Tag Archives: coin

Learning from our failure at weaponizing anthropology

Summary: While we begin a new round of wars we still learn about dark aspects of the first round. For example, that psychologists assisted the US torture program in addition to the doctors and attorneys who participated. A book by David Price looks at another group violating their professional standards in join our wars — anthropologists in the (recently closed down) Human Terrain Teams. It is a story rich with lessons about modern America, if we wish to learn from our experience rather than repeat our mistakes.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“Anthropology: a room filled with white people, talking about non-white people.”
-— Maximilian C. Forte (2009).

Weaponizing Anthropology:
An Overview

by Maximilian Forte at Zero Anthropology
19 August 2014

Excerpt posted with his permission

 

For  members of the wider public who want to understand the deep and broad transformations wrought by the latest round of US imperial expansion since 2001, David H. Price’s Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State is indispensable reading {2011; Price is Prof of Anthropology at St. Martin’s U; bio here}. …

The book … is a succinct description and analysis of the militarization and securitization of American anthropology following the US’ launch of its “war on terror” since 2001, and the US invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

… Price offers a critical overview of the ethical stakes and political consequences of the renewed incursion of the CIA onto US university campuses, the appropriations of anthropology for the purposes of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in general the uses by military and security apparatuses of “cultural knowledge” as a strategic tool for the purpose of conquest and control. Price takes us through various intelligence programs that enlist academics, such as the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program and the CIA’s Intelligence Community Centers of Academic Excellence (ICCAE), and the military programs that recruit social scientists, such as the Human Terrain System (HTS) and the Minerva Research Initiative, both run by the Pentagon. …

The Politics of Anthropology (and Memory)

“Somewhere between 1971 and today,” Price remarks, “American anthropologists lost their collective sense of outrage over the discipline being so nakedly used for counterinsurgency,” and one reason for that is the “degeneration of historical memory,” he argues. Price adds that “fewer Americans know the history of the CIA’s legacy of assassinations, coups and death squads and a history of undermining democratic movements”.

Add to this the increased corporatization of the university, the fear around the loss of funding, progressively diminished academic independence, self-censorship, and the jingoism of a “fervently militarized” post-9/11 US, Price notes. As one result, we have a case where “the discipline as a whole refrains from stating outright opposition to anthropologically informed counterinsurgency”. Even now there is still a bias against “political” critiques: “there remains a great resistance to confronting the ways that disciplinary ethics are linked to the political context in which anthropology is practiced”.

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Darwin explains the futility of killing insurgents. It makes them more effective.

Summary: During the past decade we have deployed our most skilled warriors and most advanced technology in an assassination program with few precedents in history. Result: the Middle East in flames and our foes resurgent. I and others predicted this, the natural result of putting the force of evolution to work for our foes. It’s called the Darwinian Ratchet. It’s a well-known concept in science, but one we prefer not to see. Victory remains impossible until we overcome our inability to learn this and other basics of modern warfare.  This is cross-posted on Martin van Creveld’s website; he described this as “absolutely fascinating.”

“What does not kill him, makes him stronger.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche in Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is (1888).

Ratchet

Contents

  1. Our learning disability
  2. Biologists explain the Darwinian Ratchet.
  3. The Darwinian Ratchet at work in war.
  4. Conclusion
  5. For More Information.
  6. An insurgent’s theme song.

(1) Our learning disability

The great mystery of our post-9/11 wars is our inability to learn from history and our own experience. My previous post discussed one aspect of this: our blindness to the consistent failure since WWII of foreign armies fighting insurgents. Another aspect is what Martin van Creveld calls the “power of weakness”. This essay discusses a third aspect, how an insurgency brings into play a “Darwinian ratchet” in which our efforts empower an insurgency.

This post shows the origin and history of the “ratchet” concept and its slow recognition by American geopolitical and military leaders. But there are no answers to our inability to adapt our tactics to the ratchet, just as there are none for our failure to learn from the history of insurgencies (as explained in Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win).

(2) Biologists Explain the Darwinian Ratchet

It’s an old concept in biology, first developed by Herman Muller in his famous 1932 article “Some genetic aspects of sex”. We’re personally experience the Darwinian ratchet when we take antibiotics in too-low doses or for too short a time, creating a colony of slightly drug-resistant bacteria. When done by a society we breed superbugs, as Nathan Taylor explains in “What are the risks of a global pandemic?“ (Praxtime, 23 March 2013).

“The genetics of disease resistance are worth discussing here. We can think of resistance to disease as an arms race. As a population gets exposed to more and more diseases, a darwinian ratchet effect occurs, and only those with stronger immune systems survive.”

