May 31

In the midst of all the Second Korean War hype, Fareed Zakaria gathered a roundtable to discuss this issue. One line stuck out to me from the April 7th episode [emphasis mine]:   

“RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT of COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: And the problem is not simply the Chinese are worried about immigrants, they are worried about unification of Korea with Seoul as the capital as part of the American security orbit.

That's part of ...

ZAKARIA: Nuclear weapons and 40,000 American troops.

HAASS: And even -- one of the interesting diplomatic things (inaudible), U.S. what we tell the Chinese, look, we're prepared to negotiate about that. It doesn't have to have nuclear weapons. Indeed, we'd be against the unified Korea with nukes.

Another possibility is we can talk about American troop presence. We can talk about a lot of things...”

From what I gather, Fareed Zakaria just asked Richard Haass, “If the price of a unified Korea was the removal of U.S. troops from Korean soil, would you take that?” and he said, “Well, we can talk about it.”

This whole conversation literally blows my mind.

We’ve written before about the massive, excessive, costly and needless presence of U.S. troops overseas. It does more to antagonize our opponents than provide specific security gains. (I stop short of calling it a burgeoning “U.S. Empire” the way many netizens tend to exaggerate. Though it wastes money, it isn’t an empire, or it’s the weakest empire in history.)

In the past, we had good reasons to station American troops overseas. Take the start of the Cold War in Europe, for instance. Having tanks in Western Germany definitely helped deter Soviet aggression. Maintaining a presence in Japan did the same thing, as well as helped stabilize that post-war nation.

And for decades, having troops in South Korea helped enforce the armistice. I don’t think any observers of international relations could doubt this.

But, man, inertia is hard to overcome, especially when it could make you “look weak” to the larger world.

Only inertia could explain how an American national security expert--Richard Haass--wouldn’t want to immediately pull American troops from South Korea if the Koreas merged. We station troops in Korea because of the Korean war and the continuing threat posed by Pyongyang. Remove that threat, and what are the troops doing there? What border are they standing on? Why wouldn’t we pull our troops back? Why risk antagonizing China, and in the meantime, prevent China from distancing themselves from North Korea?

Because Richard Haass wants to “talk about” a lot of things? To maintain “naval superiority” in Asia? To keep an ongoing “pivot to Asia”?

Our politicians and general don’t react quickly. The military and government are loathe to change when events on the ground change. This is why conservatives advocate for a smaller, more nimble government. Because they hate inertia, specifically systemic inertia (bureaucracy). We don’t need troops in Germany and Italy. We have no geo-political reason for them to stay. Yet, every time America tries to bring them home, somehow it never happens.

Unfortunately, war hawks hate weakness, and will cling to inertia to maintain strength. And war hawks simply want to maintain U.S. strength even when it adds little to our security besides perception.

May 29

First, a confession: I’m no expert on Korea, either the current hostilities or the region. The Army almost stationed me there twice, but luckily I switched my orders both times, once to Italy and once to Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Whenever a war with North Korea seems evident, I think back to how I almost ended up on that peninsula. I think about leading an infantry platoon training to fight the North Koreans or I think about plotting a hypothetical North Korean invasion of the south as a military intelligence officer.

In each case, I imagine a war with North Korea the way most generals in the U.S. Army hope:

A conventional war! With tanks and planes and artillery! Closing with the enemy! Huzzah!

That, of course, makes me think about the consequences, as I did last spring and fall about a possible war with Iran. Without a lot more study, I can’t say whether a war with North Korea would be more or less dangerous for Americans than a war with Iran.

I can say, though, that any war will cost a lot of Americans their lives. With mountainous terrain, nuclear weapons, and a gigantic special operations force, a war with North Korea wouldn’t resemble the previous Korean War much at all. In a lot of scenarios (maybe most), a lot of Koreans and Americans would die.

Worse...I don’t think the generals will get their clean, predictable maneuver war. Even though the Pentagon spends gobs of money developing conventional force projection weapons (like tanks, planes and ships), a war with North Korea could bog down in an insurgency just like in Iraq. Or Vietnam.

