Tag Archives: us military

Martin van Creveld explains why our armies are becoming pussycats

Summary: Martin van Creveld’s new book asks hard questions about America’s ability to defend itself as our society undergoes revolutionary changes (mostly undesired by its citizens). It’s provocative reading for those who like analysts that color outside politically correct lines.

“Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war! Rouse the warriors! Let all the fighting men draw near and attack. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, ‘I am strong!’”
— Joel 3:9-10.

“{Since WWII}, almost the only time Western countries gained a clear military victory over their non-Western opponents was during the First Gulf War. …This episode apart, practically every time the West …fought the rest, it was defeated.”
— Martin van Creveld in “Pussycats”.


Disagreeing with Martin van Creveld’s predictions feels like arguing against tomorrow’s sunrise. His successful forecasts are legion. The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (1991) reads like a future historian’s analysis of our misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Around 1995 Martin van Creveld told the CIA that Mexico would become the greatest threat to America’s sovereignty. They thought this was delusional; I suspect events since then have changed their minds.

So his new book deserves close attention: Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West. It discusses issues of great importance and covers a wild field of vital questions.

Van Creveld warns that social changes are eroding away the West’s ability to defend itself — reducing its once powerful armies to pussycats. This is probably false as an explanation for the defeats of conventional armies since WWII when fighting non-trinitarian (aka 4GW) armies in foreign lands. It looks prescient as a warning about the future. Let’s examine both perspectives.

About past counterinsurgencies since WWII by foreign armies

The dynamics of war changed after Mao brought 4GW to maturity (details here). The resulting inability of foreign armies to defeat local insurgencies shaped the post-WWII world. It’s a lesson our military refuses to learn (it would reduce the need for their services). Van Creveld clearly explains this in The 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 Eritrea, 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.

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Lindsey Graham speaks a dark truth. We laugh and cover our ears.

Summary: Senator Lindsey Graham speaks to us honestly, an unforgivable crime for an American politician. He talks of using the massive national security machinery to enforce his vision of a safe America, something patriots have done innumerable times before. His words are just another step on a long road to the death of the Republic, a road on which we’ve already gone a long way.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Dr. Franklin “What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic, if you can keep it” replied the Doctor.

— Entry of 18 September 1787 in the Papers of Dr. James McHenry on the Federal Convention of 1787 (signer the Constitution, our 3rd Secretary of War, & namesake of Fort McHenry).

Our burning constitution

One source of amusement in the dying days of the Republic is seeing our astonishment as we pass each milestone on the road to its collapse. Our response is necessary. We must feign surprise at each step least we acknowledge the process — and feel obligated to act. It’s the only way to minimize our cognitive dissonance from our failure to fulfill our obligations as citizens, falling short of the high standards set by the generations before us.

Gallup has run the confidence in institutions survey since 1973. Each year our confidence in the institutions of the Republic declines, while confidence in the police and especially the military rises. See the ugly numbers here. The fraction of citizens who vote drops; the fraction that donates time and money to the parties drops even faster.

It doesn’t take Nostradamus to see the likely end. Eventually a crisis will create panic, and we’ll turn to those with power whom we trust. In American that’s people with guns wearing uniforms.

“What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”
— Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Colin Powell (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) in the 1990s, about Bosnia, from Madam Secretary: A Memoir (2003), p. 182.

That’s the context for Lindsey Graham’s comments at the Concord City Republican Committee. He is the senior senator from South Carolina, famous for his both advocacy of authoritarianism — and contempt for the Constitution (such as his opposition to the first amendment see here, here, and here). He’s the kind of man to speak what others only dare think, to see the weapon on the wall and realize it can be used.

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The battle that mattered most to America: the Pentagon vs. Military Reformers. It’s over.

Summary:  Our defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan (failures to achieve any major national goals despite large expenditures of blood and money) accompanied an overwhelming victory invisible to the public. In fact, these defeats resulted from that victory — the Pentagon’s defeat of the military reform movement. The post-9/11 campaigns by defense intellectuals demonstrated their shallow roots in the Washington, just as the anti-war protests showed their shallow roots in our society. These twin defeats leave the National Security State triumphant and stronger than ever. Our defeats abroad matter not at all to its leaders.

This is another in a series of posts commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 25th anniversary of the Marine Corps Gazette article “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”, the high point of the military reform movement.

Defeat in boxing

To see how we go here let’s travel back two decades, to when military reformers were strong. They found an audience interested in deep reforms to a Pentagon flush with funds from the Reagan revolution. To hear a voice from that time see Senator Gary Hart’s (D-CO) op-ed in the New York Times: “An Agenda for More Military Reform“, 13 May 1986. It’s a summary of his 1986 book (coauthored with William Lind) America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform. Excerpt:

Five years ago, military reform was the province of a small band of iconoclasts in the Senate. Now the need for broad changes in the way we train, equip and deploy our conventional forces has become conventional wisdom. Congress and the American people must not, however, let satisfaction with early gains take the steam out of the reform movement before it achieves its fundamental goal – military forces that can win in combat.

Spurred by Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, reports of $600 toilet seats and an angry public’s realization that a 40% increase in defense spending has not bought real security, national leaders have begun to recognize that in defense, costlier is not always better. The Congressional Military Reform Caucus has grown to more than 130 lawmakers from both parties. And the Administration has endorsed – in word if not yet in deed – a wide-ranging package of reforms recommended by a Presidential commission headed by David Packard, president of Hewlett-Packard, which manufactures computer technology.

Their book gave specific recommendations, each well-supported by a large body of expert analysis.

