Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Harem Scarum

 --The Week magazine, 5.19.14 issue

Said I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in Trenchtown
Oba, ob-serving the hypocrites
As they would mingle
with the good people we meet 
--No Woman No Cry, 
Bob Marley 

Woman is the nigger of the world...yes she is
If you don't believe me,
take a look at the one you're with
Woman is the slave to the slaves 
--Woman is the Nigger of the World, 
John Lennon

 “I have reason to believe Boko Haram
will see reason and let these girls go.
I think they will have a conscience
to let these girls go.”
Oronto Douglas, special adviser on strategy 
to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan

Tuning in to the BBC World Service last night, I heard that Scotland would be playing Nigeria (site of the recent ballyhooed kidnappings by Islamist group Boku Haram.) At topic was a serious issue, but it was not girls or kidnapping. It was Potential game-fixing by the Scotish Football Association (SFA), and it was discussed with animated solemnity.

Hearing this reminded me that book's like Foer's How Soccer Explains the World explain our actuality well. This is no judgement call, but the back field of our pretended concerns is always in motion, and it consists of the things in which we actually engage and which divert us, like watching sports.

Additionally, we now have the ability to slake off our emotions via broadcasting them over our social media networks, but this hullabaloo accomplishes naught in changing the actual shape of things. It does, however, dissipate enough of the participant's energy so that he will never actually be a potential threat to any status quo. It pits one versus the other in a simplistic partisan competition, mimicking the games we play out on the field, establishing franchises and affiliations, and opponents.

Take, for instance, the recent (but not unusual) low-level nasty work of Nigeria's Boku Haram:

The New York Times reported last week that Nigeria's army was "Holding Up the Hunt" for the abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria. "Foreign diplomats say that the Islamist group Boko Haram appears to be winning the struggle with a weak military." Yet Nigerian President Jonathan's policy strategist says "reason" and "conscience" will hold the day. 

Good luck with that.

And ... why is it we care? Not in the human, Christian, Enlightened sense, but WHY would we take any military action (U.S. Sends Troops to Chad to Aid Hunt for Nigerian Schoolgirls)? Puppies, kittens, girls -- most people become upset when the innocent are abused, but why would we risk even one soldier's life or limb over Nigeria's endemic problems? 

Is it because this Muslim group chose a really scary name? It sounds like the bogeyman from hell. Is it because they're taking young women and returning them impregnated -- the oldest "survival of the fittest" ruse in the book? Are we afraid there are sleeper cells of Boko Haram in Detroit or Cleveland, or that they'll come over here to get our women and children?

Islamist groups do these things, have been doing these things, for a long time now. Our intervention in the Middle East had nothing to do with it, unless you think they are clever enough to be committing these abductions to provoke the guys in white, like catnip to the cat. Nigerian's Islamic leader Abubakar Shekau said of the girls in a released video, "They are slaves and I will sell them because I have the market to sell them" 

If the military in their own nation is not too gung-ho on the matter, why should we be? Is it because we have a President who is as angry over veterans dying for lack of decent medical care as he is over women in Nigeria nation being kidnapped?   

It's not our sense of immense paternalism toward the weaker sex, though I'm sure the military would like to feel or project the notion that they really are doing some good in the world. No -- if this were so we'd be intervening in too many countries to name that subject their women to servitude, prostitution and worse. Women will continue to be the Second Sex until enlightenment reaches all humans.

Since this has not happened here in the belly of the democratic beast, do not expect it to be enforced upon a tribal warrior mindset anytime soon. No matter how many cups of tea you lay out, even with clotted cream, berries and scones.

 No way ... so why the pretense?

The Commentariat calls for action. The politicians send the military into harm's way. Everyone seems satisfied, not realizing that we are merely exchanging potential violence against our own citizens for the endemic violence of yet another Islamic culture.

Nothing will change; it is a zero-sum game, on the human level.

Why do the supposedly-concerned not do or call for doing the heavy-lifting of resolving some of the outrages in their own country and culture? Is it sound and fury, signifying nothing?

[adapted from RangerAgainstWar.]

