Dec 01

We continue our quest to clear out stored up links to old ideas. (Expect a lot more next year.) Enjoy!

Muslims are Speaking Out

Last month, John Mikolajczyk wrote a guest post for us, “Good Muslims vs. Bad Muslims”, pushing back against the idea that there is a “lack of push-back against Islamic extremism worldwide” from the Islamic community. Recently, NPR’s On the Media explored two different ways that Muslim communities in America and England have also pushed back against violent extremism. OTM confirms what Mikolajczyk wrote for us: Muslims are speaking out against violence in their name.

The Video Game-Military-Industrial Complex

Last year, Eric C wrote about how the lack of COIN-centric video games. (The sub-title isn’t serious.) The article, "Four Times the Army has Tried to Turn War into a Game", by David Axe of War is Boring (now on Medium.com) describes the Army’s four attempts at making a video game. Each time, a budget-conscious voter could ask, “Why does the Army need to make a video game for the general public?”

To Eric C's point, none of these games seriously take on or address counter-insurgencies, only tactics and squad maneuvers. Man, the military really isn’t going to embrace COIN.

War with Iran

Two years ago, reviewing the case against starting a war with Iran, we pointed out the threat to huge U.S. capital ships--the biggest and most numerous in the world--from anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles. The article, "Mystery Weapon Terrifies Armials", in War is Boring describes how China has spent considerable amounts of cash and time perfecting these missiles. While the article doesn’t mention Iran by name, when it comes to irregular seafare, Iran is always involved.

Since we last wrote about Iran, the country has continued to not attack its neighbors, continued to not have a nuclear weapon, and continued to negotiate with the U.S. Worse, instead of Americans celebrating these achievements, and embracing the possibility of renewing relationships permanently with Iran, war hawks continue to over-hype the threat and threaten to derail these talks.

Discrediting the Neo-Cons

Iraq didn’t have nuclear, biological or chemical weapons capable of attacking America. (We debunked the Syria myth here and elaborated on political ignorance here.) Because of this, and the fact that we deposed a secular dictator, replaced him with a religious dictator aligned with Iran and now the country is mired in a civil war, most people think the Iraq War was a failure. But this hasn’t affected the foreign policy debate, as Peter Beinart points out in this amazing paragraph:

Had a Martian descended to earth in January 2003, spent a few days listening to Washington Republicans talk foreign policy, and then returned in January 2013, she would likely conclude that the Iraq War had been a fabulous success. She would conclude that because, as far as I can tell, not a single Republican-aligned Beltway foreign-policy politician or pundit enjoys less prominence than he did a decade ago because he supported the Iraq War, and not a single one enjoys more prominence because he opposed it. From Bill Kristol to Charles Krauthammer to John McCain to John Bolton to Dan Senor, the same people who dominated Republican foreign-policy discourse a decade ago still dominate it today, and they espouse exactly the same view of the world. As for those conservatives who opposed Iraq—people at places like the Cato Institute and The National Interest who believe that there are clear limits to American military power—our Fox News–watching, Wall Street Journal–reading Martian would have been largely unaware of their existence in 2003 and would remain largely unaware today.

He wrote that last January about Secretary Hagel. After a near war with Syria and the current war in Iraq, it is even more shocking no one has been held to account.

Michael C Isn’t Not the Only Clausewitz “Hater”

The Small Wars Journal hosted an article, “The Continuing Irrelevance of Clausewitz”, asking if he was still relevant, though the article makes a much more nuanced argument than that title suggests. (Again, only bring up Clausewitz at your own risk.) Still, Wm. J. Olson‘s argument echoes many of my feelings on Clausewitz’s near infallibility in some circles:

What shortcomings it is reputed to have as an overall theory--for an older generation like Martin van Creveld or John Keegan, to a newer crop of critics like Mary Kaldor and the 'new war' crowd--are generally dismissed as the result of the fact that Clausewitz died before he could complete an in-depth revision of his masterwork based on his evolving thinking, which a close enough reading of the existing text reveals at various points his true vision to put to rest any doubts about the seminal nature of his work. Thus his obscurity on certain points is a defense against doubt on any point.

War on the Rocks’ David Maxwell responded by clarifying some of Olson’s points (that Clausewitz is a useful starting point, but not an end of the discussion; a point we agree on) but we particularly like that Maxwell used the phrase “Clausewitzians”!

May 07

Today marks the five year anniversary of On Violence. We feel like, on an occasion like this, it’s a moment for self-reflection, but we’re, oddly, not in a self-reflective mood. Despite how good this year has been for us in terms of traffic and exposure, we don’t feel like looking back.

We’re always charging away on a number of projects, always busy, always looking for more time. So instead of looking back, we’re looking forward.

