Welcome, Mr. Secretary

At one point during his election campaign, President-Elect Donald Trump promised to spend the first hundred days on the job restoring the U.S military. And following the endless unsuccessful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, restoring it certainly needs. Now he has come up with the man who is supposed to do the restoring: four-star Marine Corps General (ret.) James Mattis.

To imitate the language of the Old Testament, I shall not list “the rest of the General’s acts, and all his might, and all that he did.” They can easily be found on the Net. A few points, however, are worth taking note of. First, he is immensely experienced, having made his way up by participating in practically every war the U.S has fought from 1972 on. Second, as a high-ranking Marine he is intimately familiar with operations “in the air, on land and sea” (the Marine Corps anthem) and not just with one of the three as so many army, navy and air force generals are. Third, along with general David Petraeus he was responsible for America’s counterinsurgency doctrine. Precisely that which, in this day and age of what I once called “non-trinitarian warfare,” is the most important and the most necessary of all. Fourth, he cares for his troops. Fifth, he is a man of considerable learning such as is rarely found among his fellow officers (having lived with them, I should know). Last not least, he has no fear of speaking his mind. A quality which, in today’s politically-correct world, is as hard to find as diamonds.

Entering office, the General will have his work cut out for him. Two issues on which he has expressed himself in the past are Iran and “the Middle East” (meaning, of course, Israel and the Palestinians). So let me start by venturing to provide him with some cautious advice on both of those. Re. Iran, I think that the present agreement with that country is as good as can be had. It is good for Iran, good, for the Middle East, good for the U.S, and good for world peace. Why re-open a (nuclear) nest of hornets when, judging by everything that has happened since Tehran re-started its nuclear program back in the early 1990s there is no need? The more so because, by doing so, the US will be widely seen as untrustworthy, a problem which will surely complicate efforts to deal with similar issues such as, for example, North Korea. And the more so because it will be pushing Iran into Putin’s welcoming arms.

As to my own country, I agree with outgoing President Barak Obama that fifty years of occupation are enough and more than enough. The present situation is untenable for the world, for the US, and, not least, Israel itself. Surprising as it may sound to outsiders, many, perhaps even most, Israelis are aware of this fact. However, they are prevented from doing what has to be done—in one way or another, get the devil out of the Territories—by the country’s complicated internal political divisions. As they say, four Jews, five opinions! So I strongly suggest that the new Secretary of Defense should put his weight behind the attempts to impose some kind of enforced solution. One which, while not perfect, will at least extinguish many flames and dispose of many sparks (as our mutual acquaintance Clausewitz puts it in On War.)

Important as these issues are, they only comprise the beginning. As readers of the present blog as well as my book Pussycats will know, I see the military crisis the U.S (and other Western countries, including, in many ways, my own) is undergoing primarily as a spiritual one. Not, in other words, one that is occasioned by lack of money. And not as one caused by defective organization, inappropriate doctrine, insufficient equipment, inadequate training, and so on. To repeat, it is the spirit, eroded partly by a whole series of unsuccessful wars and partly by domestic factors, which has been lacking and which must be restored.

Here I want to quote some little-known words General Mattis uttered two years ago (according to the Washington Times, 25.5.2014). The text of his remarks goes as follows:

I would just say there is one misperception of our veterans and that is they are somehow damaged goods. I don’t buy it.

If we tell our veterans enough that this is what is wrong with them they may actually start believing it.

While victimhood in America is exalted I don’t think our veterans should join those ranks.

There is also something called post traumatic growth where you come out of a situation like that and you actually feel kinder toward your fellow man and fellow woman.

We are going to have to have young people in our country who are willing to go toe to toe with this because two irreconcilable wills exist.

There is no room for military people, including our veterans, to see themselves as victims even if so many of our countrymen are prone to relish that role.

Coming on top of some other courageous words General Mattis has spoken over the years, it is probable that, in the entire U.S military there is no one more suitable to carry out the necessary repairs than he is. Repairs, let me repeat, whose nature is predominantly spiritual, not material.

And so I wish him good luck in what is surely going to be a very difficult task.

A Reminder of Vietnam

Charles Krohn, The Lost Battalion of Tet: Breakout of the 2/12 Cavalry at Hue, Baltimore, Md, Naval Institute Press, 2008.

I read this book, a revised edition of the 1993 original, on two levels. As a description of the operations of 2/12th cavalry battalion during the battle of Hue (February 1968) it is superb. The initial feeling of superiority—at this time, almost all US troops still believed in the war and looked down on their enemies whom they called “gooks.” The arrival of the battalion, minus its artillery support and the men’s packs, which HQ had ordered them to leave behind, at TFP (This F— Place) north of Hue. From there they were supposed to attack south so as to help relieve the city’s defenders. The order to attack an entrenched and well prepared enemy without previous artillery preparation. The attack itself, and its costly failure. What it was like, being counterattacked by the NVA, surrounded, and threatened with total destruction. The decision of the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Sweet, to break out and its successful implementation. The heavy casualties—between dead and injured, almost two third of initial strength. The falsification of the number of enemy soldiers killed. It is all there, as detailed and as realistic as one would expect from the author who was acting as the battalion intelligence officer and a participant in the battle, from beginning to end. And who, as a professor of journalism, knows how to write.

