Exhortation and Megalomania

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

Anomalies like American Sniper drive the liberal press crazy with fear that they are losing control of the media, Steve Sailer suggests:

One possibility is that artists and entertainers are less monolithically on the left than you might think, but are kept in line in public by stifling peer pressure.

For example, by now Spielberg ought to have earned himself a fair amount of deference from his fellow liberal Democrats for being a credit to his political persuasion. But even he doesn’t seem able to admit that his upbringing in the red state of Arizona saddled him with a lifelong love for guns.


A more subversive theory is that art is inherently anti-egalitarian, that the entertainment industry thrives by elevating individuals to levels of mass adoration that Belshazzar of Babylon would have found excessive. In turn, the entertainment industry adopts a bogus ideology of promoting equality to cover up its essential tendency toward Caesarism.

For example, this combination of exhortation and megalomania has been apparent for 99 of the 100 years that Hollywood has been making epic films.

Early March will mark the 100th anniversary of the original box office smash, D.W. Griffith’s denunciation of the rape culture of the Reconstruction Era, The Birth of a Nation. Stung by criticism from the NAACP, Griffith released in 1916 a more politically correct and even more ambitious blockbuster, Intolerance. It retold four stories of bigotry and oppression, from ancient Babylon down to the present day.

I’m sure that everybody has taken Griffith’s sermon against intolerance deeply to heart, but, honestly, the only thing anybody remembers from the movie is the Babylonian set that Griffith spent his Birth of a Nation profits constructing.

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.

Dolly Zoom

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Once you’re aware of the dolly zoom, you see it everywhere:

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.)

The New Political Correctness

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Political correctness is a style of politics which defines opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate:

Two decades ago, the only communities where the left could exert such hegemonic control lay within academia, which gave it an influence on intellectual life far out of proportion to its numeric size. Today’s political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach. And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate, the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary beyond that of the old.

It also makes money. Every media company knows that stories about race and gender bias draw huge audiences, making identity politics a reliable profit center in a media industry beset by insecurity. A year ago, for instance, a photographer compiled images of Fordham students displaying signs recounting “an instance of racial microaggression they have faced.” The stories ranged from uncomfortable (“No, where are you really from?”) to relatively innocuous (“?‘Can you read this?’ He showed me a Japanese character on his phone”). BuzzFeed published part of her project, and it has since received more than 2 million views. This is not an anomaly.

In a short period of time, the p.c. movement has assumed a towering presence in the psychic space of politically active people in general and the left in particular. “All over social media, there dwell armies of unpaid but widely read commentators, ready to launch hashtag campaigns and circulate Change.org petitions in response to the slightest of identity-politics missteps,” Rebecca Traister wrote recently in The New Republic.

Capacity to Adapt

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

During the Gulf War, despite its incompetent leadership, the Iraqi Army displayed considerable capacity to adapt on the battlefield:

As the American air campaign began to focus on the destruction of the Iraqi ground forces in the Kuwait Theater of Operations (KTO) in early February, the Iraqis almost immediately began to adapt in order to limit their losses. By constructing berms around their tanks and by scattering them widely across the desert, the Iraqis ensured that an aircraft dropping precision guided bombs would only be able, at best, to destroy a single vehicle with each pass. By burning tires next to operational vehicles they spoofed their tormentors into missing the real targets; and finally by using antiaircraft effectively they kept a substantial portion of coalition aircraft at an altitude where they were unable to do substantial damage. The best trained Iraqi units endured several weeks of allied air bombardment with unbroken will and their combat capability essentially intact.

The most impressive indication of the Iraqi ability to adapt came in the operational movement of a substantial portion of the Republican Guard during the first hours of Desert Storm. Elements of two divisions shifted from a southeastern defensive orientation to defensive positions facing to the southwest along the Wadi al-Batin. In those positions the Tawakalna Republican Guards Division and the 50th and 37th Armored Brigades would be destroyed by the U.S. VII Corps. Nevertheless, sacrifice by these units provided time for the remainder of the Republican Guard to escape. Significantly, the Republican Guard carried out this movement in terrain and weather conditions ideally suited to interdiction and despite the overwhelming superiority of coalition air power.

How to Make an Attractive City

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Alain de Botton explains how to make an attractive city:

  1. Not too chaotic, not too ordered.
  2. Visible life.
  3. Compact.
  4. Orientation and mystery.
  5. Scale.
  6. Make it local.

