This left federal bureaucrats with a lot of time on their hands

Friday, September 22nd, 2023

Steve Sailer reviews Richard Hanania’s “highly useful” new book, The Origins of Woke: Civil Rights Law, Corporate America, and the Triumph of Identity Politics:

For the ever-growing numbers of people paid to micromanage diversity and shut down potentially offensive free speech at work, it’s a living. It may not seem like a lot of money to Silicon Valley titans, but to many soft-major college grads it’s more than they could make doing anything else. To update Upton Sinclair’s famous quote, “It is not difficult to get a woman to believe something when her salary depends upon it.”


The Origins of Woke draws much from the work of law professor Gail Heriot of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, such as her article “The Roots of Wokeness: Title VII Damage Remedies as Potential Drivers of Attitudes Toward Identity Politics and Free Expression” on the malignant effects of specific provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1991.


In the 1960s, the federal government geared up for a long twilight struggle with the forces of Jim Crow in the South, creating numerous bureaucracies to battle entrenched Southern segregation. But, it turned out, as soon as the federal government stopped allowing state-sanctioned or state-tolerated violence against firms that violated Jim Crow norms by no longer segregating their lunch counters and the like, overt discrimination almost immediately collapsed in the South. After all, Jim Crow with its persnickety caste rules was a drag on economic growth, so the Southern business class was happy to finally join modern, booming America.

This left federal bureaucrats with a lot of time on their hands.

Similarly, even though the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s ban on sex discrimination in employment had been added as a joke by a segregationist senator trolling the bill, traditional sex discrimination in hiring largely evaporated in the 1970s. It turned out that capitalists loved having a law tell them to double their potential workforces. (That’s one reason 1973 shows up on so many graphs as the last really good year for male wage growth in American history.)

Rather than announce “Mission accomplished” and go find other work, the triumphant forces of the civil rights bureaucracy became instead the scourge of ever more esoteric forms of discrimination, such as disparate impact, hostile environment due to mean speech, sexual harassment, and disability access. They increasingly intervened in the American workplace in favor of complaining members of protected groups, which cultivated a culture of complaint.


Over time, Democrats figured out that it was in their interest for corporations to be uncertain what exactly the governments’ rules are regarding race and sex. This avoided making clear to voters, who, even in California remain strongly opposed to racial preferences, how much of a thumb the government was putting on the scale.


In response to the proliferation of government regulations (and the lawsuits that accompany them) banning discrimination against some people and encouraging discrimination against others, corporations vastly increased their human resources staff to cajole and mollify the bureaucrats.

Of course, corporate HR staffers are less the adversaries of the government and plaintiff attorneys than their codependents in a symbiotic relationship featuring slightly different career paths in the same business. Just as many of the environmental consultants hired by corporations to placate the Environmental Protection Agency are former EPA staffers (and thus are definitely not going to call for repealing environmental laws), corporate HR, federal civil rights bureaucrats, discrimination lawyers, sexual harassment trainers, and so forth have perfectly understandable mutual economic incentives to bring ever larger parts of American life under their purview to generate more business for people like themselves.

From 1968 to 2021, despite immense improvements in automation, the number of Americans working in Human Resources grew from 140,000 to 1,500,000.

How the US Army confronted its racial crisis in the Vietnam era

Monday, September 18th, 2023

Beth Bailey’s Army Afire: How the US Army Confronted Its Racial Crisis in the Vietnam Era opens with a litany of incidents that she presents as protests:

It is a stretch. Major Merritt, for example, was clearly a crank. The written statement he distributed to the press contained gratuitous sexual insults directed at the “seventy-five percent” of white officers who were raised by “mammy who was also his fathers [sic] mistress.” Subordinates told investigators that Merritt’s constant racial badgering included his claim that “once a white woman had a negro she would never go back to a white man.”

Bailey insists that the senseless death of Cpl. Bankston must be seen in the light of rising racial tensions at Camp Lejeune. She repeats, rather irresponsibly, a rumor than white Marines had beat a black man to death the year before and never been prosecuted. The source of this rumor is a LIFE magazine article from 1969 that says the author heard about it from black Marines, who gave no further details except that the man’s death was “attributed to natural causes” by authorities.

Searching Bailey’s book for verified incidents where white servicemen were the aggressors, one finds only a handful of cases. “In 1970, at Fort Carson, Colorado, a white soldier—working part-time as a filling station attendant—murdered the head of the local university’s Black studies program,” she writes. Bailey omits the relevant details: Roosevelt Hill Jr. was filling up his car with gas when Ellis L. Little of Kentucky called to check the validity of his credit card, which was a type Little did not recognize. A passenger in Hill’s car suggested Little might be calling the police, so Hill rushed into the station and attacked him, shouting obscenities. With Hill’s hands around his neck, Little drew a gun from a drawer and shot him in the chest. A grand jury declined to charge Little with any crime.

Germany was a hotbed of racial violence in the 1970s, with soldiers afraid to go out at night due to rampant attacks, but it is hard to determine exactly what were the grievances at issue. “White soldiers were being randomly attacked under cover of darkness,” Bailey writes. “Black soldiers had taken to carrying intimidating ‘soul sticks’ on base, cutting to the front of the mess hall line, blatantly ignoring regulations.” More than 1,000 crimes of violence by black soldiers against whites were reported in Germany in the first nine months of 1971. If this was a protest, what were they protesting?

Disparities in punishment was the complaint cited most frequently. Black soldiers were 14 percent of U.S. troops in Germany but received 80 percent of prosecutions for serious crimes, such as robbery, assault, and rape. One report found 2,984 crimes of violence by black soldiers during a period when white soldiers committed 740. Bailey does not consider the possibility that this reflected reality rather than prejudice.

