The View from Olympus: The Scheller Affair and Moral Courage

Several weeks ago, a Marine battalion commander at Camp Lejeune, Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, went public in a big way in a video with a demand for accountability at high levels for our disastrous flight from Afghanistan.  The Marine Corps responded as he knew it would, by immediately relieving him of his command, which ended his Marine Career.  There is no bigger sin in the U.S. military bureaucracy than committing truth.  Lt. Col. Sheller, who sacrificed his pension by his initial act, made a second video resigning from the Marine Corps and saying he wanted no benefits from his seventeen years of service.  Both videos have circulated widely on the internet.

What it comes down to is that Lt. Col. Scheller had the moral courage to say what is being said widely in both the Army and the Marine Corps from the ranks of captain to colonel.  But so far, only Lt. Col. Scheller has had the guts to go public with his demand.  Where are the other voices asking for the same?  Do the Marine Corps and the Army put together now have only one officer with moral courage?  So it seems.

From before the dawn of history, courage has been recognized as the most essential virtue of the warrior.  American soldiers and Marines, including their officers, are today noted world-wide for their physical courage.  More than one European officer who was in combat alongside American units has told me that American officers sometimes have too much physical courage, taking unnecessary risks.

That is a high compliment to American officers.  But there is another kind of courage, no less necessary in military officers: moral courage.  As the Scheller Affair demonstrates, it is possible to have both, as Lt. Col. Scheller clearly does.  But a person can also have one without the other.  The fact that only one American officer, to my knowledge, has gone public with a demand for accountability — not just for the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, but for the whole incompetent conduct of the war over a twenty-year period — suggests moral courage is as rare among American officers as physical courage is common.  That is, indeed, my observation over almost fifty years of working with the U.S. armed forces.

Why is that the case?  Because the American military personnel management system penalizes moral courage.  The system’s rule of “up or out,” which requires officers to continually get promoted or leave the service, compels everyone to be a careerist at an early age.  Many young officers find that distasteful, but they know their only choices are to bend to the system or get out.  So those who plan a career, most of them anyway, bend.  In doing so, they get their first lesson in moral cowardice.

More quickly follow, because the promotion process relies on officer fitness reports in which even a small mistake often ends a career.  This teaches a CYA mentality in which safety of career depends on never taking initiative and always following every rule, even when the result will be defeat.  Anyone who objects to a stupid order, process, or procedure, puts his future on the line — and, from my long observation, is often forced out.  Driving out young officers who show strong character and moral courage is so common that if we really wanted to reform our armed services, asking them to come back would be an effective first step — especially if we then used them to replace the careerists.

The personnel system’s war on moral courage breeds inward focus, where gaming the career system and rising in rank replaces getting the results the battlefield demands as officers’ lodestone.  That inward focus in turn means the American armed forces cannot get beyond  Second Generation war, a war of processes for putting firepower on targets.  Third Generation war, also called maneuver warfare (and official USMC doctrine), demands outward focus on the situation, the enemy, and getting the result the situation requires.  That in turn requires moral courage, because it often means acting against rules and orders.  A maneuver warfare military promotes officers who do that and thereby get the necessary result.  Our armed services get rid of them.

And so we lose wars like that in Afghanistan, because a Second Generation military cannot win a Fourth Generation war.

The real meaning of the Scheller Affair is that the American armed forces need lots more Lt. Col. Schellers.  The Marine Corps Commandant has said there will be a full accounting for the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan (although not, so far, for the lost war).  If he’s serious, there is an easy way to show it: refuse Lt. Col. Scheller’s letter of resignation and put him in charge of the investigation.  Does the Commandant have the moral courage to do that?  Or should Lt. Col. Scheller be staying and the Commandant resigning?

Unavailable Options

As I’ve said before and will probably say again, I support President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and President Biden in carrying that decision through.  Our withdrawal should have taken place 60 to 90 days after we first entered, but better late than never.  We could stay one hundred years and Afghanistan would remain what it is.

On the other hand, the conduct of our withdrawal has been a mortifying mess.  Yesterday we lost thirteen American servicemen dead and more wounded, doing what the U.S. military does so well: occupy fixed positions, follow predictable routines and get surprised when an enemy walks through the door we leave wide open.  The military responds, “What other options did we have?  All we hold is the airport, we have to defend that and try to get Americans and Afghan allies out through it.  We have no option other than being sitting ducks.”