On another level, though, the book leaves more questions than answers. From beginning to end the Americans in Vietnam had every advantage on their side. Though Krohn does not say so, along with the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) they outnumbered their enemies by about three to one. Initially, troop morale was very high. They were well organized, well trained and better equipped than any other armed forces in history up to that time. Supported by a superb communication-network, they had heavy B-52 bombers on call. They had fighter-bombers on call. They had gunships on call. They had helicopters on call. Piloted by incredibly brave men, throughout the battle of Hue the helicopters brought in supplies and evacuated many wounded.

Above all, as Krohn says several times, they had a magnificent logistic system that stretched back across the Pacific all the way to America’s west coast. On one occasion it enabled the battalion to use three air strikes, helicopter rocket runs, and more than one thousand artillery rounds to dislodge a single sniper. A single sniper! A hero, if ever one there was. And the NVA? Their supplies, says Krohn, had to be brought from North Vietnam to Que San by way of Laos. On foot.

So taking a look around, how did the US, as the most powerful country in history, lose the war? To be sure, this is not Krohn’s topic. Nevertheless, towards the end of his book he provides a few hints. First, if the NVA succeeded in fortifying TFP as well as they did, it was due partly to the fact that they used the American’s own building materials which had been left behind. Second, a captured NVA document revealed that, in the authors’ estimation, fewer than one third of the US troops around Hue were combat. Third, compared with World War II American readiness to take casualties was minimal.

As we now know, it was not the last time the US lost a war.

Military Women Are Not the Cure, They Are the Disease

For about twenty years now, I have been warning whoever would and would not listen about the dangers of feminizing the military. Now, in my own country, the chicks—no pun intended—are coming home to roost. As readers will know, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are the only ones in history to have made women wear uniform even against their will. However, from the end of the War of Independence (1948) to the late 1970s they only did so in a variety of auxiliary Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) that had little impact on the fighting “teeth.” At that point a shortage of manpower generated by the forces’ expansion following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War on one hand and feminist pressures on the other caused the situation to change. Female officers and enlisted personnel increased in both numbers and importance until the IDF was blessed with three small “combat” battalions made up mostly of women. Albeit that they are deployed along the borders with Egypt and Jordan, where hardly a shot has been fired for decades past.

Fast-move forward. For about a month now I have noticed, in Israel’s most important paper Yediot Ahronot, a series of articles about various combat IDF units. How little the public knew about them. How wonderful they were. How important the missions they carried out, and how daring their feats. Which towns provided them with proportionally the largest number of recruits. And so on. Briefly. the kind of stuff you would expect from a military that has difficulties attracting manpower.

Last week, the reasons behind the various publications came out of the bag. What I had suspected all along has now been announced with great fanfare. Year by year, fewer recruits are interested in joining the combat arms. From 2015 to 2016 alone, the figure went down by two percentage points, from 71.91 to 69.8. The decline is less pronounced among women, more among men. Coming on top of the fact that more and more men do not serve in the first place, the IDF has good reason to worry about its ability to fill combat slots as they should be.

Throwing in money apart, several solutions have been proposed. One is to cut down on the training of cadets and fresh recruits so as to free them for tasks such as holding down the Occupied Territories. Another is to dramatically lower physical standards. Should this come to pass, then soldiers previously classified as fit only for desk-bound tasks and disaster relief either in the Territories or in Israel itself will be able to serve in “combat” MOS. For example, by controlling passports and looking for contraband at the various checkpoints leading from Israel to the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Jordan.

The most radical idea of all is to have women serve in the armored corps. But don’t let the slim figure, narrow shoulders, slender arms, and manicured nails of the good-looking girl in the picture mislead you. Over half of a tank’s weight consist of armor, and each of the road wheels shown weighs about as much as she does. As you would expect from such a machine, operating and maintaining it—as by loading ammunition, or swabbing the barrel of the gun, or changing a link in the tracks—is very heavy, and often very dirty, work only a handful of women can do. Should a woman be included in a tank crew, then the outcome will be to increase the burden on her male comrades. Perhaps even more problematic, in the confined space of an armored vehicle privacy is not minimal—it simply does not exist.

Such a system, in other words, can only lead to one of two things or, perhaps, to both. First, there will be another increase in the number of injured, in some cases even crippled, women hobbling about. And of course in claims for compensation of the kind which, even now, amounts to fully four percent of Israel’s entire defense budget. Second, there is going to be a big rise in “sexual harassment” claims; a problem which, as I pointed out in my recent book Pussycats, is currently wrecking not only Israel’s armed forces but those of all other Western ones as well.

More women in the forces are not the cure. They are the disease, or at least part of it. Feminization will inevitably lead, by all signs has already led, to the creation of a vicious cycle. By definition, the more women enter any professional field, institution, or branch of service the fewer men will remain in it. The fewer men remain, the more its prestige and the economic rewards it can command will be compromised. The more its prestige and economic rewards it can command are compromised, the fewer men it will be attract.

This process has been documented many, many times. Often by female researchers who worry, with good reason, about the impact their own growing presence may have on the rewards they can expect in their chosen fields. The best-known cases are those of secretaries (once upon a time, practically all secretaries were male), bank-tellers, pharmacists, book-editors, bakers, psychologists, and “wealth managers.” The ongoing decline in the ability of the humanities to attract students also seems to be linked with the fact that the percentage of female faculty members is them is exceptionally high.

And which IDF combat units do not suffer from a shortage of men? You guessed it: The two elite, entirely male, infantry brigades, Golani and the paratroopers.