Mao’s Methods in Korea

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Within a year of the end of the Chinese Civil War, the Americans severely tested Mao’s methods in Korea:

During the early days of the Chinese intervention — beginning in October 1950 — the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) badly misjudged the killing effect of American artillery and tactical air power. Pushed too quickly into maneuver warfare, the Chinese massed in the open, often in daylight, to expand their control over the northern portions of the Korean Peninsula. They extended their narrow lines of communication farther down the mountainous spine of Korea as they advanced. But they soon found their logistic support exposed to the terrible effects of American air power. The Chinese paid a horrific price for their haste. Their spring 1951 offensive sputtered to a halt as U.S. artillery and aerial firepower slaughtered Chinese soldiers in masses, while air interdiction cut their supply lines and forced a retreat back across the Han.

Brutal experiences led quickly to sober lessons relearned from the Chinese Civil War. As a highly skilled complex adaptive system the Chinese Army quickly adjusted to the actual conditions of this new war. Over the next two years, subsequent Chinese attacks remained limited and controlled. The Chinese high command learned to hold most key logistic facilities north of the Yalu River well out of reach of U.S. air attacks. South of the river the Chinese dispersed and hid their forces while they massed only in the period immediately before launching an attack. Because their forces were so difficult to locate and so easy to transport, mortars became the Chinese weapon of choice. PLA soldiers moved at night and chiseled their front lines of resistance deep into hard, granite mountains. American casualties soon mounted, while the Chinese stabilized their casualties at a rate acceptable to their political leadership. Far more Americans died in combat during this “stability phase” of the war than during the earlier period of fluid warfare. A cost acceptable to the Chinese became too costly to the Americans. The result was an operational and strategic stalemate. To the Chinese, stalemate equaled victory.

Leatherman Tread

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

The Leatherman Tread bracelet comes out this summer:

The Leatherman Tread is crafted of high strength, corrosion resistant 17-4 stainless steel links that include two to three functional tools each, making a total of 25 usable features like box wrenches and screwdrivers available at a moment’s notice.

Leatherman Tread Bracelet

“The idea originated on a trip to Disneyland with my family,” said President Ben Rivera. “I was stopped at the gate by security for carrying a knife, when what they had actually seen was my Skeletool. I was unwilling to give it up, so they made me take it all the way back to my hotel room. I knew there had to be another way to carry my tools with me that would be accepted by security.” When he returned from his trip, Rivera, who began his tenure at Leatherman Tool Group 24 years ago as an engineer, began by wearing a bike chain bracelet to see how it would feel. As his thoughts took shape, he brought his idea to the engineers at Leatherman who helped fast track his plans.

The Tread bracelet began taking shape. Each complex link was metal injection molded for strength and intensity. The bracelet was crafted to be fully customizable with slotted fasteners, so the user could rearrange links, add new ones, or adjust for wrist size to ¼”. Even the clasp is functional with a bottle opener and #2 square drive. Other link tools include a cutting hook, hex drives, screwdrivers, box wrenches, and a carbide glass breaker.

Leatherman Tread Parts

“I began wearing prototypes myself to test comfort and usability, and to ask for feedback,” said Rivera. “Folks immediately associated the bracelet design with a watch and asked, where’s the watch? We decided to make a timepiece an optional part of the Tread.”

A version of the Tread bracelet that includes a watch will be available in Fall 2015. The Leatherman TreadTM QM1 will feature a unique Leatherman-designed and Swiss-made timepiece with precision quartz movement. A shock resistant sapphire crystal ensures scratch resistance for heavy duty wear, and the curved watch limits reflection and increases outdoor visibility.

Leatherman Tread Watch

My first thought: Does it come in Reardon metal?

My second though: Batman wants his bracelet back.

Breaking Free of the Railhead

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

The secret of the dominance of the offensive in the second cycle was not to be found in the tanks, personnel carriers, and self-propelled artillery of blitzkrieg armies:

The secret lay, instead, in the ability of a portion of the maneuver force — in the case of the Wehrmacht, just 10 of 117 divisions — to break free of the railhead long enough to reach deep into an enemy’s rear with enough sustaining strength to collapse his psychological center of gravity and hold it down long enough for following forces to solidify the victory.

Today the railhead has been replaced by an equally cumbersome and constrictive logistical umbilical cord.