In fact, there were options and there should have been more.  The first and most important was at the strategic level.  As soon as the Biden administration decided to follow through with President Trump’s decision to leave, it should have sent a loud, clear message to the Taliban that we will leave only on our own terms.  Those terms should have been, first, a “decent interval” of perhaps a few months before the Taliban took Kabul.  I’m well aware we did not expect the Afghan government and army to collapse as quickly as they did, but that possibility should have been recognized early in our planning.  Quisling regimes seldom last very long after the occupying Power that created them leaves, and Afghans are well practiced at going over to the winning side as soon as one is clear.

Second, we should have told the Taliban our timetable will be determined by us, not by them.  We have the power to do that, and it made little sense for the Taliban to fight us when we were leaving. 

Third, — and this remains an option even after our debacle — we should have offered the Taliban an alliance against ISIS-K.  Unofficially, U.S. forces have already acted in support of Taliban troops fighting ISIS, primarily with intel and air strikes.  ISIS-K is the most dangerous enemy the Taliban faces because the Islam it promotes is more “pure,” which is to say brutal and, in terms of governing a country, unworkable.  An alliance with the Taliban against ISIS-K would serve the interests of both parties, would have given us an orderly and even “friendly” withdrawal and probably would not have left us with thirteen dead and more, I fear, to come.

This strategic option was not recognized by the Biden Administration because the Washington foreign policy elite cannot think in these terms.  Nothing ends the career of one of those tuft-hunters and yes-men faster than being accused of “realism.”  Now our troops and our country pay the price.

If the striped-pants set blew it at the strategic level, the military failed to see much less grab an option at the tactical and possibly operational levels.  Imagine, for a moment, that our six thousand troops in Kabul were not American but rather belonged to the Wehrmacht or the pre-1967 IDF.  Would they have simply sat on an airfield waiting for it to hatch while the Taliban dictated what we could and could not do?  Either one would have taken Kabul from the Taliban in a matter of hours, and, this time bottom-up rather than top down, dictated to them how and when we would leave.

That tactical option, once exercised, would have opened up the possibilities of operational maneuver.  All over urban Afghanistan, young Afghan males are appalled at the prospect of being governed by a bunch of illiterate hicks with bushy beards and AKs.  The Taliban’s victory is shallow: they beat the Afghan army, which had not been paid in months, so most did not fight, but they did not conquer Afghanistan.  Ethnic rivalries are already surfacing, which, added to urban insurrections, could roll the Taliban back.  Suppose our Wehrmacht or IDF forces took Kabul, passed out rifles and RPGs to all the young men who now see their freedom gone and then moved on to retake other Afghan cities the same way and create anti-Taliban militias?  They would still withdraw from Afghanistan, but they would have left behind what we should have left in a post-60 or 90- day withdrawal: a new government in Kabul and an Afghan civil war that would keep the Taliban busy for a long, long time.

Unfortunately, while the Wehrmacht and the IDF had the ability to adapt quickly and sometimes radically to new situations, the U.S. armed forces do not.  They remain stuck in the Second Generation of modern war, which means nothing can be done but through elaborate, time-consuming processes.  They could no more turn our humiliating withdrawal at Taliban sufferance into a victory that they could win the Fourth Generation war in Afghanistan we fought for twenty years.  Until someone with authority figures out that Second Generation armed forces are useful only for parades and air shows, and demands real military reform, we will continue to get our butts kicked.  And, as in this case, both the civilian and the military leadership, if we can call it that, will be to blame.

Nominalism and the Defeat of Afghanistan

Republicans are trying to blame President Biden for the defeat in Afghanistan while Democrats are pointing to President Trump’s peace deal with the Taliban as the cause.  In fact, a Taliban victory became inevitable when, early in the war, the U.S. expanded its objectives from driving out or killing al Qaeda to turning Afghanistan into a modern, secular democracy.  That objective was unattainable no matter what we did.  If we want to blame Presidents, the culprits are the idiot George W. Bush and the empty suit Barack Obama.  The first allowed the mission creep and the second presided over its continuation, content to kick the can down the road.  It is to the credit of both Biden and Trump that, after nineteen years of failure, they made and stuck with the decision to pull the plug.

But how could the whole Washington defense and foreign policy establishment get it so wrong?  One answer is that, if you want to become and remain a member of the establishment, you must never make waves.  Since almost all the people in question want to be something, not do something, they follow that rule regardless of where it leads.  A defeat in war is but a small matter when compared to a risk to their careers.

Another answer is that members of the establishment are almost all nominalists.  That is to say, if they give something a name, it takes on real existence in their minds.  The Afghan National Army offers a perfect example.  Because we called it an army, gave it lots of American money, equipment and training, and knew its order of battle, it was an army.  But it wasn’t.  Apart from a few commando units, it was a ragtag collection of men who needed jobs and had little or no interest in fighting.  Those men seldom saw their pay, because it was stolen before it reached them.  Rations and ammunition often suffered the same fate.  That army collapsed overnight because it never really existed outside the minds of establishment nominalists. 

