Enlightened Hard-Boiled-Ness

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Marine Major Sherwood F. Moran found himself facing a fanatical and implacable enemy in a brutal war in which the old rules no longer seemed to apply, and he was under intense pressure to achieve quick results as an interrogator. He went on to write an influential document on the complexities and difficulties of dealing with an enemy from such a hostile and alien culture and how to extract useful information from prisoners:

The successful interrogators all had one thing in common in the way they approached their subjects. They were nice to them.

Moran was writing in 1943, and he was describing his own, already legendary methods of interrogating Japanese prisoners of war.


Part of why Sherwood Moran became such a legendary figure among military interrogators was his cool disregard for what he termed the standard “hard-boiled” military attitude. The brutality of the fighting in the Pacific and the suicidal fanaticism of the Japanese had created a general assumption that only the sternest measures would get Japanese prisoners to divulge anything. Moran countered that in his and others’ experience, strong-arm tactics simply did not work. Stripping a prisoner of his dignity, treating him as a still-dangerous threat, forcing him to stand at attention and flanking him with guards throughout his interrogation — in other words, emphasizing that “we are his to-be-respected and august enemies and conquerors” — invariably backfired. It made the prisoner “so conscious of his present position and that he was a captured soldier vs. enemy intelligence” that it “played right into [the] hands” of those who were determined not to give away anything of military importance.

In his report (written in the form of a letter of advice to interpreters newly assigned to interrogation duty) Moran stressed that he would usually begin an interrogation by taking almost the opposite tack.

I often tell a prisoner right at the start what my attitude is! I consider a prisoner (i.e. a man who has been captured and disarmed and in a perfectly safe place) as out of the war, out of the picture, and thus, in a way, not an enemy … Notice that … I used the word “safe.” That is the point: get the prisoner to a safe place, where even he knows … that it is all over. Then forget, as it were, the “enemy” stuff, and the “prisoner” stuff. I tell them to forget it, telling them I am talking as a human being to a human being.

Every soldier, Moran observed, has a “story” he desperately wants to tell. The interrogator’s job is to provide the atmosphere that allows the prisoner to tell it.

Begin by asking him things about himself. Make him and his troubles the center of the stage, not you and your questions of war problems. If he is not wounded or tired out, you can ask him if he has been getting enough to eat; if he likes Western-style food … You can ask if he has had cigarettes, if he is being treated all right, etc. If he is wounded you have a rare chance. Begin to talk about his wounds. Ask if the doctor or corpsman has attended to him. Have him show you his wounds or burns. (They will like to do this!)


On [one] occasion a soldier was brought in. A considerable chunk of his shinbone had been shot away. In such bad shape was he that we broke off in the middle of the interview to have his leg redressed. We were all interested in the redressing, in his leg, it was almost a social affair! And the point to note is that we really were interested, and not pretending to be interested in order to get information out of him. This was the prisoner who called out to me when I was leaving after that first interview, “Won’t you please come and talk to me every day.” (And yet people are continually asking us, “Are the Japanese prisoners really willing to talk?”)

Moran spoke fluent Japanese, but more important, he was thoroughly familiar with Japanese culture, having spent forty years in Japan as a missionary. He used this knowledge for one of his standard gambits: making a prisoner homesick. “This line has infinite possibilities,” he explained. “If you know anything about Japanese history, art, politics, athletics, famous places, department stores, eating places, etc. etc. a conversation may be relatively interminable.” Moran emphasized that a detailed knowledge of technical military terms and the like was less important than a command of idiomatic phrases and cultural references that allow the interviewer to achieve “the first and most important victory” — getting “into the mind and into the heart” of the prisoner and achieving an “intellectual and spiritual” rapport with him.