The literature of biology and medicine has many articles about the Darwinian ratchet, ranging from complex (Alexander Riegler’s “The Ratchet Effect as a Fundamental Principle in Evolution and Cognition”, Cybernetics and Systems, 2001) to the incomprehensible. The concept has spread to other fields, as in William H. Calvin’s The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind (1996).

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A powerful new article shows why we lose so many wars: FAILure to learn

Summary:  Slowly America begins to come to grips with its defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, as experts provide simple easy explanations. Here we look at the 3rd such major article, a demonstration that the main lesson of our defeats is that we refuse to learn from them. Eyes tightly closed we stumble onto a rough road to the future.   {2nd of 2 wars.}

 

 “Why Has America Stopped Winning Wars?

by Dominic Tierney
(Assoc Prof of political science, Swarthmore)
Excerpt from his new book

“Since 1945, the United States has experienced little except military stalemate and loss — precisely because it’s a superpower in a more peaceful world.”

Prof Tierney vividly demonstrates one reason America keeps losing: our US-centric view of the world. It’s all about us. As with health care and other public policy issues, we have little interest in the experience of other nations — and so draw stunningly bad conclusions on our little history.

Why does the United States struggle in war? How can it resolve a failing conflict? Can America return to victory? Today, these are critical questions because we live in an age of unwinnable conflicts, where decisive triumph has proved to be a pipe dream.

We can’t win, so obviously nobody can win. This displays an amazing blindness to history. The post-WWII era of anti-colonial wars ended in 1992 (i.e., Afghanistan vs. the USSR) with a series of decisive wins by local peoples over foreign armies. It’s been an age of victory parades, not unwinnable conflicts.

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Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win.

Summary: As the western nations begin a new round of interventions against insurgencies in the Middle East, let’s look at the record of such conflicts since WWII. They teach a simple lesson that if widely recognized could change our future. The leaders of our national defense institutions do not want to see it, so we probably will not either. Failure to learn is among the most worst of our weaknesses, able to offset the power of even a great nation. This essay was cross-posted at Martin van Creveld’s website.

Fake Churchill about success

Among the dumbest advice ever. Churchill didn’t say it.

Our wars since WWII

The local fighter is therefore often an accidental guerrilla — fighting us because we are in his space, not because he wishes to invade ours. He follows folk-ways of tribal warfare that are mediated by traditional cultural norms, values, and perceptual lenses; he is engaged (from his point of view) in “resistance” rather than “insurgency” and fights principally to be left alone.

— David Kilcullen in The Accidental Guerrilla (2011).

Most of the West’s wars since WWII have been fight insurgencies in foreign lands. Although an ancient form of conflict, the odds shifted when Mao brought non-trinitarian (aka 4th generation) warfare to maturity. Not until the late 1950’s did many realize that war had evolved again.

It took more decades more for the West to understand what they faced. Only after the failure of our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq did the essential aspect of this new era become known, as described in Chapter 6.2 of Martin van Creveld’s The Changing Face of War (2006)…

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Is victory impossible in modern wars? Or just not possible for us?

Summary: Slowly America begins to absorb lessons from our fails in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet as with Vietnam we prefer not to see too deeply. Mark Kukis at aeon gives us another incisive analysis of modern war that misses the mark, and so sets us up for the next failed war.  {2nd of 2 wars.}

The Arch of the Victory in Genoa

The Arch of the Victory in Genoa

Recommended reading: “The myth of victory” by Mark Kukis at aeon

“War isn’t like it used to be. Victory is more elusive & a strong military doesn’t count as much.”

Mark Kukis knows this subject well, having covered our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the major media and author of Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009, and covered the Afghan and Iraq wars for Time, The New Republic and Salon. This fall he and Andrew Bacevich will work on an open online course, “War for the Greater Middle East”.

I agree in spirit with this brilliant article. But his analysis repeats the mistakes of the previous military reform movement that burned brightly but was proven ineffectual by our wars after 9/11. In that sense it’s similar to the also excellent article by James Fallows in January’s The Atlantic, as I described in this post, and later here. They are complex, academic in nature, unfocused, and obscure the important lessons. They’re guaranteed to have little effect.

Refusal to learn

Kukis begins, as those advocating reform usually do, by stating the problem: America’s refusal to recognize the changed nature of modern war (aka 4th generation war, non-trinitarian war).

How could the Taliban have bested the United States? A more uneven military contest is scarcely imaginable when you consider the state of the two factions on the eve of 9/11. Before the US invasion, the Taliban had an army of roughly 30,000. Taliban forces hardly qualified as a real army, though. They operated more like a decentralised militia scattered around a mountainous country, with few roads and no communications of any kind. They had no officers. A rotating crew of regional commanders oversaw garrisons around the country. Most fighters went unpaid except for the occasional handout from a commander before they went on leave.

