Odious Romanticism vs Material Victory


I want to talk about some Civil War generals, and no, not the rightness or wrongness of their statues being in public spaces.

What I have always found bizarre about the myth of Confederacy is not its blatant rise with attached romantic artwork convergent with the last gasp of segregationist politicians in the public sphere-that is perfectly logical in its own way-nor even the memorializing of the United States’ greatest act of treason by segments of the population most chauvinistic and flag-waving on most other issues (though that is bizarre), but rather the myth of Robert E. Lee himself as this amazingly seminal general and leader of men. This is often combined with a myth of the Confederacy as a uniquely impressive battle against the odds akin to Finland’s Winter War or the Norman rise in Sicily.

In a time where America realizes it still must reckon with the painful wounds of its past by bringing up the public status of Civil War era issues, I feel it’s time to turn a critical gaze to the military part of this odious romanticism.

Let us begin with Robert E. Lee. A great tactician, surely, but as the ghost of Hannibal could tell you, this does not necessarily equate a great strategist. Lee’s rise to prominence came about first by skilled junior officer actions as an engineer in the U.S.-Mexican War of 1848, and then by accurately reading the psychology of General McClellan as he advanced on Richmond in 1862 and pummeling his forces with offensives to cause the famously timid general to retire despite getting the better of most of the engagements…convinced as always he was outnumbered. So far, so good.

We then can witness Lee run roughshod over several ineptly led Union armies. Despite the poor quality of leadership of these forces, we can still give Lee a hefty dose of credit in this period. And yet, amongst this time of Confederate triumph (in the east anyway) came Lee’s first botched invasion of the north, which undid many of successes when he was checked at Antietam (by McClellan, of all people) a battle whose strategic implications enabled the Emancipation Proclamation which in turn would fatally undermine the southern war effort by both enabling Union armies to legally liberate slaves in secessionist states as well as sabotage British and French efforts to directly aid the Confederacy.

Even including Antietam, up until now it would still be a fair point to consider Lee the best general of the American Civil War, but the Union was just getting started-and it would be there that the best leadership would actually emerge. It was also, in 1863 and flush with hubris after Chancellorsville, that Lee would once again commit the mistake of invading the north.

As someone whose favorite army in history is that of the medieval Mongols and whose favorite navy in history that of late 16th Century Korea, I am hardly the one to take a universally critical view of taking the offensive when your forces are outnumbered if the opportunity looks promising. The problem with the Civil War context is that Lee himself had proven time and time again that this was an era where defense held clear battlefield advantages. Indeed, superior Union industrial and material strength were for much of the war totally offset by facing the most difficult challenge of having to reconquer a third of a continent in an era of defensive primacy. It had been such on the battlefield starting in the Crimean War, where a Russian army armed with outdated firearms and a piss-poor logistical system had managed, at least temporarily, to stymie two of the best armies of the time, even if they lost (barely) in the end. It would remain thus until the Brusilov Offensive in WWI when that same Russian army would innovate the interplay between offensives and artillery use to restore mobility to the battlefield-a process later honed by the Germans and then perfected by Foch and Allenby. Even Lee’s boldest moves in previous battles had been often paired with a key defensive element. His smaller army could move faster to seize the better terrain, and in an era where the minne ball merged with the last gasp of linear field formations, this made a huge difference. And in Gettysburg it was the Union who held the high ground and the defensive posture, and it was the Union that won. Soon after, Meade was superseded by Grant, and Grant would be the superior general to Lee. Not because he was a brilliant commander nor because he simply ended up winning in the end, but because he was a general of the times who truly understood the nature of industrial warfare. Lee’s many victories could be undone by a few missteps, but Grant could suffer multiple reverses at Lee’s hands and still win the campaign.

The true genius of the war, however, was Sherman. William Tecumseh Sherman understood the material nature of war in the industrial age like Grant, but had a much greater sense of terrain and maneuver. His command of the western front, once Grant moved east to take command there, was the true decisive campaign of the entire war.

The west had been the mirror opposite of the east from the start. Union forces performed generally better than their enemies and capably used riverine naval forces to advance consistently along the vital Mississippi River. Winfield Scott (in my opinion, the greatest of all American generals, but that is another story) correctly saw that blockade and securing the central river systems of the continent were the key to victory in the war, rather than a quick advance on Richmond. Generally, Union forces under both Grant and Rosecrans at first (in Appalachia) made advances in this theater wisely using ships and a less pro-Confederate population in general. Yet, not until the fall of Vicksburg did this front’s decisiveness manifest itself.

Sherman up until now had been a subordinate commander of no great distinction. But when turned loose on his own to command the west in 1864 would prove to be the stand-out general of the war and, in my opinion, the second greatest of all American generals. Unlike Lee, Sherman did not set out to win set piece battles, but rather to crush the Confederacy’s ability to resist. Granted, Lee did not have the numerical option to do such to the Union, but that is precisely why he should have stuck to a more Longstreet-type plan of cautious attrition as the only realistic path to southern victory was exhaustion through casualties of the north. Where Lee gambled rashly, Sherman coldly calculated.

Sherman also maneuvered with the big picture, rather than individual battlefields in sight. As he advanced out of Tennessee and into Georgia through immensely difficult terrain and against the skilled defense of Joseph Johnston, he became the master of flanking movements to dislodge Johnston from favorable terrain and forcing him to open up more and more of the vulnerable heartland of the Confederacy. Even after battlefield reverses, Johnston would be forced to retreat by maneuver, gradually driving him towards less formidable defensive terrain.

By the time Confederate forces were entrenched around Atlanta, Sherman had already won in a way. While the disposition still favored the defender, now the Confederacy’s most industrial city and arguably second most important (after New Orleans, which had already fallen to the Union navy) was locked down on siege mode and its ability to assist the war effort already partly curtailed. And then the leaders in Richmond made the most fatal error they could have, they assigned John Bell Hood to replace Johnston.

The successive offensives against Sherman’s army led to disaster for the Confederacy at every step to the point where the previously defensible Atlanta had to be abandoned. Raw militia and crack units alike were thrown against veteran Union units increasingly starting to be armed with breech loading weapons like the Spencer rifle and carbine which held trenches and field works. Knowing there was no way to avoid being crushed by Sherman after a few of these failed battles, Hood tried to pull a reverse-Sherman and drive north in a bid to take Nashville. Of course, with a beaten and demoralized army this would have opposite the intended results and his entire army would eventually be liquefied by reserves sent after him.

