Stryker's War Book Review

What use is the valor of brave men in the service of evil goals? Stryker’s War is the most gut-wrenching book in the Order of Centurion series so far because it takes a good hard look at the reality that not everything that can get a soldier killed is worth dying for.



Dear Mom and Dad,

If you are reading this, I’m not coming home.

The opening lines of each chapter of Stryker’s War are the words of a dead man. A man who clearly believed in the view of war in St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, which files war under love of neighbor. The letter writer saw his service in the Legion as a noble pursuit, ordered to the common good, the tranquillitas ordinis, the well-ordered peace. It is not enough that there is an absence of conflict. You must also see that justice be done.

Unfortunately, the Galactic Republic isn’t really in the business of dispensing justice any more.

They are still in the business of delivering a smack down to anyone who dares to defy them, which the Legion is willing and capable of supplying. Curiously, the House of Reason, and its appointed officers, do not take the Roman model of solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. With increasing political control of the Legion, it would be easy to crush their enemies and see them driven before them, but this isn’t what we see.

The Legion is a calling and the day I signed up, I gave my life to that calling.

I would guess the reason is two-fold: a numerous and well-equipped Legion is a more dangerous Legion, including to the House of Reason. Maybe worse, in their eyes, is that a visibly successful Legion would have greater political legitimacy. This is likely a simple matter of not enabling a likely enemy. But also, it seems that the House of Reason feels that war must be a little wicked, because it costs money.

With this two-fold reason to never really give the Legion what it wants, even as the House of Reason needs it to take care of its problems, we come to the world of Gestor. Unwilling to commit more than a platoon to fix a security problem at a valuable mining operation, everything quickly spirals out of control into one of the most epic charlie foxtrots I have ever seen.

Every Legionnaire that died felt like I lost a friend. I wanted to scream at the stupid point who wouldn’t call in close air support even to save himself. Rage boiled up against the fools who sent so many men to die because they didn’t want to show up in force. My heart broke for the insurgents too, who just wanted their fair share of the profits of their own mine, and who were getting cheated not just by the Republic, but by their underworld contacts as well.

Now I can see why so many were willing to join up with Goth Sullus, and how even the loyal remnant was willing to invoke Article 19 and go to war against the Republic. This is intolerable. Yet, this much, and worse, was tolerated nonetheless.

There are some bad people in the galaxy, and sometimes they need to be taught a lesson. The Legion teaches that lesson well.

I might have finally met my match, but don’t want you to be sad. I stood with my brothers against evil and fought for those who couldn’t.

I only hope I made you proud.

Until the day finally came when good men could stand it no longer.

I was provided a copy of this ebook by the publisher for free.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Galaxy’s Edge season 1:
Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Retribution: Galaxy’s Edge #9 Book Review

Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations:
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review

Takeover: Part 1 Book Review
Takeover: Part 2 Book Review

Order of the Centurion
Order of the Centurion #1 book review
Iron Wolves: Order of the Centurion #2 book review

The Long View 2007-04-10: 2035; God & the Left

Hong Kong protesters attacked by Triads

Hong Kong protesters attacked by Triads

John uses this 2007 report from the British Ministry of Defence to riff on some of his favorite themes. In particular, he seems to have well understood that communications technology could be used to surveil and manipulate just as much as it can be used to enrage mobs, and this was well before social media’s peak.

I’m intrigued by the idea that we might have a better set of transnational institutions if we stopped trying to solve the last century’s problems. John here asserts that most of the features of the international system were created to mitigate the scale of industrialized total war between nation states. Now that we are starting to lose the capacity to mobilize citizens in grand projects, the kind of wars we saw in the twentieth century is becoming less likely. Which isn’t quite the same as saying that we couldn’t have massively destructive wars in our future. It is just that the destruction will be because of violence and chaos spilling out of control because state capacity is on the wane.

While in general, I think John’s thoughts are pretty interesting, at least in the short term, here is one he got wrong:

No, immigration is not going to increase, or even continue at current levels. No, the European demographic dearth is not going to continue until the last Belgian turns out the lights.

After the well-intentioned Angele Merkel invited the world to settle in Germany, lots and lots of migrants took her up on the offer, setting off a populist reaction. The likelihood of lots of people leaving Africa in the 21st century is pretty high too. Lots of people make fun of Steve for talking about the UN demographic predictions that say there will be 4 billion people in Africa by 2100, saying that this is clearly ridiculous.

Maybe. Trends have a way of not continuing forever. One way is that the future people of Africa will find their homes poor and crowded and relatively undeveloped, and they will move elsewhere. This will change everything, as lots and lots of people move into new places. This happened before, in fact. We should expect future demographic transformations to be just as unsettled as the previous ones.

2035; God & the Left

The British Ministry of Defence is entertaining some unhappy thoughts about the year 2035:

Information chips implanted in the brain. Electromagnetic pulse weapons. The middle classes becoming revolutionary, taking on the role of Marx's proletariat. The population of countries in the Middle East increasing by 132%, while Europe's drops as fertility falls. "Flashmobs" - groups rapidly mobilised by criminal gangs or terrorists groups. This is the world in 30 years' time envisaged by a Ministry of Defence [report]... ....

"The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx," says the report. The thesis is based on a growing gap between the middle classes and the super-rich on one hand and an urban under-class threatening social order: "The world's middle classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest". ...

Migration will increase. Globalisation may lead to levels of international integration that effectively bring inter-state warfare to an end. But it may lead to "inter-communal conflict" - communities with shared interests transcending national boundaries and resorting to the use of violence.

There is a tradition of making retrospective fun of predictions made in sober reports written by committees of the great and the good. Nonetheless, reports like this are not as ridiculous as we pretend. In contrast to popular forecasts, they rarely mention flying cars. I remember the early reports from the Trilateral Commission in the 1970s. They forecast, quite correctly, that first the United States, and then Europe, and then Japan, would go through periods of difficult economic restructuring, with each region going into a relative eclipse that would last about a decade. That was pretty much what happened through the 1990s. As for the famous "Soylent Green" future projected by the likes of Paul Ehrlich and The Club of Rome, they do seem to have been attended by an unusually high level of self-delusion, but even they were really just variations on the theme that certain trends can't continue. Well, the trends did not continue, in part because of reactions to the hysterical forecasts. Judging from the press report quoted above, the MOD-UK does not seem to aspire to prophecy. Let me make a few comments about the issues I excerpted:

Flashmobs: We'll take this as a synecdoche for the security-downside of communications technology.

I suspect that most of these problems create their own remedies. For instance, there is likely to be some way that mass political activity organized through a cell-network could be detected and monitored. Technologies like this should actually facilitate the construction of unprecedentedly powerful tools of surveillance.

And if that does not turn out to be true? Prune back the capabilities of the systems. Information may want to be free, but the infrastructure to support all this subversive chatter is licensed public utilities. Mobile personal communications devices could be as highly regulated as handguns, with the difference that the restrictions on these devices could be made to work.

Brain chips: We should be so lucky.

The end of warfare between states: I think we might distinguish between the end of warfare between states and between nation-states.

We must remember that the state preceded the nation-state and will out last it. The scariest aspect of the nineteenth century and the first half of the 20th was the ability of states to mobilize their populations. This was possible because "the nation" became the chief way that people defined themselves politically. The basic machinery of global governance was designed to mitigate the catastrophic scale of total war, of war between populations, and to smooth down the economic instabilities caused by the efforts of states to manage all economic activity within their borders. However, we may see a world where few states can mobilize their populations because "the nation" has evaporated through demographic changes or has become post-democratically non-political. In such a situation, what the state does with the very limited military force it can deploy becomes less important.

Europe in the 18th century, before the period of mass politics, was a continent where war as almost continual because it was limited enough to be tolerable. It is hardly likely that post-political Europe will return to that condition. However, we should not exclude the possibility of a revival of interstate warfare, for the simple reason it will be for limited objectives.

The revolutionary bourgeoisie: Actually, most revolutionaries have always been middle class.

Classical Marxism was in some ways a modest affair. It married the Hegelian model of history to a not wholly misleading theory of economic cycles. The idea was that history would end with the last economic bust, the one that was so severe that it could not be recovered from. The problem was that the economic crashes were largely an effect of inadequate communication of prices; the severity of the crashes were eminently fixable by regulatory oversight (especially oversight to ensure transparency) and better technology. By the end of the 20th century, the hypothesis that capitalism must be mechanically mortal had been as thoroughly refuted as this kind of question can be. Since then, Marxism itself has been moving in an ever more meta trajectory: consider Hardt & Negri's attempt to redefine production as culture.

That sort of analysis has an audience, but such ideas have nothing to do with politics. Indeed, the fashion for such notions is itself a symptom of the retreat of politics.

On a more general level, there were other projections by the MOD about which we can say with some assurance "reversal is the movement of the Tao." No, immigration is not going to increase, or even continue at current levels. No, the European demographic dearth is not going to continue until the last Belgian turns out the lights. And climate change is likely to take care of itself. The scary futures it conjures up bear more than a slight resemblance to the Soylent Green future, and seem likely to produce a similar overreaction (not in promoting an economy of scarcity, but in new presumptions about what constitutes good engineering). The adaptation of societies to climate change will become invisible as time goes on.

* * *

Speaking of ancient futures, PBS last night broadcast a documentary entitled Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, about the origins of the mass suicide of 1978. With no disrespect intended to people like Jim Wallis, I could not help but be reminded of the project in the Democratic Party to rescue religion from the right-wing fundamentalists. The fact is that the return of religion to American politics started from the Left. Here's a quote from the Jonestown cult's founder, Reverend Jim Jones, in his salad days:

"I represent divine principle, total equality, a society where people own all things in common, where there's no rich or poor, where there are no races. Wherever there are people struggling for justice and righteousness, there I am."

And here's what he said after he shot the visiting congressman and had started passing out the Cool Aid:

In an audiotape that was recovered from the disaster site, Jones declares, "We committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world."

Jones was by no means a marginal figure. He was important on the Left of the Democratic Party in California because he could deliver a respectable-looking crowd within minutes should a national politician come to visit. There is at least one embarrassing picture of him on the same stage as Marilyn Carter, the wife of Jimmy Carter. And about Jimmy Carter, we should remember that it was he who brought evangelical protestantism to the forefront of national politics, as an expansion of the New Deal Coalition.