That same nominalism applied to the entire Afghan government.  Washington nominalists thought it was real; Afghans knew it was not.  A Marine battalion commander just back from Afghanistan put it best.  He said, “Talking to a 14th century Afghan villager about the government in Kabul is like talking to your cat about the dark side of the moon.  You don’t know what it’s like and he doesn’t care.”

We see nominalism running all through American policy-making.  Washington nominalists think Iraq is a state.  It isn’t, because real power is in the hands of ethnic and religious militias.  The state is merely a facade, but since it has a parliament, elections, cabinet ministers, etc. it is real to nominalists.  Not surprisingly, our policy there has been a series of disasters ever since the initial disaster of invading the place.

The Washington elite’s nominalism is not restricted to foreign policy.  It looks at the U.S. military the same way.  If you call something an army, it must be able to fight, even though you have filled its ranks with women, made promotion depend on Political Correctness rather than military ability and given it bureaucrats for generals.  When it loses a war, as it just did in Afghanistan, it must be a matter of bad luck.  The fact that it ceased to be a real army decades ago is not recognized.

The Washington establishment’s civilians have been soaking in nominalism ever since they began their “education” at various elite institutions.  Woe to any who pointed out that the U.N. has proven worthless in one crisis after another, that our “democratic” allies are all really oligarchies or that “human rights” vary enormously in their definition from one culture and people to another.  To call an entity a state or an army or a democracy means it magically becomes one.  And the magical thinking that dominates the establishment’s picture of the world leads to repeated debacles from which it learns nothing.

A return to reality from nominalism can only occur when the whole establishment is replaced.  We just watched that happen in Afghanistan with stunning speed.  I suspect that the American establishment’s collapse will be equally fast once it starts.

Mars Ascendant

By “Mars Ascendant,” I do not mean the little green men who pole their gondolas along the planet’s peaceful canals are about to invade and conquer earth.  I refer to a different Mars, Mars the god of war.  I think he is about to take a prominent place in the history of this country.

In most segments of the American right, I find a sense that a reckoning is coming.  The enemy is cultural Marxism, the ideology that is driving hard to put an end to Americans’ freedom of thought and expression.  Anyone accused of “racism, sexism, or homophobia” is to become an “unperson,” fired from their job, unemployable in their profession, thrown out of their school, unpublished, unmentionable.  Their number includes everyone who voted for Donald Trump, anyone who does not prostrate himself before cultural Marxism’s “victim” groups, anybody who does not hate Western Culture, the Christian Religion, the white race, males, and straights.  Last time I counted, that’s quite a number of people.  Most of them know how to shoot.

The cause of our coming civil war will be cultural Marxism.  But, as in many wars, the trigger may be something else.  I have expected a financial collapse to be the trigger, a financial collapse proceeding from the Fed’s mad money creation.  That still may be the case.  But something new is showing on the political horizon, something likely to make many people on the right wonder if they have enough ammunition: a national mandate that everyone get a COVID-19 vaccine shot.

I am not an anti-vaxxer.  I got my two shots (Moderna) as soon as I could.  I urge everyone who has not been vaccinated to get their shots soon.  We’ll all have large green horns growing out of our foreheads by Christmas, and they’ll be festive.

But the vaccine is not what’s at stake here.  What’s at stake is whether the elites who are trying to force cultural Marxism down our throats will succeed in doing so with the COVID vaccine.  Because if they can do it with the one, they can do it with the other.  AND IT’S THE SAME PEOPLE PUSHING BOTH!  That’s the issue, and that’s what the elites don’t get but ordinary Americans do.

The establishment is moving towards a vaccine mandate in its usual way, by having its pimps puff the idea in the usual places.  According to a thoughtful article opposing mandates in the Sunday, August 8 Cleveland Plain Dealer, by Taylor Dotson and Nicholas Tampio, the Washington Post’s Max Boot, previously best known as a neo-clown howler for the Iraq war, is now pushing a vaccine mandate, writing “Stop pleading with anti-vaxxers and start mandating vaccinations.”  The Pentagon has just announced a vaccine mandate for all U.S. military personnel.  Many states and cities will mandate vaccination for their First Responders, if not for all employees. 

But as Dotson and Tampio write,

If this rhetoric and these efforts lead to a de facto national vaccine mandate, it will backfire: Americans from all walks of life resist being told what to put into their bodies, and many will resent any politician of institution that makes them get vaccinated, creating a crisis of legitimacy. . .