His theory was that the body-snatching was happening through their phones

Friday, September 15th, 2023

All the sudden disruptions of long-running economic trends in America led people to wonder,What the heck happened in 1971? Now Erik Hoel looks at all the sudden disruptions of long-running social trends in America and wonders, What the heck happened in 2012?

Of course, we should expect it to be harder to measure cultural tipping-point years rather than economic ones, since what makes for healthy psychologies and cultures is often immeasurable. Still, if you look at charts about people’s psychology, or culture in general, like how people use language, you often consistently see a major shift around 2012 or shortly thereafter.

This isn’t just due to the definition of the word “depression” broadening. Teenagers legitimately try to commit suicide far more now, taking off right around 2012.

These changes haven’t affected just teenagers, although they are the most intense there, as if the youth, those most exposed and dependent on the current culture, those with nothing else to lean back on (no memories of the 90s to bask in) are operating like canaries in a coal mine—it is their little lungs which go first.


And yes, psychological changes are nebulous, but there are obvious downstream real-world ramifications. For 13-year-olds across America, both reading and mathematics peaked in 2012 and then rapidly began to decline.

Around 2012, birth rates fell off. They were low anyways, which should be expected after the Great Recession, but it is precisely around 2012 where they should have started climbing back up and instead they fell off a cliff.


It’s simply impossible to dance around it: what would now be called “wokeness” came onto the main stage of culture in 2012, and this in turn began to trigger anti-wokeness (e.g., while Jordan Peterson wouldn’t become famous until 2016, 2013 was when he created his YouTube channel and began uploading). This action/reaction dynamic explains the timing differences for when each political side felt the psychological effects.


At a personal level, I remember someone in graduate school, which I entered in 2010, confessing to me after a few beers that the rise in politicalization among our peers around 2012-2013 (as my fellow grad students either suddenly bought into wokeness and started using its reasoning and language or staked out controversial or secretively resistant anti-woke positions) reminded him of “the invasion of the body-snatchers.” His theory was that the body-snatching was happening through their phones.


In fact, in terms of market saturation, the transition from 2012 to 2013 is the exact year the majority of the US switched to finally owning a smartphone.

Which would certainly explain the massive spike in pedestrian fatalities from cars following a low in 2010.

The decision to turn to the Mediterranean aroused dark suspicions among American planners

Thursday, September 14th, 2023

American and British leaders knew they couldn’t defeat Germany without the Soviets, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), but Stalin kept complaining that they were leaving the fighting to the Red Army and started putting out peace feelers in Stockholm:

Western leaders didn’t think these feelers would amount to much if they attacked the Germans directly and took pressure off the Soviet Union, as Stalin had been demanding for months. But the British and Americans were virtually immobilized by an acrimonious dispute about what they should do.

The Americans, led by George C. Marshall, army chief of staff, wanted a direct advance by a five-division amphibious landing around Cherbourg in Normandy in 1942 (Operation Sledgehammer).

But the British pressed for an indirect or peripheral strategy, a combination of massive air attacks on German cities and smaller, less-dangerous invasions in the Mediterranean.


Torch at once gained the advantage Roosevelt was hoping for: when Stalin heard about it, he stopped complaining about a second front. But the decision to turn to the Mediterranean aroused dark suspicions among American planners that Churchill was maneuvering the United States into the “soft underbelly” strategy. They feared this would lead to the invasion of Italy, and perhaps Greece, and fatally undermine the plan to collide with the Germans on the beaches of France.

President Roosevelt was less worried, because he hoped “an air war plus the Russians” could defeat Hitler, and a cross-Channel assault might not be necessary.

Marxism remains dangerous nonsense

Tuesday, September 12th, 2023

Tyler Cowan asks, What is valid in Marxism?

1. Capitalist systems, especially before reaching contemporary times, can produce less autonomy than small scale production. Standards of living do rise from industrialization. But I look at many of my rural Mexican friends. They could earn somewhat higher wages in factories, but they prefer to paint ceramics at home. It is more fun and they control their time to a large degree. At some point industrialization can undercut the cultures and networks of suppliers that makes such a choice possible. Marx directs our attention to a certain indivisibility of systems.

2. Marxism promotes an alternative idea of freedom, namely freedom from the market. Anyone who has chosen life as a tenured university professor should not claim that such an idea is complete nonsense. Smith thought in terms of marginal tradeoffs. Marx, above all, focused on inframarginal and systematic effects.

3. The benefits of industrialization take a long time to kick in. Reforming postcommunist economies took fifteen years or more. Poland did most things right and people there are still unhappy. So how long should it take to reform feudalism or other preindustrial structures? Forty years? I take seriously the idea that the industrial revolution did not make people better off right away, so did Marx.

4. Being happy at work is one of the most important things in life. Marx saw the importance of this more clearly than did many of the classical economists. And he saw the importance of inframarginal systemic factors.

5. A growing division of labor can make some people unhappier at their jobs.

To sum up, we all know that capitalism brings a “creative destruction,” to use the phrase of Schumpeter. This is all for the better, but Marx saw how strong both the positive and negative sides of this process would be. And he knew that the relevant problems went deeper than just looking at whether people make rational tradeoffs at the margin. That being said, he overestimated the negative side of the market and underestimated how well capitalism could solve its problems concerning the distribution of income.

Of course marxism, as a political program, remains dangerous nonsense. Marx’s blind spots were enormous, and I still cannot understand how generations of the intelligentsia were taken in by the whole thing.

They are a very kind and peaceful people

Saturday, September 9th, 2023

Geronimo’s auto­biography includes a chapter on the St. Louis World’s Fair:

When I was at first asked to attend the St. Louis World’s Fair I did not wish to go. Later, when I was told that I would receive good attention and protection, and that the President of the United States said that it would be all right, I consented. I was kept by parties in charge of the Indian Department, who had obtained permission from the President. I stayed in this place for six months. I sold my photographs for twenty-five cents, and was allowed to keep ten cents of this for myself. I also wrote my name for ten, fifteen, or twenty-five cents, as the case might be, and kept all of that money. I often made as much as two dollars a day, and when I returned I had plenty of money — more than I had ever owned before.

