Martin van Creveld introduces his new radical book: “Pussycats”

Summary: Martin van Creveld has published another book, perhaps his most controversial yet (however difficult to imagine). He tackles the great enigma of our wars since 9/11: how western armies — certainly the most powerful every fielded by almost every metric — have been unable to defeat poorly trained, poorly equipped, almost unfinanced armies of the jihad.

"Pussycats" by Martin van Creveld
Available at Amazon. Also Also available on Kindle.


Just published: Pusscats

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 28 April 2016

Posted with his generous permission


In the kingdom(s) of the West, something is rotten. Collectively, the countries of NATO are responsible for almost two thirds of global military spending. In terms of military technology, particularly electronics, communications and logistics, they have left most of the rest so far behind that it is no contest. Yet since at least the end of the Korean War back in 1953, almost every time they went abroad and fought non-Westerners they were defeated and had to withdraw without achieving their objectives. As happened, to cite but two recent cases, in Iraq and Afghanistan; and as may yet happen if and when Islam keeps spreading into Europe, as it is doing right now.

What went wrong? How did the ferocious soldiers, who between 1492 and 1914, brought practically the entire world under their control, turn into pussycats? Readers of this website will recognize some of my earlier attempts to answer these questions; now those answers have been extended and put together in a single book.

Chapter I: “Subduing the Young”

It focuses on the way Western societies raise their scanty offspring. Protecting and supervising them at every step; depriving them of any kind of independence; forcibly preventing them from growing up; and, if they refuse to sit still for so many hours as to drive any adult out of his mind, pathologizing them and dosing them with Ritalin (a close relation to cocaine, incidentally). Briefly, in the words of a recent American best-seller, turning them into “excellent sheep.”

Chapter II: “Defanging the Troops”

It shows how the same is happening in the military. Troops may be, and routinely are, ordered to go to the other side of the world so as to kill and, if necessary, be killed in turn. Depending on the army in question, though, they may not be allowed to be in the streets after 2300 hours, drink a beer, wear uniform in public (lest they become a target for terrorists), watch pornography (lest the sensitive souls of their female “comrades” be offended) or visit a brothel. Briefly, they are not allowed to be men; notwithstanding that proving their manhood has always been, and always will be, one of the most important factors that make soldiers fight.

Chapter III: “The War on Men”

This examines the way in which the forces are being feminized affects, indeed infects, their fighting power. In theory female and male soldiers are treated equally as they should be. In reality the former are privileged in many ways. First, the system of “gender norming” means that the standards required from female soldiers during all kinds of training, courses, and tests are lower than those men must meet; with the incidental result that everyone’s training suffers.

Second, when it comes to pregnancy and delivery female soldiers enjoy privileges male ones do not have.

Third, various factors have created a situation where, in quite some militaries, it is now easier for a woman than for a man to gain a commission with all the advantages that the latter brings. The further removed any arm of service from the front, the truer this is. Worst of all, though everyone knows these facts, no one is allowed to mention them even unconsciously; meaning that the entire military is based on a lie so big as to undermine the foundations on which it is built.

Chapter IV: “Constructing PTSD”

It looks at the history of post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD, as it suddenly emerged during the American Civil War, is not so much a medical phenomenon as a cultural one. It is the product of a society which tolerates it and, all too often, encourages it and even celebrates it. It does so partly because the idea that war is bad for the soul is taken very much for granted; and partly because of the fear of litigation. Whatever the reason, things have got to the point where American troops returning from places like Afghanistan are now obliged to undergo annual testing for PTSD. Instead of feting its heroes, society, treating them like damaged goods, does what it can to humiliate them.

Chapter V: the emergence of modern societies

Modern societies, exalting rights and forgetting about duty, have come very close to delegitimizing war itself. Especially in Europe, to use armed force for any purpose, specifically including self-defense or correcting a manifest wrong, has become almost taboo. For soldiers to express their pride, let alone joy, in their profession has also become intolerable.

Finally, the conclusions repeat the main problems. The also argue that, if Donald Trump is going to make good on his promise to “rebuild the military,” he has is going to have his hands full.


Like all my books, Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West is written in jargon-less language laymen can understand. But it is also as thoroughly documented as academics would wish. Go ahead, you bold readers, and take a look!


