Monday, May 6, 2013

Neither Art nor Science

Interesting little article over at the NY Times "Disunion" blog, Winning the Field but Not the War. The author's conclusion is that the reason that there were no "decisive battles" in the ACW was not technical or tactical but political and emotional:
"The system of pitched battle broke down because wars like the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War were fought over high ideals, and because they were fought by republics, not monarchies. The wars of the 18th century were legal procedures, fought over carefully stated legal royal claims to territory, and were justified by carefully formulated legal briefs. They were staged in orderly ways intended to symbolize the glory and civilization of royal courts. But in the mid-19th century the two Americans republics and the French Republic began to fight more bitter and more horrible wars, in the name of grander ideals. Hard though it is to accept, democratic idealism and widespread death began to march hand in hand."
Now I would begin by saying that I believe this analysis is flawed. Both the ACW and the Franco-Prussian War (along with WW1 and WW2) DID end with military victories. It's just that those wars, as did most of the industrial-era wars that followed the mid-19th Century, perforce required the "economic" defeat of the losing side (Update: or, as Sven points out in the comments section, at least in the Franco-Prussian War an period of "mopping-up" where the victor had to run around stomping out the remains of the loser's deadenders).

An industrial nation as well as a nation-in-arms couldn't be defeated by "destroying" the national army alone. So long as the economic base remained new conscript armies could be raised if the government had the political will to continue. So IMO what happened was that "pitched battle" became just part of the larger political and economic campaign to destroy the opposing nation's (or peoples') will to fight.

But I wonder...does the increasing number of inter-theological and inter-racial wars play into this increasing "complexity" and insolubility of modern war as well? Do the intractability of religious, tribal, and racial hate play into the long-simmering conflicts that seem to have troubled us so much since 1945? Is there not only just an issue of "grander ideals" but the collision of fundamental social, philosophical, and religious differences that make these conflicts nearly impossible to solve by military means short of outright genocide?

Sunni v. Shia in the Gulf region (and now Syria), Tamil/Hindu v. Sinhalese Buddhist in Sri Lanka, Israeli Jew v. Levantine Muslim in the former Ottoman Levant, Christian southern tribes v. Muslim northern tribes in Nigeria (where our old pals MEND are acting up again...), everybody and their damn tribal grandfathers in Afghanistan...it seems like we've reopened a box of very old troubles; Christian versus Muslim versus Jew, Arab or African versus Westerner, tribe versus tribe.

Our old friend Seydlitz used to like to talk about how so much of the problems faced by the United States around the world were because the U.S. had lost the ability to think cogently about national interests and how they translated into military strategy.

But...what if the biggest single part of the problem is that too many modern problems are no longer amenable to military strategy?

Or, rather, to military strategy alone?

What if, instead, the U.S. is faced with the dilemma that ancient Rome faced; an amorphously hostile "barbarian frontier" that is no more malleable over the long term to military defeat than the ocean is to bailing dry with a bucket. That there is always a sea of troubles, and that a nation that tries to defend everywhere ends up defending nowhere...in that you can end up throwing a hell of a lot of blood and treasure at problems that you can't solve without making a wasteland and calling it peace, or using nothing but complex combination of force, persuasion, bribery, treachery, local proxies...and pure indifference; picking your fights and choosing to walk away from those you can't do anything about?

So I think the question becomes...to what degree DO you expend blood and treasure overseas (or overland, in the case of Mexico where there are certainly enough elements of instability to cause at least a level of concern)? How do you calculate your "national interests" in such an environment, and determine which are amenable to diplomacy, which to a mixture of guile and force, which to force alone, and which to a combination of all?

And what are the "better options" to raw military force in places like these? Again, Seydlitz talked several times about the question of "soft power". Is such soft power an option, say, in places as different as Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Indonesia and to what degree where? What would such power look like, and what could it do? And to what degree would the velvet touch have to have a mailed fist cocked behind the U.S.'s back? Little? Much? Constantly? And what would make the application of force more useful, more directed, less likely to produce "collateral damage" and blowback?

And - MOST importantly, in my view - how do you develop a national ability to figure this all out?

I guess my thought is that this entire question is as much about "craft" as it is either the art or the science of "strategic thinking". And I think the problem inherent in the U.S. politico-military system as currently constituted is that our system a) emphasizes short-term domestic political bunfighting over long-term geopolitical thinking, and b) discourages people from staying in one place long enough to perfect their "craftsmanship"; that is, the integration of technical and intellectual learning with practical experience to develop the skills for this sort of thinking, and c) produces "leaders" that are good at a) to the detriment of bothering to pay attention to the relatively low-level craftsmen who are good a b) and thus intensifies the negative-feedback loop. The craftsmen aren't good at their craft but even when they are the "leaders" don't listen which, in turn, discourages the perfection of the craft which, in turn, reinforces the "leaders" willingness to listen to their prejudices and fears rather than the craftsmen who understand the localities...