Many people in St. Louis invited me to come to their homes, but my keeper always refused.

Every Sunday the President of the Fair sent for me to go to a wild west show. I took part in the roping contests before the audience. There were many other Indian tribes there, and strange people of whom I had never heard.

When people first came to the World’s Fair they did nothing but parade up and down the streets. When they got tired of this they would visit the shows. There were many strange things in these shows. The Government sent guards with me when I went, and I was not allowed to go anywhere without them.

In one of the shows some strange men [Turks] with red caps had some peculiar swords, and they seemed to want to fight. Finally their manager told them they might fight each other. They tried to hit each other over the head with these swords, and I expected both to be wounded or perhaps killed, but neither one was harmed. They would be hard people to kill in a hand-to-hand fight.

In another show there was a strange-looking negro. The manager tied his hands fast, then tied him to a chair. He was securely tied, for I looked myself, and I did not think it was possible for him to get away. Then the manager told him to get loose.

He twisted in his chair for a moment, and then stood up; the ropes were still tied, but he was free. I do not understand how this was done. It was certainly a miraculous power, because no man could have released himself by his own efforts.

In another place a man was on a platform speaking to the audience; they set a basket by the side of the platform and covered it with red calico; then a woman came and got into the basket, and a man covered the basket again with the calico; then the man who was speaking to the audience took a long sword and ran it through the basket, each way, and then down through the cloth cover. I heard the sword cut through the woman’s body, and the manager himself said she was dead; but when the cloth was lifted from the basket she stepped out, smiled, and walked off the stage. I would like to know how she was so quickly healed, and why the wounds did not kill her.

I have never considered bears very intelligent, except in their wild habits, but I had never before seen a white bear. In one of the shows a man had a white bear that was as intelligent as a man. He would do whatever he was told — carry a log on his shoulder, just as a man would; then, when he was told, would put it down again. He did many other things, and seemed to know exactly what his keeper said to him. I am sure that no grizzly bear could be trained to do these things.

One time the guards took me into a little house [Ferris wheel] that had four windows. When we were seated the little house started to move along the ground. Then the guards called my attention to some curious things they had in their pockets. Finally they told me to look out, and when I did so I was scared, for our little house had gone high up in the air, and the people down in the Fair Grounds looked no larger than ants. The men laughed at me for being scared; then they gave me a glass to look through (I often had such glasses which I took from dead officers after battles in Mexico and elsewhere), and I could see rivers, lakes and mountains. But I had never been so high in the air, and I tried to look into the sky. There were no stars, and I could not look at the sun through this glass because the brightness hurt my eyes. Finally I put the glass down, and as they were all laughing at me, I too, began to laugh. Then they said, “Get out!” and when I looked we were on the street again. After we were safe on the land I watched many of these little houses going up and coming down, but I cannot understand how they travel. They are very curious little houses.

One day we went into another show, and as soon as we were in, it changed into night. It was real night, for I could feel the damp air; soon it began to thunder, and the lightnings flashed; it was real lightning, too, for it struck just above our heads. I dodged and wanted to run away, but I could not tell which way to go in order to get out. The guards motioned me to keep still, and so I stayed. In front of us were some strange little people who came out on the platform; then I looked up again and the clouds were all gone, and I could see the stars shining. The little people on the platform did not seem in earnest about anything they did; so I only laughed at them. All the people around where we sat seemed to be laughing at me.

We went into another place and the manager took us into a little room that was made like a cage; then everything around us seemed to be moving; soon the air looked blue, then there were black clouds moving with the wind. Pretty soon it was clear outside; then we saw a few thin white clouds; then the clouds grew thicker, and it rained and hailed with thunder and lightning. Then the thunder retreated and a rainbow appeared in the distance; then it became dark, the moon rose and thousands of stars came out. Soon the sun came up, and we got out of the little room. This was a good show, but it was so strange and unnatural that I was glad to be on the streets again.

We went into one place where they made glassware. I had always thought that these things were made by hand, but they are not. The man had a curious little instrument, and whenever he would blow through this into a little blaze the glass would take any shape he wanted it to. I am not sure, but I think that if I had this kind of an instrument I could make whatever I wished. There seems to be a charm about it. But I suppose it is very difficult to get these little instruments, or other people would have them. The people in this show were so anxious to buy the things the man made that they kept him so busy he could not sit down all day long. I bought many curious things in there and brought them home with me.

At the end of one of the streets some people were getting into a clumsy canoe, upon a kind of shelf, and sliding down into the water. [Shooting the Chute] They seemed to enjoy it, but it looked too fierce for me. If one of these canoes had gone out of its path the people would have been sure to get hurt or killed.

There were some little brown people [Iggorrotes from the Philippines] at the Fair that United States troops captured recently on some islands far away from here.

They did not wear much clothing, and I think that they should not have been allowed to come to the Fair. But they themselves did not seem to know any better. They had some little brass plates, and they tried to play music with these, but I did not think it was music — it was only a rattle. However, they danced to this noise and seemed to think they were giving a fine show.

I do not know how true the report was, but I heard that the President sent them to the Fair so that they could learn some manners, and when they went home teach their people how to dress and how to behave.

I am glad I went to the Fair. I saw many interesting things and learned much of the white people. They are a very kind and peaceful people. During all the time I was at the Fair no one tried to harm me in any way. Had this been among the Mexicans I am sure I should have been compelled to defend myself often.

I wish all my people could have attended the Fair. [Geronimo was also taken to both the Omaha and the Buffalo Expositions, but during that period of his life he was sullen and took no interest in things. The St. Louis Exposition was held after he had adopted the Christian religion and had begun to try to understand our civilization.]

