Gun Control Won’t Stop Mass Shootings

In the wake of the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, even leading Republicans are endorsing some forms of gun control.  The public’s demand for action is understandable. But the action must be effective, and gun control won’t be. The country is awash in guns, and if someone wants one, he will get it regardless of what controls are in place.

There is something else we can do to stop mass shootings that I think would work, in many if not all cases.  I have proposed it before. It is something President Trump could launch on his own initiative, without having to get it through Congress.  What is it? A universal militia made up of men who take a pledge to attack any shooter they encounter.

This militia would have no organization, uniforms, or government supplied weapons.  It would simply be a roster of men who signed a formal pledge to attack rather than run away if someone opens fire in a public place.  They would do so whether they were armed or not. If enough men rush a shooter, they will be able to take him down. Some of those men will die, but in the process they will save many other lives, especially those of women and children.

We know this can work.  In two recent cases, one in North Carolina and the other in Colorado, shooters who tried to commit massacres in two schools were stopped because the man nearest them attacked them and took them down.  Both of those men died. But no one else did. In both cases, the police said the men who tackled the gunman saved many other lives. They prevented mass shootings.

The problem cannot be left to law enforcement.  Unless we are lucky enough to have a cop immediately on the scene, by the time the police arrive we will have mass casualties.  Fast police response is of course important. But in most cases even the fastest response will be too late. The state’s duty is to prevent killing, not respond to it.  Only if the men on the scene act immediately can a massacre be prevented.

A militia of men who have taken a pledge to act also shifts the moral calculus.  Mass shooters usually want attention, either to themselves or to whatever cause they represent.  If the nearest man or men take the gunman out, the attention shifts to them. Again, that happened both in the Carolina and the Colorado cases.  If shooters know they will not become the center of attention it may decrease their motivation. It also shows other Americans that we are not helpless.  Americans can still take care of themselves rather than wait like sheep to be slaughtered.

I have intentionally said “men” should be offered a chance to take the pledge and join the militia.  The feminists will howl at that. But human nature is such that men will act to protect the woman at the expense of the mission (the same thing happens on a battlefield if women are present).  Women’s duty in the case of a mass shooter is to run or hide, call the cops, and encourage the men on the scene to fight. Those have been women’s role in danger and always will be. Men and women are not interchangeable.

Even nut-case mass shooters without agenda are an element of Fourth Generation war because they undermine the legitimacy of the state.  The state arose to guarantee order: safety of persons and property. If the state cannot do that, it loses its legitimacy. We don’t just need a response by the state to the mass shooter problem, we need an effective response.  Gun control isn’t one. The militia I have proposed can be, if not in every case, certainly in many. A state that leaves its citizens at the mercy of random massacres is a state whose days are numbered.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.

How President Trump Can Win Every American’s Support

Americans on the Left and on the Right no longer have much in common.  But there is one thing we all share: a passionate loathing for the robocalls that deluge us day and night.  They interrupt our work and our sleep, they tie up our phone lines and they seek to steal our money through fraud.  If President Trump could put an end to them, Left, Right, and center would cheer him. We might even join in dancing in the streets.

I think there is a way he can do this.  Congress is attempting a fix, but the fix relies on technology, which is not likely to work.  The robocallers will probably have found a way around the technology intended to block them before it can even be deployed.

Instead of a new gizmo, President Trump could propose a new tax, one I expect even Grover Norquist would support.  The proposal would be for a tax of one dollar on every robocall, to be paid by the telephone company that delivers the call.  We cannot tax the robocall companies themselves because many are located overseas and they change their identities constantly.  But we can tax the well known American phone companies that send the unwanted calls into our home. I suspect all robocalls would cease the day after President Trump signed the legislation.

The phone companies would probably send their lobbyists to Capitol Hill, checkbooks in hand, to try to stop such a proposal.  But any legislator of either party who voted to let the robocallers keep interrupting our lives would commit political suicide, and they all will know it.  If President Trump could ever get a proposal through Congress by unanimous consent, it would be this one.

The phone companies and the robocallers themselves will argue that blocking all robocalls would also block a few we might want, like notices from our local government about a change in trash collection day.  They will probably suggest some technology intended to block only fraudulent calls. But, again, the robocallers will quickly find a way to spoof that technology and reach us with their frauds. In the real world, it is all or nothing, and I’m willing to bet 90% of us would vote for no robocalls at all.

Fraudulent calls from call centers, where there is a person on the line, should also fall under the new tax if those calls can be identified.  It may be enough to tax them if they come from overseas. American companies still wishing to place legitimate calls to American phones can set up their call centers in this country, thus creating more jobs here.

President Trump has good instincts for doing things that bring real benefits to American citizens.  Few gifts he could give the American people would be more welcome than an end to robocalls and fraudulent calls from call centers.  Can someone get him this proposal?