Moran’s whole approach — and Hans Joachim Scharff’s, too — was built on the assumption that few if any prisoners are likely to possess decisive information about imminent plans. (And as one former Marine interrogator says, even if a prisoner does have information of the “ticking bomb” variety — where the nuke is going to go off an hour from now, in the classic if overworked example — under duress or torture he is most likely to try to run out the clock by making something up rather than reveal the truth.) Rather, it is the small and seemingly inconsequential bits of evidence that prisoners may give away once they start talking — about training, weapons, commanders, tactics — that, when assembled into a larger mosaic, build up the most complete and valuable picture of the enemy’s organization, intentions, and methods.

Moran’s report had an immediate impact. The Navy and the Marines recruited second-generation Japanese-Americans to teach an intensive one-year language course for interrogators that included a strong emphasis on Japanese culture. James Corum notes that the graduates of this course were among the most effective interrogators in the Pacific Island campaigns of 1944 and 1945: Marine interrogators deployed to the Marianas in June of 1944 were able to supply their commanders with the complete Japanese order of battle within forty-eight hours of landing on Saipan and Tinian.

In contrast, in late 2002 the military’s Southern Command had so few interrogators and interpreters that it was forced to employ inexperienced and untrained civilian contractors to perform these jobs at Guantánamo./blockquote>


Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Only a few soldiers do most of the fighting, David Grossman (On Killing) notes, and it seems to be in their nature:

Swank and Marchand’s World War II study noted the existence of 2 percent of combat soldiers who are predisposed to be “aggressive psychopaths” and apparently do not experience the normal resistance to killing or the resultant psychiatric casualties associated with extended periods of combat. The negative connotation associated with the term “psychopath” or its modern equivalent, “sociopath,” is inappropriate here, since this behavior is a generally desirable one for soldiers in combat, but there does seem to be some foundation for a belief that a very small percentage of all combatants are doing a tremendously disproportionate amount of the killing.


The presence of aggression, combined with the absence of empathy, results in sociopathy. The presence of aggression, combined with the presence of empathy, results in an individual completely different from the sociopath.

One veteran I interviewed told me that he thought of most of the world as sheep: gentle, decent, kindly creatures who are essentially incapable of true aggression. In this veteran’s mind there is another human subspecies (of which he was a member) that is a kind of dog: faithful, vigilant creatures who are very much capable of aggression when circumstances require. But, according to his model, there are wolves (sociopaths) and packs of wild dogs (gangs and aggressive armies) abroad in the land, and the sheepdogs (the soldiers and policemen of the world) are environmentally and biologically predisposed to be the ones who confront these predators.


Some may think of them as sheepdogs, and that is a good analogy, but I prefer another term, another analogy. There is a model, an “archetype,” which, according to Jung, exists deep in the “collective unconscious” — an inherited, unconscious reservoir of images derived from our ancestors’ universal experiences and shared by the whole human race. These powerful archetypes can drive us by channeling our libidinal energy. They include such Jungian concepts as the mother, the wise old man, and the hero. I think that Jung might refer to these people as heroes not as sheepdogs.

According to Gwynne Dyer (War), United States Air Force research concerning aggressive killing behavior determined that 1 percent of USAF fighter pilots in World War II did nearly 40 percent of the air-to-air killing, and the majority of their pilots never even tried to shoot anyone down. This 1 percent of World War II fighter pilots, Swank and Marchand’s 2 percent, Griffith’s low Napoleonic and Civil War killing rates, and Marshall’s low World War II firing rates can all be at least partially explained if only a small percentage of these combatants were actually willing to actively kill the enemy in these combat situations. Call them sociopaths, sheepdogs, or heroes as you please, but they exist, they are a distinct minority, and in time of war our nation needs them desperately.

Discipline and Flexibility

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

It may not be possible to isolate one, single variable that can account for the epochal success of the Mongol military machine, but T. Greer takes a stab at it:

In contrast to both the kingdoms the Mongols destroyed and every other nomadic confederation that preceded or followed his empire, Chinggis Khan possessed the complete loyalty of his troops and his generals. The men under his command were absolutely, and to their enemies, terrifyingly, united. Chinggis Khan could wage simultaneous wars on opposite sides of the known world, erode the internal cohesion of every kingdom his envoys visited, and paralyze enemy defenses with a flood of independently commanded units only because of the fearsome unity and loyalty of his forces.