Write what I have spoken

Wednesday, September 6th, 2023

In 1905, famed Apache warrior Geronimo began dictating his story, through a native interpreter, to S. M. Barrett, then superintendent of schools in Lawton, Oklahoma. When, at the end of the first session, Barrett posed a question, the only answer he received was, “Write what I have spoken.”

In Chapter 20, Geronimo explains some of the unwritten laws of the Apache, starting with a description of their trial system

When an Indian has been wronged by a member of his tribe he may, if he does not wish to settle the difficulty personally, make complaint to the Chieftain. If he is unable to meet the offending parties in a personal encounter, and disdains to make complaint, anyone may in his stead inform the chief of this conduct, and then it becomes necessary to have an investigation or trial. Both the accused and the accuser are entitled to witnesses, and their witnesses are not interrupted in any way by questions, but simply say what they wish to say in regard to the matter. The witnesses are not placed under oath, because it is not believed that they will give false testimony in a matter relating to their own people.

The chief of the tribe presides during these trials, but if it is a serious offense he asks two or three leaders to sit with him. These simply determine whether or not the man is guilty. If he is not guilty the matter is ended, and the complaining party has forfeited his right to take personal vengeance, for if he wishes to take vengeance himself, he must object to the trial which would prevent it. If the accused is found guilty the injured party fixes the penalty, which is generally confirmed by the chief and his associates.

Preparation of a Warrior:

To be admitted as a warrior a youth must have gone with the warriors of his tribe four separate times on the warpath.

On the first trip he will be given only very inferior food. With this he must be contented without murmuring. On none of the four trips is he allowed to select his food as the warriors do, but must eat such food as he is permitted to have.

On each of these expeditions he acts as servant, cares for the horses, cooks the food, and does whatever duties he should do without being told. He knows what things are to be done, and without waiting to be told is to do them. He is not allowed to speak to any warrior except in answer to questions or when told to speak.

During these four wars he is expected to learn the sacred names of everything used in war, for after the tribe enters upon the warpath no common names are used in referring to anything appertaining to war in any way. War is a solemn religious matter.

If, after four expeditions, all the warriors are satisfied that the youth has been industrious, has not spoken out of order, has been discreet in all things, has shown courage in battle, has borne all hardships uncomplainingly, and has exhibited no color of cowardice, or weakness of any kind, he may by vote of the council be admitted as a warrior; but if any warrior objects to him upon any account he will be subjected to further tests, and if he meets these courageously, his name may again be proposed. When he has proven beyond question that he can bear hardships without complaint, and that he is a stranger to fear, he is admitted to the council of the warriors in the lowest rank. After this there is no formal test for promotions, but by common consent he assumes a station on the battlefield, and if that position is maintained with honor, he is allowed to keep it, and may be asked, or may volunteer, to take a higher station, but no warrior would presume to take a higher station unless he had assurance from the leaders of the tribe that his [Pg 190]conduct in the first position was worthy of commendation.

From this point upward the only election by the council in formal assembly is the election of the chief.

Old men are not allowed to lead in battle, but their advice is always respected. Old age means loss of physical power and is fatal to active leadership.

Scalp Dance:

After a war party has returned, a modification of the war dance is held. The warriors who have brought scalps from the battles exhibit them to the tribe, and when the dance begins these scalps, elevated on poles or spears, are carried around the camp fires while the dance is in progress. During this dance there is still some of the solemnity of the war dance. There are yells and war whoops, frequently accompanied by discharge of firearms, but there is always more levity than would be permitted at a war dance. After the scalp dance is over the scalps are thrown away. No Apache would keep them, for they are considered defiling.

The first Japanese feature-length animated film was made for the the Japanese Naval Ministry in 1944

Friday, September 1st, 2023

The first Japanese feature-length animated film — the first animé — doesn’t get much attention these days, even though it’s beautifully made, in a Disney-inspired style, because the film, Momotaro: Sacred Sailors, or Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, was made for the the Japanese Naval Ministry in 1944 and released in 1945, a few months before Japan surrendered:

About 45 minutes in they start preparing for an airborne attack against a European colony.

The bumbling Brits who surrender to the Japanese are depicted…with a horn on their heads?


The Japanese did have marine paratroopers in World War II, by the way:

The troops were officially part of the Special Naval Landing Forces (SNLF or Rikusentai).


Paratroop units were only organized on the very eve of the war, beginning in September 1941.


Two companies, numbering 849 paratroopers, from the 1st Yokosuka SNLF, carried out Japan’s first ever combat air drop, during the Battle of Menado, in the Netherlands East Indies, on January 11, 1942.

He was President of the Society for the Suppression of Useless Knowledge, and for the Completer Obliteration of the Past

Sunday, August 27th, 2023

Jason Crawford recently read Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872), and it’s not really about Butlerian Jihad:

It is best known for its warning that machines will out-evolve humans, but rather than dystopian sci-fi, it’s actually political satire. His commentary on the universities is amazingly not dated at all, here’s a taste:

When I talked about originality and genius to some gentlemen whom I met at a supper party given by Mr. Thims in my honour, and said that original thought ought to be encouraged, I had to eat my words at once. Their view evidently was that genius was like offences—needs must that it come, but woe unto that man through whom it comes. A man’s business, they hold, is to think as his neighbours do, for Heaven help him if he thinks good what they count bad. And really it is hard to see how the Erewhonian theory differs from our own, for the word “idiot” only means a person who forms his opinions for himself.

The venerable Professor of Worldly Wisdom, a man verging on eighty but still hale, spoke to me very seriously on this subject in consequence of the few words that I had imprudently let fall in defence of genius. He was one of those who carried most weight in the university, and had the reputation of having done more perhaps than any other living man to suppress any kind of originality.