The View From Olympus: How to Avoid War with Iran

When President Trump called off an airstrike on Iran with the planes already in the air, he justified the hopes many of us had placed in him in 2016.  No other president would have had the guts to do that.

Unfortunately, while that action avoided war with Iran last week, the danger of war remains high.  The confrontation between the U.S. and Iran is almost certain to continue.  It is strategically disadvantageous for both parties.  But powerful domestic political factions will continue to drive it nonetheless.  In Iran, the Revolutionary Guard Corps needs the American threat to justify its own domestic power and the benefits of corruption that flow from it.  In Washington, the Likud lobby, which includes people highly placed in the White House, desperately wants a war between the U.S. and Iran so Israel’s Likud-led government can seize the West Bank (see my column, “Bait and Switch”, in the latest issue of The American Conservative).  So, the question becomes, how do we continue to confront Iran without war breaking out?  That seems to be the best realistic objective.

Both sides may have offered up the beginnings of an answer.  President Trump called off the airstrike when he was told it would kill around 150 Iranians.  Iran had only shot down an American drone.  No American lives were endangered, and the Pentagon has no shortage of drones.  Similarly, the Iranians said they did not shoot down an American P-8 naval patrol aircraft they claimed had also invaded their airspace because doing so would have killed Americans.  In other words, both sides called a halt at the point where their actions would have caused casualties.

The same has been true of Iranian attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf–if the attacks were in fact actions of the state of Iran, which is by no means clear.  They could have been done by elements of the Revolutionary Guard Corps that do want a war, without authorization.  Those Revolutionary Guards could have been in the pay of another power that wants a war, such as Saudi Arabia or Israel.  The “Iranian sailors” could have been German soldiers dressed up in Polish uniforms.  History has witnessed such things.

The restraint both sides have shown so far could be the basis for a shared rule: no human casualties.  That still leaves both Iran and the U.S. plenty of options for annoying each other.  Embargoes, cyberwar, driving up marine insurance rates, isolating the other’s proxy forces in various theaters, attacking facilities and equipment where there is no risk to people, the list is endless.  But so long as no people are killed, there is no war.

This kind of ritualization of war is historically common.  Ritualized war is in fact far more frequent than total war.  The reason is obvious: the cost is lower.  Each side gets to preen, pump, do its victory dances and so on while their respective societies carry on normal life.  Think of it as the NFL without the big salaries.

After a campaign of mutual annoyance but not war has gone on long enough, both Iran and the U.S. may come to realize a negotiated solution would benefit both.  President Trump has made it clear he is open to that outcome.  So far, Iran’s leadership is not.  But I suspect the Iranian people are, and the Ayatollah cannot ignore them forever.

What everyone needs now, except Likud and its American agents, is no war, i.e., no casualties.  If President Trump continues to insist on that rule and the Iranians do the same, the war fever will eventually break.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.

The View From Olympus: Making Maneuver Warfare Real in the Marine Corps

The indications that the new Marine Corps Commandant intends to get serious about maneuver warfare are proliferating.  Serious plans for genuinely free play training are being made.  The latest issue of the Marine Corps Gazette is mostly devoted to the history of the maneuver warfare movement that culminated with the Corps formally adopting the concept as doctrine under Commandant General Al Gray. Training and Education Command at Quantico is talking about maneuver warfare, although I will not believe it is serious until it decrees the T&R manual is optional at the discretion of the battalion commander.

But making maneuver warfare what the Marine Corps does as opposed to just what it says in its field manuals is a major challenge. It means fundamental change in institutional culture, from the Second Generation’s inward focus, centralization, preference for obedience over initiative, and dependence on imposed discipline to the Third Generation’s outward focus, de-centralization of decision making, preference for initiative over obedience, and reliance on self-discipline. Overall, the culture of order must be replaced by a culture of results: at every rank, every Marine must become responsible for getting the result the situation requires. But no Marine should ever be held responsible for method: not for technique, not for process, not even for following orders.  In the old Prussian/German Army, which developed maneuver warfare as we know it, it was routine to give junior officers problems in war games that could only be solved by disobeying orders.

So we face the hard question: how is this transformation to be brought about?  The key is to make certain that institutional rewards and punishments are aligned with the behavior the Corps wants from its Marines.

