Monday, April 12, 2010

WAR = Large Explosions = Victory?

It smells like victory . . .

Having posted a case study on the Danish campaign of 1940 and observing the response to the Wikileaks video among military related blogs - although not MilPub, which imo has been a model in how to deal with these types of subjects, more specifically FDChief's thread and the following comments. Anyway, not claiming any special or particular expertise - this goes way beyond strategic theory, to "strategic culture" I suppose - I have the following points to make:

First, we in the US equate war with destruction, period. Other methods of coercion, either violent or non-violent, let alone negotiation and providing incentives, are not something countries at war really do, let alone soldiers. Soldiers, especially US soldiers and Marines, blow up stuff and kill large numbers of baddies . . .

Second, people who don't understand this, namely "civilians" (however vaguely defined), are best served keeping their views to themselves and not becoming an "annoyance" to the military as they do/did their job.

Third, there is no connection between policy and war, war is autonomous, a thing in and of itself. Politicians who make grave (and possibly intentional, even criminal) policy errors/decisions are to be judged in the fullness of time by historians alone. We have not a Clausewitzian view, or really any coherent view of war, only of destruction and methods of achieving destruction. All claims to the contrary are essentially spin and self-serving (as in war for profit-making) hogwash.

Fourth, although the war in question may be subjectively considered "stupid" or "pointless" it is nonetheless our patriotic duty to support our troops and continue our strategy of tactical destruction operating under the patina of an ill-described and ill-filling operational concept known as COIN or Counterinsurgency Warfare as currently applied to Iraq and Afghanistan.

This leads to the final point, which is simply, the military/destruction option is the only one we have because it is the only one we know and is how we as a culture define war. War is not really a struggle of opposing wills (see Clausewitz, On War, Book I, Chapter 1, Sections 1-4), but a pair of simultaneous destruction cycles carried out by both sides. The side with the most stuff undestroyed at the end of this process "wins" . . .



  1. Wow, feeling overly cynical this past weekend?

    I just finished reading Robert Cassidy's book on counterterrorism and military culture. I don't believe that he's thoroughly explained how we ought to do COIN better, but he has a good section on how the American military culture evolved.

    Without going into depth and with some paraphrasing, he suggests that the US experience in the Civil War and World War I, plus the adoption of the division as a standard unit of employment, developed the culture of which you speak. That is, that the only solution to war was heavy and unrelenting use of military force until the other side was destroyed. He says this is more Jomini than Clausewitz, despite our Army culture's allegiance to the Baron. He suggests that the American history with COIN - to include the Phillipines and Vietnam - was ignored by the Army because of this mentality of "hey diddle diddle, straight up the middle." I am pretty sure, although I'd have to check, he also comments on the issue of the military's attitude of saying, "hey, politicians, you gave us the go, now sit back and watch us work."

    It's an interesting discussion, many of its points in line with what you are suggesting. So what do we do about it? more articles, more discussions at Army War College? Or is that impossible, are we stuck in a cycle of praising our military heroes' execution of tactics as our national security strategy faulters?

  2. Someday this war is gonna end..

  3. Any other form of "war" makes for dull movies. No one likes to watch paint dry. One of the dangers of a culture that revels in vicarious experience.

    My neighbor, who hid from the Nazi occupiers of our island has a different view of war. I wonder why?

  4. I participate on the discussion board of the SWC and debated my old friend Wilf Owen on the issue whether death, destruction and the threat thereof is the primary component of breaking the enemy's will and whether one should focus on that one.
    Somehow he went kinda downhill in his military theory since he moved to Israel 1.5 years ago, and he's been fixated on the "kill! kill! kill!" approach for about a year.

    Surprisingly, even examples like the 1940 France campaign (in which killing played a very minor role for the operational and strategic victory) failed to make an impression.

    I didn't really dare to extend the discussion to cases in which nations don't fight for victory, but for mere status quo ante and want to keep war intensity and damages minimal. The idea of "victory through death & destruction" is outright idiotic in that context.

    This fascination with death & destruction in warfare (inadequately described by the theoretical construct of "attrition warfare") seems to be very powerful in the West. Maybe it's a residue effect of WWI. It wasn't always like that; Europe's 18th century armies had much more losses due to desertion and illnesses than in combat.

    Btw, I keep annoying American friends with my reminders that the U.S. Army became apprentice of the French Army in 1917-1918 (the USN became apprentice of the RN) and took over its firepower-centric doctrine at that time. In fact, it copied French army manuals (merely translated) till about 1930.