At the height of its power the Khwarezm Dynasty controlled everything between the Aral Sea and the Persian Gulf. The Khwarezm era was the golden age of Central Asia — when historians talk about the contributions of Islamic civilization to science, mathematics, poetry, philosophy, and art, they are almost always talking about men who were from this region or lived there before the Mongols took over. It was the sorry task of the the Persian historian Ata-Malik Juvayni to record the story of this civilization’s total destruction at Mongol hands and explain to posterity how a pagan warlord had over-whelmed the abode of Islam.


I do not think Juvayni fully realized how powerful his explanation for the Mongol Empire’s expansion was. It is probable that he developed it while reflecting on the ill fate of the house of Khwarezm, where his grand-father served as a court minister. The Mongols erupted onto the scene during the reign of Muhammad II of Khwarezm (r. 1200-1220), the last real Shah of Khwarezmia. The Shah’s court was divided from the moment the Mongol invasion began, and a particularly sore divide arose between Muhammad and his son Jalal ad-Din about how to organize the empire’s defenses. Many in the court argued that the Shah should mobilize the entire armed forces of the empire — who would have outnumbered the Mongol forces at least 3:1 — and confront the Mongols in a decisive battle. The Shah shied away from such an approach, aware that he did not have the tactical genius needed to command such a force and afraid of giving so much power to any subordinate of his who did. Instead the army was divided amongst Khwarezmia’s many cities; with its size thus diluted it was easy for the Mongols to sweep in and destroy each detachment one by one. Even after this process was well under way and the outlines of the Mongol strategy were clear to the Shah his court was too divided to commit themselves to a clear counter strategy. These divisions extended out into the hinterlands of the empire. The court watched with horror as first nomadic tribes, then cities, then entire regions of the Khwarazmia were isolated from the court and then declared for the Mongols. In less than two years the entire empire had disintegrated.

While none of the Mongol’s other foes imploded so spectacularly, sowing dissension and division within the ranks of their enemies was an essential element of all Mongol campaigns. Whether they were fighting Hungarian monarchs on Pannonian plains or Song Dynasty navies on the Yangtze, the Mongols were masters at turning their enemies against each other. The same could not be said about the Mongol’s rivals. No one ever managed to turn a Mongol. For the first three generation of the empire there were no secession crises, no infighting, and few traitors. Powerful commanders deferred to their leaders, even when, as Juvainyi hints, doing so meant to demotion or punishment. This is really quite extraordinary when you consider the kind of positions these commanders were placed in. Consider the case of Muqali, one of the greatest but least known of the Mongol generals. While Chinggis was off fighting the Khawarezm Empire and other enemies in the West, Muqali was placed in charge of the war effort in Northern China. For six years he controlled all of Mongolia, Manchuria, and the North China plain and for six years he fought the Jin Empire without losing a single battle. He was a powerful and popular commander. But neither he nor his sons ever challenged the great Khan’s authority. There is no evidence that Chhingis ever feared that they would.


The leadership class was deeply committed to the Mongol cause. Perhaps just as significantly, so were the front line troops. Though they came from different tribes, spoke different languages, and in many cases worshiped different gods, the Mongol campaign forces displayed a level of unity and discipline none of their contemporaries could match. The loyalty these troops displayed was significant for an empire created entirely out of whole cloth just a few decades earlier. The unity and obedience they displayed in their maneuvers was hardly less astounding. Contemporary observers marveled at the ease with which Mongol commanders were able to order their men and discipline those who broke these orders.

This gave the Mongol forces a flexibility most of their opponents lacked. Because units adhered to similar standards, responded immediately to orders from above, and were led by men whose loyalty was never under question, Mongol khans were free to create a decentralized command structure that allowed individual tumen latitude for independent action.

