A Civilization Is at Stake Here

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

We can’t defeat “global extremism” without discrediting the ideology behind it, T. Greer argues:

At the turn of the twentieth century, China, Japan, and Korea saw vast changes in the shape of their society because the old Neo-Confucian world view that had upheld the old order had been discredited. In Europe both communism and fascism rose to horrific heights because the old ideology of classical liberalism that had hitherto held sway was discredited. As a global revolutionary force communism itself withered away because the events that closed the 20th century left it discredited. If Americans do not worry about communist revolutionaries anymore it is because communism was so thoroughly discredited that there is no one left in the world who is willing to pick up arms in its name.

We cannot “win” this fight, in the long term, unless we can discredit the ideology that gives this fight teeth.

Luckily for us, this does not require discrediting a fourteen hundred year old religion held by one fifth of the world’s population. It is worth reminding ourselves that the ideology we seek to discredit is a comparatively new one. It was born in the sands of Najd shortly before Arabia became “Saudi,” crystallized in its present form only in the 1960s, and was not exported abroad until the late 1980s. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict excepted, almost all “Islamist” terrorist attacks can be linked directly to this new Salafi-Jihadist ideology and the madrassas and proselytizing media used to spread it. It is an ideology that directly threatens the sovereign rulers of every country in the Near East, and one whose interpretations are not only opposed by the majority of Islamic theologians, but have little relation to the way Islam was practiced in most places a mere 30 years ago.

That an ideology is new or rebels against established world views does not make it less dangerous. Novelty also says little about a movement’s future success–once upon a time Protestantism was a novel ideology. I encourage people to use this analogy. Think of these Salafi reformers as you do the first wave of Protestant reformers back in the 16th century. The comparison is apt not only because the goal of the Salafi-Jihadists is, like the original Protestants, to bring religious practice back to a pure and original form, or because the savagery displayed by many of the Protestant reformers was quite comparable to ISIS at its worst, but because this comparison gives you a sense of the stakes that are at play. This is a game where the shape of entire civilizations are on the table. The Salafi-Jihadists want to change the way billions of people worship, think, and live out their daily lives. ISIS’s success in the Near East gives us a clear picture of exactly what kind of society the Salafi-Jihadists envision for the Ummah.

I will not mince words:  humankind faces few catastrophes more terrible than allowing Salafi-Jihadist reformers to hijack Islamic civilization. Theirs is an ideology utterly hostile to human progress and prosperity, and their victory, if attained, will come at great human cost. The Protestants secured their Reformation with one of the most destructive wars of European history; there is little reason to think Salafi-Jihadist victories will be any less disastrous. Not every ‘great game’ of international power politics is played for civilization-level stakes. But that is exactly what is at stake here. We must plan accordingly.

3D-Printed Replica Ring Sword

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Norway’s National Museum of Art asked Nils Anderssen — a game developer and school teacher with a passion for re-creating historical artefacts in his spare time — to 3D-print a replica of its sixth-century sword:

The museum is in possession of a particularly fine sword — a golden-hilted ring-sword, probably used only by kings and nobles. The ring affixed to the hilt is believed to be the symbol of an oath.

Ring Sword Replica Hilt Front and Back

The instruction that the museum gave Anderssen was that the sword should look and feel exactly like the original would have done when it was new. This would allow museum visitors to have hands-on time with the sword, as a complement to admiring the relic safe in its glass case.

Anderssen has no experience in blacksmithing or goldsmithing, but he does know his way around 3D-modelling software — namely 3D Studio Max.

Ring Sword 3D Studio Max Rendering

Using photographs of the real sword to gauge the dimensions of the hilt, Anderssen modelled the shape into basic polygons before working on carving out the fine details of the intricate design. Then he sent the finished model to i.materialise to be printed in bronze. When the finished print arrived, he cleaned up the details and had the pieces gilded and fitted with wooden inserts for stability before being attached to the blade.

Ring Sword Original and Replicas


The Dark Science of Interrogation

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Five years ago, President Obama created the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which has funded studies into the dark science of interrogation:

Not too long ago, as part of a test designed by psychologist Melissa Russano, a young woman in a tank top sat at a table with a look of growing apprehension, hunched protectively over her handbag. A student, she had just taken an exam, and a test administrator was accusing her of cheating: Her answers, he said, matched up with those of another student. The administrator said he had just called the professor running the study and reported that he was not at all happy. “He may consider this cheating, I don’t know,” the man said, with sympathy. “I’m sure you didn’t know it would be such a big problem to be sharing. I probably would have done the same thing if I were in your shoes…. It would ease my professor up if you were seen to be cooperating.” He slid a piece of paper toward her with a confession written on it.