For a preview, see MvC’s “pussycats” posts

  1. Our armies become pussycats.
  2. Seek and you shall find — Why men fight.
  3. The Rise and Fall of Empires — Do the cycles of history turn our armies into pussycats?
  4. Learning to Say “No” to war.

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 three books about Israel: Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace, The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force, and a biography of Moshe Dayan.

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 ours!) and Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?

And perhaps most important for 21st century America, his magnum opus— the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State— describes the political order unfolding before our eyes.

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

For More Information

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Here are two of the best books about the transformation of our armies.

Transformation of War
Available at Amazon.
Men Women and War
Available at Amazon.

37 thoughts on “Martin van Creveld introduces his new radical book: “Pussycats””

  1. Another possibility: These conflicts aren’t “wars.” The better our military forces get at warfighting, the worse they do at the types of occupations they’re engaged in today.

    1. Chet,

      Given the accuracy of your observation (like MvC’s, controversial a decade ago, less so now), what is its operational significance? They’re not wars, so what do we do about them? (I’ve been giving the same answer to this question for a decade.)

      1. Chet,

        I agree 100%. It is the best answer we have. But “answer” only in an academic sense. It’s operationally useless, since lack a larger plan in which to embed it — a road map to implementation.

        That’s the problem with all our reform plans. They are paper unable to come to life, lacking a road to reality.

    2. I can give you a plan, but I have to warn you that I charge by the word. I’ll also guarantee that if you follow it exactly, it will work.

    3. “These conflicts aren’t “wars.””
      I think Chet hit the nail on the head, as far as the reason why we don’t win.
      It seems to me, the US is great at destroying armies and toppling governments. The problems seem to happen afterwards, once the armies are dead or disbursed, once the government is non-existent, in hiding, or friendly. The problem for the US seems to happen basically once the “war” is over and order must be restored, when we’re no longer fighting armies and governments, but fighting against a nation’s people. I think the task then could be better described as “policing”. Effective policing requires entirely different skills and strategies, and is essentially a never-ending task.

      1. Todd,

        “I think the task then could be better described as “policing”.”

        I doubt many police officers would agree with you that fighting an insurgency is “policing”. Can you name some serious insurgencies that were defeated by the nation’s police? I suspect you’ll find that in most cases para-military security services did the job, often part of or aided by the army.

    4. Editor
      Yes, obviously most police will never have to deal with insurgencies or terrorism.
      My point (and I think Chet’s as well) is that this is a problem of classification. Different types of conflicts require different types of solutions. Specializing in war might make us deficient at occupation. It’s a classic example of Abraham Kaplan’s Law of the Instrument.
      For conflicts where the goal is to increase order, to stabilize a society, and to prevent future violence, is it not counter-productive to engage in “war”?
      Well open for debate of course, but I think it would be more effective to look at these sort of conflicts from the point of view of “policing”, and to use strategies that have worked in that field.

      1. Todd,

        “obviously most police will never have to deal with insurgencies or terrorism.”

        That’s irrelevant to my point. In nations fighting insurgencies, they don’t rely primarily on police. They use para-military security services, backed by aggressive intel agencies.

        It is absurd – and contrary to historical evidence — to consider counter-insurgency as “policing”.

  2. Of course, we’re losing wars because we’re not manly enough…certainly not because we keep entangling ourselves in fighting unwinnable foreign insurgencies. I thought van Creveld of all people understood that best.

  3. I also disagree with van Crevald on this one (which surprises me) and agree with the commenters above. My list of reasons why we lose these wars are:

    1. The survival of the country is not at stake. In spite of all of the bluster, it is obvious that we could survive multiple 9/11 disasters, we’d really be unhappy but not seriously damaged. Compare that with Pearl Harbor. If the aircraft carriers had been at Pearl on Dec. 7th we would have had an enormously more difficult time winning the war and the Japanese plan of wearing down our will to fight might have worked.

    2. This is the closest I will come to agreeing with van Crevald. Modern Western society insists on fighting these wars of choice in a ridiculously ineffective way compared to the pre-1914 occupation armies. We fail to kill everybody on sight, we fail to poison wells and salt fields, we provide medical assistance to the locals, we provide economic aid that can be used against us in the name of raising the standard of living, we don’t intentionally spread diseases among the local populations.