Let me say that again so it sinks in: The United States--if dragged into a war with North Korea--might have to wage a counter-insurgency.

Why? Several factors make a North Korean insurgency possible, if not likely:

1. Ideology. Think about it. At this point, North and South Korea have been divorced for decades. One emerged as a democracy with a vibrant economy. The other remains a dictatorship with a narco-agrarian economy. North Korea’s leaders have blasted their people with propaganda about the West, America and South Korea for decades. Even if a majority of the population can put it all behind them, some die hards will refuse to kow tow to the south.

2. Special operations troops. As I mentioned above, North Korea has troops trained in irregular warfare. (Allegedly, 180,000 of them.) Sure, a lot of this is probably low quality training, and a lot of North Korean exaggeration and bluster has turned plenty of regular units into “special operations”. At the very least, they will try to mount IED attacks and small unit raids on U.S. units entering from the south in heavily canalized mountain passes.

3. Old regime remnants. Plenty of stakeholders will sincerely believe they can outwait the U.S. occupancy. This will provide motivation to special operations troops and could form the core of an insurgency.

4. China. The perfect external base of support if China doesn’t agree with a U.S.-South Korean war.

Even if a full-blown insurgency doesn’t develop, our military must heed the lessons of the last ten years before driving into Pyongyang. We must plan for follow on operations. We can’t give regular North Koreans reasons to think Americans are evil. (Strict Rules of Engagement will make an appearance (or should) in another war, in other words.) We shouldn’t annihilate what little infrastructure North Korea has without thinking about the consequences. Rebuilding (or just building) infrastructure will build support among the regular, just-free citizens of North Korea.

This is why the quick rush back to “conventional” warfighting bothers me so, so, so much. The most likely wars in America’s future--which to be clear, we should absolutely avoid at all costs--are in Iran and North Korea. Those wars will likely only briefly feature all the fancy, expensive toys the Pentagon loves to purchase from military contractors, before descending into irregular warfare.

In other words, in twenty years the U.S. Army and Pentagon will have to relearn the lessons of the last ten years...

May 28

Here at On Violence, we don’t like to chase the news.

Long time readers know this, and may even be rolling their eyes at the above sentence, since we’ve written about this before here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

But we have to say it again, because we haven’t written about America’s second war with North Korea yet. Wait, you might ask, we went to war with North Korea?

Exactly.

You wouldn’t have guessed it based on the media coverage. Remember when war was imminent? Headlines like “North Korea Warns It Is on Brink of Nuclear War With South” terrified all of us. North Korea set a date! Even America’s resident ombudsman, Jon Stewart, got in on the action, covering it unironically here, here, here and here. A future war with North Korea even has a Wikipedia entry.

But we’re not at war. Why? As Michael C, in his original draft of tomorrow’s post, wrote:

“Yet this latest round of saber-rattling seems to have everyone worried. Possibly, even more than usual. And I have to specify, more than usual. As this On The Media segment makes clear, every year when U.S. and South Korean militaries conduct massive joint training exercises--which simulate both repelling a North Korean invasion and sometimes a South Korean attack on North Korea--North Korea gets all riled up and makes increasingly hostile threats.

So I won’t chime in to say how I think a war will go with North Korea. After this exercise, I believe that affairs on the peninsula will calm back down.”

Which is exactly what happened. It’s odd to think that just two months ago, America was on the brink of war. Then the Boston bombing happened, and everyone forgot about the war of the moment. When the Boston bombing coverage died down, the media moved on to political scandals and tornadoes. No one’s mentioned North Korea again.

And all of this was quite predictable. There are a couple of lessons here. One, everyone should listen to On The Media, especially people who comment on the media. (We’re looking at you, Jon Stewart.)

Two, constant media hype usually doesn’t spread information, it spreads disinformation. And speculation. A Pew poll from the time showed that the people who followed the North Korean story tended to overstate the threat of war from North Korea. If constant media coverage doesn’t help, what does? Deliberate long form journalism based on extensive fact checking and context.

On a practical, diplomatic level, hyping the possibility of war can only exacerbate tensions, not ease them. It’s times like these when the press makes military leaders and politicians feel obliged to go to war, rather than fearful. This should never be the case.