    See? I cannot resist the evil urge. ;-)

  5. Can't claim to understand your motivating thought here... (weary sarcasm?) I haven't had enough coffee yet so I feel I must respond as though you are in agreement with the points made... which would be fine under a totalitarian system, aber...

    1. If the troops would confine the killing to the "baddies" this wouldn't be a problem.

    2. We still live in an ostensibly free country and any citizen has the right and the duty to speak their mind on anything the government (including the military) are doing.

    3. War may take on a "life" of its own, but it is initiated as a matter of policy and waiting a hundred years to decide if it was wise strikes me as incredible. Sure lets everyone off the hook, which may be the point. The German's sure would have appreciated this view at Nuremburg.

    4. Hmmm... that certainly is the current mantra

    4a. Well, yeah.

    Reading your post multiple times I find it difficult to believe that you personally agree with any of this.. but there are chores to be avoided so I continued my blather.

  6. Sven/Fuchs (I'm on SWC too),

    When I read this I thought of Wilf too. I think his point is a bit more nuanced than you make it out to be though. It's not just the killing but the threat of visiting violence on your enemy that breaks will, to use his term. In other words, if an opponent can be maneuvered into a position where they recognize that your ability to dominate them through the threat of violence is clear and insurmountable then that is enough.

    That's how I read his argument anyway.

  7. I don't know if my reaction is where the cynicism lies, or rather in the responses I have seen in regards to the Wikileaks video . . .

    I'm not saying that US strategic culture has always been what it is today: culture by definition goes through an endless process of reformulation.

    Still the main trends would be imo our past history, especially WWII and our perceptions of it; the allure of technology and quick fixes/silver bullet solutions; the tendency to reduce complex social phenomenon to simple linear processes; war as noble national enterprise in pursuit of some great cause {never seen as taudry politics or base interest}; the lack of physical proximity to the fighting; Al's "a culture that revels in vicarious experience"; and finally that attitude "that we can only defeat ourselves", or "we lose only when we give up" . . . all these seem to lead to a strategic culture that fits my five points above.

    As to Wilf, or William Owen, he is a tactician and interested in producing timely military doctrine in support of successful military operations. While both Clausewitzians {as Zenpundit's recent post pointed out} we see things from different ends of the spectrum, he from the tactical end, and I from the strategic. That said, following Clausewitz, war is about fighting, organized violence is the means of war . . . at the strategic end things become much more abstract however and destruction becomes simply one means, not necessary the best means, of warfare. Strategy too has to question whether the political purpose even is attainable by means of the military instrument, and if so how. I mention this because of a comment Wilf made in response to my MLK post, which was "it's not war!", to which I responded, "true, but it is strategy!".

  8. @Andy:
    I explicitly mentioned the threat mechanism, too:
    "...Wilf Owen on the issue whether death, destruction and the threat thereof is the primary component..."

    The tactical vs. strategic view kind of explains it, although I have to say that a focus on killing is often a bad idea already on the operational level. It can be very misleading on the tactical level as well.

    My rule of thumb is that your tactics are ceteris paribus the better the more prisoners you take - and a focus on killing in hope to defeat will through the threat of death is kinda unlikely to yield that result. It leads more to a simple standoff firepower path.

  9. Sven,

    How are you going to get prisoners without a credible threat of violence and death? Enemy forces don't surrender without reason.

  10. I think we need to cast our nets a little wider when considering you points two and four.

    Since probably the Spanish-American War the U.S. public has been largely both ill-informed and manipulated on the subject of armed conflict. Look at the record: the intervention into WW1 was based on a combination of foolish foreign policy mistakes by Imperial Germany (U-boat tactics and silly meddling from the WilhelmstraBe, approaches to Mexico and the like) and a ceaseless propaganda barrage from the Entente Powers.

    The U.S. might never have entered the war against Germany in 1941 if Hitler hadn't declared war first - not a huge possibility, but the U.S. public wasn't all that excited about fighting in Europe after WW1...

    Korea? Vietnam? For the most part the public was either clueless or ill-informed; recklessly optimistic in the beginning, prematurely pessimistic towards the end.

    SINCE Vietnam both the U.S. government and the Pentagon have concluded that the best policy towards the public is a combination of propaganda and obfuscation. Whenever possible the story handed the average Joe and Mary Lunchpail has been a tissue of glittering generalities combined with glowing tales of "Allied" or "coalition" derring-do and "terrorist" eeeeevil. When the realities of counterinsurgency intrude: mistaken identities, treachery, double-dealing, corruption, etc, etc...both military and political authorities combine to hide as much as possible and spin the rest.

