We’ve come to our 300th post. To think we’ve posted 300 times--more than that if you count On V in Other Places and other types of shout outs--boggles the mind.
So, as we’ve done four times before, (on our 50th, 100th, 1 year and 200th posts, check the sidebar for links) we’re doing a “Best of On V” link-drop. Without further ado, a few of our favorite posts from the last 100 (chosen unscientifically and arranged topically):
The “War is war” series has easily been our most debated and popular new topic since our 200th post. In that series, “War is War is Clausewitz” and “We Are Holier Than Thou” made the biggest splashes and garnered the most comments.
Our funniest post was “Haters Want to Hate or...If You Haven’t Been to Afghanistan Then F*** You Hippy and Get Off My Internets!”, though the comments section went off the rails. We followed this up with “The ‘Have You Been There?’ Argument”.
When Michael C returned from his deployment to Iraq, he wrote, “An Intelligence Perspective on Iraq, Part 1” and “Part 2”. It is probably our best, and scariest, piece of writing on that unfortunate war zone. In “Back From Iraq: What I Learned", Michael C sums up a few other lessons learned.
Matty P held it down with “Guest Post: Rambo 4 and the Karen” and “Not Every Firefighter a Hero".
Not unpredictably, the military continues to be extraordinarily wasteful, so Michael C described his personal experience with waste in “Virginia is for Lovers (But It’s Not, It’s For Bloated, Unneeded Bureaucratic Pentagon Homes for Generals)”, “Military Waste: An Anecdote” and “The Tale of the Camelbak and the Soldier”
We also corrected the record in “What You Should(n't) Be Afraid Of", “The Return of...Quotes Behaving Badly” and “Afghanistan is NOT the Graveyard of Empires”.
Michael C’s posts on his personal experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to be fan favorites. Highlights include, “How to Win an American Heart and Mind”, Checking Out of Afghanistan and Into Hotel California”, “On Not Shooting Back”, and “Dreams of a Banyan Tree”.
One of the biggest treats of writing for On Violence (especially for Eric C) is discovering great works of art. We’ve discovered five in the last 100 posts, including Vaughn and Henrichon's Pride of Baghdad (Guest post review by Matty P), Matthew Eck's The Farther Shore, David Benioff’s City of Thieves, Operation In Their Boots and Brian Turner’s Here, Bullet. Check out the reviews.
Eric C started the “War at its Worst” series, and people loved debating “My War and Falaise”.
And our most interesting event of 2010 was Wikileaks, and we covered it for a full week.
Finally, perhaps the coolest development of the last year was getting our work published in outside sources, including “Where Did God Go in Afghanistan?” at the New York Times “At War” blog, “Iraq, the Unraveling: Here's a nasty killer most Americans know nothing about” at fp.com’s and Thomas Rick's "The Best Defense" blog, “War Destroys” at the Los Angeles Times "Blowback" feature, and an article, “Influencing the Population: Using Interpreters, Conducting KLEs, and Executing IO in Afghanistan” in the May-August 2010 Infantry Magazine.
We don’t like to do self promotion in the articles, but since this is an anniversary, if you would like to follow us on twitter, RSS feed, or facebook, please click on the links in the sidebar. Please share any On V articles with your friends.
We’ve come to our 300th post. To think we’ve posted 300 times--more than that if you count On V in Other Places and other types of shout outs--boggles the mind.
According to a “running gag in the ‘gamer’ community” (H/T The Best Defense), there are five things you can kill in video games without feeling guilty: aliens, robots, Nazis, zombies and terrorists.
This list is woefully incomplete, so we thought we’d fill it out. (And before we begin, no I don’t think video games make people violent):
- Flying Half-Turtle Creatures (Mario)
- Lines of Blocks (Tetris, Bejeweled)
- Mutants (Half-life. Doom, Castle Wolfenstein, the Fall Out series)
- Demons (Devil May Cry, God of War, Castlevania)
- Hookers (Grand Theft Auto)
- Humans, Night Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Draenei and Worgen (World of Warcraft)
- Evil Corporations (Perfect Dark, Deus Ex, Max Payne, Contra)
- Criminals (Double Dragon, Dead to Rights, the Kane and Lynch series, Rainbow Six, Manhunt, Lethal Enforcers, RoboCop) To be fair, most of the time criminals fall to the ground and fade away. But you never heard an ambulance coming.
- Japanese Soldiers (Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, Call Of Duty: World at War)
- Bandits (Red Dead Redemption)
- Assassins (No More Heroes, Assassin’s Creed)
- Ninjas (Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi)
- Martial Artists (Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct)
- Russians (GoldenEye, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare)
- Giant Monsters (King of the Monsters)
- Vampires (Castlevania, Legacy of Kain)
- Pagan Gods (God of War, Hidden Beast)
- Mythological Creatures (God of War, Hidden Beast, Final Fantasy)
- Infected humans (Fallout 3)
- Mobsters (Godfather: The Game, Stranglehold, Max Payne, Mafia II)
- Fellow Motorcyclists (Road Rash)
- Whoever is in the Other Car (Twisted Metal, San Francisco Rush 2049)
- Game show contestants (MadWorld, Smash TV)
- Your Followers (Primal Rage, Fable)
- Little children (BioShock)
- Innocent Civilians (Modern Warfare, Grand Theft Auto, Rampage, Fable, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare)
- Anyone (Grand Theft Auto)
- Strangers (Any online shooter/strategy game)
- Your friends (Any online shooter/strategy game)
A few takeaways:
1. You may have noticed, this list is not complete. It never could be.
2. Mario is a murdering, psychopathic plumber gone rogue.
3. Criminals and monsters make up a lot of the list. If the saying included criminals and monsters--maybe even in lieu of zombies, since zombies are technically monsters--the list would be dramatically shorter.
3. Any non-American, British, Australian or Canadian or Western European Soldier is fair game to be killed in video games. Though you reprehensibly kill lots of people in video games that you shouldn’t--check out the last couple of categories on the list--you can’t kill American soldiers as Taliban fighters.