All that said, this last year has been a huge for us, mainly off the residual energy of Lone Survivor, including an article in Slate. We’re really proud of the work we did, as one of a few resources compiling the facts on the most popular war film and memoir since 9/11. We’re also proud of the other posts we did, on COIN media, on Syria, on quotes, on everything.

So look forward to another year of writing. We’re going to keep charging away until we run out of ideas. We haven’t run out of them yet. They keep multiplying like rabbits.

Stay tuned.

Oct 15

(To check out other “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, please click here.)

Before last month’s “On V Update to Old Ideas” post, we hadn’t run one in months, but we’ve been collecting links the whole time. Prepare for a bunch of updates, sorted by theme. Today’s theme? Money.

We Don’t Need a Sequester to Waste Money

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned that if the sequester went through, it would force the military to implement blunt budget cuts, which would waste money and (hypothetically) harm our soldiers in the future. (The go-to argument for anyone defending the military.) He neglected to mention that the Pentagon routinely makes terrible financial decisions. For instance...

...the Army is now literally junking the mine resistant vehicles that it spent billions shipping to Afghanistan instead of shipping them home.   

...the Army is constructing a headquarters building in Afghanistan, costing millions per month, which it plans to leave vacant.

...as it prepares to leave Afghanistan, an Inspector General report found billions of dollars in waste in only three months.

...Air Force officer Dan Ward writes that military contracting is so poorly managed, we don’t even know how bad we are at it.

When the military does contracting this bad, no one wins. Oh, except for defense contractors. They make lots of money. To fix the system, one assumes we need strong civilian leadership to rein in Generals and Admirals. Unfortunately, President Obama nominated military industry executive Deborah Lee James as Secretary of the Air Force. The revolving door between government and contractors continues to spin.

It also turns out that defense spending doesn’t provide the economic benefits many claim. Blogger, professor and zombie aficionado Dan Drezner has a new paper that debunks the idea that American military spending provides economic benefits to the world or America.

And that go-to-defense of military spending, “that it will hurt our men and women in uniform”? Friend of the blog Sven Ortmann delivers a marvelous pieces combining economics and military budgeting which debunks that notion completely. He asks, "How much should the U.S. spend to keep its soldiers safe?" and comes up with a number. For all the economists out there (or conservatives who claim to follow economics), you have to read this.

Contracting Money Influences the Debate

Since the NSA debate has triggered a lot of journalist-on-journalist attacks, we have avoided taking sides or commenting. (If our readers want to know our takes, wait until January...) However, we absolutely agree with Glenn Greenwald when he nailed the press--particularly Face the Nation--for not disclosing the financial self-interest of many pro-NSA commentators to its viewers, like General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA under President Bush. From Greenwald:

“But worse than the omission of Hayden's NSA history is his current - and almost always unmentioned - financial stake in the very policies he is being invited to defend. Hayden is a partner in the Chertoff Group, a private entity that makes more and more money by increasing the fear levels of the US public and engineering massive government security contracts for their clients. Founded by former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, it's filled with former national security state officials who exploit their connections in and knowledge of Washington to secure hugely profitable government contracts for their clients."

As we wrote in our coverage of Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, many government officials exaggerate the threat of terrorism. While they sincerely believe in their work, they also have financial interests to do so.

An Update to Doing Aid Right

While this article on “The Matador Network” seems like a Reddit link bait scam, it accurately explains why dropping bombs of free t-shirts and shoes (as TOMS does) is terrible aid policy. The best part about the TOMS story is that I swear my entire business school loves TOMS. Literally, business school students take economics in one class, then give a presentation during communications advocating the TOMS model.

I, (Michael C), say this criticism as a solid moderate. I just think we should do aid/government/business efficiently and effectively. While business has built-in mechanisms for that, aid and government don't. The podcast Tiny Spark had done great work critiquing foreign aid, with a recent episode on Jeffrey Sachs’ Millenium Villages. I’ve advocated before for renewed U.S. foreign aid spending. I still want that, but our government must do it right, using controlled experiments, analyzing data and spreading it liberally.   

Why Does the U.S. Keeps Sending Weapons to Egypt?

Because of defense contractors.

Before Syria replaced Egypt in the news, there was a lot of discussion about U.S. aid to that specific country. For a primer and explanation on why that aid doesn’t make a lot of sense--because most of the money spent on Egypt goes to American defense contractors--listen to this excellent Planet Money episode, then shake your head.

Aug 05

Head over to the excellent blog, Carrying the Gun to read a new guest post titled, "What Does It Actually Mean to Prove Your Manhood?" responding to the insanely controversial topic of letting women serve in the infantry.

Check it out.

Also, we’ll be adding Carrying the Gun to our blogroll. Frankly, we don’t know how this hasn’t happened yet.

Jul 02

As we do twice a year, Eric C and I will be taking a break from posting for the next two weeks. (It's summer; we're busy.)