    Look at the news reports coming out of this weekend's meeting between the Karzaites and the Holbrooke/Petraeus Coalition of the Spinning. It's all flowers and magical ponies. Suddenly Karzai goes from a drug-using wog to our BFF in Kabul. And yet, what has really changed? This is spin, as pure as gold spun from straw.

    But this is what the public has to go on. This is what WE have to go on.

    Add to this what the public now gets as "news"; the government says "We killed a whole bunch of terrorists", a local journo holds up a dead baby and says "This probably wasn't an actual terrorist" and CNN or whoever says "Well, there you have it, Jane; there seems to be a difference of opinion on this issue..." The entire process of public information is completely unleavened by intelligence or analysis.

    So why should we be surprised that so many opinions are so cluelessly poor?

    Jim is correct, and to muzzle public opinion would be both undemocratic and unhelpful. But it would help if more citizens had the analytical skills to discern the propaganda, spin and bullshit.

    So. Next: my take on the main point of your article, seydlitz...

  11. Andy: I think Sven's point is that we tend to visit death through means that don't ALLOW for surrender. You can't surrender to a drone, or an artillery shell, or a helicopter, or an arclight.

  12. Indeed.

    @Andy: You asked for an extreme version totally devoid of the threat of death. That's an extreme case, but there are even for that multiple possible answers:

    - starve them
    - bribe them
    - knock them out with a rifle butt hit in a smoke cloud or after flash banging them
    - propaganda (lies with a core of truth)
    - make them crazy with noise and rumours
    You could even find uses for bear traps at times.

    You can for example surround a group of TB who hide on a mountain. Cut them off from water sources, use the threat of death only to prohibit an escape - and demand surrender. Alternative: Use JDAMs for kills & get no prisoners to interrogate.

    These are not always possible options, but they can work and meet even the most extreme "no death" question. In fact, I didn't ask for non-lethal warfare. I just pointed out that a "kill! kill! kill!" attitude is primitive and no good idea.

    About propaganda: Did you know that a German propaganda campaign led to more than 4,000 surrendering red army soldiers as late as in 1944? There were less than 4,000 propaganda troops involved for a few months duration - and they covered only a part of the front.
    How does this fit to Wilf's conviction?

    Oh, and with the "accidental guerrilla" in mind; do you think the brother of a TB would feel compelled to pick up the AK for the TB if his family gets red crescent news that the TB brother is well & alive in a POW camp (with neat photo) till the end of the war?
    How about his desires if his brother is KIA and gets praised as martyr by a local mullah?

  13. re: your contention that the U.S. military (and U.S. government) sees war as a purely kinetic exercise.

    First, I think that to a considerable degree you're right. For all that we claim to have "gotten past" the body-count and dead-enemy metrics that became our SOP mid-way through Korea, I think that to a great extent both our military leadership and our political class/NCA see war as a sort of thing apart, divided by a bright line from "peace" and other forms of political discourse NOT characterized by using propellant and explosive to kill people and break stuff.

    I also think that a LOT of this has to do with the internal political need to define war as popular crusade/guerre a la outrance; since, after all, a Democracy doesn't fight nasty, dirty little wars to subjugate or coerce foreign rivals unless those rivals/enemies threaten the very safety and existence of the nation itself, right?

    The popular concept is what that gonzo fucker Glenn Beck has written on his chalkboard: "America Is Good". "Good" nations don't fight wars for access to other people's natural resources. They don't fight wars to intimidate unruly or hostile foreigners (unless those foreigners have smoking guns that can be spun into mushroom clouds...). They fight only for survival. And under those circumstances, the only metric has to be the total destruction of the "enemy's" armed forces, occupation of his homeland and dictation of a victor's peace.

    This, I think, is still how the public sees war: as a unique time and place where the usual rules and techniques of politics don't apply, where the Chief Executive becomes some sort of "commander-in-chief" man-on-horseback and the dogs of war run riot. Look at the comment we received from "Jay in NC" as an example. She wants our wars to be like The Good War, with our soldiers fighting cleanly, with "victory" and the lives of our young men as the singular and only really critical measure of success. I think she's typical of about 88% of the rest of the electorate. I'm not saying that's a bad thing in general, but for fighting small wars for imperial purpose in the global hustings? NOT conducive for explaining a sort of strategy that might work - or, more importantly, explaining why there IS no strategy that will "work" to get the ends we'd like...(con't)

  14. Chief,

    SINCE Vietnam both the U.S. government and the Pentagon have concluded that the best policy towards the public is a combination of propaganda and obfuscation. Whenever possible the story handed the average Joe and Mary Lunchpail has been a tissue of glittering generalities combined with glowing tales of "Allied" or "coalition" derring-do and "terrorist" eeeeevil. When the realities of counterinsurgency intrude: mistaken identities, treachery, double-dealing, corruption, etc, etc...both military and political authorities combine to hide as much as possible and spin the rest.