    3. In partial defense of the West’s insistence on “nice-guy warfare,” it is much easier for the locals to get their hands on very destructive weaponry than it was in the pre-1914 era. Also world attitudes about colonialism have changed. But we are still fighting wars we cannot possibly win and do not need to fight.

    4. As you’ve pointed out before, we are fighting these cultural wars as dumb as possible. Far smarter would be to stop feeding the Jihad “martyrdom” industry with daily drone strikes, to pull our troops out of areas where there is no economic reason for staying, to avoid “nation-building” at all cost, and to deploy our culture, movies, music, and communications technology instead. Sometime in the next 15-30 years we would win. There would be shots fired in anger on both sides and dead innocents but the death toll would be enormously lower.

    The reason this is viewed as unacceptable is that most of the fighting would occur in the West.
    But that is acceptable because the terrorists would be viewed as the attackers and this war strategically favors those who are viewed as the defenders.

    1. Pluto,

      “The survival of the country is not at stake.”

      I don’t understand this. Why does that matter? Large guys easily beat up small guys, even when its an existential fight for the small guy and a light workout for the big guy.

      For millennia large nations have crushed small nations, and insurgent groups inside small nations, with little difficulty. It sounds like a pitiful excuse – “I could beat you if I tried”.

    2. FM: “I don’t understand this. Why does that matter?”

      It matters because we haven’t mobilized for war. To continue your analogy of large and small guys, our peacetime army (which is what we are using to fight this war) is pretty small compared to the area of the countries they are operating in. Essentially we have chosen to become one small but deadly fighter in a field of a lot of small but less effective fighters.

      We can’t be everywhere (or even in enough locations to win) and we are training our opponents to be more effective fighters. This is the worst possible strategy from our perspective.

      1. Pluto,

        “It matters because we haven’t mobilized for war.”

        That makes no sense. The troops to space ratio is low in our wars only if you ignore the local armies we are supporting — which is absurd. Also, in most cases the western troops outnumber the insurgent armed forces — and have an fantastic advantage in training and equipment. And that’s before including the local forces whom we are there to support.

        So there should be no need to “mobilized for war” against these foes. Do you “mobilize your household” when you have some ants or a mouse in your home? Certainly the great colonial empires didn’t “mobilize” to control vastly greater areas and numbers.

    3. FM:”Certainly the great colonial empires didn’t “mobilize” to control vastly greater areas and numbers.”

      FM, you are right that back then the great colonial empires did not need to mobilize for war to win against local insurgents and that they found their local police and armies to be very helpful. But the times have changed…
      Since Mao’s introduction of 4GW, local forces have become an increasingly heavy and useless burden. Think for a moment, are you arguing that the hopelessly corrupt Iraqi police force was ever helpful in getting Iraqis to accept the US rule? Quite the opposite, the Iraqi people in general tended to despise them as US lazy, immoral, boot-licking lackeys who robbed them, which was generally an accurate description. The Iraqi army was not quite as bad, mostly because of closer oversight by the US military but the troops kept vanishing every time we needed them.
      This is why the colonial period ended and why the US attempting to “nation-build” (conquer colonies) in this era defines the essence of the madness of both the neo-con and neo-lib movements.

      1. Pluto,

        “Since Mao’s introduction of 4GW, local forces have become an increasingly heavy and useless burden”

        That’s quite wrong. It’s the opposite of correct. Successful wars against insurgents have one thing in common: local forces take the lead. Those where foreign armies take the lead have an almost perfect record of failure (there are grey cases, such as Northern Ireland, where the local/foreign distinction is blurred).

  4. One critique would be to what extent was it Western armies which fought pre-1914.

    Indian was subjugated using mostly locale troops. The Sepoy Rebellion in mid-1800’s was crushed using again a lot of locale troops.

    1. Good point, Rune, colonial armies got a lot of benefit from using local troops. The world has changed a lot since 1914 and most of the changes have not favored colonial acquisitions.

      Why we are attempting to do something that looks like taking over 3rd world countries to other people, regardless of our motives, is still a mystery to me.

    2. Rune,

      Western armies used local troops in past, and do so today. South Vietnamese and tribal forces fought in Indo-China. We used the Iraq army, Shiite and Sunni militia in Iraq. We used a loose collection of militia and the Afghan army in Afghanistan.

