September 26, 2006
DVD Rec of the Week
If you like this blog, you'll probably enjoy watching this:
The Battle of Algiers, produced only three years after the end of the French-Algerian War, is an excellent little study in the phases of a counterinsurgency, and quite a learning tool to boot. Moreover, its style is incredibly realistic. When coupled with a reading of Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice it almost makes for a small little course in counterinsurgency, especially for those (like probably everyone reading this) who have been inundated in the headlines of the past three years and can readily draw comparisons to current news and practices.
The Criterion Collection edition also includes two full discs of special features, most of which looked interesting, though I didn't have time for them.
There's more background about the film at Wikipedia's entry.
August 30, 2006
America's Schizophrenic View of Warfare
I've written an article for TCSDaily entitled Bipolar Disorder: America's Schizophrenic View of Warfare. It argues that Americans tend to view total war as positive, and counterinsurgencies as negative, rather than merely seeing them as different kinds of conflict. Go see for yourself!
July 7, 2006
Kimi Ga Yo
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.-Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
The North Koreans are causing Japan to rethink their pacifism. Not only that, but the cemented US-Japan security relationship, well-described recently in the Weekly Standard, gives a sort of legitimacy to the respect for militarism that has long been an undercurrent in Japan. Japan, after all, has a long, long tradition of respect for military virtue. How one perceives it is in the eye of the beholder. Much of Japanese militarism in the past could be characterized as a sort of stoic nihilism. Yet at the same time, Bushido, the code of the samurai, inspired George Lucas to create the Jedi Knights in Star Wars, which went on to become a mythopoetic icon in its own right in the US.
It's possible that most peoples in the world who are proud of their own histories search for something meaningful to find in the martial portions of those stories. The Japanese have long found their own meaning in serving as a kind of poster-child for anti-nuclear activism, using their war history as a sort of lesson to the world. Regardless that it saved millions of lives on both sides by ending the war sooner, the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave Japan the opportunity to retool its military history into that of a shamed victim (as opposed to a righteous victim, which we often see in a variety of contexts in the West). When I was 16, and about to take a bullet train from Osaka to Hiroshima to visit the memorial there, my host-father told me, "You'll see exactly what your country really intended to do to us."
But as Churchill said, great battles "change the entire course of events, create new standards of values, new moods, in armies and in nations." The threat to Japan of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea is doing just that. Consider this video on YouTube, entitled Aegis [hat-tip to Belmont Club]:
If the Japanese are making fanflicks of the Japanese Navy, it seems the tables are turning on Article 9, and some of Churchill's "new moods" are being created.
Or maybe they're not that new after all:
Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleepSaviour of Nippon when the guns begin to shoot . . .
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.
You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!
June 30, 2006
Discussion Topic: Defeat
One of the most interesting questions to me is that of defeat. Sometimes when you attack another force, it folds immediately under the pressure. Alternatively, sometimes the force is emboldened by your attack. Think of the differences between Pearl Harbor, which caused the US entry into World War II, and "shock and awe" which was designed to convince the Iraqi populace that resistance was futile. But ironically, US aerial campaigns are so surgical these days that there wasn't much shock or awe to it: the gov't buildings that the Iraqis expected to be hit, were hit.
When is a people defeated? The degree to which the combatants are truly exhausted of fighting dictates the degree to which they will accept the outcome of the fight. If that is the case, then each side truly gambles whenever it seeks a decisive outcome. Moreover, if nothing less than an unconditional surrender is sought, then does that make the other side fight all the harder to avoid it, thereby prolonging the conflict?
Finally, how do the answers to these questions change when the other side is an irregular force?
Military types will say that defeat is in the mind, and victory resides there as well. What is the combination of effects necessary to impose upon minds then, such that they might conclude as quickly as possible that defeat is at hand?
The pat US answer is firepower, but I think there are two other factors at work. What do you readers think? All comments to this little ramble are welcome.
May 30, 2005
Memorial Day 2005
Mark Steyn noted the passing of an important date a few days ago:
A week and a half after the VE Day anniversary, here's a date that will get a lot less attention: May 19th 2005. On that day, the war on terror will have outlasted America's participation in the Second World War. In other words, the period since 9/11 will be longer than the period of time between Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the Japanese surrender in August 1945.
Does it seem that long? For the most part, no. The war on terror has involved no major mobilization of the population at large. In contrast to Casablanca, Mrs Miniver, I'll Be Seeing You, Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Victory Polka, Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition and There'll Be A Hot Time In The Town Of Berlin, American popular culture has preferred to sit this one out, aside from Michael Moore's crockumentaries and incoherent soundbites from every Hollywood airhead who gets invited to European film festivals.