4. The death tolls in some of these games are amazing. If you get the chance, add up the number of killed in Goldeneye, Halo, Perfect Dark or Call of Duty. In Halo, Master Chief wipes out the equivalent of a covenant brigade worth of soldiers. Force multiplication-wise, 1xSpartan=1xCovenant Brigade. In Perfect Dark, they tell you how many people you kill after each level. Michael C and I added it up; during in the first three levels of Perfect Dark, it was over 200 people in one office building.
5. No one ever feels guilty about killing anything in a video game. I wonder if there is a line somewhere. Just as in film, some video games can be too violent. I don’t enjoy watching torture porn films like Saw or Hostel, or the especially grotesque and notoriously low rated films like Chaos or Last House on the Left; I don’t like video games that are too violent or amoral, like Postal, Manhunt or that pornographic cowboy game from the eighties.
Perhaps when a video game finally comes out that makes you feel guilt or remorseful for killing, we will have great video game art.
(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’m racing through the burnt refuse that appears to have been a Vietnamese village. Mid-stride, a single round strikes me near the groin. The shot came from the right. A sniper is crouched in the ashes of a single room hut. He’s inexperienced, because his second shot misses. I hear the whir as the high caliber round rushes past. I take aim and make the kill before two rounds from an AK-47 finish me off.
Luckily, I re-spawn fairly close.
The newest game in the Call of Duty franchise, Call of Duty: Black Ops, boasted $650 million worldwide within its first five days. It managed to outperform its record setting predecessor Modern Warfare 2. Impressive, considering that Modern Warfare 2 broke the record of its predecessor; Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. As a gaming enthusiast, I was compelled to throw my money on the pile too.
While standing in line, I overheard a number of things that disturbed me, but I wasn’t sure why until later. A number of people were talking about how realistic, how visceral this game was: the imagery, the feel of combat, the weapons, and the characters.
Call of Duty is a gaming industry icon. It’s not only the shooter that every other shooter looks to, borrows from, and sometimes wishes to be; it’s also a model for developers for storytelling and variable game play. It revered for its multi-player experience, its graphics, and its replay-ability.
However, one thing it shouldn’t be revered for is its realism.
For one thing, Call of Duty isn’t realistic. Off the top of my head, I could name a half dozen or more inconsistencies with reality. Most obviously, in real life, there are no re-spawns. Nor can Russia ever successfully invade and occupy the United States--the biggest but not the only plot impossibility. From what I know, ducking behind cover does not automatically heal you, not to mention the fact that two rounds is usually sufficient to put anyone out of commission as opposed to half a dozen or more.
Second, the designers didn’t intend the game to be realistic. When asked about Modern Warefare 2 and its realism, Infinity Ward’s Co-founder Vince Zampella told PlayStation Magazine that their goal isn’t to create a realistic combat experience. “We’re not making a sim[ulation], we’re making entertainment. We want it to look real like an action movie [looks real].”
Lastly, the problem isn’t with the Call of Duty: Black Ops, it is with society’s (false) perception of Call of Duty: Black Ops. Much like The Hurt Locker, people allow fiction to affect their perceptions of reality. We need to take these types of media with a grain of salt. Games or movies like this are entertainment, not reflections on what is or was. Unfortunately, they can give more impressionable people misconceptions about war, combat, and the military.
Like those people having the conversations while I was waiting in line to buy the game; they were brothers of eight and ten years old.
(To read the entire "War is War” series, please click here.)
After Christmas, my new bride and I finally got to go to for Hawaii (thank you Mr. and Mrs. Sigafoos again) for our honeymoon (a six month delay due to a PCS and a deployment to Iraq). While on our honeymoon, my wife and I turned off our cell phones and email, and we set about relaxing.1
To pass the time, I tried to devour Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball (TBOB), a War and Peace-sized tome on the country’s third most popular sport.
Since I was going to read the whole book and spend a week ignoring the website, Eric C demanded at least one On Violence post had to come from TBOB. (It should also be mentioned Eric C gave me TBOB as a Christmas present. And he already read some of it.). At first, I didn’t think I could do it. Yeah, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson had a ferocious rivalry in the 80s, but they never actually fought a war.
After reading a good chunk of it, then hopping on a boat to go snorkeling, I kept thinking about Simmons’ central principle of basketball, “The Secret”. Revealed to Simmons at a topless pool in Las Vegas by Isaiah Thomas, “the secret about basketball is that it isn’t about basketball”.
What does that mean? Thomas doesn’t clarify in a succinct way, but the point is that one or two great players don’t make winners in the NBA. Teams win games. Great teams win championships. The best teams win multiple championships. It isn’t about basketball, it’s about teams. Great players are great teammates.
So, as I stood on a prow of a catamaran doing my best Leo in Titanic impersonation, I dwelled on this. Why did it feel like “The Secret” had something to do with war. Then it hit me.
"The Secret" about war is that it isn’t about war.
Yep, a succinct way to sum up all my arguments against “war-is-war”-iors. They think war is about the fighting, the killing, and the warfare. War includes those things, but it isn’t those things. War is the socio-cultural boundaries we fight within and the generations we come from, the political ramifications of our decisions, and the motivations of men, women, soldiers, politicians and civilians on each side. It is about the economics that promote and discourage war. War includes warfare, but warfare isn’t war.
War is so much more.2
This is why historians (justifiably) have moved away from studying the conduct of war. The old histories describing tactics and strategy in specific battles just aren’t as important historically. The history of World War I written nowadays mentions the tragic trench warfare, but much more scholarship has covered the disastrous series of entangling alliances that led to war. In fact, the days after Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated might be the most studied days in history. The most important and interesting aspects of the great war--the political causes and effects of any given war--aren’t the warfare.
Take this quote I found in the Military Review’s issue on ethics, “Conflict and war are human problems. They cannot be overcome by technical leverage or wholesale slaughter. In short, conflict defies simplistic solutions...” Yep, war includes fighting and wholesale slaughter, but that doesn’t define war.