As I have written many times, Fourth Generation war is above all else a contest for legitimacy.  A state which has already brought its legitimacy into question by attempting to force an alien and destructive ideology on its citizens has little ground left to give before it finds itself standing on thin ice.  Millions of Americans who have already been told they are “unpersons” will not only resent the people and institutions behind a vaccine mandate, they will resist them.

Dotson and Tampio hit on the central issue when they write,

Researchers have found that in some cases, vaccine resistance can be an expression of what the New York Times described as an ingrained “moral preference for liberty and individual rights.”

It is precisely that “moral preference for liberty” that America was founded on.  It runs deep in the blood and soil of the Heartland, that vast geographic portion of the map painted red in both 2016 and 2020 Presidential elections.  Americans have the right to reject the vaccine just as they have the right to believe, say and write that races are different, the two sexes are different, sex outside marriage is sinful and Christianity is the only wholly true religion.  They have the right to do and say these things without being “canceled,” fired, arrested for “hate speech” or blackballed in their chosen field by a left-wing McCarthyism that makes the original version seem like small potatoes.

Heartland Americans believe these rights are worth fighting for.  And so a vaccine for a not terribly dangerous disease may trigger a vast revolt, the revolt against cultural Marxism and all those institutions and people who seek to make it the replacement for liberty.  The revolt is coming; the only question is the trigger.  If a vaccine mandate does not trigger it, something else will.  Mars is in the ascendant.

The View From Olympus: Afghanistan

The United States has lost another Fourth Generation war.  To his credit, President Biden has stuck with President Trump’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan.  Will that mean the fall of the current Afghan government, a return to Kabul for the Taliban, and renewed civil war?  Of course.  That’s Afghanistan.  We could stay one hundred years in that wretched hellhole and nothing would change.

The astonishing thing is that we went there in the first place.  I was a Senate staffer on Capitol Hill when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.  Everyone was glum, expecting the Red Army to win a quick and easy victory.  I was exultant, because I knew the Soviets had just joined the tar baby in the briar patch.  I found it hard to believe Moscow would do anything so foolish and I was confident it would end badly for them.  And then, with the Soviet example staring us in the face, we made the same obvious blunder!  Why?

The first answer is that the Washington foreign policy establishment is willfully ignorant.  They know the history of places such as Afghanistan and the Balkans, but they don’t think it applies to them.  So they behave like bad children, doing whatever they want and leaving adults, in the form of the U.S. military, to clean up the mess.  Unfortunately, the senior military is also willfully ignorant, in their case of the fact that they lead a Second Generation military that is doomed to defeat in Fourth Generation wars.  So thousands of lives and trillions of dollars later, we accept our inevitable defeat and go home with another loss on the board.

Why does it take us so long–twenty years in the case of Afghanistan–to admit defeat and go home?  Because both the civilian and senior military Washington establishment is made up almost exclusively of moral cowards.  Their focus is their personal careers, they got to the senior positions they occupy by avoiding decisions and passing every buck, and they don’t want to be the ones holding the bag for losing another war.  So they kick the can down the road, letting a lost war continue at vast human and financial cost.  Twenty years is a long time to be kicking the can.

We should have gotten out of Afghanistan no more than 90 days after we went in.  By that point, we had done all a foreign invader can do.  We had taken Kabul, thrown out the government we didn’t like, put a puppet government in its place and given it some money and weapons.  After that, if an invader stays he becomes everyone’s target.  Within those first three months we had also botched the chance we had to grab bin Laden, so that mission offered no justification to stay.  Again, the only reason we did so is moral cowardice in high places. 

That military failure points to the third reason we have scored another loss: military incompetence.  Osama was in the caves of Tora Bora when we tried to grab him there.  He escaped because the U.S. military does not know how to fight battles of encirclement.  It draws a line on a map with us on one side and the enemy on the other, then dumps vast quantities of firepower on their side of the line.  Such a reductionist approach to war has little chance of success unless the enemy must move while under fire, which in most cases he does not.

Generally, decisive success in battle requires either ambush or encirclement, not just a firepower dump.  The U.S. military makes few attempts to do either, and, as at Tora Bora, the few times it does attempt it the result is usually failure.

Dealing with these three causes of our repeated defeats in Fourth Generation war requires replacement of the existing Establishments, civilians and military.  They cannot be reformed; they are too far gone for that.  Replacement will come only from a national catastrophe severe enough to grab the public’s attention.  I suspect that lies just over the horizon.

