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