vimothy

yurp
Two somewhat disparate links, which I thought might provoke some reflection on war and warfare:

Christopher Bassford demolishes the egregious misreading of Clausewitz promulgated by John Keegan in his book A History of Warfare.

Skynet is coming: Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann in TNR on "Drone Wars".
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
yeah I read that Bassford piece shortly after reading A History of Warfare, which I quite liked even if it's admittedly not the most scholarly work out there. that was a while ago so I need to re-read it but I recall not being very impressed by the critique. not that it won't make a fine conversation starter.

I'm curious - is there anything in particular you'd like to bring up? it's such a broad topic after all. perhaps the broadest of topics.
 
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vimothy

yurp
Keegan misreads Clausewitz. I'm not sure whether I think his book is scholarly or not. But it is certainly very strange. If you prefer, Sir Michael Howard makes some similar points. I guess I'd read Bassford's paper and Keean's book differently if I'd never read Clausewitz. For instance, this,

Now, along comes John Keegan (1934- ), British historian cum journalist, to turn back the clock. Keegan's Clausewitz, heavily discussed in the author's widely reviewed A History of Warfare (1993),*8 is a narrow-minded regimental officer who typifies the Frederician tradition of Cadavergehorsam, unthinking obedience to savage discipline. He is the brutal philosopher of pitiless, aggressive, total war; an "unpromoted" and "unhonoured"*9 but self-seeking sucker-up to authority (and simultaneously a traitorous dog who willfully disobeyed his rightful monarch) whose career was blighted by his own extremism; a saber-rattling Prussian militarist who worshipped Napoleon and understood warfare only through the Napoleonic lens; the intellectual cause of the pan-European disaster of World War I;*10 and a theorist whose ideas are obsolete, irrelevant, and actively dangerous. Clausewitz even seems to have done in the poor Easter Islanders and inspired Shaka Zulu and the Mongols.

This seems rather an odd introduction to the shy, retiring Clausewitz, a man of bourgeois social origins who nonetheless died, young at 51, as a respected general in the Prussian service; who spent his free time going to lectures on art, science, education, and philosophy; who suffered political isolation for advocating the British parliamentary constitutional model in Prussia and for lauding the virtues of citizen soldiers over mindless Prussian discipline; who risked his career by resigning his Prussian commission in principled protest over the aggressive alliance with Napoleon in 1812;*11 who maintained that conquerors like the French emperor would—and should—be defeated by the European balance of power mechanism; whose arguments on limited war and the superior power of the defense were roundly condemned by most European military writers on the eve of the Great War; and whose works, since the debacle in Vietnam, have provided much of the intellectual basis for advanced officer education in America's resurgent military institutions.

Is pretty damning, no? Clausewitz is the Nietzsche or Machiavelli of military philosophy, and is as badly served by his critics.

I guess I was thinking of the conversation we had about Clausewitz when I came across this...
 

scottdisco

rip this joint please
Vim, as usual, you are a legend for getting this ball rolling, and i pay attention to P's reply.

not read any of the links yet but having just noticed Vim's most recent post, i must say, poor show Keegan: you almost suspect there's a whiff of British nationalism to his misreading!
 

vimothy

yurp
Basically, Keegan says that war is irrational, whereas Clausewitz says that war is rational -- but this is not Clausewitz's true position, which is a dialectical understanding of war: war is irrational ritual, mere violence (Jomini's normative analysis -- thesis); war is rational, driven by policy (Clausewitz's normative analysis -- antithesis); war is neither, nor -- but the "fascinating trinity" (wunderliche Dreifaltigkeit) he describes (positve analysis -- synthesis)...
 
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padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
Is pretty damning, no? Clausewitz is the Nietzsche or Machiavelli of military philosophy, and is as badly served by his critics.

now, hold on a minute. I've read On War. Clausewitz is of course a giant of military philosophy/theory etc & cannot be discounted. Keegan is nowhere near his level. I should think that rather goes w/out saying.

Keegan does misrepresent Von C - I think the key point is "descriptive, not prescriptive". as in, Von C wasn't advocating "total war" by describing it as an ideal (not ideal as in best, ideal as in Platonic). the idea about war as culture rather than politics is interesting but probably flawed - I am in agreement that the latter can accomodate the former but not vice versa.

I reckon Clausewitz is often as badly served by his advocates as by his critics. Rather like Nietschze in that sense, yeah.

as I recall - & I'd have go back & look to be sure - A History of Warfare doesn't condemn Clausewitz as obsolete or irrelevant. to the contrary. (unfairly) as dangerous, yeah. Anyway, as I said, Keegan's book is more enjoyable than scholarly. The history is much better than the theory. Especially Keegan is very fine on the repetitive cycle of horse peoples from the steppe repeatedly conquering huge swathes of the "civilized world" & then exhausting themselves.
 