The Last Woman

July 9, 2147: AP reported today that the last female human has died in her enclosure at the Philadelphia Zoo.  Her remains have been sent to a taxidermist, to be subsequently displayed in a glass case in the bar of the Union League Club, a la Jeremy Bentham.

The last woman’s passing marks a sad but inevitable milestone in the progress of mankind.  It is hard to grasp in this day and age, but just a few centuries ago the extinction of women would have been inconceivable.  It would have meant the end of the entire human race.  Men could only create progeny through a woman.  More, women played a multitude of vital roles in men’s lives, from providing sexual pleasure, through housekeeping, cooking, washing, and caring for children, to making certain the family had adequate food to get through the winter.  Men and women were as inseparable as fuel and fire.

What happened to bring such a change in the lives of men?  Two developments, both underway by the late 20th and early 21st centuries, set men on a course for a world without women.  The first was technological: it became possible to create babies outside wombs.  In vitro fertilization was the start.  Then came cloning.  It was no great step to making babies in bottles, just as in Brave New World (as prophetic a book as was ever written).  At the same time, progress in robotics gave men sexbots that delivered sexual pleasure beyond what women could provide while happily spending their days silent, in closets, until their services were desired.  While initially expensive, their life-cycle costs were small compared to those of a wife.

All this made a world without women possible.  But technology seldom determines the course of events alone.  Before the 21st century, women played a vast number of roles in mens’ lives, all complementary to the roles of men.  As the Victorian concept of “separate spheres” laid out, the woman created and ran the “higher sphere” of home and family, while the man had to go out into the world of work to provide the wherewithal to support that family.  When he returned home from the office or the mill, he entered into a delightful world of peace and plenty of beauty and gentleness, with a good dinner waiting for him on the table and a clean, ironed shirt for tomorrow hanging in his closet.  He knew he owed this delightful world to a woman, his wife.

Then, beginning in the 1960s, women in increasing numbers decided they wanted the life of a man.  This was feminism, an absurd notion that men and women were interchangeable.  From being helpmeets, women became men’s competitors.  Men found themselves working for women, taking orders from women (in the military!), and being accused by any woman they displeased of “sexual harassment”.  Worse, as women attempted to become men, women’s duties went undone.  Children were raised (badly) in daycare instead of in a home, meals went uncooked, houses unkept, clothes unwashed.  No-fault divorce turned marriage from a mutual benefit to a scheme for stripping a man of half his assets.  In movies and on television, petite, lovely women were regularly beating up big men. 

It was all flight from reality, and, for women, a journey to extinction.  As sex selection became the norm, people, including many women, selected more and more males.  This should not have been a surprise; it has been true throughout history.  When in the late 20th century China instituted a “one child” policy, the Chinese chose boys over girls two-to-one.  Now, all over the world, men could choose sons over daughters, and they did.

The feminists howled, of course, but they could not stop a train they had set in motion.  Bots replaced them not just for sex but for all the work women would no longer do.  Once again, men came home to clean houses, great meals, ironed shirts, and well-mannered sons.  What men had traditionally regarded as “girls’ stuff” was now “bots’ stuff”, at a lower price and with no headaches.

And so, like the Cheshire Cat, women slowly disappeared, leaving only the grin on the face of a bot.  The last woman’s passing was certain to come (her name seems to have been Mabel, but everyone called her ByEve).  It’s a man’s world now, where the fountains run with beer, endless free pizza is a birthright, and you can pee anywhere.  Do we miss them?  Nah.

Critical Race Theory

Across the country, grass roots resistance to “critical race theory” is growing, and that is a good thing.  But what is critical race theory and where did it come from?

At its core, critical race theory is the argument that all white people have an unjustified negative attitude towards blacks and some (not all) other races, which leads whites to treat blacks et. al. unfairly.  No white is exempt from this bias, and if they are to avoid being “racists”, they must be psychologically conditioned to mouth a set of lies about what evil people they are, grovel in the dirt before blacks, pay “reparations”, etc.  For blacks, it’s a racket, what Tom Wolfe called “mau-mauing the flack catchers.”  For black “leaders”, it’s a highly remunerative shakedown: pay me off or I’ll call you a racist.  It should be ridden out of every town and campus in America on a rail, wearing tar and feathers.

The question of where critical race theory came from points to a larger threat.  In a column in the June 3 Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger wrote,

Critical race theory refers to an idea that emerged some 40 years ago in academia.  The idea’s originators, most famously the late Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell, argues that “race” infuses virtually every aspect of American social reality.