At War for Aleppo

For those of you who have forgotten, Syria’s civil war, which broke out in May 2011, reached Aleppo in July 2012. That was when the rebels, comprising a loose coalition of militias (at last count there were several dozens of them, some religious, others secular) entered Syria’s largest the city, estimated population three million, from the northeast. This caused it to be divided into two: an eastern part under rebel control and a western one held by government troops. That is how things remain down to the present, albeit that the militias have lost some ground and the government has gained some.

In the autumn of 2015 Russia, which up until then had been providing the Syrian Army with weapons and logistic support, joined in the fighting. Since then its combat aircraft and cruise missiles, including some of the world’s most sophisticated, have been hitting Aleppo (and other targets, but those do not concern us here) almost non-stop. In doing so they were joined by Syrian helicopters dropping their notorious barrel bombs. The total number of strikes of both kinds has been in the many hundreds, perhaps in the thousands.

helicopter-carrying-barrel-bombsThroughout the period in question, and indeed right from the beginning of the conflict, the rebels on their part did not possess a single weapon or weapon system capable of contesting their enemies’ near total command of the air. Even their anti-aircraft defenses, the kind that back in Afghanistan during the 1980s were said to have played a critical role in forcing the Soviets to concede defeat, were practically non-existent. Or else surely Assad would have had to withdraw his helicopters, which as weapons go are in many ways exceptionally vulnerable, months it not years ago. Just look at the above image!

Not only were the rebels almost totally exposed to air attack, but at no time during the five-plus years that the conflict has lasted were they united under a single command capable of formulating a coherent strategy and carrying it out. Indeed one reason why the government has been able to survive at all is because, in addition to periodically butchering each other, they also had ISIS, coming at them from across the Iraqi border, to cope with. Not to mention Syria’s Kurds many of whom saw the war as an opportunity to rid the provinces in which they live from Damascus’ rule and set up their own militias. Facing the government forces and their Russian allies, basically all the rebels in Aleppo can do is take cover and hold out.

Whenever Western armed forces lose a war in the “developing” world, as they have regularly done for the last six decades or so, there is no lack of excuses and explanations. Here I want to focus on the kind of excuse that attributes the defeats to “Western values,” or “humanitarianism,” or “democracy,” or the “media.” Briefly the factors that allegedly made the troops fight “with one (or two) hands tied behind their back” and prevented them from “kicking ass.” See the American wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Vietnam. And see so many others, specifically including the Israeli ones in Lebanon in 1982 and, to a lesser extent in 2006, as to make one lose count.

Yet none of these factors apply in Syria. Neither President Assad nor his patron Putin are Western, humanitarian, or democratic. Neither allows the media to operate freely in their respective countries so as to influence public opinion against the war, let alone interfere with military operations. Neither gives a hoot about the death and destruction their forces are inflicting on civilians; which is one reason why the latest estimates speak of half a million dead, more or less.

So why are Putin and Assad unable to recapture Aleppo, let alone the rest of the country, and how were the militias able to hold on? To use the terminology I first developed in The Transformation of War (1991), the war in Syria is a classical “nontrinitarian” one. That means that, on one side (the rebels) “government,” armed forces are not separate but thoroughly mixed so that distinguishing between them is often all but impossible. In this respect it resembles plenty of others. One characteristic that all these wars, without a single exception, had in common was that the “forces of order,” or “counterinsurgents,” or whatever they were called, had control of the air. Albeit that it was not always as absolute as it seems to be in Syria. Yet in not one of these wars did airpower on its own decide the issue, and in many cases it was unable to prevent dire defeat.

Bombing defenseless civilians in Aleppo is easy. But hitting the fighters who conceal themselves among them is very hard. To repeat, the Russian Air Force in Syria is using some of its most advanced weapons, specifically including the latest “precision-guided” munitions in its arsenal. Yet in the end those weapons too are unable to distinguish between civilians and the combatants with whom they share the same neighborhoods, the same streets, and often, the same buildings. That explains why, by some estimates, out of every hundred people killed by Russian and Syrian government forces in Aleppo only one is a militiaman.

Nor will even more bombing necessarily do the trick. As experience from Stalingrad, Monte Casino, and many other places proves, cities and buildings provide those who know how to fight in them with the best cover imaginable. Should they, the cities and the buildings, be thoroughly destroyed, then the only result will be to make them provide better cover still.

And when will America’s campaign in Afghanistan, started fourteen years ago and now conducted almost exclusively from the air against an enemy who is all but defenseless in that medium, finally end in victory?

Guest Article: Obama after Eight Years

by

Jonathan Lewy

I was in Washington DC eight years ago when Barack Obama was elected. The atmosphere was intoxicating as people went out on the streets in celebrations, drunk with a sense of victory, chanting ‘Yes, we can.’ The whole world celebrated as a new kindle of hope was supposed to enter the White House. Perhaps that is why Obama received a Nobel Prize for doing nothing, or rather, for not being George W. Bush. But, were people right to celebrate? In retrospect, how did Obama fare in his two terms?

According to Politifact, Obama made no less than 500 promises while campaigning. By the end of his term, he delivered 45 percent of them. Lest you think this is a low figure, consider that the Republican leadership in Congress delivered only 35 percent of their promises. For a politician, to succeed in keeping almost half of his promises, it is probably as high as any supporter could hope for. His success in pushing his agenda is particularly impressive considering the stubborn Congress he had to deal with for the last six years. Perhaps that is why his approval rating is flattering for the first time in his presidency.

