May 31

Reader Joel forwarded me this article by C.J. Chivers in the NY Times. In short, a pit viper bit an Afghan boy on the face in Helmand province. The boy’s father brought him to the nearest Marine COP hoping the US could save his life. After fighting with higher headquarters, a helicopter picked up the boy and moved him to Kandahar, where it looks like he will survive.

Joel then asked this question: “To what extent does this actually, ‘win hearts and minds?’ Can anyone confirm whether or not the village this boy is from has become more accepting of US forces?”

Counter-insurgency is a war of inches and degrees. This individual incident won't win the war, the survival of this one boy will only change how his father feels about the US. Then again, maybe it won’t. It probably won't even affect his entire village. The bigger question is whether the policy of evacuating seriously wounded Afghans will eventually win over the population.

Because in the short term the effects of one single mission are hard to identify. I wrote about this when I described two Medical Civil Action Patrols (MEDCAP) my company conducted in Konar province. One succeeded wildly; the other failed miserably. Trying to figure out why was a next to impossible task. Again, victories in counter-insurgency show up over time, not single moments. It's like some sort of militaristic Chinese proverb: to fell the counter-insurgency tree, one must use many swings. By swings we mean MEDCAPs.

This isn't to say we have no way of knowing if we are winning. Our Human Intelligence Collection Teams can determine the “atmospherics” of local populations through polling. Most maneuver commanders tend not to employ them in this capacity, instead they try to target the bad guys. Modern polling can accomplish wonders. Determining if villages love us or hate us isn't as hard as we make it out to be.

Even though the Army screws up metrics all the time, there are ways of measuring progress. Having the level of violence plummet in Iraq showed progress. Having elections in Iraq showed progress. Training more Afghan police will show progress. Measuring success is possible--even seeing how many hearts and minds we have won--if we use the right metrics.

The core of Joel's question is whether we can win Afghan's hearts. Frankly, I don't see how this action couldn't help but convince one father, and possible mother, to support the US. Do drowning victims hate life guards? Do students hate organizations that gave them scholarships? Do cancer survivors hate their doctors?

The answer is no. Saving a boy's life will buy the US at least some goodwill. No one hates the person who saved their life, whereas denying the ability to save a life will almost certainly engender hatred. They see our money, wealth and health care, the natural reaction is to be upset if we don't share it. This goes for curing someone's club foot, or saving a little girl's eye sight. In the long term, building a sustainable Afghan medical capacity will bring us generations of good will; in the mean time, we should do what we can.

One MEDEDVAC won't win the war in Afghanistan, but thousands might. Some Afghans might still hate Americans despite billions in aid, but in the long term I believe they will come around.

May 28

(To read the entire "War Memoirs" series, please click here.)

Of the many mistakes in Marcus Lutrell's Lone Survivor, perhaps the one that upset me the most was his opinion. Luttrell injects his opinion onto every other page, and it reads terribly. This led to my theory on war memoirs: keep your opinion out of it. Especially if you're angry.

That is, until I read Andy Rooney's World War II memoir, My War. It is all opinion. And it is amazing.

If you've watched Sixty Minutes at all since 1979, then you know Andy Rooney is TV's premier opiner, delivering hilarious and cantankerous opinions for nearly 30 years. Rooney was also a soldier and a reporter during World War II, and My War should be considered a pinnacle of the genre. (I'm not planning on starting a World War II memoirs project, I'm up to my neck in post 9/11 memoirs as is. Anyways the novels of World War II--Slaughterhouse-Five, Catch-22, The Naked and the Dead, From Here To Eternity, Gravity's Rainbow--are much better than its memoirs.) My War exemplifies what a memoir can, and can't, do well.

Like The Things They Carried, another book with a lot of opinion, the strongest characteristic of My War is that Andy Rooney understands the limitations of the memoir as a medium. In the prologue, Rooney writes, "If you're pleased with the way you've been remembering some of the major events of your life, don't set out to write a book about them. The chances are, they weren't that way at all." He goes on to say that his facts are probably wrong, and that he is going to censor the profanity in his memoir. This is refreshing: he puts all his cards on the table.

Rooney flouts memoir convention. His book contains almost no dialogue, and even mocks the dialogue in historical fiction. Structurally his book begins and ends with awkward non-war based book-ends, but even Rooney admits there really isn’t a reason why. Explaining why he included the last chapter on his trip to Los Angeles to write a screenplay, “Somehow the brief time we spent in Hollywood...attaches itself in my mind to the war.”

Freed from these conventions, Andy Rooney fills his book with his opinions. He muses on football, the military, the media, old friends, old enemies, patriotism and dozens of other topics. Most of them are hilarious. After thirty years of writing, Andy Rooney knows what is funny, and how to phrase a punchline. Rooney has a great eye for what is memorable, honed from years working as a reporter. He waxes poetically about his favorite typewriter or the Jeep, and he discusses all of the taboo topics, like animals dying, the idiocy and consequence of unfeeling leadership, and how the occupied hate the occupiers. Almost every page has something interesting on it.

Written 50 years after the fact, Rooney is free to write about everything that happened to him without censoring himself. This includes admitting he lost the Jeep the Army gave him, or describing a Medal of Honor winner as a "f***-up" (One of the rare curse words in the book.)

On the "f***-up, Andy Rooney both doesn't censor himself regarding the Army or the military, and is keenly aware of how ridiculous and bureaucratic the Army is/was. The Army gives a Medal of Honor to someone who doesn’t deserve one, while snubbing another division of medals of any type. In a telling passage on field drills: “You put down your olive-drab blanket on the hard clay and laid out on that every single item the Army had issued you...It was a tedious experience. Your canteen had to be in exactly the right place on the blanket in relation to your rifle...This is how a peacetime Army thinks wars are won.”

Rooney is critical of almost everything, from the Army to General Patton to war in general. After a number of memoirs that toe the line, desperately avoiding criticizing anyone or anything, this was refreshing. Most importantly--and this is a big distinction between this war memoir and others--Rooney is critical of himself. He includes embarrassing scenes where he cruelly pranks a good friend, or fails to return photographs to a soldier, or describes the petty grudges he holds. He understands himself, which means he understands others.

There is a danger that I only like the memoirs I agree with the most. Rooney is about as close to being a pacifist as you can be while still serving in a war. He's a democrat who believes "of all the things that men do - historically mostly men - fighting a war to kill other men is the most uncivilized." which is nearly the exact sentiment I wrote about here, so of course I should like the book he writes. I don't know the solution to this problem, but I recognize it exists.

There isn’t really a thesis in My War, except maybe that Rooney hates war, but comes to accept it. He opens the book as a pacifist, believing that “any peace is better than any war.” Or from Ernie Pyle "these are days...when you see things so horrible that you wonder what it is that can make this war worthwhile." Of course, that thing is the Buchenwald concentration camp. When Rooney finally goes there, he writes “I was ashamed for ever having considered refusing to serve in the Army...For the first time, I knew for certain that any peace is not better than any war.”

Of course, he still doesn’t love war. "When I get to thinking that perhaps there is a balance between the good things and the bad things about war, I think of Obie and Charley and I know there is nothing so good about war that it isn't overwhelmed buy the death of young men like them.” War may be exciting, but for Rooney it isn’t worth the price paid. If you saw this piece from the November 8th 60 Minutes (text here), then you know how he feels about war, even the one he was in.

May 27

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

I've always enjoyed Star Trek in its many forms because Gene Roddenberry used a vision of a more peaceful and advanced future for mankind as a conduit to discuss current socio-political controversies. Whether it was civil rights or the Cold War or creating super soldiers we cannot control, he attempted to provoke our preconception as well as entertain.

