Soft-Boiled Eggs

In case you have questions, „soft-boild eggs“ is the German title of my book, Pussycats. Recently I gave an interview about it to the Junge Freiheit („Young Freedom“), a Berlin-based, fairly conservative, fairly right-wing, cultural German weekly whose editor and staff I have got to know well over the years. The person who did the interview is Moritz Schwarz, a friend of mine and the best interviewer I have ever met. The interview was done in writing. He put his questions in German, I answered in English. Later my answers were translated into German by the JF staff. Here I have done the opposite. Having translated Mortiz’s questions into English, I left my answers almost exactly as they were.

JF: Professor van Creveld, why is the West always being defeated?

MvC: There are several answers to this question. First, the way we Westeners educate our children, guarding them against any possible danger, preventing them from growing up, and actively infantilizing them. Second, the way we do the same with our troops; through most of the West, „millitarism,“ meaning a healthy pride in one‘s pofession of a soldier, has become taboo. Third, the way women are incorporated into the military, often turning training into a joke and creating a situation where male soldiers are more afraid of being falsely accused of „sexual harassment“ than of the enemy. Fourth, the way post traumatic stress disorder is not only tolerated but encouraged and even enforced. Fifth, the spread of the idea that war is the greatest of all evils and nothing is worth dying for.

JF: But aren’t the West’s armed forces the most powerful in the world? By right, they should have been invincible.                    

MvC: That is true. But the facts speak for themselves, don‘t they?

J.F: Several contrary examples offer themselves. Including the 1982 Falkland War, 1991 war with Iraq, 1991, and the Arab-Israeli Wars. How do these cases fit into your theory?                  

MvC: The Falkland campaign was a conventional one fought by two „Western“ powers among themselves. Israel did indeed use to be an exception—until the performance of its troops during the 2006 Second Lebanon War showed otherwise. As to the 1991 war, yes. But that war was a conventional one of a kind which is very, very unlikely to recur

JF: Could you elaborate on the Israeli case? Is there anything there the West might learn from it?

MvC: To repeat, there was a time when the Israeli Army was indeed a fighting force that used to command the admiration of the world. But that was long ago. Starting with the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, on no occasion did the Israelis defeat their enemies. Not in 2006, not in all their attacks on Gaza. Currently, all its „fighters“ know how to do is gun down a fifty-year old Palestinian woman, the mother of eleven, who came at them with a knife. Judging by the 2006 campaign, indeed, there is good reason to believe that, should Israel ever again come under attack by a real enemy, its troops will turn tail and run.       

JF: How did the basic idea of Soft-Boiled Eggs occur to you?

MvC: As we just said, Western armies are the wealthiest, most powerful , best equipped, and best trained in history. So how come they almost always lose?

JF: Is it possible that, looking back over the last few decades, the West has simply been suffering from a spell of bad luck?

MvC: Let me quote the elder Moltke on this. „In the long run, luck usually helps the able.“

JF: We Westerners start being turned into soft eggs at an early age. Is that simply the outcome of a mistaken ideology, or is it the price we have to pay for living in a highly advanced civilization?

MvC: I am not certain I would describe our own civilization as „highly advanced.“ But yes, we seem to follow the example of many previous civilizations as analyzed by people such as the ancient Greek historian Polybius, the medieval Arab one Ibn Khaldun, and twentieth-century philosopehrs such as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. The main factors are always the same. To wit, excessive material wealth that leads to less severe mores, both mental and physical; growing gaps between rich and poor (the former, says the Roman poet Lucan, will do anything to feed their clients and retain their allegiance; the latter will do anything to stay alive); the growing unwillingness to do military service and a preference for mercenaries, first native and then, as manpower dries up, foreign as well; and a government that is heavily influenced by women, hence oriented towards security, luxury and comfort. Others are political over-centralization, accompanied by excessive bureaucratization; a shift of emphasis from “hard” towards “soft” power; and “imperial overstretch.” The last of these terms refers to the way in which defense commitments tend to outgrow available resources. The outcome is budget deficits, inflation, and devaluation, and so on in a vicious cycle that leads nowhere but down.