Henninger is not wrong, but this history is incomplete.  Critical Race theory is a subset of Critical Theory, which was invented in the 1930s and ‘40s by the Frankfurt School, the group of Marxist intellectuals who created cultural Marxism, now most commonly known as “wokeness”.  Critical Theory quickly became one of the most important tools in their quest to destroy traditional society, Western culture, and the Christian religion.  The term “Critical Theory” is something of a play on words: the theory is to criticize, to damage and eventually destroy all traditional institutions by unremitting criticism. 

Critical race theory has already destroyed the generally functional relationships whites and blacks had developed in most of America, starting after the Civil War, and replaced them with a witches’ brew of black racial anger and growing white resentment that constitutes a dire threat to blacks, who are only a small minority (about 13%) of America’s population.  When a small minority of any country’s population becomes a threat to the majority, the minority’s future is uncertain.

To understand critical race theory within the context where it originated, the Frankfurt School’s translation of Marxism from economic into cultural terms, people need to learn more about Critical Theory and cultural Marxism generally.  A good place to start is a short video documentary history of the Frankfurt School, “The History of Political Correctness,” available on Youtube.  Another good introduction is a recent book I co-edited, Political Correctness: A Deceptive and Dangerous Worldview, published by the Nehemiah Institute and available on Amazon.  For those seeking in-depth knowledge of cultural Marxism, the definitive work is Rolf Wiggershaus, The Frankfurt School.

I must note that the Left has taken to labelling my work on the Frankfurt School and cultural Marxism an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory”.  They have called it that in a number of places, including in my biography on Wikipedia.  This is a lie.  First of all, it is not a theory, it is history, the history of the Frankfurt School, which is well-documented in an extensive academic literature.  Second, they call it “anti-Semitic” because I point out that the reason the Frankfurt School left Germany in 1933 and moved to New York was that all its members during its German phase were Jews, as Wiggershaus states.  Do you think Hitler’s coming to power in 1933 might have led Jews to leave Germany?  The move was of great significance for this country because had the Institute not moved to the U.S., its influence here today would probably be much smaller.  Third, the Frankfurt School had aspects of a conspiracy from the outset, often concealing its real objective and its Marxism; this was especially true during its New York phase.  Indeed, the Institution was originally to be named the Institution for Marxism, but instead chose the neutral-sounding name Institution for Social Research, again with the purpose of concealing its real nature.  If there is conspiracy here, it is theirs, not mine.  My pointing out that the Left is telling a lie about my work will not stop them, since everything they say is a lie, but it at least corrects the record (and might shame Wikipedia into not publishing the lie?).

Note:  My columns on Traditional Right will be on hiatus for a few weeks as we upgrade our steam plant.  We are installing a new, triple-expansion engine, putting in four high-pressure boilers and, to do our bit for the planet, converting from solar heating to coal.  The work should take about a month.

The View From Olympus: Groundhog Day in the Marine Corps

Over the past year or so, the Marine Corps Gazette has again become an important forum for debating maneuver warfare, a.k.a. Third Generation war.  That is to the good, and I am happy to participate, as I did in the first round of that debate in the 1970s and ‘80s.  The Gazette’s editor at the time, the late Col. John Greenwood, told me I wrote more for his publication over a twenty-year span than any other author. 

But what does it say about the state of intellectual life in the Marine Corps that it is again fighting over old ground, ground it traversed forty years ago?  The debate of those years culminated in the then-Commandant, General Al Grey, making maneuver warfare official Marine Corps doctrine.  So why is maneuver warfare the latest hot topic now?  How did the Marine Corps get caught in its own groundhog day?

Part of the answer is that the Marine Corps adopted maneuver warfare on paper but not in practice.  Beyond its doctrine manuals, it remains a Second Generation, French-model armed service: centralized, preferring obedience to initiative, depending on imposed rather than self-discipline, and inward focused: rules, processes, (highly specific) orders etc. are more important than getting the result the situation requires.  Tactics, to the degree they exist at all, consist of wandering around until Marines bump into an enemy, then calling in remote firepower.  Success is measured in attrition. 

A debate over why the Corps has failed to adapt to its own doctrine and how to fix that would be useful, and part of the discussion in the Gazette is on that subject.  But much of it just repeats what I and others were writing before most of today’s Marines were born.  That points to a second reason for the Corp’s groundhog day problem: most Marine officers now read little or nothing.  During General Gray’s Commandancy, reading and discussing serious books, books such as Martin Van Creveld’s Fighting Power that were and are directly relevant to the changes the Corps needs, were common activities among not only officers but NCOs and Staff NCOs.  Perhaps that is still true to some extent with the latter, but the officer corps seems to have left its brain at the hat check.