Atlanta fell, and burned. Sherman cut his baggage train and took off across Georgia, feeding off the enemy territory and crippling their food production and morale all at once. He ‘marched to the sea’ and took Savannah before the end of the year. Concerned for their families, soldiers in the Confederate army began to defect in record droves from all fronts. The lowlands-gulf south was cut off from the east. Then Sherman turned north wreaking devastation across the hotbed of secession itself, South Carolina, before taking a more moderate tone towards the conduct of his pillaging troops in North Carolina-which was a less gung-ho about secession state.

By the end of the war he would make it to Virginia, where the looming advance of his forces played no small role in Lee’s surrender in the east.

It is easy to play up the Confederate romantic mythology here and state Sherman’s material and often numeric advantages. This is to ignore the far greater challenges of waging a truly continental scale long-form campaign of offense in an era that favored defense. This is also to ignore Sherman’s full grasp of total war, and the desire to crush an enemy in as many ways at once to create a collapse of both morale and logistics, which are the true sinews of war. He was in many ways the first great modern-industrial general. He fought not for flashy victories to be studied in microcosm but rather for war ending long term objectives. He accurately assessed the enemy’s weaknesses and responded accordingly. There have not been many generals or admirals in history who have so thoroughly understood how to crush the opposition-which is exactly a general’s job.

And that is something worth considering as a million Fox News Dads send up a simultaneous howl of ‘don’t erase our history that we can only apparently learn from statues, how will people at West Point learn tactics if they can’t idolize Lee?’

The answer is not to waste your time studying Lee when you could be studying Sherman instead. Hell, if you need a Confederate general to study take Forrest. Sure, the politically correct *really* won’t like that, but if your point is battlefield command ability…The problem is, most Fox News Dads and Basic History Bros don’t even know any commander who is not famous-and therein lies the problem of romanticism over materialism in the study of history.

Axis of Evil II: The Revenge



Much as the obvious partisanship of American foreign policy continues, with conservatives who would likely be deriding alternative universe Clintonian hawkishness on North Korea now singing Trump’s praises as he threatens ‘fire and fury’ on Pyongyang while liberals in the media currently panicking about nuclear war but which would probably have been applauding ‘strong leadership’ as Hillary prepares in an alternative universe to once again ‘run up the gut’, I think there is a thorough bi-partisan criticism that can be made right now involving weapons of mass destruction and our perception of their proliferation.

In other words, the party leader here is not a significant factor in a country’s likelihood to use weapons of mass destruction as a bargaining chip, but rather the overall mainstream trend of recent US foreign policy. This is a process that began a long time ago, when George W Bush gave his now infamous ‘Axis of Evil’ speech in which, using the militarism of the immediate post-9/11 world, he justified a singling out of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as major threats to world stability and the proliferation of WMD’s to non-state actors. This speech was likely intended to assist paving the way on the many causes belli being constructed for Iraq’s transparently imminent invasion as well as to use as a talking point against the other two states. In the end, it would fail spectacularly on all of these fronts.

First, Iraq had no WMD’s of note. Delusional fantasies of certain tortured conservative nerds aside, Iraq had been effectively neutered by Gulf War I and the subsequent No-Fly Zone. Having wisely been left by the first Bush administration as a rump buffer against Iranian influence, the invasion by US and Coalition forces only succeeded in removing this buffer and giving Iran a free hand in the region. The inevitable chaos that followed, and Iran’s newfound ability to directly strike at US forces using its own proxies and spec  ops meant that the US would also be too bogged down to do anything effectual against the Iranians. Additionally, they temporarily ratcheted up their nuclear power program as a bargaining chip which would serve them well later. North Korea, which had been previously working on getting nuclear materials from Pakistan then decided to speed up their own weapons program and loudly proclaim its successes (something which was quite debatable at the time). They saw it as actually because Iraq had no WMD’s that it was subject to a regime change invasion. Against the immense power of the United States on a rampage, only such weapons could provide the necessary deterrence. North Korea, wisely and rationally, became a nuclear power for the same reason anyone would-it becomes a guarantee of regime survival and sovereignty. It was either that or keep their existence by sacrificing autonomy to Beijing in exchange for more overt protection.

So in the end it was USA vs Axis of Evil, 1-2. Axis victory. Iran gained significant power in the Middle East, and North Korea got a ticket out of the threat of imminent invasion. Given this track record, it was no wonder that many small countries that felt threatened by the US gave their moral support to Iran and North Korea in the early and mid Oughts. Zimbabwe and Cuba jumped on the bandwagon overtly, and Pakistan started accelerating its dangerous double-game in Afghanistan. The problem was that none of these countries really posed a direct threat to core US security interests, yet the many in the media, think tank world, and foreign policy establishment who can think little outside of a certain framework of reference in strategy built them up to be gigantic threats. All of this was done by ignoring that much of the increased saber rattling on behalf of these countries was given a boost in the wake of the Iraq War and the subsequent bogging down of US effort in the Middle East. This was a process that would only accelerate after the Arab Spring, which was made doubly noteworthy due to the fact that no policy maker talked seriously of regime change in Libya before they gave up their chemical weapons stockpiles, but the Arab spring happened after. In that instance the two issues may not have been connected, but to many observers it would certainly not seem so. And another country whose present predicaments make we wonder how much of its population wish it had not disarmed its stockpiles is Ukraine, for obvious reasons.

This is not to say that North Korea’s upping the ante to this extreme is good or wise. Far from it. By firing missiles into Japanese sovereign waters they have been tempting pan-regional fate with a cavalier attitude which deserves some response and castigation. But their actions are no more irrational than anyone else’s in this current standoff.