Obviously there are differences between one country and another. By and large, though, this is the process that has brought down ancient Rome, Byzantium, early modern Spain and France, Britain, and Soviet Russia. As a friend of mine likes to say, all of them considered themselves exceptional. Until, often rather suddenly, they were not. Currently President Trump seems to feel that it is well under way to bringing down the US too. Or else why his frantic, at times almost desperate-looking, efforts to save it and make it “great“ again?

JF: You point to the way the meanings of basic ideas such as „courage,“ „violence,“ and „victim“ has been transformed. Why do such linguistic changes matter?

MvC: Language allows us to look into the soul of the people who use it. That is why, in the book, I use Google Ngram to show that, in the West, ideas such as „rights“ have long overtaken „duty.“ War, however, has always been, and will always remain, a question of doing one’s duty above all.

JF: You say that, whereas soldiers used to be respected, nowadays they are more likely to be put down and humiliated. Isn’t that going too far?

MvC: Let me speak about Israel. When I tell today’s students that, years ago, the walls here were covered with grafitti reading, „all respect to Zahal,“ they refuse to believe me. As to the situation in Europe—you are in a better position to judge than I am. It is, however, a long time since I saw a German soldier, or even officer, wear uniform when off duty.

JF: You have written extensively about „the feminziation“ of the armed forces. What do you mean?

MvC: In the US, as by order of the former Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, no kind of training is authorized unless women can do it too. In both the US and Britain, commanders have been ordered to balance readiness against „lactation time.“ I think these facts speak for itself.

JF: But isn‘t it true, as you yourself have written, that combat units have hardly any women?

MvC: No. Women’s influence is making itself felt throughout the forces. Particularly in the sense that they enjoy many, many privileges men do not, thus giving rise to resentment. Worst of all, anyone who dares open his mouth about these things will very quickly find himself jobless. Seen form this point of view, the entire Western military is built on a lie—and a house built on a lie will not stand.

JF: The West has gone far in deligitimizing war. Isn’t that a good thing?

MvC: Should Lincoln have allowed slavery to stand? Or France and Britain, Hitler to do as he pleased? Or Israel in 1967, its population to be massacred by the Arab armies? Aren‘t some things worse than war?

JF: The sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn puts the blame for the West’s impotence on its demography. Societies with a surplus of young men are aggresive; those which have few young men are peaceful. Doesn’t that contradict what you have been saying?

MvC: Not at all. He and I hold similar views. Nor are they at all original. Look, once again, at Polybius. “Men,“ he wrote when referring to his own country, Greece, „turned to arrogance, avarice and indolence [and] did not wish to marry. And when they did marry, they did not wish to rear the children born to them except for one or two at the most.”

JF: Most Europeans believe that, in the US, people are still being educated in a patriotic spirit. You, however, say that is not the case. How do you explain this contradiction?

MvC: Everything is realtive, isn’t it? Besides, upper-class, well-educated, Americans do not send their sons, let alone their daughters into the military any more than their European opposite numbers do.

JF: Why should anyone care about the kind of degeneration you describe? After all, in all modern armed forces combat troops only form a small percentage of the whole. Given the size of the population, recruiting a few thousand fighters should be no problem.

MvC: In theory, you are right. In practice, so bad is the situation that many Western countries, the US specifically included, have been forced to turn to foreign mercenaries. I well remember an American military party I attended here in Israel a few years ago. Every single one of the enlisted men present was a Latino and had a Spanish name.

JF: Given the role of technology, why are you putting so much emphasis on morale? Don’t modern weapons render motivation irrelevant?

MvC: Isn‘t the long, long list of defeats the West has suffered since at least 1953 proof of the contrary?

JF: Perhaps we should turn to mercenaries who still have the „bite“ we need.