“I don’t think I should sign it. I didn’t do anything,” said the student. Shaking her head, her face pursed in disgust, she signed. As it turned out, she was innocent.

A decade ago, Russano, a professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, set out to design a study that would replicate the social and emotional dynamics of a real interrogation in the lab, where conditions could be controlled. And where, unlike in the messy world of actual cases, the truthfulness of confessions could be easily evaluated. Her study had subjects take a cognitive ability test in a room with another student. Half the time the second student, who was actually working for Russano, would ask for help. The test subjects knew it was against the rules, but most would willingly share their answers. Later, after the test administrator had ostensibly looked over some of the results, he would come back, say there was a potential issue, and leave the subject to stew alone in a room for five minutes. Then some version of the interaction above, taken from a video of one subject, would unfold.

Russano was interested in testing what have long been the twin poles of interrogation styles: “minimization” and “maximization.” They’re forms of coercion that correspond, roughly, to “good cop, bad cop.” Minimization plays down the significance of the crime and offers potential excuses for it — “you just meant to scare her” or “anyone in your situation would have done the same thing.” Maximization plays it up, confrontationally presenting incriminating evidence and refusing to allow any response except a confession. The two are the most widely used tools in the American police interrogator toolkit. The Army Field Manual, which governs all military interrogations, lists approved maximization methods such as “Emotional Fear-Up” and “Emotional-Pride and Ego-Down.”


“Guilty people are more likely to confess” when minimization and maximization are used, she says. “The problem is, so are innocent people.” Minimization alone nearly doubled the number of cheaters who confessed in her studies. But it tripled the number of noncheaters who falsely confessed. The videos of those false confessions make for fascinating viewing. Some are angry, some resigned. One young woman keeps her composure until the test administrator leaves the room with her signed confession, then dissolves into tears.


Russano is still running versions of that first interrogation study, changing the script to see how it affects the outcome. In one iteration, she explored whether minimization could be purged of the implicit offer of leniency. She had her interrogators be sympathetic, even flattering — saying things such as, “I am sure you are a good person, and no one wants to be accused of cheating or breaking the rules” — but without playing down the seriousness of the offense or its potential punishment. They got just as many true confessions that way, but far fewer false ones.

Research has also found that the biggest difference between professional and amateur lie detectors is that professionals are much more confident in their abilities — despite the fact that they’re no better at it.

The Woman Who Invented Iraq

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Britain’s Orientalists saw an opportunity to bring modern coherence to the desert by imposing new kingdoms of their own devising:

Into this coterie of schemers came two mavericks, both scholars, both fluent Arab speakers, both small in stature and psychologically fragile, both capable of extraordinary feats of desert exploration—a young man called T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, a more seasoned connoisseur of the desert life.

Both had been recruited before World War I to gather intelligence on the Ottomans. Both were hard to accommodate within a normal military and diplomatic machine and so ended up working for a clandestine outfit in Cairo called the Arab Bureau, which was more aware of their singular gifts and more tolerant of their habits.

Bell’s epic desert trek in 1913-14 was already legendary. Her objective had been a city called Hail that no European had reached since 1893. Under the cover of archaeological research, her real purpose was to assess the strength of a murderous family called the al Rashids, whose capital Hail was.


But as a woman, Bell enjoyed an advantage over male colleagues that she was to deploy on many missions: molesting or harming women was contrary to the desert code of conduct, even in a family as homicidal as the Rashids. For a week or so, Bell was warmly entertained by the women of this polygamous society, and the women’s gossip provided a rich source of intelligence on palace intrigues, of which there were many. From this she was able to see what her British minders valued: That the Rashids were yesterday’s men and the Saudis would likely be a formidable and independent power in Arabia. The Rashids released her, and she went on to Baghdad, Damascus, and home to London.


While Lawrence left the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 stricken by the guilt for a British betrayal of his Arabs to which he had not been a party, Bell was sent to Baghdad, where Feisal was to be given his consolation prize: the throne of a new Iraq.

As well as the prospect of huge oil reserves, this new Iraq was crucial to the lines of communication to the great jewel of the British Empire, India. And, ostensibly, it was the diplomats and generals of the Indian administration who ran the show in Baghdad. But they depended on Bell as an expert and a negotiator, fluent in Arabic and used to the schisms and vendettas of the region. In fact, many of the decisive meetings as the British struggled to create a provisional government took place in Bell’s own house.