That is especially concerning because war has not stood still.  Since General Gray’s time, the Marine Corps has found itself fighting Fourth Generation wars, wars with non-state opponents, in Iraq and Afghanistan.  With the rest of the U. S. armed forces, it has been defeated.  If we do not grasp the significance of President Biden’s choice of September 11 as the date for the end of our efforts in Afghanistan, our victorious Moslem enemies do.  That was the date the Turkish siege of Vienna was raised in 1683.  This time, the shoe is on the other foot.

Nor does the Marine Corps’ intellectual collapse end with its failure to address, much less win, Fourth Generation wars.  It has failed on the strategic level as well, both in terms of its role in our nation’s defense and in its strategy for political survival.  The two are linked: the Marine Corps has survived as an institution because Americans could see a need for it.  They could do so because the Corps had a unique strategic role.

At present, it does not, and its attempts to find such a role border on farce.  In a war with China we ought not fight and almost certainly will not fight, because China has nuclear weapons, the Marine Corps is to take strategically meaningless islands from the Chinese on which Marines will base anti-ship missiles to shoot at Chinese ships that will all be in port.  In pursuit of this “strategy” that needs only music by Sullivan to become a comic opera, the Corps gave up substantial force structure in the naive assumption it would get the money saved thereby.  OSD said “Thank you very much,” and took all of it.

The obvious and necessary strategic role for the Marine Corps is to be the nation’s force for Fourth Generation war.  Both Capitol Hill and the public could grasp that readily.  Unfortunately, doing so requires thought, high-quality thought and lots of it.  No one yet knows how to win such wars.  But figuring that out would have been the Corps’ intellectual Schwerpunkt under General Gray.  Now, it’s not even on the map.

John Boyd stressed that winning wars requires people, ideas, and hardware, in that order.  Without ideas, the Marine Corps is more than a few bricks shy of a load.

The View From Olympus: Did Hamas Win?

In the latest dust-up between Israel and Hamas–a few hundred dead is not a war–Israel once again appears to have triumphed.  Hamas suffered around ten times as many casualties, and property damage ran at about the same ratio, or perhaps better, for Israel.

However, this assessment is open to question.  In my view, the actions of both Hamas and Israel were driven by domestic politics, as is usually the case in foreign policy.  Hamas’s real target was the PLO, which had just for the umpteenth time, canceled elections Hamas was likely to win.  By attacking Israel, Hamas deepened its support on the West Bank and diminished further the almost gone legitimacy of the PLO.  That’s a win.  Israel’s disproportionate response was part of Netanyahu’s drive to remain Israeli Prime Minister, since if he is not in that job there is a good chance he will go to jail for corruption.  So far it’s a win for him.

But if we look at the conflict between Israel and Hamas through the lens of Fourth Generation war, we see, emerging wraith-like from the rubble, what looks like a strategic victory for Hamas.  How so?  In 4GW, the most valuable target is the enemy’s homeland.  Sometimes, as on 9/11, it can be struck physically.  More often, and more potently, the goal is to hit it on the mental or, better still, moral level.  The ideal attack bypasses the enemy’s defenses completely and goes straight for his soft underbelly. 

That Hamas seems to have achieved, and not with its rockets.  For the first time, Israelis fought each other in the streets, Israeli Arabs vs. Jews, in a spillover from the external conflict.  That spillover is Hamas’s chi, while the rockets vs. bombers war was the cheng.  In 4GW, and in 3GW as well, the chi, not the cheng, is often decisive.  Hamas did not win a decisive victory this time, but its success in generating civil conflict in Israel points the way toward a strategy that could win decisively: exacerbating tensions within Israel to the point where it is not just Israeli Arabs fighting Jews, but Jews fighting Jews.

Until I went to Israel, I did not realize how deeply Israeli Jews are divided.  Like most Americans, I thought history and Israel’s fragility combined to create unity.  Once there, I quickly encountered divisions that are shockingly visceral.  The main gulf is that between secular Jews and the ultra-orthodox.  Both sides regard the other with bitter disdain, and outbreaks of physical clashes are not unknown.  Among the non-ultra-orthodox, further divisions create more potentially dangerous fissures. 

Let me add that I enjoyed Israel.  I liked the place and the people.  I have Israeli friends.  I do not want to see Israel destroyed, from within or from without.  But the Israeli military still operates within a state vs. state mental framework and doesn’t get 4GW.  That is dangerous anywhere, and especially so in Israel’s neighborhood.  I write this column to draw their attention to the danger.