I will be the first one to say; I don't have an answer but rather a wilderness of questions. Consider this an open thread to add your own, or anything you might have by way of answers...

But I do think that this will become an ever-increasing problem as the U.S. continues its slide back into Gilded Age oligarchy. One of the real problems with oligarchy is that the oligarchs tend to become obsessed with protecting the privileges of their class rather than the welfare of the polity as a whole. To return to the analogy of Rome, the tragedy of the Revolt of the Gracchi was that the senatorial class focused on protecting itself rather than the vitality of the Republic. That, in turn, led to reliance on long-term professional soldiers who owed their loyalty to their commanders instead of the nation.

And we all recall where the bridge across the Rubicon led.

Update: I should draw attention to Sven's post that addresses something of this subject over at his Defence and Freedom site. And the conclusion he's not afraid to draw is even more pessimistic than mine: This is 100% not going to happen, and that's a pity if not doomed to end in tragedy.

Yike.

30 comments:

  1. Not really a new problem. Hannibal should have won the Second Punic war in the first couple of years.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, but it's OUR problem.

    And look what happened to Carthage when ol' Han wasn't able to unscrew that particular pooch.

    Old problems can be just as deadly as new ones; just because a JDAM is flashier and more expensive doesn't mean that a stick or a rock can't kill you just as dead.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The introductory lecture in our "Policy and Strategy" course at the Naval War College was given by a crusty retired Admiral. I paraphrase his wise words:

    We are about to begin a serious academic inquiry into Policy and Strategy. We will look at history and the writings of some serious heavyweights. However, before we begin, I want to offer one very basic notion to temper all the lofty stuff that is to follow:

    Armed conflict is terminated when one or both sides come to the basic conclusion that "This shit is no longer worth it". Since war extracts the loss of treasure from all involved, that conclusion need not necessarily be based on who is "winning" or "losing" at that point in time, but a pure and simple cost/benefit analysis in the value system of each party. To some, their “shit” is beyond price, and they will fight to the death for it.

    Chief wrote: Is there not only just an issue of "grander ideals" but the collision of fundamental social, philosophical, and religious differences that make these conflicts nearly impossible to solve by military means short of outright genocide?

    A look at history will reveal that, beginning in the 12th Century, Western Christianity rarely hesitated to conduct “conversion by the sword”. And they had the wherewithal to do so. ”Death to heretics” was a theme of not just the Church of Rome, but most of her mutant offspring of the Reformation as well. What began as Augustin’s “Just War Theory” simply evolved, in the West, into a norm that war and other killing in the name of God is morally “Good”. The historical model of the many early martyrs who died passively rather than deny their faith was replaced by making others die because of their faith.

    I say “Western Christianity”, simply because the Churches of the East (Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria and subsequent Orthodox Patriarchates) never adopted such a philosophical view of war. Rather, the Churches of the East, from the very first days of Christianity, held to an ideal of peace, and saw war as an existing evil from which there may be no escape. Thus, there is no concept of “just war” or “conversion by the sword” in the East, where Augustinian and subsequent “Enlightenment” based logic never influenced their philosophy. To the Eastern Churches, war is sin, and trying to claim a moral superiority in war does not negate that sin. One may be forced to kill in self defense or to protect the innocent, but that does not raise that killing to any level of virtue, but rather is indicative of one’s failure to have morally enlightened those who wage war against you.

    Note that I say “killing in the name of God” not dying in His name. In the course of history, the Christian West tended to be numerically and logistically superior to the “heretics” they opposed, and thus the “cost/benefit analysis” deck generally was stacked in their favor, be it the Crusades, religious wars, the Inquisition or various “Witch Trials”.

    Fast forward to today, and the West is faced with extremists of another faith that not only cry “death to heretics”, but see one’s own death in doing so of no cost, and of great and eternal reward. Further, these extremists now have the wherewithal to strike their enemies with reasonable ease and disproportionally high results.

    The dissonance and fear that such a new opponent causes is understandably profound, and the age old tool of sending off armies to kill all heretics ain’t gonna work, as it just changes the cost/benefit equation of additional adherents of that opposing faith to the violent extreme. In their eyes, “The cost of this shit is may be somewhat dear, but the reward is eternally great”. Until America sheds its Western Christian, self centered blinders, it’s only going to get worse. People (Americans) who fear death cannot use a threat of death to influence those (Islamist extremists) who embrace it in their belief system. Think about it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Al: Agreed. That's one of the reasons that I suspect that the West will have these wanna-be Muslim martyrs/assassins around for a long time, the other being that for a religious fundamentalist (in thsi case Muslim but they have a hell of a lot in common with their Christian counterparts) the whole ethos of the West with its Godless infatuation with popular sovereignty, female equality, lack-of-condemnation of sexual matters and religious indifference is detestable. "We" will always be the Godless Heathens and as such targets.