“The Secret” about war is that it isn’t about war.3
1. In honor of Bill Simmons, this is the first and last post we are going to use footnotes. If you can’t tell, this post is an excuse to brag about a kick ass honeymoon in Hawaii.
2. I think there are really two uses for “The Secret” and the military. The first is the reality about war this post is about. The second applies the same way as in basketball, thinking about what makes a great team. Do we have the ability to make great teams, or do we just analyze great individuals? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect the Army isn’t good at forming teams, it is too hard in a industrial personnel system.
3. I will acknowledge that I am not touching hugely new ground here, compared to my past “war is war” posts. But I loved this way of describing war, it just made so much sense, exactly like Isaiah Thomas’ vague summation of “The Secret” tells you nothing but makes so much sense. That is war.
Though our partisan sides have their differences, no one doubts that what happened in Arizona on two Saturdays ago was a tragedy.
Half a world away, unnoticed by the American media, Iraq suffered its own tragedies. Around the country, four people died in attacks by insurgents, including two children. Unlike America, though, Iraq’s violence continues on a daily basis. On Sunday, a police chief in the village of Hit was assassinated and four of his guards wounded. On Tuesday, a series of attacks across Baghdad wounded nineteen people.
Most Americans didn’t notice, but can you blame them? In August, President Obama declared combat missions over in Iraq. In 2010, the deaths of US troops plummeted to all time lows. Former congressman Duncan Hunter even released a book called, Victory in Iraq: How America Won. On Tuesday, the USA Today noted that “bloodshed ebb[ed] in Iraq in 2010,” reinforcing to the casual news reader that Iraq is on track to becoming a stable and democratic nation.
Iraq is now forgotten, like Afghanistan three years ago.
As Americans we shouldn’t forget that Iraq is still incredibly violent. The government of Iraq has made huge strides since 2007--I don’t doubt that--but Iraq merely moved from fantastically violent to just plain violent. According to the Iraq Body Count, and verified by news agencies, over 4,000 Iraqis died in insurgent violence in 2010. To put that in perspective, if Iraq were the size of America that would mean the equivalent of 40,000 Americans dead in one year, or 13 separate September 11ths.
I can’t say it enough: Iraq is violent. Explosions regularly kill civilians. Assassinations regularly kill leaders. Criminals regularly kill civilians. Insurgents regularly kill Iraqi troops. Iraq is one of only seven active war zones to suffer over a thousand fatalities last year. It is a war zone where over two hundred people died in February, March, April, May, July and August of last year. In 2010, it averaged two explosions every day.
Dramatic terrorist attacks punctuate the death toll every month. Like the hostage situation on October 31st that ended in the deaths of fifty civilians and police. Like the July 18th suicide bombing that killed 39 Sons of Iraq. Like the May 10th attacks that killed 125 people in one day of co-ordinated car bombs and suicide attacks. In 2010, Iraq witnessed nine attacks that killed over 50 people.
And that’s just the violence we know about. Iraqi police don’t conduct routine investigations like American police; they struggle to survive. The Iraqi government knows that 350 political leaders and government workers were assassinated last year, but the police can’t investigate those crimes. How many murders occur every day, week and month that go unreported or unsolved?
We don’t know.
We can guess--the US military, the Iraq Body Count and Associated Press give estimations--but even they can only give us the lower estimate at best. The Iraq Body Count increased by 15,000 names after the release of the Iraq War Logs, and they are still limited to what the US military knew. The murder of civilians, more often than not, goes unreported.
Which means other crimes barely register for the police. Baghdad--not Phoenix, Arizona--is the kidnapping capital of the world. Combine an under-staffed police force with rampant corruption, and kidnappings become a lucrative business. And they usually end in death, not repatriation.
While Iraq is at a critical juncture in its future, US interest has almost completely evaporated. The biggest change in Iraq since 2009 wasn’t the lowering of casualties, it was the shrinking of American media coverage. As the numbers show, Iraq’s violence stabilized in 2010, it didn’t go down that much from 2009. With so little news coverage, it is easy to see why Americans think that the violence in Iraq isn’t that bad.
It is, we just aren’t paying attention.
Which of the following sentences is better?
A. The C-130 took off over the mountain.
B. The C-130, a transport plane, took off over the mountain.
The correct answer is A. Good writing is concise, pared down to its essence. But I’ve read a lot of works in the last few weeks that choose option B.
Military writing is a form of technical writing, often weighted down by acronyms and jargon. The trouble, for writers, is figuring out what to leave in and what to take out, what to explain and what to define. This runs the gamut--from memoirs with glossaries and character guides to military reports with no explanation. To my taste, the best war writing under-explains, letting the words and vernacular stand on their own.
Take my first example. You might object, “What if the reader doesn’t know a C-130 is a plane?” How could they not? It took off over some mountains. Planes take off, planes fly. It may be a helicopter, but if this detail really matters, it will present itself naturally.
The same is true for most military nouns. Humvees drive. M-4s shoot. MREs get eaten. MBITRs transmit. DFACs serve food. IEDs detonate. Even if I don’t know what a humvee is, I know that cars drive, so I know a humvee is a car (“humvee” is also safely in the common vernacular). I know guns shoot, so I know an M-4 is a gun. MREs will be opened and eaten, this means they are some sort of food.
This is a basic human language learning skill. We look at the context surrounding a word to divine the word’s meaning; we’ve been doing it since we were children. It is what Anthony Burgess depended on in the novel A Clockwork Orange when he made up a fictional slang. By the end of the book, the reader is fluent in nadsat. Military writers should depend on the same phenomenon.
Over-explaining leads to duplicate, redundant descriptions. To decide which post-9/11 war novel I’d read next, I read the first chapters of two different novels; each has an example of over-explained military jargon. From Tom Young’s The Mullah’s Storm there was “Inside the C-130 Hercules transport plane”, which is at least three words too long, and “The coded forecast read: ‘+BLSN, PRESFR.’ Heavy snow. Pressure falling rapidly”. We don’t need the acronym. From David Zimmerman’s The Sandbox, “Rankin punches a button on the FBCB2, the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below, which is a fancy name for the ugly green in-board computer bolted to the dash.” which basically explains the same thing twice. Rankin could have just punched the computer bolted to the dash. (This should be considered a nitpick; I haven't the chance to read either novel, but I really want to.)
