bank, with an estimated 1,500,000, under Israeli rule. With the west Bank comes East Jerusalem which from this point on becomes the focus of the conflict. Since then the population of these two territories combined has grown to an estimated 4,000,000.

1977                The Right Wing Herut (later Likud) Party comes to power in Israel. The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which until then was very small, starts skyrocketing.

1979                The Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt proposes a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict within five years. In practice, though, nothing happens.

1987                In December the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, breaks out. At first it takes the form of demonstrations and mass riots. Later there are stabbings, shootings, and some bombs.

1993                Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Front (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat sign the Oslo Agreements. Parts of the West Bank come under Palestinian rule; parts, under mixed rule; and parts remain strictly under Israeli control. The Agreements also provide for a five-year transitional period during which the parties will try to end the conflict.

2000                No progress has been made towards finding a solution. Triggered by a visit by former Israeli Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the second Intifada breaks out. Its hallmark is suicide bombings. By 2004 it is more or less suppressed with enormous damage to the West Bank City of Jenin in particular.

2005-6             The Israeli Government, under Ariel Sharon, withdraws its forces from the Gaza Strip. The latter comes under a Palestinian Faction known a Hamas. Hamas chases the PLO out of Gaza and vows to continue “resisting” Israel, which is “besieging” the Strip by exercising strict control over the movement of people and goods. In response, Hamas fires mortar rounds and rockets, later missiles, into Israeli territory.

2006-14           Repeatedly, Israel launches military operations in an attempt to put an end to Hamas’ attacks. Repeatedly, it fails. Still, Operation Protective Edge, which was launched in July 2014 and wrought vast destruction in Gaza, does seem to have taught Hamas a lesson of sorts. Since then the border, though not quite peaceful, has been relatively calm.

2015                The third Intifada, whose hallmark so far has been knifings carried out by individuals, breaks out.

The outlook

Eight times during the last century — 1920-21, 1929, 1936-39, 1947-48,1987-93, 2000-2005, 2008-14 (Gaza), and 2016 — did the Palestinian Arabs try to match whatever armed forces they had against those the British Empire/the Jewish Community in/Palestine/Israel. To no avail, since Israel, its Jewish population having grown almost a hundredfold during the same period.

With one of the world’s more powerful armed forces, it still continues to “besiege” the Gaza Strip and occupy the West Bank. This is an Ur-clash between two peoples that claim the same land. Even should the present disturbances come an end, a political solution of any kind is not in sight.

What should be done

Speaking as an Israeli now, given that real peace is out of reach for a long, long time to come, there seem to be two courses. The first would be for my country to complete the wall it has built around the West Bank in such a way as to get rid as of many Palestinians, specifically including most of those who live in East Jerusalem, as possible. That done, it should tell the settlers it is withdrawing and take as many of them as possible along. If, after that, the Palestinians in the West Bank still cause trouble, then Israel should deal with them as it dealt with Gaza in 2014. This has long been my own position; however, unless pressure is applied form outside it is very unlikely to happen.

The second would be to hope for the collapse of the Hashemite Kingdom and its occupation by Daesh or some similar organization. That would create an opportunity to repeat the events of 1948 and throw the Palestinians of the West Bank across the River Jordan. This is the “solution” a great many Israelis secretly favor. And the longer the present uprising lasts, the larger their number will grow.

What will it be?


About the Author

Martin van Creveld

Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.

The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW, preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same.

Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. He has written about the history of war, such as The Age of Airpower. He has written about the tools of war: Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present.

Some of his books discuss the methods of war: Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.

He has written two books about Israel: Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace and The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force.

Perhaps most important are his books examine the evolution of war, such as Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict, The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (IMO the best work to date about modern war), The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq, and (my favorite) The Culture of War.

He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than our!) and Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?.

He’s written one of the most influential books of our generation about war, his magnum opus — the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State – the ur-text describing the political order of the 21st century.