There are problems with politically conservative religion, just as there are problems with any attempt to define religion in political terms. Nonetheless, at least in the American context, the most catastrophic association between throne and altar has been on the Left.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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Pumpkinflowers Book Review

Beaufort IDF northern military post (1995)  By Oren1973 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Beaufort IDF northern military post (1995)

By Oren1973 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier's Story
by Matti Friedman
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (2016)
$25.95 paperback; 243 pages
ISBN 978-1616204587

I received this book for free from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program.

This is a book in three parts. 

First, we have the account of an ordinary soldier who doesn't really want to be there.

"A. reached basic training young, healthy, and innocent". This is Avi, writing of himself in the third person.
When the sergeant said to do things on time he did, and when the commander ordered everyone to give him 50 pushups A. was the one who set the pace.
But the danger of innocence is that it gets cracked easily by stupidity and cruelty. And so not much time had passed before A. started thinking that perhaps it was not right that he was the only one who was not late, or that he was the only one who cared when the sergeant threw him a good word. His concern grew when he heard the other members of the platoon saying that the regular punishments of running back and forth were not even punishments for something they had done wrong! They were, instead, a plot by the sergeants—that is, the system—directed against them! A. began thinking about this until he could no longer sleep during the short nights allotted to them. He thought so much that he began to move slowly in the morning himself, and to run slowly when they were punished. Because all of his faculties were devoted to the problem, he did not notice anything else, and quickly became the slowest and deafest of soldiers. Because one of the commanders would speak to him on occasion and interrupt his thoughts, A. suddenly understood that what they wanted to do was prevent him from thinking. He understood that they were his real enemies! They were the enemies of thought and creativity who wanted to enslave him and turn him into a creature incapable of thought, and willing to obey them.
This thought scared him so badly that he began resisting in any way he could. He started to think and do things his own way. If they gave him a mission, like setting the tables in the dining hall, he would put the cutlery backwards! Or miss on purpose at the firing range!! Now he was a rebel!!! And thus A. fought the system, and to the best of our knowledge he might still be doing so today, somewhere in the time and space of the army...

Avi Ofner was definitely a square peg in a round hole in the Israeli infantry. Since Israel has compulsory military service, personnel officers still need to find somewhere to put men like Avi. It seems that someone had an idea of what his personality was, because his platoon seemed to be made up of similarly bookish young men:

When his tent mate, Amos, brought a book of philosophical meditations called In the Footsteps of Thoughts he and Matan actually read it and then talked about it for weeks, lying sore on the ground after days of exhaustion, breathing in the smell of their own unwashed bodies, of earth, and of dusty canvas....Today, Matan is a physicist. Amos is a psychiatrist and lives in Paris.

For all of his adolescent rebellion, Avi also refused to take a desk job when a physical turned up a spinal cord defect a couple of years into his enlistment. He preferred serving at the Pumpkin, a hilltop fort in southern Lebanon near Beaufort Castle. Avi and his mates in the Pioneer Fighting Youth were stationed in a series of such forts in the South Lebanon Security Zone.

My best guess for the approximate location of the Pumpkin, based on Matti Friedman's descriptions

My best guess for the approximate location of the Pumpkin, based on Matti Friedman's descriptions

That stubborn devotion got Avi killed in an unfortunate helicopter accident in 1997, when he was being flown back to his post in Lebanon in a desperate attempt to avoid bombs on the roads. After that, the soldiers went back to the roads, in a desperate attempt to avoid more helicopter crashes. I think Friedman is right that this crash was the beginning of the end for Israel's long-running low-grade war in Southern Lebanon, which had been going on for almost twenty years at this point.

My second part is Friedman's firsthand recollections of his time at the Pumpkin. Friedman's parents had emigrated from Canada, and now Friedman's compulsory service was due shortly after the crash that killed Avi. This would make Friedman a couple of years older than me, if he was 19 in 1997. Were I Jewish, and had my family immigrated to Israel, I easily could have found myself in the exact same place that he did.

A map of the Pumpkin, from the front matter of Pumpkinflowers. There weren't enough maps for my taste in the book.

A map of the Pumpkin, from the front matter of Pumpkinflowers. There weren't enough maps for my taste in the book.

That place turned out to be the Pumpkin, with that unusual combination of boredom and terror that garrison duty provides. Friedman's prose changes in this section, becoming simpler and more direct. The first part of the book was based on Avi's writing and interviews with people who knew him, whereas the second part is largely Friedman's direct recollection.

Interleaved with Friedman's account is a short history of the Four Mothers movement, which arose in response to the helicopter crash that killed Avi. The crash killed 73 soldiers, which to put into perspective for me, would be the equivalent of 3400 dead Americans, based on the relative population sizes of our two countries at the time. That is almost as many American soldiers who died in the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq. Except all at once.

Thus it isn't surprising that the Four Mothers movement successfully campaigned to get Israel to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000. From Avi's and Friedman's accounts, the whole hilltop fortress thing never seemed to have been terribly well thought out. Rather, it was blundered into, and since militaries tend to be extremely conservative, the Israeli army just kept on doing what they had been doing, until something shocking happened and allowed everyone to reassess.

The final part of the book is Friedman's post-Pumpkin civilian life, and his bold quest to go see the Pumpkin again. I was struck by the way in which Friedman described the process by which shared suffering can forge lasting bonds among soldiers, and by extension the rest of your nation. Given how small Israel really is, this process is much more intense than it possibly could be in a larger nation like the United States.

Using his Canadian passport, Friedman traveled into Lebanon. He saw the country, posing as a tourist to deflect suspicion that he might have once served as an Israeli soldier. Since it hadn't really been that long, Friedman couldn't meet his former enemies openly, the way Hal Moore met Nguyen Huu An.

Vietnamese Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An and Hal Moore

Vietnamese Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An and Hal Moore

Nonetheless, Friedman still manages to humanize his former [or maybe current] enemies. Which is not to say that he uncritically accepts what they might say about him or his adopted country, but rather he just presents them as they are, which is what he tried to do for himself and Israel. I think he does a reasonably good job.

I would have liked more maps though.

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The Long View 2004-08-30: Victory, Law-and-Order, Peace

The rosy picture of human conflict John reported in this post from 2004, called Pinkerization after Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, no longer looks so good. As late as 2008, the data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program looked much the same as it did in 2004, but in 2017 things are looking considerably worse.

Number of Conflicts 

Number of Conflicts 

Number of Deaths

Number of Deaths

Neither of the graphs above would be discernable if the axis extended back to WWII. Compared to that, everything else is just noise. Hopefully, that trend will continue.

Victory, Law-and-Order, Peace


Over the weekend, PBS broadcast the classic political film, The Candidate. Though it premiered in 1972, it has aged remarkably well. The scary thing, in fact, is that one or two of the journalists who are mentioned in the film are still in business.

The movie is about a young, liberal Californian public interest lawyer named Bill McKay (played by Robert Redford), who is prevailed upon by a political consultant to run for the U.S. Senate. His Republican opponent is a pompous old incumbent named Crocker Jarmon (played by Don Porter). McKay, though the son of a former governor, has no political ambitions. However, he is energized to run when he goes to a Jarmon rally and hears his reactionary program: welfare reform; the accommodation of environmental regulation to the needs of economic growth; pro-life; reflexive patriotism.

I saw The Candidate when it first came out, and like everyone else, I liked it then. Like most people at the time, I also hummed along with McKay's politics. What is shocking after all these years is how completely Jarmon's ideas have become the dynamic ones. Today, a candidate as young as McKay, and sporting the same kind of golden-helmet haircut, would almost certainly be delivering Jarmon's stump speech.

* * *

Speaking of dynamic ideas, The New York Times Magazine yesterday tried to offer the Republican Party a few, in an article entitled How to Reinvent the G.O.P. The piece was by David Brooks, a Republican but a social liberal, whom the Times keeps as a columnist so the paper can pretend it has an ideologically inclusive editorial page.

The article deals with the same problem that Ralph Reed grappled with in his 1996 memoir, Active Faith: the Republican Party came to power as an opposition coalition that had few concrete ideas about governing. Even in the mid-1990s, it was absurd to for Congress to be run by a party with only negative ideas about domestic governance and no ideas at all about foreign affairs. Today, of course, it's lunacy. Fortunately, Brooks tells us:

[Some Republicans are] at least trying to come up with a governing philosophy that applies to the times. [They understand] the paradox that if you don't have a positive vision of government, you won't be able to limit the growth of government.

Chief among these is George Bush himself, whose platform in 2000 did in fact contain proposals in addition to tax cuts. Brooks, and the folks at the Weekly Standard, want to push the Republican agenda in the direction of what, before 911, they called "National Greatness," but which now they call Hamiltonian Progressive Conservatism. The argument for this is backed up by a retelling of American history that highlights the economic and social policies of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

This is good enough, as far as it goes, but there is a solid nugget of dissimulation in Brooks's outline for an entitlements policy that could ensure that the Republicans never become a real majority party:

The solution is clear: push back the retirement age, reduce benefits for upper-income people, redesign the welfare state so that individuals have control over their own benefits packages. That means designing programs that allow people to have their own health insurance, which they can carry from job to job; to control their own unemployment insurance and tailor their retraining efforts to suit their own talents; to invest part of their own pension money and benefit from higher returns, so they have greater incentives to save on their own. It means reforming the health care system so competition works as it does in every other sphere -- to improve value, spur innovation and reduce costs.

People don't want more choices about health insurance and Social Security. I suspect that most of us have gathered by now that foundations that promote "reproductive choice" are less interested in expanding the sphere of choice than in limiting reproduction. In the context of support for the old and the sick, this verbal gimmickry will quickly become both obvious and intolerable.

There are two points to keep in mind about entitlement reform:

--If the US economy is not producing enough tax revenue to pay Social Security benefits, it will not be producing enough interest or dividends to do so, either.

--Health care is a question of basic public order, like police and fire services. Elements of the system can be private, but "choice" can never be a fundamental consideration.