    One thing I wish that "we" as a nation would stop and think about a little more is the vast disservice we did to and are doing to ourselves by beating up on (or buying off) the secular Middle Eastern rulers. One of the most basic reasons that outfits like Hezbollah and Hamas and AQ and the Muslim Brotherhood are so popular is that they have succeeded in hurting the "enemies"; the Western nations and Israel. By showing the average Abdul and Maryam that their secular rulers were hopeless we pretty much forced them to turn to the Islamists for any sort of hope. So in a larger sense beyond the work we did creating the Afghan muj we have built the very golem we now fear so badly.

    I think self-centered ignorance is a bigger problem than Western or Christian prejudice, though, Al. I mean, look at the U.S.-Israel relationship. An objective look at that lockstep would recognize the Jewish state as a nice little democracy but one that has little to offer in terms of real "national interests" in the region, and that unquestioning support of its territorial policies was a luxury and one that comes with a significant price.

    But U.S. foreign policy is made to fit with U.S. domestic policy, and to Joe and Molly Israel is the "good guy" amid all those scary Islamic "bad guys". There IS no objective way to assess U.S. Middle Eastern policy; it's all about cleaving to the story the U.S. public "wants to hear" rather than what would further actual U.S. interests in the Middle East...

    And the effect is to marginalize anyone who has a different opinion about the region and reinforce the prejudices of those who don't.

    I don't see a way out, either; I don't see any sort of "rationalist" claque in U.S. politics that could force a less bullheaded approach to foreign and even domestic policy. Kudos to anyone here who can point to a different direction...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Chief-

    For Fundamentalist Christians, the existence of the State of Israel is vital. Not out of any love for Jews, but the necessity of the State's existence in their interpretation of the Second Coming of Christ. The Jews will all be damned to Hell, but the Fundies will be taken up in the "Rapture" as they call it. Jews are a necessary evil for the Fundies' salvation. Note that they don;t send missionaries to Israel to convert the Jews, as they do to all other places. Gotta have them Jews to go to hell to earn our wings to heaven.

    Sadly, as is the case in Syria, toppling and/or weakening secular rulers in Muslim lands has resulted in serious persecution of the native and historic Orthodox Christians by Muslim extremists. The two bishops that were kidnapped (I met one while studying at Cambridge) were on a humanitarian mission to all Syrians affected by the strife. The Church has taken no sides in the politics over the ages, but has merely tried to address suffering of anyone and everyone, regardless of religious conviction. Where is the Western Christian uproar over the kidnapping? Hell, hardly makes it in the Western media. Just a different flavor of A-Rab, I guess.

    I'll quit here, before I get rude.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I understand the frustration. Like I said at the end of the post; I got nothin' here. I can see how this is a running sore, a "Spanish ulcer" for the U.S., but, like the problem Spain presented for France in the 19th Century, I also don't see how it gets "solved" short of a massive and fundamental change in the way the U.S. thinks of and governs itself.

    Much as the failure of secular government in the Middle Eastern countries has opened the way for the more toxic (to me, at least as a Godless secular humanist) rule of the theocrats I would argue that the degree to which the U.S. has allowed the religious fundamentalist camel's nose inside our political tent has had a smaller but similar effect on our own country. Theocracy has a well-deserved bad rap in the liberal West; making decisions for other people based on what your cleric says that God says never ends well for them.

    And yet, "fighting" theocracies - unless you're willing to go full Roman and go in, exterminate Druidism (or fundamentalist Islam) root and branch, burn out the stump and salt the ground - just tends to make them "purer" and stronger. They get MORE devout as the halfhearted fall away and the hard core of devotees gets tempered in the fire.

    What we could use is an Islamic Enlightenment - and a renewed commitment to the secular governance of the Western Enlightenment on our side - but I don't see how that happens for a long, long time, especially if we keep up the outside pressure on the Muslim world. Not saying that's our "fault", just that our military pressure is likely to have the effect of intensifying the theocratic nature of our enemies, much as the Russian pressure on Chechnya had the effect of stripping the seculars off and islamizing the remainder.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @Chief: "And - MOST importantly, in my view - how do you develop a national ability to figure this all out?"

    Great question Chief. Seydlitz should be here to throw some light on this. I certainly do not have the answer. My own first instinct was to shout out: 'Study History!!!" But that is not the answer. We need foresight as well as (or more than?) hindsight. A national strategy has to concentrate on the potential events of tomorrow and the days and months and years afterwards. And that requires assumptions. But as we all know assumptions are by definition uncertain, especially now in our esteemed capitol with the political bunfighting that you point out.