For links to his articles see The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.

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50 years ago the Battle at Ia Drang began our war in Vietnam. What have we learned since then?

Summary: Fifty years ago today American troops fought their first major battle in Vietnam. The lessons both sides learned from the battle set the course of the war. History shows whose analysis proved more accurate. We have concluded the first phase of our post-9/11 wars, proving that we’ve forgotten the lessons of Vietnam. As the next phase begins we have the opportunity to do better. But only if we begin to learn from our experiences.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Soldier at Ia Drang. Major Crandall's UH-1D in the background.

Soldiers at Ia Drang. Major Crandall’s UH-1D in the background. US Army photo.

On this day in 1965 the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) flew to the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam, initiating the first major battle between the North Vietnamese and American armies. This marked our transition from advisers to direct combatants.

Fifty years later we again have lessons from battles fought by our military in a distant land. Again all sides devise plans for the future. Lest we forgot, Ia Drang holds profound lessons for us today.

The quotes in this post come from one of the great works about the Vietnam War: We Were Soldiers Once…and Young: Ia Drang – The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam, by Harold G. Moore (Lt. General, US Army, retired) and journalist Joseph L. Galloway. I strongly recommend reading it.  For more information about the battle, see the Wikipedia entry.

What happened at Ia Drang?

Ia Drang tested the new concept of air assault, in which helicopters inserted troops to a distant battlefield, then supplied and extracted them. During that four day “test” 234 American men died, “more Americans than were killed in any regiment, North or South, at the Battle of Gettysburg, and far more than were killed in combat in the entire Persian Gulf War.” Both sides drew optimistic conclusions from the result.

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Three ideas for celebrating Veterans Day, ways to make the day a big one

Summary: After the parades and picnics, here are three suggestions for ways to celebrate Veterans’ Day. Make it more than just another holiday.

Veterans' Day


  1. Force Congress to fully fund care for Veterans.
  2. Hire a Vet.
  3. Support our troops, active and retired.
  4. For More Information.
  5. Video: A History of Veterans’ Day.


War reveals a people’s true values and priorities, cutting through the facade of what we say to show what we do. But each year we have the ability to grow, forcing our actions to more closely meet our aspirations. Every holiday offers the opportunity to remind ourselves of whom we want to be. The day after every holiday gives the opportunity to do so.

Here are some suggestions for this Veterans Day, ideas for commitments you can make to your friends and family as dinnertime toasts.

Veterans Administration

(1) Force Congress to fully fund care for Veterans

“One year after outrage about long waiting lists for health care shook the Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency is facing a new crisis: The number of veterans on waiting lists of one month or more is now 50% higher than it was during the height of last year’s problems, department officials say.”
— “Wait Lists Grow as Many More Veterans Seek Care and Funding Falls Far Short“, NYT, June 2015.

There is no excuse for under-funding care for veterans. Even during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ care has been a problem — well reported in the news for a decade. It’s in the news again. Unless we speak out it will be in the news again next year.

Oddly, while each year brought stories about active duty and vets suffering poor medical care, our military leaders had no difficulty funding the projects they considered important, such as the malfunctioning, insanely expensive F-35. Even now the problems remain while DoD starts the gravy train for a new bomber (in turn to become insanely expensive, like its predecessors).

We were given ample advanced notice. VA execs routinely warned of the coming need for radically higher funding. Plus there were many studies supporting their forecasts, such as from 2007 — “Soldiers Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan: The Long-term Costs of Providing Veterans Medical Care and Disability Benefits” by Linda Bilmes (Harvard).

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DoD is flush with cash, but running empty of ideas

Summary: While taxes remain low for the rich and our key social and physical infrastructure decays, a few parts of the government thrive. Today Chuck Spinney, one of our most acute observers of the US military, describes how the latest deal made by Congress continues the lavish funding of the US military-industrial complex. Something to remember as you watch the Kabuki plays of Campaign 2016.