    That goes way back beyond Vietnam and I think it's incorrect to believe it's some kind of recent development. Look up WWII newreels on youtube for example. The US government and military propagandized the US populace through a variety of means. The "spin" today is nothing compared to what was normal before Vietnam when information dissemination was limited to mass media. Today it's just about impossible to keep any kind of scandal secret. "Mass" media is quickly becoming a bit player. With so many voices, messages and means of communication, controlling or influencing the narrative is much more difficult.

    As as far as propaganda goes, the recent Wikileaks youtube piece is kicking the crap out of the government and military in the propaganda department. Who is spinning whom here? Increasingly, I think government/military spin/propaganda is growing less relevant compared to outfit like Wikileaks as well as groups pushing specific agendas.


    Yes, we actually do all that stuff you mention (except for the "surrounding a mountain" bit - sorry, but that's not remotely practical Afghanistan). If you believe the US military is focused on "kill kill kill" to the exclusion of all else then you are completely mistaken.

  15. On the issue of strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think I've said before here that domestic politics is driving the bus. Iraq and Afghanistan are in a kind of "sweet spot" (poor terminology, I know) where they are not bloody and disruptive enough to cause the American people to force US disengagement - but at the same time a withdrawal or disengagement that looks like we didn't "win" is a political nonstarter. That's why I still think Pres. Obama's likely strategy in Afghanistan is to replicate the so-called "surge" by creating a perception of success that provides the political space to enable US disengagement.

  16. (con't from above)

    So the ruling class and the military leadership have determined that they CAN'T sell the public on the notion of indecisive little wars. They don't really even try. Certainly the Bushies didn't try. The whole farrago was sold, and continues to be sold, as a struggle-to-the-death, two-men-enter-one-man-leaves War on Terror.

    So if you sell it as an existential struggle then you have to fight it as "war" and war to the knife. And for Americans, "war" means bombs and guns and dead people.

    As for the military services...well, I think that we're trying. But I think it's harder than hell to get out of the "don't send a man, send a bullet" way of thinking. Especially when you don't HAVE that many men, and when sending a man means that men are going to die. So by our way of thinking, if you stand off and kill with the methods that have been "successful" in the past (overlooking the fact that the "successes" were either walkovers like Panama and Grenada or politically inconclusive like this one and Iraq) then you either "win" and you're good or you "lose" but only because you are defeated politically (which doesn't count - see the Military Myth of Vietnam) but not militarily.

    So your conclusion - an American public and governing class that sees war as some sort of kinetic Clash of the Titans disconnected from geopolitical objectives, and a U.S. military that is too disconnected from the other geopolitical agencies (like State, assuming we HAD a functional DoS) that might help it find a better way to fight imperial wars - seems valid to me.

  17. Andy: I think you don't see the context.

    Prior to the 1970's the Pretty Picture was the default mode for both the government and the public. The entire point of the Big Lie in Vietnam was that the U.S. public had ALWAYS accepted the official version. The Moros were fanatic nuts, the Kaiser was a Hun, the Nazis and Japs and Commies were the Bad Guys.

    Korea disturbed this pretty picture and then came Vietnam, where we weren't just told, we were shown that our government and our military were flat-out lying, blowing smoke up our asses, not that they were telling us what they believed but that they KNEW what they were saying was bullshit and said it anyway.

    So We the People SHOULD have been skeptical as hell of these Little Wars, knowing what we know. But we weren't; we bought the whole nutroll. For all you claim that "the Wikileaks video is kicking the crap out of the government and the military..." - is it really? Where are the Bishkek-style street riots? Where is the unruly mob of legislators demanding the truth, the prosecutions? Where are Dubya and Darth Cheney (hell, where were Kissinger and Nixon) in leg irons?

    Agree that the propaganda was the same starting probably back in 1791...but the CONTEXT was that before 1968 we defaulted to seeing through a red-white-and-blue lens. We should know better now, we should be more intolerant of the lies and spin now that we know that it's done, who does it, and why.

    And yet we don't, and we're not.