On August 23, 1921, at a ceremony in central Baghdad, Feisal was installed as the monarch of Iraq, even though he had no tribal roots in the country to assist his legitimacy. “We’ve got our king crowned,” wrote Bell with relief. And she made a claim about this election that would be echoed decades later by Saddam Hussein, that Feisal had been endorsed by 96 percent of the people, even though he was the only candidate and the majority of the population was illiterate.

Indeed, Bell was so carried away with her confidence in the nation she had helped to create that she crowed: “Before I die I look to see Feisal ruling from the Persian frontier to the Mediterranean.”

The End of South Africa

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Things are very bad in South Africa:

When the scourge of apartheid was finally smashed to pieces in 1994, the country seemed to have a bright future ahead of it. Eight years later, in 2002, 60 percent of South Africans said life had been better under apartheid. Hard to believe — but that’s how bad things were in 2002. And now they’re even worse.

When apartheid ended, the life expectancy in South Africa was 64 — the same as in Turkey and Russia. Now it’s 56, the same as in Somalia. There are 132.4 rapes per 100,000 people per year, which is by far the highest in the world: Botswana is in second with 93, Sweden in third with 64; no other country exceeds 32.

Wait, Sweden?

The Swedish police recorded the highest number of offences – about 63 per 100,000 inhabitants – of any force in Europe, in 2010. The second-highest in the world.

This was three times higher than the number of cases in the same year in Sweden’s next-door neighbour, Norway, and twice the rate in the United States and the UK. It was more than 30 times the number in India, which recorded about two offences per 100,000 people.

On the face of it, it would seem Sweden is a much more dangerous place than these other countries.

But that is a misconception, according to Klara Selin, a sociologist at the National Council for Crime Prevention in Stockholm. She says you cannot compare countries’ records, because police procedures and legal definitions vary widely.

There are other factors, too.

Anyway, back to South Africa:

Before the end of apartheid, South African writer Ilana Mercer moved, with her family, to Israel; her father was a vocal opponent of apartheid, and was being harassed by South African security forces. A 2013 piece on World Net Daily quotes Mercer as saying, with all her anti-apartheid chops, that “more people are murdered in one week under African rule than died under detention of the Afrikaner government over the course of roughly four decades.” The South African government estimates that there are 31 murders per 100,000 people per year. Or about 50 a day. That would make South Africa the tenth most murderous country in the world, outpacing Rwanda, Mexico, and both Sudans. And that’s using South Africa’s official estimates — outside groups put the murder rate 100 percent higher. Choosing not to trust the South African authorities is a safe bet — South Africa’s government, which has been led by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress since the end of apartheid, is outstandingly incompetent and corrupt.

Of course, de facto one-party rule doesn’t promote integrity. Unemployment is 25 percent, but President Jacob Zuma, of the ANC, recently spent $24 million of public money to add a pool and amphitheater to his private home. Not long after the story broke, he was elected to a second five-year term. Think-tank theorist Leon Louw, who helped defeat apartheid, calls the crime and corruption “a simple manifestation of the breakdown of the state. The government is just appallingly bad at everything it does: education, healthcare, infrastructure, security, everything that is a government function is in shambles.”

He adds — citing “anecdotal data” — that “most people don’t bother to report crimes.”

It appears that South Africa is about the most dangerous place you can be outside a war zone. What’s more worrying is the chance that it might become a war zone. Nelson Mandela was able to hold the “rainbow nation” together, but he’s passed on. Now, according to the human-rights organization Genocide Watch, South Africa is at pre-genocide stage 6 of 8: “Preparation.”

Genocide? Of which tribe?

With the country skidding toward anarchy, naturally, the people want to know whom they should blame. In 2010, a prominent member of the African National Congress named Julius Malema revived an old anti-apartheid song whose lyrics — says Genocide Watch — call for genocide: “Shoot the Boer, shoot, shoot.” “Boer” means “farmer” in Afrikaans; colloquially, it means “white South African.” Malema was ejected from the ANC and convicted of hate speech; he has since formed a new opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, which is currently the third largest party in parliament. Seven months after Malema’s conviction, President Zuma sang the genocide song himself, leading a crowd in a musical chant: “We are going to shoot them with machine guns, they are going to run… The cabinet will shoot them, with the machine gun… Shoot the Boer, we are going to hit them, they are going to run.” Watch the video on YouTube — it is surreal. Nelson Mandela’s successor, the president of South Africa, addresses a crowd of — according to the Guardian — tens of thousands, in a giant stadium, and calls for the murder of what amounts to about 10 percent of his constituents. Among the audience, uniformed members of the military dance.