MvC: This is already happening. Starting in 2003, a high percentage of US Forces in the Middle East have been mercenaries recruited from all over the world. But whether they represent a solution is another matter. More likely, they will end up by becoming independent, as the late medieval Italian condottieri did.

JF: Suppose we allow the dnagers you describe to persist and to spread. What will be the outcome?

MvC: First civil war, the early signs of which are already visible in Europe; then the collapse of the West.

Nailed to the Swastika

There used to be a time, starting with Frederick the Great and stretching well into World War II, when the Prussian/German military was universally respected, often admired. Foreigners from all over the world flocked to study it—as, for example, US General Emory Upton (The Armies of Europe and Asia, 1878) and British militry author Wilkinson Spenser, (The Brain of an Army, 1895) did. When Japan started modernizing its army in the 1870s it turned to Germany as a matter of course. In several Latin American countries, notably Chile, German military influence is visible (and audible; they love to perform their exercises to Wagner’s music) right down to the present day.

In part, this admiration was due to Germany’s military performance which, starting in 1866. became almost legendary. In part, it was due to the German military spirit. That spirit in turn was anchored in what, in one of my books, I have called Kriegskultur. Kriegskultur is the concrete expression of everything an army fights for. Often the product of centuries of development, some of it spontaneous, some deliberate, it consists of symbols, ceremonies, traditions, and customs; the uniforms, the marching songs, and so on. Between them they form the corset that holds an army together, so to speak. It is they which turn it from a haphazard gathering of unruly men into a cohesive body capable of fighting and, if necessary, dying for the cause.

That, however, was before 1945. True, the War Criminals’ Trials never formally declared the Wehrmacht to be a criminal organization as they did other Nazi organizations, including the Waffen SS. As the years went by and more information came to light, though, its involvement in war crimes—including widespread looting, the extreme mistreatment of Soviet prisoners of war, hostage taking, massacres of civilians, and logistic and administrative support for the extermination of the Jews—became undeniable. This involvement caused German Kriegskultur (military culture), long considered exemplary and widely imitated, to fall under a cloud. More so in Germany, paradoxically, than abroad. To provide just one example, in most other countries models of aircraft, tanks, etc. bearing the swastika can be freely bought and publicly displayed. The same applies to books, magazines, memorabilia etc. Not so in Germany where all of this is verboten and can easily lead to criminal prosecution.

To avoid any association with National Socialism, the Bundeswehr’s bases and casernes were cleansed. Not once but repeatedly as successive ministers of defense sought to leave their impact and make headlines. Statues and paintings and old uniforms, flags and standards and trophies, disappeared as if by magic. So, if certain left-wing critics have their way, will the name of anyone who had served in the Wehrmacht. Take the case of pilot-officer Hans-Joachim Marseille. Marseille, whom no one has ever accused of being involved in war crimes or even of being aware of them, shot down no fewer than 158 enemy aircraft. In 1942, when just 22 years old, he was killed when the engine of his Messerschmidt gave up the ghost. In 1975 he had a Luftwaffe base named after him. Now, if the critics have their way, he will be made into an unperson. Such, such are the rewards for serving the German fatherland.

Perhaps it was inevitable that, as time went on, the cleansing process should stretch backward in time to cover not just the terrible years after 1933 but those before it as well. No one who has visited bases and casernes in many countries, as I have, can fail to notice how utilitarian, how bare, how soul-less, German ones appear in comparison with foreign ones. For example, at the Clausewitz-Caserne in Hamburg, home to the staff college, which I last visited some years ago, one will look in vain for any reference to the commanders who, for good or ill, did so much to make Germany into the country it is. Not to Seeckt. Not to Hindenburg. Not to Ludendorff. Not to Schlieffen. Not to Moltke. Not (which God forbid) to Frederick the Great. Not to any of their subordinates. In the whole of German history, apparently the only conflict to receive the kosher stamp are the Wars of Liberation of 1813-15.