* * *

Evidence is trickling in that the Millennium really did begin when the millennium began:

In fact, the number killed in battle has fallen to its lowest point in the post-World War II period, dipping below 20,000 a year by one measure. Peacemaking missions, meantime, are growing in number...A collaboration with Sweden's Uppsala University, [the 2004 Human Security Report] will conservatively estimate battle-related deaths worldwide at 15,000 in 2002 and, because of the Iraq war, rising to 20,000 in 2003. Those estimates are sharply down from annual tolls ranging from 40,000 to 100,000 in the 1990s, a time of major costly conflicts in such places as the former Zaire and southern Sudan, and from a post-World War II peak of 700,000 in 1951.

That's encouraging, but then we have the chicken-or-egg question: does the UN create peace, or do peace agreements make work for the UN?

The recent record shows "conflicts don't end without some form of intervention from outside," said Renata Dwan, who heads the [Stockholm International Peace Research Institute] program on armed conflict and conflict management... The idea of U.N. primacy in world peace and security took a "bruising" at U.S. hands in 2003, when Washington circumvented the U.N. Security Council to invade Iraq, Dwan noted. But meanwhile, elsewhere, the world body was deploying a monthly average of 38,500 military peacekeepers in 2003 -- triple the level of 1999...By year's end, the institute yearbook will conclude, "the U.N. was arguably in a stronger position than at any time in recent years

Whatever else is going on, it is still the case that we live in a demilitarizing world:

According to the study, the value of all weapons transfer agreements worldwide was more than $25.6 billion in 2003, the third consecutive year that the dollar total for global arms deals declined. When measured in dollars adjusted for inflation to give an accurate comparison to the $25.6 billion figure, the value of global arms agreements has steadily fallen, from $41 billion in 2000.

One can only repeat that the activities of the United States are not an anomaly to this trend, but its predicate:

Fewer large-scale arms purchases were being made by the wealthier oil nations in the Middle East, whose earlier buying sprees contributed to a bull market in weapons when Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a regional threat. The report said it remained uncertain whether the Persian Gulf states would now perceive a potentially hostile Iran as a new motivation to improve their arsenals.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Unconquerable World Book Review

At first blush, the argument in Schell's book seems plausible. After all, we all know that insurgencies are unbeatable, just look at Vietnam. Unfortunately, this is only plausible if you are well educated while at the same time not knowing much of anything. While it could perhaps be said that the VC was part of what broke American will to fight, the actual battle that conquered South Vietnam was fought with infantry, tanks, and artillery.

One can easily multiply examples, and John does here. The point is that history is a mass of details, and trying to reduce it to principles usually ends up obscuring more than illuminating. Which is true even of John's favorite metahistorians, Spengler and Toynbee.

However, keeping that in mind, this is still a pretty interesting book. I think this paragraph may be the most illuminating:

Could the author really not know that transnationalism is fundamentally post-democratic? International entities, such as the European Union, are designed to suppress populist impulses, and sometimes for good reason. In any case, the next enemy of liberal government will not be empire, or international corporations, but direct-action politics. The growing ecology of non-governmental organizations, radicals, and pressure groups despise the state and will not take election results for an answer. Nothing in politics is more tyrannical than minorities with a veto. 

Keep that in mind when you look at the American primary election results.

The Unconquerable World:
Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People
By Jonathan Schell
Metropolitan Books, 2003
433 Pages, US$27.50
ISBN 0-8050-4456-6


I picked up this book with some trepidation. The author, Jonathan Schell, is best known for “The Fate of the Earth,” a book written during the brief period in the Cold War when the Soviets seemed to be winning. In it, he argued that the West was morally obligated to forgo nuclear deterrence. Now comes the same author, arguing that the era of war has ended in world history. The future, he says, belongs to structures of peaceful cooperation among the world's peoples, which will redefine the institution of political sovereignty.

You must imagine my surprise in discovering that “The Unconquerable World” is a thorough and thoughtful book. It sheds new light, or light new to me, on the relationship of violence to political power. The author's account of the changing role of war in the international system is often provocative and sometimes illuminating. Nonetheless, I think the book is most valuable as an ideological formulation of the growing transnationalist movement. The implications for the future of the West and the world could be appalling.

According to the author, a dialectic has been running through history of the two ethics expressed by the near contemporaries, Virgil and Jesus. Virgil sang of “arms and the man,” of the use of force as the final arbiter in the world's affairs. Jesus, in contrast, advised his followers to put away the sword entirely, since those who lived by it would die by it. These traditions underlay the distinction between realism and idealism, public and private, even between state and church. In the 20th century, they developed to theoretical maximums, and turned into their opposites. War became peace by becoming too terrible to use, while peaceful cooperation became the only possible realism.

Let's start with war. The author gives a great deal of attention to Clausewitz's (variously formulated) dictum that war is politics conducted by other means. At any rate, that is what war should be. The problem is that, though governments wage war to change the enemy's behavior, war has a logic of its own. Absolute war, the ideal of maximum lethality, would leave a desert with no one to surrender. Absolute war conducted by both sides would destroy both combatant societies. This theoretical limit was reached in the 20th century, when nuclear weapons appeared. Nuclear weapons, however, necessitated the development of strategic deterrence. This had the effect of etherializing violence. Actual destruction of people and things was replaced by attacks on the enemy's morale.

Much the same happened on the conventional level, with the development of People's War and, most perfectly, of nonviolent resistance. Oddly, the author never cites another old military dictum (attributed to Bismarck, among others) that the one thing you can't do with bayonets is sit on them, but that is pretty much what he is talking about. Essentially, insurgents around the world, peaceful and violent, found that they could overcome overwhelming military force by patient erosion of the oppressor's will to coerce. The author tells us that this antithesis of conventional war achieved universal success by the end of the 20th century:

“The self-determination movement cut across all political dividing lines. No political system, feudal or modern, proved capable of resisting it. Neither monarchies (the Romanovs, the Hapsburgs, the Hohenzollerns, the Ottomans, Spain) nor military dictatorships (France under Napoleon, Portugal under Salazaar and Caetano) nor communist regimes (the Soviet Union; Vietnam, in its Cambodian venture) were able, in the long run, to perpetuate colonial rule. On the other hand, almost every political creed was adequate for winning independence. Liberal democracy (the United States in 1776, Eastern Europe in the1980s and nineties), communism (China, Vietnam, Cambodia), racism (the Boers of South Africa), militarism (many South American states), theocracy (Iran and Afghanistan in the 1980s), and even monarchy (Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century), have all proved adequate foundations on which to base self-determination.”

This would be important if it were true, but it isn't. For instance, the author tells us that all empires ended between 1776 and 1991. In fact, though the British left India, the Republic of India remains the Mughal Empire, conducted by other means. The People's Republic of China is roughly the empire of Qing times, disembarrassed of the Manchu Dynasty. The author's specifics are also sometimes questionable. We are told: “The Japanese were the first -- but unfortunately not the last -- antiguerilla force to whom it occurred that if the guerrillas were the fish and the people were the water, then one way to fight guerillas was to drain the water.” Actually, the earliest example of this strategy I can think of was the mass detention of civilians in “concentration camps” during the Boer War, a ruthless procedure that was entirely successful. One might argue that Boer self-determination finally succeeded, because South Africa eventually became independent. How the final defeat of the Confederacy in the American Civil War accords with the principle of unconquerable self-determination is not clear. Maybe the South will rise again.

To pick a small nit, the author overlooked one of the great successes of People Power in world history: the achievement between 1861 and 1865 of national autonomy by the Kingdom of Hungary within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was done peacefully, through the creation of parallel institutions, in the face of strong opposition from Vienna. It greatly facilitated the Hungarians' oppression of the Slavs within their territory.

It is true that the great European colonial empires evaporated soon after the middle 20th century, but this arguably had more to do with the debellicization of Europe than with increased ungovernability of the colonies. Even the Communist victory in Vietnam can be attributed to the eclipse of the power of the American presidency after the Watergate scandal. The Republic of South Vietnam was not overthrown by an insurgency; it was conquered by conventional arms.

Nonetheless, the author's account of theories of cooperative nonviolence is well worth considering. In his interpretation, nonviolent politics fully comprehends a principle that People's War and strategic deterrence only groped toward: all conflict is fundamentally psychological. Violence can therefore be replaced by cooperation at every level of human interaction.

Gandhi's philosophy of “satyagraha” is clearly the book's favorite. The term is famously untranslatable Sanskrit, meaning something along the lines of “holding fast to being” or “holding fast to truth.” The truth here includes the essential autonomy and dignity of each human being; this truth is not just anthropology, but an aspect of the reality of God. Satyagrahis will act in accordance with truth even if the powers of the world command them to do otherwise. They will not obey unjust laws or cooperate with an unjust system, which Gandhi eventually decided the British Raj to be. They will not merely resist unjust structures, but try to create structures of their own, which will be consistent with human dignity.

Satyagrahis will in all cases follow the principle of “ahimsa,” of non-injury. They will not use violence, even on the intellectual level: the wordless certainty of truth precludes dogmatism and excessive insistence on abstractions. However, ahimsa also requires an unlimited willingness to suffer injury rather than to lose hold of the truth.

Ideas similar to these appeared all over the world in the second half of the 20th century. The interesting thing was that, though Martin Luther King might cite Gandhi, the principle of non-violence in the Civil Rights Movement in America seems to have been a largely autonomous development. The same was true in the Civil Society Movement, to give one name to the variety of organizations and informal groups that developed in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. In that context, the impulse was less religious, but only in degree: Solidarity in Poland was based in large part on Catholic social doctrine, and Vaclav Havel's idea of “Being” resembles Gandhi's Divine Truth. A bigger difference, perhaps, was that the Eastern Europeans were intent on creating and defending a private sphere that the state could not violate. Gandhi, in contrast, was keen to encourage Indians to greater social and political engagement.

There were purely secular versions of much the same insights. Hannah Arendt, for instance, wanted the spirit kept out of politics entirely. God is too powerful a concept to allow for compromise, she argued, and compromise is necessary if the world is to be livable. Be that as it may, she greatly advanced the theory of non-violence, at least in the author's estimation, by showing that political theorists have been wrong about the role of violence in politics.