According to Genocide Watch, the murder rate among South African white farmers is four times higher than among South Africans en masse. That rate increased every month after President Zuma sang his song, for as long as accurate records are available: The police have been ordered to stop reporting murders by race. The police have also disarmed and disbanded groups of farmer-minutemen, organized to provide mutual security. Consequently, says Genocide Watch, “their families” have been “subjected to murder, rape, mutilation and torture.” Meanwhile, “high-ranking ANC government officials… continuously refer to Whites as ‘settlers.’”

Josh Gelernter recommends that the settlers form their own Singapore-style city-state.

Occupation is the Root Cause

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

The main risk factor people think is associated with suicide attack is Islamic fundamentalism, Robert Pape says:

Religion, and specifically Islamic fundamentalism, because they witness, they observe the attackers on 9/11 were Islamic fundamentalists. Many of the attackers in Iraq, ISIS is an Islamic fundamentalist group. Well what this research found, really for the first time, is that religion is not as prominent a cause of suicide terrorism as many people think. The world leader during that 24-year period was not an Islamic group. They were the Tamil tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist group, a secular group, a Hindu group. The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka did more suicide attacks than Hamas or Islamic Jihad. What over 95% of all suicide attacks have in common is not religion, but a specific strategic objective: to compel a democratic state to withdraw combat forces from territory the terrorists see as their homeland or prize. From Lebanon and the West Bank back then to Iraq and Afghanistan today, this idea of military occupation is the leading risk factor producing over 95 percent of the suicide attacks that we see even as we speak.

Professor Pape recommends two things:

First is not make the problem worse. Before the invasion of Iraq, there were about 50 suicide attacks occurring around the world in 2001 and 2002 and only a handful of those were anti-American. Then we thought we’d fix the problem of terrorism by going into Iraq and essentially wringing the Islamic fundamentalism out of the Middle East by democratizing it. Well what happened by 2007 is that there were over 500 suicide attacks that year, over 300 of them in Iraq, which had never experienced a suicide attack before. So we made the problem dramatically worse. And in fact, the roots of ISIS and as I just told you the Paris attack, go back to the American occupation, Fallujah, Abu Ghraib. These are the ingredients, the cocktail of what we’re living with today. So if we were to then respond to the terrorism that we see by putting another massive army in either Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, these are very big countries, very big populations. Many people might think that we couldn’t make the problem worse. Oh yes, we can make it much worse, very quickly, as we saw with Iraq.

The second thing is we should be focusing on especially empowering moderates in local communities to compete head-to-head with terrorists. We did this in Iraq, starting in 2000- late 2006 and 2007 and 2008 in the Sunni community when we started to foment and foster and empower the Anbar Awakening. This was essentially 100,000 Sunnis, many of them connected with local Sunni tribes, where the United States paid individuals $300 a month to do just one thing: Don’t kill us. Don’t shoot at us. Some of these had been shooting us before. This was a controversial thing when the Bush administration did it. But this had a dramatic effect in weakening suicide terrorism, the most important effect of anything that we did. We should be doing this as we go forward in Iraq. We should be doing this as we go forward in Yemen.

The ROI on terrorism is immense — if you do in fact have a zero-sum mentality:

9/11 by all estimates, including the 9/11 Commission, cost Al Qaeda less than a half million dollars and it produced many billions of dollars of damage, not just in the loss of air traffic over the next year and a half, but in launching two major wars, one of which, in Iraq, turned out to be extremely expensive, extremely costly.

Two governments understand terrorism:

One is the Basque government. So we used to have in Spain a Basque terrorism problem. That terrorism problem has essentially gone away. It was a major problem for several decades in Europe. And in the early stages like many governments, the government tries heavy-handed military force to try to deal with the issue. Publics, of course, are afraid and fearful. The publics like to see tough talk and tough action. But that just made the problem worse. And then basically through a series of education and demographic policies, the Basque separatists, basically that political movement disappeared. And it disappeared because the Spanish government stopped treating the underlying Basque community as a separate community and started to have more integrationist and assimilationist policies.