Now minister of defense Ursula von der Leyen has begun yet another round of cleansing. Among the victims is former chancellor and her fellow Social-Democrat Helmut Schmidt. A photograph of him in Wehrmacht uniform—he was a junior officer at the time—is being removed from the Bundeswehr-University which, serving as minister of defense (1969-72), he founded. No doubt it is only a question of time before he too is made into an unperson. As usual, the declared objective is to rid the Bundeswehr from anything that might link soldiers with the past. One must, however, ask where, when, and whether the process will ever stop. Also what the impact on fighting power is going to be; given that, to repeat, an army without a military culture is inconceivable.

Nor is the problem limited to the Bundeswehr alone. By committing the crimes it did in 1933-45, the German people nailed itself to the Swastika. Just as Jesus was nailed to the cross. But Jesus was taken down after only six hours. Not so the German people, which is almost certain to remain where it is as long as human memory lasts. Without respite and without hope of leaving its past behind.

That, I well know, is highly unfair to a great many Germans born before 1927 and to all of those who were born after that date. Including my friends, of whom I am very fond indeed. Nevertheless, being a Jew and an Israeli several of whose family members perished during the Holocaust, in all honesty I cannot see how it can be solved.

All Thanks to a Borrowed Wheelchair

As some readers may know, I am seventy-one years old. My father is ninety-eight and, as he keeps saying, well on his way to ninety-nine. Inevitably, each time an event or feast draws near it automatically raises the question, will he make it? Each time he seems pretty sure he will; a hero, in his way.

Once a week I drive to Kfar Saba, about forty miles from where I live, to visit him in his assisted living home. There, taken care of by a nurse, he lives on his own, my mother having died a few years ago. The nurse, incidentally, is a very nice Philippine woman from Sri Lanka. That is because, in Israel, any foreign nurse is automatically known as “a Philippine;” never mind what country she is really from.

My visits last between two and three hours. Either I take him to the beach, which he loves and where he takes a nap while I go swimming in the surf. Or else we go to the nearby, well maintained and pleasant, park. Either way I have to push him in his wheelchair, given that he can only walk a few steps. The chair has been borrowed from a charitable organization known as Yad Sarah, Sarah’s Memorial. The reference, of course, is to the Biblical wife of Abraham. In return for a small deposit, they lend you the medical equipment you need. When you no longer do you can return it and get a refund. Many people do not ask for the refund, enabling the organization to survive. Some will donate money of their own.

Pushing a wheelchair, I have discovered, is great exercise. Suitable for the elderly, because it is not dangerous. Better than jogging, which I used to do for many years, because it puts no strain on your knees. Better than walking, which I have also been doing for many years, because it makes you use every single muscle in your body. Not just legs but back, shoulders, neck, and arms. Not to mention the heart-lung system that comes into action as you push the chair, and the person who is sitting in it, up a hill. The only thing that comes close is swimming; even so, wheelchair-pushing has the great advantage that it is simpler, logistically speaking.

Often we take a break and sit down on a bench. On other occasions we visit a café where we have a cup of tea or coffee. And we talk a lot. It was by listening to him that I have learnt a great many things I did not know. About how his father, my grandfather whom I can barely remember, never even got a high school diploma but was nevertheless fluent not just in Dutch, his native language, but in German, French, and later English as well (schools must have been better in those days). About how Opa van Creveld made tons of money by selling food, mainly meat, to the starving Germans during World War I, only to lose it all when he went bankrupt after the war had ended. About how Jeanine van Creveld, my grandmother, died when my father was sixteen as the result of a botched operation. About how, visiting Belgium shortly before World War II, he himself met two nice Jewish sisters. He immediately called his brothers, both of whom were considerably older than him, to come and size them up. Leading to two brides for two brothers.

And about the Holocaust, of course. About how, when the Germans occupied the Netherlands and demanded that all citizens surrender their weapons, he handed in the air gun he had been given for his Bar Mitzvah some years before. About how his father, my grandfather, found refuge with a young Dutch couple (he was a tram conductor, she a housewife; that is how things worked at that time), who looked after him. About how his older brother succeeded in reaching the Swiss border but was turned back by the Swiss police and, along with his wife, ended at Auschwitz.

