Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Santayana Moment

OK, policy nerds: when did this happen and what was the subject of the discussion?
"In (year), when the (President's name) team was already on board and there was great enthusiasm over the new theories of counterinsurgency ... and (Asian country) had been chosen as a testing ground, [David] Riesman [the Harvard sociologist] remained uneasy. In mid-(year) he had lunch with two of the more distinguished social scientists in the (President's) government. On the subject of (Asian country) the others talked about limited war iwth the combativeness which marked that particular era, about the possibilities of it, about the American right to practice it, about the very excitement of participating in it. All of this smacked strongly of the arrogance and hubris of the (time period), and Riesman became more and more upset with the tone and the direction of the conversation ... "You all think you can manage limited wars and that you're dealing with an elite society which is just waiting for your leadership. It's not that way at all," he said. "It's not an Eastern elite society run for Harvard and the Council on Foreign Relations."

Lechery, lechery, wars and lechery. Nothing else holds fashion.

Or there's this guy's observation...

(h/t to Armchair Generalist for the citation...)


  1. What is "limited war" anyway? It seems to me the problem in Afghanistan is that the war needs to be a lot more limited that it currently is. I won't speak to Vietnam - don't know enough about that one.

  2. Andy: For several hundred years almost all wars were "limited" or "cabinet" wars; wars of choice fought by small professional armies for strictly defined gain. The idea was lost in the "levee en masse" era between 1798 and 1945, but after WW2 a group of military/political thinkers formulated the idea that you could fight wars - principally counterrevolutionary wars - without mobilizing the whole society. What we've done since 1972 has fallen pretty much under the "limited war" rubric.

    Vietnam was SUPPOSED to have been a "limited war". Problem was, somebody forgot to tell that to the North Viets...

  3. Chief,

    Yeah, that's basically my point. "Limited" is really a misnomer, at least to the average person.

  4. I understand that the Nazi's fought the first part of WWII as a "limited" war. It took a while for them to accept that they were in a war to the knife!