In the case of Northern Ireland with the IRA, the British had an enormous problem with the IRA that really was just awful, thousands of people dying in the early 1970’s. And the British at first tried to deal with this problem by being very tough. And Maggie Thatcher, who was a very conservative leader of Britain in the 1980’s, was known as being a very tough woman. Well she’s the one who started the secret talks with the IRA leaders, which the public didn’t know about at the time, but ended up leading to the Good Friday accords in 1998 that essentially cut a deal for a tremendous amount of political autonomy for the local communities in Northern Ireland, which effectively ended, virtually ended, I guess I would say, terrorism that had gone on for decades. So what we have see is we have seen a pattern. And we’ve seen a pattern where states who face terrorism initially want to react with very heavy-handed force — some force, of course, is necessary, I’m not saying none — but often overreact, make the problem worse, and then over time learn.

American Sniper Is An Ordinary War Movie

Monday, February 16th, 2015

American Sniper is what most well-written war movies were like pre-Vietnam:

Watch a movie like 12 O Clock High for a change and you won’t get the critique of Apocalypse Now, Deer Hunter, Platoon, and other similar films. You won’t even get the postmodern bricolage of Inglorious Basterds. You will get a grim, character-based war film. Or, for example, see Eastwood’s own Letters from Iwo Jima, which is not a critique of the Imperial Japanese Army (an institution far more clearly in the wrong than the US military in Iraq) as much as an attempt to relay to American audiences that there were human beings on the other side of the beachhead during the brutal island-hopping subset of the Pacific campaign.

Believe it or not, wars are not experienced by most participants as a series of Political Big Issue Statements. A casual read of many military memoirs will reveal more close-to-the-bone matters such as family, relationships and concern for fellow comrades, frustrations and bitterness with bureaucracy, a mixture of fear, loathing, and sometimes admiration for the opponent, and often crude and politically incorrect sentiments about opponents and noncombatants. When politics enters, it isn’t necessarily sophisticated or empirically accurate. It’s often black and white, fuzzy, or an afterthought altogether.

Whatever their opinions about the war, audiences used to enjoy watching movies about these kinds of people. Because they can relate to them more than walking, talking, mouthpieces for liberal antiwar critics that ritually denounce Richard Perle and Dick Cheney stand-ins every half hour of the movie. Almost every single Iraq War movie has been an enormous financial failure. But a nation that nonetheless is still remarkably ambivalent and divided about the war itself nonetheless managed to make the makers of American Sniper quite rich, if the box office gross from the last two weekend alone is evidenced. Maybe that has to do with American audiences wanting a well-made war film, not Michael Moore redux or an high-end art movie.

Conan the Corded Ware Maker

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

In the second half of the 20th Century, academics engaged in a concerted effort to make the prehistory of Eurasia sound kinder, gentler, and much, much duller, Steve Sailer notes:

For example, the Battle Axe culture of Northern Europe of 4,000 to 5,000 years ago was renamed the Corded Ware culture. Less invasion, conquest, enslavement, and rapine; more different peoples getting together in a spirit of sharing to teach each other their arts, their crafts, their languages, their values, their hopes, their dreams.

For the entire 21st Century, though, Greg Cochran has been predicting that when genome analyses of ancient buried corpses are finally done, the prehistory of Eurasia will wind up looking a lot less like the later 20th Century conventional wisdom and more like the fantasy world created by the bookish Robert E. Howard for his Conan the Barbarian stories in the 1930s. Howard summarized the fantasy prehistory of his Conan stories in an essay entitled The Hyborian Age published in 1936, shortly before he killed himself at age 30.

A new genomic paper suggests that the barbarians of the distant past were quite barbaric: Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe.

Herd Immunity Applies to Guns as Well as Vaccinations

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Recent measles outbreaks have sparked a national debate over vaccinations and herd immunity, but herd immunity applies to guns, too, Paul Hsieh argues:

Crime rates in Chicago dropped dramatically in 2014 after the state of Illinois allowed legal concealed carry. [...] According to AWR Hawkins, national FBI statistics also showed a significant decrease in crime in the first half 2014 even though gun sales soared in 2013. [...] This is a continuation of the longer-running trend described by Dylan Polk in Guns & Ammo: “Crime rates have dropped as gun ownership has risen, despite a population growth” over the 1993-2013 period.