This complaint, about over-explanation, applies to overly explained facts about cultural knowledge. In Craig Mullaney’s The Unforgiving Minute, Mullaney explains what Bollywood is (“Bombay’s ambitiously named film industry”); in Donovan Campbell’s Joker One, Campbell explains that The Notebook is “an emotional tearjerker starring an exceptionally beautiful actress”. Both of these examples slow down the prose. If you don’t know what either is you could google it.
To be clear, this is a problem we battle with on every post, especially the personal experiences. Take this excerpt from Michael C’s post earlier this month, “Checking out of Afghanistan and Into Hotel California”.
This first version is what we published:
...we had to go on an “A and L” patrol, short for Admin and Logistics. Most of the time, an “A and L” patrol meant driving the fifteen minutes to a base called A-bad (Asadabad) and picking up the mail. Sometimes it meant picking up PAX who had come in off leave.
Now compare it to our earlier version:
...we had to go on an “administrative” patrol. Or as we called them “A and L” patrols, short for Admin and Logistics. Most of the time, an “A and L” patrol meant driving the fifteen minutes to a base called A-bad (short for Asadabad) and picking up the mail. Sometimes it meant picking up PAX (Army abbreviation for personnel) who had come in off leave.
We debated a lot of these changes. There aren’t any hard and fast rules for when a parenthesis is superior to comma, or announcing that something is “short for” something else. Maybe PAX is too foreign to non-military readers. But again, what else besides a person could come in off leave? Less is more, and give the reader credit. (We even debate what facts we should explain. Last week we debated whether the average reader would know what Mossad was. Again, I argued that if someone didn’t, they could google it.)
When an author does it right, the result is magic. Matthew Eck opens The Farther Shore with a group of soldiers “calling in runs from the circling AC-130 Spectres”. Not only do we know the Spectres are planes, he describes them in a way that makes them almost seem like animals, or actual spectres. Creepy, perfect, beautiful.
(Update: Reader Matthew L, a technical writer, chimes in on the post, and he's pretty spot on in his commentary. Read it here.)
We have a quick post today with some links and a shout out to an On Violence favorite.
First up, we discussed a lot of Martin Luther King Jr. misquotes in our intro to Monday’s “Quotes Behaving Badly”. We couldn’t fit this in tonally, but Martin Luther King Jr. did say all this; it is always worth another listen.
On to Lone Survivor. Thomas Rick’s dove into the Lone Survivor debacle with a post on the Ed Darack's Victory Point. Check it out. Or...
Check out this article, “Operation Red Wings” by Ed Darack in the Marine Corps Gazette, where Darack lays out the facts about Operation Red Wings and Operation Whalers. Or buy a copy of Victory Point. Either way, you won’t be disappointed. (Review pending.)
Another interesting wrinkle to the Lone Survivor saga. It isn’t Luttrell’s fault, but a citizen who featured prominently in Lone Survivor mis-represented his Special Forces credentials. Also should be noted, this is why we shouldn’t fetish-ize the Special Forces.
Finally, in really exciting news, Army of Dude and VAntage Points blogger Alex Horton sent us this pic from the set of the Lone Survivor movie.
Wow. That looks over-the-top.
While basking on my deck in Hawaii on my honeymoon, I read the local Dining magazine for ideas of where to eat, and happened upon an article on Hawaiian honey. How important is honey to Hawaii and man? Let’s ask theoretical-physicist-turned-ecobiologist Albert Einstein, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
If you read Monday’s post, you probably know where this is going. Einstein never said that. If you need something to sound smart, why not slap Einstein's name on it? In the spirit of Einstein, we return today with more examples of “quotes behaving badly”, On Violence reader edition.
1. Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other alternatives. - Winston Churchill
We got this gem from Karaka Pend, and after doing some research, I think she’s right. This quote is often cited, but never in context. I’d like there to be a new rule for quotes: cite when or where the original quote came from.
2. No plan survives first contact with the enemy. - Moltke the Elder
From Christopher: “The actual quote, normally unattributed, that this simplistic drivel, used by every idiot who wouldn’t know how to unfold an entrenching tool but deigns to opine on affairs military, is much more complex and specific and not as definitive. The source is Moltke the Elder. Most people, even military folks, wouldn’t know him from a Molson Lager.
‘…no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.’ You can find it in the book, Moltke On the Art of War by Daniel Hughes, on page 92.”
Well said. We would add that you can find this quote as part of Murphy’s Laws, for whatever that’s worth.
3. I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Most often two of these qualities come together. The officers who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Those who are stupid and lazy make up around 90% of every army in the world, and they can be used for routine work. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately! - Erwin Rommel
Another one from Christopher: “This quote is frequently, and incorrectly attributed to Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel. The actual source is Generaloberst Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, writing in 1933. An interesting guy to say the least. His wikipedia entry is quite good.”
4. The nation which draws too broad a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools. - Thucydides
Starbuck got hit by this one over at Kings of War. Sir William Francis Butler was the actual speaker.
5. Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is. - TE Lawrence
Head over to Wings Over Iraq for the full take down of this quote.
6. The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality. - Eric C
The power of quotes. Earlier this week, trying to identify and tag a #quotebehavingbadly on twitter, I accidentally got the above quote retweeted and retweeted. I was just trying to make a point that, on MLK day, a lot of people were mis-identifying the quote. Instead, it made its way around the Internet again, thanks to me.
Check out quote #2 from the original “Quotes Behaving Badly” post to read a similar counter-argument against this idea.
7. Wars not make one great. - Yoda
(Check out our past post, "Quotes Behaving Badly" here.)
My goal was simple. To celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr Day, I would post his words, and let them speak for themselves.