Monday, May 26, 2014

Decoration Day 2014

My daughter is up early, as usual. She's just a natural morning person, and she loves to watch the "My Little Pony" reruns the kid channel shows before 9:00am.

I've been trained into getting up early ever since my first week in Reception Station, so I get up with her, and we cuddle, and then I go make coffee and check my e-mail and my Facebook feed.

Today, as always, there are all sorts of "inspirational" stories about soldiers and "tributes" to the recent veterans of our land wars in Asia, because, frankly, most civilians haven't the slightest fucking idea of the difference between Memorial Day and Veteran's Day but they do feel a sort of vague sense of wanting to do the "right thing".

And I'm sitting here reading my friends Facebook posts and I can't help but think this as I read all the Memorial Day stuff.

I'm glad you're thinking about your soldiers today. At least for one day. I'm glad you are concerned about them and wish them well.

But, frankly, if you really care for and want to do something for American soldiers, you might want to be paying more attention to what your "leaders" are doing in your name. You might want to take a hard, hard look at those people who want to send your soldiers into harm's way to accomplish impossible missions like "fighting terrorism". You might want to work against electing morons who have a penchant for doing moronic things like starting land wars in Asia. You might want to think about what happens to those who don't die in wars, and that only those dead have seen an end to war. That the VA "scandal" is really that a coterie of grifters and sonsofbitches lied to you that war could be painless and cheap, waved a flag and frightened you with the idea of dusky terrorists under your bed and you bought it, or, at least, you did nothing to stop it, and now there are thousands of young men and women who will take the mental and physical wounds of those lies to their graves.

You might consider that the best way to honor our war dead is to make damn sure that our "leaders" have damn good reasons for making more of them.

I know most of you here already know that.

But you might take a moment to remind your friends who don't that they might take a moment to consider all that before they return to their regularly scheduled barbeque.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Distinction Between "Fantasy" and "Imagination" from a Strategic Theory Perspective

Since I have been quite busy of late with end of term academic matters and project work, I haven't had much opportunity to either post or comment. There of course is no shortage of topics from a Clausewitzian strategic theory perspective to post about, we are experiencing a particularly target-rich environment regarding failed strategy, general strategic confusion, or even what I have described as astrategic spasms.
The role of strategic theory is to interrogate (especially recent) military history and more broadly attempts to use military force in instrumental/policy-connected ways. Intelligence interrogation is an art, and another word for a dialogue, but under controlled conditions. In the case of strategic theory, the controlled conditions are the historical record which consists of facts, figures, sequences, relations . . . So anyone who thinks it's simply faddish to criticize recent military actions misses the whole point and probably doesn't understand what strategic theory is, which of course is not my problem.
So what to bring up? On a recent thread, FD Chief brought up the confusion between operations and strategy. This has been discussed much recently and in my view, the most coherently by Hew Strachan. But then I like just about everything Professor Strachan writes, so maybe I'm partial. He's also a Clausewitzian thinker . . .
Other possible topics abound. What of the confusion of the basic two types of strategy as presented by Hans Delbrück a century ago, that being the distinction between a strategy of attrition and that of annihilation? Too often policy makers and military commanders think in terms of one while operating in an actual environment of the other, assuming that "total military success" is actually attainable given their limited commitment/unlimited goals and that victory leads inevitably to policy success . . . A strategy of annihilation requires very specific political and strategic conditions and even then requires a deft diplomacy to pull off in terms of gaining the intended political purpose.
So, could talk about that, but not today . . .
Let's open with a quote from the master strategic theorist Alexandre Svechin writing in the early 1920s:
The Crusade . . . The errors of German foreign policy had a grave effect on German strategy. The diplomats needed to have a clear idea of the strategic tail which was an extension of the foreign policy they created. The nature and shortcomings of foreign policy are naturally transmitted to strategy. The irrational, mystical nature of politics, which led to the first crusades at the beginning of our millennium, engendered the irrational, anti positive strategy of the crusaders. Ranke was sad that Frederick Barbarossa did not first seize the Balkan peninsula for a A German operational base before going into Asia. But this kind of movement forward, from phase to phase, expending the lives of entire generations and systematically broadening one's cultural, economic and operation base, is quite the opposite of what we understand a crusade to be. The fate of the crusaders was to have their tracks lost in the ocean of ground they covered in the same way that all traces of a ship are lost at sea.
The thinking of a true politician, like a strategist not only avoids any mysticism but it is firmly rooted in reality; from this his fantasy grows, and his creation determined solely by the building material provided by reality. A certain amount of mysticism was characteristic of the German leadership in the World War. In early 1915, in German political circles there were lively discussions of the desirable 'orientation' of German attacks - i.e. against 'democratic' France of Tsarist Russia. Ludendorff supported the Russian orientation and received energetic support from the Social Democrats. Falkenhayen supported a Western orientation, allowing for an offensive against Russia with only limited aims. In fact, the more setbacks the Tsarist government suffered, the more impossible it was for Russia to conclude a separate peace. Ultimately, the anti-Russian orientation triumphed because of the unpopularity of Tsarist Russia among the Social Democrats and left-wing bourgeoisie. The German campaign on the Russian front in 1915 resembled Don Quixote's actions and was moreover politically criminal because it placed the life of the German nation at risk. A contrast to this anticipated approach of the German Social Democrats, who classified their enemies on the basis of their sympathies rather their implacability, is offered by the policies of the Fascist Mussolini, who established diplomatic and trade relations with the Soviet Union, actions far from any kind of mysticism and guided by actual benefits without mixing sympathies and business. Strategy, p 134