Mark's right. American pop culture has largely chosen to sit out this war, though it threatens our civilization in every bit an existential way as World War II did.
But this isn't entirely true. While popular music and films haven't really rallied to the cause, there is another outlet of pure unadulterated vox populi that has proven more than willing to take up the cause of rallying the American people and our allies on to victory.
Of course, I speak of the blogosphere. Where else do you find "Milblogs" -- many of them written by the warriors themselves -- while deployed? Where else can you find the Good News from Iraq series compiled by Australian Arthur Chrenkoff? Where else can you find "Fallujah, The Music Video" [http://boswell.web.aplus.net/falluja.mpg]? Where else can you find a bit -- just a small bit -- of triumphalism at successful Iraqi elections [http://adamkeiper.blogs.com/comparevideo/files/Iraq_Election.wmv]? The blogosphere is where our heroes are most celebrated, where our enemies are most pilloried, and where we keep the unfaithful in check.
While journalists may conceitedly tell themselves that they write the "first draft of history," I predict that future cultural historians will spend much more time reading milblog archives than they will the archives of any newspaper.
Why is this the case? Perhaps other arenas of cultural expression are too corporate, too top-down-dictated, too stale to offer such raw, unrefined opinion on the war.
Well, this Memorial Day, I'd like to light a fire under you by bringing to the blogosphere some of the best folk music from World War II.
In high school, I was browsing in a music store and came across a CD titled, That's Why We're Marching: World War II and the American Folk Song Movement. This was a compilation of American folk songs written before, during, and after the US entry into World War II. I snapped it up and it has proved a great purchase ever since, for here is a narrative of changing popular conceptions of the war told by a chronological record of popular folk songs. Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, the Union Boys, Lead Belly, and many more who are largely absent from our popular consciousness today, play large roles in the album. Compiled by Smithsonian/Folkways, it is truly fascinating. I've put a link to the album in the sidebar, but you can also buy it straight from the Smithsonian and listen to excerpts from the songs here.
The first few songs are written before the US entered the war and show a distrust of the motives for involvement. They offer a glimpse into the old pre-war isolationism and its ties to the Depression. Take Billy Boy for example, recorded in March of 1941 by the Almanac Singers, in sort of a call and response style. It shows that folks were not committed to dying overseas, suspicious of war, and even concerned at the vast corporate interests involved in its prosecution:
Q: Will you go to the war, Billy boy, Billy boy?But such sentiments didn't last long!
Will you go to the war, charming Billy?
A; It's a long ways away
They are dying every day!
Chorus: He's a young boy and cannot leave his mother!
Q: Can you use a bayonet Billy boy, Billy boy
Can you use a bayonet charming Billy?
A: No I haven't got the skill
To murder and to kill.
Q: Don't you want a silver medal, Billy boy, Billy boy,
Don't you want a silver medal, charming Billy?
A: No desire do I feel
to defend Republic Steel!
Q: Don't you want to see the world, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Don't you want to see the world, charming Billy?
A: No it wouldn't be much thrill
to die for DuPont in Brazil!
Q: Girls would like your uniform, Billy boy, Billy boy!
Girls would like your uniform, charming Billy!
A: They wouldn't get much chance to love me
With six feet of earth above me!
Q: Are you afraid to fight, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Are you afraid to fight, charming Billy?
A: You can come around to me
When England's a democracy!
Q: Will they take you from my side, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Will they take you from my side, charming Billy?
A: Don't you worry, mother dear,
I'm a stayin' over here!
[Chorus x 2]
Later songs, like I'm Gonna Put My Name Down, were commissioned by the CIO labor union to show that labor members were just as supportive as everyone else:
I got a brother in the infantry,More than just asking the home front to do all it can, some songs taunt the enemy, like The Fuhrer, which is written in 1944 from the perspective of a German soldier:
I thought you knowed
I got a brother in the infantry
He's a way down that road
I got a brother in the infantry
And he smokes cigarettes just like me
And I'm gonna put my name down!
I'm gonna put my name down brother,
Where do I sign?
Each and every month I lay my money on the line!
Gotta keep those tanks a-rollin'!
The airplanes a-hummin' and the dollars a-comin'
And I'm gonna put my name down!
Tell me my Fuhrer,That one seems relevant to some of the stories in the news lately, like the one about the jihadi's using Down's syndrome youth as suicide bombers, or the news buried in a New York Times article not long ago that some recent suicide bombers had had their hands and feet duct-taped to the steering wheels and accelerators of their vehicles. Certainly some of them must be singing a similar tune.