    So do we end up dealing with unpredictability? We - or some of us - have realized that the war on terror has produced more terrorists. And the deliberate dissemination of American values and capitalism by our government has been counterproductive. Some have suggested a course of study for budding strategists which includes Chaos Science and Complexity Theory in addition to the more traditional subjects. Another suggestion is to jettison a thousand years of western thought – like what Al alluded to above.

    My concern is that even if that national strategic ability is developed, our short-term political outlook and our internal squabbling over advantage would doom us to ignore it. So back to history. Maybe we should concentrate on logistics and re-develop the manufacturing capability that won WW2? I am very dubious that strategic thought won that war, neither ours, nor Churchill's nor Stalin's. The overreach of Hitler and Tojo contributed to their own defeat. THAT is a lesson we should remember and stick to our own business by getting out of Afghanistan and staying out of any other distant sinkhole of our national treasure.

    ReplyDelete
  8. You were nice to mention and link to my blog post, but me being me I have to be not really nice and point out that a part of this text is plain wrong.

    "(...)the Franco-Prussian War (...). It's just that those wars, as did most of the industrial-era wars that followed the mid-19th Century, perforce required the "economic" defeat of the losing side."

    The Franco-Prussian War was clearly decided by a combination of an unforeseen Small German mobilisation, skilled operational manoeuvre and a classic successful battle of encirclement. What followed was some limited and partially unofficial resistance of an already defeated France.

    You may have thought of the Crimean War or the Boer Wars instead. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904/05 doesn't fit your description either, though.

    ReplyDelete
  9. mike: I think you point out the flaw in the idea that we can use historical parallels to suss out the best way forward in the increasingly post-nation-state "wars" of the 21st Century; it's not that there aren't people who can't view this stuff clearly, it's that the political dynamics of the U.S. makes it increasingly difficult to get actions based on those views.

    All sorts of people pegged the problems we're seeing and have been seeing; tons of people "got Iraq right" and the same with Afghanistan. Tons more have pointed out the flaws in many of the "more rubble less trouble" approaches to places like Libya and Syria among others.

    Its just that these people aren't being listened to. And I'm not sure how to deal with that; like I said, what I DON'T see is any constituency pushing for that sort of analysis that is strong enough to make any impact inside the Beltway...

    ReplyDelete
  10. "...some limited and partially unofficial resistance of an already defeated France."

    So a three month siege of Paris (with about 35,000 killed and wounded on both sides not including civilian deaths), the battles of Coulmiers (9 NOV), Amiens (27 NOV), Bapaume (3 JAN 71), Le Mans (between 10–12 JAN) and St. Quentin (13 JAN) were a mere bagatelle? The fighting went on for five more months and survived regime change. No question that the German Confederacy won the battles. Just saying that they had to do MORE than just win the battles; unlike the Napoleonic defeats the Germans had to go on and beat down the little pieces, too...

    You'll also note that I started by saying that the FPW did effectively "end" with the military victories...but that those weren't enough to completely stop French resistance. The point of the original article - and the point of this post - was simply how difficult achieving political aims from purely military means has become in the industrial and post-industrial ages.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, what happened after Sedan was basically comparable to what happened in 1944-1945; mopping up operations against an enemy who was too stubborn to admit he lost already.

      Unlike 1914-summer 1918 or 1939-early 1945, the defeated power was not able to increase its material military strength through production. The war was not 'won' by raising the relative military power so much that even an increasingly powerful enemy cannot continue successful resistance. Instead, the war was 'won' by too-large-to-recover losses in troops and territory early on.

      Delete
    2. But how is that particularly different from these little wars in Central Asia or (to some degree) the Israeli periphery? The losing sides have effectively lost their troops and territories - the Israeli periphery in '48, '67, and '73 - but continue to resist the "mopping up". The difference seems to be that unlike the French in 1871 that DID have some sort of national government and a social/economic schwerpunkt that the German Confederation could leverage these nonstate and failed/proto-state actors are even less coherent and more difficult to beat using military force...

      So I'll be the first to agree that the comparisons are maddeningly inexact.

      Delete
  11. Sven: RJW is sort of sui generis; so many factors never duplicated before or since. But I'd say that (to a point) it was also a war where winning battles couldn't have won the war itself without social and economic battering of the loser.

    Other than the naval defeats (which were pretty much decided before the first gunshot by the shambolic state of the Russian Navy in 1904) the Army could have sent more troops east and continued fighting; the losses at Port Arthur were hardly crippling. But why? The economy was tanking, the peasants were revolting, and the whole war was at the ass end of Siberia, so why bother? I think it was the fear of impending revolution and economic collapse that motivated Nicky to sue for peace rather than the guns of the Japanese Army and Navy...

    Again; yes, the military victories were all part of it. But not the bulk of the outcome and possibly not even the most critical part...

