Tag Archives: martin van creveld

See our victory in WWII by what didn’t happen afterwards

Summary: On Memorial Day we remember the sacrifices by those who fought in America’s wars. But let us also remember the victories they won. None greater than in WWII. Here the eminent historian Martin van Creveld reminds us of what people expected for the post-war world. We did much better than that, showing what we are capable of doing in the future.

When after many battles past,
Both tir’d with blows, make peace at last,
What is it, after all, the people get?
Why! taxes, widows, wooden legs, and debt.

— Francis Moore in the Almanac’s Monthly Observations for 1829. We did much better.

From Clement Attlee's 1945 general election campaign against Churchill.

Clement Attlee’s 1945 campaign against Churchill.


The Things that did Not Happen

By Martin van Creveld
From his website.
7 May 2014
Posted here with his generous permission.


Seventy years ago, World War II in Europe came to an end. No sooner had it done so — in fact, for a couple of years before it had done so — people everywhere had been wondering what the post war world would look like. Here it pleases me to outline a few of their expectations that did not become reality.

Communism sweeps through Europe

In 1945, much of Europe — and not just Europe — was devastated. Tens of millions had been killed or crippled. Millions more had been uprooted from hearth and home. Scurrying about the continent, they were desperately seeking to rebuild their lives either in their original countries or elsewhere. Entire cities had been turned into moonscapes. This was true not only in Germany (and Japan), where British and American bombers had left hardly a stone standing on top of another, but in Britain (Bristol, Coventry), France (Caen, Brest), Belgium (the Port of Antwerp), the Netherlands (Rotterdam and Eindhoven), Hungary (Budapest), and Yugoslavia (Belgrade). Transportation and industry were in chaos.

With unemployment, cold — the nineteen forties witnessed some of the harshest winters of the century — and even hunger rife, many expected large parts of the continent to go Communist.

In fact, it was only Eastern Europe that became Communist. And then not because its inhabitants, war-ravaged as they were, liked Communism, but because Stalin and the Red Army forced it on them. Many west-European countries, especially France and Italy, also witnessed the rise of powerful left-wing parties. So did Greece, which went through a civil war as vicious as any. None, however, succumbed to the red pest. By 1950 production was back to pre-1939 levels. By the late 1950s, though eastern countries continued to lag behind western ones as they had begun to do as early as 1600, most of the continent was more prosperous than it had ever been.

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News about the battle for women’s equality in our armed forces

Summary: The military has become one of America’s petri dishes for social policy experiments, and the integration of women into the front line fighting forces has introduced stresses far greater than anything they’ve experienced before (the faux revolution from letting people out of the closet has produced a false sense of confidence in the outcome of this far greater change). Here we briefly review the state of the action today.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

GI Jane


The tides of change have hit the US military as it adapts to equal roles for women, with massive effects that we as yet can only dimly see.

One result has been to start a slow-mo purge in the officers corps. “At least 30% of military commanders fired over the past 8 years lost their jobs because of sexually related offenses, including harassment, adultery, and improper relationships” (per AP). The scalps include those of senior officers. They might look with envy at Congressmen whose office policies (illegally) protect them at against charges of improper behavior (it’s as delicately written an article as any in a Victorian era newspaper).

War is perhaps the most complex and demanding of social activities, made more so by its rapid rate of evolution during the past 150 years. Adding women to the formula makes it far more complex. What gets dropped to make mindspace for these new concerns? What would Clausewitz or Patton make of this: “Lawmakers want clearer Army breastfeeding rules“?  Or this tidbit about women warriors from AP’s “Pentagon grapples with retaliation in sex assault cases“…

“… often victims believe they are being retaliated against if peers no longer invite them to parties or if they are disciplined for illegal drug or alcohol use in connection with the assault.”

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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


  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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What is a fourth generation war, the wars of the 21st century? Who fights them, and why?

Summary:  We resume our analysis of modern war with a brief description of 4th generation war. Who fights it, and why. This is the 4th chapter in a series of posts following the 25th anniversary of the Marine Corps Gazette article “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”. A series of writers explain our past defeats at the hands of 4GW foes, and prepare you for those to come. Since these defeats are unnecessary, this might motivate you to join the effort to retake the reins of America.