So I went looking for quotes and found this gem, “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” Beautiful and inspiring. You can even buy a button or a t-shirt!
There was a mix-up, though. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t say that nice phrase, his namesake, Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther, did. (Wikiquotes flip-flops on this issue; one page attributes this quote to Martin Luther, another says it can’t attribute this quote to him. Neither attributes it to King.)
Since I couldn’t use that quote by Martin Luther in good faith, I checked Martin Luther’s Wikiquotes page to see if he had a good quote for the website, being the namesake of MLK Jr. and all. Wikiquotes has this gem, “Nothing good ever comes of violence.” Perfect. Very topical. Except that no one can find where he actually said this. It’s attributed to him, but not to any specific speech or piece of writing.
Back to MLK Jr. then. I found this gem, encouraging fence sitters to pick a side, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” falsely attributed to Martin Luther King Jr., though it was actually said in a speech by John F. Kennedy. President Kennedy, to his credit, acknowledges that he paraphrased Dante. What he doesn’t acknowledge is that Dante wasn’t writing about “times of great moral crisis”, he was writing about the relationship of man and God, referring to those people who neither accept God, nor outright rebel against him.
Three quotes, three strikes, and we’re out. That means it’s time for another round of “Quotes Behaving Badly”. Like last time, I’ll give the false quote and false attribution, where we found it, and then the problems with the quote. On Wednesday, we are going to post the quotes I were given or found on twitter-sphere. (Heads up: let’s try to get the #quotebehavingbadly hash tag going on twitter. If you see a misattributed quote, RT it with the hashtag. Twitter is already flooded as is with quotes, we might as well fact check them.)
1. “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” - John Wayne
Regular commenter Harrison added this to our post, “Fighting! Killing! Death! Destruction! War is War, isn't it?”. So everyone knows I’m not picking on Harrison, this following quote could have been the thesis of my Infantry Lieutenant training I heard it so often.
I’m not sure who actually said this. Wikiquotes variously attributes it to Franklin Roosevelt, John Wayne, or Gen. MacArthur. In the film All The President’s Men, Harry Rosenfeld describes a cartoon on Charles Colson’s wall, “The caption reads, "When you've got 'em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow." But this cartoon and the saying weren’t in the book.
Whoever said it, it sums up the thinking of the “war-is-war” crowd precisely. And that’s a bad thing.
2. I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. - Voltaire
This could be my favorite of the day. At the bottom of a past post, I wanted to cite Voltaire’s most famous quote, so I dropped it in. Eric C asked where I got it from. I said I didn’t know. One trip to Wikiquotes and I couldn’t stop laughing: this was never said by Voltaire. True, it encapsulates a lot of his thinking, but he didn’t say this quote. Evelyn Beatrice Hall did, in The Friends of Voltaire (1906), fake-quoting him.
3. Kill them all and let God sort them out. - Anonymous
This quote is particularly brutal and ugly, specifically and explicitly promoting the indiscriminate killing of civilians. It probably doesn’t matter that the quote is “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius (Kill them all. For the Lord knoweth them that are His)”, but it does matter that its alleged speaker, Arnaud Amalric, led a genocidal campaign that killed 20,000 people, all for the crime of not forcibly converting to Catholicism. (Eric C: Wait, I thought Islam was the only violent religion?)
People, soldiers, pundits, occasionally dash off quotes like this casually--like this guy endorsing it, or this site here, or you can buy a t-shirt! This quote endorses genocide. Don’t repeat it.
4. In war, truth is the first casualty. - Aeschylus
Eric C first found this quote in Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory on page xxiii, attributed to Aeschylus. I found the same quote and citation in Call of Duty. (How, or why, it got attributed to Aeschylus, I have no idea. I couldn’t even guess.)
The Guardian has this schizophrenic post attributing it Hiram Johnson, Rudyard Kipling, Athur Ponsonby, Michael Herr and Boate Carter. None of these are correct. The actual award goes to Sherwood Eddy and Kirby Page in The Abolition of War (1924). Second place goes to Samuel Johnson, who wrote “Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.” This phrasing is not very quoteable; neither is Samuel Johnson.
5. Si vis pacem, para bellum or: Let him who desires peace prepare for war - Flavius Vegetius Renatus
What do Eric Harris, Marcus Luttrell, the 24th Marine Regiment and the Royal Navy have in common? They all like this quote. I first read it in Lone Survivor, which correctly attributes the quote to Renatus. (That’s right, I just complimented Lone Survivor. Take that, haters.) Wikipedia, meanwhile, had it wrong and unsourced, as of Jan 12, 2011. (Don’t worry, Eric C fixed it.)
Accuracy aside, this quote makes my head hurt. As Andrew Bacevich said, deploring the strategy, "belief in the efficacy of military power almost inevitably breeds the temptation to put that power to work. 'Peace through strength' easily enough becomes 'peace through war.'" I agree. or put another way, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” Not sure who said that one, though.
6. Whoever would overthrow a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech. - Ben Franklin.
I came across this gem on the banner for thefreepatriots.com (wrong as of Jan 12, 2011) researching for “The ‘Have You Been There?’ Argument”.
The quote sounds good and authoritative coming from Mr. Franklin, but wouldn’t be used nearly as often if it cited John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, the actual authors. They wrote under the pen name “Cato” in the London Journal, and had huge influence in the colonies. Ben Franklin did reprint the passage, but he didn’t say it.
7. Principle is OK up to a certain point, but principle doesn't do any good if you lose. - Dick Cheney
You’ll find this gem in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, but I don’t have a link to it on the blogosphere. I was also going to use this in a “war-is-war” post, until Eric C asked me where it is from.
I assumed, since it came from Call of Duty, it had to refer to our current wars. I was wrong. Former Vice President Cheney didn’t say this is in the 2000s, he said it in 1976. Then he was referring to presidential elections and the extent certain sides would go to win. (You may recall one of the political parties broke into the other party’s campaign office and such.) So this quote--which I still find wrong on its face--is not about war or warfare or the “global war on terror”.