Not Fear of Death

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

What motivates a soldier to dangerous and difficult deeds during combat is not fear of death, David Grossman (On Killing) reminds us, but a powerful sense of accountability toward his comrades on the battlefield:

Ardant du Picq referred to this as “mutual surveillance.” It is this process of mutual surveillance that ensures that crew-served weapons such as cannon or machine guns will almost always fire effectively in combat.

Marshall noted that a single soldier falling back from a broken and retreating unit will be of little value if pressed into service in another unit, but if a pair of soldiers, or the remnants of a squat or platoon, is put to use, they can generally be counted upon to fight well. The difference in these two situations is the degree to which the soldiers have “bonded” or developed a sense of accountability to their comrades. Du Picq sums this matter up when he says that “Four brave men who do not know each other will not dare to attack a lion. Four less brave, but knowing each other well, sure of their reliability and consequently of mutual aid, will attack resolutely. There,” says du Picq “is the science of the organization of armies in a nutshell.”

Sports and Creativity

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Researchers explored the relationship between childhood leisure activities and creativity in young adults, and the results were stark:

Time spent playing informal sports was significantly and positively related to overall creativity, while time spent playing organized sports was significantly and negatively related to overall creativity.

Perhaps even more interestingly, the difference between those participants whose scores placed them into “above-average” creativity bracket was only about two hours per week of unstructured sport participation throughout their school-age years.

What could account for such distal results? On a theoretical (and, frankly, intuitive) level, informal sports played in unstructured, unsupervised environments capture many of the elements that are linked with the developmental benefits of play for children. These environments offer children the freedom to self-govern, create rules, problem-solve and resolve social conflicts on their own terms.

Organized sports, on the other hand, tend to replicate hierarchical and militaristic models aimed at obedience, replication, adherence to authority, and a number of other qualities that, on a theoretical level, would be unlikely to be conducive to creative development.


Perhaps the single-most intriguing finding from our analysis was the fact that those individuals whose scores on the creativity assessment identified them as “above-average” were not children who eschewed organized sports in favor of the activities we traditionally associate with creativity (art, music, theater, etc.). Instead, the respondents with “above-average” creativity simply appeared to strike more balance between their time spent in organized and unstructured sport settings.

In fact, those scoring in the “above-average” creativity bracket reported spending 15% of their total childhood leisure time playing informal sports versus 13% playing organized sports. The participants with “below-average” creativity, on the other hand, spent only 10% of their childhood leisure time playing informal sports versus 22% in organized sports.

The Demands of Authority

Monday, December 29th, 2014

The powerful resistance to killing fellow human beings, David Grossman (On Killing) argues, can be overcome through the demands of authority:

The mass needs, and we give it, leaders who have the firmness and decision of command proceeding from habit and an entire faith in their unquestionable right to command as established by tradition, law and society.
— Ardant du Picq

In Milgram’s study the demands of authority were represented by an individual with a clipboard and a white lab coat. This authority figure stood immediately behind the individual inflicting shocks and directed that he increase the voltage each time the victim answered a series of (fake) questions incorrectly. When the authority figure was not personally present but called over a phone, the number of subjects who were willing to inflict the maximum shock dropped sharply. This process can be generalized to combat circumstances and operationalized into the following sub-factors:

Proximity of the authority figure to the subject. Marshall noted many specific World War II incidents in which almost all soldiers would fire their weapons while their leaders observed and encouraged them in a combat situation; when the leaders left, however, the firing rate immediately dropped to 15 to 20 percent.

Killer’s subjective respect for authority figure. To be truly effective, soldiers must bond to their leader just as they must bond to their group. Compared to an established and respected leader, an unknown or discredited leader has much less chance of gaining compliance from soldiers in combat.