  1. Shift the military from attrition warfare (2GW) to maneuver warfare (3GW);
  2. Buy systems based on their effectiveness in combat rather than seeking the most advanced (complex) technology;
  3. Boost unit cohesion by keeping personnel together for many years rather than rotating them as individuals;
  4. Make submarines the core capital ship of the Navy, not aircraft carriers;
  5. Reduce the number of senior officers
  6. Focus officer education on the art of war, not management “science”.

The result were some noteworthy reorganizations, which streamlined the Pentagon but (like the many previous reorganizations) changed its nature not at all. Unit rotation became the rule (#3). We built both submarines and aircraft carriers (#4). Military leaders strangled other proposals in their cribs. The reform engine steamed on with slowly diminishing impact but strong intellectual heft. A good example is Military Reform: A Reference Handbook, Winslow Wheeler and Larry Korb (2007). William Lind’s review gives a capsule summary of attempts to reform the monster President Eisenhower warned about in 1961. Lind explains…

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DoD shows its strength, mobilizing to protect us from Ebola (a sad story about America)

Summary: Conservatives’ decades-long efforts to delegitimize and shrink the US government have had many successes, such as decreasing public confidence in the Republic’s institutions (except the military) and decaying infrastructure (except for the military). Sadly we are blind to this slow relentless attack on the Republic, even when we see the effects on this news. Like today.


The Prussian Eagle, a model for our future?


President Obama wants an aggressive capability to respond to future Ebola cases in America. It’s probably unnecessary, now that the health care system has been alerted and mobilized, but the intensifying fear-mongering by Republicans (e.g., “If you want to live, ignore the CDC“),  combined with calls for him to take bold actions, forces his hand. Can he call upon the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, especially its Centers for Disease Control?

Apparently not. In the New America the only organization with the resources for large-scale action is the military. The CDC’s 2014 budget of $6.9B is slightly greater then DoD’s PR and community relations spending, estimated at $5B.

See the news in Barbara Starr’s broadcast on CNN. Here’s CNN’s follow-up story:

The U.S. military is forming a 30-person “quick-strike team” equipped to provide direct treatment to Ebola patients inside the United States, a Defense Department official told CNN’s Barbara Starr on Sunday. A Pentagon spokesman later confirmed portions of the official’s information.

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The first question to ask about our war with Syria has nothing to do with Syria

Summary:  It’s a script. Trumped up crisis, heated rhetoric from US leaders, vague plan, violent actions, long-term regrets. Change the names and our wars sound the same. Here are valuable resources explaining the Syrian situation, and the far more important question about the nature of these wars: why do we repeat the same mistakes?

Bombs for Peace



  1. What we have here is a failure to learn
  2. Analysis of our pending war with Syria
  3. The futility of analysis if it doesn’t lead to public action
  4. For More Information about Syria & our mad wars

(1)  What we have here is a failure to learn.

Yet again it appears we go off to war, in pursuit of vague goals, following the advice of people wrong in the past, repeating tactics that have repeatedly failed us. Even if the merits of a war with Syria, the overall situation should make us pause. And, like our previous adventures, the situation is far from clear.

There is no need to grind over the details. Others have done so better than I (see the links below). It’s the opposite of on the edge of the known, and so not in our ambit. But there is a question: why do we repeat the same mistakes? We have done these mad interventions so many times, with almost uniformly bad results. The bloodletting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya continues as your read this. Before each of these wise experts accurately foretold the result. We did not listen.  We did not learn. Despite repeated failures.

This is an important question, affecting the prosperity and perhaps even survival of America. I draw three conclusions (prelude to an answer):

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Tell noble lies for America’s salvation!

Summary: How do we gain approval of the American people for necessary social and political changes? Especially important but expensive and painful measures? There is the easy and popular method: lie. In a good cause. Today we consider the effects on America and on ourselves. My conclusion: stick firmly to the truth; it is the most effective tool.


Two comments from readers about propaganda:

“Let’s say that climate alarmists are wrong. But let’s say that such alarms were contributing factor in changing economic policies in order to control CO2 releases into the atmosphere. Something like it already happened when pollution created bad air /smog in many cities in the US and environmental policies changed that. Do you agree that environmental policies provided for cleaner air today then it would be otherwise.”
— In reply to Better news coverage of climate change. Our institutions still function!

“The truth, which you wish to uphold in political discourse is often nuanced and has a range of opinions in the details, even when the bigger picture is generally agreed upon. Unfortunately, this nuanced discussion leaves lay people confused (possibly due to the nature of reporting) and does not persuade them to change their behaviour.

“Take climate change as an example: in general most scientists agree that there has been a degree of warming over various timespans. The degree and the time is under debate. Let us assume that the behaviour of the population in general needs to change. Should they be presented with the truth, even if this does not produce a change in behaviour or should they be presented with a (white) lie to produce a change in behaviour that benefits everyone?”

— In reply to The secret, simple tool that persuades Americans. That molds our opinions.

These comments approvingly describe a form of the Plato’s Noble Lie.  Similar sentiments often surfaced in discussions I had with leaders in the Peak Oil community (before it collapsed under the weight of so many falsehoods and failed predictions). The classics always remain trendy. From Wikipedia

In politics a noble lie is a myth or untruth, often, but not invariably, of a religious nature, knowingly told by an elite to maintain social harmony or to advance an agenda. The noble lie is a concept originated by Plato as described in The Republic.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, people approving the use of the Noble Lie to further their causes often denounce it when used to support causes they oppose. Either way, it is a pernicious tactic, for four reasons.

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Putting women in combat: a quick look at the other side of the debate

With DoD’s decision to open more combat-related jobs to women, it’s timely to review of some the literature on the subject. Especially the non-consensus thinking (yes, there are two sides to the issues). Here we look at Women as soldiers – an update from 25 August 2009.




  1. The articles
  2. Background about women killed in our wars
  3. Implications for our military
  4. Implications for our society
  5. For more information

(1)  The articles

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