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vimothy

yurp
Keegan does misrepresent Von C - I think the key point is "descriptive, not prescriptive". as in, Von C wasn't advocating "total war" by describing it as an ideal (not ideal as in best, ideal as in Platonic). the idea about war as culture rather than politics is interesting but probably flawed - I am in agreement that the latter can accomodate the former but not vice versa.

Yes, I think this is exactly right.

Incidentally, there was a lot of flapping a couple of years ago when Nargaroth -- who may or may not be gay -- went on a daytime tv show...
 

vimothy

yurp
Saddam's Palaces

3545789813_a633e24713_o.jpg
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
two interesting papers by one Norvell B. De Atkine

Why Arabs Lose Wars

"Arabs" meaning regular armies & "wars" meaning conventional ones. He also makes use of Keegan re: the effect of culture on war & on how different cultures approach war.

The Political-Military Officer

not sure when this one's from - mid-90s I think - but it seems especially prescient in light of all the current COIN hullabaloo.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Mongol General: Hao! Dai ye! We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?

Mongol: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.

Mongol General: Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?

Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

Mongol General: That is good! That is good.
 

vimothy

yurp
Classic quote, Mr Tea.

So, is war (and warfare) fundamentally changed in the 21st Century, and what does this imply for our national security strategies?
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
I'm not qualified to analyse that question. But I do remember an excellent scene in Neil Stephenson's Cryptonomicon in which the enigmatic Enoch Root explains to another character how the Allies won WWII because they worshipped Athena, while Nazi Germany and Imperial Nippon worshipped Ares.

FWIW, I particularly enjoyed the bit in Cyclonopedia that dealt with Lamassus as chemico-demonological Deleuzian warmachines. Or whatever. ;)
 

vimothy

yurp
An interesting distinction. However, another distinction that may be relevant is between the constitutional order of those states and our own. The Axis Powers and the Allies were nation states fighting industrial war. But nation states are changing into market states, and so warfare will change. Or will it? I can't decide.
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
So, is war (and warfare) fundamentally changed in the 21st Century, and what does this imply for our national security strategies?

yes & no.

the ways in which war is waged - warfare - is always changing. but War itself, no.

the policies in "continuation of policies..." don't have to be those of nation states. esp re: your points about in the space between you & me is the state. if we have a dispute about the boundaries of our fields & I bash your head in with a rock, that is a continuation of my policies, e.g. that is war.

clearly we are on the brink of some momentous changes in the way wars are fought - esp. w/robotics - but I'm not sure how much I buy the paradigm that conventional wars are a thing of the past. that kind of thinking smacks of the the pre-WWI mindset that large scale wars had been rendered obsolete.
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
But nation states are changing into market states, and so warfare will change. Or will it? I can't decide.

again, warfare will change - is always changing - but not War. I believe that is a crucial distinction.

for anyone who's interested in understanding the thinking (or at least a key part of the thinking) behind the way the U.S. is currently waging its two wars here is the

FM3-24 manual
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
that kind of thinking smacks of the the pre-WWI mindset that large scale wars had been rendered obsolete.

Or the idea that the existence of nuclear weapons would scare the world into renouncing state-on-state violence altogether. Or Hiram Maxim's hope that his invention (the machine gun) would be considered so horrific that once it had proliferated no state would dare use it, for fear of having it used on itself, thus bringing an end to war. Human nature FAIL.

In reply to Vimothy's question: isn't it fair to assume that decentralised guerilla warfare has been practised, one way or another and in various parts of the world, probably since distant antiquity? That for all we know, it could in fact pre-date 'conventional' warfare?
 

padraig (u.s.)

a monkey that will go ape
In reply to Vimothy's question: isn't it fair to assume that decentralised guerilla warfare has been practised, one way or another and in various parts of the world, probably since distant antiquity? That for all we know, it could in fact pre-date 'conventional' warfare?

in fairness to Vimothy I don't think (tho correct me) that's what he was really getting at. just b/c wars aren't conventional wars between nation states doesn't mean they are asymmetric guerrilla wars (or "low intensity conflicts" or insurgencies or whatever you wish to call them). it isn't an either/or.

I took it to be a more general question of which that was only one part - technology, the decline of the traditional superpowers, environmental degradation - which has enormous security implications in the near future in re: conflicts over shrinking resources/masses of people displaced by climate change/etc.

again I have to keep coming back to - those are two separate if obviously related questions. warfare is fluid, not static - of course the ability to adapt quicker & better to new ways of waging war is often the key to victory.

one point about "decentralized guerrilla" vs. "conventional" warfare - it's not a question of "which came first". tho you could say that it was conventional warfare - meaning an organized army fighting in open battles - b/c w/o a conventional warfare there are no "guerrillas" - everyone is a guerrilla. I think it's only being used here in the narrower, more recent (the last 2 centuries plus or so) sense.
 
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