    In fact, one of the "wrong lessons" of the RJW was that both the German and British navies thought that Tsushima meant that one industrial battlefleet could decisively defeat another, while the real "lesson" was that the Russians were Just That Bad. Once the British and German fleets tried cocking snooks at each other and found out that they were so evenly matched that they couldn't do a Tsushima they had to be content with a standoff for the course of WW1...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The incomplete trans-siberian railway was as a logistics bottleneck much more influential than the limitations of the economy or the political troubles in my opinion. This made it quite unsuitable for a characterisation as a war that required the economic defeat of one side.

      Delete
    2. Point taken. Yeah, the RJW really WAS a one-off sort of thing (other than the effects of industrialization on ground combat that presaged WW1).

      Delete
  12. And how does all of the above relate to a war on a religious belief system? Religious belief systems have no economy or industrial capacity to target, nor is Islamist fundamentalism confined to national borders or definable targets. To engender "peace" with Islam, the West AND Islam have to reach a mutual point where they conclude that "this shit ain't worth it", and to do that the very nature of the underlying motives of both sides must be adapted to reach an accord, and both sides need to take control of their extremists and tamp them down.

    I would be willing to bet that there is a greater percentage of the US population that is anti-Islam than the percentage of anti-Christians in most Muslim countries. The Orthodox Church has existed peacefully in the Muslim world, until 19 March 2003. You come to your own conclusions about the implications of that date. While we called ourselves a "Church in Captivity", in that we could not proselytize or adorn the exteriors of new church structures with crosses and the like, we worshiped and lived in general harmony with our Muslim neighbors. It wasn't until the Western violence against Muslims that the Islamists began to persecute Christians in general, in sort of a guilt by association, especially when the Fundie "missionaries" arrived from the US.

    In 2000, while the wife and I were studying at the Orthodox Institute of Cambridge Univ, Bishop John, brother of one of the two kidnapped clerics and now the Patriarch of Antioch, spoke to us about the "state of the Church" in the Middle East, and it was not under attack. Constrained, yes, not not under attack. The Church did not "condemn" Islam, and Islam did not "condemn" the Church. Amazing how, with a bit of help from the US, that has changed. Historic Churches(not just Johnny Come Lately American Fundie groups) are being pillaged, and Christians are being persecuted. And Americans are oblivious to it, because with an "on the cheap", spectator sport war, and no idea of the consequences we are causing, we don't come anywhere near to realizing that "This shit ain't worth it".

    But then, as a dear friend and athiest in St Petersburg, Russia commented about the American "missionaries" that knocked on his door to "bring the Gospel for the first time to the Russian people", Americans haven't a clue of history. Not only do they think the Earth is only 6,000 years old, but haven't a clue that Russia was Christian 6 centuries before their particular flavor of it was even a pipe dream. The world does not want to be a mini-America. If they did, they would be petitioning for statehood. Hell, even Puerto Ricans are not convinced they want American statehood.

    Will we ever learn?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Aviator,

    "I would be willing to bet that there is a greater percentage of the US population that is anti-Islam than the percentage of anti-Christians in most Muslim countries."
    This is ridiculous. Just because Fox news talks about "secret Muslim terror anchor babies" or the "Ground Zero Mosque" doesn't make Americans anti-Islam in the kidnapping prominent Muslim clerics department. Let's not go overboard here.
    Sure there are plenty of people in America afraid of "Sharia" for no reason and would have problems with Muslims in prominent social, military, and political positions.

    But does that that really compare with the actual violence enacted against the Coptic Church in Egypt or against Iraqi or Syrian Christians? It seems like you're comparing apples to oranges to me.

    Chief,

    I wonder if part of this problem is that American history includes successful examples of irregular warfare against the Native Americans. We didn't hit boundaries swarming with irredentists or fanatics that we didn't completely destroy until after we spanned the continent. This is, in many ways, new to us.

    But it helps that a) the end results of all these conflicts has been minor so far and b) the guys we are fighting suck. I think most Americans picture the terrorists we fight like the Horde of fighters from Iron Man. Some large mass of fighters taking over towns and causing trouble. But they aren't. Rome won't be sacked by these losers. Once we depart the violence against us will go to zero. Our borders, even if we take the expression of such as measured by where our Coast Guard is deployed is not vulnerable.

    It's hard for me to imagine a successful strategy against such a 1% contingency that the terror threat seems to represent. In any event, what we are doing seems to provide the desired short term result. No international terror groups capable of attacking Western targets. The only real threat these days are lone nuts and self-motivated self-considered-badasses.

    I think the real lessons of Syria, Mali, and Libya is that its time to acknowledge that we've won. Let there be trouble on the fringe of the empire. Whoever is there will eventually sell us their oil. To quote a certain Queen of France, "Let them eat cake." Lol, the main difference between her and us is that we've got oceans and a couple aircraft carrier between us and them and she did not.