Let's make a distinction between "fantasy" that is here thinking politically in mystical terms, and "imagination" which would be based on a realistic appraisal of the political situation. A political elite obsessed with fantasy and fantastic notions of their own power, exceptionalism, righteousness and infallibility is going to be ripe to engage in all manner of "crusades" without ever being clear as to the astrategic nature of their actions. I would go so far to say that such behavior is that of a political elite lurching towards collapse.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

7th of May 1954

Big year for anniversaries!  The Bi-Centennial in August for the occupation of Washington DC and the burning of the Capitol by the British.  Again in August the Centennial for the start of WW1.  The 70th in June for D-Day at Normandy.  And the 60th this month for the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.  BBC Radio on the 4th broadcast a documentary on that battle.  It was well done, although superficial on details as it would have to be to treat a five month siege in a scant 50 minutes.  Worth listening to though.

I am surmising much of it was probably based on British author Martin Windrow’s book 'TheLast Valley', which has been claimed  by many readers to be the best work written on the battle.  I reserve judgment on that.  Windrow did a great job detailing the achievements of the Viet Minh in the use of artillery, AAA, camouflage, and combat engineering as well as their mobilization and logistical superiority.  However, for a better feel of the battle itself and for the political battles and blunders leading up to it, Bernard Fall’s 'Hell in a Very Small Place' cannot be beat and his prose is a much better read than Windrow’s.

Genevieve de Galard, a nurse and the only Frenchwoman at the battle, wrote an excellent book, 'Angel of Dien Bien Phu', a must read IMHO.  There were other women there also; the French troops had a mobile bordello there staffed with Algerian and Vietnamese prostitutes.  But when the merde hit the fan, they stopped doing business and some helped out as nursing assistants.  Reportedly they were sent to re-education camps after capture.  You have to wonder what eventually happened to them and if their stories have ever been told.

The story of the French survivors of both the battle and captivity has been well told.  BTW more died in Viet Minh prison camps than in the battle itself.  Only 30% or the Dien Bien Phu POWs were repatriated, what happened to the others?  Frenchmen were a minority within French troops at Dien Bien Phu and throughout French Forces in Indochina as a whole.  What happened to the vast non-French contingent of the garrison after capture?  Nobody has written of them that I have found at least not in English.  So probably the huge numbers of Viets, Lao, and Hmong fighting for the French went to re-education camps and maybe ended up years later fighting the Americans in South Vietnam and Laos?  The Algerian, Moroccan, and West African tirailleurs were proselytized.  Perhaps many of the Algerians returned home and fought against their former comrades during the guerre d’Algerie?  Or perhaps some of them remained loyal to France during that time and per Alistair Horne’s claim after the cease fire were forced by the FLN to ”…dig their own tombs, then swallow their decorations before being killed;…”?  The Foreign Legionnaires, although not French by birth or citizenship, for the most part were repatriated to France.  But what happened to those legionnaires from Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union, did they also return?  I have yet to find any English language sources that address any of these questions.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Reform School, Redux