One of my favorite quotes was: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one." It seemed a simplistic and honorable logic to live by.

Star Trek in its newest conception as a reboot seems a far departure from the original. The emphasis now on action and combat as opposed to the cleverly hidden mirroring of our own fears and social issues. I began to wonder how Star Trek as a concept has changed and how a concept like the aforementioned quote can so easily be adapted to fit our times.

I wondered about our needs; most prevalent among them, the simple need to continue to exist. I could begin to fit the needs of the many to different aspects. The need for security, per se. For example, we give our secret police power to restrict civil liberties or even take lives in the effort to keep us safe. It may sound like hyperbole to call the FBI, NSA, CIA, SS, etc. secret police, but in effect, are in point of fact, organizations that police our state while operating on principle of clearance levels and locked files and a need to know basis. Is this not an example of the needs of the few being outweighed by the needs of the many?

I apply the concept to torture and interrogation because it is logically the ultimate test of the absolutism of the axiom. Causing immense pain, basically destroying a human being in the service of a collective. Having a silent protector willing to bloody his hand and his soul by torturing a potential threat theoretically keeps me from harms way. Two men are sacrificed to protect tens, or hundreds, or more. Statistically, this is a net gain.

Now I say two men because two people are sacrificed in the name our sound sleep. We take the life of not just of the suspect but the interrogator as well. We've done something by asking this man or woman to inflict unbearable amounts of pain on a fellow human being, no matter what acts that the suspect has committed or plans to commit. We've allowed them to dehumanize themselves.

I put it this way: is a person humane if he or she beats a rabid dog to death for biting a child? No, it is in fact inhumane. This is an objective truth. However, it must be noted that this is my position based on the fact that the hypothetical child is not mine. Undoubtedly I would be far more outraged and apt to violence other than humanely putting the dog down if I had an emotional investment in who the dog attacked as my objectivity is compromised. Regardless, that act of beating a dog to death is inhumane objectively, and if I attempt it, it dehumanizes me.

This is of course only an analogy, an oversimplification to pose a moral question. It fails to encompass the scale of terrorism and war and human rights. A rabid dog is unlikely to kill and maim dozens or have information about the location of other rabid animals intending to harm to countless civilians. Nor is a dog a human being.

With regards to the quote that began me thinking, I want to conclude by placing a context on the quote above and hold this idea of "the needs of the many" to this context.

The character who states this, Spock, gives his life in order to save the lives of others. He gives it freely and without hesitation believing that his death results in the greater good. He did not, and I believe this is key, ask or command another to die. He forfeited his own life, not another's. If he were to do this, to order the death of subordinate the same principle begins to lose moral ground. Logically, it has the same effect; one dying in the place of many, but now Spock must take responsibility for a life. He must take responsibility for sending a man to his death.

Now for the loop-hole. As a society, I would say we should not condone torture to protect us. But what if we didn't? What if we punished and abhorred it? If we did this and individuals still took it upon themselves to dirty their hands without our consent or our thanks and even faced criminal punishment in an effort to protect the peace; would they then be justified? Would that be the needs of the many out-weighing the needs of the few?

May 26

(A few weeks ago, I unfavorably compared the Bush administration's response to 9/11 with the Eisenhower Administration's response to launch of Sputnik. Eisenhower choose investments that aided America's long term growth; President Bush didn't. Today I recommend my post-9/11 investment.)

Recently, I heard a talk by a seasoned Human Intelligence professional--the type of guy who's been around the world a few times. He deftly described our intelligence system as designed "to find metal objects, be they missiles, tanks, or ships." What the US really needs, he went on to say that, is the ability to look inside someone's head.

Obvious, impossible, but true. And a fact that is routinely overlooked. Our intelligence community has improved its human intelligence since 9/11, but we have a long, long way to go. This isn't just an intelligence failure; this is a military, national security and cultural failure.

The main reason we can't collect human intelligence is that we don't speak the right languages. We don’t have enough agents, operatives, spies, and Human Intelligence collectors who speak Arabic, Persian, Pashtun, Urdu, Chinese, and countless other needed languages.

If right after 9/11, President Bush redirected the billions we spend on technology (or just a fraction of some of the billions) towards a massive foreign language training program, not only would America be safer, our economic future would be brighter. Funding engineering research helped America win the Cold War, but also launched a computer revolution; funding foreign language training will help America defeat Islamic radicalism, but will also launch America into the globalized business world.

As soon as he entered office, President Bush approved the “No Child Left Behind” Act. Demanding accountability through test scores, it increased federal education funding by 12 billion dollars from 2001 to 2007. Investing in education is investing in the future. After 9/11, though, the program wasn’t dramatically altered. The administration didn't see the connection between education, foreign languages and terrorism. President Eisenhower saw that an interstate highway would usher in an industrial boom; President Bush couldn't see that foreign language education will usher in a globalization boom.

Don't consider this a knock on Republicans, Democrats didn't see it either, and neither did the media. When discussing education reform, we talk about reading, writing and math; no one talks about foreign languages.

Fixing the Gap

Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?
A: Trilingual

Q: What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
A: Bilingual

Q: What do you call someone who speaks one language?
A: American (H/T Foreign Policy Watch)

How many high schools offer Chinese classes? How many elementary schools offer Arabic? I grew up in California and we didn't even start Spanish until middle school. Our university system has plenty of grants and scholarships for scientists and engineers, but few for foreign languages.

We need to fix the gap. America should immediately double, then triple, the bonus given to our service members who speak critical languages (like Arabic, Chinese, Urdu or Persian). It should offer full scholarships for students studying foreign languages with only a two-year service requirement upon graduation--be it the military, CIA, FBI or other three letter agency. America shouldn't go in half-heartedly either, this effort should be in the billions of dollars range.

At the same time, Congress should offer grants to schools to radically overhaul their foreign language programs. To provide immediate language training, we should aim our sights at colleges. For our long-term future, elementary schools should institute foreign language training. High schools should then make four-year foreign language training mandatory.

As I see it, not only terrorism, but globalization--the same force that energizes international terrorism--necessitates culturally literate individuals who can speak multiple languages. Training a core of foreign language experts will initially benefit our national security, and will eventually benefit businesses and academics. As On The Media reported last week, America has trouble translating Chinese newspapers. If we can't even read Chinese newspapers, how can we conduct complex business relationships?

Fortunately, we aren't too late. Even now America could regain the foreign language edge throughout the world. We are a diverse melting pot of every culture in the world. If our government invested the resources--and I mean billions of dollars--we could capture a key edge for future global interaction.

May 24

(To read all of our Lone Survivor posts, please click here. The most important post is "A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality" so read that first if you are new to the blog or this topic.)

To Peter Berg and Universal Pictures,

We're begging you, please don't make a Lone Survivor movie.

According to news reports, you stopped work on Lone Survivor to film an adaptation of Battleship (yes, the board game). We never thought we'd say this, but we're glad that you're making a Battleship movie. It gives you time to reconsider the mistake of filming Lone Survivor.



There are way too many reasons not to make this film. Here are nine:

Reason 1: The backlash will be gigantic.

Remember the backlash from Soldiers against the Hurt Locker? Lone Survivor will get a full blown tidal wave, and from more than just the milbloggers. Liberals will think it is too ideological, and Soldiers will think it is too over-the-top. Based on what some people wrote in our comment threads, even SEALs laugh at Luttrell.

Reason 2: Luttrell got his facts wrong.

As we wrote on Wednesday, Luttrell exaggerated the importance of his target Ahmad Shah, totally misunderstood why the US went to Iraq, and even over-estimated the number of fighters in the ambush. How can you take this book seriously after reading mistakes like these?

Reason 3: Lone Survivor is too political.