To win decisively, Hamas must find ways to ramp these frictions up.  That is a tall order, and so far there is little evidence that Hamas is led by deep strategic thinkers.  For that we should all be thankful.  But any such strategy would focus at the moral level of war, where the Netanyahu government seems almost entirely blind.  To use Martin van Creveld’s analogy, it is an adult giving a small child a prolonged beating in a public place.  Oddly for Jews, it does not seem to realize that in the end, Goliath always loses.

In terms of their primary objectives, both Hamas and Netanyahu won.  Hamas ramped up its legitimacy, as the only people willing to fight Israel, compared to the PLO, and Netanyahu is still Israel’s Prime Minister.  But in the Israel vs. Hamas conflict, Hamas has reason to think it won strategically.  It hit Israel’s unity at home, moving its internal conflict beyond the political system to fighting in the streets.  It is typical in 4GW for states not to have the internal unity they tend to presume in wars, at least short ones.  But few states grasp this or any other aspect of 4GW.  If Israel and the IDF do not come to grips with Fourth Generation war soon, Hamas and its other 4GW enemies may win big.

PS:  The IDF might want to take a look at The Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook, with special attention to “the grid”.  It might help them get off the track of losing by winning.

Barometers of Legitimacy

Readers may wonder why I keep returning to the theme of legitimacy.  The reason is simple: legitimacy is the ground on which Fourth Generation war is fought.  It is, above all, a contest for legitimacy, and winning (or losing) is measured by gains or losses in legitimacy.  Fourth Generation war on our own soil is by far the greatest threat this country faces, and as the legitimacy of the government, and even more of the state itself, wains, Fourth Generation war spreads and intensifies.

From this perspective, barometers of legitimacy–anything that helps us measure the rise or fall of the legitimacy of the current order of things–are earnestly to be sought.  I can identify at least three.  The first is widely recognized: opinion polls that ask Americans how much trust they have in various institutions.  These include the Presidency, Congress, the courts, and, perhaps most important, the integrity of the electoral process.  As I noted in a previous column, the latter is the equivalent of a claimant to a throne having (or lacking) royal blood.  Nothing else in the political system is as important for legitimacy.  For decades, polls have shown a downward trend in Americans’ trust of all these institutions.  Since the 2020 election, distrust of the electoral process has spiked, not surprisingly given the abandonment of long-standing rules designed to prevent vote fraud.

I think a second barometer of legitimacy is Americans’ willingness to be vaccinated against Covid-19.  According to the Wall Street Journal, about 58% of our population has received at least one dose.  (I have received both shots, which probably means I will have a large green horn growing out of my forehead by Christmas, which should look festive; I may add tinsel and lights.)  But as vaccine availability increases, the number of people lining up to get jabbed is shrinking.  As we begin to get some sense for how many people will refuse the vaccine, we also get a measure of the state’s legitimacy, not just the government’s.  Why?  Because the whole establishment, Republicans (or most of them) as well as Democrats , along with the usual “celebrity” riffraff, is urging people to get the shot(s).  Those refusing are rejecting the entire system.

A more interesting, and ominous, measure of the whole system’s legitimacy is the rising number of shootings.  Such an important barometer is moved by more than one thing; the war on cops is a factor, the cultural collapse of the black urban community is another, the 15 minutes of fame the media gives a shooter motivates some.  But I think a broad and spreading sense that the establishment has transformed what used to be America into an insane asylum may be a major and unacknowledged cause.  Down is now up, white is black, day has become night and night is filled with nightmares.  This is Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of all values,” and it is a core component of the Frankfurt School’s cultural Marxism, aka “wokeness”, “Political Correctness”, etc.  In an insane asylum, people do insane things, including shooting their families, friends, co-workers, and anyone else they can.

In all of these barometers we can read the change in political weather most easily if we compare what is happening now to life in America’s last normal decade, the 1950s.  President Eisenhower was widely popular.  Congress did not top anyone’s list of most trusted institutions, but ordinary Americans did not think they had to invade it to make their voices heard.  The Warren court was disliked and distrusted by many conservatives, for good reason, but the problem was Warren, not the court itself.  Everyone knew vote counting in some big cities might be crooked, but elsewhere the process was trusted.  As to vaccines, when the polio vaccine became available virtually every kid in the country took it, because mom and dad told them to.  And gun violence was rare, beyond mobsters killing each other.  The government and the state were accepted as legitimate by the vast majority of Americans.

No more.  The future looks grimmer still, because no one in the establishment will consider for a moment how their actions affect legitimacy.  Add in the coming debt crisis and inflation and it begins to look a lot like Weimar.  As was true then, what replaces the current dysfunctional mess will come from the right, not the left.