Thursday, July 16, 2009

Comment on The Belmont Club,
"Let a hundred choppers bloom"


After a Hundred Flowers comes the Rectification Campaign. Larry Summers having been purged once is a compliant tool in pushing the socializing agenda. Five minutes with Rahm Emmanuel suffice to tamp down most nervous Congress-critters.

Regarding the military arts the American way of war is not simply a matter of largesse, of teeth to tail ratios. It is a cultural matter built up over generations that empowers the Scout, or Ranger or Seal or Tanker, at the spear point by assuring him that whole apparatus and the nation behind it are there with him. In Leon Uris' Exodus (or was it in James Michener's The Source?) there is a wonderfully graphic description of how corruption could destroy a 1950s Egyptian Army before it could reach Israel.

Once I gave a lesson illustrating two small units, one Israeli and one Syrian, facing each other in the Golan. To begin with I was very clear that the individual Arab soldier could be assumed to be as brave and as intelligent as the Israeli facing him. What then explained the repeated differences in their results? It is not a matter of equipment per se. The arabs had the best equipment that at various times the British, French and Russians could provide. They had the money, the manpower and the materiel. What they did not have was a sense of common purpose. This can be surprising to the students since authoritarian states and communities are given to endless displays of unified marching, crisp uniforms and shiny medals along with blood curdling speeches proclaiming their unshakeable faith and unity and determination. The Israelis, even more then the Americans, appear given to endless argumentation and back biting, with a studied contempt for authority and a determination to look like they just fell out of bed.

The difference is that the Israeli soldier sitting in a foxhole in the Golan knows that the artillery crew two miles away and the communications crew 3 miles away and the logistics team 4 miles away and the medical team 5 miles away and the aircrew 10 miles away and everyone in the entire country have no greater concern then the safety and success of that soldier in his foxhole. The arab in the foxhole facing him could be at the tip of the mirror image in organizational and technical assets but at the critical moment he knows that he is alone. The stultifying effects of Soviet centralized command doctrine follows from that cultural condition.

There is another example that illustrates the military benefits of a democratic culture. Consider three European nations, the English, the Germans and the Spanish. If you took a random sample and asked the man in the street to rank them according to their reputations for "Militarism" I predict the results would be 1. Germany, 2. Spain, 3. England. Germans are famously aggressive and militaristic, after all they produced Kaiser Bill and the Nazis. German men were so determined to be seen as manly that they would refuse to carry umbrellas. Spanish culture has given rise to the concept of machismo. Spanish men are in literature endlessly willing to resort to violence to assuage their wounded honor. They fight bulls to prove how tough they are. As for the English, how tough and manly is their reputation? Weak tea, umbrellas, gardening and sexual confusion do not make for a very tough image.

How have these three nations actually performed in combat over the last 400 years? The English last lost a sizable war when some upstart colonials got help from the French over two hundred years ago. Arguably that could be considered a Civil War within the English community. Spain won a guerrilla campaign against France two hundred years ago and since losing their Empire have generally remained quiet except for when they got mauled by the Americans in 1898. Arguably that may have been intentional on their part as an "Honorable" way to cede remaining colonial burdens while showing an aristocratic contempt for the lives wasted. The Germans were part of territories that eventually came together on the winning side to defeat the French in 1815 and had one winning episode in 1871 against, you guessed it, the French. Since then they have caused enormous carnage but they haven't won a war.

The point is that people at first glance confuse "manliness" with combat effectiveness and war-fighting ability. Obviously I am not arguing against the utility of fostering traditional qualities of courage, discipline and aggression in building a winning military. What we must not due is confuse those qualities with the vices cultivated by Authoritarianism. Democracies win wars.

2 comments:

Dymphna said...

It occurred to me, reading this post, that we could usefully compare the dogs of each country...(wish I knew more about dogs).

Let's say the Germans are Dobermans.

Not too sure about the Spanish. Maybe the Bichon Frisé before the French took it over?

Ah, but the Brits. They have those bulldogs: tenacious and all looking a bit like Churchill. Or the tough Welsh sheepdogs.

America's character is a combination of those two.

American soldiers in foxholes also know they're backed up by artillery and air cover, and medics. Like the Israelis, they serve a purpose larger than the individual self,though that purpose is getting harder to discern. I predict a drop off in re-ups.

Though if the economy is bad enough, maybe serving the remainder of one's 20 years seems less daunting than going back to a very uncertain civilian world.

You're right that democracies win wars. They do so because they permit so much more freedom of decision all the way down the chain of command.

They also have a sense of service. I heard Robert Gates, right after he took over from Rumsfeld, give a commencement address to his old alma mater. With tears in his voice, he urged the students to contemplate what it meant to "be of service".

Somehow, under Obama, that has a different aspect. A collectivist atmosphere rather than a group of united individuals.

Or so it seems to me.

Dymphna said...

It occurred to me, reading this post, that we could usefully compare the dogs of each country...(wish I knew more about dogs).

Let's say the Germans are Dobermans.

Not too sure about the Spanish. Maybe the Bichon Frisé before the French took it over?

Ah, but the Brits. They have those bulldogs: tenacious and all looking a bit like Churchill. Or the tough Welsh sheepdogs.

America's character is a combination of those two.

American soldiers in foxholes also know they're backed up by artillery and air cover, and medics. Like the Israelis, they serve a purpose larger than the individual self,though that purpose is getting harder to discern. I predict a drop off in re-ups.

Though if the economy is bad enough, maybe serving the remainder of one's 20 years seems less daunting than going back to a very uncertain civilian world.

You're right that democracies win wars. They do so because they permit so much more freedom of decision all the way down the chain of command.

They also have a sense of service. I heard Robert Gates, right after he took over from Rumsfeld, give a commencement address to his old alma mater. With tears in his voice, he urged the students to contemplate what it meant to "be of service".

Somehow, under Obama, that has a different aspect. A collectivist atmosphere rather than a group of united individuals.

Or so it seems to me.