The Brecher Two-Stage Martyr-Killer Theory of Insurgency

Friday, February 6th, 2015

What follows is the Brecher Two-Stage Martyr-Killer Theory of Insurgency:

The example that led me to this pattern (and which consumed a miserable decade of my life) is early 20th century Ireland. Imagine George Patton repeating his line, “No son of a bitch ever won a war by dying for his country” to the handful of literary weirdos, sentimental Celticists, and assorted other freaks who had occupied downtown Dublin in the name of “…a 32-county, Irish-speaking Republic” on Easter Monday 1916.

What kind of response would Patton’s bad-ass pragmatism have gotten from the eager martyrs holding out in Dublin, waiting for the inevitable retaliation by the British Army? They were a strange group, but then most Europeans were a little insane around 1916, and this lot had decided it would be better to die in Dublin, which they actually knew and liked, than in some unpronounceable Flemish town on the Western Front. As Yeats said, “They…decided, ‘We will sell our lives at a better market” than the one run by the German machine guns and artillery.

So they sold their lives, as planned. The British Army, not in any mood to fuck around with this home-front insurgency in the middle of the fight of its life, shelled the occupied buildings, shot the survivors, and declared the matter closed.

So far, this looked like the worst debacle among debac-ulous Irish rebellions, which is saying something. But that’s where it gets interesting; that’s where the notion of effective martyrdom via tactical debacle starts to play itself out. Because, weirdly enough, these guys won. Nobody had managed to leave the British Empire by force since America did it in 1783, but Ireland did (26 counties’ worth, anyway) in 1922, just six years after those freaks got themselves killed in downtown Dublin.

And it was martyrdom that won, the whole cult of martyrdom. At first, Dubliners cursed and jeered the survivors of the Easter Rising — I mean, you’d be mad too if a handful of nutters had brought the world’s most powerful army’s revenge down on your home town. But then the songs started — and if you know the Irish, you know it’s all over once they start singing. Soon there were a half-dozen songs celebrating every martyr who died in 1916.

These pub songs were the social media of rural Ireland, circa 1920, and they were very effective. They inspired a whole generation of saner, smarter, more cold-blooded and effective revolutionaries thinking about how to try another rebellion — one that could actually succeed. A guy named Michael Collins came up with the concept of urban-guerrilla warfare, focusing on killing spies before going after soldiers, and next thing you know, Ireland’s independent, the first country to exit the Empire against the Empire’s will in over a century.

And this pattern is being repeated, right now, across the planet: A first-wave insurgency that seems insanely quixotic, totally doomed, useless…which then inspires a second insurgency, more effective, more cold-blooded, more interested in killing than in dying.

You can see the pattern in the weird differences between the first and second Intifadas against Israeli rule. The First Intifada, from 1987-1993, was mainly about Palestinians dying, often by choice, at the hands of much-better armed Israeli forces. Casualties were typically lopsided: 160 Israelis killed vs. more than 2000 Palestinian dead.

The image this first Intifada tried to engrave on the world media’s eyeball was of Palestinians, unarmed or with nothing but rocks, getting mowed down by expensive military vehicles. Again — it looked crazy, but it wasn’t. It was a typical first-stage sacrifice.

The Second Intifada, or “Al-Aqsa Intifada,” starting in 2000, involved armed Palestinians not just dying but killing. Casualties for this rebellion were much more evenly distributed: 1008 Israelis killed vs. 3034 Palestinians.

That’s a ratio of 3:1 (almost precisely 3:1, in fact), and though it may seem to favor the Israelis, it actually terrified them, because the better-armed occupying force expects something more like the 13:1 Palestinian/Israeli KIA of the First Intifada.

This two-stage formula is playing out right now, in parts of the world most people don’t pay much attention to — like the slow-burning Muslim/Malay insurgency in Southern Thailand. In the Southern Thai town of Su So in 2004, a Muslim insurgency announced itself in a way that made the Easter Rising look cunning and practical by comparison: the local men and boys simply stood around outside the Thai National police stations waving machetes and yelling until they were shot down.

Crazy, right? Not really. The insurgency is burning very well in that part of Thailand now, and the hundred-odd men who were mown down in that apparently pointless, suicidal demonstration outside the cop-shops knew exactly what they were doing. They were offering themselves as kindling, to get something bigger, colder, more effective started.

So — Sorry, General Patton, sir, and I admit I’d never have the courage to tell you this to your face — but the fact is, you CAN win a war by dying. There are several ways you can do that: in conventional war.

Why Starship Troopers Is the New Art of War

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, published in 1959, is aging remarkably well, because it offers practical lessons for modern warfare:

What Is War Good For?
“Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than any other factor, and contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst.”