I have my doubts about the information revolution solving our modern logistical problems:

Information technologies will allow us to deposit outside the close combat zone all but those forces necessary to move, observe, and kill. Detailed knowledge of the enemy’s strength will free us from our traditional fixation on stockpiling and “worst casing” so that we will be able to carry with us into the close combat zone only what we need when we need it. In effect, we will know enough to know what to leave behind.

Firing Slowly Is Useless

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Lars Andersen’s latest archery video led Lynn C. Rees to cite the Strategikon‘s admonition that even when the arrow is well aimed, firing slowly is useless:

For tribesmen native to the Eurasian steppe stretching from Hungary to the Pacific, constant archery practice was a logical extension of daily life: bow work was essential to routine tasks like hunting or raiding the neighbors. For a hybrid settled/nomadic state like Parthia and its Sassanid successor, balancing the interests of your nomads out east with your farmers out west produced sharp tensions but often found a way to field archers without breaking the farmers or the treasury. For an wholly agricultural state like Rome in the sixth century, raising and training archers was an expensive strain.

Rome’s traditional strategy, crushing enemies under the weight of infantry mass, was hampered by population decline in the empire, bruising face-offs with new horse riding archers like the Huns, and an inability or disinclination to raise many soldiers from its own peasants. Rome turned toward smaller armies composed of horsemen, some drawn from native Romans, some mercenaries drawn from nomadic tribes like the Heruli. These armies were, man for man, better trained than prior Roman armies. They could check and even defeat opposing cavalry armies like the Persians.

But they were expensive. Roman finances groaned under the costs of supporting its armies. Their cost made it hard to maintain enough forces to cover all of the Roman’s territory. The Balkans were frequently abandoned to non-stop nomad raids because most forces were needed against the Persians in Armenia and Syria. Roman armies of the sixth century were politically fickle, prone to rebel if payment didn’t show up on time and sometimes prone to rebel even when pay arrived on time.

And they were brittle: like World War I-era dreadnoughts, they were too expensive to use. They couldn’t be replaced overnight like Rome replaced armies during the Second Punic War. Equivalent forces required time and capital to raise and train to proficiency. Native Romans had to be taught how to fight like steppe nomads at state expense. Nomadic mercenaries who had the needed skills from childhood were often unreliable. This made sixth-century Roman leaders as unwilling to risk battle as earlier Romans were eager to force battle.

Caution was justified. Destruction of just one of these armies, capital intensive transplants from their natural habitat on the steppes to the more foreign but pricey fleshpots of Thrace, Anatolia, Syria, Carthage, or Egypt, were not only catastrophic but world-changing. The military bench was left so thin that there was little left to resist a victor who succeeded in annihilating a sixth century Roman army.

Defeats by the Persians and civil war after the fussy Balkan army mutinied and overthrew Mauricius over discontent with their employment benefits and uncomfortable winter accommodations reduced Rome to precisely one army. If the Persians destroyed that one army, led in person by the Emperor Flavius Heraclius, that was the end of Rome. Heraclius came back from far behind, skillfully using that one army to defeat the Persians, though it meant leaving his capital reliant on only the Theodosian Walls and the remnants of the Roman navy to fight off an Avar-Persian siege. Turns out those were good odds against the Avars and Persians, though it left the Balkans open to permanent Slavic occupation.

But Heraclius only had that one army. When he sent it against a surprisingly persistent army of desert raiders six years after his victory over the Persians, he ended up with the equally surprising loss of that entire gold-plated army to those raiders. Destruction of that one Roman army was world changing. It’s why today’s Middle East and North Africa are Moslem instead of Christian.

Will to Resist

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Victory is rarely defined by killing everyone on the other side but rather by breaking the enemy’s will to resist:

Therefore, our object in applying firepower must be to exploit its substantial paralytic effects to gain advantage.

Unfortunately, recent experiments in the laboratory of real war substantiates the view that the paralytic effects of firepower erode quickly over time. Soldiers become inured to hardships and danger. Firepower that might break an enemy formation early in a conflict eventually becomes merely a nuisance once soldiers accustom themselves to firepower’s pyrotechnic drama and devise effective means to deflect, deceive, dissipate, and protect themselves from firepower’s killing effects.