May 23

(To read the entire "Our Communist Military" series, please click here.

And as we now have to clarify in each one of these posts, we don’t actually think that the military is “communist”. That’s a rhetorical stand-in for socialist, liberal, progressive, what have you.)

On Tuesday, I wrote a post clarifying what we mean by “Our Communist Military”. A common, and probably justified, complaint was that we threw around the epithet “communist”, labeling people and institutions “communist” when they weren’t.

Who would do that? Who would casually accuse someone of being a communist or a socialist with little to no proof? Who would compare someone to Stalin, Marx, Lenin or, less famously, Trotsky? The reaction to our post had a resoundingly clear point: you can’t just accuse someone or some organization of being communist when they aren’t.

Who would do that?

Oh yeah. Milbloggers. (At least, conservative milbloggers.)

“This political cow, our president, is a far leftist in whose mind the weapon of choice is the AK 47, a veritable symbol of violent revolutionary communism around the world. As a Vietnam veteran, I’m telling you, Barack Obama might as well have raised a red star communist flag.”

This Ain’t Hell, “A President is Known by the Weapons He Chooses…

“If all this sounds a bit too much to swallow, consider the political origins of the key players in the current administration. All are products of the Chicago political machine, a thoroughly liberal/socialist/communist movement”

This Ain’t Hell, “Actually Going After a Cartel”

“The opening of Great Leader's address to the People's Congress was pretty disturbing...That or maybe he really is a socialist...Friedrich Hayek, a guy who actually deserved his Nobel, took a preemptive axe to Obamunism in the "Road to Serfdom"...Mr. President, just because you slid into the chair of the Commander in Chief doesn't mean you command the American people. So don't expect us to salute and move out smartly when you crank up the Internationale and start barking out orders.”

Blackfive, “Obama's call for an Army of the Proletariat

“In case you missed it, the American Civil Liberties Union (more accurately - the American Communist Lawyers Union) has filed a lawsuit demanding the basis for conducting targeted killings with armed drones.”

Blackfive, “Military Roundup

(And if you think we had to make any of the photos for this page, don’t worry. We just googled “Obama communist” and hundreds of examples came up.)

I suppose I should end this post by drawing some larger conclusion, by standing on a pulpit and judging everyone. I’m not. Everyone throws epithets around; it doesn’t make it okay, but it isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially if it’s done as a rhetorical device. (Without insults, we’d have no Menken, Twain or Stewart.)

Or I could just point out that, when we called the military communist, we didn’t mean it. Though, the military does (subconsciously) embrace communist ideals, we don’t actually think the military is communist.

But I’m not sure the same is true for the above writers.

May 21

(To read the entire "Our Communist Military" series, please click here.

And as we now have to clarify in each one of these posts, we don’t actually think that the military is “communist”. That’s a rhetorical stand-in for socialist, liberal, progressive, what have you.)

If there’s been one consistent piece of blowback we’ve received for our “Our Communist Military” series, it’s been that...

We don’t know what communism is!

Commenters on the Doctrine Man facebook page wrote, “I highly advise they educate themselves on the meaning of the word ‘communist’.” Or you can go find This Ain’t Hell’s response to “Our Politically Correct Communist Milblogs”. (We’re not going to link to it.) The comments section goes nuts because This Aint Hell’s readers think that we think that they’re communist.

Dozens, and we mean dozens, of people became infuriated (infuriated!) that we would call them (or the military) communist. Or people thought we were really, really ignorant. Luckily, our readers came to the rescue in the comments section of “Our Politically Correct Communist Milblogs”:

“I am confused why you used communism, an economic theory, to describe the military. I’ll agree all military gear is ‘communal’ but there is the idea of ‘private property’ as in, better have all your gear for an inspection. It’s not your gear but you better have it shined or else.” - Shreck 

 

“I think the C.‘s (and feel free to correct/clarify), are using “communism” in the sense of communitarian social system, more so than any arrangement of ownership of the means of production, and its pejorative status among the objects of this series’ criticism.” - Duck 

 

“@ Shreck – On the use of the word “communist”, I’ll be honest: I think that it’s more of a rhetorical point than anything. If anything, it should be “our Liberal military”. But it gets people’s attention, though we don’t mean it as proper communism.

