Summary: Travel brings new insights, especially when done by Martin van Creveld — knowledgeable, experienced, and wise. He brings home to us a vision of a different path to the future for the West.
By Martin van Creveld.
From his website, 23 November 2017. Re-posted with his generous permission.
I have been to Warsaw before. This was in the spring of 1989, just weeks before the first free elections that put an end to Communism in Poland. And twenty-two years after Poland had broken diplomatic relations with Israel, which meant that my colleagues and I were the first Israeli delegation to visit the country in all those years.
At the time Warsaw was a weird place. Clean and safe, or so we were told. Built almost entirely of bare concrete, painted exclusively in gray, a sea of unintentional brutalism gone mad. And with hardly any colored signs to relieve the depressing monotony. People living on $20 a month. People queuing in front of small kiosks to buy various kinds of preserved fruit, apparently the only food that was freely available. Every corner occupied by old women holding out small transparent plastic bags with a single tomato or cucumber inside. Every street swarming with black market dealers trying to con you as they changed your dollars into zloti.
Very little traffic, consisting almost entirely of locally-produced, antiquated Fiat (Polski) cars on the streets. A hotel with lousy food and no running hot water (when I called reception to tell them of the problem, they sent up a waiter with a glass containing it). Big “magazines” staffed by lazy saleswomen who spoke nothing but Polish and refused to get up if you were looking for something. Returning home, people asked me what Warsaw was like. I used to tell them it was a place where you spent a week looking for a present for an eight-year old — but could not find any.
Twenty-eight years later Warsaw is still clean — as my wife and I could see with our own eyes — and quite safe — as we were told. In other ways, though, such is the change as to merit just one description: stunning. The kiosks, the old ladies, the black market dealers, and the antiquated cars are gone. While traffic is as heavy as in any Western city drivers are, if anything more polite.
People are very well dressed. Public utilities gleam with cleanliness. Color is everywhere. Shops, many of them first class (and, for those of you who are contemplating a trip, very cheap indeed) are bursting with the best imaginable merchandise: clothing shoes, leatherware, cosmetics, electronic appliances, what have you. Any number of excellent restaurants serving every imaginable kind of food. Some truly excellent museums. An extremely lively cultural scene.
To be sure, compared with London or Paris Warsaw remains quite poor; the minimum wage is about 400 Euro per month. But it has gone a long, long way towards catching up.
All this is interesting, but it is not what I want to talk about today.
The reason I went to Warsaw was because the Polish Staff College asked me to give some talks. I readily agreed, and so I found myself lecturing to 40-50 officers, most of them colonels (on their way to becoming generals) and lieutenant-colonels with the odd major thrown in. Average age about 35-50. As agreed, the lectures were based on my book, More on War. The course was a success and the members of the audience, most of whom spoke very good English, seemed very interested. They kept asking questions, which is always a good sign.
Again, though, this is not what I want to write about.
What I do want to write about as the fact that, for the first time in God knows how many years, I found myself in a class that did not include any women. Having asked, I was told that the Polish military, which like other Western ones consists entirely of volunteers, does in fact take women; they are, however, mostly limited to ancillary tasks such as medicine, logistics, administration, etc. In the higher ranks there are hardly any women at all. One outcome being that, unlike most Western militaries, the Polish one has no difficulty attracting as many young men as it needs.
Finding myself in this unaccustomed situation, at first I kept opening my talks by saying, “ladies and gentlemen.” As the week went on, though, I discovered that not having females around has its advantages. I found myself able to mention some sensitive, but serious and interesting and important questions; and do so, what is more, without having to follow the obligatory wisdom whereby women are no different from men and can and should imitate the latter in everything. Or having to worry about some crybully getting “insulted” and running off to admin to make a tearful complaint.
Briefly, the evil winds blowing from Brussels did not make their effect felt. Political correctness did not reign. I did not have to worry about anyone feeling “embarrassed” by what I said. Though I only spent five mornings lecturing, the experience of liberation was overwhelming. What a blessing, not having to constantly look over one’s shoulder! All, paradoxically, in the one institution — the military — which is normally considered the most hierarchical and the least open to freedom of thought.
Shame on those who have brought us all to this point. However, I am happy to say that the Director of the College has asked me to come back next year. Health permitting, I most certainly will.
The essence of Martin van Creveld’s work — consistent over his long career — is that it initially seems fantastic (in the sense of “how could anyone say such a thing”). TIme passes, and it seems unusual. Eventually it seems commonplace.
His perspective in this essay would have seemed almost mad five years ago. Today we have colleges filled with students (mostly women) who are “triggered” by mundane words — from which they need protection. The “me too” movement burns uncontrollably, with ever-widening definitions of improper behavior.
The Left nears its “Robespierre moment”, when its leaders wonder if they were wise to start these fires (e.g., see bien pensant William Kaufman’s “The Great American Sex Panic of 2017” at CounterPunch). Next comes the “Governor Phips moment” (the court running the Salem Witch trials convened on 2 June 1692; the Governor dismissed it on October 29 after his wife was called for examination).
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 written 24 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. See links to his articles at The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.
Even more so are his books about western culture: Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?, The Privileged Sex, and Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West.
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.
His latest book is Hitler in Hell, a mind-blowing memoir by one of the most remarkable men of 20th century.
For More Information
- Putting women in combat: a quick look at the other side of the debate.
- About the future of an American army with women as combat soldiers.
- Women in combat are the real Revolution in Military Affairs.
- News about the battle for women’s equality in our armed forces.
- Martin van Creveld looks at Amazons: women warriors in the real world.
- Martin van Creveld looks at the experience of women in the Israel Defense Forces.
- Martin van Creveld: women are a problem in the military, not the cure.
Two books saying that women are the superior gender.
The Natural Superiority of Women by Ashley Montagu (1967).
Why Women Should Rule the World by Dee Dee Myers (2008).