 Productivity is getting
higher and higher oh, oh, yeah

But profitability is getting

tighter and tighter oh, oh, yeah

--Think Visual
, The Kinks

Maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events,

but we just got our asses kicked, pal

--Aliens (1978)

Status quo, you know,

is Latin for "the mess we're in"

--Ronald Reagan


{This is a re-post from 14 MAR 2009 @ RangerAgainstWar.}

DAV Magazine
reports this month, ""New VA Secretary Pledges Reforms." That the new Veterans Administration Secretary Shinseki "pledges reforms" does not fill Ranger with HOPE for CHANGE.

The dictionary defines "reform" as "a change from worse to better," "to amend by removing faults and abuses"; "an improvement via alteration." And just how, you may ask, will the VA accomplish this rectification?

It seems the VA, with the appointment of Shinseki --
the fourth consecutive U.S. military graduate to head the VA -- is hoping to hit a roving banker quinella. If these previous heads were so crackerjack, why does the DVA need reform? Since the previous appointments failed so spectacularly, one can see why they might think the fourth time will be the charm.

The VA has a
"dire backlog of 840,000 unprocessed disability claims" seven years into our elective wars. Shinseki, who is being touted as a maverick who spoke truth to power and was "unceremoniously ushered in retirement," is their magic elixir to turn things around.

Ranger wonders if any DVA Secretary has ever gone into a VA Outpatient Clinic for a medical appointment? Has Shinseki ever used the VA health care system?

Not to attack the man, but Shinseki did not oppose the phony and aggressive wars of invasion.
He simply did what a General does -- requested more troops, which probably would have contributed to that many more wounded and disabled veterans. To have opposed the war would have been an actually maverick and courageous stance.

Shinseki, like the rest of the officer corps (until they retire, that is) supported the illegal invasions, yet now he is being hailed as a role model.

He is no maverick. He is No. 4.


NOTE [20 MAY 2014]:

Five years ago, everyone was cheering on the appointment of Shinseki. However, neither Ranger nor his buddy "Minstrel Boy" were among the cheering squad, the latter of whose unedited comments we append below --
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...
there's a long, long, list of veteran's issues. many attribute the fall of rome to the generals of great personal wealth, like gaius marius, pompey magnus, crassus, and, after gaul and egypt, ceasar. the changing of the makeup of the legions during the 2nd and 3rd punic wars meant that many of the provincials, many of the urban poor, flocked to the standards when the property requirement for service was removed. many times, like during the years of hannibal running amok on the italian peninsula there would be promises of settlement in conquered land, or on public lands. with marius, pompey, and ceasar, when the state failed to compensate its veterans by keeping even a fraction of the promises they used their personal wealth to make good on those broken vows.

the upshot was that rome ended up with a military that held allegiance to a general, an admiral, or ship captain. they knew where the funds rolled from. this, in turn, led to many civil wars. for bloody conflict in the ancient world, it is impossible to be roman legions against roman legions. parnassus where caesar and pompey clashed was like a roman antietem. 5 hours of fighting and an ocean of roman blood.

after every u.s. war, one of the first orders of business in washington is to try and "move on" and find some way to forget the folks who fought for them. one of the few times that wasn't bordering on the criminal was after ww2. eisenhower knew what his soldiers and other men sacrificed and he would not allow things like the g.i. bill to be dismantled. it took reagan to do that. eisenhower made war, reagan made war movies. yet, they both had war stories. thing was, because his fighting front was in hollywood, reagan loved to tell his war stories.

when i was wounded for the last time, i was struck by how uncomfortable the sight of me was for my old buddies. the guys at silver strand training to go over there certainly didn't walk to look the fact that the shit's dangerous in the eye. i'm sure that even well intentioned soldiers feel that way.

when max cleland was in charge of the v.a. there was some progress made. max has a full and clear personal perspective on that system. absent a maimed or wounded vet who has dealt with that monolithic structure, how about nominating a doctor, or primary care giver?

i've met many doctors in the v.a. system who feel as obstructed and unable to do the work of healing as the patients they try bravely to bring care to. why not one of them?

rather than somebody with five rows of REMF ribbons on their chest, how about somebody who walks with a permanent limp, or needs a cane, crutches or chair?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Is That Right?