In my time as an academic I engaged with many theories of International Relations from a variety of directions. On base, the one I found generally most useful for explaining what was going on in state-state interactions was Neoclassical Realism-a theory that postulates that regime survival by the governing elites is the key to understanding decisions made in foreign policy. Usually this requires an understanding of the history of a country, the issues its people consider vital to the security and integrity of the state, and how the ruling class legitimizes itself. In this case, North Korea’s governing elite holds the stalwart battle against American hegemony on the Korean peninsula as well as resistance to Japanese regional power to be part of its core justification with the masses. In Pyongyang’s eyes, they are what stands against attempts to bring the North under the same ‘puppet’ regime as the south is under. It is important to keep this in mind. It is also important to keep in mind that sometimes the way Washington behaves acts as a catalyst for nations seeking sovereignty guarantees in the form of nuclear weapons. Regime survival drives most actors, and the more unstable or comparatively weak the country, the more it will drive them.

The problem comes up when a country’s key legitimacy policies start to conflict with its actual interest. I would say that North Korea’s blatant testing affecting waters not their own is truly a dangerous catalyst which once day they may not be able to contain. But I would also point out that as the reining hegemonic power, the United States has very little to gain from picking these fights with countries whose weight on the geopolitical scale is almost nil. There is a Lanyard Class that reaches for military solutions to everything first, but why court such risk when diplomacy from a position of strength can do more with less danger? The military in such a hegemonic position should be reserved as a conventional deterrent and not a first option.

Personally, though I see little desire in either Beijing or Washington to deal with this issue in the long term as it might mean sacrificing their influence on each half of Korea, but it is my hope that one day both powers can come to a far-sighted agreement regarding the Korean peninsula. I believe this would entail a reunification under the South but with the North’s political party left as a legal entity and a declaration that Korea would be unified as a neutral power, securing China’s landward Pacific border by the withdrawal of US military presence and also ending the threat of a PLA invasion from the north. The unified Korea would have a painful development and integration process, so the space of neutrality between powers would be welcome for them. This neutrality would have to allow in foreign investment and trade as that would be the pay off for both powers giving up more direct forms of influence. A Switzerland of sorts in th East Asian Littoral.

I think this could be done, given the political will. But its that, on all sides, I find lacking.

In the meanwhile, try not to get caught up in the…Crossfire.

All Politics is Dominance Politics

mans look magazine

In grad school in International Relations Realists and Marxists always got along, especially at the expense of the Postmodernists and the Liberals. Even right-realists, though in my experience as time moves on into an era of neoliberal dominance realists as a whole move left to adjust to such euphoric theorizing. This is because both groups understand the reality and necessity of power.

The New Republic, like The Washington Post, is largely famous these days for being an old anachronism that largely rest on past laurels, and for championing every ill conceived war it could. Unlike the WaPo, however, TNR doesn’t really do on the ground reporting or even footwork to among the elites to rumormonger. It merely editorializes.

Its newest little number, by Jeet Heer is something I have been expected for awhile. Chapo Trap House is the only non-horror fiction podcast I like. I am hardly a good example of its average fan, being from a decidedly realist rather than solidly left position, but its intelligence combined with ruthless humor fits me perfectly. It also, like myself, despises the ‘acceptable’ political positions of mainstream liberals, centrists and conservatives alike as terribly obfuscating and self-delusional, especially when such people claim to have an objective view which is, if anything, based in their lack of ability to critically appraise the very system they live in and whose proclamations they automatically take for granted. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before someone like Heer noticed and reacted in a bit of pique. Such op-ed columnists are either of a class of clueless ‘common sense’ prognosticators or (more likely and proportionally) an impoverished and desperate group of sycophants who one day wish they could pull a Brooks or Freidman and be payed six figure salaries by joining said class in order to be fashionable and wrong all the time.

In affect, his entire take on a single phrase accurately stating that the mainstream of the Democratic Party is utterly lost, confused, and obsolete and should take guidance from its strategic betters is to tone police. The Lanyard class, which is related to and among its older members probably directly spawned the vampire castle dwelling tumblrwokes, is all about form over substance. Tone policing is the favorite way of such people to make an argument. ‘Check your privilege’ replaces any actual substantive critique of the point made on Chapo. Not to mention that no actual human being talks in the right and proper homilies of the Neocalvinist wing of evangelical liberals and that insisting everyone speak as such just turns most people away. Humor is a weapon. If the author can accurately state that Chapo is a runaway Patreon success, does it not speak volumes about their approach versus, oh I don’t know, the Democratic Party?

Heer criticizes what he labels as ‘dominance politics.’ How dare someone seek to project their will onto others? But this is politics. Stripped of niceties it is no exaggeration to say that all of politics from the dawn of the human race through now is deciding which form of power projection benefits some over others, and how the alliances fall when trying to figure that out. Literally, (a word liberals are fond of using incorrectly) politics is dominance, always and forever. In order to enact change or refuse to change a regime must be in power. A regime is a government by monopolizing the use of force within its core territory for large periods of time. If you want to make policy over a territorial entity you must have the ability to disproportionately coerce (what power really is), and to do that you must have an in-group and an out-group. Alliance building is impossible without enemies and unstable without an internal hierarchy. Someone, often many someones, must always bend the knee for an order to exist. To deny this is to deny all of human history.

The fact that Chapo Trap House, a comedic entertainment podcast, recognizes this while a writer for a ‘respectable’ publication such as TNR does not is an overt condemnation of how ahistorical back patting has replaced actual deep historical analysis. No government in history has ever seized and held power by nice and equitable methods. The American Revolution itself, often held up as an ideal by technocratic SensibleSerious™ types , was extremely contrarian and very, very brutal. It was justifiably so, as was the later French one. The treatment of the British Loyalists after the war was a necessary measure to ensure some domestic stability in a war ravaged land, and we all know that Brooks and Will and the Clintons would have been Tories had they been there then.

I have long had a theory that the pet causes of pearl-clutchers in politics are often the bugbears of their personal sexual pathologies. Last decade when the GOP was trying to keep its relevance by being ‘The Anti-Gay Party’ it seemed not  a week could go by without another virulently homophobic conservative being outed as massively queer. Reckers, Haggard, Craig, Pence (OK not yet on that last one but you know its coming) basically created the idea that public homophobia=suppressed attractions. With the liberals and centrists (who are increasingly indistinguishable) harping constantly on being made uncomfortable by understanding power dynamics or the ruthless nature of politics rooted in power and applying fears of sexual-based domination onto anything they criticize I have to wonder…are all wokes secret bondage addicted Gorean LARPers? There is some legit Larry Craig toe-tapping in the bathroom stall going on with these hot takes and I just have to wonder if self-flaggelation at the hands of the ghost of Joe McCarthy is whats dancing in the heads of these people now. ‘Other me! Objectify me! Make me your exotic Oriental!’