    In all honesty, I am more and more convinced that an intentional and centralized strategy or plan to combat chaos and uncertainty is less likely to fix the problem than it is to either change the problem or split it into smaller and less manageable problems. Not that those are bad goals to have; just that we need to recognize the limits of strategic possibilities in such a fluid and chaotic situation, such as the one that exists in the Middle East.

    Nice post btw.

    PF Khans

    ReplyDelete
  14. Al -

    A pox on all religious fundamentalists regardless or their outward face or avatar. And I believe that they are present in most if not all religions including the Eastern Orthodox - for sure in Serbia and Russia and maybe in Greece too. I myself am a firm believer that religion should be in a state of continuous revelation.

    Which brings us back to Chief's question on the art and science of strategy. We in the West or at least in America are pragmatists. Which is, or can be, a good thing. But too often we just buckle down to the task at hand and do not re-evaluate the goals we are working towards. We get so absorbed by current progress that we seem to have lost the power of looking ahead (or back?). Once we decide on a course of action we take little notice of the future or of precedents. We need to add a bit of that "Continuing Revelation" to our strategic thought as well as to religion.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Mike: " We get so absorbed by current progress (perhaps more accurate would be events) that we seem to have lost the power of looking ahead (or back?). Once we decide on a course of action we take little notice of the future or of precedents."

    Spot on, almost. Not sure "progress" is an ingredient. In short, we are a culture captured by the moment. The old saw, "Overcome by events" is the way we like to do things.

    As to Serbia, it was a secular issue between the "ethnic" groups, not one supported nor endorsed by the Church or Islam. While the population can be differentiated along religious lines, there are a host of other issues that far exceed religious ones, and it was and is more akin to tribal conflict than simply religious. However, to make an easy to check box, "Christian" vs "Muslim" works.

    PFK-

    Note that I said "existed peacefully in the Muslim world until 19 Mar 2003". Perhaps I should have been more specific and said Middle Eastern Muslim world, due to the Serbian anomaly? Trust me, I've been there and attended worship in that area in the time frame of "peacefully" that I mentioned, no less served a fair bit of time with CENTCOM.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Al -

    I was out of the service long before the 90s. And was not there when all of that happened in the former Yugoslavia. So will take your word for it. But in the 60s I served with a good friend, a Serb-American kid born in Belgrade during the war, raised in Chicago after immigrating with his mother in 46 and his younger sister who was born on the boat. His Mom and other relatives and friends (their is a huge Serb community in Chi) were great people and welcomed me into their homes. But to listen to the older ones talk was an eye-opener. Especially one of his uncles who was a priest, a real hellfire and brimstone and God's Judgement kind of guy. The subject at the dinner table and after always kept returning to the monstrosities committed on the Serbs by the Croats (including forced conversions to Catholicism at gunpoint) and the torture and murders by Yugoslav Muslims in SS uniforms.

    Yes, I know it was the Nazi's who hated all Slavs and stirred up the mess in the first place and pitted those groups against each other. The Croats had been fighting for Austria since Frederick the Great's time and probably before. And it was German policy to ally with Arabs and Turks and their co-religionists since at least WW1, maybe before.

    And I realize that not all Serb churchmen are (or were) as judgmental and close-minded as the only one that I ever met. Statistically, a sampling of one is meaningless so I should retract my statement. My point was not to attack the Serbs, many of who I met and knew and enjoyed their company. Many Serb priests, I have read, opposed Milosovich and good on them I say. But I still feel strongly that every theology has some devotees that hanker for 'that old time religion'. Sure tradition is nice, but not blind acceptance of going to war for God.

    I should also take back my comment re: fundamentalist Russian Orthodox. There are plenty of them here in Washington State. 'Old Believers' they call themselves. But they are very peaceful. No battling for God that I know of. They seem more like Mennonites than real fundies (I started to say Amish but aren't they even fighting among themselves over how to worship God?).

    ReplyDelete
  17. Aviator,

    I'm not challenging the notion that Jews and Christians existed in the Middle East on a long term basis. I'm more challenging the notion that Muslims don't do the same thing in the US today. Sure there are bigots, but they live peacefully with one another in the same way you describe in the Middle East here in the US. Am I missing something?

    PF Khans

    ReplyDelete
  18. Mike

    Note that the anger was towards a Western Church that was "converting by the sword". A fair amount of that was done on the Western border of Eastern Europe. And yes, the anger remained for a long time, much as how the sack of Constantinople festered in the minds of the people of the Eastern Churches.

    PFK

    I did not say there was not peaceful coexistence in the main. I said "I would be willing to bet that there is a greater percentage of the US population that is anti-Islam than the percentage of anti-Christians in most Muslim countries." That is across the general population.

    There is no shortage of people who proclaim that the US "is at war with Islam". Google "Polls of anti-Muslim sentiment" and you will find several respectable polls showing that a major portion of the US population has an unfavorable view of Islam and Arabs. Over half of those calling themselves Republicans express such a view. Didn't GOP operatives fuel the misconception that Mr Obama is a Muslim to sway votes from him?