--Drones, Schot de Volksrant

Our faith is our strength
--motto of Tristan da Cunha 

I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the
Heart's affections and the truth of the Imagination
--John Keats 

Freedom is a bourgeois prejudice
V.I. Lenin 

"Truth", "Freedom", "Rights", "liberties", endowments ... these terms occur in our foundational documents, but have never been definitively explained. That is why a person like Edward Snowden is either deified or demonized -- we are not sure what we are allowed to do.

The most famous line from the Declaration of Independence (1776) states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But in a society based upon laws, definition is important. How can these be "self evident" when at the time of the Declaration's writing, all men (= people) were not treated as though they had been "created equal[ly]"? If they are "truths", then they would have trumped behavior to the contrary.

It would take the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteen Amendments to confer freedom, full citizenship and the right to vote upon black males. It would not be until the 19th Amendment (ratified in 1920) that women would gain the right of suffrage.

Perhaps one may believe in universal equality of the construction of man, yet still believe that some few ubermensch retain the right to overmaster them. However, that is not societal equality, of the sort that a government document may confer. Further, how can it be "true" and "self-evident" that all are created equally when the observed evidence is so contrary. 

If rights are inalienable, they why need they be conferred by a "Creator"? If one were a citizen atheist, one still maintains his rights even though he denies they have been conferred upon him by a Creator. If rights are inalienable to my existence, then they need not be conferred, and are just a fact. 

If rights are "inalienable", then they are indwelling in the human, and may not be divorced by fiat or behavior. The Existentialists argued for man's radical freedom, even in cases of incarceration or death sentence, but that is a philosophical argument arguing for freedom in one's head space, a domain on which the government has not yet intruded.

Supreme Court Justice Brandeis sought to protect that intangible freedom in his dissent in Olmstead (1934), when he foresaw a time when governments might develop and enlist technology to invade even that private sphere -- a "thought police", of sorts. However, one's actual physical condition may indeed be constricted, either by one's violation of his contract with the State or bad faith behavior of the State itself. So one's essential "liberty" is not a truth.

Liberty is not so much a right as a very tenuous condition. While an enlightened individual may eke out a mental zone of free thought when physical freedom may be denied to him, liberty is only the result of an agreement between the free man and his government, and only exists in the zone when both are performing their responsibilities correctly. Slavery and servitude is more generally man's state. 

"Life" is the one given among the "truths", but even it is not a "Right" -- life is simply a biological imperative. It is the seed seeking rich soil, the egg seeking fertilization, and then implantation. The impetus to life is a dumb fact if one is existing on this planet, much as when life has been extinguished, death and the absence of life will be a fact.

The Articles of Confederation also alludes to the “Great Governor of the World.” Were these references to a Big Guy just sops to simple people fleeing religious persecution? Many of the Founders were Deists, but they also believed in an "unmoved mover", a disinterested creator of all that is.

In Jefferson’s view, the rising generation, once sustained by complete liberty of conscience, would abandon religions based on biblical revelation in favor of those founded on reason. “There is not a young man now living in the United States,” he predicted in 1822, “who will not die a Unitarian.” (Separation of Church and State.) But reason had its day with The Enlightenment. 

In fact, there are NO inalienable rights; ask Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. There are "rights" conferred by government, rights which may be abridged, abrogated or annulled, either judicially or extralegally.

We must be honest about who we are and what we want if we are to understand our present condition, yet who can do this even on a personal level? Our founders were brilliant and brave, their rhetoric soaring, but the words belie terrific contradictions and outright misstatements.

We are a riven society because men are riven, and men have created these concepts called rights.

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar]

Friday, May 9, 2014

Strategy and the Operational Art, a question for the readership.