— Mr. Dubois, Johnnie’s history and moral philosophy teacher.

Mobility Is Essential
“An infantryman can fight only if someone else delivers him to his zone; in a way I suppose pilots are just as essential as we are.”
— Johnnie Rico

Focus And Automation
“If you load a mudfoot down with a lot of gadgets that he has to watch, someone a lot more simply equipped — say with a stone ax — will sneak up and bash his head in while he is trying to read a vernier”
— Johnnie Rico

There Are No Dangerous Weapons, Just Dangerous People
“Maybe they’ll do without us someday. Maybe some mad genius with myopia, a bulging forehead and a cybernetic mind will devise a weapon that can go down a hole, pick out the opposition and force it to surrender or die — without killing the gang of your own people they have imprisoned inside. In the meantime, until they do, my mates can handle the job.”
— Johnnie Rico

A War By Any Other Name Can Still Kill You
“Everything up to then and still later were ‘incidents,’ ‘patrols’ or ‘police actions.’ However, you are just as dead if you buy the farm in an ‘incident’ as if you buy it in a declared war.”
— Johnnie Rico

True Professionals Control Violence
“The purpose of war is to support your government’s decisions by force. The purpose is never to kill the enemy just to be killing him but to make him do what you want him to do. Not killing… but controlled and purposeful violence.”
— Johnnie Rico

Time is our greatest enemy and our enemy’s greatest friend

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

The surest way to win limited wars is to win them quickly:

Time is our greatest enemy and our enemy’s greatest friend. Yet as our experience in Kosovo has shown, we still lack the means to transport decisive landpower to even a local theater of war in time to preempt or preclude the offensive actions of a minor tyrant.

We seek to win at minimum cost. During wars in this century the overwhelming majority of battlefield deaths have been suffered by infantrymen in close combat. The greatest killer of American infantry has been the homely and unglamorous mortar, followed closely by the rifle and machine gun. Yet while today we possess the technology to remotely locate strategic targets in Belgrade or Baghdad, a platoon leader must still rely on DePuy’s tactic of direct observation and contact in order to locate a machine gun position. We can strike strategic targets with precision from thousands of miles distance but our platoon leader has no way to destroy a mortar over the next hill with any degree of precision.

Recent post-Cold War experience in Kosovo and Iraq have shown that even an army of inept petty tyrants can, if given time, adapt and learn to counter our unique method of fighting limited wars. Add to this uncomfortable truth the realization that the American people will continue to demand cheap victories and it seems absolutely apparent to those who have studied recent history that the United States will no longer have the luxury to improvise on the battlefield.

That was was written after a visit to Albania in May 1999.

Locate and Fix the Enemy

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

Early battles in Korea began with the application of doctrinally correct proportions of firepower to maneuver inherited from the Second World War:

Very quickly, however, field commanders increased their demand for artillery and air power to support ever more compact and self-contained assault forces. What began as traditional dismounted infantry assaults in 1950 soon became elaborate tank, infantry, and firepower intensive demonstrations intended to gain the objective with minimum cost in lives.

During the Battle of Soryang in the spring of 1951, twenty-one battalions of artillery fired over three hundred thousand rounds in five days in support of a single push by X Corps. Two years later, at Pork Chop Hill, nine battalions fired over thirty-seven thousand rounds in less than twenty-four hours in support of a single regimental assault. As the weight of firepower increased, the densities of infantry formations decreased in proportion. By the winter of 1950-51, General Ridgway conducted most of the Eighth Army counter attacks at regimental level. That spring, Ridgway consistently used nothing larger than company teams to spearhead his advance to the Han River.

Similarly in Vietnam commanders learned quickly and adapted a European style, maneuver- centric method of war to match the realities of limited war in constricted Asian terrain. Close combat units gradually increased the proportion of supporting fires and lessened the exposure of lead elements moving into contested areas.

General William DePuy, commanding the First Infantry Division in 1966-67, realized quickly that artillery and tactical aircraft were responsible for most enemy casualties. His casualties, on the other hand, came principally from three sources: enemy mortars, concentrations of enemy small arms fire delivered against infantry units in set-piece ambushes, and mines. His common sense solution was simply to use much smaller infantry units to locate and fix the enemy, usually squads or platoons, and then orchestrate a varied medley of supporting firepower systems to do most of the killing.