Flush With Cash, Running on Empty

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
From his website, The Blaster. 21 September 2104
Posted with his generous permission

The Pentagon just won another small skirmish in its long war with Social Security and Medicare. That is the unstated message of the budget deal just announced gleefully by congressional leaders and the President.  To understand why, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane.

The previous rounds of the budget game

Last January, President Obama submitted Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget to Congress, and he proposed to break the spending limits on both defense and domestic programs.  These limits are set by the long-term sequester provisions of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), which, for better or worse, is the law of the land, and Obama was asking Congress to change the law.

Mr. Obama wanted to finance his ramped up spending proposals by increasing taxes.  Of course, he knew that the Republican controlled Congress lusted for defense increases but hated domestic spending, particularly entitlements. Moreover, he knew increasing taxes was like waving the red cape in front of the Republican budget bulls.  So, he knew his budget would be dead on arrival.  Obama’s budget, nevertheless, had one virtue: it was up front about the intractable nature of the budget problem.  In effect, whether deliberately or not, Obama laid a trap that the Republicans merrily walked into during the ensuing spring and summer.

Obama’s gambit set into motion a tortured kabuki dance in the Republican controlled Congress.  The Republicans, as Obama well knew, wanted to keep up the appearances of adhering to the BCA.  But at the same time, they wanted desperately to shovel money into the Pentagon’s coffers.

The net result was that Obama’s proposal triggered a series of increasingly irrational Congressional negotiations, bizarre back-room deals and weird budget resolutions.  These machinations came to a head with the passage of a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that proposed to…

  • keep the Pentagon’s base budget at the BCA level of about $499 billion, but
  • pack the accounts in the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingencies Operations fund (OCO) with a programs and pork that should have been in its base budget.

The OCO is a George W. Bush gimmick, created in 2001 after 9-11 to capitalize on the national hysteria to pay for the Global War on Terror by taking its costs off the books.  All our previous wars — e.g., WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Kosovo — were funded out of the “base” defense budget and there was no need set up a special war fighting account.

The reason for the dodgy OCO ‘slush fund’ rested in the politically irresistible fact that the OCO is a separate war-fighting fund for the Pentagon that is exempt from the spending limits set by the BCA’s sequester provisions.  The net result of the smoke and mirrors by the Budget and Armed Services Committees of Congress was a total defense budget that was almost identical to Obama’s original submission, but one that was not accompanied by his domestic funding increases or his tax increases.  And this monstrosity was all wrapped up in a ridiculous pretense of adhering to the BCA limits.

Last week, President Obama seemed to close the trap by vetoing the 2016 NDAA. But this too was smoke and mirrors.

The veto put in motion yet another kabuki dance, this time behind closed doors between the White House and the leaders of Congress. The goal was to reach an overall budget deal that would avoid a government shutdown, which the majority Republicans were terrified of being blamed for on the eve of an election year.  At the same time, they wanted to dodge the BCA’s sequester bullet while they shoveled more money into the Pentagon.

That deal has now been joined, and the Republic has been saved, albeit at an unknown price.  Nevertheless, some of the sordid details of that price are now beginning to seep through the chinks in the Hall of Mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac.

Military spending

Pour America’s wealth down the drain, into private pockets

According to this report in Defense News, the elements of the budget deal raises the BCA spending caps (again) by $80 billion over next two years; including $50 billion in FY2016 and $30 billion in FY2017.  It also increases the Federal Government’s debt limit. These spending increases would be split equally between defense and domestic programs, and they would be financed by two squirrelly provisions, to wit…

The first financing gimmick cuts back Medicare and Social Security disability benefits. But if past is prologue, the cut to Medicare is likely to be reversed again next year, which is an election year — because everyone in Congress wants the endorsement of the American Medical Association (AMA).  The cut to Medicare providers was first made permanent law by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, and since then Congress has reversed the scheduled provider cut 17 times.