“It is not our business,” he said, “to help students to think for themselves. Surely this is the very last thing which one who wishes them well should encourage them to do. Our duty is to ensure that they shall think as we do, or at any rate, as we hold it expedient to say we do.” In some respects, however, he was thought to hold somewhat radical opinions, for he was President of the Society for the Suppression of Useless Knowledge, and for the Completer Obliteration of the Past.

Deterrence is a game where a big enough mistake kills hundreds of millions if not billions of people

Saturday, August 26th, 2023

Putin’s War in Ukraine is a fairly clear example of the stability-instability paradox:

In a pre-nuclear world, an intervention like this would have risked a direct, conventional response from NATO; at least at the moment it seems clear that the political will for such an intervention exists and is only really restrained by escalation concerns. Consequently, while in a pre-nuclear world invading Ukraine would pose the real risk of sparking an unwinnable conventional war with NATO, in a nuclear world, the Russian Federation can remain relatively sure that the war in Ukraine will remain ‘cabined’ to Ukraine. Moreover, the fact that Russia has nuclear weapons and Ukraine does not means that in the event that Ukraine wins, their ability to exploit that victory would be extremely limited; they could not, for instance, push deeply into Russian territory without triggering a potentially nuclear Russian response. The invasion thus seemed ‘safe.’

More broadly, I think Beaufre’s thinking is actually quite applicable here. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a classic interior maneuver and the Russian plan of operations follows Beaufre’s thinking closely: rapid advances with airborne, armor and mechanized forces to try to produce a coup de main that would topple the government and present its replacement as a fait accompli before the rest of the world could react. Clearly that’s not the only thing motivating the Russian operational concept – there seems to have been quite a lot of self-delusion and wishful thinking about how welcoming the Ukrainians would be. That said, it seems fairly clear that the Russian operational plan was designed to try to produce that fait accompli in just a few days, but of course the problem with such lightning advances is that should something go wrong, it is likely to go very wrong, with units spread out and often deep into enemy territory with fewer forces holding rear areas. By contrast, for instance, the United States, far more confident in its exterior maneuvers creating the window of freedom of action to intervene, was able to adopt a fairly methodical approach to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Which goes to the next point: Russian exterior maneuvers prior to the invasion were also fairly obvious. The Russian Federation, while building up claimed it had no plans to invade and used ‘exercises’ as a pretense in an effort, one assumes, to maximize confusion in the event and thus make unified action by the rest of the world more difficult. At the same time, Russia attempted to orchestrate a number of false-flag attacks and other fake ‘provocations’ in order to justify their intervention. What is also fairly obvious is that those exterior maneuvers failed, in particular because they lacked any kind of credibility. The smokescreen only works if a meaningful proportion of people believe it. The strategy NATO intelligence agencies took, of ‘calling’ Russia’s shots in advance robbed the strategy of much of its power. Again, the exterior maneuver is all about perception: Russia needed to create a ‘grey-zone’ of acceptability for what it was doing and largely failed.


The logic of deterrence — in particular the fact that it is both very high stakes and also based entirely on perception — explains why NATO and especially the United States took any direct military action off of the table quite loudly well before the conflict began. Saying that ‘all options are on the table’ — as the United States routinely does with Taiwan — would have been a fairly obvious bluff. When Putin called that obvious bluff, it would have damaged the credibility and thus the deterrence value of that same statement when applied to NATO members or Taiwan, weakening the effect of US deterrence, and thus potentially encouraging another state (like China) to try to call an American bluff elsewhere (essentially inviting a piecemeal maneuver). And of course the danger to that is two-fold: on the one hand if the United States and NATO folds, it calls into question even more of its security arrangements, but if it doesn’t fold, the result is likely to be a major war which in turn could (and frankly probably would) lead to an escalatory spiral ending in the use of nuclear weapons.

Remember: deterrence is a game where a big enough mistake kills hundreds of millions if not billions of people.


At the same time basically everything that NATO is doing in Ukraine can be understood as having a dual purpose: both attempting to degrade Russian military capabilities (by sinking the Russian economy and arming Ukraine) but also as an exterior maneuver designed to alter the freedom of action of other players in the system. Unable to directly act against Russia due to the concerns of deterrence and escalation, NATO is seeking to close the window of freedom of action tight enough that wars of conquest sit outside of it. It is doing this by rallying world opinion to the imposition of massive economic costs, in an effort to signal that wars of conquest will have such tremendous negative repercussions (even if they don’t trigger direct intervention) as to never be worth the cost.

Nuclear deterrence need not be the end of war by nuclear powers

Friday, August 25th, 2023

In An Introduction to Strategy (1965), French general André Beaufre describes the indirect strategy:

In essence, this sort of strategy is the answer to how two nuclear powers can still compete with each other without triggering a nuclear war. It is, “the art of making the best use of the limited area of freedom of action left us by the deterrent effect of the existence of nuclear weapons.”

When I explain this to my students, I explain it in a spatial metaphor. Imagine two countries (let’s use the USA and the USSR for simplicity), both with nuclear weapons. They each have ‘red lines’ where they would use nuclear weapons. Neither country wants a nuclear exchange, so they have to avoid crossing their opponent’s red lines which would trigger that. But below that threshold, you have a window of ‘freedom of action’ — a sort of ‘space’ (really a set of options) — where either power can engage in all sorts of activity, including military activity (typically against third parties, as directly attacking a nuclear power is almost always over the red line). Beaufre’s term for the things you do inside the window of freedom of action to gain direct advantages is ‘interior maneuvers.’ For instance supplying weapons to the Afghan mujaheddin in order to degrade Soviet control of Afghanistan — that’s an interior maneuver. Intervening militarily to topple a government that is aligned with your competitor but who they have no formal obligation to protect — that’s also an interior maneuver.