Source: Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid


  1. What is the 4th generation of war?
  2. War is a conflict; not all conflicts are war
  3. Posts in this series about 4GW
  4. For More Information
  5. The Evolution of Warfare graph

(1)  What is the 4th generation of war?

Many trends since WW2 forced ended the supremacy of 3GW (aka maneuver war, blitzkrieg), and powered the rise to dominance of 4GW. Two of the most important are…

  1. The slow spread of nuclear weapons since WW2 has forced the end of conventional warfare between developed states.
  2. Loyalty to the State has peaked around the world. As its influence declines in people’s hearts and minds, other loyalties emerge.

These increase the power of non-state entities, reversing the growth of State power since the Treaties of Westphalia legitimized the the State as the only entity able to use force within its bounds. Unlike the first 3 generations of war (from Napoleon to Hitler), 4GWs are fought by a wider range of players (as they were before).

  1. Multi-national corporations (imagine a 21st C East India Company)
  2. Non-governmental non-profit organizations, for example those providing regulatory services (e.g., engineering standards) and charitable efforts
  3. Ideological groups, such as radical environmentalists (example), animal rights and anti-abortion activists
  4. Mercenary armies (the Bush administration reversed centuries of work to minimize them)
  5. Transnational ethnic groups (e.g., the Kurds, the Pashtun people)
  6. Religious groups, benign or inimical depending on the observer
  7. Organized crime networks

Groups can combine along more than one of these affinities (e.g., ethnic criminal networks such as the Mafia). These can organize within a state, or use modern communication and transportation technology to easily build global networks, greatly increasing their power and reach.

Any of these can employ force, either domestically and globally — within the State, between States, between States and global non-state entities, and between non-state entities. In the 21st C any of these non-state entities can again become great powers, as they have in the past. Martin van Creveld calls these non-Trinitarian conflicts, as they break Clausewitz’s “trinity” of the government, the army, and the people.

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About the future of an American army with women as combat soldiers

Summary: Martin van Creveld discusses a timely topic: “To Wreck a Military“, Small Wars Journal, 28 January 2013. He describes the likely results of employing women as soldiers, no matter how politically and ideologically necessary. Here we examine his claims, however impolitic. His record of successful forecasts is unmatched in length and breadth by any living military theorist (including those who have mocked his predictions).

By José M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune

By José M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune


  1. Why DoD now allows women in combat
  2. How expensive are women soldiers?
  3. What effect on unit cohesion?
  4. Protests by soldiers about change
  5. MvC’s other works about women soldiers
  6. Other posts about women soldiers
  7. Leave a comment
  8. About Martin van Creveld
  9. Trailer to “GI Jane” (1997)

Photo: Staff Sgt. Jackelyn Walker fights Pfc. Gregory Langarica in the first round of the bantamweight championship of the finals of the Fort Hood Combative Championships on 16 February 2012 (LA Times story).

(1)  Why DoD changed the rules to allow women in combat

DoD’s mostly-male leaders have not suddenly become feminists. They bow to the necessity of numbers, seeing changes in the pool of potential recruit that will make finding the necessary manpower increasingly difficult in the 21st century.  Demographics: fewer young men. Obesity and drugs (including Ritalin and Prozac): fewer eligible young men. Cultural changes: fewer educated young men willing to join the military.

For links to studies about the difficulties of military recruiting see sections 5 and 6 of the FM Reference Page An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports.

Allowing gays increases the numbers by a few percent. Allowing women to join and advance doubles the size of the recruiting pool (more than doubles the pool of officers, as women comprise an ever-growing fraction of educated young people). It’s an old story — which might have a surprise ending. Van Creveld points us to Job Queues, Gender Queues: Explaining Women’s Inroads into Male Occupations by Barbara F. Reskin and Patricia A. Roos (1990):

Women’s increasing share of the labor force and the pools from which employers recruit workers (such as M.B.A.’s) contributed to.their movement into some male occupations, but unless circumstances impelled employers to hire women, the increased supply of women would not have been sufficient to feminize these male occupations.We must remember that women’s growing representation in the specific labor pools was largely a response to employers’ need for workers in occupations that were more attractive than those to which the gender queue customarily relegated women.