    Without the anger of the public none of this will change.

  18. Andy, are you misunderstanding me all the time or are you using strawman arguments?

    I think t was 100% obvious that I was writing about the discussion with Wilf, not about U.S. forces.

    It's also obvious that you know the SWC and know that I read there, and keeping all the hearts & minds stuff there and the FM 3-24 in mind; do you really think it's appropriate to insinuate that I meant he U.S.forces doctrine with "kill! kill! kill!" and not Wilf?

  19. It is more revealing to look at construction rather than destruction.

    There is a vast industrial base dedicated to the construction of weapons. Of every $10 spent on "defense" in this world, the USA accounts for $4 of that. At some level, the outlay of this kind of money needs to be justified.

    This justification requires believable "bad guys" and the destruction of large quantities of (paid for) material.

    Simply piling up the weapons isn't good enough, it has be used up to make way for the next generation of stuff to be blown up.

  20. A few points.

    As to Sven's comments on numbers of prisoners and that being a indication of success. This is very much linked to the political relations between the two sides. German soldiers would surrender to US troops rather than Red Army soldiers, but that did not reflect accurately tactical efficiency, rather the political relationship between the two sides (Bk 1, Ch 1, Section 3).

    FDChief's on the money in my book. Jay's comments led directly to this post btw. The threat must be presented as being both "global" and "existential" as to demand the level of commitment and unquestioning support . . . to which one of the latest propaganda themes is the "crotch bomber" . . . enough to make you laugh in despair . . . how did we actually ever get to such a point?

    Andy, the reason we're doing so poorly on the propaganda front imo is due to the fact that our message doesn't fit the reality of the situation around us . . . it's the contradictions of our position which are doing us in, in spite of the powerful information operation assets at our disposal. Wikileaks is simply a mirror of sorts, even with whatever minor distortions, we see what is in front of us clearly enough . . . if we don't like what we see then maybe we should try to change it, instead of smashing the mirror . . .

  21. And, like the Fairy Queen in the pantomime, here's the latest moron-grade fuckup to point out the idiocy of sending regular troops to fight in internal civil war:

    Was this a situation that was, in all liklihood, confusing, frightening and generally fucked up for the U.S. element that shot up this bus? Undoubtedly. Does this make it any "better"?

    Hell, no.

    This makes us look just like we're propagandized by the Talibs; a bunch of trigger-happy idiots who can't tell a bus full of locals from a bad guy trying to car-bomb us, and, most importantly - not caring. Kill 'em all, let Allah sort 'em out, is what this looks like.

    Stupid. Critical mass level stupid. WTF, people!?!

  22. I must write even worse than I thought I did, or perhaps, I just don't read well.

    I'm not much of a war lover. It's a hideous and expensive national pastime.

    I think the men and women who sent our troops into Iraq, and Afghanistan for that matter, are much more the enemy than the locals.

    I do take strong exception to negative criticism of the rank and file soldier and marine when the stupidity, impaired judgment, and immorality is the bailiwick of his superiors and leaders.

    I may be agreeing with you people, it's hard to tell. "Regular fighting troops" should not be put astraddle the political fence. I know they are put there but that doesn't make it right.

    It is easier and easier to convince Americans that war is necessary as "war" has become an everyday banality does not affect everyone's
    children, husbands, and brothers.

    BTW, why did Germany declare war on the U.S.? If you answer the question, try to do it in short words and without scholarly references.

    Jay in N.C.

  23. I like your post, Seydlitz.

    Recall Orwell's "1984"? Sure. We all do. But I'm thinking here about the movie version because of the images on Winston Smith's (and everybody else's) TV, which is always tuned to the single Oceania state channel. The TV provides the background noise, and what I recall most is how the war between Oceania and the aggressor IS the background noise, e.g., "in today's news our brave soldiers won another victory....." Oceania is a totalitarian state where constant war engaged in by anonymous brave soldiers is the very foundation of the state as well as the ruler's source of legitimacy.

    As I think about our life in the United States in 2010, I find myself thinking of 1984. I also find myself viewing our incessant wars as just that: background noise, all intended to convince the citizenry that the government has some sort of purpose. How else would one view the "Long War"? Most of us don't have any personal skin in the game—shit, we don't even pay for it—but we're expected to "support" our government.

    War is now all that unifies us as a nation. The cupboard is bare; our leaders are bereft of constructive ideas, but war is always there as a tried-and-true means of retaining power. It was in Big Brother's handbook and it's been in the handbook of every petty dictator. Samuel Johnson: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

    Way back when, those of us of the Vietnam graduate classes used to jokingly say, "Our business is war and business is good." We didn't know how right we were.