But those two powers can also engage in activity designed to alter the window itself, to give themselves more freedom of action or their opponents less. Remember that deterrence is all about perception, not hard and fast rules. If you can convince the world (and your opponent) that a third-country regime isn’t worth defending (because it is evil or a pariah state, etc.), you can potentially do more or more extensive interior maneuvers against it without nearing that red line. Alternately — especially in a democracy — if you can convince your own people that a third-country regime is noble and just, you can generate the political will to harden your red line, thus closing down some of the freedom of action of your opponent. This sort of thing is what Beaufre terms the ‘exterior maneuver’ — efforts made not to manipulate the direct theater of competition, but the freedom of action each side has to act in that theater. A broad range of activities fit here, as Beaufre notes — appeals to international law, propaganda with moral and humanitarian bent, threatened indirect intervention, economic retaliation (sanctions), and of course ultimately the threat of direct intervention.


All of which means that nuclear deterrence need not be the end of war by nuclear powers; indirect strategy exposes a gap in Brodie’s dictum that the only useful purpose a nuclear military can have is to avert wars.

One such method that Beaufre discusses is what he calls the ‘piecemeal maneuver,’ but is often in English referred to as ‘salami tactics’ — including in this absolutely hilarious bit from Yes, Prime Minister, which is also a surprisingly good explanation of the method. The idea is that to make gains while avoiding escalation, a state can break up the gains they would make into a series of smaller actions, each with its own exterior maneuver ‘cover,’ so that it doesn’t rise to the level of triggering nuclear escalation. Putting together several such maneuvers could allow a state to make those gains which had they all been attempted at once, certainly would have triggered such an escalation. Beaufre’s example, unsurprisingly, was Hitler’s piecemeal gains before his last ‘bite’ into Poland triggered WWII.

Beaufre notes that for piecemeal maneuvers to be effective, they have to be presented as fait accompli — accomplished so quickly that anything but nuclear retaliation would arrive too late to do any good and of course nuclear retaliation would be pointless: who is going to destroy the world to save a country that was already lost? Thus Beaufre suggests that the piecemeal maneuver is best accomplished as a series of coups de main accomplished with fast-moving, armored, mechanized, and airborne forces seizing control of the target country or region before anyone really knows what is happening. The attacking power can then present the maneuver as fait accompli and thus the new status quo that everyone has to accommodate; if successful, they have not only made gains but also moved everyone’s red lines, creating more freedom of action for further piecemeal maneuvers.

Avoiding this problem is why NATO is structured the way it is: promising a maximum response for any violation, however slight, of the territory of any member. The idea is to render the entire bloc immune to piecemeal maneuvers by putting all of it behind the red line (or at least letting the USSR think it is all behind the red line). It is also why American forces are often forward deployed in effectively trivial numbers in key areas in the world in what are often referred to as ‘tripwire’ deployments. Those American forces, for instance, in Poland, the Baltics or on the Korean DMZ (and during the Cold War, in West Germany) were not there to win the war; their purpose was, in a brutal sense, to die in its opening moments and thus ensure that the United States was committed, whether it wanted to be or not. And the reason to do that is to signal to both enemies and allies that any incursion into allied territory, no matter how trivial, will cause American deaths and thus incur an American military response. In that way you can shift the red line all of the way forward, obliterating the area of freedom of action, but only for countries where such a commitment is credible (which is going to generally be a fairly small group).

If one side unilaterally disarmed, nuclear weapons would suddenly become useful

Thursday, August 24th, 2023

Nuclear deterrence can be an odd topic to discuss with people outside of the security studies space, Bret Devereaux notes:

As we’ll see, there is a certain inescapable logic to many of the conclusions of deterrence theory, but the conclusions themselves viewed without considering that logic seem absurd (and occasionally are, even with the logic). Nevertheless, outside of those security studies fields at the college level, we generally don’t teach nuclear deterrence theory in school and so while this is actually one of the most studied and theorized concepts in the modern world (note that this doesn’t mean the theory is necessarily correct, but it does mean that a lot of very smart and well informed people have been grappling with these ideas for a while now), in my experience there is a tendency by the general public to assume that they are the first to notice this or that absurd-seeming conclusion. Everyone has an opinion about nuclear weapons, but the gap between having an opinion and having an informed opinion is both massive and rarely spanned.

Or to put it very briefly: Dr. Strangelove is a great movie, but if you only have your deterrence theory from Dr. Strangelove, you are dangerously under-informed (though while we’re here it seems worth noting that the Soviet automated-launch doomsday device of the film mostly actually exists, as a system called Dead Hand in the West and Perimeter in Russia and still in use by Russia. Presumably, since Russian nuclear forces are currently on high alert, Perimeter is active, which should be a chilling thought. I am going to say this several times because it is a fundamental truth about nuclear weapons: if you aren’t at least a bit worried, you aren’t paying attention).

The atomic bomb allowed the US and its allies to maintain parity with the USSR while still demobilizing:

US airbases in Europe put much of the Soviet Union in range of American bombers which could carry nuclear weapons, which served to ‘balance’ the conventional disparity. It’s important to keep in mind also that nuclear weapons emerged in the context where ‘strategic’ urban bombing had been extensively normalized during the Second World War; the idea that the next major war would include the destruction of cities from the air wasn’t quite as shocking to them as it was to us — indeed, it was assumed. Consequently, planners in the US military went about planning how they would use nuclear weapons on the battlefield (and beyond it) should a war with a non-nuclear Soviet Union occur.

In 1946, three years before the USSR successfully tested its first nuclear weapon in 1949, Bernard Brodie published The Absolute Weapon, which set out the basic outlines of deterrence theory:

  1. The power of a nuclear bomb is such that any city can be destroyed by less than ten bombs.
  2. No adequate defense against the bomb exists and the possibilities of such are very unlikely.
  3. Nuclear weapons will motivate the development of newer, longer range and harder to stop delivery systems.
  4. Superiority in the air is not going to be enough to stop sufficient nuclear weapons getting through.
  5. Superiority in nuclear arms also cannot guarantee meaningful strategic superiority. It does not matter that you had more bombs if all of your cities are rubble.
  6. Within five to ten years (of 1946), other powers will have nuclear weapons. [Of course this happened in just three years.]