Intensity of the authority figure’s demands for killing behavior. The leader’s mere presence is not always sufficient to ensure killing activity. The leader must also communicate a clear expectancy of killing behavior.

Legitimacy of the authority figure’s authority and demands. Leaders with legitimate, societally sanctioned authority have greater influence on their soldiers; and legitimate, lawful demands are more likely to be obeyed than illegal or unanticipated demands. Gang leaders and mercenary commanders have to work carefully around their shortcomings in this area, but military officers (with their trappings of power and the legitimate authority of their nation behind them) have tremendous potential to cause their soldiers to overcome individual resistance and reluctance in combat.

Within the Magic Circle

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Why were liberals so feckless in power?, Walter Russel Mead asks:

Why did they blow the historic opportunity that the Bush implosion gave them?

What liberals are struggling to come to grips with today is the enormous gap between the dominant ideas and discourse in the liberal worlds of journalism, the foundations, and the academy on the one hand, and the wider realities of American life on the other. Within the magic circle, liberal ideas have never been more firmly entrenched and less contested. Increasingly, liberals live in a world in which certain ideas are becoming ever more axiomatic and unquestioned even if, outside the walls, those same ideas often seem outlandish.

Modern American liberalism does its best to suppress dissent and critique (except from the left) at the institutions and milieus that it controls. Dissent is not only misguided; it is morally wrong. Bad thoughts create bad actions, and so the heretics must be silenced or expelled. “Hurtful” speech is not allowed, and so the eccentricities of conventional liberal piety pile up into ever more improbable, ever more unsustainable forms.


Meanwhile, many liberals are in a tough emotional spot. They live in liberal cocoons, read cocooning news sources, and work in professions and milieus where liberal ideas are as prevalent and as uncontroversial as oxygen. They are certain that these ideas are necessary, important and just — and they can’t imagine that people have solid reasons for disagreeing with them. Yet these ideas are much less well accepted outside the bubble — and the bubbles seem to be shrinking.

Distance from the Victim

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

There is a powerful resistance in most individuals to killing their fellow human beings, David Grossman (On Killing) argues, but it can be overcome through a number of factors, including distance from the victim.

Grossman starts with physical distance:

To fight from a distance is instinctive in man. From the first day he has worked to this end, and he continues to do so.
— Ardant du Picq

The physical distance between the actual aggressor and the victim was created in Milgram’s studies by placing a barrier between the subject and the individual he was shocking. This same process can be generalized to and observed in historical combat circumstances, as portrayed in Figure 3. John Keegan in The Face of Battle notes that “only a fraction of one percent of all wounds” at the Battle of the Somme in World War I were inflicted with edged weapons — and most of those in the back. Interviews and research reveal countless incidents in which combatants confronted with an enemy soldier at close range did not fire, but when faced with an enemy who could be attacked with a hand grenade, or who could be engaged at medium range or long range, the incidence of nonfiring behavior goes down significantly. At the greatest range, among high-altitude bombers or artillery crews, incidents of refusal to fire are extraordinarily rare.

Units with a history and tradition of close-combat, hand-to-hand killing inspire special dread and fear in an enemy by capitalizing upon this natural aversion to the “hate” manifested in this determination to engage in close-range interpersonal aggression. The British Gurkha battalions have been historically effective at this (as can be seen in the Argentineans’ dread of them during the Falklands War), but any unit that puts a measure of faith in the bayonet has grasped a little of the natural dread with which an enemy responds to the possibility of facing an opponent determined to come within “skewering range.”

What these units (or at least their leaders) must understand is that actual “skewering” almost never happens; but the powerful human revulsion to the threat of such activity, when confronted with superior posturing represented by a willingness or at least a reputation for participation in close-range killing, has a devastating effect upon the enemy’s morale. This powerful revulsion to being killed with cold steel could be observed when mutinous Indian soldiers captured during the Sepoy Mutiny “begged for the bullet,” pleading to be executed with a rifle shot rather than the bayonet.