Luttrell is off-puttingly political. War stories shouldn’t be political, they should be honest. Black Hawk Down worked because it ignored politics. It told the story of Army Rangers in an awful situation, but it told it forthrightly. Lone Survivor doesn’t come close to this level of honesty.

Reason 4: Wait for a better story.

The battle of VPB Wanat. The attack at COP Keating. Operation ROCK Avalanche. The Pat Tillman Ambush/Incident. Peter Berg, you could tell countless stories that have more honesty and importance than Lone Survivor, without the political rants or exaggeration.

Even better, tell the stories of memoirists who wrote about Afghanistan. Our personal favorite is Brandon Friedman's The War I Always Wanted. Craig Mulaney's The Unforgiving Minute, though it has problems, is infinitely better than Lone Survivor.

Reason 5: Lone Survivor will get soldiers killed.

Simply put, Luttrell doesn't get counter-insurgency. If Soldiers followed Luttrell’s advice, they will either get themselves or innocent civilians killed in Afghanistan. (We'll have more on this in the future.)

Reason 6: Luttrell needlessly vilifies Muslims and Afghans.

Luttrell labels all Muslims--Shia, Sunni, Persians, Afghans, and Middle-Easterners--as hate-filled terrorists. This is ignorance at its best. First, not even 1% of Muslims are terrorists, and two, terrorists can be from Africa, Japan, Pakistan, or even America (think Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber or Eric Robert Rudolph). I can't imagine why a director or a studio would want to promote hate-filled propaganda.

Reason 7: Lone Survivor prevents political discourse.

You can’t call liberals evil, hold them responsible for the death of your friends, and then have a courteous political discourse. Afghanistan shouldn't be a Democratic issue or Republican issue, it should be an American issue. Letting partisan politics get in the way of serious security issues disgusts us.

Reason 8: It will ruin the history of Afghanistan for years.

Michael C takes this personally. Many Vietnam veterans don’t like Vietnam war movies because that is how most Americans will remember Vietnam. Many active service hated the Hurt Locker because it mis-represented the experience of Iraq. A Lone Survivor movie would do the exact same for Afghanistan. Please don't make the same mistake again.

Reason 9: We didn't even touch the surface last week.

We only like to really post three to four times a week at On Violence. But we've posted 7 times last week to accommodate Lone Survivor's awfulness. One bad review wouldn't do. My original unfinished review reached 2,000 words. Eric had six pages of notes. So did Michael. On almost every topic--facts, ROE, literary merits, political context--Lone Survivor gets something wrong. (We have two posts in the wings on Lone Survivor's writing and counter-insurgency understanding. Stay tuned.)

How You Can Help: Hopefully, Peter Berg and Universal will see our posts, or read Ed Darack's Victory Point, and do the right thing and stop this film. Please retweet this post, like it on facebook or link to it, so everyone knows how truly awful Lone Survivor is an awful book.

And if someone recommends Lone Survivor to you, don't listen.

May 21

(To read all of our Lone Survivor posts, please click here. The most important post is "A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality" so read that first if you are new to the blog or this topic.)

Just because Luttrell got his facts wrong, criticized the rules of engagement needlessly, and misunderstands counter-insurgency, that doesn’t mean his memoir is bad art. Misguided definitely, but not necessarily a poor piece of writing.

Except Lone Survivor is a bad piece of writing, and I hope it will be forgotten in twenty years.

Though I want to be glib about how bad this book is, it also makes me sad. As you comb deeper through Lone Survivor's layers, you see that it is a tragedy, both in narration and presentation. There are five layers to Lone Survivor, and the first four layers obscure the fifth, deepest layer: the guilt that Luttrell feels for surviving. Luttrell created this story to hide that guilt from himself.

Lone Survivor’s first layer is the surface plot: a Navy SEAL, after completing his torturous training, heads to Afghanistan with three men on a mission to capture an anti-American enemy. Taliban fighters ambush the SEALs, and only Marcus Luttrell survives, taking refuge from a generous Pashtun village until Army Rangers rescue him. A good plot, if Luttrell were a good writer. Instead, he lingers too long in all the wrong places, Lone Survivor’s primary literary flaw.

The second layer is Luttrell’s personal moral, that, because of inner strength, determination, American/Navy SEAL superiority and Jesus, he survived his SEAL training and subsequent ambush in Afghanistan. This is both vain and ridiculous.

The third layer is the political thesis: Luttrell’s fellow SEALs died because liberal politicians and the liberal media hamstring the military and Soldiers--with Rules of Engagement, negative coverage, and a diffuse hatred of all things military. If we just freed our military from legal restrictions, (read: allow the killing of civilians, in this case a fourteen year old boy) this war would be over. As Luttrell puts bluntly, “I can say from first hand experience that those rules of engagement cost the lives of three of the finest US Navy SEALS who have ever lived.” (Read Michael's counter-argument here.)

This political message runs counter to the fourth layer running throughout Lone Survivor: the unintended irony. A neutral village saves Lutrell's life, even though Luttrell would have shot the villagers if he had had any strength left. Not shooting civilians saved his life.

There could have been a really poignant layer here, a SEAL filled with hate for his enemy discovers they are a compassionate and loyal people. Hell, Luttrell even writes about how he discovered the Pashtun-Wali code after his mission. In a novel, this would be character growth. Luttrell, though, regresses. He's written an entire book dedicated to perpetuating the negative stereotyping that almost killed him. Luttrell sprinkles Lone Survivor with unintended counter-insurgency lessons like this.

Finally, there is the dark core, the fifth level of sadness that permeates Lone Survivor. Ultimately, I read it is as a psychological story told from the clues you pick up along the way: nightmares haunt a slightly unbalanced warfighter after he witnesses the horrific battlefield death of three comrades. "Again in my mind I heard that terrible, terrible scream, the same one that awakens me, bullying its way into my solitary dreams night after night, the confirmation of guilt. The endless guilt of the survivor. "Help me Marcus! Please help me!" Unable to process his survivor's guilt, he creates a fiction about what happened: 20-30 attackers turns into 200. The team's tactical mistakes--losing communication with higher, not choosing to evacuate faster, deciding to let the goat herders go--become the fault of ROE. The death of his fellow SEALs becomes the fault of liberals, politicians and the media.

The fifth level explains all the other levels: the political rants, his personal moral, the irony, the mindless, angry rants. This isn't a story about ROE. It's a story about Marcus Luttrell, broken by the loss of his best friend and fellow soldiers, unable to salve his pain. He blames the liberal media, liberal politicians, Al Qaeda and Islam. This event broke him, but he can’t admit that. Instead, he rages impotently at other scapegoats and the world.

However, this last completely unintentional layer does not make Lone Survivor worth reading at all.

May 19

(To read all of our Lone Survivor posts, please click here. The most important post is "A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality" so read that first if you are new to the blog or this topic.)

As I wrote on Monday, I take Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor personally. I lived in the Korengal valley; I walked the trails on the other side of the Sawtalo Sar. Knowing the Korengal, Luttrell’s story just confused me. Take the number of people in Ben Sharmak’s army, Luttell puts it at up to 200.

When I first read that line, it didn’t sound right. But I couldn’t prove that Luttrell was wrong, I merely had my suspicions.

So I searched for the original "after-action report" for the ambush of SEAL Team 10, to find out more about “Ben Sharmak” and his army. I couldn't find it, but I did find this incredible site for the book Victory Point. The author Ed Darack, corrects several of Luttrell's glaring errors.