A politician is not only judged by delivering on his promises, but also by what he leaves behind. The United States economy is now stable. The $787 billion stimulus seems to have worked. When Obama was forced to bailout the American automobile industry, he did so successfully. Moreover, his terms were far better for the public purse than Bush’s plan with the banks a few years earlier. Unemployment is on the decline, but the national debt is on the rise. America, it seems, keeps on mortgaging its future for living the good life in the present.

One cannot blame Obama for the mounting debt the country has incurred. He has not done anything any of his immediate predecessors had not done; on the other hand, he certainly did not try to curb the beast, or mitigate the huge gamble the United States is wagering against its own future. After all, someone will have to pay this debt eventually, especially if the economy does not expand. If this generation will not live within its own means, future generations will probably have to deal with the problem in the years to come.

An American historian once said that great presidents are rare. Most are mediocre at best, and are remembered for one or two things they have done. This is why the public remembers George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and FDR; but few can name the other presidents such as Martin van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce and the rest of the lot. So, is Obama great?

Domestically he was a good caretaker. He may even be remembered for Obamacare (if it survives the next presidency), even though the plan has suffered in recent months with price hikes, and fewer health insurance companies willing to participate in it. Gas prices are not terribly high, and the dollar is still a global currency. Immigrants are still knocking on America’s doorstep, as they would not have done had they thought the country had no future.

On the international level, the United States has lost ground. In the Middle East, the American footprint has faded. American troops are no longer in Iraq in large numbers, but the region is not stable to say the least. Gone are the days when secretaries of states came to the region and the ground trembled wherever they treaded. Recently, Obama expressed that his swan song will be promoting peace in the Middle East. The chances for that happening in the next three months are next to nil. Hell will probably freeze over before that happens.

Obama did not cope well with the Arab spring. American foreign policy stuttered, as the commander in chief was torn between a desire to see democracy spread on the one hand, and to support old and new allies on the other. Take Libya as an example. Muammar Gaddafi finally succumbed to US pressure, and paid his dues for the Lockerbie bombing. He tried to be a good boy with the West, albeit he remained a dictator at home. But when the going became tough, Obama turned his back on him and left him hanging by an angry mob, bombing some of his cities from the air to boot. Now, the rest of the world will know that even if you follow American dictates, it will not back you in time of need.

Even in South America, the United States lost ground. One of the hallmarks of American foreign policy is the ‘War on Drugs,’ and the international drug control regime it has sponsored since The Hague International Opium Convention of 1912. And yet, a puny country like Uruguay dared to legalize marijuana in 2013 in direct conflict with the official American policy. This would have been inconceivable a decade ago.

And back home again, Obama may very well have been a good economic caretaker, but something is awfully wrong with the country. Racial tensions are high. The high hopes of reconciliation between blacks and whites under the leadership of a half-white president have deteriorated into riots, and the Black Lives Matter movement. The American public is obviously unhappy. So much so that it even considered, for a while, voting for a Socialist president. Who would have imagined this turn of events after the fall of the Berlin Wall? This is certainly not a sign of strength, or a strong belief in capitalism and the American dream.

Even worse, the public’s distaste for politically correctness has propelled a candidate who could be best described as a buffoon, whose only redeeming quality is that he says whatever is on his mind. At least he can. Most Americans I know feel they cannot, because they have to constantly ‘check their privileges.’ Though Obama may not be personally responsible for this phenomenon, during his term in office, freedom of speech is on the decline. A pity. It has always been my favorite right.

And finally, under Obama, the current election cycle took place; an unpopular Clinton against a scary Trump. If these are the only two options he left behind him, something is amiss. Neither candidate promised much as a legacy for his term in office, or perhaps the results on Tuesday will be so terrible that his legacy will shine brightly.

Guest Article: Biggest Mistakes You Make Decorating a Small Space

By Alex Omelchenko*

sofa

There’s nothing like space and natural light that speaks to elegance and ambiance. More so if the setting cascades into a panoramic view. However not all cities or budgets allows for the luxury of actual room or home space.

That being said, style was never lacking in seriously confined rooms on visits to Hong Kong for example. And that was not based on the fact that Asians are synonymous to luxury and style. Anyone can feel entitled to a beautiful space with the right creative direction and smart buys.

A room with a play of color techniques, fabric choices, decor finishes and made to measure furniture can dress any room remarkably void of obvious indications to space limitations. Mostly limitations are in thinking your chairs, lighting, flooring, rug or and decor piece needs to be conservative. The opposite can be seen or said of nations with space constrictions but who are however still on trend. 

The outlay of furniture need not outskirt your room defining its circumference and the actual space, while dark colored walls can be introduced through paint techniques and in cohesion with natural light to keep the space light but bright or bringing in color. Detailed mesh color techniques seen in wall papers or dashes of color like velvet touch paint effects for example are known to create a sense of luxury and decadence to space. 

A novel centerpiece in a room can speak to individual choices in light fittings or furniture that creates a signature definition on entering the room. While contemporary decor can date very quickly from ‘being on trend’ to ‘stale’, classic choices intertwined with the rooms  ‘naturalness’ can have a timeless and relaxed sense of luxury.

Never underestimate what a few good choices in scatter-cushions, a rug or a Lalique vase alone can do to a room bringing out a sense of refinement even to an uber small space.