Even the sunniest philosophers of the Social Contract had assumed that political power was based on violence. Good governments differed from bad, in this view, only in that they used violence predictably, by consent, and for the common good. Arendt said, in contrast, that violence is the opposite of power. Power is a collective, cooperative capacity: it implies people working autonomously toward a common goal. Violence means destruction, or (if I understand the argument) a level of supervision so close that it coerces both the perpetrator and the victim. The author suggests that, rather than go against the common use of language, it might be better to consider that violence is also a kind of power, but that we should distinguish between coercive and cooperative power. If we do that, the conflict between sovereignty and international order can be resolved.

In the author's view, the problem with the modern era was that war was central to the way the world worked: “A fatally flawed global system required a full systemic substitute.” Woodrow Wilson actually tried to fulfill this requirement at Versailles, but his alternative system was arbitrary, and maybe unworkable. The difficulty was not merely that collective security would have required political will that probably wasn't there. For international bodies to do the sort of things that Wilson envisioned, such as control or forbid the manufacture of some classes of weapons, or oversee the treatment of ethnic minorities, it would be necessary to mitigate some of the powers of state sovereignty, as sovereignty has been understood since the Westphalian settlement of 1648.

The Westphalian sovereign was designed for war: a single, absolute authority that, ideally, rules a single people in a single territory. For centuries, political theorists from extreme democrats to advocates of absolute monarchy assumed that sovereign power must be one and indivisible. Happily, this is not the only possibility. Only the power of coercion is logically indivisible. The power of cooperation can easily be divided, and often is. The riddle is solved by locating the source of sovereignty in the people. The people do not necessarily exercise this power directly. They can create a sovereign organ of government; they can also create more than one such organ, if they so choose. This is how some federal systems work. The “We the People” of the US Constitution are also the people of the several states. The existence of governments at different levels creates no logical problem (though I might point out that it occasions a lot of litigation).

Since the combination of nuclear deterrence and the universal triumph of self-determination have made war unusable at all levels, we are no longer in the position of Wilson at Versailles. We need not replace the war system all at once, but bit by bit, as seems convenient. The author suggests four bits, simply for purposes of illustration: a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons, and eventually all weapons of mass destruction; a consistent policy for intervention by international entities in wars of national liberation; the effective punishment of crimes against humanity; and the creation of a league of democratic states to preserve and defend democracy.

What the author does not want to happen is a world empire, particularly a world empire led by the US. The book becomes nearly apoplectic when discussing the recently adopted US policies of preemption and regime change, perhaps because those policies give different answers to the proliferation issues that so preoccupy the author. He tells us: “Empire, the supreme embodiment of force, is the antithesis of self-determination. It violates equity on a global scale. No lover of freedom can give it support.” This is merely wrong. It has frequently been the case, in ancient and modern times, that imperial structures provided the only possible effective protection for civil liberties and the safety of minorities. Beyond that, though, it is hard to take altogether seriously the author's exhortation to Americans to abandon the imperial path and embrace their republican tradition.

Sounding oddly like Patrick J. Buchanan, the authors says “in a republican America dedicated to the creation of a cooperative world, the immense concentration of power in the executive branch would be broken up, power would be divided again among the three branches...civil liberties would remain intact or be strengthened; money would be driven out of politics, and the will of the people would be heard again.” Could the author really not know that transnationalism is fundamentally post-democratic? International entities, such as the European Union, are designed to suppress populist impulses, and sometimes for good reason. In any case, the next enemy of liberal government will not be empire, or international corporations, but direct-action politics. The growing ecology of non-governmental organizations, radicals, and pressure groups despise the state and will not take election results for an answer. Nothing in politics is more tyrannical than minorities with a veto.

The international system did not transcend war at the end of the 20th century. Rather, it made the United States an essential feature of the system. The end of the Cold War left a remarkably demilitarized international system. America spends more on the military than the other major countries combined, of course, but that level of spending is not an anomaly in a demilitarized world: it is the demilitarized world's predicate. In effect, most of the world was content to let the US provide global security services, if any were needed.

The new configuration is still tentative, and may not work. It is entirely possible that the US will fail to eliminate weapons of mass destruction in hostile hands; perhaps it will not be able to establish a secure political and economic order in the world. 911 made clear that much more effort is needed; maybe more than the US alone is able or willing to supply. If so, the result will be mere chaos, like an extended version of the 1930s. There is no real alternative.

This brings us to the elements of pure delusion in the book. The author recognizes that “'people's wars' became 'peoples' wars'” after the empires broke up, and that these battles between ethnic and religious fragments can go on forever. This is why he wants a reliable system of humanitarian intervention. Of course, he also wants gradual disarmament at all levels, so it is not clear just who might intervene. In any case, he makes it a first principle that peace cannot be secured by even the implied threat of force: “The cooperation of governments, not their antagonism, is the indispensable precondition for a successful policy of opposing and reducing terrorism of any kind.” He recognizes that no treaty could be certain to prevent the manufacture of nuclear weapons. He says that nuclear-inclined states will be dissuaded by “virtual arsenals.” The prospect of setting off an arms race, in a world where knowledge of how to build nuclear weapons is universal, will prevent any state from trying to “bully the world.” What would prevent a state from bullying or invading its neighbor is nowhere explained.

This frivolity about matters of life and death is inherent in satyagraha itself. That philosophy is really a kind of spiritual existentialism. With its emphasis on autonomy and on freedom despite all consequences, it has some points of contact with Julius Evola's political spirituality. Satyagrahis are, at base, engaged in a program of irresponsible self-expression. On a political level, satyagraha is a movement of opposition. It can undermine the powers that be, perhaps, but it cannot build a livable political order. That would involve engaging the world outside the self.

Of course, to the practitioners of this form of “self-determination,” mere government is epiphenomenal. “That is why I take the keenest interest in discussing vitamins and leafy vegetables and unpolished rice,” said Gandhi. All those leafy vegetables did little to limit the intercommunal bloodbath that attended the end of the Raj. Today's transnationalism would take the anarchy global. 

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2003-03-23: Psychology Today

The Highway of Death, Iraq 1991

The Highway of Death, Iraq 1991

This little bit on the psychological aspects of warfare is still pertinent twelve years later. One might think that the vast disparity in arms between the United States and everyone else would mean we are unstoppable. This is true, if someone is so foolish as to meet us on our own terms. If you want to see what that looks like, see Desert Storm. Pretty much everybody learned their lesson after the first Iraq War. No one can win a traditional war with the United States at this point.

However, there are many ways to wage war. Most of those ways strike Europeans and their descendants around the world as unsporting. This does not mean ineffective. Psychological warfare is what keeps ISIS going, because they are definitely not military masterminds, in the total war or decisive war mindset of the West. What they are good at is media campaigns, propaganda, and preferentially killing people who can't fight back.

This kind of thing can be defeated using Western-style war, if you are willing to embrace the Imperial mindset. Hell, you might even be able to do it cheap. But it won't be anything like a fair fight that we would feel good about.

Psychology Today
General Tommy Franks, at his press conference in Qatar last week, promised a war "unlike any in history." Another military spokesman described the strategy as "effect-based." The idea is to focus on your objectives, not on the efficiency of your own operation. Suppose you need to cut off power to a certain facility. You might blow up every generating station and powerline in the area. With Effects-Based Strategy, you would do better to determine which particular powerline was critical and attack just that. Best of all would be to find an insider who would throw the "Off" switch for you.
Certainly the war has been full of surprises so far, but one can hardly call this strategy new. This is the doctrine of Sun Tzu's Art of War (also called The Art of Strategy). The acme of success, according to that book, is to win a victory without ever fighting a battle. The essence of this approach is psychological. The enemy commanders must be continually confused about your intentions, position, and capabilities. The enemy leadership must be pushed to capitulation through fear of annihilation and drawn to negotiation by the hope of salvaging something from the conflict. These ideas were obviously very much on the minds of the planners of the Coalition's "Shock and Awe" campaign, which is intended to convince the middle layers of the Iraqi leadership of the hopelessness of their situation, but to do so without heavy casualties, or even infrastructure damage.
A reporter at one of Secretary Rumsfeld's press conferences last week asked why this strategic bombing should cause a collapse of the political will any more reliably than did the campaigns against Germany and Japan in World War II. The Secretary pointed out the real differences between the two situations. The bombing campaigns during World War II were directed against the "national morale" of the enemy. This was a diffuse target, quite unlike the unoffending civilians the strategy killed; the air raids actually served to strengthen morale. Shock and Awe, in contrast, is directed with great precision against the government and the military command. By cutting off one part of the hierarchy from another, it encourages the leaders of the fragments to look to their own survival, rather than that of the regime.
I am sorry, but the reporter's question was acute. Ideologically inspired dictators have great strength to endure the sufferings of their people. If they are not actually killed (and it may yet turn out that Saddam Hussein was killed or incapacitated on the first night), their very isolation will harden their resolve. As for the commanders, we should beware of making the mistake that we made with David Koresh. The enemy leadership are not in it for the money. They are strengthened by their ideology. That is what ideologies are for.
* * *
The objection to an essentially psychological strategy is the same as the objection to a strategy based on assassination. In a war of assassins, the US would have no special advantages. Similarly, the US is not much better positioned to fight a psychological war than are the Iraqis. Marketing is cheap, or at least cheaper than cruise missiles. As I am writing this, the Iraqis are showing off the dead bodies of Coalition servicemen, as well as living prisoners. They are also running successful guerrilla actions in cities that the Coalition has contained, but does not yet "control." These activities may have the effect of reinforcing support for the war, particularly in the US, but they have already created a legend on the Arab street that the Iraqis are giving as good as they get. This propaganda, combined with the huge, public opposition in the West to the war, will certainly give local Iraqi commanders pause about whether capitulation is the wiser course.
Sun Tzu's Asian Way of War is in fact too clever by half. (You might take a look at Victor Davis Hanson's The Western Way of War for a systematic account of the alternative.) It has been said (I wish I could find the article) that Sun wrote his book because large, conventional campaigns on the Asian mainland are difficult for Asians, too. The Era of Contending States, when Sun wrote, was a time of mass warfare and huge casualties. The leaders of the time groped for a way to fight that did not involve so much destruction, rather as the West and the Communist Block did during the Cold War. For the Chinese, at least, the effort failed. Sun's strategy encourages leaders to seek to bring off brilliant coups, which will humiliate the enemy and bring him to the negotiating table. This approach tends to neglect the enemy's objective war-fighting capability. The Japanese tried Shock and Awe at Pearl Harbor. It didn't work
* * *
This does not mean that I entertain doubts about the outcome of the war, or the capacity of the Coalition leadership. Inflexibility is not one of the leadership's failings. I certainly hope that the Baathist regime will suddenly implode, as Shock and Awe envisages. If not, the regime can be defeated in detail.
As for the stay-behind and guerrilla units, these things do not have a history of being all that effective. Stay-behind units are not a novelty, but they serve a purpose only as detached auxiliaries of a state and army-in-being. Ideologically driven regimes sometimes make preparations for an underground to carry on the fight, even after the regime has been destroyed. However, I am not aware that these efforts have ever come to much. The best example is probably the German Werwolf Movement. That failed both militarily and politically; certainly it had no influence on the succeeding Federal Republic.
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The Long View: God's Chinese Son

If you have ever wondered why the Chinese Communist Party was so harsh on Falun Gong, it was probably the memory of the Taiping Rebellion. That war is one of the deadliest in recorded history. Taking the low estimate, 20 million people were killed in China during the Taiping Rebellion. To put that in proportion, the low estimate for World War II is 40 million, in a world with about double the population. Except that was spread out over half the world instead of focused just in Southern China. Depending on the estimates, somewhere between 10-35% of the Chinese population was killed by famine, pestilence, or war.