The mistakes in Lone Survivor aren't minor, they are gaping holes. Here are the seven worst:

1. The title.

The Marine Battalion--3rd Battalion of the 3rd Regiment--that initially planned the mission used sports teams to name their missions. Previous missions were called Spurs, Mavericks and Celtics, and after all the Texan and Boston team names were used up, the 3/3 Marines decided to switch to hockey names. Luttrell’s Operation Redwing doesn’t exist; the mission was called Operation Red Wings, like the Detroit hockey team.

I understand that little details and facts will be lost in such a crazy attack, but getting the mission name wrong is bizarre, especially getting it wrong in the first draft, second draft, manuscript, galley proof and paperback edition. For the rest of our posts we will refer to the mission as Operation Red Wings, to be factually accurate.

2. Satellite versus cellular phone.

Marcus Luttrell repeatedly refers to his team's satellite phone as a cell phone. Cell phone use in Afghanistan is exploding (literally and figuratively) all over the country, but not in the Korengal valley. They didn't have cell phone coverage when I was there in 2008, and they definitely didn't have it in 2005. What Luttrell is most likely referring to is a satellite phone that can be used anywhere in the world, most commonly called Thuraya.

What he doesn't clarify, and this is slightly off topic, is why SEAL Team 10's team leader waited so long call higher headquarters with the cellular/satellite phone. Even after their radios failed to contact higher headquarters they waited to use the satellite phone until the ambush had started. They had a very poor communication plan, without solid backups.

3. Taliban in Iraq?

In the chapter where Luttrell runs around Iraq with his SEAL buddies on snatch-and-grab missions, he describes Saddam Hussein as in league with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Simply wrong. This continues another unintentional--I hope--theme of Lone Survivor: lumping insurgent and terrorist groups together with no regard for the truth. Throughout his text he confuses, Taliban, Al Qaeda, Shia, Sunni, and other groups, while ignoring the other militants in Afghanistan.

4. Saddam had WMD?

Luttrell claims Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, going so far as to say that this is a "fact." It's hard to take the rest of the book seriously after reading that.

5. Saddam harbored Al Qaeda too?


He also claims that getting rid of Saddam was necessary to remove Al Qaeda training camps in Iraq. Again, I can’t imagine an educated reader taking Luttrell seriously after three mistakes that horribly misrepresent the US invasion of Iraq.

The last three points also show the bizarre world view of Marcus Luttrell. Everywhere he goes in the Middle East he sees Muslims as terrorists, and a crazy worldwide conspiracy to kill Americans. With such a viewpoint, it is hard to imagine him winning hearts and minds anywhere, but we’ll get into that in a later post.

6. An Army of 200?

In Lone Survivor, "Ben Sharmak," is one of the baddest dudes in all of Afghanistan. A dude who buddies around with Osama bin Laden. A bad mamma-jamma that may have had a hand in 9/11. And as I said earlier, he also runs an army of 80 to 200 insurgent/terrorists.

Except that--again heads up to Victory Point-- “Ben Sharmak” (real name Ahmad Shah), wasn't a high value target, or even a medium level target. He was barely on the Special Operations radar. He was affiliated with Hezb Il Gulbuddin, not Al Qaeda. And he never had 80 to 200 men under his control. Later videos, produced by Sharmak, feature between 8-10 men.

200 fighters is a huge number of troops, especially for the Korengal. If Afghanistan is sparsely populated, than the Korengal valley is virtually empty. Villages, if you call them that, have maybe ten or twelve families. The families eke out meager livings. Twenty fighters makes sense; 200 is ridiculous.

In a final bit of irony, Ahmad Shah only became a big player after news of his successful SEAL ambush made headlines.

7. An Attack by 6 or 8

I understand why Luttrell described Ahmad Shah as a big time Taliban leader, it a better story. So how else do you spice up a battle scene? Simple, add more people.

In Lone Survivor, Luttrell speculates that the ambush had probably 140 people in it, if not more. He describes his team as mowing down dozens of enemy. He describes multiple patrols of Taliban scouring the countryside for him. It feels like Luttrell is taking on an army.

Except that he didn’t. The ambush probably only used 8-10 of Ahmad Shah’s men, with “accidental guerillas” making up the rest. The ambush succeeded because of the use of RPGs, machine guns and terrain, not overwhelming numbers. Of course, explaining plunging fire is complicated, its much easier to simply say he faced a Taliban horde. In Luttrell's initial after-action report, according to Ed Darack in the Marine Corps Gazette, he said only 20-35 Taliban fighters were involved in the ambush. When Lone Survivor came out, the number climbed with every media appearance or speech.

The huge mistakes are mindboggling. How do you explain this? Well, Ed Darack, albeit without specifically mentioning Luttrell by name, sums it up perfectly (We haven't been able to get a copy of Victory Point yet, as soon as we do we will let our readers know what we think.):

"I think that the narrative of a four-man Navy SEAL team being deployed to take on a group of hundreds under the leadership of the right-hand man of the world's most wanted individual has all the makings of an edge-of-your-seat military action thriller. But it doesn't happen in reality. And it certainly wasn't the case in Red Wings."

May 19

(To read all of our Lone Survivor posts, please click here. The most important post is "A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality" so read that first if you are new to the blog or this topic.)

Page 177:
"That's one of the real problems in that country[Afghanistan]--everyone has a gun."

Really? I wonder how Luttrell feels about gun rights? Here's a video of Luttrell speaking before the NRA.

(H/t to Weekend Update)

May 18

(To read all of our Lone Survivor posts, please click here. The most important post is "A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality" so read that first if you are new to the blog or this topic.)

Dilemma, Greek for "double proposition." In English, being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Reading Lone Survivor felt like slogging through the world's longest ethical dilemma. 

As Luttrell tells it:

SEAL Team 10 inserted into the Sawtalo Spur in Konar Province on a reconnaissance mission to find a high value target. Due to lack of cover, three Afghan goat herders--two men and a fourteen year old boy--stumble upon their hide-sight. In other words, they were "soft compromised" (discovered by unarmed civilians).

Luttrell then lays out his SEAL team's three options, "1. Kill the goatherds quietly with knives, and throw them off the cliff. 2. Kill them right where they were, and cover up the bodies. 3. Turn them loose, and 'get the hell out of here.'" Really, there are only two options (hiding or not hiding bodies is really the same choice). SEAL Team 10 voted, and chose option three, "don't kill the Afghans." Almost the entirety of Luttrell's story sets up this ethical dilemma, a dilemma designed to show that Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan gets Soldiers killed.

I'm not surprised Luttrell only saw two options, human nature loves duality: prosecution or defense, Republicans or Democrats, pro-life or pro-choice, pro-guns or gun control, war hawk or dove, for or against with no middle ground. Marcus Luttrell describes his situation in dualist terms: kill or be killed. Military ethical dilemmas often fall into this trap: the ticking time bomb, children throwing rocks, or civilians acting as spotters are ethical dilemmas that are invariably presented with only two solutions.

If only this were the case, Luttrell presents us with a false dichotomy. Practically no military situation only has two solutions; most have multiple--if not dozens--of solutions. Critics of our ROE, like Luttrell in Lone Survivor, only present two options of which one option is always, "Follow ROE, and die" and the other is, "Disobey ROE, and live/win the war."

SEAL Team 10 didn't have only two options on that hill in Konar. Kill the goat herders, or let them live are only the first two. They could have tied the goat herders up. (In the book, Marcus Luttrell says that their team did not have anything to bind up the locals. But they had belts, shoe laces, the Afghan's own clothing, and rifle slings. It still stuns me that a SEAL team went out without even a tiny bit of 550 cord or zip ties.) They could have taken the goat herders prisoner, and released them at Asadabad. They could have made the goat herders walk with them, then released them when a helicopter was inbound. They could have released the kid, but kept the others until they were safely away.