(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2010", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)
Yesterday, Michael C went over how Wikileaks made him feel from several perspectives. Today, I want to address a few of my own views in relation to Wikileaks.
Conspiracy Theory Sceptic - Vindicated. Despite Bradley Mannings’ claim that he had access to material that contained “incredible, awful things” or Assange’s assertion that the logs contained “war crimes” not much was revealed. Take Cablegate. In the words of one of our favorite foreign affairs commentators, Fareed Zakaria, “the sum total of the output I have read is actually quite reassuring about the way Washington — or at least the State Department — works...The WikiLeaks documents...show Washington pursuing privately pretty much the policies it has articulated publicly.” (Also from Zakaria: “Our anger at WikiLeaks should not obscure the fact that it is Washington's absurd data-sharing policy that made this possible. That's the scandal here that needs fixing.” Obviously we agree.)
Or look at the Afghan War Diary. In the words of The Wahsington Post, “...the Wikileaks material tends to fill out and confirm the narrative of Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009 that most Americans are already familiar with.”
Or just read this comment from Thomas Ricks on the Iraq War Logs, “Civilian contractors shooting up people, Arab-Kurd tensions, abuse of prisoners, Rumsfeld in denial, Iranian meddling, Maliki paranoid? At this late date, that's the full-house Iraqi version of a dog bites man story.” You can practically hear the disappointment in his voice. Well put.
If you have to choose between government incompetence vs government conspiracy/malice, choose incompetence every time.
Jaded Observer - Delighted. Wikileaks has more examples of personal hypocrisy and flip-flopping than anything else. Ever.
First, Wikileaks--or more precisely David Kernell--hacked Sarah Palin’s emails. Conservative commentators, like Sean Hannity, Karl Rove and Limbaugh were, rightfully, outraged. They weren’t outraged, however, when Wikileaks hacked Climate scientists emails. (Ironically, Climategate has been totally debunked.) But now that Wikileaks has targeted the military and the State Department, they are again outraged.
Then we have Mr. Assange. He wants to expose the secrets of the powerful, but he runs perhaps the most secretive group on the planet, and then he was outraged when his court papers got leaked. Rushing to Wikileaks defense was Anonymous who, by name and actions, are the most secretive group on the planet. They ran DDOS attacks on Amazon, Visa and Mastercard, defending “freedom of speech”. Yet their attacks on people who oppose them scare me. Just by writing this, I’m afraid they could launch a DDOS attack on On Violence, which ironically limits my freedom of speech for fear of mob violence.
Free Press/Free Speech Advocates - Saddened. Make no mistake about it: Wikileaks is bad for government openness. Politicians on both sides of the aisle freaked out over Wikileaks, and the “threat” it posed to our nation. Why? Let’s have Julian Assange explain, “In its landmark ruling in the Pentagon Papers case, the US Supreme Court said ‘only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government’.” Except Wikileaks hasn’t exposed deception. At all. As we showed above, it either confirmed what we already knew, or made American diplomats look good and honest. With no deception backing it up, it will be hard or impossible for free press/free speech advocates to make the case to protect these inalienable rights.
And it has already happened. Accordng to On The Media, “The new Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act seemed finally poised to address this and many other injustices by extending freedom of speech where the American people most need it. But on December 22nd, after the bill passed the House unanimously, a mystery senator put what is called an “anonymous hold” on the bill, effectively letting it die with the end of the legislative session.” As the host goes on to say, Wikileaks was the strawman used by some Senators who publicly announced opposition to the bill.
(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2010", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)
Since Wikileaks is our “Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of the Year” clearly one post couldn’t handle it all--a whole week of posts can barely contain it--and no one post can capture all the emotions related to Wikileaks. So today I want to go through Wikileaks from the perspective of the several different hats I wear, and share my reactions:
Historian - Ecstatic. Could any thing have done as much good for the history of these wars as the Iraq War Diary and Afghanistan War Logs did? As history marches on, historians tend to have have more information to draw on. Now, we have fresh, first hand information here for all historians during the conflict. We have records of almost every US patrol, almost every US meeting, almost every intelligence product. Sure, they were leaked, but could you want more? Combined with all the blogs charting soldiers and marines’ opinions, this will be the most recorded war (from one side) ever. (Now if only we could get the leaked conversations between President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their staff about Iraq. That would be an interesting read.)
Military Intelligence Officer - Terrified. Who else could do this to the US? Was Bradley Manning the first? Is Congress investigating this behind closed doors that are ironically classified Secret or Top Secret? Would a foreign intelligence service, like Israel’s, China’s or Russia’s, be even better at breaching our system? Do they know everything about us already, they just haven’t leaked it to the media? Can we do the same thing to them? Have we? Can nations even keep secrets if we don’t radically change our technology?
But the most important question is this: if a single private first class could collect all this classified information, what’s to say he is the first? I mean, if a foreign intelligence service accessed the US military’s computer system and did exactly what Bradley Manning did, would we even know? Sure terrorist groups wouldn’t have access, but foreign intelligence services that are hostile to the US could easily share with them the juicy portions.
That scares me plenty more than Wikileaks.
Libertarian - Disappointed. Wikileaks will ultimately be bad for the Freedom of Information Act. As I said in the “Defining the Problem” post, the issue isn’t Wikileaks leaking the information, the issue is that we over-classify too much, then keep it over-classified for way too long. The Freedom of Information Act process is slow, bureaucratic and not embraced wholeheartedly by our government. So while I am glad that Wikileaks did so much to discredit conspiracy theorists, I am afraid this set libertarians who want an open government back.
Military Officer - Motivated to drop my retirement paperwork. I am a Military Intelligence officer. Knowledge and the ability to use it are the touchstones of my job. Instead of reacting logically to Wikileaks, though, the MI community freaked out. As soon as the leaks came out, we were told to not look at it by the Pentagon. It is true that soldiers with security clearances can’t keep classified information on unclassifed systems (like home computers) but once the information is leaked, then multiplied across the Internet and backed up thousands of times, what is the point in pretending like it didn’t happen?