The second financing gimmick is to sell crude oil  from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Ironically, this rather bizarre provision is peculiarly fitting to the culture of Versailles on the Potomac.  Few remember that the reserve was justified to the American people in 1975 as an insurance “cushion” to reduce the adverse effects of future rises in oil prices or supply disruptions engineered by OPEC, which is controlled by our supposed “ally” Saudi Arabia.  So why sell the reserve’s oil when prices are near record lows (adjusted for inflation) compared to those of the last fifteen to twenty years, particularly since the Saudis are flooding the market to take out the US frackers?

Who benefits is a fascinating question with all sorts of twists and turns and is not yet answered.  But it is worth recalling the 1997 Balanced Budget Act had a provision to sell the Naval Petroleum Reserve at Elk Hills (sold in 1998) – at that time, the largest privatization of government assets in history, precisely when oil prices were at their lowest level (adjusted for inflation) since the 1960s. They sold it to Occidental Petroleum which made a killing.

There is one thing the deal makes clear, however.The Pentagon’s share of the spending increases would be $33 billion in FY16, made up of a $25B increase in the Pentagon’s base budget and an $8B increase in the OCO. As for how the Pentagon’s $15 billion increase in FY17 will be allocated, the report in Defense News is silent.

So, there is good reason why champagne corks are popping in halls of the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex (MICC) and its lobbying affiliates on K Street.  Indeed, to celebrate the triumph, the Air Force immediately announced it awarded Northrop-Grumman a huge concurrent engineering contract (Milestone B) to design and build the first 21 of 100 new long range strike bombers, which heretofore had been shrouded in heavy secrecy. No one knows what this bomber will even look like, let alone what the program will cost, but two years ago, there were reports of a “pre-cost-growth” total program cost estimate (R&D and production) reaching $81 billion.

At least one of the MICC’s euphoric wholly-owned subsidiaries in the Fourth Estate has already written that 100 bomber is not enough, given the threats we face and the number of aging bombers that need to be replaced. 

This new bomber program is  by far the largest weapon acquisition program yet started in the 21st Century.  Yet there has been no oversight, except by its advocates in the smoke-filled, super-secret secure compartmented information facilities (SCIFs) spread around Versailles. Moreover, the bomber’s heavy concurrency means that the production-related money will quickly start flowing to hundreds of congressional districts, well before it is designed.  So, before you can say sequester next year, the Bomber, like the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, will be unstoppable.  And, like the F-35, it will acquire a life of its own to live on, no matter how badly it fails to meet its cost goals, its capability specifications, or its production quotas — for the simple but powerful reason that a majority in Congress are being bought off today in a way that will ensure they vote for it tomorrow.

But there is more.  The new Bomber is just the beginning of the new defense boom that Mr. Obama and Congress are launching beneath the smoke and mirrors of their budget practices.  The Pentagon already has a  bow wave of increased spending for new weapons in its R&D pipeline.

It is no accident that, a year ago, as he was departing the Pentagon, the Pentagon’s ineffectual comptroller Robert Hale characterized the new bomber as the “canary in the coal mine.” He was wringing his hands over the rapidly growing requirements for larger defense budgets in the future — requirements he helped to create.  Bow waves are a perennial feature in Pentagon planning.  I first heard the term in 1973.  The current bow wave, like its predecessors, will lead inexorably to more budget crises and more dodgy budget deals made by the best government money can buy.


So, once again, Mr. Obama had a shot at leading from the moral high ground, and once again, he blew it.  He had the Republicans on the ropes, with all their warts on full display, but then he squandered an opportunity to effect even a pretense of challenging a thoroughly corrupt system. Obama’s most recent performance is yet more proof that he is no change agent.  A better characterization would be that he is merely another Manchurian Candidate, whose role is to protect the interests of the factions making up the shadow government that is now running the show — what former congressional staffer Mike Lofgren calls the US Deep State.***

Chuck Spinney


About Chuck Spinney

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney retired from the Defense Department in 2003 after a military/civilian career spanning 33 years, 26 of them as a staff analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He is author of many articles about US military and geopolitical affairs. Read his bio here.