That said, for this post, apportioning out rewards, like the title “hero”, without regard for accomplishment sounds like communism to me.” - Eric C 

 

“@ C.‘s – Maybe you should start including a disclaimer making it clear that you don’t think the US is full of people committed to the communist ideology, and that you are using the term as a rhetorical device to highlight tendencies which create inconsistencies in the worldviews of many military folks.

That might finally end all of the hang up on the term that seems to prevent engagement with the actual argument.” - Duck        

 

“Would you mind if we steal almost your exact verbiage? That about sums up exactly what we were trying to do.”   - Michael C

We now open each new “Our Communist Military” post with a disclaimer--see above--explaining that we use “communist” as a rhetorical device. (It’s called hyperbole.) We don’t think the military is “communist” proper. I mean, the military isn’t even a government, nor an economic system.

But we’re writing this series to argue three things:

1. Though people think the military is politically conservative, in many ways, it’s incredibly liberal.

2. The rest of society can learn from what the “communist military” does well...

3. And what it doesn’t do well. Some of the military’s “socialist” programs just don’t work. At all. The military needs to learn from what the private sector does well. (Check out this post, for example.)

In short, this series has criticisms for the left, the right and the media. The takeaway? Sometimes the boxes in which we categorize people and organizations just don’t make any sense.

Which is the whole point of the title.

May 16

Driving home after seeing Rian Johnson’s film Looper, Michael C’s wife brought up the inherent flaw in any time travel movie: how could anyone go back in time and change something without changing the future? Michael C responded, “Time travel doesn’t exist, so debating it is kind of pointless.” (Nevertheless, we discussed time travel for the rest of the car ride.)

Which is fine with me because, when it comes to Looper, time travel is the least interesting thing about it. I’d rather discuss its heroes, or lack of them. Almost every person I know who saw Looper said, “I didn’t know who to root for!”

(For those who haven’t seen it, massive, movie-ruining spoilers ahead.)


At first, you root for Young Joe. This version of Joe works as a “looper”, a hitman who kills targets sent from the future. He does it for the money, but you like him; he’s the classic anti-hero.

Then, on the other side, you have old Joe, who grew old, lost his fortune, turned to crime, then fell in love, kicked his drug habit and started living a good life. Gangsters murder his wife, so he goes back in time to kill the man that ordered him to be killed.

Now you root for Old Joe because Young Joe is still, you know, killing people.

Except that Old Joe isn’t just killing the man that ordered him to be killed, but that man as a child. An innocent child.

Now you’re rooting against Old Joe, especially when Young Joe winds up on a farm with the child Old Joe is trying to kill...until you realize that this kid has crazy psychic powers and might be Hitler! And then Old Joe, played by Bruce Willis, goes on a crazy evil gangster killing spree. As Michael C pointed out to me, you’re now rooting for Old Joe, because who doesn’t root for Bruce Willis when he’s in a bad ass gangster-killing action scene? In the end, it isn’t clear who the audience should want to win.

Recently, I watched The Cabin in the Woods, and the same thing happened. On one side, you have innocent teenagers who drive off to a cabin and certain death. On the other side, you watch the engineers who orchestrate their deaths, and learn why they’re trying to kill the teenagers. You’re kind of rooting for them as well. (I’ll say no more, for fear of spoiling this movie.)

For a 21st century action movie in the age of comic book movies, this is kind of amazing.

Most movies, most popular fiction, simplifies our world to the point of absurdity. Good versus evil. Loki versus the Avengers. Batman versus Joker. Gandalf, Stryder and the Hobbits versus the evil Sauron and Saruman. The Expendables--who in two movies have only lost one guy, which makes them not very expendable--versus an evil central European gangster. Even most dramas make it clear that the viewer should root for the protagonist. (Think of Gladiator or The Insider or The Godfather or Erin Brockovich.)

