May 18

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

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

As Luttrell tells it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 18

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

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

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

                                       (Rob Curtis/Military Times)

(H/t to Weekend Update)

May 17

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

From Page 10-11:

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

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

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

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

                                      (Rob Curtis/Military Times)

(H/t to Weekend Update)

May 17

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

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

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

- A 300 Page Ethical Dilemma

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

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

- A Literary Review of Lone Survivor

- An Open Letter to Universal and Peter Berg

- BTW, Insurgents Have Rules of Engagement As Well

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

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

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

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

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

- A New Game: Spot the Navy SEAL!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Is Operation Red Wings Important?

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

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

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

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

- More Updates on Lone Survivor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 07

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

The Return of...Quotes Behaving Badly

The Fury of the "Quotes Behaving Badly"

Quotes Behaving Badly IV: The Quotes Strike Back

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

Quotes Behaving Badly: Edition

Why We Still Hate Quotes Behaving Badly


"A witty saying proves nothing." - Voltaire 

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

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

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

Without further ado, here is the list:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Philosophy of Violence-
Defining Violence
 Violence in Context
On Genocide

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

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

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

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

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

May 05

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

International terrorism is the gravest threat America has ever faced.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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