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

puritans

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

trumpswan

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.

 

MSNBTroll

Hello, my name is Rachel Maddow and I have exclusive never before seen video of Russian agents inside the White House.

But first, what is Russia? And what is the White House?

In 6,241 BCE, the descendants of Cain, brother of Abel, settled in a peat bog. The peat bog was known for its production of aromatic soaps. Soaps that caused divergence from the rest of the human evolutionary tree. These soaps were called Krokodil, and you probably have it in your house RIGHT NOW.

In the Middle Ages, this peat bog was invaded and conquered by the Mongols. The Mongols were decidedly un-woke, and engaged in many actions which contravened Immanuel Kant, who was so far up to this point the dominant influence on Russian culture aside from Krokodil soap. This was the final break, and in their humiliation an entire nation swore to conquer the world.

Fast-forward to the 1950s, great liberal democrat hero and ultra-woke Joe McCarthy discovered the the Union of Krokodil Addled Soviet Russian Oligarchs (USSR in Russian) had begun their plan to infiltrate the United States to begin the final phase of their wicked plot.

This brings us to our second topic, the White House. Built by the British in 1814 under my own Oxford Scholarship, the White House was long the abode of Andrew Jackson who shat in the lawn’s garden pottery. After the American Revolution of 1992, when all stamps were deregulated by our national founding parents, Bill and Hillary Clinton,who also invented the internet, decided to bravely stand up to this assault.

Enraged by this turn of events, Russian agents did everything they could to bring down this new benevolent order. They invaded Libya and framed the Clintons for it. They bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and framed America for it. They created Trump in a Krokodil Clone Farm and installed him upon the American people at gunpoint with the help of the Syrian army.

And now, *licks lips, swallos, gesticulates in pantsuit*, we have proof of collusion between the White House and the Krokodemlin. Actual direct footage from inside the Oval Office:

Confederation in Anarchy: The International Relations of Redwall

Well, I promised a lighter post more like my earlier entries, did I not? So let’s talk about  80s/90s children’s book series Redwall.

redwall-party

Redwall Fanart by the extremely talented chichapie, who also did many of the illustrations for the great possibly somewhat Redwall-inspired game ‘Armello’)

Redwall came into my life around third age 7 and remained (tied with Phillip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’) the top tier reading material for me until I found Lovecraft at age 15. Even after its demotion I still kept up with the series until I went to college, making Taggerung the last entry I ever read. Still, as part of the inoculation in my childhood making me immune to the culture homogenizing adverb abusing virus that was ‘Harry Potter’it will always remain a part of my life. The best entry in the series, ‘Mossflower’, I even re-read only a few years ago to see if I still got the same kick out of it. I did.

Seemingly unrelated, in recent months I have also gotten into the Chapo Trap House podcast. Because being the opposition to all mess makers who got us where we are now requires not tone policing and pedantry but a crass sense of humor and disdain for the pundit class that positively drips. Clearly, fellow travelers to Geotrickster. Anyway, episode 82 was an interview with an American volunteer fighting with the YPG in Rojava in Syria, who corrected some inaccuracies in his more well known coverage in a Rolling Stone article. Most notably, he mentioned how what often is internationally defined as anarchism is really a functioning pseudo-state in Rojava, with portraits of its imprisoned founder everywhere and a fair amount of group discipline along with the egalitarianism.

You know what that reminds me of? Redwall Abbey. But since I talk about Syria and Iraq enough on this blog, while that may have been the spark that led to this post initially, it is not the real world comparison I am going to end up using. But first, a series primer.

Redwall, the name of the first (published, not chronological) book in series and also the name of the Abbey where most of the stories take place in, was the creation of the now deceased Brian Jacques. They consist of stories of woodland creatures, the majority of which are endemic to his native Britain. The woodlands (mice, moles, hares, badgers, otters, squirrels, etc), who try to live lives of peace and equality in a chaotic and unstable low fantasy world which seems to be around the technology level of the early Dark Ages. Their frequent enemies, roving bands of vermin (rats, stoats, foxes, weasels, etc), are also sentient and bipedal but their lives are governed by near constant conflict and territorial pissing matches. Some vermin command from daunting fortresses while others rove as nomadic bands, looking for loot or a fixed place of their own to take (usually Redwall).

Martin the Warrior, an escaped slave who liberated an entire pirate plantation and crushed the slavers drifted from far away into Mossflower Country after the tragic death of his love and his many friends in their war for freedom. To make a long series of stories short, he ended up falling with a guerrilla resistance who fought some local tyrants in the region, and after gaining allies and a new meteorite forged sword helped the locals drive out the occupiers and claim their former stronghold. Most books after this event take place in Redwall Abbey, the woodlander’s own structure built atop the site of their former enemies castle. After Martin’s death, he would go down as the patron protector and symbol of the egalitarian and consensus driven society he helped make possible by defeating the militaristic occupation of the Wildcats and their henchmen. Redwall and the surrounding woods filled with other woodlander factions seems like a type of anarchist expression. But it is not the political theory of anarchy with which they most traffic with, but rather the International Relations (IR) definition of a world with no overall governing structure, which we also call anarchy, with each political unit an autonomous entity onto itself. Besides, the closer one looks at Redwall Abbey, the more apparent it becomes that this is indeed, a cohesive political entity with the territorial demarcations, division of labor, and iconography of a state.