To win quickly and decisively at low cost in the future, we must have the means to conduct the battle quickly and to end it cleanly, preferably at the moment when the paralytic effect of firepower is greatest. To delay beyond that moment only increases the killing and makes the enemy more effective by stiffening his will to resist and by allowing him to reconstitute. Decision is best guaranteed through maneuver of forces on the ground. Psychological collapse — the breaking of an enemy’s will to resist — comes when an opponent finds himself challenged and blocked wherever he turns. He admits defeat when further pursuit of his political objective is not worth the cost or when his centers of gravity are threatened, controlled, or occupied and he has no remaining options for restoring them.

So, within the Army War College, in the year 2000, it was well understood that Shock and Awe was an extremely temporary effect.

Institutions Beat Genius

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Carthage had Hannibal, but Rome had its institutions:

It was simply improbable that Carthage could win a military conflict with Rome over the long run because the Roman system conferred upon the Roman state material and ideological advantages which could not be overcome by military victories, even by a general as creative and competent as Hannibal. The Hellenistic king Pyrrhus learned this, and gave us the term “pyrrhic victory”. In ideological terms Goldsworthy argues that the Roman mindset was one where conflicts were viewed as wars of attrition, where only the victors were left standing. In contrast Carthage, like the Hellenistic states, operated in a more classical Westphalian framework where victory and defeat were never final, but simply instances of a continuous game between elites of distinct polities. But, if it was not for the material advantages of the Roman system its ideological orientation would have been suicidal, because wars of attrition can only be maintained when there are resources to feed them. The Romans relied upon conscript armies of free peasantry, committed to the idea of their republic as an expression of collective will, as well as Italian allies of long standing. Goldsworthy notes that no individual of the Roman elite betrayed their city, nor did any of the Latin allies (the cities who went over to Hannibal during his years in Italy tended to be culturally distant from Rome, whether non-Latin Italian or Greek). And, the citizen base of Rome was notoriously broad, because the Roman system was expansive, assimilating allies and elites of foreign polities over time. This is an ancient feature of Roman society, as at least half of the major patrician lineages are not Latin, but Sabine. This is in contrast to organization of Hellenistic or Carthaginian polities, which were not assimilative, but multicultural and cosmopolitan in a manner more resembling the later Roman system of the imperial period, or empires more generally.* The armies of Carthage and the Hellenistic kingdoms were not manned by citizens, but professionals, whether a standing army, or mercenaries and subject peoples. The army deployed by Hannibal consisted of Libyans, Spaniards, and assorted Italian peoples inimical to the Romans (e.g., the Gauls of the Po valley). Until the last of the conflicts between Rome and Carthage, which took place in the immediate environs of Carthage, Roman amateur soldiers lined up against armies in the service of Carthage, not armies of Carthaginians.

The robustness of the Roman system to defeat can be put down to the fact that like the armies of the French Revolution Rome threw its citizenry against its enemies to complete a broad mission, while its contemporaries purchased smaller professional armies to achieve specific tasks. In many circumstances these professionals could obtain victory, but the gains did not have the depth to force the concession of the Roman state, because the state was an expression of the populace, which remained defiant.

Cycles of War

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

I was not impressed with Bob Scales’ attack on the AR, but I decided to go back to his Future Warfare Anthology, from when he was Commandant of the Army War College back in 2000. In the second chapter, he looks at cycles of war:

Signs foretelling how the defensive’s return to dominance might turn the cycles of war a third time began to appear as early as the closing days in Vietnam. A few laser-guided bombs destroyed targets that had previously required hundreds of unguided dumb bombs. In World War II, an average of 18 rounds was needed to kill a tank at a range of 800 yards. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the average was two rounds at 1,200 yards, and by Desert Storm one round at 2,400 yards.

The ability to see and strike deep using ground and aerial platforms served to expand the battlefield by orders of magnitude. What was once a theater area for a field army now became the area of operations for a division or a corps. Just as an army moving at two miles per hour could not cross a killing zone dominated by long-range, rapid-firing, rifled weapons in 1914, the precision revolution made it prohibitively expensive for an army moving at seven times that speed to cross an infinitely more lethal space a hundred times as large. Thus, in a conflict involving two roughly equal — or symmetrical — forces, evidence seems to show convincingly that the advantage goes to the defender.

Lars Andersen

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

Danish archer Lars Andersen has rediscovered the skills of combat archery:

The video has gone viral, but I can say I mentioned Andersen’s archery a couple years ago.

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)