The combination of closeness with uncertainty (especially at night) helps explain why flank and rear attacks shatter the enemy’s will to fight. The assumption that the enemy is very close raises the level of uncertainty. This closeness and uncertainty combine and conspire with the darkness’ lack of mutual surveillance in such a manner as to erode and destroy the enemy’s will to fight.

Emotional distance also matters:

Combat at close quarters does not exist. At close quarters occurs the ancient carnage when one force strikes the other in the back.
— Ardant du Picq

One of the more interesting processes to occur in the area of emotional distance is the psychological leverage gained by not having to see the victim’s face. Israeli research has determined that hooded hostages and blindfolded kidnapping victims have a significantly greater chance of being killed by their captors. This demonstrates the difficulty associated with killing an individual whose face you can see, even when that individual represents a significant threat by being able to later identify you in court.

This same enabling process explains why Nazi, communist, and gangland executions are traditionally conducted with a bullet in the back of the head, and individuals being executed by hanging or firing squad are traditionally blindfolded or hooded. Not having to look at the face of the victim provides a form of psychological distance which enables the execution party and assists in their subsequent denial and/or rationalization and acceptance of having killed a fellow human being.

In combat the enabling value of psychological distance can be observed in the fact that casualty rates increase significantly after the enemy forces have turned their backs and begin to flee. Clausewitz and du Picq both expound at length on the fact that the vast majority of casualties in historical battles were inflicted upon the losing side during the pursuit that followed the victory. In this vein du Picq holds out the example of Alexander the great, whose forces, during all his years of warfare, lost fewer than 700 men “to the sword.” They suffered so few casualties simply because they never lost a battle and therefore had to endure only the very minor casualties inflicted by reluctant combatants in close combat and never had to suffer the very significant losses associated with being pursued by a victorious enemy.

The killing during the pursuit has also traditionally been conducted by cavalry, chariot, or tank units, and these have their own form of psychological distance, which enables their killing activity. In combat a good horseman becomes one with his mount and is transformed into a remarkable new species. He is no longer a man, but is instead a ten-foot tall, half-ton, four-legged, centaur-like “pseudospecies” that has no hesitation to slay the lesser creatures that scurry about beneath him — especially if these lesser beings are being pursued and have their backs turned.

Emotional distance also includes:

  • Cultural distance, such as racial and ethnic differences, which permits the killer to dehumanize the victim.
  • Moral distance, which takes into consideration the kind of intense belief in moral superiority and vengeful/vigilante actions associated with many civil wars.
  • Social distance, which considers the impact of a lifetime of practice in thinking of a particular class as less than human in a socially stratified environment.
  • Mechanical distance, which includes the sterile “Nintendo Game” unreality of killing through a TV screen, a thermal sight, a sniper sight, or some other kind of mechanical buffer that permits the killer to deny the humanity of his victim.

Does Skin and Hair Tone Affect Disney Princesses Merchandise Sales?

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

Does skin and hair tone affect Disney princesses merchandise sales? This info graphic suggests so:


(Hat tip to T. Greer.)

A Profoundly Traumatic Experience

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

Killing in close combat is a profoundly traumatic experience David Grossman (On Killing) claims:

Years of research in this field have convinced me that there is a powerful resistance in most individuals to killing their fellow human beings. I have become equally convinced that there is a set of circumstances and pressures that can cause most human beings to overcome this resistance.

The factors that overcome this resistance are the same factors Milgram found in his infamous electric-shock experiments:

  1. Distance from the Victim
  2. Demands of Authority
  3. Group Absolution

The Checkered Game of Life

Friday, December 26th, 2014

The Checkered Game of Life, released in 1860 by Milton Bradley, evolved into the very different modern-day game of Life:

Instead of becoming hair stylists or police officers and poking plastic peg-shaped children into candy-colored SUVs, players of the original game landed on spaces marked with “virtues” and “vices.”