It’s acceptable within the interior design fraternity to have a single bold piece of furniture in a small space though mostly its recommended to stick to made – to – fit furniture. A room finished with a higher-grade curtain choice is the ultimate luxury. With the right mix of natural light and fabric it’s often thought that a beautiful length of fabric for curtain is all the decor one needs!

When decorating a small space you don’t have to think ‘small’ but rather think ‘delicate’ in your furniture choices. Choose furniture whose design details enhance the room serving as functional art – that being stylish yet comfortable. Hong Kong is known to have all space utilized as innovatively as ever. A float bookshelf or CD case could line their ceiling while a ladder with paint technique is functional nouveau art, all while serving its purpose to get a book or Cd of the shelf.

The alternative to styling a small space is going totally minimalistic. That can be in the form of contemporary polished cement flooring for an urban retro feel. And if your neighbors aren’t in line of vision, keep your windows bare for a skyline view or to compliment the flooring. Infusing this feel with the decadent of an oversized crystal chandelier being the ultimate luxury statement.

In the case of a shoestring decor budget look at cheaper contemporary options like a varnished brick wall effect. Finished with a vintage mirror and that may be all you just about need to zest up a small space.

Your space can be anything you want it to feel like if you choose tastefully without preconceived ideas about size!

*Alex Omelchenko works for Apex Window Werks, a Chicagoland-based company that specializes in home window glass replacement, window defogging and all wooden window parts repair.

Snakes in the Grass

hareem_1Let there be no doubt: Men who talk about women the way Donald Trump does are pathetic. Men who treat them the way he allegedly does are even more pathetic. As Nietzsche wrote, noble is he who respects himself. Which the Donald, whatever his other virtues, clearly does not.

But whether such talk and such behavior should really disqualify the Donald or anyone else from serving as president of the most powerful country on earth is another question. After all, if elected he would hardly be the first ruler in history who had sex on his mind. Julius Caesar was perhaps the greatest commander who ever lived, yet had so many affairs with married women in particular that his own troops called him, “the bald fornicator.” Augustus was as great a statesman as the world has ever seen, yet the historian Suetonius says that at his banquettes he liked to be served by naked girls selected for the occasion by his wife, Livia.

Augustus the Strong (reigned, 1697-1706), the king of Saxony to whom the world owes the beautiful city of Dresden, had so many illegitimate offspring that it was said of him that he took his duty of pater patriae literally. By contrast, Richard Nixon is said to have been faithful to his Patricia. Did that make him a more honest politician?

Thinking about it, perhaps the US and other modern countries would do well to revive the ancient institute of the harem at the White House and its equivalents. In Arabic, a harem is a sacred place that is out of bounds. For example, Jerusalem’s Mount Temple is known to Muslims the world over as Haram-al Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary.

Harems are an ancient institution. One of their functions was to provide relaxation, as in the above image. But they also served a very serious purpose: namely to make sure, as far as possible, that rulers bearing a heavy responsibility—not seldom, including their subjects’ lives and deaths—would at any rate be spared that particular problem. So as to be able to focus on their task instead.

To speculate a little, in a democratic age full of self-conscious, emancipated women entry into the harem can only be voluntary. As, throughout history, it often was; many parents were happy to hand over their daughters to an institution where they would be supported, educated, and taught all kinds of interesting arts. Those sufficiently attractive and sufficiently clever might even rise to take key positions in the empire or kingdom.

It goes without saying that the women should be over eighteen, the age at which they are supposed to be sufficiently mature to vote. They should be made to sign a contract, freely renewable by both sides upon expiration, to stay for so and so long. Some way would have to be found to ensure that they understand what was required of them—these days, too many women, young and old, claim that they just did not. And also to guarantee secrecy. Leaving the harem, the women would receive a generous sum of money and perhaps a bonus as well. You bet that there would be plenty of volunteers—just ask Hugh Hefner.

But that is not what it pleases me to write about today. By one story Victorian women, riding trains through dark tunnels and afraid lest strangers try to use the opportunity to kiss them, were advised to put needles in their mouths. Later things became more straightforward; a woman kissed or groped in public was told to slap her attacker or at least yell at him. And that was that. No damage done, except to the attacker’s reputation. One of those who advocated this strategy was the late Israeli MK Shulamit Aloni (1928-2014). A liberal and a one-time minister of education under Yitzhak Rabin, she was also as proud a feminist as they come.

Since then much water has flowed down the Jordan and, for that matter, the Rhine and the Mississippi. Throughout the world, billions of women have been exposed to feminist propaganda concerning the evils of “patriarchy” and the need to do away with them. Millions have been through “assertiveness” training, and millions more have been “empowered” in so many different ways as to easily fill a library. Countless committees have been created, seminars held, recommendations written, and regulations issued. All in an attempt to make more women hold their own against those wicked tyrants, men.

Enter the Donald’s accusers. Whether their stories are true, as they claim, or not, as he says, does not interest me here. What I do find strange is that, after decades and decades during which the females of the species have been “empowered” in every possible way, the women in question still did not have what it takes to give him what, according to them, he deserved. So dumb are some of them that, at the time, they do not even understand they have been “harassed” or “abused.” Or so they claim.