This month's issue of The Journal of Military Operations has an article by Aaron Jackson of the Australian Defence Force discussing his assessment of one of the things that our contributor seydlitz often mentions; that many Western nations (and the United States in particular) seems to have a) lost the abolity to think and plan "strategically" and b) substituted, at best, the operational level of military planning for the classical concept of strategy.

Jackson is responding to an earlier article covering the subject, Alien: How Operational Art Devoured Strategy, by Justin Kelly and Mike Brennan in the September, 2009 issue of the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute.

The two articles are essentially making the same argument, that "(t)he subsequent expansion of the newly delineated operational level within the doctrine of English-speaking militaries led to it encompassing campaign planning. This led in turn to it ‘reducing the political leadership to the role of ‘strategic sponsors’, [which] quite specifically widened the gap between politics and warfare’ (Kelly & Brennan, 2009)."

Jackson (2014) says that:
"The core of Kelly’s and Brennan’s argument is that this expanded role for the operational level of war and operational art has not only dislocated military operations from strategy, but also from the original context in which Soviet theorists were writing about operational art. ‘The result’, they argue, ‘has been a well-demonstrated ability to win battles that have not always contributed to strategic success’. To remedy this, they suggest returning to the conceptual roots of operational art as limited to the sequencing of tactical actions. Campaign planning should be returned to the remit of strategic leadership and involve input from political as well as military strategic leaders."
Jackson's contribution to this debate is to claim that Kelly & Brennan (2009) has it backwards. The military leadership didn't expand operational planning to swallow traditional "strategy"; it was the political elites of the Western nations that wanted to separate politics and warmaking.

"...the prevailing Western cultural norm of civil-military relations, in which the separation of politics from military conduct is seen as both normal and desirable. According to this norm, civilian political leaders should stay away from the military aspects of campaign planning, and military leaders should steer clear of political issues, including those that relate directly to the establishment of national strategy. It is this norm, not the development of an operational ‘level of war’, that has driven a wedge between strategy and tactics. Something more than tactics is certainly required of military officers, but in the current system discussing the most fundamental elements of national strategy remains all but off limits." (Jackson, 2014)

Jackson (2014) then goes on to expand on this...a little. He says:
"This reason is the prevailing cultural norm of civil-military relations in Western democracies. The nature of this norm was famously laid out by Samuel Huntington in The Soldier and the State; however the more recent writing of Eliot Cohen offers a better summary. Describing ‘a simplified secondhand version’ of Huntington’s model as ‘the ‘normal’ theory of civil-military relations’, Cohen determined that this model calls for a sharp distinction between statesmen and military professionals. In line with this distinction, the former ought to be responsible for political matters, including the setting of the desired strategic end state, while the latter ought to be responsible for the execution of all military activities necessary to achieve this end state. Although Cohen offers an excellent critique of the normal theory, ultimately proving both that it does not function in practice and that it is undesirable that it should, he also concludes that it remains the system of civil-military relations that many Western political and military leaders strive towards achieving."
I would tend to agree with the statement that there seems to be a significant, and to a large degree dysfunctional, disconnect between the political processes in Western nations and the military adventures that proceed from them.

But that, in turn, leads me only to a blank wall, and a question.

Which is, simply, why would any political leader(s) want that?

Since presumably military force is still intended to "solve" political issues confronting political leadership (and I will add here that this presumption is not neccessarily a physical fact but, rather, the intellectual conceit of the leader(s) that some issues are both amenable to and require the use of force) then the natural corrolary would be that these leaders wish that force to be effective and economical; Sun Tzu's warning about prolonged war is no less valid now than when he (or someone, anyway) wrote it.

I can understand a polity dominated by the military to produce politicians wary of a "man on horseback"...but it has been generations since such a possibility presented itself to the Western polities.

So...regardless of how the Western way of war became, in effect, a glorified exercise in tactics...why wouldn't a perceptive leader or leaders recognize the futility of this and strive to re-integrate the military and political aspects of geopolitics and national strategy?

I know seydlitz has some theories on this, but anyone else willing to venture an idea or three?