I have often said that the twentieth century was a particularly horrible century, but there were hints of what was to come much earlier if only we had known what to look for. The Taiping Rebellion, like the American Civil War, was part of the dress rehearsal for the First and Second World Wars.

One significant difference with the wars of the twentieth century was the way in which the Taiping Rebellion was religiously motivated. Much like the contemporaneous Second Great Awakening in America, the Taiping Rebellion affected so many people because the religious movement underlying it was deeply popular. In a way, I think we no longer really know what a popular religious revival really looks like, and how drastically it can change society. Popularity in early twenty-first century America is something ephemeral: all the rage this week, and next week we all move on to something else. There are revolutionary movements, but they lack popular support. Imagine if the Occupy Wall Street movement had actually had the support of a broad swath of middle America, instead of mere toleration?

God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan
by Jonathan D. Spence
W.W. Norton & Company, 1996
400 pages, $27.50
ISBN 0-393-03844-0
The Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864 was a millenarian war in the literal sense of the term. Inspired and led by the visionary Hong Xiuquan, it was a campaign with the ultimate goal of establishing the Kingdom of Heaven everywhere on earth. It very nearly succeeded in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, which had ruled China since 1644. It was the most devastating conflict of the nineteenth century. The figure usually given for the number of deaths is twenty million. Most of these were civilians who died of famine or pestilence caused by the back-and-forth struggle of Taiping and Imperial Chinese forces. A large percentage, however, were casualties of battles comparable in size to those of the contemporary Civil War in America. Millenarian insurrections have not been rare in human history, and the nineteenth century was particularly rich with them. Few if any, however, have matched the Taiping in size, sophistication and degree of success.
This account of the Taiping movement by Jonathan D. Spence, a Sterling Professor of History at Yale, is a rare delight. Spence is a veteran sinologist, notable for maintaining his critical integrity in a field traditionally marred by political kowtowing. The literature on the Taiping is understandably considerable, and a book on the subject could easily become distended into a general study of Chinese culture or of millenarian movements. Spence keeps close to the narrative history, giving just enough background information on Chinese (particularly southern Chinese) folk customs and religious beliefs to make the story comprehensible. The result is an account that is objective but sympathetic to the principal figures. The book is short on analysis and uses speculation only to cover inevitable gaps in the sources. All in all, this is a very good way to cover a large subject.
In outline, at least, the history of the Taiping resembles the history of the Third Reich in its melodramatic simplicity. A prophet of humble birth had a vision. After a time of confusion and war, he formed a little cult. At first obscure, the cult suddenly became a crusading army, the Kingdom of Heaven on the march. In a few years they seized the second city of the empire and continued to expand militarily even as they established the divine order on earth. The millennium turned out to be a nightmare, however, a totalitarian state racked by bloody purges. As his competent ministers died or fled, the prophet increasingly lost touch with reality. When he died, isolated in his palace during the final siege of his capital by the resurgent forces of the old order, the Kingdom of Heaven collapsed. In China and in Europe, the drama took just over half a generation to enact.
That is the outline. This is what actually happened.
In 1836, a twenty-two year old village school teacher, then named Hong Houxiu, came to Canton from his home about fifty miles to the northwest to take the provincial civil service examination. While there, he picked up some literature being distributed by an American missionary, including translations of some of the apocalyptic texts of the Bible. By his own account, he was not much interested at the time and did not give the material more than a glance until the summer of 1843. He took his exam and failed it, something not at all unusual the first time out. [David Nivison’s fascinating biography, “The Life and Thought of Chang Hsueh-ch’eng (1738-1801)” (1966) is in large measure the tale of a very intelligent man who spent half his life failing standardizd tests.] He came back next year for a second try and failed again. He took this failure rather harder. Indeed, he became so gravely ill that his death was expected. That was when he had his first visions.
The extent to which the Taiping movement can be considered a form of Christianity has vexed the study of the subject since rumor of the movement first emerged from Guangdong Province. The content of these first visions, at least as originally reported, is more consistent with the popular Chinese supernatural than with Christianity. Hong ascends to heaven, which is ruled by a venerable old man with a golden beard. The old man has a wife and eldest son. The King of Heaven seems little different from the Jade Emperor of traditional belief, who is actually a human being who had attained immortality thousands of years before. Hong is told that he himself is this figure’s second son, and that he must return to earth to fight the unspecified “demons.”
After his visions, Hong made a slow, somewhat alarming recovery. He spoke much of his place in the cosmic hierarchy and his mission on earth. He called himself, among other things, “Son of Heaven in the Age of Great Peace.” This age is the “Taiping,” literally “High Peace.” In Chinese historiography, it could be used to characterize either notable dynasties of the past or hoped-for periods in the future. [For a general study of the pursuit of paradise in Chinese history, see Wolfgang Bauer’s “China and the Search for Happiness: Recurring Themes in Four Thousand Years of Chinese History” (1976)] Hong changed his given names to Xiuquan, to emphasize the syllable “quan,” meaning “fullness.” The change also removed the syllable “huo,” meaning “fire,” which contradicted his surname, Hong, meaning “deluge.” This latter term is familiar from popular Taoism as a metaphor for revolutionary transformation. [Note, for instance, the title of Han Suyin’s fawning biography, “The Morning Deluge: Mao Tsetung and the Chinese Revolution 1893-1954” (1972).] Eventually Hong calmed down, however, returning to his duties as a teacher and householder. He even began studying to take the provincial examinations again.
The history of China in that era did not conduce to these peaceful pursuits. The Opium War between Great Britain and the Qing government began in 1839. When it ended in 1842, western access to Chinese ports was greatly expanded and the Chinese government was humiliated. The cities of the central Chinese coast were more affected by the war than was the more southerly Canton, whose magistrate contrived to maintain an uneasy truce with the British. Nevertheless, even in Hong Xiuquan’s backcountry village, people were aware that cities had been shelled and the armies of the central government defeated. The Qing Dynasty lost face not only because it lost the war, but because the Manchu rulers, suspicious of their Chinese subjects, undertook pacification campaigns to terrorize them into continued loyalty. Complicating things for Hong was the fact that he was a Hakka, a member of an ethnic group that had migrated from north-central China about 150 years before. While considered Chinese, they were still looked at askance by the people who had been in Guangdong before them, and tended to take the brunt of ethnic and economic hostility in difficult times.
The Taiping movement is perhaps evidence for Michael Barkun’s famous thesis in “Disaster and the Millennium” that millenarian movements tend to follow catastrophes, in part because the catastrophes make the end of the existing order of things more plausible. In any event, it was in this time of persecution, of wars and rumors of wars, that Hong got around to reading the tract he had brought back from Canton in 1836.
The tract in question consisted of translations by a Chinese convert named Liang Afa, a printer by trade, of selections from Genesis, Isaiah, Matthew’s Gospel and parts of the Book of Revelation. They were accompanied with commentaries by the author, not all of them distinguishable from the biblical text. Nevertheless, the tract gave Hong the key to understanding his vision. He understood that the King of Heaven in his vision was in reality God the Father, and that his eldest son was Jesus. Further, he understood that he was Jesus’s younger brother, with a mission of his own. He was to establish the “Kingdom of Heaven,” which had been translated by the term “Taiping.” (Literally, the “Heavenly Kingdom” is “tianguo,” a term Hong also used and which eventually eclipsed Taiping as the term for his regime.) He was to do as Jesus had done: preach and teach, and drive out demons. In the beginning, at least, Hong seems to have had no notion that his path would lead to civil insurrection.
Thus, Hong’s career as a prophet really began in 1843. He preached to the people of his own village, not without success, though it cost him his teaching job for a while. He went on a journey of evangelization into neighboring Guangxi province, where he gained adherents more well-to-do than his neighbors. He returned home as his disciples spread his word into the more remote parts of Guangxi while he devoted himself to writing. In 1847 he traveled to Canton and studied for a while under the irascible American missionary Issachar Roberts, who introduced him to more of the scriptures in translation. Returning home yet again to more unsettled conditions, he headed north and east to the Thistle Mountain region of Guangxi, a poor area with a large presence of Hakkas. Between 1847 and the year 1850, when the Taiping rebellion can be properly said to have begun, something remarkable happened.
Hong’s original society of “God-worshippers” was not a very alarming organization, either doctrinally or behaviorally. It had an original liturgy, including weekly “baptisms,” and scriptures consisting of Hong’s writings and excerpts from the Bible. It enjoined a rather Confucian morality with certain Christian additions. Its theology was monotheistic, but not platonically monotheistic. Hong always insisted on the literal corporeality of God, since his visions had been of a corporeal being. He also never accepted anything like the orthodox account of the Incarnation. In terms of Chinese metaphysics, in which form and substance were a familiar antimony, it would have been perfectly possible to sinicize the Christology of the Nicene Creed by saying that Jesus was the divine substance (qi) in human form (li). Hong’s Christian sources, however, either did not think to make this distinction or did not understand it themselves. Essentially, Hong replicated the Christology of the fourth century heresiarch Arius, who held that Jesus was simply the highest of created beings. Hong’s only innovation was in designating himself as the second highest created being. Only later, when Hong had installed himself as an alternative emperor, did he come into contact with theologically sophisticated missionaries. By then his ideas and his regime had hardened, and so he called on the missionaries to conform their theology to his. This attitude did not help his relationship with the European powers based on the coast, who would eventually cooperate with the Qing regime in bringing down the Heavenly Kingdom.
In some ways, Taiping history was like the development of a normally harmless bacterium that unexpectedly rages out of control in a weakened body. Law and order were breaking down in the already remote and loosely governed regions of Guangxi in which the group flourished. This was partly an effect of the Opium Wars. The British had made great progress toward driving the powerful pirate organizations from the South China Sea, with the unanticipated result that the pirates moved up the rivers and began to terrorize the interior. Also increasingly active were the Triad Societies. These had been formed in the eighteenth century by various malcontents. In part they were a native resistance to the Qing that hoped to reestablish the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), which had preceded the Qing invaders. On a more practical level, they constituted a formidable system of protection rackets. In times of disorder, they tended to descend into mere banditry. In such a situation, Hong’s new converts were not the only group organizing itself for self defense. The decisive factor in turning the Taiping from a religious group to a rebellion may have been the fact they were among the targets when the forces of law and order attempted to reassert control.
The Taiping God-worshippers had originally obeyed the injunction to “fight the demons” by instituting a campaign to stamp out pagan cults. This began modestly enough by vandalizing small Buddhist and Taoist shrines. It was this sort of activity that first brought the Taiping to the unfavorable notice of local magistrates and gentry, who began to take limited measures to control the new cult. These progressed from admonitions and appearances in court to executions and coordinated attacks against Taiping villages. As Qing armies, present in the region primarily to fight the river pirates and the Triads, increasing played a role in attempting to suppress the Taiping, the Qing Dynasty soon became the chief manifestation of the demons who had to be fought. By the end of 1850, the Guangxi bases of the Taiping were surrounded and untenable, but the movement was growing and dynamic.