In the US, meanwhile, armories bristled with sophisticated weaponry and equipment. {Etc, — we have lots of stuff, more and better stuff than anyone, anywhere, anytime.}

After this strong start he draws a quite fallacious conclusion, based on a strawman assumption.

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Why we lose wars so often. How we can win in the future.

Summary:  The previous post in this series asked why we lose when we’re great. This post gives a deeper answer, and points to two paths that at least make victory possible. It’s a brief review, with links to other sources giving more detail.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

{DoD is} ready for wars past and future, but not present. {T}he current military, an advanced version of the WWII force, is ready should the Imperial Japanese Navy return. It also has phenomenally advanced weaponry in the pipeline to take on a space-age enemy, perhaps from Mars, should one appear. It is only the present for which the US is not prepared.

— Fred Reed, A True Son of Tzu.

Victory poster

Contents

  1. We’re great! So why do we lose?
  2. Why do we lose?
  3. Let’s get better soldiers!
  4. Martin van Creveld explains.
  5. Other posts in this series.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  We’re great! So why do we lose?

A previous post asked “does America have the best military in the world?” The answer is “no”, and would have been obvious to any generation of Americans before WWII. We are inventors, explorers, and businessmen. Germans were considered great soldiers, part of their militarized society and so not esteemed by us. We came to consider ourselves military Übermensch after WWII, when we crushed little Japan and helped the Russians, who defeated NAZI Germany.

Japan’s leaders coined the term “victory disease” to describe the arrogance and over-confidence produced by their early victories, but WWII gave us a case worse than theirs.

A related question is “Why do the finest soldiers in the world keep losing wars”. The previous post gave the obvious answer: we don’t have the finest soldiers in the world (certainly not at fighting 4th generation wars). This post examines a deeper reason why we consistently lose 4GWs since WWII, and how we can win.

(2)  Why do we lose?

Why we lose has many answers, depending on your perspective. We lose because foreign armies almost always lose to local insurgents since Mao brought 4GW to maturity after WWII. We lose because we refused to see this simple fact, learning from the experience of others and our own. We lose because we repeat strategies and tactics that have repeatedly failed since WWII, including some that almost guarantee failure.  For details see this post about our FAILure to learn,

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Why a decade of assassinations hasn’t helped America.

Summary: During the past decade we have deployed our most skilled warriors and most advanced technology in an assassination program with few precedents in history. Result: the Middle East in flames and our foes resurgent. I and others predicted this, the natural result of putting the force of evolution to work for our foes. It’s called the Darwinian Ratchet. It’s many seen many times by military and academic experts, but we prefer not to understand. And so we don’t. Victory remains impossible until we overcome this self-imposed weakness.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Charles Darwin

Not someone you want working for your foes.

I’ve killed them by the tens of thousands, scoured their countryside at will, pried their allies away, and humiliated them day after day. I have burned their crops and looted their wealth. I’ve sent a whole generation of their generals into the afterworld … Have I changed nothing? They are stronger now than before. They are more than before. They fight more sensibly than before. They win when they used to lose.

— Hannibal, in David Anthony Durham’s novel Pride of Carthage (2005)

The great mystery of our post-9/11 wars is our FAILure to learn, not just from history but also from our own experience. Tuesday’s post discussed our blindness to the consistent failure by foreign armies fighting insurgents since WWII. Yesterday Andrew Cockburn raised an equally important problem: “The Mystique of High-Value Targeting: Why Obama’s Hopes of Decapitating the Islamic State Won’t Work.” He discusses its failure in our wars and the DEA’s 1992 “Kingpin Strategy”.

The explanation, so the analysts concluded, was that dead leaders were invariably and immediately replaced, and almost always by someone (often a relative ready for revenge) younger, more aggressive, and eager to prove himself. The same held true on a wider scale. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Iraqi al Qaeda leader widely cited as the source of all our troubles in Iraq, was duly targeted and killed in 2006, only to be succeeded by Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who turned out to be an even more deadly opponent. He too was duly killed, and instead we got Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who created the Islamic State, now lord of six million people and an area the size of Great Britain.

This effect was the subject of my first posts about the Iraq War (Sept 2003 and Oct 2003) and has been a major theme since. An insurgency brings into play a “Darwinian ratchet,” in which our efforts in effect empower the insurgency.  Not just spurring recruitment (as many saw), but forcing improvement in their leadership and methods.  It’s one of the fundamental dynamics of our post-9/11 wars.

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