  24. Sven,

    I guess I did misinterpret your comments - my apologies.


    Prior to the 1970's the Pretty Picture was the default mode for both the government and the public.

    Well I, for one, would like to see some evidence for that because that's not what I remember of history at all. I recently read, for example, an article on National Geographic's coverage of the Philippine insurrection which provided some insight into media coverage and the political "spin" of that war which are not dissimilar to what we see with OIF. Justifications for the US presence changed over time. A taste:

    As "imperialism" became transformed into "development," problems such as efficient resource utilization and provision of infrastructure could safely be regarded as scientific, not political or commercial, matters. What emerged was a sanitized, paternalist version of imperialism that was consistent with the Progressive Era's fixation with the rational management of society by an enlightened bureaucracy of experts. Meanwhile, the installation of a U.S.-patterned educational system in the Philippines ensured that future generations would be inculcated with liberal American values and, with those, a desire to produce and consume within a society newly oriented toward trade in a world market. The United States, in effect, exchanged the prospect of direct, short-term plunder of resources and labor for the longer-term, indirect promise of sustained commerce with the Philippines as a prospering and self-governing nation. That this vision was not exactly filled is another story....

    That change in vision and ideology was caused by the anti-imperialist movement. Some more:

    American geographers, whether self-styled or professional, played no small role in the transformation of ideology with respect to the Philippines. They participated directly, as federal-agency scientists and as writers for the National Geographic Magazine, and indirectly, as members and supporters of the NGS. They vigorously promoted both the practice of geography and the U.S. economic enterprise in the Philippines, with serious consequences that were ultimately borne by the Filipino people. Because the NGS rested heavily on its "status as a scientific society and the belief in science as an objective quest for pure information about the world," it could effectively proffer an essentially imperialist agenda under the guise of scientific progress and moral responsibility. Ultimately, the National Geographic lent credence to a view of the world - and America's role within it - that readers could unquestioningly accept as the truth, thereby permitting the ethical assumptions that were so thoroughly embedded within it to remain unchallenged.

    Sound kinda familiar? That’s just a taste, I wish I could quote more (email me and I can send you the whole thing). Point being, the same sorts of lies, obfuscations and spin we see today in order to justify continued military intervention or are nothing new....


  25. Chief (cont):

    For all you claim that "the Wikileaks video is kicking the crap out of the government and the military..." - is it really? Where are the Bishkek-style street riots? Where is the unruly mob of legislators demanding the truth, the prosecutions? Where are Dubya and Darth Cheney (hell, where were Kissinger and Nixon) in leg irons?

    Because Americans, just like through most of our history, are not invested in these interventions. Most Americans are trying to scrape out a living and don't really care enough about some foreign war that doesn't much affect them to take to the streets. Why should they take to the streets, even those who ostensibly believe these wars are criminal enterprises? With the exception of a handful of people like Charles, most of those in the strong anti-war segment of the population are not willing to do much more than spend an afternoon or two a year marching, much less make real sacrifices. Why is that?

    Also, why, might I ask, aren't you in the street Bishkek-style? Maybe it's because you've got a great family that needs your support and you can't piss your job away and spend your time organizing? Well, I'm in that same boat and it seems to me that pretty much everyone else here is too, which probably explains why we spend so much time here. Until something rises to the level that one is willing to sacrifice, then it's just so much hot air, no?

    We should know better now, we should be more intolerant of the lies and spin now that we know that it's done, who does it, and why….And yet we don't, and we're not.

    Maybe this is where we really disagree. I don’t think people change much despite changes in circumstance over time. I think we’re about 99% the same people we were 100 or 500 years ago. Plus "knowing better" doesn’t necessarily mean people will change their ways.


    I think you’re right about messaging that doesn’t fit reality. But again, that much isn’t new. Rare is the policy that doesn’t need spinning by proponents. I also think the messaging-reality disconnect fits into my theory that these wars are driven by domestic politics and little else. It seems to me that accounts for both the lack of reality and the messaging.

  26. Seydlitz,

    It's as I surmised after the coffee finally settled in... you were laying out how things are in our cotton-candy circus of unreality, and not the way you think they should be.

    Jay, so where do you draw the line? From your comments one might conclude that anything an American soldier does in a war zone is solely the responsibility of those who sent him/her there. Going to have to vacate a lot of sentences from Nuremburg if that becomes the basis for judgment.