The brilliance of Looper is that two protagonists--or three depending on how you judge the kid--play out their destinies, based on internal motivations, and the movie doesn’t tell you who to root for. You just watch the whole thing happen, hoping each character succeeds even though you know they can’t. Everything happens as it should and would. The Cabin in the Woods ends with the characters facing a moral choice. Viewers have to ask themselves, what would I do?

Oppositely, The Dark Knight Rises failed to reach its potential--at least the potential I saw in the trailer--because, though it said its villain Bane represented the working class and the 99%, he didn’t. Imagine a version of that film where the rich aristocrat--Batman--battles someone actually representing Occupy Wall Street and the people. Instead, Bane was just another comic book movie villain out to destroy the world--or Gotham.

I enjoy blockbuster summer films--at least the ones I mentioned above--but recognize that something was missing from most of them. Though I loved The Avengers, it’s missing something that Looper isn’t: moral complexity

Art is only as good as its understanding of the world we live in. The media--mainstream, new media, and Hollywood--tend to view the world in binary terms, a world of heroes and villains. Hitler, Nazis, communists, terrorists...all evil.

But the world isn’t that simple. It isn’t that binary. The choices aren’t that stark.

I wish more films were like Looper.

May 13

(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.)

We’ve criticized Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson’s Lone Survivor so many times, in so many different ways, it may feel like there is nothing else left to say.

Au contraire. We’ve yet to tackle the most relevant topic to On Violence: fighting and winning counter-insurgencies, particularly the one in Afghanistan.

While Lone Survivor doesn’t pretend to be a counter-insurgency manual, Luttrell frequently offers counter-productive (and even dangerous) advice about how to fight counter-insurgencies. No soldier or marine should ever look to Marcus Luttrell for guidance.

Here are the worst parts from Lone Survivor relating to counter-insurgency:

Issue 1: Identifying the Enemy

You can't beat an insurgent if you can't identify them. As we noted in our post on the mistakes in Lone Survivor, Luttrell, describing his experience in Iraq, lumps "al Qeada or Taliban, Shiite or Sunni, Iraqi or Foreign, a freedom fighter for Saddam" together. Reread that. He thought he was facing the Taliban in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, he doesn’t distinguish between the various groups like the Taliban, Haqqani network, Hezb-e Islami Gulbadin (HiG), or Al Qaeda. He claimed his arch-nemesis Ben Sharmak (aka Ahmad Shah) was a serious Taliban bad guy, when in reality he was more closely identified with the HiG group. In two places, he links the Taliban with 9/11, which stretches the truth. He writes, "Taliban fighters were nothing like so rough and dirty as Afghan mountain peasants. Many of them had been educated in America," a more accurate description of Al Qaeda than the Taliban. He then says that Kunar was "the place where the destruction of the WTC was born and nourished". That’s just flat wrong. (Most of al Qaeda’s training was based around Kandahar, which is in the south. The Taliban barely controlled Kunar province.)

In maneuver war, firepower wins. In irregular wars, intelligence wins. Lone Survivor doesn’t convey that nuance.

Issue 2: Empathy

No army loves its enemies. But you do need to understand them. And even empathize them.

The best counter-insurgents and insurgents can at least empathize with the people they work for and live with. Lone Survivor misses this. Luttrell describes Afghanistan as "the place where a brand of evil flourishes that is beyond the understanding of most Westerners." Or thumbing his nose at a place that is, in his words, "Primitive with a big P." Hard to empathize with people you consider savages. Or people Luttrell calls, “hate-filled.” If you can’t empathize with the population, you will never be able to separate them from the insurgents.

Issue 3: Hardcore Terrorists and Accidental Guerrillas

In addition to exaggerating the number of insurgents he faced, Luttrell exaggerates their importance. He identifies every Taliban fighter as a hardcore terrorist. The real world isn't so simple, though. Many insurgents, as described by David Kilcullen, are temporary fighters fighting for local causes, like honor or against a perceived invader. Most likely the ambush facing the SEALs was not an expertly trained, company-sized element, but a small group of insurgents (allied with the HiG) bolstered by local Korengalis fighting for their honor.