Despite being called an ‘Abbey’, there is no apparent religion in this crew but their own civic model of local forest and farming communally acting as a guiding virtue. An abbot or abbess really comes across as a chief mediator or town mayor who can be from almost any animal type, with the various species representing different functions such as engineering for the moles, scouting for the squirrels, farming for the mice, etc. There is no ethnic hierarchy, despite the seemingly strict workplace divisions on ‘ethnicity’, and all share resources equally and are liable, if adults, to serve as militia in times of defense. Redwall has local alliances with otters and shrews, some of whom also live within the abbey, and when it needs to it, it can project its militias offensively or an behalf of its allies on expedition. Many critics, my teenage self included, tend to see the good/bad species split as a kind of creepy fantastic racism, but I actually now view the animals as different personality and professional types. When you realize Redwall and many (but not all) of the warlord villain groups seem to not really have any type of stable or absolute species hierarchy, it becomes obvious that this not really a racial divide we are seeing here but rather a professional and cultural one.

Importantly, perhaps critically for this society to exist, it is not alone. Neither next door nor too far away is the highly militarized society of Salamandastron, a hollow extinct volcano lorded over by hereditary badger lords served by a highly trained caste of warrior hares. Redwall and Salamandastron, who Martin once brought together before the building of the Abbey itself, stand together as allies, one a power, the other a resource based enterprise. You could say Redwall is Canada to Salamandastron’s America, but perhaps more critically in the same continent, that they are strongly allied tribes who are domestically autonomous in a politically uncertain and dangerous world, but utterly unified towards any exterior threat. In this way, the real way to explain the IR of the Redwall series with a real life example is to look at the native confederacies of the Great Lakes regions. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), the Wyandot (Huron), and the Anishinaabeg (Three Fires) confederacies were groupings of tribes who came together for mutual defense. The first two formed as common Iroquoian fronts against surrounding Algonquian peoples, the Three Fires, in turn, coalesced more westerly Algonquians due to the expanding power of the Iroquois after they became the hegemonic power in the eastern North American interior in the late 17th Century following their defeat of the Huron.

For the sake of simplicity, let us focus on the Iroquois. Also, they were the subject of my capstone thesis paper for my undergraduate degree in history. Briefly, the Iroquois were an alliance of squabbling tribes in upstate New York who were brought together by the teaching of Hiawatha, himself inspired by the prophet Denangawida, who traveled the 5 tribes, eventually with many allies, winning over an alliance of the Mohawk, Seneca, Onandaga, Cayuga, and Oneida. Each tribe had an assigned task, such as the Mohawk being the guardians of the eastern door, or the Onandaga being the keepers of the council hire, or seat of governance. The tribes were basically governed as semi-autonomous pseudo-matriarchies by the elders in times of peace, but the league appointed temporary military leaders and diplomats in times of negotiation and peace. With their strong bedrock of support at home and their fighting skills, they grew, and outlasted several conflicts with Algonquian and various European enemies until different tribes of the alliance split over who to support in the American Revolution and the system collapsed. But for centuries, the league stood, navigating the tempestuous waters of Native and European politics alike on a continent upended into chaos by mass spreading of Eurasian disease and economic reorientation.

One wonders if in the ancient history of the Redwall world something happened to introduce mass depopulation and migration. Given the plethora of ruins found in the stories, the many roving and rapacious bands, and the somewhat stagnant technology level of a book series taking place over many, many generations, one cannot help but wonder from what prehistory the scribes of Redwall Abbey’s ancestors descend from. ‘Martin the Warrior’, chronologically second, implies all or most woodlanders were either enslaved or quite primitive to how they would be later. The recovery is clearly taking place though, as in later books it seems that Redwall and Salamandastron also have much stronger advantages against vermin than before when they were very clearly the underdogs. With the epic and bloody battle (for all sides) that closed out ‘Salamandastron’ (the book) as the first big unified fight with the two in one place, it seems that since then the allies have forged a better world for their, dare I say, socialist vision? Like the Iroquois, this is a confederation of pseudostates into a state-like alliance. A necessary coming together in the face of constant anarchic adversity, invasion, and danger whose longevity turns the alliance into a de facto national entity of its own with time. Ironically, the policies that make these societies sucessfull and brotherly are the very same ones that make them such a tempting target for the many vermin hordes, who seek their riches and security of place. Perhaps it is for the best then after all, without the common vermin threat someone more cynical than the target kid audience might assume that these two lights of the woodlands would then, like the Iroquois and Huron, or the late term tribes of the Iroquois themselves, inevitably turn on each other.