How he, my father, himself found refuge with a farmer. On one occasion the farmer, who did not know he was a Jew, asked him to bring back a horse that was grazing not far away. Having been born and raised in Rotterdam, a large city, my father had no idea how to do it. The horse reared, forcing the farmer to send his son, a young boy, to complete the job. How he laughed, the farmer!

How he and my mother, who at that time were engaged, were caught up in the great Allied attempt to capture Arnhem in September 1944. They were taking a walk in the woods when they met some soldiers and started running away. “We are not Germans!” the soldiers called. They turned out to be Canadians who were happy to have a local couple show them the way. Unfortunately Operation Market Garden ended in disaster. The Germans brought in heavy weapons and defeated the Allied paratroopers, killing thousands and capturing most of the rest. As a result, they were able to keep control of the Netherlands for another eight months; forcing the population to go through the so-called hongerwinter (hungry winter) when tens of thousands, mainly the young and the old, died of starvation.

About why and how he took his family, including three little sons, to Israel in 1950. About what Israel, which had only gained its independence two years earlier, was like in those days. About, and about, and about. In return, I tell him episodes from my life which he did not know. Mainly such as are linked to my work and travels.

Two old geezers fondly reminiscing? Of course. But also the very stuff of which life is made. All thanks to a borrowed wheelchair.

The Punk(s)

Now that Vice President Mike Pence has finished glaring across Korea’s demilitarized zone and things have calmed down a little, it may be time to take stock. Neither North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, nor his father, nor his grandfather, are or were nice people. The first established, the second and the third led, regimes as horrible and as totalitarian as any in history. To recall what Socrates once said about tyrants, had it been possible to open their souls it would have been found to be full of scars.

All three have often been called a danger to world peace, and Un himself has been described as a “punk.” Ever since the Korean War ended in 1953, the North has in fact been responsible for countless incidents, some of them dangerous indeed, along its border with the South. The number of people killed in these incidents runs into the hundreds. However, in Pyongyang favor it must be said that it has not fought a single war in or against any of its neighbors. Let alone countries far from its borders.

During this same period of sixty-four years the great, benevolent, apple pie-eating, mother-loving, and God-fearing American democracy, invariably inspired by the dream of liberty, equality and justice for all, has:

– Tried (and failed) to invade Cuba in 1961;

– Blockaded Cuba in 1962 (this particular act of war, probably the most dangerous in the   whole of history, almost led to a nuclear holocaust);

– Sent its troops to Vietnam (1963), where they waged war until 1973;

– Invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965;

– Invaded Cambodia in 1970;

– Sent troops to Lebanon in 1982;

– Invaded Grenada in 1983;

– Invaded Panama in 1989;

– Invaded Iraq in 1991;

– Invaded Somalia in 1993;

– Invaded Haiti in 1994;

– Bombed Bosnia in 1995;

– Bombed Iraq in 1998-99;

– Waged war against Serbia in 1999;

– Invaded Afghanistan in 2001;

– Invaded Iraq in 2003;

– Bombed Libya in 2011;

– Raided Yemen in 2017;

– Bombed Syria in 2017.

This list does not include US support, some of it military, to revolutions and counter-revolutions in countries such as Iran (1953), Indonesia (1965), Chile (1973), Nicaragua (1979-90), Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003, the Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005). Directly or indirectly, Washington’s praiseworthy deeds have led to the death of millions of people.

With one exception (Afghanistan in 2002) all the bombings, invasions and interventions took place in countries that, with the worst will in the world, did not have what it takes to endanger to the mighty US. Without exception, they took place in countries that were small, weak, and often so far away that the average US citizen had never heard about them. Proving that, if you are a small, weak country, even one located on the other side of the world from the US, and plan to disobey Washington’s will while avoiding its oh-so tender mercies, the first thing you need are nukes and delivery vehicles to put them on target.

So can anyone please tell me who the punk)s( are?