Persecution of this sort was just what they expected. The process of alienation, perhaps, was not altogether different from what happened when the Bureau of Alchohol, Tobacco and Firearms laid siege to the compound of the Branch Davidian cult at Waco, Texas, in 1993-94. The very fact of the enemy assault was proof that the time had come to establish the Kingdom of Heaven. Moving north along the rivers, not just an army set out to establish it, but a new millenarian nation.
To some extent, this new stage in Taiping development resembled the Long March of the Chinese Communists 90 years later. Both involved the movement of whole communities. Both were in part inspired by ideologies imported from the West and adapted to local conditions. The crucial difference is that, whereas the Long March was a strategic retreat in search of a wilderness base, the Taiping were moving from relative wilderness toward the centers of civilization. Also, the organization of the Taiping fighting forces, in contrast to those of the Communists, was based on armies described in the Chinese classics, as was the ministerial system of the government the Taiping later formed.
Less generically Chinese but more peculiarly Hakka was the role of women in Taiping society. The Hakka did not bind the feet of their women, for instance, and generally Hakka women had more autonomy than had been usual in China since the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The Taiping expanded the role of women further. Women served in the army and civil service, always in their own units. Indeed, in the final stage of the Taiping state, Hong’s palace bureaucracy consisted almost entirely of women. This partial suspension of gender roles is often a feature of millenarian groups worldwide.
A related feature of Taiping discipline was the strict separation of the sexes. Except for Hong and his subordinate “kings,” strict celibacy, even between husband and wife, was supposed to be the rule until the Kingdom of Heaven was finally established. (In practice, the rule was relaxed as soon as the Taiping became more secure.) Much has been written about whether the endorsements of celibacy in the New Testament should be understood only as a provisional morality adopted by endtime communities. In the case of the Taiping, that is just what it was.
The Taiping gained in numbers and skill as they moved, becoming a formidable amphibious force. Some cities they bypassed and some they sacked. The decisive point in their strategic fortunes was their entry into the littoral of the Yangzi River. The forces of the Qing were bewildered and overwhelmed, and in the spring of 1853 Hong’s people took the great city of Nanjing. This became their capital, where they began to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
Heaven on earth, as it would be so often in the 20th century, was a kind of “war socialism.” Essentially, the organization of the army was transferred to civil life, so that land was distributed and communities organized pretty much the way the army was. Traditional Chinese models of the perfect society are almost wholly agrarian; other trades are regarded as essentially parasitic. Though not ignorant of the new economic institutions being established in the coastal cities, Taiping economic measures encouraged land reform and discouraged almost everything else. In Nanjing itself and the other cities that would be firmly under Taiping control for some years, normal market activity was more or less prohibited. Nevertheless, the initial entry of the Taiping into a new area was often welcomed by the peasants, since the local gentry would flee and their humbler neighbors could divide up the refugees’ goods and land.
Although the Taiping government was in principle structured according to the ancient “Rites of Zhou,” Hong’s real ministers were five “kings” he had appointed. Although his rule was based on visions, he did not have them regularly himself. For many years, he was willing to defer to those of his associates who did. Two of his kings issued frequent shamanistic pronouncements as “the Voice of Jesus” and “the Voice of God..” On the march north, the Voice of Jesus fell silent from a sniper’s bullet, an incident that inspired the Taiping to sack their first city. The Voice of God, however, Yang Xiuqing, continued to relay rather sound divine guidance until his murder in 1856. The problem was that, as a source of continuing revelation, his position was gradually eclipsing that of the Heavenly King Hong himself. The silencing of the Voice of God instituted a period of extremely bloody internal fighting among the Taiping, by the end of which Hong had managed to rid himself not just of Yang’s supporters but also of his assassins. The problem for the Taiping movement was that, in large measure, he had also succeeded in ridding himself of any key official who was not an idiot.
After taking Nanjing, the Taiping for several years made thrusts to the south and north, but without a clear strategy. Their attempt to take Peking, for instance, actually reached the suburbs of the city. It then petered out for lack of reinforcement, and their army was annihilated. Perhaps the strangest thing about this strange period was the survival of the Qing Dynasty. The Taiping Rebellion was the largest of their problems, but not the only one. There was another popular revolt, of the Nian, going on in eastern China at the same time. Moreover, in the late 1850s the Qing government somehow contrived to fall into hostilities with the Western powers again. In 1860, an Anglo-French force actually took Peking.
The dynasty survived because of the resilience of local institutions, particularly in central and southern China. Where imperial armies were not available, local gentry would raise their own. Local initaitive of this type prevented the Taiping from making any permanent gains when they again turned their attention to their own southern homeland, and helped to raise the forces that would ultimately destroy them.
The Qing government was corrupt, cruel and obviously doomed. [As John King Fairbanks notes in his “China: A New History” (1992), the morphology of the Chinese dynastic cycle is quite real, an effect he was inclined to attribute to autohypnosis.] Such dynasties in the past had often been overturned by insurgents intent on reestablishing Confucian virtue. These insurgencies might be led by men of little education. It was normal for such movements to contain some millenarian elements. [See, for instance, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s remarks in his “Millennium: A History of the Last Thousand Years,” on the role of that Chinese perennial, the White Lotus Society, in the popular movement that established the Ming Dynasty.] Popular insurgents could end an incumbent dynasty and establish their own if they won over the educated gentry by manifesting the intent to reform government along traditional lines. This was precisely what the Taiping could not promise to do.
Hong had originally been merely critical of Confucian ideas in certain details. By the time the Taiping were on the march, however, he had denounced the whole Confucian canon as demonic, despite the fact his system of government was informed by his own classical education in that canon. For the local people who made traditional China work to accept the legitimacy of Hong’s dynasty, they would have had needed to jettison everything they had ever thought of as good and true. Indeed, they would have had to reject the theory of government on which their notion of legitimacy rested. A more traditional Taiping movement might have rallied all of China against the alien Manchu government. As it was, their influence extended no further than their armies, and their armies increasingly lived by pillage.
One of the ways in which the Taiping were thoroughly traditional was also one of the things that doomed them. The principle leaders of the Taiping movement, including Hong himself, had actually had a fair amount to do with European missionaries and merchants. They could distinguish one kind of foreigner from another, for instance, which was sometimes more than the Qing government could do. The foreigners in Shanghai at the mouth of the Yangzi were anxious to learn more about this new movement as soon as it established itself in Nanjing. The notion of a Christian empire in the heart of Asia was, after all, redolent of the legendary Kingdom of Prester John. Hopes were raised for the rapid evangelization of China. As it was, the French and British and Americans who made the trip up the Yangzi found a government anxious for their aid but willing to treat with them only as vassals. The notion of diplomatic equality has been a rare one in Chinese history, something resorted to only by regimes in extremis. The Taiping did not regard themselves as weak. Indeed, they may have regarded themselves as the end of history.
Negotiations did not go well. They were not aided by the campaign of one of Hong’s more enterprising generals to strike east and achieve direct communication with Shanghai. When the Taiping actually attempted to take the Chinese portions of the city in 1860, the Europeans began to fight them. Having achieved a new round of concessions from the Qing, the Europeans became their open allies. The most famous manifestation of this alliance was the “Ever Victorious Army” led by the British commander Charles Stuart Gordon. [It is interesting to note that this strange man was destined to die twenty years later at the hands of another and more successful millenarian revolt, the Mahdi’s jihad in the Sudan. For an account of the Mahdi and Gordon’s unhappy end, see Thomas Packenham’s “The Scramble for Africa” (1991).] The French, not to be outdone, supplied their own “Ever Triumphant Army,” which unlike Gordon’s force was still in the war when the Heavenly Kingdom was finally put down in 1864.
Nanjing in the final years of the regime was becoming a deserted city. Ordinary economic life had never been permitted by the Taiping within its walls, though small markets had flourished outside. However, as Qing armies and local militias moved through its hinterland, the provision of the city became more and more precarious. When the city was finally besieged, Hong was asked what the people should do in the emergency. On the basis of the Book of Exodus, he advised them to eat manna. This he interpreted to mean stray weeds that grew in the streets and waste places of the city. He began to eat this diet himself. Whether for that reason or for some another, he died on June 1, 1864. Although large Taiping forces still fought in the south, they had been unable to beak the siege. On July 19, Qing forces blasted a breach in the wall of the capital of the Heavenly Kingdom and began unsystematically putting the population to the sword. A few weeks later, Hong’s son and heir apparent, who had contrived to escape the sack of the city and make his way back to Guangxi, was captured, tried and executed.
The Taiping movement thus did not end the Qing Dynasty. Indeed, the regime entered a period of macabre “reform” that did not end until its final overthrow in 1911. However, perhaps the matter is not so simple. In all of Chinese history, the Taiping movement most closely resembles the Yellow Turban rebellion, which began in 184. Another millenarian outbreak but of purely Taoist inspiration, it aimed at overthrowing the Latter Han Dynasty, the political regime that capped Chinese antiquity in much the way that the later Roman Empire capped the antiquity of the ancient Mediterranean. Like the Taiping, the Yellow Turbans were put down. However, as was also the case with the Taiping, the regime they attacked came to an end a few decades later with the abdication of the last Han emperor in 220. A Dark Age followed. So, if you will, whereas the Yellow Turbans were a harbinger of the end of the ancient phase of Chinese history, the Taiping were a warning that the “modern” phase of the same civilization did not have long to run. What has been happening in China since then is, no doubt, part of another story.
No historically-informed American can read about the Taiping episode without a sense of the uncanny way it resonated with developments in America during the same period. The missionaries who gave tracts to Hong in the 1830s and taught him in Canton in the 1840s were moved by the fires of the contemporary Second Great Awakening in America. This strange movement of the spirit, comparable in some ways to the 1960s, would spawn the women’s suffrage and antislavery movements. It featured the Millerite Movement that so powerfully convulsed western New York State in the 1840s with the expectation of the imminent Second Coming. It sent the persecuted Mormons on a migration to found their own divinely-ordered country in the western desert of North America at roughly the same time that the Taiping were fighting to establish theirs on a crusade through central China. (Salt Lake City was founded in 1847). In the opinion of many historians, it was one of the underlying predispositions to the American Civil War itself, a conflict that from first to last had apocalyptic overtones for its participants.
Naturally, this is not to suggest that the Second Great Awakening caused the Taiping Rebellion. It is hard to think of more peculiarly American phenomena than the Awakenings, phenomena dependent for their gestation on local culture and history. [For an assessment of the role of the Awakenings in American history, see William Strauss and Neil Howe’s “Generations” (1991).] Still, we are presentd here with the sort of cross-cultural parallel that makes it hard to explain history as the determinsitic outcome of concrete conditions. Rather, as in cases of “parallel evolution” in biology, we seem to be dealing with a kind of accident that actively seeks for places to happen.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Warrior Politics