Once the enemy was located, the infantry’s task was to stay out of the killing zone, avoid decisive engagement and pull back just far enough to allow effective delivery of ordnance, but not so far as to allow the enemy breathing space to disengage and escape the firepower trap. The old infantry adage “close with and destroy the enemy” became simply get close enough with as few forces as possible to “find, fix, flush and set up the enemy for destruction by fire.”

DePuy was among the first to grasp the fact that modern firepower technology and the imperative to win at lower cost together were sufficient to cause a shift in the relationship between firepower and maneuver. In later years he was fond of saying “On a battlefield increasingly dominated by lethality, if you can be seen you can be hit, if you can be hit, you will be killed.” Whether traditionalists liked it or not, DePuy believed that the balance had in fact shifted to the point that firepower systems, not infantrymen, had now become the central instrument for achieving decisive effect on the battlefield. To DePuy, the doctrinal maxim that firepower supported maneuver may well have been reversed.

Fire and Maneuver

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

The Germans succeeded in crushing the French because of the excellence of their operational method:

An observer standing in the midst of the French positions on the heights of La Marfée can clearly make out the crossing points across the Meuse River seized by German infantry on the afternoon of 13 May 1940. The day was bright and cloudless. The French held the commanding heights in strength. Their two hundred guns ranged the ground over which German columns inched their way to assembly areas on the east bank. Yet, the crossing succeeded. Within four hours the 1st Rifle Regiment, supported by Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland, had crossed the river in strength and ruptured French defenses irreparably. Over the course of the evening, French troops, who held most of the tactical cards, dissolved in panic. In one of those rare moments of cataclysmic impact, a single afternoon’s combat sufficed to open the door to the collapse of the most respected army in the world. The result sealed the fate of the Third Republic.

How could it have happened? Any student of tactics knows that a river crossing against a defended shore is the most difficult of all tactical maneuvers. In such a maneuver, the assaulting side requires overwhelming superiority in firepower and mobility. Yet the Germans had neither. Historians have tended to ascribe the German success to superiority in mechanized warfare. In fact, the critical assault that broke the back of French resistance resulted from the efforts of infantry and combat engineers paddling across the Meuse in rubber boats. The battle culminated in the Wehrmacht’s favor 12 hours before German engineers completed the bridges necessary to carry German armor across.

The Germans succeeded because of the excellence of their operational method – one that played out on the battlefield like a superbly orchestrated symphony. The instruments of blitzkrieg–tactical aircraft, tanks, infantry, sappers, and artillery – each added their own unique harmonic at the right time and in proper balance. They managed to balance the brute strength and psychological intimidation offered by firepower with the speed and physical paralysis provided by rapid movement. This fusion of fire and maneuver resulted in a seamless, unrelenting offensive that made the German assault on Sedan so overwhelmingly decisive. The German success was a triumph, not of overwhelming mass or firepower, but of both applied in harmony using intellect, foresight, imagination and will.

Victory in France had its roots in Germany’s defeat in World War I. Decades of introspection and disciplined study during the inter war years taught the Germans a crucial lesson about the relationship between technology and the nature of war. Modern rifled weapons had upset the balance between the ability of armies to prepare the attack by fire and their ability to use maneuver against the enemy’s vulnerable points. The battlefield had become so vast and lethal that soldiers attacking on foot could no longer cross no-man’s-land with sufficient strength intact to achieve decisive results

What the Germans understood in developing their doctrine was that, given the dispersion of troops, confusion, and chaos characterizing modern warfare, top-down control was no longer in the cards. It worked for Napoleon because he could see virtually the entire battlefield at Austerlitz.

But it was no longer a possibility on a battlefield where not only distance but the very violence and confusion of modern war separated soldiers and units. Troops now had to understand the objective and then, as the operation unfolded, adapt their responses to the tactical situation as it existed. Above all they must not wait for their commanders to tell them what to do. Rather, depending on circumstances, they had to act in accordance with their training, intuition, and understanding of the immediate situation. The balance and harmony between maneuver and fire remained the essential imperative of maneuver warfare through the remainder of the machine age.

Western IT and the Non-Western Way of War

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Mao’s style of war relied on dispersed troops coming together when the time was right:

In perhaps one of the strangest potential ironies of the future, Western information technology may well provide non-Western armies solutions to two vexing problems. First, cellular technology and the internet may allow them to maintain a concert of action for long periods among widely dispersed units. Second, these same technologies will allow them to orchestrate the rapid massing of dispersed units when opportunities arise to transition to the offensive.

(From Adaptive Enemies: Dealing with the Strategic Threat after 2010, from 1999.)