But if that is the way it goes then here is an analogy to stick: left or right, authoritarian or libertarian, top or bottom, dom or sub, no matter how you take your own ideals, you will never enact them without power. And that is one of the few universal rules of politics. And I don’t care if thats ‘problematic’, because you were born a human, and human life and consciousness is by its nature ‘problematic’, so get over yourselves.

For now, lets (maybe) do Heer a disservice and assume this article is largely representative of what the cast of Chapo would call ‘Lanyards’ or ‘Lanyard Ghouls.’ This is a loose term to describe people who are overly committed to policy wonkery who often let their worship of a system that usually exploits them cloud their judgement on that actual cost/benefits of said system. You know, people who think the whole world can and should function like its portrayed on ‘The West Wing.’ I work in an official capacity myself, and thus wear a lanyard, so I admit to more than normal levels of familiarity with this class-but the difference is that I never wear mine on the *inside*.

If one was going to do a liberal-style ‘discourse analysis’ here of this class one would be forced into the following conclusion–that the people who have the most socially acceptable (and thus often least critical) views on the political system think its impolite to disagree with them and question the elevation of their ideals. Why, its simply uncivilized. The reason they think this, of course, is because they sit atop a vast pile of economic, military, and other systemic forces that monopolize their power so much they do not even have to reckon with the fact that they reflect a power wielding class. They are simply ‘reasonable people’ who can win any debate in good faith with ‘the right means tested facts.’ But, by virtue of being atop that pyramid of socially acceptable ideological privilege, they are utterly unable to see that people outside of these socially accepted norms of polite uncritical discourse obviously do not benefit from engaging with their assumptions…and so why should those others bother? New dynasties are not built by wandering the dust between long deceased Pharaohs.

In short, we have spent the last few decades bowing the knee to these people and they are so used to it they didn’t even notice. Considering their many, many failures I think its only natural the time should come that they bend the knee to us.

Otherwise its just like listening to more of this, period adjusted, for every damn era.

The Allure of Battle: A Review

the allure of battle

The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won or Lost‘ by Cathal J. Nolan is no trite and glib accounting of heroic genius and blundering foolishness like so much of published military history.  There is no romance to be found here. Only the stark appraisal of a materialist looking at many of the conventional wars of the modern age and asking those who casually study military history (actual scholars usually-but not always-know better these days) to smash the myths and look at the bloody truth: Its societies and their logistics that tend to win more than leadership. When leadership is important it can only work when harnessed to a communal effort that enables it to thrive.

Nolan implies he understands it was not always so. Medieval and tribal armies were often the sum total of defense their societies could put in the field. Surely, few could argue with the military dominance of the Eurasian nomad to centuries. (One also of course could say Eurasian nomads had the best logistical system of all time, as they took everything with them on campaign at no mobility sacrifice, I suppose). But with the increasing importance of centralized states, fortifications, and gunpowder came larger armies and more territoriality fixed states. After a brief introduction to bring us up to the 30 Years War, Nolan really gets going with his main case studies. He seeks, and largely succeeds, in gradually building a case that in the age of firepower starting in the 17th Century and leading through at least the Second World War if not through today, the age of firepower has been the age of attrition and not grand romantic decisiveness.

One can go back before to find obvious examples of supposedly brilliant generals who lost entire wars only a few years after winning one or more truly ‘decisive’ victories. Hannibal gave us the term ‘Cannae’ after all-named after one of the most successful envelopment in all of military history. But that and other brilliant battlefield tactical level performances did not change that the outcome of the war was a decisive defeat for him and for Carthage. Scipio on the other hand could learn from Hannibal tactically but brought an understanding of the enemy’s weakness behind their armies that led all his campaigns to really count in the long term. But as is so often the case with military history, the glamour of the takes eyes off the drudgery of the staff room and the logistics trains. Now, this is not really a new or mind blowing perspective for those of us who have given the research of military history quite a lot of thought, but it has never seen such a concerted case for its making as this.

Showing consistently how gunpowder actually extended the operational over the tactical in conventional war, Nolan takes us through the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and up until 1945. He has a wide array of history to work with, so he focuses on Europe and modern Japan, where the cult of decisive battle seeking was the strongest. He has some choice words for some famous generals, respectful criticisms of others, and some praise for a few who normally do not get the praise they deserve. Part of the joy of the book is to find out what his take on a ‘great captain’ might end up being. Some common wisdom is overturned.

All throughout Nolan shows us how ‘the captains’ and even sometimes the armies themselves were secondary to the ability of states to wage war until the exhaustion of the other. Combined with these straightforward and mostly objective observations also comes the author’s poetic humanity, which never fails to bring forward the suffering of common people, soldier and civilian, in often pointless and frivolous wars for marginal gains. He never loses sight that he is a historian of tragedy and broken lives, even as he sets forth the seemingly brutal case that mass numbers, grueling campaigning, and institutional and organizational superiority often overcome where flashy battles do not.

One major reason he gives for the popularization of the concept of the one decisive battle or campaign right when warfare was moving exactly in the other direction was a cut of the offensive stemming from victory disease. His two most detailed case studies, Victorian-Early 20th Century Germany and Japan, were resource insecure revisionist powers who sought to use military force to establish regional hegemonies. Their first wars, often against foes in more dire straights than they, were successful enough in their objectives to inspire a bland self confidence not just in military solutions to international problems, but also that such solutions could  and must be brought about rapidly before superior coalitions resources could be brought to bear against such aggression. ‘Shock and Awe’, much later generations would call it. These actions are contrasted quite negatively with Allied adaptability after initial massive defeats, and greater ability to re-tool to play the long game to reverse the tables against enemies who were too wedded to very specific victory plans. As Von Kluck and Moltke the Younger melted down over the failure of the Shleiffen Plan (something Nolan refreshingly doesn’t even praise as a potential concept given the dire diplomatic ramifications and lack of enough vehicles to really exploit the speed necessary) Foch was learning to abandon his commitment to previously faddish offensive doctrine and look for a nuanced grand strategy that did not have to win or lose in an opening move. A similar thing would happen throughout World War 2, most egregiously in the Pacific with the Japanese failures to bag the American carriers and prepare for full scale logistical war on their new empire by submarines, making all their many resource rich and defensible consequences become rotting branches on a dying tree. Operation Barbarrossa might be the largest scale example of this type of thinking, itself moved up in expectation in timetable due to a miss-reading of the tea leaves that came with the unexpected ease which France fell-seemingly confirming the cult of the offensive and enabling it to grow yet more over-ambitious. In so doing, by failing to win decisively in Moscow it condemned its soldiers to lose in time.