He posts at his website, The Blaster. Here are some of his major publications…

  1. Defense Facts of Life: The Plans/Reality Mismatch (1985).
  2. Contributor to The Defense Death Spiral, 8 November 2000.
  3. Bill Moyers Interviews Chuck Spinney, 1 November 2002 — Harsh insights from inside DoD; it won an Emmy as the best news magazine show of the year.
  4. The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War“, chapter one in The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It, ed. Winslow Wheeler (2011).
  5. A contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (2012).
  6. The High Cost of the Military Technical Revolution” — Spending more to get less, forever.
  7. The Enablers: The Central Role of Faux Republicans in the Anatomy of Decline“ — review of Mike Lofgren’s book The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted

Other posts by Chuck Spinney at the FM website…

  1. The Taliban Rope-a-Dome.
  2. Can Obama, or anyone else, outmaneuver the war advocates?
  3. Chuck Spinney describes the next phases of the Afghan War: defeat, retreat, & demobilization.
  4. Chuck Spinney explains our broken OODA loop.
  5. The Ukraine crisis gives us a peak behind the curtain into the workings of our government.
  6. Chuck Spinney asks why we choose to lose at 4GW.

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Martin van Creveld: it’s the age of failed airpower. Yet we try, try, try again.

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld examines one of the great oddities of our time — our persistent and absurdly unjustified faith in the power of airpower to defeat 4th generation foes. Future historians will marvel at our inability to learn from experience, of which this is just one example.

Italian-Turkish War

First aerial bombing: 1 Nov 1911 in Libya, Italian-Turkish War.

When Will They Ever Learn?

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 1 October 2015
Posted with his generous permission

For over a year now, the US armed forces have been fighting The Monster. AKA ISIS, AKA DAESH, AKA one of the most ferocious band of cut-throats the world has ever seen. Joining President Assad’s Army, who is the only one with the necessary guts, as of this writing Turkish, Russian, and French forces have all entered the fray. So, in less direct ways, have some 60 other countries. As the growing list of belligerents indicates, without too much success. Fearing casualties, officially at any rate none of the above mentioned interventionist forces have deployed boots on the ground. They prefer to rely on air strikes instead.

So just to remind those of you who may have forgotten, here is a short list of some of the things airborne devices, regardless of whether they are or are not manned, fly high or low or circle the earth in the manner of satellites, can not do:

  • The cost-benefit relationship of airborne devices means they have difficulty coping with a widely dispersed enemy. In plain words: one cannot send an F-16 or a Predator after every terrorist, real or, much less, suspected.
  • Airborne devices cannot take prisoners and interrogate people. In other words obtain HUMINT from both enemy combatants and the civilian population.
  • Airborne devices cannot look inside houses and other buildings which terrorists/guerrillas/insurgents use to hide, plan their operations, store weapons, recuperate, and so on.
  • Airborne devices, owing to their inability to look inside, cannot normally block transportation arteries except by shooting up everything that moves on them. In other words, they cannot do so in a discriminating manner; it is either/or.
  • Airborne devices cannot occupy territory and hold it. To quote a World War I saying which still holds true in many cases: They come from the devil knows where; drop bombs on the devil knows what; and disappear to the devil knows where.

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The US military’s #1 challenge in the 21st century: recruiting a few good people

Summary: The US military faces many problems in the 21st century, but perhaps none more serious than the need to recruit sufficient numbers of the high quality people it needs. They face two kinds of difficulties. This post discusses not just the small problems that get all the attention, but also the large but seldom mentioned ones. At the end are links to a wealth of research about these matters.