    ReplyDelete
  19. @mike

    I think you overestimate the religious background when you discuss the transition of a Yugoslavia that was mainly ruled by communist Serbs into a Serbian nation. IIRC Milosevic did not play the religious card but the nationalistic.

    In the "civil" war the religious card was then used on both sides to shape the enemy.

    At the end of WWII the Serbs had their revenge and afterwards Tito worked hard to stabilize the state by creating regions with non-homogenous population.

    I still remember the talks with Yugoslavian friends, some with mixed Serbian-Croation families, back in Germany in 1986-88. These students feared that the new Serbian dominance would lead to a civil war, religion was no topic.

    Then I got the same impression when I was in Slowenia in 1999, nationalistic aspects were much more important than religion, most of the young people grow up in a communistic state.

    Ulenspiegel

    ReplyDelete
  20. Al -

    As I recall the anger was not just towards the Catholic Church in Croatia. But also what he called the Turks (his meaning I believe was the Bosniak and Kosovo Muslims) who worked for the SS in Yugoslavia.

    Ulenspiegel -

    You are right of course that nationalism was a huge factor during that time. But I don't imagine it took much to stir up religious hostility either. Tamped down under Tito it had been festering for at least two decades and started long before that. It was one way to get the citizens involved. I think all sides in that conflict used religion as a wedge issue, not just Milosevich. Encouraging violence through hatred and enmity is an old standby for any and all warmongers (including the ones in my own family tree).

    ReplyDelete
  21. Aviator,

    Come on, man. So you're saying that in spite of the real violence directed against Christians across the Middle East, the US today is more anti-Islam than the Middle East is anti-Christan because of polls that say Americans don't trust or want Muslims here?

    In Iraq alone 70 churches got bombed in the past decade. Nothing remotely like that is happening in the US. And if you're really hung up on the pre-Iraq invasion thing, there were serious riots in Ramallah where Muslims burned down Christian property. This sort of thing is not happening in the US. I don't see how you can compare the two.

    If I think less of person X for reason Y and do nothing but say something about it, that is nearly definitionally better than if I attack person X for reason Y physically. No?

    PF Khans

    ReplyDelete
  22. PFK: I think that Al is making the distinction between thought and deed.

    I suspect that he's right in terms of attitude; my experience in the Middle East (and much of Latin America as well) is that the U.S. has a fairly strong pull in terms of economic and social appeal. A lot of that is, frankly, nonsense absorbed from American television and movies, the whole "streets paved with gold" crap that has pulled people from other parts of the world to the U.S. since the 19th Century. There seem to be a lot of people who "like America" but don't like U.S. foreign policy; even the lunchpail Abdul and Maryam seem to distinguish between the attractions of American life and the actions of the U.S. government.

    I think the we in the U.S., a lot of us, don't make the distinction. "Them wrapheads" are just trouble, Muslims are scary terrorists and they're all "out to get us". In particular the sort of folks who vote Republican I think tend to go this route. We just assume that if you're a Libyan or an Iranian or an Egyptian Muslim you Hate Our Freedoms without recognizing that there are as many flavors of Egyptian, Libyan, or Iranian as there are Muslims...

    OTOH, the social compact here is pretty strong, and so are the legal and physical methods to compel social order. There's almost nothing akin to the sort of potential for intracommunity violence that exist in places like Iraq or Libya or Nigeria, where the rule of law is much more tenuous. So for all that there are probably more Americans who hate Muslims (both absolutely and as a percentage of the population) than there are Muslims who hate America/Christianity the percentage of Muslims with both the willingness AND the capability to DO something about that - burn churches, kill people - is almost certainly higher, is higher, than the percentage of Americans willing and able to burn mosques and kill Muslims...

    I think the real lessons of Syria, Mali, and Libya is that its time to acknowledge that we've won. Let there be trouble on the fringe of the empire. Whoever is there will eventually sell us their oil. To quote a certain Queen of France, "Let them eat cake." Lol, the main difference between her and us is that we've got oceans and a couple aircraft carrier between us and them and she did not.

    I tend to agree, with the caveat that I think the problems will be:

    1) We've done a hell of a lot to poison that well in the past decade. If we stopped farkling about overseas today, this minute, I think the echoes of our busy little business will continue to reverberate for a long time and continue to bring low-grade trouble. A also tend to agree that it is difficult to figure out how to avoid that trouble; you can spend a hell of a lot of time and treasure trying to track down half a dozen jihadis who want to blow up a 7-Eleven and STILL not prevent that.