Expect new posts on the July 15th.

May 07

(To check out other “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, please click here.)

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.)

Apr 25

This post, the one you’re reading right now, is our 600th post. As we like to do every hundred posts, we’re sharing our best/favorite posts from the last 100. We’ve divided them into our best series and our best individual posts. (To read more “Best of On V” collections, check out the sidebar or click here.)

Series:

Four large series dominated our last 100 posts. First, Michael C tried to offer solutions to the situation with Iran (we don’t like the words conflict or war). Our favorites from that series include “Which Country Do You Prefer? Putting Iran's "Evil" In Context”, “My Solution to the Iran Problem” and “The Best Comment On Violence Has Ever Received

Meanwhile, we finally wrote about HBO’s seminal war mini-series, Band of Brothers, where we wrote a post (or two) on each episode of the series. Eric C’s two favorite posts were from the last two episodes, “Band of Brothers' "Why We Fight" or: No, That's Not Why We Fought” and “The Myth of the Good War: Band of Brothers ‘Points’” Michael C wrote the excellent post, “The Feeling You Might Live Through It: Band of Brothers' "The Last Patrol".

We also continued our trend of igniting small “Twitter wars” with Eric C’s post “The Sobel Problem: Band of Brothers "Currahee" where he argued that officers weren’t just equal to enlisted men, but better. We defended the idea here, but noticed that a lot of the arguments (“Everyone is equal, regardless of rank!”) were...

Communist.

Oh yes, if you want to piss people off, call the military communist, even if you’re just using the phrase rhetorically. Our favorite posts from the “Our Communist Military” series were “The Most Greatest Institution in Human History...Our Communist Military!”, “Our Politically Correct Communist Milblogs” (which upset the usually imperturbable Jonn Lilyea) and the pro-market “Our Command Economy Communist Military”, “Our Pro-Veteran Communist Criminal Justice System” and asked, “Is Toys for Tots...Communist?

Finally, Eric C finally learned how to spell “Petraeus” when we wrote our 2013 “Most Intriguing Event of the Year” about Benghazi and the General Petraeus sex scandal.

Posts

Way back, we wrote two art posts that we especially love, “War is War is Film Part I” and “War is War is Film Part II”, where we found quotes from movie characters that espouse “war is war” philosophy. Eric C’s favorite line:

“I expected to find mostly bad ass action heroes like John Rambo or “Dirty” Harry Callahan. Instead, I mostly found super villains. And comparing “war is war”-iors to Grand Moff Tarkin or General Jack D. Ripper is like comparing them to Hitler...   

“Or it might just be that if super villains espouse your military theory, you may be on the wrong side of history.”

Eric C wrote up an art post, “I’d Buy That Police Station for a Dollar!: RoboCop and America’s Awesomely Privatized Future”, on how one of the greatest action films of all time predicted America’s militarized-police future. Michael C read it and asked, “Is that all you got?”. He wrote, “The Enforcement Droid is Programmed for Urban Pacification!

Of course, our still-too-small stable of guest posters contributed some great work. Matty P wrote one of Eric’s favorite posts of last year, “Guest Post: You Think You Know Pain?” Matthew Bradley absolutely threw down academically with “Guest Post: Opportunistic Scavengers in the Sahel”. And finally, an anonymous author sent us “Guest Post: When Saying, “Thanks for Your Service” Doesn’t Cut It”. Thanks for the great work guys.   

Though it didn’t get as large a response as we wanted, Michael C’s “The Military’s Gay Shower Fiasco...and 5 Other Anti-DADT Predictions that Never Came True” is also one of our favorite posts from last year.

Hey, want to stop insurgencies? Michael C explained what we’re doing wrong in, “Hearts, Minds and Gatorade Bottles Filled With Urine” and then offered solutions in “Don't Burn Korans, Kill Children, or Drop Bomblets That Look Like Candy: An Incomplete List of Counter-Insurgency Do’s and Don’ts”.

Eric C wrote two posts that got long standing ideas off his chest, first asking how “The Best Trained, Most Professional Military...Just Lost Two Wars?” and detailing the “The World War I Problem

Michael C, on the other hand, just wanted to break the internet. With that in mind, he wrote, “A New Game: Spot the Navy SEAL!” to (rightfully) piss off special operators. He followed that up with “Growing Deployment Beards Works! So Do These 8 Ideas”. Oh, and Clausewitz happened.

Finally, Michael C’s favorite post from the last year was “Queer Eye for the Straight Navy: An Argument to Paint Aircraft Carriers Rainbow Colors”, offering a suggestion for how the Navy should paint its ships. Unfortunately, he dashed cold water on himself two days later in “A Flock of Seagoing Easter Eggs: Four Reasons Why It Won't Happen”.