  27. If a large number of states accept "The Castle Doctrine" (, either through case law or specific legislation, is it not culturally understandable that our foreign adventures might involve violence based upon "perceived threat", however slight? In most of those states, deadly force is justified not just to protect life and limb, but property as well.


    In your State of NC, the law states:

    A lawful occupant within a home or other place of residence is justified in using any degree of force that the occupant reasonably believes is necessary, including deadly force, against an intruder to prevent a forcible entry into the home or residence or to terminate the intruder's unlawful entry......if the occupant reasonably believes that the intruder intends to commit a felony in the home or residence.

    Are any of the "barbaric" acts of our service members far out of line with this?

    We are a nation born by an act of violence, and that tendency to justify violence to protect property, not just life and limb, surely influences our behavior in foreign policy implementation.

  28. Hey all,

    Off topic here, but I just finished my taxes and would like to share. I use Turbotax which helpfully gives you some statistics for the current and previous 5 years. Our effective tax rate (married filing jointly) this year for federal income taxes: 0.21%. Not-a-typo. Our average over the last five years: 3.4%. Our gross income was $78k. Our effective tax rate for this year is much lower than the "whopping" 4-5% we usually pay mainly because we lost a lot of money selling our house and we got some additional tax credits thanks to the stimulus package. Crazy way to run a country and it's also an illustrative example of just how meaningless marginal tax rates are.

  29. Seydlitz,
    Should the US even be involved in propaganda?
    Whatever happened to truth?
    Nothing but the truth.
    Propaganda is not a word that i associate with democratic action.
    Nice post.

  30. To continue off topic. Our gross was about 10% higher than yours, and our effective tax rate was 10.5%. Of course, living overseas, we have no allowable deductions and thus do the standard one.

    However, Andy, when we appear before the Obamacare "Death Panels" next year, you and the wife are going to be in big trouble, while the two of us will be categorized as productive, contributing citizens. ;-0

  31. Publius,

    The 1984 reference seems way too accurate.

    I have also felt for a long time that we were morphing into the sciety envisioned in Robocop.

  32. Al,

    I think we'd be around 10% too were it not for the credits we get from our two kids which cut $3600 directly from what we owe. Our third is due in two weeks so I guess I will need to reduce withholding again for next year. We also use the standard deduction since we don't own a house anymore.

    There's been a spate of articles recently on how about 47% of Americans effectively pay little to no income tax. That I'm just about in that group as someone with an upper-middle income is just plain wrong, even accounting for the economic hit we took last year.

    That's also a good point about the death panels - time to find us a nice island of our own to keep the death panel police from confiscating our organs! ;)

  33. We really need some "death panels", actually. Not in the sense of deciding to off people, but in the sense of not keeping vented 90 year olds with severe dementia and multiple system failures on indefinate life support... as an example

  34. Say Andy, RE Taxes:

    A bunch of Teabuggery personnel assembled recently, Bastille style, in DC (hat tip to Snarkmeister Penguin). A sampling of this lot (questioned by David Frum's interns), gave irrefutable proof of their terminal witlessness. On the subject of taxes, a majority believed "Their" taxes had gone up since the beer hall putsch of the Magical Negro.

    Primo, I don't think there were any top 5% earners in that bunch, therefore tax reductions were aimed at their (taxable income) cohort.

    Secundo, A lot of W's taxes for the wealthy have yet to expire. Hell, the Kenyan Griot will probably magically turn that into another socialist giveaway that they will not perceive receiving.

  35. Andy: You make my point. The United States that foisted itself and it's National Geographic Society on the Philippines was the one that believed that "America is Good", who swallowed the whole patriotic line hook, line and sinker. That attitude, that if our government did it it must be right, lasted up until the Vietnam period. So you might say that, looking at U.S. history, we're back in the default setting for the U.S. public - dumb, credulous and inert.

    I've said before - this entire Middle Eastern/central Asian nonsense is really a minor episode militarily and economically...IF we learn from it. If we persist in chasing Afridis where they run for decades, I suspect that we will find ourselves in a much worse place indeed.

    As for taxes...we ended up paying something like 20%, but much of that because my wife is a "private contractor" and gets slammed for FICA and the other non-income-tax items like unemployment insurance...

  36. This has turned out to be a very nice thread. Lots of interesting and well-presented comments.

    A few points-

    Jay, you weren't the only inspiration for this thread, and it was more the comments from military bloggers that I characterize with my four points introduced on this thread, but take a look again at your own points 1-3 and 5 from your first post.