I say again, intelligence versus firepower.

Issue 4: SEALs as Counter-Insurgents

Special Operations troops, like Rangers, SEALs and Delta Force, fill a vital need in counter-insurgencies, conducting direct action missions. But that doesn’t mean all special operations troops are good for all counter-insurgency missions.

For instance, in one mission, Luttrell said it "required interrogation, a skill at which we were all very competent." But he was never trained in interrogation (we know because Luttrell goes over every single piece of training he ever received), so how could he competently interrogate someone? Or even do so legally since interrogations on objectives have to be approved by an officer equivalent in rank to an Army Colonel or Navy Captain? And, again legally, interrogations must be performed by trained human intelligence professionals. So how did Luttrell do them?

The idea of SEALs as counter-insurgents bothers me because it shows how much Luttrell doesn’t know about his role in the larger war machine. If he thinks he can do intelligence, direct action missions, and reconnaissance, (plus who knows how many other missions) and if he thinks his SEALs will win the war by themselves, then he needs to learn a lot more about working with regular units.

Unfortunately, Luttrell’s attitude is all too common in special operations in general. (Check out this organization chart from Thomas Ricks’ blog to get an idea how little special operations and conventional units work together.)

Issue 5: Fighting the Right War

The way Luttrell talks about warfare, you would think he was fighting World War II, not battling insurgents in an irregular (political) war. For instance, Luttrell describes the Taliban crossing from Pakistan into Konar as, "this was a border hot spot, where multiple Taliban troop movements were taking place on a weekly, or even daily basis." It sounds like he is describing the Germans moving into Poland, except that isn't how the Taliban operates. They move in small units when possible, and live off the population. Saying "insurgent cells crossed the border" makes way more sense than saying the Taliban conducted "troop movements".

But this thinking makes sense for a commando who wants to fight the enemy straight up. You can see this when Luttrell describes his mission, “[al queda and taliban remnants] were preparing to start over, trying to fight their way through the mountain passes...And our coming task was to stop them." Why send in SEALs? “In general terms, we believe there are very few of the world’s problems we could not solve with high-explosive or a well-aimed bullet.”

In reality, a well-aimed bullet is only one tool amongst many needed to defeat an insurgency.

Which is a shame because Luttrell almost gets it.

Just because the bulk of Lone Survivor misunderstands counter-insurgency doesn't mean that Lutrell/Robinson didn't slip in one good nugget of counter-insurgency wisdom. In one sentence, they sum up how to defeat an insurgency: "the key to winning was intel, identifying the bomb makers, finding the supplies, and smashing the Taliban arsenal before they could use it."

He identified that the key to winning is intelligence. As I said several times in this post, in an irregular war like Afghanistan, intelligence, not maneuver, wins the day. Yet the rest of Lone Survivor fails to mention where the SEALs got their intelligence (Marine Corps daily patrols), the value of winning over locals (Luttrell seems stunned the local tribes protected him) and building up the Afghan security forces (Luttrell’s mission is U.S. only). Instead, he talks about the value of direct action missions (”there are very few of the world’s problems...”) to the exclusion of all else.

Again, Lone Survivor isn’t a counter-insurgency manual. But far more Americans have read/will see Lone Survivor and will learn more about Afghanistan from this book/movie than any other source. It is a shame they will come away with the exact wrong ideas about how to wage this type of war.

May 07

As always, more On V updates...

An Update to Sexual Assault in the Military

Unlike the last couple years, we haven’t written about this year’s Oscar contenders yet, which is insane. Between Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino’s The Slavery Revenge Blaxploitation Feature, we’ve got more than enough war and violence to write about.

Every year the documentary category tends to have one war-related pic (though they never win) and this year was no different. The Invisible War covered an issue Eric C has followed closely since we launched this blog: sexual assault in the military. A trendy upset pick in the category of Best Full Length Documentary, The Invisible War made waves around D.C., including a viewing by then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Sexual assault in the military was also featured in a cover story in Rolling Stone a few months back, and an NPR news story last month. (We could probably do an “On V Update on War and Rape” every other month.)