In his eyes, Luttrell believed he only had two options. Since he voted for "be killed," he blames the rules of engagement for the deaths of his friends. In the memoir, he says: "Was I afraid of these guys? No. Was I afraid of their possible buddies in the Taliban? No. Was I afraid of the liberal media back in the U.S.A.? Yes," and then continues ranting about liberals and the rules of engagement.

There is no simple, cut-and-dried reason why three SEALs died in Konar Province that day. Leadership of his team, leadership of the SEALs, US policy in Afghanistan, technological failures, communication lapses, a failed Afghan government, lack of Apache gunship support, and countless other reasons--including enemy action--are why nineteen SEALs died heroically on that day. Rules of Engagement, or its misunderstanding may have contributed, but it wasn't the sole cause.

(Luttrell's story was used by Capt. Rick Rubel (Ret. USN) of the Military Officer's Association of America as a classic ethical dilemma. His write up basically summarizes Luttrell's story, but his thoughts show that morally releasing the Afghans was the ethical thing to do. I am huge fan of case studies, like the business ones from Harvard Business Review, but they are almost always left open ended, searching for creative solutions, not an either or proposition.)

May 18

(To read all of our “Lone Survivor” posts, please click here.)

Page 198:
"He was probably doing a New York Times crossword which he'd memorized word for word in his head."

Really? Why would anyone memorize a crossword "word for word"? If you have the time (and intelligence) to memorize a crossword, then you have the time (and intelligence) to finish it. Luttrell is grossly ignorant about many things, and you can add crosswords to that list. How his co-writer let this line get in to the final draft blows my mind.

                                       (Rob Curtis/Military Times)

(H/t to Weekend Update)

May 17

(To read all of our Lone Survivor posts, please click here. The most important post is "A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality" so read that first if you are new to the blog or this topic.)

From Page 10-11:

"...we had to be transported right through the middle of town to the U.S. air base on Muharraq Island for all flights to and from Bahrain. We didn't mind this, but we didn't love it either. 

That little journey, maybe five miles, took us through a city that felt much as we did. The locals didn't love us either. There was a kind of sullen look to them, as if they were sick to death of having the American military around them. In fact, there were districts in Manama known as black flag areas, where tradesmen, shopkeepers, and private citizens hung black flags outside their properties to signify Americans are not welcome.

I guess it wasn't quite as vicious as Juden Verboten was in Hitler's Germany. But there are undercurrents of hatred all over the Arab world, and we knew there were many sympathizers with the Muslim extremist fanatics of the Taliban and al Qaeda. The black flags worked. We stayed well clear of those places."

Really? Not quite as vicious as Juden Verboten? It is nothing like Juden Verboten or Hitler’s Germany, because the Jews weren’t a foreign military presence in Germany. Only in Luttrell’s mind could people of a another country protest the presence of foreign troops in their country, and they're the ones considered fascist.

                                      (Rob Curtis/Military Times)

(H/t to Weekend Update)

May 17

We've collected all of our posts on Lone Survivor below. The most important post is "A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality" so read that first if you are new to the blog or this topic.

- Really!?! with Quotes from Lone Survivor Pt. 1

- Really!?! Quotes from Lone Survivor Pt. 2

- A 300 Page Ethical Dilemma

- Really!?! Quotes from Lone Survivor Pt. 3

- He Got The Title Wrong? and 6 More Mistakes from Luttrell's Lone Survivor

- A Literary Review of Lone Survivor

- An Open Letter to Universal and Peter Berg

- BTW, Insurgents Have Rules of Engagement As Well

- The Rules of Engagement are Democratic, and Thank God For That

- Haters Want to Hate or...If You Haven’t Been to Afghanistan Then F*** You Hippy and Get Off My Internets!

- Shout Out to Ed Darack and a First Look at Lone Survivor!

- Marcus Luttrell Stands by His Mistakes: An Update to Our Lone Survivor Week

- The Tale of the Tape: The (Dis)Similarities Between Luttrell, Mortenson and Montalvan

- A New Game: Spot the Navy SEAL!

- Lone Survivor on Counter-Insurgency: Read It, Then Do The Opposite

- On V’s Thoughts on the New “Lone Survivor” Trailer

- Weapons of Mass Dis-information: 5 Different Books By or About Navy SEALs That Repeat the Same Misinformation

- Luttrell No Longer Stands By his Mistakes: Lone Survivor vs. the 60 Minutes Interview

- Bad, Bad Ahmad Shah...the Baddest Shah in the Whole Damn Valley

- Eric C’s Lone Survivor (Film) Review: I (Almost) Loved This Movie

- You’re Welcome, Peter Berg: Why the Lone Survivor Film is Better than the Lone Survivor Memoir

- A List of the Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality

- It’s Not Just "Hollywood”: Why the Accuracy of Lone Survivor (Film) Matters

- Is Operation Red Wings Important?

- The Worst Media Coverage of Lone Survivor (film and memoir)

- Why Fact Checking Matters: On V in Other Places, Slate "How Accurate is Lone Survivor?”

- The Missed Counter-Insurgency Lessons in Lone Survivor (Film)

- Our Favorite "Unique Takes" on “Lone Survivor” (Film)

- More Updates on Lone Survivor


Since last December, Eric C has been diving into war memoirs. He's read the best of the best--O'Brien's The Things They Carried, Rooney's My War, Herr's Dispatches--and others that weren't quite as good, but none that were atrocious.

Until now. Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor is so over-the-top, so poorly written, and so bad, one review just won't cover it.  

A quick synopsisThe story follows Marcus Luttrell--a right-wing, Christian, Texan-then-American--through his SEAL training, deployment to Iraq, and finally, deployment to Afghanistan. On a routine reconnaissance mission, a group of unarmed Afghan civilians walk onto his team's observation post. After releasing the civilians, Taliban fighters storm their position, eventually killing the three other SEALs. Luttrell escapes, only to be sheltered from the Taliban by a friendly village, and later rescued by Army Rangers.

Why spend an entire week on one book? Three reasons:

First, Lone Survivor is a terrible book on almost every level: historical, political, military, and literary. I believe I could find something wrong, misleading, idiotic or poorly written on every page, and probably one of each. How bad is it? For instance, Luttrell writes that...

...Iraq had WMD’s. (This book was published in 2007)
...Iraq had Al Qaeda training camps and Taliban fighters.
...the military upper brass personally called on Luttrell and his fellow SEALs to save Afghanistan from Taliban invaders, in 2005, because Navy SEALs are the greatest, toughest, most skilled war fighters in the entire military. (Seriously, he wrote this.)
...twins can literally read minds. (He’s not joking.)
...America’s God (Jesus) is at war with Islam’s God (Muhammad) and American soldiers are on the front lines waging this war. God personally intervenes to save Luttrell's life multiple times, despite letting 19 other service men die that same day.
...rules/laws should not apply to soldiers, and the media should not report on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (We assume this doesn't apply to Navy SEAL veteran memoirists.)
...Afghanistan had/has a democratically elected government.

There are lots of terrible books on the military, but only one of them is ranked #343 on Amazon. (To compare, The Things They Carried ranks #402, Fick's One Bullet Away ranks #5,185, Mulaney's Unforgiving Minute ranks #7,805, The War I Always Wanted ranks over 100,000) Twice, total strangers recommended Lone Survivor to Eric C. Comment threads and reviews across the milblog community heap praise upon the book (take this example). And Universal Studios and Peter Berg (of Friday Night Lights fame) are adapting Lone Survivor into a major Hollywood film, scheduled for release in 2013.

That movie is my second reason; we want to stop it. This book should not be esteemed, should not be considered a paragon of the genre, and should not be recommended, ever. This book should be considered a joke, but instead will become a major motion picture. His story could be a good film, but the book Lone Survivor cannot.