Brodie concludes:

Thus, the first and most vital step in any American security program for the age of atomic bombs is to take measures to guarantee to ourselves in case of attack the possibility of retaliation in kind. The writer in making that statement is not for the moment concerned about who will win the next war in which atomic bombs are used. Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose.

By 1959, both the USA and the USSR had mounted nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which had effectively infinite range and were effectively impossible to intercept.

In The Delicate Balance of Terror (1958), Wohlstetter argued that deterrence was in fact fragile:

Any development which allowed one party to break the other’s nuclear strike capability (e.g. the ability to deliver your strike so powerfully that the enemy’s retaliation was impossible) would encourage that power to strike in the window of vulnerability.


Like Brodie, Wohlstetter concluded that the only way to avoid being the victim of a nuclear first strike (that having the enemy hit you with their nukes) was being able to credibly deliver a second strike.


This is the logic behind the otherwise preposterously large nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Russian Federation (inherited from the USSR). In order to sustain your nuclear deterrent, you need more weapons than you would need in the event because you are planning for scenarios in which some large number of weapons are lost in the enemy’s first strike. At the same time, as you overbuild nuclear weapons to counter this, you both look more like you are planning a first strike and your opponent has to estimate that a larger portion of their nuclear arsenal may be destroyed in that (theoretical) first strike, which means they too need more missile[…]

If one side unilaterally disarmed, nuclear weapons would suddenly become useful — if only one side has them, well, they are the “absolute” weapon, able to make up for essentially any deficiency in conventional strength — and once useful, they would be used. Humanity has never once developed a useful weapon they would not use in extremis; and war is the land of in extremis.


Because different kinds of systems would have different survivability capabilities, it also led to procurement focused on a nuclear ‘triad’ with nuclear systems split between land-based ICBMs in hardened silos, forward-deployed long-range bombers operating from bases in Europe and nuclear-armed missiles launched from submarines which could lurk off an enemy coast undetected. The idea here is that with a triad it would be impossible for an enemy to assure themselves that they could neutralize all of these systems, which assures the second strike, which assures the destruction, which deters the nuclear war you don’t want to have in the first place.

Weak states come to depend on strong states and, in the process, become client states

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2023

French President Emmanuel Macron has been attempting a large-scale “reset” or “refoundation” of relations with Africa and has explained that “there is no longer a French policy for Africa”:

In August 2020, the military of Mali overthrew the government in a coup d’etat. Since then, in quick succession, four of Mali’s regional neighbors have experienced coup attempts, including successful ones in Guinea and Burkina Faso. The Central African Republic, meanwhile, has become a client state of Russia.2 This unprecedented wave of coups is a consequence of decisions made in Paris to pull back long-standing French troop deployments in French-speaking Africa.

The French military has been actively deployed to West Africa since January 2013, when an offensive was launched to defeat armed separatists in northern Mali who threatened to overthrow the government. Initially successful, the deployment was formalized as Operation Barkhane in 2014 and expanded to neighboring countries, including Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad. At its peak, Operation Barkhane involved 5500 French soldiers. A United Nations follow-on peacekeeping mission involved about 15,000 UN peacekeepers, including over one thousand German soldiers.

In early 2020, the French government loosened its commitment to military involvement in the region. French President Emmanuel Macron, newly elected in 2017, was unwilling to send more French troops to Africa to bring an end to the ongoing insurgencies, which had multiplied rather than subsided. Macron believed that France’s relationship to Africa needed a “reset” or “refoundation” from its colonial past and, as part of that, France should allow African countries to solve their own problems. French military intervention, therefore, would be scaled back.


Although formal French colonialism ended in the decades after World War II, France nevertheless maintained a notable sphere of influence in its former African colonies, especially in West Africa. This informal empire was maintained through elite social and business ties with France, as well as through the large-scale involvement of the French military, which was deliberately designed to be capable of rapid intervention in Africa.


Weak states that cannot suppress insurgencies or alleviate privation on their own necessarily come to depend on strong states and, in the process, become client states. If France will not provide this support, perhaps the U.S. or Russia will.

Oh, yes, we’re expecting Dmitri! Send him on up!

Friday, August 18th, 2023

I was watching Declassified — Season 3, Episode 5, “The Spy Game: Russian Espionage” — on Max, when it explained how the Russians took advantage of the US State Department’s naïve openness right after the fall of the Soviet Union.

State decided to allow Russians in, unescorted, to the building, so one Russian intelligence operative would come into the lobby and wait in one of the lounges outside the security checkpoint. Later, another intelligence operative would come in and present himself to the receptionist with a phone extension to call to confirm that he was welcome to come through.

That phone extension belonged to the phone in the waiting area lounge. “Oh, yes, we’re expecting Dmitri! Send him on up!”

Why are some periods and places so astonishingly more productive than the rest?

Sunday, August 13th, 2023

The most important question we can ask of historians, David Banks suggests, is Why are some periods and places so astonishingly more productive than the rest?

It is intellectually embarrassing that this is almost never posed squarely — I can think of only two articles (Gray, 1958 and 1961) and two books (Kroeber, 1944 and McClelland, 1961) that tackle this directly. But Gray is a lunatic, Kroeber waffles vaguely, and McClelland veers off into a fascinating but incomplete assessment. The question has never been the focus of professional attention in social history, although its answer would have thrilling implications for education, politics, science and art.


When I beard social historians at cocktail parties, they usually dismiss the problem of explaining excess genius as complex and ill-posed. But when coaxed into conversation, several ideas for facilitating factors come forward: Prosperity. They submit that a florescent culture needs the economic wherewithal to support the arts. Peace. They suggest that a climate of peace is also conducive to philosophical, artistic and (perhaps) scientific progress. (But recall Welles’ comment on Switzerland.)