Opportunities beckoned, and women responded. Important in persuading women to study pharmacy, systems analysis, accounting, journalism, and financial management was their confidence that antidiscrimination and affirmative-action regulations and public opposition to discrimination ensured that jobs would await them when they had finished their education. Moreover, as larger numbers of women pursued sex-atypical jobs, their presence stimulated “natural” forces that fostered the employment of even more women: jobs’ sex labels and employers’ preferences changed; women recruited more women through their informal networks; and some men fled or avoided feminizing jobs, increasing employers’ reliance on women — and potentially leading to resegregation.

Corporations have shown that women thrive in rule-based hierarchical organizations, and the military is the extreme case.   Following this pattern, as more women join the military they will reshape the military so it becomes more congenial for women.  After a generation or two the military might look radically different than it does today.  We can only guess how well this new military will perform.

(2)  How expensive are women as soldiers?

Our 11 years of wars give DoD ample data on the equivalent costs of men and women as soldiers.  Although DoD keeps the results secret, available evidence suggests that women are far more expensive soldiers than equivalent men.  Van Creveld points out three kinds of higher costs:

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On counterinsurgency: Conclusions. Let’s hope we learn soon.

Summary:  In this last chapter of “On Counterinsurgency” Martin van Creveld sums up the results of the post-WWII history of counterinsurgency. this was first published in 2005; hopefully we’ll learn these lessons soon.

As the first phase (Iraq, Af-Pak) of our mad foreign wars winds down — and the second phase expands — we can still learn from this analysis by one of the West’s greatest living military historians. We can still turn off this path.  The passage of time closes options; we might soon pass the last exit to avoid serious war.


  1. Summary of the previous chapters
  2. The last chapter of this essay
  3. How did the US Military react to van Creveld’s advice?
  4. For More Information

(1)  Summary of the previous chapters

For those who have not read the previous chapters, here’s a summary of the counterinsurgency problem from Chapter 6.2 in Martin van Creveld’s Changing Face of War (2006):

What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Ertrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

Counterinsurgency can damage even the finest army

(2)  The last chapter of this essay:

“On Counterinsurgency”
by Martin van Creveld

From Combating Terrorism,
edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005).

Posted with the authors’ generous permission.


For background see The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen.

This paper has into 4 parts:

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On Counterinsurgency: On Power and Compromises, the difference between victory & defeat

Summary:  In this third chapter of “On Counterinsurgency” Martin van Creveld describes the operational differences between winning and losing methods of counterinsurgency.  Victory comes to those who take difficult paths. Most nations take the easier path, and lose.

As the first phase (Iraq, Af-Pak) of our mad foreign wars winds down — and the second phase expands — we can still learn from this analysis by one of the West’s greatest living military historians. We can still turn off this path.  The passage of time closes options; we might soon pass the last exit to avoid serious war.

Successful counterinsurgency in Hama, Syria


“On Counterinsurgency” by Martin van Creveld

From Combating Terrorism, edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005). Posted with the authors’ generous permission.


For background see The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen.

This paper has into 4 parts, posted separately.

  1. How We Got to Where We Are is a brief history of insurgency since 1941 and of the repeated failures in dealing with it.
  2. Two Methods focuses on President Assad’s suppression of the uprising at Hama in 1983 on the one hand and on British operations in Northern Ireland on the other, presenting them as extreme case studies in dealing with counterinsurgency.
  3. On Power and Compromises draws the lessons from the methods just presented and goes on to explain how, by vacillating between them, most counterinsurgents have guaranteed their own failure.
  4. Conclusions.

Part three:  On Power and Compromises

According to the well-known proverb, success has many fathers whereas failure is an orphan. However true this may be in respect to every other aspect of life, in the case of counter-insurgency clearly it does not apply.

As noted, entire libraries have been written on counter-insurgency campaigns that failed. Often the authors were the very people who had participated in, or were responsible for, the failures in question. For example, the term “low intensity war” itself was invented by the British General Frank Kitson; having taken part in a whole series of them, he was finally made commandant of the Staff College so he could teach others how it should be done. Very great efforts have been made to analyze the reasons and suggest ways to avoid a repetition. Judging by the way the Americans are conducting themselves in Iraq, to no avail.

By comparison, very little has been written about counterinsurgency campaigns that succeeded. One reason for this is because, since 1941, the number of such successes has been so limited that nine out of ten people cannot even remember them.

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