    I thought about your question as to why Hitler declared war on the US. The best explanation I've come across is presented in Howard K. Smith's "Last Train from Berlin" . . . not much of an answer maybe, but a great book.


    Yes, 1984, but especially in regards to what a beating the language has taken. Words have lost their meanings and complex concepts have become simplistic labels. Everything becomes corrupted by narrow interest.


    Some say that propaganda is necessary in the modern world, since people don't really have any belief systems that unite whole communities or rather societies any more. How else is a political authority to hold things together?


    Agree as to politics being what keeps us involved in the "Long War" which is of course very Clausewitzian since both the original policy and the current politics translate to "Politik".


    "Robocop" Agree.

  37. "Propaganda is that branch of the art of lying which consists in nearly deceiving your friends without quite deceiving your enemies."

    Frances Cornford

  38. Yoli: Yep. The sad part is that we can't even seem to get that close to either; every time we seem to try and wrap ourselves in the Flag of Freedom we shoot up another damn bus or something. We're like the Wile E. Coyote of Great Powers that way. Sheesh.

  39. Andy: The main reason I'm not hurling cobblestones at the local gendarmie is that I have lost my faith that populist pressure can change the direction of what's going on inside the Beltway. I have, in effect, accepted that I am a subject in all but name. Sad, but there you are.

    And, you're quite right, a huge part of this is having JUST ENOUGH to lose; neither poor enough to be free of the fear of losing what I have nor wealthy enough to prevent that loss. The proliferation of us wage-slaves has played an huge, and largely unremarked, role in the desuetude of our Republic. We are just beholden to too many to act without fear and without remorse.

  40. Yoli-

    Disagree with the quote in that it appears to me to be too complacent in regards to the power of "total propaganda" . . .

    "The idea that propaganda consists of lies (which make it harmless and even a little ridiculous in the eyes of the public) is still maintained by some specialists . . . But it is certainly not so. For a long time propagandists have recognized that lying must be avoided. "In propaganda, truth pays off" - this formula has been increasingly accepted. Lenin proclaimed it. And alongside Hitler's statement on lying one must place Goebbels's insistence that facts to be disseminated must be accurate. How can we explain this contradiction? It seems that in propaganda we must make a radical distinction between a fact on the one hand and intentions or interpretations on the other; in brief, between the material and the moral elements. The truth that pays off is in the realm of facts. The necessary falsehoods, which also pay off are in the realm of intentions and interpretations. This is a fundamental rule for propaganda analysis."

    Jacques Ellul; "Propaganda", p 53.

  41. Andy & FDChief-

    The only option open to us, since representative democracy has essentially failed (or am I wrong?) would be non-violent direct action (NVDA) Martin Luther King style, but that requires a political community morally cohesive enough and committed enough to get through the organization and direct action phases without resorting to self-defensive violence . . .

    Andy hits it on the head imo since we are a collection of atomized individuals (consumers) each responsible to our immediate families for providing economic support. I can imagine my wife's reaction if I told her that I was going back to the States to participate in NVDA . . . "Grow up little boy, you're not 20 years old any more, besides what about us?"

    Also we lack certain advantages that King had, such as a press that was sympathetic (at least in part) to his struggle, not to mention the "tension" he was able to exploit, which was the contradiction in the segregationists own value system (Christian values as opposed to blatant discrimination). I fear that it would be too easy to paint the NVDA movement as an enemy, as traitors worthy of violent repression . . . or am I wrong?

  42. Perfect example happening to me right now... contract negotiations are underway, and management is pushing to dramatically increase workload while dramatically reducing compensation, and the refrain heard all around the hospital is "I can't afford to go on strike".

  43. I am personally quite optimistic in the future of representative democracy. A big part of my optimism has to do with the rise of the internet and the associated changes in information flow. (it really is as big a change as the advent of the printing press).

    Today, we are seeing the fracturing of established political norms. I was enormously cheered today by the Pirate Party of Canada becoming eligible for official party status (with only a 60 day waiting period remaining)

    The Tea Party is another good example of how the status quo doesn't work.

    The times they are a changin.

  44. Seydlitz,
    I reckon the truth would be a better unifier than propaganda.

  45. jim-

    What's "the truth"? A big "T" Truth as in God? Or a little "t" truth as in what we can prove through observation, "empirical truth", which nobody seems to agree on . . . ?

    In truth it seems to be difficult to decide what the truth actually is, since it has to be described with language, which is always susceptible to rhetoric influenced heavily with interest . . . I don't think we can escape this quandary so easily.