Unfortunately, the updates keep coming. Just yesterday the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention chief was arrested for sexual assault. And a report released today by the Pentagon today shows that:

"Sexual assaults in the military are a growing epidemic across the services and thousands of victims are still unwilling to come forward despite a slew of new oversight and assistance programs...Troubling new numbers estimate that up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year..."

Growing Beards in the Muslim World Redux

Last December, and again a few weeks back, we questioned the widespread growth of deployment beards by Special Forces soldiers. One commenter pointed out how SF beards tended to be unkempt, whereas locals took immaculate care of their own. Francis Conliffe, an armour officer from Canada, forwarded us this article, pointing out that “It will hardly make anyone an expert, but the main point is that how you wear the beard is even more important than having one at all--a point that may be lost on some of the men in your photo collection.”

Doing other research, we also found possibly the greatest SF beard yet.

This guy knows how to build rapport.

Two More Innocent Criminals Released

I hate it when innocent people go to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. On the one hand, I understand that no criminal justice system can get it right 100% of the time. On the other, why are the innocent people always poor, often minorities, and never represented adequately in court? In recent months, both Radiolab and 60 Minutes showed how confirmation bias encouraged wrongful prosecutions. (I’m also taking Organizational Behavior right now, so confirmation bias is on my mind.) Worse, these articles both show how our justice system refuses to admit mistakes when it makes them.

Check out our series “Intelligence is Evidence” to understand why this is a problem for law enforcement...and the intelligence community. Intelligence folks at Langley should heed the warnings from our criminal justice system, but they have no incentive to do so.

An Amazing Link Drop for the Military’s Culture

Peter J. Munson on his blog (and cross-posted on SWJ) pulled together some thoughts for a panel with the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group, creating a pretty exhaustive list of articles about the need to think about our military’s culture, and its implications. On the way, he cites our series, “Our Communist Military”; we appreciate the shout out.

Our Communist Military’s Gun Control/Defense Rhetorical Inconsistency

When we write about guns--which we explained here won’t be for a while--we’ll be on the lookout for sneaky inconsistencies...like those from “Our Communist Military”.

For instance, as Dominic Tierney absolutely throws down, Republicans are crazy hypocritical on this issue. Republicans believe gun control will hamper a citizen’s right to stop tyranny; they also want a giant military--the same military that would enforce that tyranny. Tierney writes:

“In the current debate over gun control, the pro-gun lobby has an ace card up its sleeve: We need weapons to prevent government tyranny, they say. These self-styled champions of liberty see guns as the ultimate insurance policy to protect the Constitution. The problem is that most of those making this argument also strongly support a massive U.S. military -- exactly the behemoth we must be armed against...

“When conservatives take up armed resistance against D.C. despotism, they'll really regret some of the toys they gave the government. Rubio and Palin want the populace to be able to arm itself with assault rifles. But they want the government armed with F-35s -- a $100 million-plus stealth plane with a top speed of Mach 1.6. When President Obama discovers his inner tyrant, it won't be a fair fight...

“Conservatives say that a weaponized citizenry is a necessary shield against dictatorship. I'll take the argument more seriously if conservatives stop arming this tyrant to the teeth.”

We couldn’t have said it better, except maybe to add...

The ACLU on Our More Militarized Police

The ACLU recently launched an investigation into America’s increasingly militarized police forces. We have to imagine that conservatives will be right there with them---we have to stop tyranny. What’s more tyrannical than a police force armed with military grade weapons and body armor?

Finally, a Shout Out to the Center for Army Lessons Learned...

...who, we just found out, linked to Michael C’s article “Influencing the Population: Using Interpreters, Conducting KLEs, and Executing IO in Afghanistan” in November of 2012 about cultural analysis and Afghanistan.

May 06

Four years ago to the day, without much fanfare, we launched On Violence. Over the last four-tenths of a decade, we've written about numerous topics, received countless compliments (and criticisms) and reached more people than we thought possible. Thank you to all the people who have made this possible, they know who they are.

(If you want to see the best posts of the last four years, please look at the sidebar for our centennial recaps.)