The author does not forgo the important or morale or leadership but simply undermines their cardinal place in the hierarchy. Though to me group solidarity is a very important part of not just battlefield success but also logistics and mobilization at home. That feeds directly into staying power which in turn feeds into production and sustaining the effort.

While I loved this book stylistically and historically…I do have a couple of quibbles:

-I do understand needed to limit oneself on such a massive topic, but throwing in more countries outside of Europe than just Japan would have been nice. Paraguay in the War of the Triple Alliance stands out as a great example of the author’s thesis points. So does the Second Boer War and even the century long succession of conflicts known as the Ashante Wars. The Safavids often coming off poorly against the Ottomans would also just barely fit into the time frame but illustrate the point, as would all around more views on the naval aspect of conflict (where battles do tend, proportionally, to be decisive as fleets are more expensive than armies and can be more thoroughly destroyed in defeat).

-The author constantly and rightly alludes to the American Civil War as far more instructive to the future of war than Konnigratz or Sedan, whose proximity to London and Paris made them models for future armies to follow-into disaster. But he never actually talks about it. I feel, considering even his admittance to its importance at looking at how war was evolving technologically, especially towards the end of the conflict, that he could have had a chapter on it to further his points elsewhere. Not only did the western campaign’s slow and stead progress on geographic and logistical targets prove the decisive part of the war, but commanders like Lee are often held up as neo-Hannibals when really their actions, impressive in single field engagements as they were, failed to further actual achievable strategic direction.

-While the author does mention Soviet Deep Battle strategy as a positive development against both purely positional grinding and wild pell-mell and often petering out Blitzkrieg, he never actually goes into it. This is a shame as few people do, but it has a truly impressive historical record as a battle doctrine and also shows that one can wage limited decisive campaigns building on each other to grind down an enemy with maneuver without risking everything on a single throw of the dice and wounding their behind the lines logistics while doing it. Personally, I am I big fan of looking at Soviet Deep Battle as an example of how conventional mechanized wars could operate as a starting point. I felt it getting a shout out without proper analysis was a real missed opportunity.

Definitely a must have for the military historian. Now, let’s just hope we don’t live to see another conventional outbreak.

NeoCalvinist Identity Politics and the American University


Pictured: Evergreen College today.

I know I am late to the ball game here, but as a former academic haven gotten caught up to the Evergreen College thing (sorry for the Vice but the video really does get to everything I am about to discuss) I feel its worth extrapolating what this is. You see, I have first hand experience with these people through living in and among them. It was the worst year of my life, naturally. It is why when people get offended that I equate performative wokeness and diseased Tumblr liberalism with right wing evangelicals I have to shrug. I have experienced both personally, and I find them far more similar than different. Evergreen College it seems has gone into full Bob Jones University mode. Perhaps it always was and I simply wasn’t aware.

I saw the first hand self-censorship of children who were instructed not to know better in a Christian elementary school, and I spent my first year of university at what could be considered the East Coast equivalent of Evergreen College and found myself surrounded by a similar phenomenon. It was so horrible I left that university to go to another which was as demographically different in every meaningful way I could find. Life got better. My education did too. It was also infinitely more ethnically and economically diverse. Funny, how schools like Evergreen are so demographically…well…I call this ‘The Portland Effect’.

But if you see this clash of hypersensitivity and demand for self-censorship in *learning institutions* that are (ideally) supposed to challenge you and make you have to actually have a defensible reason for believing what you believe rather than copy/pasting your parents or the first media commentary you liked I have some harsh words for you. The fact is, many people with college degrees often end up influencing policy, either by making it or by thinking they do via selective media consumption. They help create the context for what craven politicians will one day pander to, so its worth looking at this phenomenon. Sure, undergraduates will grow up. I grew up a hell of a lot from my former libertarian self in college to the hard realist self with a domestic socialist tinge I am now, thanks be to college in part and also the ability to debate those worth exchanging disagreements with.

But I think we are missing the fundamental and underlying problem here. The differences between Neocalvinist Left and Neocalvinist Right is not in base an actually political one. Sure, their views on any number of issues except virtue signalling, hating on video games, and having to raise awareness about Joseph Kony are not really in congruence at all, but those differences are obvious. What is more interesting, and terrifying to me, are the philosophical and quite possibly theological assumptions they both share which clearly show that they are two branches from the same common ancestor: Puritanism.

When Oliver Cromwell took power in Britain after The Wars of the Three Kingdoms, more commonly known as the English Civil War (despite starting in Scotland and ending in Ireland) he decided he would remake his new ‘Protectorate’ along the lines of a quasi-theocracy reflecting his puritan religious views. Holidays were banned, the theater was banned for promoting ‘immorality’, persecutions of dissenters reached a fever pitch not seen in centuries. Many were executed, many more were shipped abroad as indentured servants. A similar thing had happened before, under the theocratic mullah-like council of the Covenanters in Scotland before Cromwell had taken them out too due to their pledged conditional loyalty to the Stuart line. Having already turned Edinburgh’s Grassmarket-a traditional site for hangings-into the busiest it had ever been, the Covenantors caused even many of the Scotts to view Cromwell as a liberator. But he was only just getting started. Soon, he would take their project to all three of the kingdoms.