      Use of local troops is one part of the Trinity of Counterinsurgency — the foundation of US tactics since Korea.

      Perhaps we do so less skillfully than the Brits. More likely that counterinsurgency by foreigners has become almost impossible since Mao brought 4GW to maturity.

  5. An alternative view is that what the British were involved in in India was not counterinsurgency by foreigners but counterinsurgency by a well established locale political actor. In short a legitimate government suppressing a rebellion.

    The East Asian Company had been around for centuries in the sub-Indian continent and unified the sub-continent’s many states. Should they be viewed as foreigners? Would it not be more appropriate to see them as locales.

    It’s not the modern day conflicts you refer to with a short term present of a few decades. I think the key is in the local population’s perception of the “foreigners” as legitimate rulers.

    1. rune,

      The East India Company — and later the Empire’s — role as traders was quite different than their role as rulers. The latter was from roughly 1750-60 to 1947, not quite 200 years. Not enough to be considered locals by most people in most societies. There is a very long history of foreigners’ rule by conquest being thrown off after far longer periods.

  6. If successful wars against insurgents have one thing in common: that local forces take the lead. What relevance has van Creveld’s book?

    It’s focus is not on the key element – local forces. But rather on the foreigners.

    Yes one will have to read the book to the full picture of van Creveld’s ideas but from his summary I really can’t see anything of use.

    1. Rune,

      You go to the core of the issue. We can’t accept that we can’t win against these lesser creatures fighting for control of their primative lands. Our technology, our expensive weapons, our troops’ expensive training – we know these must produce victory.

      So the fault must lie elsewhere. Perhaps the evil rulers in Washington, who insist that our troops fight under severe limitations (i.e., the toll of civilian deaths should resemble that of WWII). Perhaps the fault lies in our troops, raised to be pussycats by our feminine culture.

      When my oldest son was a baby he’d try to eat his ball (which was the size of his head). He’d turn it this way, then that, confident that eventually he’d get it into his mouth. Faith doesn’t always triumph. Defeat is always an option.

  7. If you want to defeat the “insurgents.” you must be prepared to not be nice. Nicety has no place in war or conquest.

    I understand COIN states as a principle that one must win over the population. However, one can never win over a population that is inherently hostile to one’s own due to culture.

    We must destroy that culture. Wipe it out and begin anew. If we are not willing to do this, we should not enter into that conflict.

    Short of entering into that kind of nation building conflict, we can launch punitive incursions. If we are so offended by a people or nation that we must do them harm, we go in, we hit hard, we leave. They can pick up the pieces and rebuild themselves. We should massacre them in their homes, in their mosques, in every place which they deem safe. We must act the true barbarian.

    Again, if we cannot do this, we should not bother.

    Sherman wrecked the South 150 years ago. The South laid down its arms and never rose again. The Allies destroyed Germany and Japan. They laid down their arms and, much to our current chagrin, refuse to take arms again.

    This is what we should do to the people of the Middle East.

    We don’t save or protect any of their leaders. We destroy them. We make the people of the Middle East hate the very idea of picking up arms again. Not against us but against anyone.

    The Brits and Egyptians did this in the Nejd in the 1800s. The Brits did this in the NWFP/FATA (though it wasn’t called that then) in the 1800s. These people took over 100 years to rise again. Unfortunately, they arose with our assistance and, in part if not whole, via our lust for oil.

    We can do it again. However, we would have to throw off the lies of civilization to do so. We must bring back the martial ardor of a time long past but not so long past that we cannot bring it again.

    1. Darwood,

      “We must destroy that culture. Wipe it out and begin anew. … This is what we should do to the people of the Middle East.”

      That’s insane. Not only have those States not attacked us, only a tiny sliver of their people have done so. And most of them were fighting foreign occupiers on their own soil — the textbook case of self-defense.

      You and your kind are putting America on a course likely to lead to destruction. John Boyd recommended multiplying allies and boosting their confidence, minimizing the number of foes and weaken their resolve. You want to make us outlaws, international criminals.

      1. I agree that it is insane.

        However, if we are to pursue the madness that is the war on terror, that is what we will need to accomplish in order to win.

        We remade the Germans. We remade the Japanese.