Instead of crowdsourcing the new information, and embracing all the computer whizzes who were crunching the numbers and finding new intelligence, the MI community ignored it. The Pentagon took the least creative, least surprising and least innovative approach to Wikileaks, and no one was really shocked by that.
I am still facepalming (trademark Starbuck).
(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2010", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)
Wikileaks isn’t a virus that metaphorical American intelligence “T-cells” can attack. It isn’t a bacterial infection we can treat with metaphorical antibiotics. It isn’t a broken bone we can metaphorically set.
If Wikileaks is anything, it is the symptom of a genetic disorder we now have in our government’s DNA, the massive over-classification of government documents combined with an industrial bureaucracy that just cannot keep up with information networks. Trying Julian Assange for treason then, as Charles Krauthammer suggests, won’t provide a cure. The only cure is making the number of secrets the US keeps go down; more people have Top Secret clearances than live in Washington D.C., and almost the entire military has a Secret clearance. Until we shrink our number of secrets, and the people who can access them, future Wikileaks will continue to happen.
The media has so far described the problem of Wikileaks as one between between information sharing--which would have prevented 9/11 but allowed the Wikileaks debacle--and compartmentalization of intelligence--which would have prevented Wikileaks but caused 9/11. This is a false dichotomy; Wikileaks was the confluence of four separate trends that reveal an enduring phenomenon, not a one time event:
Problem 1. The rapid adoption of technology in an industrial military. The recent Atlantic article, “Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving” by Tim Kane made much of our military’s (terrible) industrial-era personnel system. Imagine that industrial-era personnel system trying to create a massive IT apparatus, without the best and the brightest our nation has to offer. Our safeguards inside the military will never be foolproof as long as we use digital information. It will always get out. Even if we put all our connectivity in ultra-secure, completely inaccessible concrete fortresses, with no information sharing except within the concrete bunkers, whistle blowers will still be able to steal the information they want.
Problem 2. Globalization and the worldwide spread of the internet. Already copycat Wikileaks have popped up. The same way Napster spawned several copycats, Wikileaks will survive in some form. As Dorn Cobb pointed out, the most resilient parasite in the world is an idea. The government can’t stop the idea of leaking classified information. As long as America has existed, it has housed free speech radicals, loners distrustful of any and all large organizations in the world, from the Catholic Church to Chevron to the US military. And since technology can empower just a handful of individuals to make big changes, this will happen again. (Of course, Starbuck doesn't consider Julian Assange to be super-empowered, but that's another debate altogether.)
Problem 3. The Intelligence Community still can’t distinguish between intelligence and information. When the 9/11 commission determined that “lack of intelligence sharing” allowed 9/11 to happen, the previously mentioned organizations said, “Ok, let’s share all the information we have”. Notice I used two different words--intelligence and information. The massive sharing of data that allowed Pfc. Bradley Manning to downloads reams of information was “information sharing”, not intelligence sharing. Information is data; intelligence is knowledge that allows action. There is a difference, and most intelligence professionals still don’t know it.
Problem 4. But the biggest factor that contributed to Wikileaks was the disease of “over-classification”. Simply put, we have a thousand times more secrets than we have ever had before in our history (and I might be severely underestimating this). Everything produced by a unit deployed in Iraq is classified Secret. That means thousands of documents are now technically “secret” that didn’t have to be before. The same thing happened with the State Department. Did the State Department really have two hundred thousand, at least, “Secret” documents over a two year period? According to Top Secret America, over 3,984 federal, state and local organizations staffed by 854,000 people with Top Secret clearances--and millions more with Secret clearances-- produce at least 50,000 Top Secret reports each year (and, as the Cablegate fiasco shows, who knows how many countless diplomatic cables, emails, PowerPoint slides and other such minutiae).
We have too many secrets.
We can’t stop Wikileaks by locking people up, unless we lock up every computer user in America. No, the solutions are simple, but incredibly difficult to implement. First, we need to turn the Army, Intelligence Community and Government into post-industrial, knowledge organizations. I’m not optimistic we can, but we must.
Then we need to stop over-classification. Secret no longer really means secret, it means something that millions of people can, and do, share.
And the proof is in the pudding, or in this case the leaked documents. At least 95% and maybe 99% of the released documents by Wikileaks didn’t need to be classified in the first place. Even those that did could have been released after five or ten years. The problem isn’t the information. The problem isn’t the leaks. The problem is over-classification. It is easier to protect one secret as opposed to a thousand. When we get that, we will be able to stop future leaks.
The debate over Wikileaks isn’t “intelligence sharing” versus “Wikileaks”, it is about determining what information is actually secret and valuable, and what isn’t.
Here at On Violence, to inaugurate the new year, we like to look back at the old one. Specifically--instead of doing a recap, or a top ten list, or a most important person--we like to pick the single most thought provoking event. Last year, we annointed the “On V’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of the Year”, the Iranian “Green Revolution”. Predicting the importance of something or someone is the job of historians, not bloggers, so we just pick the event that made us think the most.
This year nothing tops Wikileaks, except Wikileaks. Start with a video of Army helicopters killing civilians in Iraq--with shock around the military community--followed with an even larger of leak tens of thousands of Afghanistan war documents--this stunned the world--trumped by even more Iraq war documents (over 100,000)--now you have anger and disbelief--and rounding out the year with hundreds of thousands of State Department cables--with resulting outrage and sheer confusion. Oh, and after the State Department cables, you finally had the Pentagon hurriedly closing the barn door--blocking Wikileaks, forbidding intelligence officers from viewing them, the Air Force banning the NY Times website, and other ridiculous measures I can’t specifically talk about--as the cows crested the farthest hill.
But while we--government, media and military--had most of a year to digest the Wikileaks phenomenon, we still don’t get it. The underlying problems that caused the leaks haven’t gone away. We've diagnosed symptoms, but not the disease.