It was this rule of fear and theocracy, ‘The Rule of the Saints’ as it was known in the north, that would turn the kingdoms into something much like Saudi Arabia is today. You might even say Cromwell was the archetype of the ‘Moderate Rebel’ that has become such a punchline regarding Syria.  It couldn’t, and didn’t last. The Stuarts came back because after Cromwell’s death the country was nigh ungovernable. It was, no matter what people say, a liberation. The new government stripped many sectarian fanatics from their posts and re-appointed loyalists to the monarchy or people who had been sidelined by the protectorate. A middling degree of religious tolerance was restored and the single faith rule of the puritans was put to an end. Misunderstood heroes like Bluidy (bloody) George Mackenzie made sure to stamp out the bizarre wahhabi-like ideology and undo the damage caused by it.

Naturally, as Christians do, getting ones come-uppins was proclaimed as oppression. Never mind that nothing done in retaliation to the puritans and covenantors even held a candle to their various reigns of terror. Them not getting their own way in all things and dictating all discourse was trauma enough for them. They wanted a safe space. They left.

And settled in New England.

What followed was witch trials and genocide. Metacom, also known as King Philip, heroically tried to stop this plague which was born in Britain and invaded America to find its true home. He almost succeeded, and likely would have, were it not for the powerful Iroquois League, who viewed him as more of a threat than the colonists, which he likely was at that time. Naturally, this saving of their hides failed to change the attitudes of the colonists towards even the Iroquoian natives. They were all unsaved, folk far from God’s enlightenment. Just as they took the agriculture they learned from the Algonquians and then displaced them, so too would the descendants of the puritans do the same centuries later to their once Iroquois allies who had ensured their survival. If anything, King Phillip’s War had merely shown them that they had to more thoroughly persecute heresy within in the form of witches and warlocks. It wasn’t their land grabbing and unfair dealings with Native Americans that was the problem, and it wasn’t the Iroquois who saved their ass…it was a lack of virtue in thought and spirit. It was an abundance of sin. It was their entirely socially constructed cultural baggage that was the problem. In this way, these sad pathos-ridden people could easily take charge of their destiny, cast blame, and-often untaught in American schools-use such pretexts to seize each others property. But that last thing wasn’t the main intention, *of course*.

These people, if people indeed they can be called, would leave a dark fungus growing inside the American character for a very long time.  Their trauma of having no one like them on both sides of the Atlantic would become a perverse strand of religious fantascism and anti-intellectualism which would eventually migrate westwards and southwards after burning out at home. They were so wretched that when a gathering of far wiser individuals founded a new country in North America they would write laws based on fear of the mob, religious sectarianism, and the dark past they wanted to leave behind. They hearkened in civic thought as well as architecture to a saner classical world (in addition to the obvious enlightenment contemporary ideas of their times) whose values predated Constantine where civil virtue was understood to be paying into society at large in order to get something back. Respect was earned, or even bought, but where it was not an innate spiritual virtue.

Much like in 20th Century Turkey, this noble experiment would have to struggle against much of the populace. It would have set backs and victories. Eventually, beginning with the evangelical infiltration into politics in the 80s and up through recently, it would even hijack the government itself. Much like the AKP under Erdogan does now, the evangelicals came into American government and wreaked an internal destruction not seen since John C Calhoun. And they did it not to make anyone’s lives meaningfully better, nor out of a sense of real civic virtue, but rather out of a sense of identity politics. A sense to publicly show they were right and everyone else was wrong. Only they could save us. It is a kind of thought that stems directly from the protestant, and in particular calvinist, understanding of what good and evil are. It is a world understanding that holds only individual intangibles as worthy of human effort. And naturally, those who have these intangibles must show them publicly. The original humblebrag, now as policy.

These people reached a level of power never seen before under the Presidency of George W Bush, who appointed many unqualified people from unaccredited universities to run positions in the government. The government began to make noises about supporting young Earth creationism at the same time the economy had to gear up to be world-competitive in the tech sphere, then wondered why American students perform so poorly. Abstinence-Only education began on a large scale and showed time and time again to be an abject failure. But results didn’t matter, intentions did. Blind faith in American rightness and morality led us into complacency and Iraq. Really, though the potential is no doubt there, Trump still has quite a way to go to equate Bush and the rule of the traditional conservatives in sheer ideological incompetence.

A reaction to this was needed and necessary. At first it was great. To be a priggish social conservative went from the top of the political hierarchy to the bottom almost overnight. Humor got meaner, which I think was a good thing. People lost an unquestioning fawning over power they had inherited in the immediate post 9/11 world. But sadly, the dark fungal stain of puritanism would infiltrate the reaction as well. Years of pathetic right wing whining that colleges were persecuted Republicans, people who were pro-Israel, and Christians led to a university movement that decided colleges were also *really* persecuting someone else: people who hold their opinions and self esteem so lowly that they shatter from sheer fragility if challenged. People too young or too stupid to remember when it was right wingers who held the reigns of mainstream discourse, the importance of being able to buck assumed trends, and the need to protest a monoculture. Assuming that society was moving inexorably in one direction, something implicit in their liberal world view but decidedly unhistorical, they assumed that those dinosaur like conservatives were just holding up utopia with their mean words. Their virtue signalling was all wrong, as opposed to the right kind.

So professors, subject matter experts mind you, began to be criticized for holding views contrary to the students. This can be legitimate. A professor can say something totally out of line or unfitting for a class. But assigning literature with disturbing themes for a literature class is not one of those things. That is to be expected unless one is illiterate. Not scrubbing historical documents for present day sensibilities is not one of them. Not talking about the very real and very scary effects of the legal system or policy actions is not one of them. Yet all these things became the targets of liberal evangelicals. It was under the same basic puritan assumption that social conservatives operate under: ‘What goes contrary to my world view is evil, it is evil because I am good. I am good because I have an innate rightness which manifests through the positions I am psychologically biased to have. How dare you question my lived experience?’

Postmodernism obviously also played a role in popularizing this ridiculous and anti-intellectual individualism. But the American strain of this virus is in particular Christian and Calvinistic-no matter who holds it.

You will notice that at almost none of these universities are these protests held for better wages for staff workers, or better dorms considering the exorbitant sums payed by students. They aren’t even about environmental issues which affect us all. Materialism, (the only real and thus worthy basis of a political philosophy) is gauche. Much like the social conservatives too, the obsessions of these people gravitate inevitably to issues of a sexual matter, saying far more about the people fascinated by them than by anyone else. Wokeness is the rage. Look like you are doing something but actually don’t have to do anything. You are, after all, on the elect.