Miserable creatures! Like snakes in the grass, they spent years and even decades nursing their grievances, real, imagined, or simply invented for the occasion. And waiting for a suitable opportunity. Only then, and only when they had their behinds protected by the likes of the New York Times, did they finally crawl out of their hiding places, screwed up their “courage,” went public, and injected their venom into the presidential race. Or was it just greed and the wish for the fifteen minutes of fame?

And what does going public mean? Whining, of course. About how unable to help themselves they felt. About how humiliating the experience was. About the deep and lasting psychological damage they suffered, the psychotherapy they needed, the compensation they deserved, and so on. If these and other women who come up with similar claims are lying, then they are pathetic. If they are telling the truth, then in some ways they are even more pathetic.

As to what to think of an electorate, now made up mostly of women, that in today’s dangerous world is only interested in what happens from the waist down, make up your own mind.

Just Published!

Martin van Creveld, Clio and Me: An Intellectual Autobiography, Kouvola, Finland, Castalia House, 2016, electronic edition (hard cover to come).

926371276

Relatives, friends, students, colleagues, and journalists have often asked me what I see in the study of history, particularly military history, and how I ever got into that esoteric field. I always answered as best I could, but never thought I would try to put my answer down in writing. In my family people only write their memoirs when they are very old and ready to go, which I am not (yet).

Years ago, my stepson and best friend, Jonathan Lewy, was bitten by the scholarship bug. As an undergraduate student of history at Hebrew University, he read Marc Bloch’s The Historian’s Craft, which, as he was not slow to point out, was written when Bloch was exactly as old as I was in 2003. Jonathan has often asked me why I did not try to produce a similar work, and I have often evaded the question even in my own mind.

Jonathan, who in the meantime earned his PhD and did a post-doc at Harvard, is nothing if not persistent. But I did not want to produce yet another volume on the philosophy of history and the technique of teaching it. Instead, I decided I would try to answer the above questions, and others like them, by writing an intellectual autobiography. Why and how did I come to be a historian? What does the study of history really mean to me? Why, in my view, does it merit being studied, what for, and how? How did I master my craft? What problems did I meet, and how did I try to solve them? Where do I get my ideas? What does “scientific” history mean, and how does it differ from other kinds? What does it take to write a book, and what is doing so like? Can history be used for looking into the future, and, if so, how does one go about it? How should history, in fact the humanities and social sciences in general, be taught at the university level? What are the differences between civilian universities and military ones? How does one prepare a talk, and how does one deal with the media? What are the advantages of the scholarly life, and what are the disadvantages? Should one take it up?

As I got to work, I soon found myself in a dilemma. On the one hand, I did not want to appear as some sort of disembodied spirit. Like anybody else, I do have a life outside the purely intellectual one. Moreover, the two are interrelated. I have often wondered about the impact health may have on creativity and vice versa. So, incidentally, did Friedrich Nietzsche, to mention but one. On the other hand, I did not think my personal life is of great interest either to Jonathan, who already knows it all, or to other people. In the end I compromised. I tried to put in only as much of my non-professional life as I considered absolutely essential to explain where I come from and to make the narrative coherent. Unlike a few writers whom I consulted and to some extent used as my model, I do not think it matters who attended to my bodily needs when I was a child. Like them, I shall be very happy to strike out the name of anybody who feels offended by what I have to say. With the aid of word processing and e-books, which most of them did not have, doing so is easy enough.

I very much hope that this book will have something to offer the type of young, earnest students with whom it has been my great good fortune to work throughout my academic career. Nevertheless, in the end it was Jonathan whom it was written for. Therefore, whatever the reaction of others, I pray that he at any rate will not be disappointed.

Well, Yes, the War

The place: Juliana [the Crown Princes, later Queen, of the Netherlands], Street, Wageningen [a Dutch town in the center of the country]. The time: World War II, during the German occupation. The scene: No. 34, a tiny two bedroom townhouse. There is just one tap, cold water only. There is an outdoor toilet with no toilet paper, only square pieces of newspaper joined by a string. In the living room there is standing lamp. For that place and time, quite a luxury.

slotboomThis is the home of the typographer Jan Slotboom, his wife Gerritje, and their son Henk. Jan and Ger, strict Calvinists, are in their early thirties. Henk was four, or so it seems. Recently, by an extraordinary stroke of luck, I was presented with Henk’s memoirs. Written in Dutch in 2015, self-published in soft cover, and exceptionally well-illustrated with period photographs. If anyone has ever read something more direct, more modest and more honest, I’d very much like to see it.

So here are a few paragraphs.

“The morning of 10 May [1940] was restless. Many aircraft in the air and the sound of gunfire at the Grebbenberg [two miles away, as the crow flies]. ‘We are at war,’ people said. I did not really know what war was, but it seemed interesting. Some neighbors, my father and I went to ‘the tall [three-story] buildings’ down the street to take a look. How proud was I to hear my father say: ‘We shall throw those Moffen [Germans] out.’ But the Germans thought otherwise.”

[The family was evacuated. After a week, however, they were allowed to return home]. “Life went on as usual, especially for us children. On 1 September 1942 my mother put me behind her on the bicycle and took me to school for the first time.”

“My parents, by providing people with a place to stay in which they could feel relatively safe resisted the occupation. I believe that, especially during the early years of the war, they did not realize what a risk they were running.”