Spaces like “honesty” and “truth” sprung you forward; spaces like “gambling” and “disgrace” slowed your progress.

“I think religion really affected how games were made,” Keren-Detar says. “In Europe, there were more excuses to play, whereas in the US, we didn’t have an established aristocracy. So the idea of playing was very negative, or thought of as lazy and idle and sinful. These games had morphed themselves into being entertaining, but also educational, so you wouldn’t get in trouble for playing a game on a Sunday if it’s based on how to become a better Christian.”

Checkered Game of Life

The pre-Civil War game Mansion of Happiness was even more righteous, Keren-Detar says. Some of its illustrated squares showed characters suffering for their sins with consequences like whipping posts or pillories.

Neither Mansion of Happiness nor The Checkered Game of Life featured dice, probably because dice were still strongly associated with gambling and sin. Checkered Game of Life used a spinning number wheel instead, a feature that survives to this day.

The shift in the narrative of Life over the centuries, Keren-Detar says, suggests a shift in American values.

“The narrative wasn’t dying and going to heaven—it was trying to go to college and be productive and get money,” Keren-Detar says of the version of Life we’re most familiar with. “A lot of games that came out around that time changed from being religious to being industrious.”

Psyched Up

Friday, December 26th, 2014

“Be it agreeable or terrible, the less something is foreseen, the more does it cause pleasure or dismay. This is nowhere better illustrated than in war where every surprise strikes terror even to those who are much stronger,” Xenophon says.

Human beings generally need to be emotionally prepared in order to engage in aggressive behavior, David Grossman (On Killing) says:

The combat soldier, in particular needs to be “psyched up” for a confrontation. An attack launched at a time and place when the soldier thought he was safe takes advantage of the stress of uncertainty, destroys his sense of being in control of his environment, and greatly increases the probability that he will opt for flight (i.e., a rout) or submission (i.e., mass surrender). A highly mobile, fluid enemy who can launch surprise attacks in what the enemy believes is his rear area is particularly daunting and confusing, and the presence of such interpersonal hostility can be disproportionately destructive to the will to fight.

Viewed in another way, attacking at an unexpected and unprepared location results in the defender’s inability to orient himself. The defender’s observation-orientation-decision-action cycle, or his “OODA Loop,” has thus been stalled, and he cannot respond. Having been caught off balance, the defender panics and attempts to gain time by fleeing, or simply submits by surrendering in confusion to his assailant.

Psychological research in the area of information processing and human decision making has established a broad base of understanding of normal psychological responses to an “information overload” environment. As too much information comes in, the typical reaction is to fall back initially on heuristic, or “rule of thumb,” responses. These heuristic responses involve processes such as: “anchoring” on early information to the exclusion of later, possibly conflicting, or more accurate data; making decisions based on their “availability” or the ease with which a particular response comes to mind (e.g., repeating a recently executed maneuver); or falling into a “conformational bias” in which only information that confirms or supports the current working hypothesis is processed and contrary information is filtered out of consciousness. If these heuristic responses fail (as they are quite likely to), then the normal human response is to become trapped into a “cascading effect” in which he reacts with increasingly inappropriate actions and either fails completely (i.e., is destroyed by the enemy) or completely stops trying and falls into a paralyzed state sometimes referred to by psychologists as “learned helplessness” but always referred to by soldiers as “surrender.”

A classical example of this kind of maneuver warfare operation can be observed in Nathan Bedford Forrest’s campaign against William Tecumseh Sherman’s forces during Sherman’s march to the sea in the America Civil War. Forrest, with only a few thousand cavalry, forced Sherman to leave more than 80,000 men to guard his supply centers and is 340-mile-long supply line. On several occasions Forrest fell on unprepared units three times his size and inflicted disproportionate casualties upon his hapless enemies. His primary weapon was surprise. The rear-echelon units he was attacking were not humanly capable of maintaining a fighting pitch at all times, while Forrest’s troops entered battle having already attained “morale superiority” since they had plenty of time to prepare themselves emotionally prior to launching their surprise attacks.