Performative virtue signalling is indulged, ironically, by neoliberal capital’s takeover of education. Since higher education is now a mostly for-profit enterprise, students are now ‘consumers’, and as anyone like myself who has ever worked in retail knows, customers can be real entitled shrinking violets…and store policy is usually that they are ‘always right.’ As customers, students (and their parents) except good grades and validation. They are paying for a piece of paper and a social promotion, not to actually *learn* anything.

Granted, not most students. This isn’t meant to be a ‘rah young kids’ rant, as generally I prefer the general opinions held of people younger than me to people older. I know these types of people, like evangelicals, are really not a majority. But in their case specifically they have come to see the university as validation rather than a challenge. Its performative, much like their actual views and much like the conservative views they often despise.

The irony is if we de-capitalized the university system, these types of people would not exist at all at the student level. But sadly, because of the curse America carries, the general anti-intellectual trend would remain in other fields.

But I have no doubt, as with all pathos-ridden ideologues, that the children of social justice neocalvinists will grow up to hate them and reject their ideas, and thus they will complete the circle by wasting away into elderly irrelevance…much like the conservative Christian movement is about to start doing demographically. I also have little doubt that much like the George Reckers/Ted Haggart/Dennis Hastert/Mark Foley wing of the old school conservatives, the new university and social media woke-reactionaries have an obscene amount of personal baggage and buried hypocrisy just waiting to be teased out to discredit them. No people that into moralism have ever *not* been hypocrites.

But can we stay sane long enough to outlast them? Or does the future Rick Santorum have blue hair and a Tumblr to support their run for office?

triggered mini

The Spectacle Presidency and the Spectacle of Opposition


I was a History undergrad (thank the gods) and not a ‘political scientist’ until grad school. And even then, I stuck my political science more towards the real than the ideal. Geography and geology and anthropology were as much my focus as political science and philosophy. Because, at the end of the day, it is all about what really exists, not what we hope. Hope, as apparently Eisenhower and one of my co-workers mothers once said, is not an achievable policy. But the one political science class I took in undergrad was ‘The Presidency’. In it, our professor talked about how Reagan, then (and somehow still now) was lauded as this great president when in fact he was nothing but a milquetoast capable of great shows of spectacle. He used the media to build up issues which he could ‘solve’ in a media friendly way, from invading Grenada to smashing up the traffic control strikers. Everyone loved this. The people cheered, much as they would cheer as the charismatic but empty shell of the Clintons cut away any remainders of meritocracy in this country with a smile and a wave.

We have, unsurprisingly, an erratic administration in the White House. In light of the recent strikes in Syria, conducted without an investigation into an attack which occurred in a war where we know all sides possess chemical weapons, most likely based on the president having an emotional reaction to television, much like his core constituency does. Words, spoken or written, cannot adequately express how utterly horrifying a prospect that is. Grand strategy is now in the hands of serial molester and loofah/falafel shipping fanfic audiobook narrator Bill O’Reilly’s prime time rants.

The conservative movement, which often had pretenses of intellectualism but could find no intellectual with which to cling to aside from William F. Buckley (himself basically the Bill O’Reilly of the 1950s), Ayn Rand, and the clueless ideologue bro-‘wonk’ that is Paul Ryan-a man who opposed Obamacare so much for 8 years he never even came up with an alternative until one week before his epic failure in the House passing something far worse-is basically bereft of brains. In America this has always been so. Vague attempts to cling to the coattails of Edmund Burke usually come up short when faced with the sheer ranting racism and religious fanaticism that makes up the vast majority of American conservatives (and once again, always has). In many ways this makes Trump unremarkable except in one way, he is totally honest. A purely instinct-driven creature, he shuffles from outrage to outrage and poll boosting issue to poll boosting issue as only the most delicate of right wing shrinking violets can. The mask has not only slipped, but fallen into a boiling cauldron of lava and is never to be retrieved again. Trump is barely into his presidency. Sure, he has the potential to be beyond the scope of horror, but in the small time he has yet to even come close to Dubya’s track record of sheer globe spanning incompetence and murder. He also has yet (although his policies promise to do so soon) to come close to Bill Clinton’s record of waging ruthless and brutal warfare against America’s working class. In other words, the spectacle has never been more honest. Its all style and no substance, exactly what an enormous percentage of voters have been content with for a very long time.

But to find such a mercurial and unqualified character making an erratic President is hardly a perspective you need me to elucidate. You can find that anywhere. 90% of online content now exists to do exactly this. What I find even more craven, even more bothersome moving forward, is The Loyal Opposition, or what they call themselves with no self-awareness whatsoever, ‘The Resistance.’ They are just as much a fraudulent spectacle as the president they condemn….Condemned that is, until he shot some missiles and CNN got the footage.

Much like how the Democratic Party has been ‘anyone to the left of John McCain’ in definition since at least Carter, so too is The Resistancebasically defined as anyone who hates Trump. That is actually quite a lot of people of various divergent backgrounds. Most don’t have large financial backing and mainstream support anymore, but the ones that do….oh the ones that do. They certainly earned their this week didn’t they?

Nothing like a good act of war to bring out the sheer levels of contortions required for the sad sacks who pass for an opposition. Fareed Zakaria, one of the few neoliberals which I had any respect for, declared the act of President Baby’s hissy fit to be ‘Presidential’, Admiral Stavritis and other wannabees in an alternate universe Clinton cabinet could not stop themselves from using the kinds of words op ed columnists use when reviewing the latest self serving autobiography of a public figure. ‘Bold.’ ‘Decisive.’ ‘Insert Generic Descriptor Here.’

My original thought if Trump took us into the field of basically becoming Jihadist Offshore Support Group 1 was that the mainline democrats and Sensible Serious Center of which I have spoken before would suddenly pull the same move they did when their rosy Iraq predictions turned out to be wrong-suddenly flopping back into Dove mode. The good news is, they defied that low partisan bar. The bad news is they went even lower…by just coming around, at least on this one very important issue, to the very force they claim to oppose.

