The View From Olympus: Pussycats–Martin van Creveld’s Important New Book

Martin van Creveld’s latest book, Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West and What Can Be Done About It, is so important that it re-defines the military reform agenda. Previously, military reform has focused on the problems that have led to America’s repeated military defeats. The issues van Creveld raises in Pussycats suggests we are moving from an American military that can’t win to one that won’t even fight.

The essence of Creveld’s argument is that we (both the U.S. and Western Europe) have de-militarized our military. The introduction of women is one of the factors, but not the only one, although if a military is to fight it must have an aggressively male culture. That is unacceptable not only to the women in the military but to a broadly womanized society and culture. It would not surprise our ancestors to hear that a womanized society can’t fight.

But Creveld looks at influences well beyond womanization. The de-militarizing of our armed forces begins, he argues, with the way we now raise children, especially boys. No longer do they “go out and play”, get into fights, get into difficulties they have to find their own ways out of. Rather, they live controlled, “safe” lives where they always have adult supervision and are instructed in how to do everything before they have to do it. Instead of growing up, they are forever infantilized.

This problem is very real. Recently, I recommended to a friend, a lieutenant colonel at the Marine Corp’s Basic School for new lieutenants, that they reinstitute the “Zen patrol”. In the Zen patrol, which TBS used to do, new lieutenants are simply taken out on a patrol, without having received any instruction in patrolling. They have to figure it out for themselves, which means they also learn how to learn.

My friend replied, “You cannot do that with this generation. In everything they have ever done, they have had adult instruction and supervision. If you don’t first tell them what to do and how to do it, they get angry. They say, “You are setting me up for failure to embarrass me in front of my peers.”

War, of course, presents many situations where you have to figure out what to do on your own. The enemy doesn’t follow your play book. Creveld raises the question, “How will these infantilized soldiers and Marines do against fighters who, as kids, had to figure out everything on their own?”

Creveld goes on to discuss the war on men and all things masculine, which is probably the central factor in de-militarizing our militaries. Again, if a military is to fight, its culture must be aggressively male. Not only is that now socially unacceptable, increasingly it is illegal. In response, our soldiers and Marines turn what was a calling into just a job. A friend who recently visited Camp Pendleton said to me, “I did not see anything military the whole time I was there. Every Marine has a car, nice housing, comfortable, Holiday Inn-style facilities. Nothing I saw had anything to do with war.” Pendleton has been de-militarized.

Not surprisingly, van Creveld, whose book Men, Women and War makes a definitive case against trying to mix young women and young men cheek-by-jowl in military services, then crucify the young men if there is any bunga-bunga (or just lustful looks: the military has resurrected “rape by leer”), returns to the theme here. The pursuit of “equality”, hopelessly mis-defined as pretending that men and women are interchangeable, brings the end of masculinity, which gives you a military that won’t fight. I will go beyond Martin and put it bluntly: if we don’t get the women back out, starting with the combat units, we will have armed services that, like the Prussian Army in 1806 (for different reasons), will collapse at a touch. We might as well save ourselves a trillion dollars a year and replace the whole thing with an 800 number that, when you call it, says “We surrender” in a variety of languages.

Pussycats concludes with a needed discussion of PTSD, which now seems universal but was not in previous, far bloodier wars, and with Western societies delegitimizing war itself. Those societies now see any kind of war, even against people who would give us the choice of converting to their religion or getting our throats cut, as morally wrong. There can be, in effect, no more just wars, and all enemy casualties are to be wept over.

History’s verdict is simple: such societies will be defeated, destroyed, and replaced by cultures that still have a grip on reality. De-militarization must now go to the head of the military reform agenda, because societies that cannot fight cannot win.