What can I do?
My hands are freezing,
My nose is blue!
I'm dying of cold,
You never can tell,
Cause when the Russians come,
They make it hotter than hell!
I got a touch of Pneumonia,
I got a terrible cough,
If I sneeze once more
It's bound to carry me off,
When the Russians are coming,
They always take us by storm,
And there's nothing like running,
If you want to get warm!
I want to go back to what's left of Berlin!
Sick of a war that I ain't gonna win
I've seen the big red star
that scared the pants off the tsar
I want to go back to Berlin!
Now listen my Fuhrer,
I'm dead on my feet
I've got no place for sleeping
I've got nothing to eat
We've gone and finished
all the food that we brought
And there's nothing here for miles around
but food for thought
I've tightened my belt
it damn near cuts me in two
I've slept on my feet
til my boots wore through
when I get thirsty
I melt snow in my cup
Well I may be going hungry,
But I'm all fed up!
Now tell me my Fuhrer
How in the hell can I be brave
I've got one foot in Russia
I've got one in the grave
I got snow in my rifle
I got lead in my pants
I'm so lonesome for a touch of romance!
Well, I went to a village
And I spotted a gal
I made a pass at her
Just to boost my morale
I've got one broken ankle
I've got two black eyes
Why couldn't she pick on somebody her size!
By far, my favorite of the songs is The Martins and The Coys, which seems to say, that hey, if even the Martins and the Coys, the classic feuding mountain clans, can unite behind the war, then we all can! It also draws on the amusing imagery of Hitler being treed like a raccoon.
Oh the Martins and the Coys have quit their feudingSo, this Memorial Day, I'll take a page from the Martins and the Coys and hope for unity to defeat the jihadists, because as we all know, whether this is a "generational conflict" or a "long, hard slog, "
They don't live in West Virginia anymore
You won't never find them in
Cause they're headed for Berlin
And they're fighting in a different kind of war!
Oh the Martins and the Coys
They were reckless mountain boys,
They take up family feuding when they please,
But now for the duration
They have changed their occupation
And they're fighting side by side til Hitler's treed!
Mr. Coy shook hands with Mr. Martin,
And he said "We won't be safe til Hitler's through
"So suppose we call a truce,
"Until we cook his goose,
"Cause I hate him even worse than I hate you!"
And then up spoke old Grandpappy Martin
With his whiskers waving proudly in the breeze
Said, "If I have to capture Tokyo,
"I guess that's o-kee-do-kee-o,
"I'm just waiting til they send me overseas."
Then up spoke Little Cousin Abner,
He'd been drunk since eighteen hundred ninety-eight
He said, "Boys, I'm staying sober
"Until the shootin's over,
"If you don't mind, I'll take my water straight."
Uncle Charlie Coy was sleeping in the henhouse,
But he jumped up when he heard that bugle call,
Now he's over in the Alps
And he's chasin' Hitler's scalp
Cause he wants that mustache hanging on his wall!
Now to people this all points a lesson,
See what the Martins and the Coys agreed to do:
They have given up their feudin'
For another kind of shootin'
And if they can do it I guess that we can too!
January 17, 2005
[Have searched high and low for notes on this topic, but four moves in five years forces it to be posted from memory. After reading the below, if you buy any books, consider using Chester's amazon portal in the sidebar. Chester will receive a very small fee.]
At the Basic School, Brigadier General (then Colonel) Allen detailed methods to use for professional reading success. While the context was professional military reading, the same methods apply for any body of knowledge. They are actually quite simple.
1. You cannot control the age of your body -- you may be 20 or 60, but there is no excuse for a military officer not to have a 5000-year-old mind. General Allen was quoting the military historian Jay Luvaas.
2. Have a general and broad knowledge of military history from ancient times to the present, but:
3. Choose one single campaign and make that your focus. Choose a campaign about which there are sufficient resources for in-depth, maybe even lifelong study. Make yourself an expert on that campaign. For this reason, it is often best to choose one in which one or both sides spoke and wrote in English. When one side is in another language, sufficient translated resources can be hard to come by. Choose a campaign such that the battlefields are easy to visit. Your learning will be enhanced if you can walk the terrain. General Allen recommended the Civil War for these reasons. He chose Lee's invasion of Maryland because he knew that as a Marine officer, he would return to Quantico several times in his career and be able to visit the battlefields a good bit. General Allen emphasized that by studying a single campaign in-depth, no question of maneuver, tactics, logistics or communications would be left a mystery. By becoming a specialist in the campaign, all of these fields and their interaction would become clear.