The day after former Secretary Clinton called for a wholesale attack on the airbases of Syria, something equivalent to if the Pearl Harbor assault had hit the entire West Coast in addition to Hawaii, Trump struck only one (so far) in a demonstration of spectacle which immediately was followed by bipartisan praise. In other words, The Resistance™ came around to Trump. Because he bombed someone. That is just as horrifying as the idea that he ordered the attacks based on his emotional response to the news. It also shows that it is Trump who is becoming much like the DC establishment he ran against, rather than bending it to his will. This blog is focused on foreign policy issues, but there is ample reason to see the same effect on domestic policy as well if one is willing to look for it.

The only thing The Resistance™ is doing is building themselves up as the people who could do the same failed policies, but more politely. With less….acrimony. In the case specifically of Syria most Democrats demand something more hawkish than Trumps irresponsible flirtations with World War III on behalf of sectarian Wahhabi fundamentalists. And what the Thomas Freidmans’ and David Brooks’ of the world want is precisely that, because its safe and polite. It is what they know. America has an excess of military power so it must ‘do something’, and damn the consequences. I mean, otherwise those bombs just might sit around. Why have that when you can use them to provide collective therapy for the neoliberal/neoconservative on the world stage? These people have no actual critique of systemic forces, but only brands. Coke and Pepsi, Marvel and DC, Lockheed Martin and B.A.E. Systems, the Democrats and the Republicans.

Spectacle Presidency, meet Spectacle Opposition.



Fortunately, occasional lone voices cry out in the wilderness against this double sided madness. One of them has been one heartily endorsed by this blog since before the party primaries. That continues to be a damn good call.

Tulsi triggers liberals




‘The Great Leveler’: A Review

four horsemen

‘You could listen to the endless promises of scientists, engineers, and politicians and believe we lived in a golden age that would last forever and a day, where all men were free from want. But those men and women were arrogant, and we swallowed their hubris and made it our own. {…} They didn’t talk about the working conditions in the mines and factories, or the Red Indian reservations, the people who suffered and died so that a few of us could live our lives of plenty. Most of all, though, they didn’t talk about how nothing lasts forever-not coal, not wood, not oil or peat-and how one nation turns against another when it starts to run out of the resources it needs to power the engines of progress.’

~Kailtyn R. Kiernan, ‘Goggles (c 1910).’

It is not Kiernan’s excellent short story that parodies the euphoria of much of modern steampunk fiction that brings me to you this night, though the quote above is eminently apt, but rather something of the nonfiction variety which overlaps with the sentiment of that passage. I wish to give full justice to a book I just finished, Walter Scheidel’s ‘The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality.’ If you don’t want something elaborate I can give you the short version: This is what Piketty would have been like had he the courage of the historian who can set aside their era specific values to look at long term trends in a truly dispassionate and realistic way.

The more elaborate take of this book follows.

Scheidel is a historian of the classical world, with prior studies in the Roman Empire as well as its opposite-Eurasia counterpart the Han Dynasty in China. It was apt that with these two examples of early continent straddling superpowers that he opens a quite large and dense study of civilization’s cycles of boom and bust. Not economically speaking, but rather of class. The boom and bust cycles of the elite and the commons, as one makes relative gains at the expense of the other, only to concede to an eventual reversal. Usually, this comes in the form of technology enabling the rise of an aristocracy which is at first a patron (herding, agriculture, industry, possibly electronic information), which then rapidly outpaces its once modest accumulations and becomes parasitic on its own order, leading to either revolt or overreach which causes ‘leveling’, or some re-assertion of some economic fairness in reset, and eventually starts the process over again. The events that can cause these seismic shifts which partially undo the gradualism of the growth of the ruling class in any stable order are varied. They can be large scale warfare, state collapse, internal revolution, or pandemic. Obviously, there are many instances in history where more than one of these factors meet, sometimes one touching off another.

The conclusions he draws are stark. So far, leveling is an inevitable reaction to either the complacency, hoarding, or misrule of the rulers. It is also often a devastating process leaving mixed results. To live in such times is undesirable for most, but often necessary for a future where problems do not simply accelerate ad inifintum. He comes down on neither ‘side’, admonishing either who might be too partisan on these questions to be careful what they wish for. I would somewhat quibble with this final note of caution, however, as I feel that the present environmental calamity we find ourselves in strongly tops this balance towards one side more than the other. Despite this, I find this book to be a remarkably robust addition to non-doctrinaire materialist history, and thus utterly necessary for our time. It makes a case with historically reconstructed data from the classical era to the present day, tying in events that fit with the ‘four horsemen’ of leveling and showing success stories, failures, and everything in between in a list which includes numerous governments of the most varied geographic, cultural, and ideological persuasions-which further strengthens the case of circumstantial materialism above that of both intent and innate inheritance. Issues of class as well as epidemiology and both domestic and foreign power politics weave together to create a story of the costs and benefits of civilization itself.

Naturally, I realize this makes me sound like a broken record here, but I would have liked to have seen a shout out to my boy Ibn Khaldun. After all, he came up with the cyclic civilizational analysis working in material factors all the way back in the Fourteenth Century, including the necessity for new governments to have large amounts of group solidarity before the inevitable rot set in if they were successful bringing stability and prosperity to the land, leading to the gradual weakening of their society and the resurgence of new outsiders who resembled what the current ruling class once was. Despite not seeing one of my favorite historians mentioned in this very topic relevant piece, I must give Scheidel a massive amount of credit for not indulging in typical ideological pique when looking at modern history. He speaks of the positives and negatives of all kinds of governing orders, from early modern transition economies to capitalist and communist orders alike. In an era where economic idealism is treated as sectarian dogma, this is a great thing to see. When one’s central thesis is crisis leading to opportunity-at great risk-it makes sense to consider all the variables. Naturally, in a study of this scope, many interesting case studies are left out. The early Turkish Republic compared to the late Ottoman Empire, for instance, would have been welcome. As could the turbulent post-WW2 history of rapid economic policy change shown at multiple stages in Chilean history. But obviously, and I know this personally myself, to work in big picture requires parsing ones examples down to the bare necessities to make the point lest one drag into repetition.

An extremely important and heavily recommended book.