That means, above all, fundamental changes in the personnel system. At present, the personnel system’s incentives all work against creating the kind of leaders maneuver warfare requires. That means leaders from corporal through Commandant who show strong character. What is strong character? Verantwortungsfreudigkeit: joy in taking responsibility.  Maneuver warfare demands leaders who, whenever they see a situation that is not going right, immediately act to get the necessary result. They do so whether the mess is “in their lane” or not. They do not hesitate to use unorthodox methods. If they have to break the rules, they do so and take responsibility for it. In turn, so long as what they do works, their superiors back them up. In the case of junior leaders, they back them up even if it doesn’t work so long as the mistake arose from initiative rather than passivity. Years ago, a Marine lieutenant told me that the motto of his platoon at The Basic School had been “Death before initiative”, because they knew that if they just did what they were told they would not get in trouble, but if they took initiative they might. In a maneuver warfare military, exactly the opposite is the case.

The Marine Corps can fix some of the problems in the personnel system itself; others will require exemptions from DOPMA, which I suspect Congress would willingly grant.  The basic changes are :

  • End up-or-out, which undermines character, promotes conformism, and rewards careerism, which is a sign of weak character.
  • Vest Marines’ retirement at twelve years of service and drop all-or-nothing at twenty years.
  • Eliminate the informal requirement to follow a cookie-cutter career pattern to obtain promotion.
  • De-centralize promotion and assignment to a low enough level that those making the decisions know the individual they are assigning or considering for promotion.
  • Reduce the vast surplus of officers above the company grades.  Nothing more powerfully drives centralization than an officer surplus, because the surplus officers constantly interfere in their subordinate’s business in search of something to do.
  • Greatly reduce the churn of personnel so units have time to become coherent. A company or battalion command should last three to five years, not eighteen months.

For any institution, pitting rhetoric calling for the behavior maneuver warfare requires against concrete incentives to behave otherwise is hopeless. People behave not as they are told but as they are rewarded or punished for doing. We will know the Marine Corps’ push for maneuver warfare is real when institutional incentives begin to change.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.

The View From Olympus: The Costs of Threat Inflation

In the 1980s I used to give the slide-show briefing of the Congressional Military Reform Caucus to each class at the Air Force’s Squadron Officers’ School. After one of the briefs, an Air Force captain, an intelligence officer, came up to me and asked, “Does military reform mean I can stop inflating the threat?”

Threat inflation has been one of Washington’s most successful growth industries for a long time.  The purpose of inflating the threat is to inflate the military budget.  The obvious cost is wasting the taxpayers’ money on capabilities we do not need.  But that is not the only cost. As the current tensions with Iran illustrate, threat inflation can lead to counter-productive military planning and, sometimes, to war.

For weeks, the Defense Department has been warning that Iran is planning to use allied Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria to attack U.S. forces in those countries.  It has cited intelligence intercepts of communications between Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the militias as evidence.  I’m sure the intercepts are real.  But the interpretation suggests classic threat inflation.

If the U.S. attacks Iran, the obvious Iranian response will be to seize as many U.S. troops in the region as it can to serve as hostages. The Iranians have stated this response openly, saying, “Last time (in 1979), we had hundreds of American hostages.  This time, we’ll have thousands.”  It is a promising response for the obvious reason that we have no ready countermove. In 1979, we were largely left helpless, especially after we botched a rescue attempt.  One would hope President Trump would ask the Pentagon, “Okay, if they do that, what’s our next move?”  I doubt he will get a reassuring answer.

So what are the communications we have intercepted about?  Preparing that response. We have interpreted them as preparing an attack instead. Why? Because DOD always inflates the threat.

We have also accused Iran of launching small attacks against four oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, attacks that damaged the ships but did not sink them. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a carefully weasel-worded statement said, “It seems like it’s quite possible that Iran was behind them.” That is true. It’s also quite possible other countries in the region that want a war between the U.S. and Iran, including Israel, were behind them.  Pointing only to Iran inflates the threat.

Threat inflation in a crisis can easily transmute itself into an escalatory ladder. That may be happening here.  Iran signaled de-escalation by removing some “missiles” (probably just rockets) from some small fast boats used by the Revolutionary Guard. The Pentagon did not reciprocate by dialing back our actions. On the contrary, it asked President Trump to send 20,000 more U.S. troops to the region. Wisely, the president chopped that number back to 900.

Here we see how threat inflation can lead to actions that are militarily just plain dumb.  Iran threatens to take U.S. troops in the region hostage. How do we counter that? By sending more U.S. troops to the region, giving Iran more chances to take hostages. Who in the Pentagon is coming up with this, General Braxton Bragg or General Ben Butler?

Most of the Washington threat inflation industry is focused on inflating the Russian and Chinese “threats”–puffing the dragon is especially fashionable these days–which in turn feeds the bad strategy of turning two countries that should be allies into opponents. That is a failure on the grand strategic level, which is a high price indeed for threat inflation. But threat inflation is so deeply built into our whole system that it warps everything we do. Does military reform mean we can stop inflating the threat? Yes. But until the money runs out, the chance of reform is small.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.