May 17

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

From Page 10-11:

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

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

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

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

                                      (Rob Curtis/Military Times)

(H/t to Weekend Update)

May 17

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

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

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

- A 300 Page Ethical Dilemma

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

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

- A Literary Review of Lone Survivor

- An Open Letter to Universal and Peter Berg

- BTW, Insurgents Have Rules of Engagement As Well

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

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

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

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

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

- A New Game: Spot the Navy SEAL!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Is Operation Red Wings Important?

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

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

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

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

- More Updates on Lone Survivor


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 07

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

The Return of...Quotes Behaving Badly

The Fury of the "Quotes Behaving Badly"

Quotes Behaving Badly IV: The Quotes Strike Back

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

Quotes Behaving Badly: Anti-War.com Edition

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 FP.com. The full quote (emphasis mine) is actually: "I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence....I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour. But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence..."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Philosophy of Violence-
        
Defining Violence
      
 Violence in Context
        
On Genocide

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

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

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

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

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

May 05

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

International terrorism is the gravest threat America has ever faced.

[Pause.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 03

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

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

Oops.

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

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

Violence Has Not Been Studied

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

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

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

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

Overturning the Definition of Violence

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

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

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

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

Bringing the Philosophy to the Present

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

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

May 02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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