“From 1942 on we used to have Jewish guests. Some stayed a long time, others just the night. At times the room was full of people I did not know…. This remained the case throughout the war and also for some years after it was over… Where all those people had come from I had no idea, but I understood that my uncle, Anton de Bond [who was in the Resistance], had something to do with it… I had never heard of Jews. But I did understand that it was a secret and that the damn Moffen were not supposed to know anything. I was quite proud to be part of the secret.”

“Our neighbors were known to be fout [on the wrong side.] Their son, Hans, was in the Hitlerjugend. Everyone looked askance at them. But Hans had a brown uniform and a dagger. Secretly my friends and I were jealous of him, because he looked great. We had a love/hate relationship with Hans and his friends. Playing soldiers was fun, and we found it interesting. That’s why we regularly played together, and a moment later we would quarrel…”

“We regularly found food stamps in our mailbox. And food in front of the door. This helped us live through those difficult times. Apparently some people knew what was going on at No. 34.”

“The German soldiers, goose-stepping and singing, made a tremendous impression on me. They could sing very well. I would have liked to follow them, just as one does a marching band.”

“Early in the war some German soldiers were quartered in our street. I think the house owners got some kind of compensation. They were much better than their reputation and their behavior was impeccable. Nice guys! But appearances are deceptive. Those nice German soldiers mounted Razzias to catch young Dutch men, forcing them to hide in the alleys.”

“1942-43 [in reality, 1943-44]. Suddenly Jan Pap was living with us. I remember him as a somewhat pale man with dark hair combed backward. A quiet man who said little…. He had studied a lot, spoke excellent English, and taught my dad to say joenitedsteedsvanamerika [United States of America]. No sooner had the war ended than Jan Pap became Uncle Leo van Creveld [my father, MvC]. I did not quite understand what was going on…”

“On the back side [of the local newspaper, carrying the obituaries of Wageningen’s recently deceased] there was an article about Dutch [Waffen] SS soldiers fighting the Russians. Well, yes, the war.”

“At school we went through air-raid drill. When the sirens started wailing we knew exactly what to do: Everyone under their desks, and those near the window as close to the wall as possible… At night, blackout to make it hard for the Tommies to find us. In the evening you were not allowed to go out. Curfew, they called it… Having landed in Normandy, the Allies overran more and more land and were coming nearer. Who knows, we might soon be liberated. Well, yes, the war.”

[1944-45, following the failure of the Allied Arnhem Offensive]. “The Germans were still in control. They used their power to abuse the Russian POWs whom they made dig trenches and build fortifications. We really felt sorry for those miserable men. From time to time the Germans would throw them an unpeeled cooked potato and a piece of bread. They formed a poor, hungry group… We at least had enough to eat.”

[During that period we were driven from our home. In our new quarters] “I for the first time heard the Wilmhelmus [the Dutch anthem, which had been prohibited by the Germans] loudly sung [by my uncle and cousin]. That was in the kitchen, and looking back it was quite an experience. But my aunt was angry. You shouldn’t sing so loudly, for there were traitors everywhere. In this house people treaded underfoot whatever orders the Germans had issued. Yet doing so was not without risk.”

[Amidst all this] “We children played Red Cross. There were wounded and an occasional ‘dead’ body. War, a game in which everything was acceptable. Well, yes, the war.”

[Towards the end of the war the Germans requisitioned bicycles left and right.] “Including the tricycle of a paralyzed woman. I can still see in front of me three German soldiers riding the tricycle with its levers. They had great fun. For a moment, they were able to put their own troubles aside.”

“We talked to a German officer. He was very young, fanatical and loyal… Hinkel was his name, first lieutenant Hinkel… He believed in the Wunderwaffen [miracle-weapons] of his idol, Adolf Hitler. They would win the war for Germany. Hinkel had a very young batman, Rudy was his name. I think he cannot have been more than fifteen years old. He was quite nice and wanted very much to go home to his Heimat [home] and Mutti [mother].

[The Canadians having liberated Wageningen] we children received large slices of white bread liberally smeared with jam. And a piece of chocolate. And an orange. I had never seen or tasted either chocolate or an orange. Unforgettable, the taste of orange and chocolate. And chewing gum.”

“Well, yes, the war.”

Neither Heaven Nor Hell (III)

Part III

creation

Today is the great day—four questions instead of three. And my tentative answers, of course.

7. Are the better angels of our nature taking over? Some people, especially the American psychologist Steven Pinker, think so. They point out that, relative to the global population, the number of people killed in war each year is decreasing; that in advanced countries the number of crimes committed per 100,000 people per year is much smaller than was historically the case; that the number of executions, especially such as are carried out in public, is likewise falling; and that torture, which in the past was often carried out in public and not without a certain pride, is used less often.

All this reminds me of a famous book, Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process. Elias, a German-Jewish sociologist who left Germany in 1933, made an argument quite similar to Pinker’s. The way he saw it, courteous social behavior originated in royal courts. From there it outwards, gradually causing the surrounding societies to become less uncouth than they had been. The volume was published in 1939—just before World War II broke out and, following perhaps fifty million dead, culminated in Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Enough, said.

Specifically, if the number of people killed in war is considerably smaller than it used to be then in my opinion this is due not to any moral advances but to the fear of proliferating nuclear weapons which has prevented large powers from waging large-scale war against other large powers. The decline in crime is probably related to the fact that Western civilizations are aging, with the result that the group most likely to commit it, i.e. males aged 17 to 25, is diminishing in number and in some cases almost literally disappearing. The decreasing number of executions and the declining use of torture—if, indeed, it is declining—may be due not to the spread of love and kindness but to sheer hypocrisy and, ultimately, cowardice. Finally, as the rise and careers of monsters such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tze Dong, Pol Pot, and their countless cronies and collaborators and assistants and followers remind us, we remain what we have always been. Namely, creatures capable of anything.