Imagine this as a bald eagle with olive branches and arrowsThe opening entry of this review explains much of John's views on the Middle East. And also why this article was published in First Things.

Robert Kaplan has spent these past 20 years reporting on local collapses of civilization, chiefly in sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. He tells us that, in the future, we should expect more collapse rather than less, and over a wider area. Indeed, he says "the paramount question of world politics in the early 21st century will be the reestablishment of order." The period we have entered will be "the most important decades of American foreign policy," when the terms of the emerging global civilization are written. We need more than merely new policies to navigate this stretch of history, Kaplan believes. In "Warrior Politics," he tries to give us nothing less than an outline of an imperial ethos for American elites.

John didn't think that the terrorists could defeat us, but he did think that a loss of will in the voting public of the United States could have negative long term consequences. I think our wars in Iraq were stupid, but John's point of view does give me pause. It is pretty easy to laugh off John's analysis as imprecise and unscientific, but part of the reason I am re-posting everything he wrote over the last fifteen years is I am acutely interested in what he got right, what he got wrong, and why.

For example, Kaplan was very much right that societal collapse seems to be something we see more of, rather than less. One might point out that Kaplan was involved in causing this himself, but he later changed his mind. As of yet, the United States has not yet pursued the logic of promoting democracy in the Global South to its logical end. For example, we destroyed Libya, but we have have preserved Saudi Arabia and the UAE, despite their depravity.

It really isn't difficult to imagine the reason why. We think we know how to remake the world in our image, but each political generation discovers anew that we cannot. We make our peace with the regimes we support and the ones we choose to destroy, but we have not yet found a principled reason for what we do. John proposed a reason, and I think we should consider it.

Warrior Politics:
Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos
By Robert D. Kaplan
198 Pages, US$22.95
Random House, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-50563-6


Robert Kaplan has spent these past 20 years reporting on local collapses of civilization, chiefly in sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. He tells us that, in the future, we should expect more collapse rather than less, and over a wider area. Indeed, he says "the paramount question of world politics in the early 21st century will be the reestablishment of order." The period we have entered will be "the most important decades of American foreign policy," when the terms of the emerging global civilization are written. We need more than merely new policies to navigate this stretch of history, Kaplan believes. In "Warrior Politics," he tries to give us nothing less than an outline of an imperial ethos for American elites.

Kaplan says about Western foreign policy pretty much what one wag once said of Queen Victoria: we have pursued goodness to the point of self-indulgence. The result has too often been bloody chaos. Before the UN insisted on conducting an independence referendum in East Timor, for instance, two things were clear. First, the people would vote for independence from Indonesia. Second, Indonesian partisans would exact revenge violently, unless a foreign security force were on the ground to keep the peace. The UN, or rather its members, would not provide such a force, but the do-gooders of the world nonetheless insisted on enforcing the international norm of self-determination. The cost to the people of that country was terrible.

Particularly since the end of the Cold War, the West in general and the US in particular have been guilty of many such exercises of catastrophic good intentions. We punished military governments in places like Pakistan and Nigeria because they were not democracies, though we knew those countries could unravel if civilians took over. We imposed economic sanctions on countries with imperfect human rights records, even though we needed their help in combating forces that were lethally disposed toward us. Often enough, such policies have been driven by nothing more than the irresponsible harping of the press. We could not have continued to conduct foreign policy like that forever. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, we haven't been. "Warrior Politics" does not directly discuss those attacks, but it does explain what we had been doing wrong that made them more likely.

In essence, Kaplan says that the Wilsonian tradition in American foreign policy seeks to apply essentially civic norms to international society. Kaplan characterizes these norms indifferently as "Judeo-Christian" or Kantian. In any case, he says we have been making a category mistake. Civic morality, in Kaplan's view, is a morality of intent. We seek to respect the rights of others, and ask that others respect our rights. The measure of how well we live up to this standard is the disposition of our will to respect it. However, as Hobbes was rude enough to point out, rights become an issue only after order has been established. Only the Leviathan state can provide civic order, and there is as yet no global Leviathan capable of enforcing universal norms. In the world as it is today, the best we can do is an ethics of result. The goals may well accord with Judeo-Christian ideals, but the means to achieve them often cannot.

Among the many technical points Kaplan never clarifies is how the ethical dilemmas of statesmanship differ from those of sovereigns domestically. Obviously, the duties of private persons differ from those of magistrates, because the latter are responsible for the well being of people other than themselves. This is true whether the conflicting goods they must reconcile are domestic or international. Is the ethics of keeping the peace abroad really so different from keeping the peace at home?

Kaplan is at pains to emphasize that he is not endorsing amorality, but rather a morality that is not Judeo-Christian. He calls this ethos "pagan," though he asserts it underlay the ethics of great modern statesmen, notably his hero Winston Churchill, and of Machiavelli and Hobbes. The actual pagans he discusses at length are Sun Tzu, author of the fourth century B.C. Chinese classic "The Art of War," and Thucydides. "Warrior Politics" is really a meditation on the implications of the ideas of these five men, plus those of Malthus, for the 21st century.

The "warrior ethos" that Kaplan proposes takes something from each of them: Churchill's animals spirits, Thucydides' caution against arrogance, Machiavelli's injunction to "anxious foresight," Hobbes's assessment of man as a dangerous predator, and the willingness of Malthus to consider that the mechanical trends of history need not tend toward the increase of human happiness. Inspired in part by an unpublished essay by Michael Lind on the "honor paradigm" in international relations, Kaplan says that the wise statesman of the 21st century should be guided by something rather like the code duello.

In civil society the state protects us, but in lawless regions we must look to self-help, or to strong protectors. The safety of the weak, in fact, depends on the willingness of the strong to use violence in their behalf. In such an environment, the strong dare not suffer insult, lest their credibility diminish and so invite further attacks against them and their clients. There are limits to violence, however. The strong act from self-interest, but only to the point dictated by necessity. To use more force or cruelty than the occasion demands would provoke one's enemies to unite in self-defense.

Readers of Frank Herbert's romance "Dune" may note how closely this ethos matches that of the leaders of the Great Houses in Herbert's imaginary galactic civilization. Indeed, the parallels are closer, since Kaplan imagines a world in which conventional military conflict is rare, but conflict continues nonetheless through "asymmetrical" means. Terror and assassination become the preferred methods of attack, not by the weak, but by the ambitious. The leaders of the West, and particularly the United States, must be prepared to function in a world in which democratic mass armies no longer ensure security. Future wars "will feature warriors on one side, motivated by grievance and rapine, and an aristocracy of statesmen, motivated, perhaps, by ancient virtue." So much for soccer-mom politics.

The role of the United States in all this is unique. It is not quite a world Leviathan, but it is a planetary hegemon. It does not have the luxury that Great Britain had after the Second World War of handing its place in the world over to a compatible power. If anyone is going to embed human rights and the rule of law in the world system, it has to be us. As Kaplan puts it, "Global institutions are an outgrowth of Western power, not a replacement for it." At least on a military level that power lies almost exclusively with the United States.

Kaplan suggests that the world is moving to a greater level of institutional unity. He dwells on an analogy between modernity and the Warring States Period in China. That era resulted, after three appalling centuries, in the Han Dynasty at the end of the 3rd century BC. Kaplan characterizes the dynasty as a loose system of "governance" for the newly unified but highly diverse Chinese world. Inevitably, he also makes the analogy of the United States to Rome; the point of departure is the frequently made comparison between the Second Punic War and World War II.