My final reason is one of legacy, determining how we as a country will remember Afghanistan in our media, in our culture, and in our history. Like it or hate it, The Hurt Locker is the closest most Americans will ever get to Iraq. Many, if not most, veterans loathed that film for its awful portrayal of the war. But we were too late to stop it from winning the Best Picture Oscar. With Lone Survivor I won't make that mistake. It paints Soldiers, Afghans, ROE, counter-insurgency, and America in the worst possible light. I won't let another bad film define our current wars.

Unlike Marcus Luttrell, I didn't live on Bagram Air Field, I lived in Konar, Province. Marcus Luttrell flew in for missions, then flew right back out. I worked with Afghans everyday, meeting, talking and living with them. I came to respect them. Marcus Luttrell describes the people of Konar as peasants, evil, hate-filled and primitive; I dispute that. He called Konar a land of "hellish undercurrents and flaming hatreds." If your only interaction comes through a sniper scope, you won't understand Afghanistan or counter-insurgency, and that is why Lone Survivor deserves its own week.

May 10

On October 5th, 1957, America panicked. The day prior the USSR launched the first satellite into space, Sputnik 1. Soviet space technology threatened America, and the world. Under the leadership of President Eisenhower, America responded.

And the response was staggering. In less than a year, Congress created the Advanced Research Projects Agency, that would become DARPA. After that, President Eisenhower established funding to start NASA. Both the Army and Navy immediately prepared to launch satellites into space.

Congress also realized that America needed the long-term edge that science and engineering education provided. President Eisenhower and Congress set out to build the lasting intellectual advantage needed to win the Cold War. The National Defense Education Act poured billions of dollars (in the 1950s) into education. The National Science Foundation received an increase of a 100 million dollars for extra grants.

Less than twelve years after the launch of Sputnik, America became the first, and only nation, to put a man on the moon. In the long term, America became the world's foremost intellectual and scientific power, in space and beyond.

On September 12th, 2001, America panicked. Terrorism became a reality, and our national security priorities changed in an instant. Terrorism had replaced the USSR as the gravest threat to America’s national security. Under the leadership of President Bush, America responded.

Immediately, America invaded Afghanistan. Then a year and a half later, America invaded Iraq.

While all this was going on, America reorganized its homeland defense and created the third largest cabinet organization, the Department of Homeland Security. It again reorganized the intelligence services, but only by adding an additional job to the top of the pyramid.

A two-fold approach, foreign and domestic. The deployment of troops overseas, the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, the employment of millions of people to confront terror. And the result? Terror attacks have been stopped, but not eliminated; two countries descended into insurgency and civil war; and in 2008 we entered the deepest and most severe recession of my lifetime, if not since the Great Depression. And the organization to respond to terrorist events and disasters, the Department of Homeland Security, utterly failed to help during Hurricane Katrina.

Worst of all, in my opinion, America did not grow. Our foreign policy invaded those countries we believed had attacked us; domestically we created a super-bureaucracy to fight terrorism. We didn’t invest in our people or infrastructure. This is not meant as a left/right, conservative/liberal, democrat/republican comment; it simply states the fact our government failed to invest in America's long term growth.

When President Eisenhower pushed to expand the Interstate Highway System, the year prior to the Sputnik launch, he used the Cold War to promote his agenda. While he was worried about a nuclear attack, he knew that America needed a robust transportation system for the future. Whether improving education, or building infrastructure, President Eisenhower used the threats facing America to invest in our future.

I truly believe we had a golden opportunity to invest in America's future on September 12th, 2001, but it didn't happen. On Wednesday I will describe how I think we should have done so, and where we can go from here.

May 07

(To read the entires "Quotes Behaving Badly" series, check out the posts below:

The Return of...Quotes Behaving Badly

The Fury of the "Quotes Behaving Badly"

Quotes Behaving Badly IV: The Quotes Strike Back

Escape from the Mountain of Bad Attribution: Quotes Behaving Badly V

Quotes Behaving Badly: Anti-War.com Edition

 

"A witty saying proves nothing." - Voltaire 

 You've heard it before. A heated discussion flares up on a forum or comment thread, and someone quotes Plato or Ghandi or Clausewitz to prove a point. So you look it up online, and find out the person was full of it.

Since michael C and I started On Violence one day and a year ago, we've encountered this syphilitic rhetorical device dozens of times. (This probably applies to all areas of debate, but I've only experienced it in the milblog/foreign affairs community debate.) At its core, it is a logical fallacy: just because Einstein or Churchill said something doesn't mean it's true

The quotes that follow are the worst of the worst, the most annoying, irritating and upsetting. (A note on structure: we've cited the following quotes the way they were originally incorrectly repeated.)

Without further ado, here is the list:

1. "Only the dead have seen the end of war" - Plato

Remember this quote from Black Hawk Down? Or Call of Duty? Or on the wall of the Imperial War Museum in London? Well, Plato never said it. George Santayana did. But no one knows who he is.

You can blame Gen. MacArthur for making it famous in a speech at West Point. My take is the same as the author of the previous link: if a quote of a famous person doesn't cite the text, take the quote with a grain of salt.

2. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

If the philosophical father of conservatism and classical liberalism said it, it must be true. Unfortunately, Edmund Burke never said this, but that hasn't stopped this quote from becoming a rallying cry. Wikiquote has nearly 70 versions of this sentiment.  It seems like the only thing necessary for a quote to go viral is for people never to double check it. In fairness to everyone requoting it, it is probably a paraphrase of this actual Burke quote, "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." But that just won't fit on a bumper sticker.

Oh, and to that guy saying, "Well, I still like the sentiment" you're wrong. It's banal and, in the hands of demagogues, has probably caused more death than it's saved.

3. "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." - George Orwell

Aside from using the ear-breaking adverb peaceably, Orwell never said this! (I hate it when Michael C uses exclamation points in his posts, but I'm so angry I just used one.) He said something similar, but as part of a larger essay. He set forth an intellectual challenge to pacifists, not a declarative statement supporting Soldiers.

4. "Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst." - Heinlein

You might remember this quote from this comment thread.  The long-winded commenter Charles quotes Robert Heinlein as if it proves his argument. But we're sick of people quoting Heinlein when they should be quoting "Starship Troopers" (as the MLA thinks you should). Re-read my post "War is the Opposite of Civilization" I love that quote, but I'll always cite the novel or the character who said it, before I cite the author who wrote it.

(In an aside: when did Heinlein rise to the level of Plato, Churchill and Lincoln? Just because Heinlein said something doesn't make it true.)

The problem is that an author cannot take ownership for the dialogue of the characters he creates. If two characters debate, does the author then believe both sides of a debate? And would the author have to support the views and opinions super villains, serial killers, dictators, and even child molesters. And you would never want to quote a child molester...

5. "Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner." - Blood Meridian, a novel by Cormac McCarthy.

Imagine my surprise when I found this quote in Criag Mullaney's The Unforgiving Minute, written as an inspirational quote on the back of a wall at West Point. It is from Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, one of the greatest novels of the last century. Mullaney seems very well read, and properly identified this quote's source. The problem is that it is spoken by a serial child rapist/murderer, who child rapes/murders dozens of children through the course of the book.

Quotes from novels are mostly spoken by characters from novels. In the case of this quote, the speaker cannot be divorced from the sentiment. A serial murderer may believe that war is eternal, but he is also a psychopath, not the type of person we usually go to for philosophical advice. This is why no one quotes Hitler or Manson to support their arguments.

6. "I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence... I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor." -- Ghandi

Eric C discovered this text book example of quoting someone out of context on this comment thread on FP.com. The full quote (emphasis mine) is actually: "I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence....I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour. But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence..."