    2) The other issue, I think, is the resurgence of sectarian hate. Always been around, but it seems like more and more people - on every side - are willing to fuck around with this dynamite because they think they can use it only on the "enemy" and not end up blowing themselves up, too. As mike points out, look at the former Yugoslavia. Here's a place where the former government had three, four generations to try and rub out those old hates. And no sooner was the Tito cork off that bottle then the sectarian genie was out. Sure, it was summoned by those Serbs who wanted to use it, but the hate had to be down there somewhere for it to be used...

    One of the worst traits I see here in the U.S. is the upswing in Americans voting and acting their religion and making political decisions based on the worst of their sectarian fixations. In a system designed as a sectarian-neutral one I can't see how that ends well.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Al,
    I'd like to address your point re; military strategy.
    Soldiers at your level are trained to be strategic thinkers and coldly logical in the matters of war, and that's as it should be. That's why you go to War College etc..
    Here's where i see a disconnect. After all this training and life experience we assume that the person is then a strategic thinker.
    This may not be true.
    What if the individual is not dealing in good faith? Let's do the same question and comments on people like Powell/Rice/HRC/and all associated in the DOD. There is NOTHING to indicate that any of them are dealing in rational thought , nor that their policies are based on strategic thinking. That's the disconnect that i see.
    We assume good faith on the part of our leaders , but this may be an illusion.
    jim

    ReplyDelete
  24. jim

    Unfortunately, we have little choice but to assume good faith, until proven otherwise.

    One of the sagest pieces of "Gunny Wisdom" I received was that relationships in the Corps had to start with trust. From there, one might earn the continuing trust or lose it, but if we begin with skepticism or distrust, then the initial period is handicapped, and possibly irreparably. Now, that would appear to be great leap from the old saying, "trust must be earned", but the Gunny said, "The odds are 99 to 1 that a leader in the Corps didn't get where he is without being trustworthy. We must rely on this institutional characteristic unless the leader proves otherwise. Otherwise we will go into battle seriously flawed."

    Now, that was some 50 or so years ago, in a very different world, where the ranks weren't filled by a skewed demographic of the AVF.

    During my watch in the Corps (60-66), every promotion was done in a unit formation with the reading of the promotion warrant (enlisted) or commission. Thus, we heard the words, "Know Ye, that reposing special trust and confidence in the patriotism , valor, fidelity and abilities of ______" at every promotion ceremony. There were no "private" promotions in the CO's office or the like. Why? Because a promotion is a change in the command structure pertaining to ALL Marines, and thus the warrant (enlisted) also proclaims:

    This appointee will therefore carefully and diligently discharge the duties of the grade to which appointed by doing and performing all manner of things thereunto pertaining. And I do strictly charge all personnel of lesser grade to render obedience to appropriate orders. And this appointee is to observe and follow such orders as may be given from time to time by superiors acting according to the rules and articles governing the discipline of the Armed Forces of the United State of America.

    Thus, every promotion, both officer and enlisted, was "proclaimed" to "All who shall see these presents", and that proclamation clearly states "special trust and confidence".

    I have to say, this was something I found profoundly lacking in the Army, and when I was granted Bn command, the first thing I did was to have new commissions prepared for all officer promotions and a "proclamation" script similar to the Corps prepared for enlisted promotions. The adjutant would then read the proclamation, not just "the following personnel are advanced in grade". The first promotion in the command was from 1LT to CPT, and many in the Bn, to include the officer being promoted, asked where the adjutant came up with the "script"! Think about that.

    Niw, as to civilian leadership personages (and Powell was a civilian as SecState), we are not talking about a clinical meritocracy with a proclamation of "Special trust and confidence". We are talking about partisan politics that shape national policy. National policy need not be rational, and often is not. How can one ascribe rationality to the view that it is acceptable for 55 million Americans to be effectively denied easy access to basic health care? If how we treat ourselves is irrational, is it a huge leap to see how we treat foreign people with even greater disdain?

    ReplyDelete
  25. FDChief: "Al: Agreed. That's one of the reasons that I suspect that the West will have these wanna-be Muslim martyrs/assassins around for a long time, the other being that for a religious fundamentalist (in thsi case Muslim but they have a hell of a lot in common with their Christian counterparts) the whole ethos of the West with its Godless infatuation with popular sovereignty, female equality, lack-of-condemnation of sexual matters and religious indifference is detestable. "We" will always be the Godless Heathens and as such targets."

    Please note that the primary target of Al Qaida was not 'Godless Europe', but the USA. It wasn't a religiously-prioritized target.

    ReplyDelete
  26. PF Khans: "But does that that really compare with the actual violence enacted against the Coptic Church in Egypt or against Iraqi or Syrian Christians? It seems like you're comparing apples to oranges to me."

    Remember that in the USA, we have the ability to send people to kill others, in other countries. My metaphor for the Iraq War was a lynching: 'Those sandn*ggers killed somma us, so we gotta kill somma them, and which ones don't matter'.

    ReplyDelete