“If we put the Pentagon’s personnel managers in charge of the Sahara Desert, they would run out of sand in five years.”
From an analysis by John. J. Sayen (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired). He is author of 2 books about US army infantry in WWII (1942 – 1943, 1944 – 1945).

Women for the USMC


The news often surprises us because we don’t see the years of preparation laid for it. Like today, with conservatives baffled that the US military, among the most conservative of American institutions, is determined to recruit homosexuals and women. Has Obama purged the officer corps of real Americans, substituting leftists? (Spoiler: no.)

The answer is simple and obvious: these are desperate measures in response to the shrinking pool of eligible young men. The problem has been masked by the economic weakness since 2007 and the reductions in force following our failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, studies since the 1990s have warned of the problem (see the links at the end). Or rather, they have warned about the two problems imperiling recruitment to the US armed forces.

The small problem

The small problem is that too few young Americans meet the standards of the armed forces. Generations of public policy have given American a large underclass, whose children are poorly educated, swept through our criminal injustice system, and turn to drugs (since they have so little opportunity). This gets the attention, as in this week’s “Here’s why most Americans can’t join the military” by Blake Stilwell in the somewhat megalomaniac-named website We Are The Mighty.

For a good summary of this see “How Do We Recruit, Train and Retain the Right People for the Future Force?”, Panel Discussion at Transformation Warfare 2007 Conference on 20 June 2007.  Excerpt from the Air Force Times

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Martin van Creveld looks at Amazons: women warriors in the real world

Summary: Martin van Creveld looks at the accounts of women soldiers from the ancient Amazons to modern armies, cutting away the myths to real the facts. It’s a timely analysis, with the US radically revising the role of women in our military.

Peshmerga Women

Peshmerga Women by Jan Sefti. Published under a Creative Commons License.


By Martin van Creveld. From his website, 27 August 2015
Posted with his generous permission

I get feedback on my articles. For that I am grateful; it makes me think. Recently someone took issue with my claim that, in the military, where there are women there are no bullets and where there are bullets there are no women. How about the brave Kurdish women who are fighting Daesh? Don’t they make up 30-35%?

30-35% of what? I asked. After all, women make up nearly 30% of the Israel Defense Force. Nevertheless, in the so-called Second Lebanon War of 2006, 130 male soldiers were killed against just one female. The 66 IDF soldiers who died in operation Protective Edge in 2014 did not include a single woman. So just what do 30-35% mean?

Regarding the fighting Kurdish troops  he answered rather brusquely. In support he sent these sites:

I opened them. They did not mention any figures on the ratio of brave Kurdish fighting females to brave Kurdish fighting males. And the headline? “No Frontline Deployment for Female Kurdish Troops.”

What the article did say was that, in a place called Dobruk, there is or was a colonel who commanded “a 30-woman unit.” Strange, that: since when do colonels command platoons? Isn’t their job to command brigades in which there are normally 27 platoons as well as other units? Never mind.

The purpose of the unit? “To show,” says the colonel, “that we are different from IS, which will never let women fight.” In other words, propaganda. Though whom the propaganda is intended for, the Kurds themselves or their slavering Western admirers, is left unsaid.

That business disposed of, I decided to do a little research. And yes, I did find a Reuters photo report titled, “Kurdish women fighters wage war on Islamic State in Iraq.” It claimed that women made up some 30%. Thirty percent of exactly what? Military personnel (assuming that, in a place like Kurdistan, there is a clear distinction between the military and civilians)? All kinds of support troops? Fighters who actually hold a gun, fire at the enemy, and are fired at in return? The article provides no answers. What it does provide are nice-looking pictures of women posing with Kalashnikov assault rifles. So do a great many similar sites.

The words “photo report” are important. Many years ago, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels used to tell his public that “pictures do not lie.” That, of course, was itself the greatest lie of all. I do not want to imply that Reuters was lying. Only that doing so with the aid of pictures is, if anything, easier than with words.

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