Compared to the second quote, the first quote reads like a bad joke. The next sentence Ghandi says changes the entire passage. According to Ghandi, non-violence isn't slightly better than violence, it is "infinitely" better. To imply Ghandi endorses violence is foolish.

7. “Out of every hundred men, ten shouldn’t be there, eighty are are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” - Heraclitus

Aside from my disagreements with the sentiments and applicability of this quote, as I've discussed before, I've never been able to verify the accuracy of this quote. Neither has wikiquote. If you know of what book this can be found in, please pass it along.

8. "Any peace is better than any war" - Plato, or Benjamin Franklin, or who knows who else...

Don't think it is just pro-military guys who use quotes disingenously; peaceniks are just as bad. Hat tip to Andy Rooney, who first heard this quote in the forties and wryly remarks that it's been attributed to both Plato and Benjamin Franklin.

9. "The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug." - Chris Hedges in War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning

Aside from Hedge's book being the only one I know where the thesis is in the title, it has a really interesting next sentence: "It is peddled by myth makers -historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists and the state." An ironic next line because this quote was used as an epigraph to a film--The Hurt Locker--that endorsed the myth that war is a drug.

Also, Hedges' writing couldn't be more anti-war. War is a drug, and that's a bad thing. Whereas the first quote tentatively endorses war, or at least excuses it, the second sentence makes it clearly verboten.

Help us stomp out these quotes from the larger military culture. At the least, pause the next time you hear someone quoting Patton and question their source. Google it, or look it up on wikiquote. I also expect that a lot of military professionals will be upset with this post because at least half of these quotes are so entrenched in the military's consciousness, that removing them will cause at least a dozen field grades and general officers brain hemorrhaging.

Oh, and that quote from the beginning? Voltaire didn't say it, a character from Le Dîner du Comte de Boulainvilliers did. So much for using quotes to support your argument.

May 06

One year ago today, Eric and I launched On Violence. To commemorate our first year, we decided to do (what else?) a link drop of what we think is our best work from the past year.

We appreciate all the support from readers and friends. There are too many people to thank, but we'll say this: it is always nice to feel like you aren't just shouting off into space, and that some people are actually reading.

Frankly, we're kind of surprised at how far we have come. Going over our posts from the last year, we think the quality of our writing, and clarity of our ideas, has improved dramatically. We have over a 1,000 twitter followers and a 134 fans on facebook. We've had articles published on Thomas Rick's blog The Best Defense, writetodone.com, problogger.net, milblogging.com, and others. Our traffic has increased every month.

Though we don't know where we will be exactly in the next year, (hint, hint: deployment) On Violence will keep going strong; we have at least two year's worth of stories, gripes, complaints, opinions, reviews and philosophical musings to share. Expect our regular schedule to continue, and expect to see our work popping up in old media and around the blogosphere. We also hope to launch at least one new blog project within in the year. We'll keep you up to date.

Finally, how you can help. Tell your friends and followers about On Violence. Invite all your friends to become fans of our On Violence facebook page. Tweet this post for us today. Give us a shout out on followfriday (#ff). Drop us an email with what you like (or don't like) about our blog. Send us a guest post. Add us to your blogroll. And please, comment on our posts because we want to hear your opinion.

So without further ado, the best of On Violence. If you think we missed anything, comment below.

     Personal Experience-
       Were You Scared?  
       Operation Judgment Day
       Hey Michael, What Did You Do Out There?
       Fear and Black Hawk Down
       Mistaking Goats for the Taliban

    Philosophy of Violence-
        
Defining Violence
      
 Violence in Context
        
On Genocide

    Counter-Insurgency Warfare-
      
 Arcs of Fire
        Why Leaders Make the ROE
        On Curling
      
    Contractors-
        Why BlackWater?
        Is Waste (in Warfare) Immoral?
        A DMV, a Contractor, and a Captain Walk into a Bar

    Foreign Affairs-
        National Security with a License to Kill, or Torture
        Failed States, Terrorism, and Afghanistan
        Why We Love "Cool Runnings"...Oh, and Globalization
 
    Military Affairs-
       
PowerPoint is Not a Children’s Story Book: 5 Ways to Improve your PowerPoint Presentations
    
    Our Fashion Conscious Army: Order, Discipline, and Good Looks

    Art of Violence-
        
When They ARE Out to Get You...
        Executioner's Song -- When On V Disagrees -- Song Battle Pt. 1 and Pt. 2
        The "Battle Mentality" of Hollywood
        Degrees of War
        The Sword and the Joystick
        (Photo) Graphic Truths
        Unleash the Dogs of War
       
    Memoirs
        A Million Little Memoirs
        Generation Kill vs. One Bullet Away
        The Litmus Test: 9 Things Every War Memoir Should Include (But Don't)
 
    Series-
        Propaganda Week: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6
        Defining Political War Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4       
       The Battle for Algiers Week Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4
       
Academy Award Series Part 1, 2, 3, and 4
       
My Tributes to Two Fallen Heroes, Lucas Beachnaw Part 1, Mark Daily Part 2, and a Guest Post

    Guest Posts at On Violence-
      
  Guest Post: 15 Bullets by Matty P.
        Guest Post: Coming Back and Moving Forward - PTSD and the Military by Chris C.
        Guest Post: Rainbow by Matty P.

    On V in Other Places-
        - Rebecca’s war dog of the week: K2, the weenie of Afghanistan at Thomas Rick's blog, The Best Defense
        - What It Means to Be Anti-War at Chris C's blog, the Opinion Spigot
        - The Golden Rule of Writing and Ten Writing Rules You Can't Break and How to Break Them at WritetoDone.com
        - 9 Things Bloggers Can and Can't Learn from the Military at problogger.net

May 05

(This week we're celebrating our first full year of blogging. Today we finish our review of Hannah Arendt's "On Violence." (Click here for part 1 of our review) Tomorrow we look back at our best posts from the last year. Finally, on Friday, Eric will blow your mind with ten of the most abused quotes in the blogosphere and the military.)

International terrorism is the gravest threat America has ever faced.

[Pause.]

Is it? Is it really? When thousands of nuclear weapons were pointed at us by the Soviet Union, wasn't that significantly more dangerous? What about the German and Japanese armies marching through Europe and Asia? No, terrorism isn't the most dangerous threat we have ever faced, but it is the most dangerous right now. Because terrorism is currently our biggest concern, it feels like it was always our biggest concern.

If you are writing philosophy, the context of your times will shape your opinions. When I read Hannah Arendt's On Violence, I was struck by the fact that, no matter how hard I try, I am constrained by my times.

On Violence (Arendt) obsesses over nuclear weapons and their effect on warfare and human violence; On Violence (the blog) obsesses over counter-insurgency and its effect on warfare and human violence. So when it comes to our philosophy, Arendt and I use two entirely different sets of data: Arendt uses nuclear weapons, WWII and the student riots of the 1960s; I use Afghanistan, Iraq, and 9/11.

The first part of On Violence (book) deals almost exclusively with the historical and contemporary context of nuclear weapons. Referring to nuclear weapons, she states bluntly that, “technical developments of the implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential.” Arendt understands that the creation of nuclear weapons, and the creation of a “military-industrial-labor complex,” have altered the future of violence.

Her analysis of nuclear weapons makes sense. If violence is a result of politics, then Clausewitz’s famous aphorism about war (violence) as being the continuation of politics by other means would become a “means towards universal suicide.” The invention of thermonuclear weapons allows violence to be divorced from politics and economics--and all other causes--to stand on its own.