Freedom. They believe that artistic freedom from state or religious control enables new growth.

Social Mobility. They think that when class distinctions are relatively permeable, then there is greater inducement for artists to excel.

The Paradigm Thing. They suppose that when a new medium or perspective arises, then art flourishes until the vein of originality is worked out.

All of these are good ideas, and superficially plausible. But most contradict the historical record.

To be specific, the prosperity suggestion fails for Athens, Florence and London. Athens spent its boom period in combat with Sparta; the income from the Delian League went to the fleet. Athenian farmers could not tend their crops (cf. The Acharnians), and such staples as grain had to be imported. Similarly, quatrocento Florence was poor compared to pre-plague Florence. The Medici bank had about half the capital of the Peruzzi bank in 1340, and Lopez (1970) documents other indications of reduced standards of living. A symptom of this desperation was the revolt of the populo minuto, which pushed the Medici into prominence. And Elizabethan London suffered “dearness without scarcity” (inflation); this fell most heavily on the aristocracy and the very poor. Then the wool trade collapsed, England entered “the worst economic depression in history” (Wilson, 1965), and Parliament anxiously debated means of averting a Bellum Rusticum.

Regarding the peace hypothesis, it clearly fails for Athens. Florence was torn by internal factions (e.g., il popolo grosso vs. il popolo minuto, the assassination of Giuliano de Medici, Savonarola). London had to contend with the Armada, the war with Spain in Holland, and internal religious dissent.

Regarding artistic freedom, the Athenian plays were written for religious festivals, and the prize was awarded according to the taste of respectable, pious and civic-minded judges (this caused Aristophanes and Euripides no end of trouble). In Florence, art was commissioned largely by the Church, sometimes by a patron, and had to voice themes prescribed in the contract. In London, note that Shakespeare’s plays avoid all mention of religion and contemporary politics; Marlowe and Jonson were similarly cautious (in literature, not in their personal lives).

Regarding social mobility, this hypothesis seems borne out by our three primary examples. Athens and Florence were both devaluing the aristocracy and promoting mercantilism. In London, the early part of the period clearly shows the rise of the middle class.

Regarding the emergence of a new paradigm, this is difficult to judge concisely. Much of the problem involves distinguishing a perturbation from an innovation. Did the introduction of a second on-stage character in Athenian plays represent a new paradigm? Was Plato’s decision to record philosophical discussion a minor influence on the content of the debate? Similarly, in Florence, painting and sculpture were well-established before the peak occurred, but the invention of perspective and the rediscovery of the classical period may have constituted a paradigm shift. Finally, in London, the key change seems to have been that small groups of strolling players discovered they could pack a hall in a city, and people would stroll to them. This enabled more elaborate props and larger companies, while pressing the need for a larger repertoire. But this kind of change is not especially Kuhnian in spirit, and the problem merits more lengthy consideration.

One could propose other factors. It seems to me that each of the three societies under consideration enjoyed a substantial military victory in the generation preceding their florescence. Athenians whose names shine today are reported to have prided themselves on being the sons of the men who fought at Marathon. Florence was not a military force (the Italian city-states relied upon mercenary condottieri in time of war) but in 1254 they conquered Pisa and Lucca. This secured an outlet to the sea, which was essential to their economic expansion. And in 1588, England conquered the Spanish Armada. This made the seas safe for colonial empire, and was a watershed for British morale.

Also, the great minds in each of these societies tended to hang out together. Socrates spoke with everyone. The playwrights talked shop, and the orators honed themselves upon each other. In Florence, artists trained under an apprentice system that pulled talents together, and Vasari describes frequent visits by the greats to each other’s studios. Leonardo and Michelangelo held a public contest over The Battle of Anghiari; meanwhile, the poets and philosophers clubbed together at Lorenzo’s mansion. In London, much of the theater circle met for drinks at the Mermaid Tavern, and one expects that their common profession ensured their lives crossed even more regularly.

Aubrey reports that Bacon visited the Mermaid Tavern too, and doubtless Bacon knew Raleigh, who was sufficiently friendly with Marlowe to rise to the Shepherd/Nymph bait. Does the social intercourse of good minds produce great minds?

A third possible factor is education. In each of the three societies, education tended to be as personal as a punch in the nose. In Athens, the upper class had tutors and the lower classes shopped for their educations among various freelance teachers. In Florence, the upper class had tutors and the masses learned as apprentices. In England, the upper class had tutors and the commoners learnt to write plays and poetry from each other, insofar as I can tell. All three of these systems emphasize individual instruction over the currently popular cattle drive approach. And there is ancillary evidence (cf. the lives of Wiener, Maxwell, Dirac, Russell, Mill, Malthus, Arnold, Feynman) that tutoring is enormously effective.

One can postulate many other factors. For example, it is suggestive that all three of Athens, Florence, and London had populations near 300,000. Also, all three had relatively democratic styles of government, and all three’s florescences were ended by right-wing revolutions (the Rule of the 400, Savonarola, and Cromwell). Finally, each of the three were in the process of reinventing their language — Periclean Athens defined the conventions of Attic Greek, Dante made Tuscan the foundation of modern Italian, and the linguistic gap from Chaucer to Shakespeare is enormously larger than the gap from Shakespeare to us (but this could be due to selection bias, since language might gel around great writings, rather than great writings arise from volatile language).

There is never any shortage of hypotheses. The useful trick is to know how to test them. In this case, one could rank a sample of cities in terms of their cultural IQ, and then decide whether the hypothesized factor obtains for each of the cities. If the factor is more common for the florescent cities than for the average or below average cities, then the hypothesis is supported (this can be made formally statistical). To an extent, this style of reasoning is what is used in this section, except that I haven’t elaborated the comparison by listing cities which have made meager cultural contributions.

(Hat tip to Byrne Hobart.)