The Wikileaks news coverage has focused almost exclusively on Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, the two individuals allegedly at the heart of this problem. By focusing our attention on those two individuals, we missed the larger structural issues endemic in our intelligence community.
Information has not just increased, it has increased exponentially. (Lack of) Intelligence sharing helped cause Wikileaks, but that doesn’t mean that any of our intelligence agencies actually got better at sharing intelligence (as opposed to information). What is the main story that the media missed, and the Pentagon/Intelligence Community/State Department/Government ignored though? That we still rely on all the technology and programs that allowed Wikileaks to occur, and that Wikileaks--not the website but the massive leak--will probably happen again.
To help remedy the Wikileaks misperception, the rest of the week is dedicated to analyzing the various angles of Wikileaks. We can’t answer every question, but hopefully we can raise some good points that have so far been ignored.
(I’ll finish with this caveat. Covering Wikileaks as an intelligence officer is tough. Often I stumble across knowledge that isn’t for public distribution. I have access to all the same secrets as Pfc. Bradley Manning, and more. Choosing the right path between my clearance and this blog is a never ending struggle. I’ll do what I can.
If you want to read the rest of "On Violence's Most Thought Provoking Event of 2010, click below:
Listening to the most recent Intelligence Squared episode debating the motion "Airports Should Use Racial and Religious Profiling", one of the participants (I forget which one) made me laugh out loud when he/she claimed that Israel had stopped airplane terrorism.
If I were in the debate, I would have responded, “Yeah, you are damn right they stopped airplane terrorism. But man, they sure haven’t stopped terrorism.” In fact, they aren’t even close. The debater confused the symptom (airplane bombings/hijackings) with the disease (Islamic Extremism and the continued violence in Israel/Palestine).
Confusing the symptom for the disease happens all the times in public policy debates. More prevalent in domestic debates, it still flairs up when we discuss national security. Here are the three most egregious foreign affairs/military affairs examples I have found:
1. Violence in Iraq The worst example of a symptom masking the disease was the outbreak of violence in Iraq. Our military leaders saw the violence, then tried to stop those committing the violence, viewing violence as the problem, not a symptom. The problem was centuries of tension between Shia and Sunnis, punctuated by thirty years of Sunni dictatorship over the Shias. Therefore, the initial tactics of locking up every violent person in a chaotic post-invasion Iraq didn’t work. Creating true political reconciliation was the key. The violence was just a symptom. (Even now political reconciliation looks tenuous and could reignite the violence.)
2. Violence in Afghanistan This is pretty similar to my first point, but the Army continues to make the same mistake. (My theory why? The military has plenty of guns, and its leaders are all people who have backgrounds in using those guns. Like the “if all you have is a hammer then all you see is nails” analogy, the Army wants to fight its way through its problems. War-is-war right?) The symptom--violence--hides the disease--a corrupt Afghan government that worries more about funneling money out of country than helping its people. Or the secondary problem, decades of tribal warfare and multiple regions of Afghanistan that do not want a central government. More troops will help quell the violence, but it won’t cure the disease.
3. Terrorism We can’t just stop terrorism, or chalk it up to “Islamic extremism”. It doesn’t work. Instead we need to look towards all the competing diseases, and see how they coalesce into violent terror attacks. Failed states are a disease. Corrupt Arab nations that leave their populations in poverty are a disease. US military bases in the Arab world are a disease. Over reliance on our “defense” portion of President Obama’s three D’s (development, diplomacy and defense) is a disease. Since 9/11 we have radically altered our policies to treat the symptom of terrorism, but as the most recent The Economist briefing on “The US in the Middle East” pointed out, the disease of anti-US sentiment has gotten dramatically worse.
Three classic cases of ignoring the underlying problems and instead treating the outward symptoms. But for the most misunderstood issue of 2011 you’ll have to wait for...On Violence’s "2011 Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of the Year."
I had a lot of bad days in Afghanistan. The following day was one of them. It isn’t my worst memory of Afghanistan, but it easily makes my top five.
My platoon was in the last month of our deployment, maybe even in the last three weeks, and we had to go on an “A and L” patrol, short for Admin and Logistics. Most of the time, an “A and L” patrol meant driving the fifteen minutes to a base called A-bad (Asadabad) and picking up the mail. Sometimes it meant picking up PAX who had come in off leave. Sometimes it meant taking trucks to get repaired. It always meant a stop at their chow hall’s ice cream bar.
We went to A-bad every week for something. Usually we left around lunch time, give or take three hours. On the “A and L” patrol from hell, though, we left at 0600. We escorted a mail truck down to FOB Fortress to collect the outgoing mail. It was the first and last time we went on a patrol to send out mail. Most of the guys were shipping boxes home so they didn’t have to pack it out with them. No one told FOB Fortress when we were coming, though. And no one told the mail guys how much stuff we had to ship.
Long story short, to collect all the outgoing mail of Destined Company required multiple trips to A-bad and FOB Fortress and Camp Joyce and back. It kept us busy from 0600 until way past dark that night. By the end of the patrol, after countless trips, everyone’s nerves were on edge.
In our MRAPs, everyone had a headset they wore while we drove. The headset was hooked into our radios, and everyone could talk through a vehicle internal channel. All you had to do was key a mike to talk. Or, if you have an IPod ear bud, you could slide it next to the microphone and everyone in the truck could hear the music.
My truck didn’t get to listen to music often; I had a rule against it. We needed to stay alert on patrols.
But after something like 16 hours of the “A and L” patrol from hell without a break, I took it upon myself to change the mood. So I put on a song we could all relate to: “Hotel California” by the Eagles. Everyone in the truck was from California, so the song worked perfectly.
And that was actually one of my favorite moments in Afghanistan. A sucky day, but nothing beats the Eagle’s “Hotel California” to remind you of something supremely better.
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We're working on a second "Quotes Behaving Badly" post, and we figured we'd give a shout out to everyone on the internets calling for more of these quotes. We prefer quotes that are mis-attributed or mis-quoted, but any overly cited cliche will do. If you have any ideas, please put them in the comments section below, email us, or tweet us.
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