Seasons Greetings!

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

Last year, around this time, friends and acquaintances offered Peter Frost all sorts of religiously neutral salutations:

Seasons Greetings! Happy Holidays! Joyeuses fêtes! Meilleurs vœux! Only two people wished me Merry Christmas.

One was Muslim, the other was Jewish.

They meant well. After all, isn’t that the culturally correct greeting? In theory, yes. In practice, most Christians feel uncomfortable affirming their identity. And this self-abnegation gets worse the closer you are to the cultural core of Anglo-America. Immigrants of Christian background enjoy being wished Merry Christmas. Black people likewise. Catholics seem to split half and half, depending on how traditional or nominal they are.

But the WASPs. Oh, the WASPs! With them, those two words are a faux pas.


What about other cultural groups? Why single out just one? But I’ve heard the answer already. WASPs and their culture dominate North America. The path to power, or simply a better life, runs through their institutions. Minorities can affirm their own identities without restricting the life choices of others, but the same does not hold true for WASPs. Their identity affects everyone and must belong to everyone.

I’m still not convinced. Yes, WASPs did create the institutions of Anglo-America, but their influence in them is now nominal at best. The U.S. Supreme Court used to be a very WASPy place. Now, there’s not a single White Protestant on it. That’s a huge underrepresentation for a group that is still close to 40% of the population. We see the same thing at the Ivy League universities, which originally trained Protestant clergy for the English colonists. Today, how many of their students have any kind of Christian European background? The proportions are estimated to be 20% at Harvard, 22% at Yale, and 15% at Columbia.

Sometimes reality is not what is commonly believed. WASPs are not at all privileged. In fact, they have been largely pushed aside in a country that was once theirs.


WASPs believe in getting ahead through rugged individualism. Most of the other groups believe in using family and ethnic connections. Guess who wins.

Joyeux Noël

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

I’ve discussed Noël a number of times over the years:

Wholesome and Christian

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Modern Americans are often bemused to find that Christmas was illegal in Puritan Massachusetts. Why would the Puritans hate such a wholesome, Christian holiday?

They had their reasons. First, it wasn’t wholesome:

In early modern Europe, roughly the years between 1500 and 1800, the Christmas season was a time to let off steam — and to gorge. It is difficult today to understand what this seasonal feasting was like. For most of the readers of this book, good food is available in sufficient quantity year-round. But early modern Europe was above all a world of scarcity. Few people ate much good food at all, and for everyone the availability of fresh food was seasonally determined. Late summer and early fall would have been the time of fresh vegetables, but December was the season — the only season — for fresh meat. Animals could not be slaughtered until the weather was cold enough to ensure that the meat would not go bad; and any meat saved for the rest of the year would have to be preserved (and rendered less palatable) by salting. December was also the month when the year’s supply of beer or wine was ready to drink. And for farmers, too, this period marked the start of a season of leisure. Little wonder, then, that this was a time of celebratory excess.


Reveling could easily become rowdiness; lubricated by alcohol, making merry could edge into making trouble. Christmas was a season of “misrule,” a time when ordinary behavioral restraints could be violated with impunity. It was part of what one historian has called “the world of carnival. ” (The term carnival is rooted in the Latin words carne and vale — “farewell to flesh.” And “flesh” refers here not only to meat but also to sex — carnal as well as carnivorous.) Christmas “misrule” meant that not only hunger but also anger and lust could be expressed in public.

Second, it wasn’t Christian:

It was only in the fourth century that the Church officially decided to observe Christmas on December 25. And this date was chosen not for religious reasons but simply because it happened to mark the approximate arrival of the winter solstice, an event that was celebrated long before the advent of Christianity. The Puritans were correct when they pointed out — and they pointed it out often — that Christmas was nothing but a pagan festival covered with a Christian veneer.