        I’m not saying that this is what I would do or what I want. I’m saying that this is the only way to win this idiot war that we have begun.

        And, yes, we started it.

        We started it when we allied ourselves with the decrepit regime in Riyadh. We started it when we removed Mossadegh from leadership in Iran. We started it when we armed and supported Saddam Hussein against Iran.

        America started this war. We can only finish it by returning to what brought us success in World War II.

        In World War II, we destroyed Germany. We destroyed Japan.

        Once they surrendered, we remade them in our image.

        Is it correct? Is it moral? Hell no!

        Again, I do not say that we should do this.

        I’m saying that this is the only way to accomplish our supposed goal of bringing democracy to the Middle East and Central Asia.

        We would have to destroy them and remake them in our image.

        The other alternative is that we step out. We admit that we are wrong. We admit that we have no right to interfere with the sovereignty of other nations. We admit that we have no right to push democracy or human rights on other peoples. We admit that we have ALREADY committed thousands of crimes against humanity. We admit that we, our foreign policy, is the reason that the terror groups have attacked us. We admit that we were wrong to support the wretched beings that are the House of Saud and their even more wretched Wahhabist strain of Islam.

        We admit that we are wrong.

        However, we are America. We are EXCEPTIONAL. We do not make mistakes.

        Therefore, we will admit nothing and we will pursue the madness that is the War on Terror for as long as we are able to do so.

        We will continue these disastrous policies. We will continue to cause directly and indirectly the deaths of hundreds of thousands of humans across the Middle East and Central Asia.

        Because WE ARE AMERICA! By God!

        Again, I do not say that we should do what I wrote. I think we should step away. We should allow the peoples of the Middle East and Central Asia to fight for what they feel is right and proper for them. Once they have formed governments, we should treat with them just as we have treated with China, Indonesia and other polities with which we have disagreements.

        We only treat the Middle East and Central Asia as we do because they do not have Nuclear Power.

        Perhaps, we should have a Nuclear Proliferation Treaty which gives Nukes to every Nation. Then America will not be tempted to interfere with them.

        This is the reason that Iran wants Nukes. They want Nuclear Power as a deterrent to the United States.

        America, since the end of World War II, has taken it as our prerogative to interfere in any place in the world which we, by God, wish to interfere because we are entitled to by the God of Abraham and American Freedom.

        America is the greatest danger to free people in this world since the fall of Rome.

  8. Oh…how long til this comes out on Kindle.

    Nothing against a paperback but I’m in Afghanistan and live in Thailand. Waiting for books and then transporting them is a real PITA.

    Thanks, Dave

  9. After re-reading my comments, I think you did not read my original reply. It was pretty obvious that I was not saying that it was a course that we should take.

    Trying to understand now why you chose to take it as such and to write this:

    “You and your kind are putting America on a course likely to lead to destruction.”

    As is obvious from my post here and my blog, I have not pushed for the current course that we are on nor was I pushing for a return to World War II wherein America and her Righteous Allies were as much war criminal as the Nazis.

    1. Dawood,

      Nobody is going to read your comments with that level of detail. You and I are not Plato. The first 4 paragraphs were classic right-wing advocacy of war. I lost interest at that point, just as I would when reading any maniac advocating shedding rivers of blood. Life is too short to waste it.

      Also it is false to say “we remade the Germans.” We restored the situation antibellum, in effect the Weimer regime that Hitler overthrew. The current German states is an evolution (like similar evolution in other western nations) from the 1871 constitution — which created an elected legislature (universal male suffrage) in a federal state. There was minimal social and cultural change.

      1. Darwood,

        War, slavery, and bigotry are among the evils which should be condemned unreservedly. You were advocating war and oppression on a large scale, despite your weasel words, and deservedly condemned. You are on the side of forces like AQ and ISIS, opponents of civilization in its many forms.

        “Don’t ask questions if you don’t want answers.”

        Don’t spill vile hateful views if you don’t wish condemnation.

        You can retract your statement and give an alternative view. But this is quite clear, identifying you as one of our enemies.

        “We must destroy that culture. Wipe it out and begin anew. … This is what we should do to the people of the Middle East. …However, if we are to pursue the madness that is the war on terror, that is what we will need to accomplish in order to win. We remade the Germans. We remade the Japanese.”

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