I appreciate that Arendt acknowledges how her culture influences her philosophy (and this is my only gripe with her book) but having to slog through a whole chapter of it (especially considering the length of the book) seems like too much. Read from a distance of forty years, a good twenty pages describing the rise of violent revolutionary fervor among students and Marxists comes across as dated. She also almost predicts the rise of insurgency and revolutionary war (she writes, “the more dubious and uncertain an instrument violence has become in international relations, the more it has gained in reputation and appeal in domestic affairs, specifically in the matter of revolution.” Sounds like political war defined.) but then gets stuck on the actions of student activists, who in hindsight evolved into yuppies instead of toppling the government.

So while Arendt is attempting to create a philosophy behind violence--that ideally should withstand the test of time or events--she is inexorably mired to her historical context. Here at On Violence (the blog) I have the same problem. I see political violence, insurgency and terrorism as the biggest foreign policy issues today. I think this is, partly, because the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq influence my everyday life. I can't divorce my philosophy from my personal experience.

Will Eric and I rise above our culture? We try to acknowledge our culture. That is why my blog is about my personal experience, counter-insurgency and foreign policy, while my true love is the philosophy of violence.

May 03

(This week we're celebrating our first full year of blogging. On Monday and Wednesday, we will review Hannah Arendt's "On Violence." On Thursday we look back at our best posts from the last year. Finally, on Friday, Eric will blow your mind with ten of the most abused quotes in the blogosphere and the military.)

When I first came up for the title of On Violence, the tone I was going for was something crazy philosophical, like Clausewitz’s On War, Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy or Liebnitz’s Discourse On Metaphysics. The day after we launched, of course, I finally got around to googling "on violence" and I found out that I wasn't the first to use the phrase “On Violence.” That honor goes to political philosopher Hannah Arendt.

Oops.

Fortunately, our predecessor in things “On Violence” was no intellectual slouch. Arendt--philosopher and prolific writer--coined the oft repeated phrase, “the banality of evil” and penned the works Eichmann in Jerusalem and On Revolution. (She was also a student of existentialist-cum-Nazi Martin Heidegger, but that's a different story.) Since Arendt’s work is one of the few to discuss violence philosophically (the other core text is William T. Vollman's seven volume tome Rising Up, Rising Down, philosophically and physically the opposite of Arendt's 90 page tract), I decided, a year after beginning our blogging adventure and stealing her title, that we should review her ideas.

On Violence (Arendt) makes two bold claims. First, that violence is understudied in the social sciences. Second, that because of the lack of study, we do not understand violence. When I read On Violence (Arendt), I felt a kindred spirit at work. I believe that she is the starting point--in tone, language and analysis--for a conversation On Violence (the blog) is continuing forty years later.

Violence Has Not Been Studied

To start her work, Arendt explains why violence gets the shaft by academic circles, “violence and its arbitrariness were taken for granted and therefore neglected.” This holds today. We study the process of war, or the historical context of war, but never the philosophical issues (or importance) behind such a complicated study.

This was true for Arendt; it is true now. The few social scientists who do explore violence do so as the exceptions to the rule; for example Lieutenant Colonel Rex Grossman in On Killing, or John Keegan in A History of Warfare. The former is read throughout the military for its brilliant insights into the psychology of violence; the latter is an underrated tour de force by one of the premier war historians of our age. Each dives deeper then their field usually goes when discussing violence.

But while Grossman and Keegan analyze violence through social science, they avoid the metaphysics. They discuss the empirical evidence psychologically, historically and sociologically, but never philosophically. Thank God for Arendt, or we would have no basis to study at all.

(Arendt also discounts the work of scientists who try and explain violence through the study of the natural sciences. There are too many leaps to apply animal behavior to human behavior when the whole concept of reason makes man incomparably different to animals.)

Overturning the Definition of Violence

When Arendt moves to her philosophy, she overturns the basic notions about violence that most of us take for granted. Arendt refutes the idea that, “violence is nothing more than the most flagrant manifestation of power.” In other words, the idea that violence is synonymous with “the power of man over man.”

Because violence is so understudied, most thinkers (think Clausewitz or Engels) who reference violence are doing so en route to another political point; Arendt is dissecting violence philosophically for its own sake. This leads her to a critical idea: in the present state of political science, “our terminology does not distinguish among such key words as ‘power,’ ‘strength,’ ‘force,’ ‘authority,’ and, finally, ‘violence.’” I couldn’t agree more. It is one part why we created this blog.

She then redefines “power” by stating that it actually describes the “human ability not just to act but to act in concert.” Power is not the ability to dominate, but the ability to influence; a powerful person has many followers, not just a few.

Because of that unique definition of “power,” Arendt can then redefine violence. She states that not only is power different from violence, it is the opposite. On Violence (Arendt) concludes that “violence can always destroy power” but can never give power, only destruction. In the last paragraph of her second part she sums up clearly that “power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent.” This probably shocks most readers, but it makes sense.

Bringing the Philosophy to the Present

When I thought about the difference between violence and power, I couldn't stop thinking about Afghanistan. As a platoon leader, I felt powerful, primarily because I had the means of violence--machine guns, trucks, 18 men and the ability to call for heavier fire power--but how powerful was I? I couldn’t stop IEDs from being placed. Clearly much of the population supported the insurgency. The government struggled with violence throughout my time in Afghanistan. Violence throughout the region was a sign that no one had power in Konar Province, exactly as Arendt says.

On Violence (Arendt) specifically uses examples of insurgencies to prove her point. The revolutionaries or insurgents, using power, square off against governments or counter-insurgents, using violence. And here is the point: Arendt provides the philosophical basis for population-centric counter-insurgency. Our military relies on violence not power. The difference between maneuver warfare and counter-insurgency is the difference between violence and power.

May 02

(To read the entire "War Memoirs" series, please click here.)

Every time I write a negative review of a war memoir, I have one of two reactions. The first is fear. Some of the authors I've reviewed are famous, acclaimed or successful; others are opinion makers or high up in government. Criticizing these authors could come back to to get us.

But the second reaction hits me deeper: I feel guilty.

I feel guilty criticizing works by other writers because I respect anyone who has not only finished a book, but gotten it published as well. Even if it isn't very good, they've accomplished something I haven't yet. I admire that.

This doesn't apply to every negative review. If you’ve read my Jarhead posts, you know I detest it. Nihlistic, ugly, war porn--it portrays the worst side of the military possible. Equally bad, in the exact opposite way, is the almost fascist, sloppy ghost-written Lone Survivor, (which we plan on tearing a new, um, orifice in a few weeks. Look for it.) a paean to President Bush and the "War on Terror". One impossibly pro-soldier, the other impossibly negative; both unrealistic pieces of propaganda.

Both books are so deliberate in their approaches, I feel free to trash on them. Luttrell didn’t even write his book, and his political asides are both so needless and so innaccurate, that he desrves to be criticized. Swofford, on the other hand, is clearly a good writer. I don’t feel bad criticizing him for choosing to focus on such ugliness, and releasing his book at the most politically convenient time possible.

Some authors don't need my praise, including Hemingway, Ursula Le Guin, Orson Scott Card, and Tim O’Brien. They’ve won literary awards and sold millions of books. They don't need or care if I praise or criticize them.

But then comes the other books. I really respect Fick, Van Winkle, Friedman, and Mullaney for doing what they’ve done. But even the memoirs I liked, like The War I Always Wanted, Soft Spots and One Bullet Away, I criticized. These authors wrote memoirs, which means they put themselves out there. This is, of course, both a blessing and a curse. They put themselves out there, but in doing so, they open themselves up to criticism.

And critique. Their memoirs aren't bad, but they weren’t good either. Even though this is true, I feel bad writing this and I feel the need to get this off my chest. I want everyone to know I don't write negative reviews lightly.

At the same time, I want (and need) to be honest. That is what really matters.