In times of great upheaval and rapaciousness we should remember the woodlanders of Redwall, who could carve out their own little place in the sun despite all the uncertainty around them with group solidarity and geographic awareness.

From Whence Come Refugees? They Come From You

blogusarmy

I have a small but somewhat regular audience for this blog. WordPress is kind enough to give me view stats and though I am overjoyed to see over 40 countries so far have taken a peek, I do get more from the United States than elsewhere. Since I live in DC and this often guides me to write about directions in U.S. foreign policy, this is no surprise. I do, however, miss my earlier focus on more historical and sometimes even fictitious hypotheticals and do plan on moving back in that direction soon. Nonetheless, when something is topical its topical.

No doubt you have heard about the capstone of the raging shitstorm that is Week 1, President Trump. I speak of course of the temporary executive order banning migration from certain countries. This move actively harms U.S. foreign policy and undermines its position at working effectively with allies on the ground to combat extremist movements and build diplomatic bridges. It unjustly harms people and is a rank hypocrisy from a nation which is 98% descended from immigrants. It has also directly harmed those who have served U.S. interest abroad more than most American citizens have. But you don’t have to take it from me, the internet is flooded with outrage on this issue, and rightfully-for once-so. Because of this widespread condemnation, however, I do not feel it would be useful to add to an already common opinion. I would like to bring up something else, something specifically addressed to many, but by no means all, of the outraged:

I am happy you are so empathetic to refugees. But why, if you support these people so much, were you so content for so long to launch military operations in their countries, at least when your party was in power anyway? Operations not made necessary by major security concerns and operations which often resulted in furthering a crisis rather than alleviating one?

On social media I have noticed that so many of those who are first to proclaim themselves righteous defenders of Muslims are those who were either silent or tacitly supported various misguided American actions in the Middle East which resulted in thousands of casualties. We had legions of ‘woke’ partisans actively shrieking for a presidential candidate who promised, on multiple occasions, an expanded regime change war in Syria. These are the same people now, after this disastrous first week for a new administration, who blithely and smugly proclaim, ‘we were right, see?’ While ignoring that we could just as easily have been in an equally damning crisis a bit further down the line, with Syria as a new Somalia, hemorrhaging even more displaced people fleeing sectarian genocide in a power vacuum through the region and setting off radicalization like never before. Not to mention the resulting explosion in even more right wing populism in reaction to this in Europe and eventually America. The most effective means to counteract the refugee problem is to deal with it at the root and de-escalate military options in the region. Not inflame them. But no one, and no major party in America, seems to consider this an option. Despite all the money, time, and lives it would save. No one even seems to care about this issue that lies at the heart of everything from the rise of the right to the refugee crisis. The thought that the United States (and others) plays a major role in creating the refugee situation in the first place barely enters the equation. ‘We are the light of the enlightenment, shining forth in Buzzfeed Listicles, attracting only The Elect from their Hell of being born outside the glow of the North Atlantic World.’ Of course, being one of the tacit causes of these conflicts, the least liberals can do is take the refugees in.

But perhaps this is to overthink more simple motives. Most likely its that in their world of snarky op-ed pieces, ‘zingers’, childish fantasies of living in a world where The West Wing is real, and understanding everything through Harry Potter analogies- the American liberal simply does not care about anything that happens outside of their heavily domestic-oriented media consumption. Maybe the people who fancy themselves cosmopolitan are in fact merely putting on a show to cover up their superficiality and provincialism. Sometimes, a cause becomes fashionable and a status symbol, but until you see the human suffering on a screen and know it is in your country now, then, and only then, can you take a stand. Since our media barely covers Yemen, this would explain by no one outside of the foreign policy field seems to be even be aware of its existence as a major battlefield. The same once happened in the Congo. The more photogenic breakup of Yugoslavia, however, got all the attention. And naturally, when a Democrat launches a ill-conceived war, its not a problem. Its not even a war, but rather a kindler, gentler, ‘intervention’. Being opposed to a war is only popular with such people when the other party launches it.

I don’t know about you, but I was happy to see such a large turnout for the women’s march here in DC. A crowd much larger than the inauguration took to the streets to assert themselves against the looming shadow of a government potentially hostile to their interests. But I could not keep a sneaking and depressing suspicion out of my mind…had the election gone the other way, what percentage of these people would have shown up to protest an attack on Damascus by another new administration? Even after knowing everything that comes from such policies and how they come back to haunt us later. Even after Iraq, which has if anything a less toxic combination of internal factors than Syria does, ended up widely acknowledged as the biggest policy blunder so far of the 21rst Century? The answer? That crowd protesting in the National Mall would not be in the hundreds of thousands, but rather the hundreds.

But these are all speculations. So the question remains open: Why is it, for the average American liberal, more acceptable to drop bombs on someone than to ban them from entering the country?