The United States, then, is to oversee the crystallization of a global civilization we would want to live in. However, Americans must be quite literally the last people in the world to eschew ordinary patriotism for internationalism. Americans must cultivate Flag Day and the Fourth of July in order to maintain the national integrity needed for their global role. Kaplan's model here is the myth-making patriotism of Livy, though one may note that Livy idealized the ancient Republic after it was over, in the first generation of the Empire.

"Warrior Politics" does not propose a formal system of ethics, not even an ethics of statecraft. Still, while describing an ethos is not quite the same as elaborating an ethics, we may note that the ethical systems that come down to us from the ancient pagans have little to do with the "ancient pagan ethos" that Kaplan submits for our approval. Epicureanism and Stoicism were at least as much philosophies of self-cultivation as is Kant's Transcendental Idealism.

Kaplan's dictum that "unarmed prophets always fail" has as many historical exceptions as confirmations. Kaplan does mention that the unarmed followers of Jesus did "help bring down the Roman Empire," but without discussing the case in detail. However, inflexible idealism prevailed over pragmatism even in one of his favorite historical analogies. In the great ideological contest of the Warring States Period between Legalism and Confucianism, the outcome was the defeat of Machiavellian Legalism and the triumph of persnickety, I-told-you-so Confucianism. The prigs do sometimes inherit the earth.

Kaplan's silence about Christian political theory is encyclopedic. He mentions Niebuhr's "Christian Realism" favorably, though he does not describe it. He also makes a passing friendly reference to Richelieu's and Bismarck's "pietism," which Kaplan believes left them free during business hours to maneuver as Realpolitiker. No doubt he saved himself the trouble of reviewing an extensive literature by confining his remarks about Just War theory to this: "Grotius's 'just war' presupposed the existence of a Leviathan - the pope or the Holy Roman Emperor - to enforce a moral code."

"Warrior Politics" is really a call for the American political class to redefine itself in terms of a new goal: the maintenance and consolidation of an international system that is, in some respects, a loosely organized global empire. Kaplan does indeed propose a transformation of values, though maybe not the ones he imagines. In effect, he is not asking for the rejection of Jesus, but of John Rawls. The imperial project is not inconsistent with the expansion of the rule of law, domestically and internationally, and the spread of democratic institutions, or even of economic equality. However, its overriding goal would be peace, or at least a tolerable global order. This would be a new organizing principle for politics. Certainly it would be an un-modern one.

One way to look at modernity is as the period in which societies sought to transform themselves in order to achieve the highest social goods. Democracy and equality in some form have usually been counted among them, but then so have free markets for some and socialism for others. For many people the highest goods have included secularization and environmentalism. In any case, these highest goods, however defined, could never be more than instrumental to the global system of perpetual peace (or mitigated war) that Kaplan is proposing as the end of policy. We are to turn our attention from the highest goods of modernity to the common, essential good of civilization, which is a livable order.

This may or may not be a good idea, but let us not deceive ourselves about the magnitude of the change Kaplan proposes. His "warrior ethos" would change our rhetoric, our public priorities, the kinds of things we admire and despise. An imperial future would be a different world.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2002 issue of First Things. Please click on the following line for more information:

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2002-08-15: How Iraq Can Win

The Long ViewIf you have never clicked through the links to see John's archived site in all it's 1990s glory, you should. In this case, you are missing the topical links John embedded in the left sidebar. I'll excerpt one that is particularly relevant now:

Victor Davis Hanson's Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power perhaps needs a companion volume about wars the West lost.

Hanson is fairly well-known as a conservative academic and a supporter of invading Iraq after 9/11, and has written a number of influential volumes on the history of classical Greece as an important constituent of the Western way of life. In this particular volume, Hanson argues that there is a fundamental difference between the Asiatic way of war and the Western way of war. Many battles in classical antiquity were pathetically unorganized affairs. Both sides would meet in some dusty plain and mill around for a time. Various enthusiastic hotheads from either side would ride out to goad challengers, and eventually either the delay would produce some kind of useful truce, or a clash of mobs would occur, and the army that broke ranks first would be slaughtered as they fled.

Greece, and Rome after her, was fantastically successful by drilling soldiers in formation and insisting on rigid discipline. Soldiers that stick together and follow orders are typically much more successful, although far from invincible. When you bring hoplites and cavalry to the Middle East and the Mediterranean Basin, you get Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire. The Romans did have problems with barbarians such as the Germans [much bigger than the typical Imperial Roman soldier due to different diet and genetics] and the Huns [the Romans didn't place much emphasis on missle weapons, and so had trouble with mounted archers. An English long bow vastly outranges the shortbows mounted archers use, and horses are big targets, but the Romans didn't have anything like a longbow].

Hanson contrasts the Asiatic way of war, which aims for psychological effect, with the Western way of war, which seeks to annihilate the enemy army. This is true, so far as it goes, but there is really more than one Western way of war. An influential alternative is maneuver warfare, which seeks to destroy the ability of the enemy to resist rather than the enemy's army per se. This is an idea that goes back at least to Sun Tzu, but would have been familiar to Hannibal as well. Maneuver warfare is nonetheless shares more in common with the more direct Western approach [what Jerry Pournelle calls WARRE] than the Asiatic way.

By way of comparison, consider the current state of ISIS. A great deal of ink has been spilt over this group, but ISIS probably has fewer than 30,000 members. Probably a lot less with US help. There is a certain amount of media hype involved, but this is an accurate expression of what Hanson was getting at: numbers matter less than politics and posturing in Middle Eastern warfare. [this may also explain why Hanson was sometimes conflated with the War Nerd.] If a country like Tunisia practiced war like the United States, it could send 500,000 young men to Syria and Iraq, rather decisively settling the current conflict.

Nonetheless, the very attention that ISIS generates in Western media indicates that the Asiatic way of war has its advantages. The curious thing is that they can only win if we pay attention to them.

How Iraq Can Win


There was a flurry of stories on Monday, August 12, that set me scurrying to what few sources I have to find out whether the war with Iraq was imminent. Certainly that was what the oil markets suspected. That was the day when the Iraqis took the trouble to remove as a bargaining chip the possibility of further weapons inspections. They did this despite the fact the Saudis were still trying to use the prospect of inspections to negotiate a deal with the UN. There were somewhat confused reports that the US military was buying up commercial shipping space to take helicopters to the Gulf area on an expedited basis. There were even reports that the Israelis were preparing for an Iraqi missile attack at any time.

The flurry has continued, but I have resisted the impulse to comment on these items as they appear. Possibly I don't have the true blogger temperament. Another factor is that I am on record in print, in this month's Business Travel Executive, suggesting that a war is most likely in late October. How dare mere history contradict my speculations?

Actually, the US debate does have a blind spot. All the war plans we have been reading about recently presuppose a passive Iraq. At most, the plans contemplate that Iraq might seek to inflict maximum casualties on attacking US forces, with the hope of causing Somalia-like revulsion at home. There is also speculation that the Iraqis might do something "crazy," like respond to a conventional US attack by launching against Israel whatever weapons of mass destruction they may have. Because of the certainty of Israeli retaliation if the WMDs actually worked, the latter strategy would be the Iraqi national equivalent of a suicide bombing.

Victor Davis Hanson, author of Carnage and Culture, has described the "Asiatic" way of war as the kind that really is diplomacy by other means. The chief strategy is to inflict a humiliating coup on the enemy, whose leaders then lose so much face at home that they have to seek terms. This strategy does not work well when it confronts a power able to employ the Western model of war, which is aimed not at psychological effect, but at the annihilation of an opponent's armed forces. It is reasonably clear that Iraq cannot defend itself militarily against the US for any length of time. Something we have to keep in mind, however, is that the "Asiatic" model is not without its successes, and against the US in particular. The Asiatic model is arguably the sane model to apply against an opponent with limited cohesion and political will.

Political will is not lacking in the US at the moment. The assertion that the Administration has yet to make the case to the public for an invasion of Iraq is beside the point. The people as a whole support an invasion, the sooner the better. The calls for debate and dialogue come from influential minorities who want to delay action long enough for the national consensus to evaporate. Where the will is lacking is in the West as a whole.

The US can, and probably should, conduct the Iraqi campaign without substantial support from its allies, if only to show once and for all that their material support is unnecessary. The US can and probably should act without UN authorization, beyond that remaining from the Security Council resolutions of 1990 and 1991. Passive disapproval is one thing, however, and active opposition is another. It would be beyond the political ability even of the United States to conduct an invasion if the EU and UN were diplomatically engaged in the region at the time.

The obvious way to secure such engagement would be to link the Iraqi and Palestinian situations. Iraq has international defenders but no friends; the regime is a pariah even to those states which object to seeing it changed by force. Palestine, on the other hand, is the apple of the eye of the European Left. Even on the Right, it is more popular than Israel. The same networks that organized the boycotts against the apartheid government of South Africa are having some success in organizing boycotts against Israeli goods, and even blackballing Israeli academics. If support for regime change in Iraq could be made to seem to be support for apartheid, that would change the situation substantially.

Iraq tried to create a link during the 1991 war with its Scud attacks on Israel. Iraq failed then, because the linkage was so obviously artificial. What is different now is the continuing suicide-intifada, which has at least the appearance of a guerrilla campaign. It also provokes genuine military reprisals from Israel. Iraq could create a linkage by making its own reprisals to those reprisals. Iraq could plausibly claim to be defending the Palestinian people, if it attacked Israel with missiles or drone aircraft while Israel was engaged in another reprisal. Assuming the Iraqi attack did not include weapons of mass destruction, Israel's counterstrike would be within Iraq's tolerances, or at least the tolerances of Iraqis in very deep bunkers. The US would then have to consider the fact that any action it took in Iraq would make it an active ally of Israel, united in attacking on an Arab country.

Just as important, the world's diplomatic machinery would then go into high gear to prevent the situation from "spinning out of control." The US could block Security Council action, though not a humiliating Security Council debate. In any case, a general conference to consider the whole Middle East could be called by some regional organization, or by an ad hoc coalition that would certainly include US allies. The US might find that it could not start an invasion without endangering diplomats on the ground.

For any of this to happen, it would have to start soon, before the US has forces in position that could preempt Iraqi support for the intifada. In reality, Iraq has a history of dithering while temporary advantages melt away; they could have dislodged the US from Saudi Arabia in 1991, had they acted quickly. With any luck at all, this time they will also dither until it is too late

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