8. Is life becoming more predictable? Clearly if we are to build a better future we must have some idea of what the consequences of our actions may be as well as the general direction in which things are moving. The role of God, or providence, or accident, or luck, or chance, or fate, or fortune, in human affairs must be reduced; that of calculation and prudent foresight, increased.

It is true that most of us no longer trust in soothsayers, or prophecies, or crystal balls, or Tarot cards, or necromancy (though a surprisingly large number people continue to consult their horoscopes). Instead we employ “experts,” known, in the field of economics, as “analysts,” whose task is to construct models and identify trends. The more “data” and equations the models and the trends contain, the more scientific and the more reliable they are considered to be. But is there any real reason to think that our ability to look into the future has improved, say, since the Pythia at Delphi, sunk in a sort of stupor caused by gasses rising out of the earth, predicted that, if it came to war between Persia and Lydia, “a great kingdom” would be lost? Not if I judge by the fact that such events as the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, or the 2008 recession, were almost entirely unexpected. Not if I judge by the example of President George Bush, Jr., and his advisers when they launched their Iraqi adventure back in 2003. And not if I do so by the repeated, often contradictory, utterances of Janet Yelenn as to whether the economy is or is not “recovering.”

Above all, the basic dilemma remains in force. Very often, a predictable future is one that can be averted or altered; as, for example, when we strengthen our home following a warning that a hurricane is about to strike. In other words, the very fact that we can look into the future is likely to cause that future to change.

Do you want to make God laugh? Tell him what your plans are.

9. Are we proceeding towards a singularity? The way I understand it, a singularity is an event so critical as to completely change the whole course of human history, rendering it irrelevant and bringing about a new start. As, for example, in case we make death lose its sting and start living forever; or when we first contact an extra-terrestrial civilization, especially one that is much more advanced than ourselves; or when our brains will be first replaced, then surpassed, by computers.

Some gurus, such as Google Technology Chief Ray Kurzweil, claim that we are going to see a singularity within the next few decades. For myself, my training as a historian makes me distrust such prognoses. Great and revolutionary events, such as the American or Russian Revolutions, never happen all at once. The same applies to scientific discoveries and technological inventions; let alone long-term processes such as “the agricultural revolution,” “the industrial revolution” and the like. All without exception had roots in the past, not seldom the fairly remote past. So deep were the “roots” of the revolution known as the Renaissance that some historians have tried to push them back all the way to the time of Charlemagne. In the vast majority of cases failure to realize this is simply a symptom of sloppy research. That explains why, for every work that set forth the magnitude of the changes brought about by of the French Revolution there was one which, like Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856), pointed to the things that had not changed.

An excellent illustration of the way things work is provided by the history of aviation. When the first flying machines took off a little over a century ago most people considered them toys, entertaining, perhaps, but useless. Some inventors, including the Brothers Wright, were even accused of fraud. As aircraft became more capable and more numerous the doubts disappeared. More and more, they were seen as supplements to existing machines and existing methods. Next, the wind changed. Aviation became the most important thing in the world; taking the latter by storm, it would revolutionize every aspect of life to the point of making it unrecognizable. Slowly but surely, though, people got used to it—and as they did so they realized that, while many things had changed, many others remained more or less as they had been.

Similar stories could be told of any number of other inventions: such as railways, telegraphs, electric light, motor cars, radio, TV, antibiotics, computers, and Viagra. Who today remembers that, when the last-named hit the market in 1998, it was supposed to revolutionize social life by enabling old men to have young women and young women, to link their fate with rich old men even more often than now? Each invention went through the above-listed stages. Sooner or later—quite often, sooner rather than later—each one became integrated into “modern” life while at the same time leaving much of that life intact.  

10. Are we, as a species, going to evolve? Physically, given the short timeframe I have chosen to deal with, the answer is no. Biological evolution is a slow process; there is no question but that, mentally and physically our great-great-great grandchildren will resemble us no less than we resemble, say, the first “modern” humans who lived fifty thousand years ago.

We may, however, use other methods to change ourselves. First, given the enormous attention now being paid to tests designed to identify all kinds of defects and diseases and abort the fetuses who carry them before they emerge from the womb, future populations may well display fewer such defects and diseases. That was how the Nazis did it, albeit that for lack of the necessary medical technology they used to kill people after they were born rather than earlier in their development. Second, widespread use of sperm donors and artificial insemination might lead to the spreading of qualities the mothers consider desirable: such as size, strength, blond hair, blue eyes, and, for women, the kind of curves that have always formed, and still form, their principal means of attracting men. Average, though not exceptional, intelligence may also rise.

Third, we may reach the point where we can replace the genes of fertilized eggs so as to make future people more resistant to diseases or endow them with all sorts of desirable qualities. Fourth, we may turn into cyborgs—in the sense that we shall have more and more artificial devices implanted into our bodies so as to sustain or take over or enhance the latter’s functions. Fifth, some gurus claim that we may have our minds scanned, stored on some electronic devices, and activated so as to replace our physical selves and do away with us altogether.

In which case, as I said, there will be neither heaven nor hell.