4. General Allen recommended reading for two purposes: to understand combat decisionmaking, and to human factors in combat.
On decisionmaking: What did key leaders think they knew at given points? What choices did they make given that knowledge and why?
On human factors: How did the troops deal with being tired, hungry, cold, sick, injured, mentally exhausted, dehydrated, etc? Understanding how human beings react in extremely stressful situations is part and parcel of leading them.
5. When taking notes, use Patton's method: on passages that are of interest, draw one line in the margin, perpendicular to the text. For those that offer great insight, draw two. For those that are the key to understanding the overall message and tone of the book, and which are the key points to be distilled, draw three lines and underline. This way, when you return to a book, you will see what you thought was important at the time and see how your thinking may have changed, and also be reminded quickly of the most important points in the book.
6. Return to books. Find key texts and re-read them every year. Soon they will have shaped your thinking more than you can imagine.
7. Don't force a book. If it is not interesting you, don't force yourself to read it. It will in time. Choose something else. [Another instructor, at another school described a method of leaving five books on his night-stand: three on military topics, two on completely different topics. Every night he switched books. In this way he accustomed his brain to keeping track of various self-contained situations -- much as a commander must in combat.]
8. When choosing a book, examine it closely. Ask yourself: why did the author write this book? There are many reasons for authors to write: prestige, tenure, and to make money are among them. Those books can be good as well, but be forewarned.
9. A life spent reading certain texts again and again will have profound effects on your thinking, writing, and even the way you speak. Choose carefully.
10. General Allen's recommended authors: Tuchman, Fuller, Luvaas, S.L.A. Marshall, B.H. Liddell Hart [and some others. This list is incomplete.]
How did this work for Chester?
A personal anecdote:
Early on, I decided to choose a campaign. Vicksburg was an easy choice, as one of its battles was fought in my hometown. I read Shelby Foote's "The Beleagured City" to start and found it a great overview and fascinating. Next I planned to read "Ninety-Eight Days: A Geographer's View of the Vicksburg Campaign," by Walter Grabau, a retired geologist. Grabau's maps alone are worth the cost of the book. He created all 68 of them himself and they are perfect: show terrain and even contour lines, but are not too busy; excellent descriptions of maneuver and the units involved. And get this: he used his knowledge of geology to model what the terrain was like during the campaign, not as it is now. Fascinating.
Unfortunately, I didn't make it far in Grabau's book. September 11th happened, and as the writing on the wall became clear, my focus shifted to reading everything I could get my hands on about the Gulf War. Every book in the Camp Pendleton library got a good skimming. As such, the Gulf War soon became by de facto campaign of focus. My Marines no doubt still hate me for forcing passages of Desert Storm books on them. The most frustrating thing about this effort was that it was very difficult to find any writing about engineering or logisitcs. I soon found myself searching through the command chronologies of my own battalion -- and these were a good source.
I could soon see the division-level maneuvers happening in my head. When I got to Kuwait, I felt as though I had been there before.
As I learned about the war plan, a very interesting thing happened: I discovered that the Vicksburg campaign was valuable after all. Grant had to operate in a theater at a great distance from his own country. He had to worry about very long supply lines. He had to cross a very large river and not get pinned down in the process (he tried seven times and only succeeded on the seventh). He then had to sustain his forces on the other side of the river, which he did by abandoning his supply lines and ordering his men to forage -- reasoning that if they kept moving, they would not run out of food. Next he bypassed immediate strongpoints in his march toward the center of gravity of the theater. Finally, he laid seige to a heavily fortified city and starved it out. The similarities to the invasion of Iraq are not quite perfect, but near enough. The study of Vicksburg had been very valuable indeed.
As far as note-taking, I still use the system described above, though I am not quite disciplined enough to only underline the MOST important passages.
One critique of military histories in general is that they are fine if you are in a combat arms force, or a maneuver unit. But it is very difficult to find good historical data about logistics, or engineering -- at least at the level of detail I wanted. Also, it is very general to find information about tactical logistics at all -- even current military publications and doctrine. Every Marine lieutenant learns the basics of fighting with a rifle company -- and this is as it should be. But there is very little out there about the techniques of resupplying several rifle companies in different combat environments. Combat service support personnel often downgrade themselves because they have no great war stories. But these techniques of supply, engineering, logistics, and communication are crucial to success and those who have expertise in them should consider recording tips, tricks, and hints -- you may even find yourself with a book at the end of it.
Finally, having five or more books going at once works well for raising transitional thinking skills, though the tradeoff is that you don't get the pleasure of complete immersion in one. So you must decide that for yourself.
Hope this post was helpful. Several readers asked for it.