Fifty Years Have Passed

The coming Monday, June 5th, will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The one, let me remind you, which led to the Israeli occupation of the Sinai, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank (East Jerusalem included). That is why I thought the time had come to take a second look at it. In doing so, my starting point will be a book, Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan towards Peace, which I published in 2004. What did I get right, and where did I go wrong? Does the central thesis, namely that, seen from a security point of view Israel could easily afford to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank, still hold?

The background to the book was formed by the Second Palestinian Uprising, or Intifada. Starting in October 2000 and lasting until 2005, the Uprising was carried out mainly by suicide bombings, claiming the lives of 1,137 Israelis as well as 6,371 Palestinians before it was finally quashed, with considerable brutality it must be said, by then Prime Minister Ariel. Sharon. The number of injured is unknown, but must have been much larger still. In addition, tens of thousands of Palestinians saw the inside of Israeli jails where some of them still remain. The economic damage to Israel was estimated at about 15 percent of GDP; that inflicted on the Palestinians, at perhaps 40 percent. Going abroad during that time, I could not help noticing how, at Israel’s only international airport, there were often more security personnel than passengers.

The way I saw it in 2004, and still see it now, the advent of ballistic missiles has greatly reduced the relevance of territory and, with it, the value of the “strategic depth” long seen by Israel as the main reason for holding on to the occupied territories. In any case, the age of large-scale Arab-Israeli conventional warfare was clearly over. Not only because the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan held; but because, as both the 1956 and 1967 wars had shown, should Egypt’s military try to confront Israel in the Sinai then all they would be doing would be to put their necks into a noose. Should Egypt lose a war in the Sinai, then it would lose. Should it win, then it might face nuclear retaliation. Israel is believed to have as many as 100 warheads and delivery vehicles to match. By targeting the Aswan Dam, the people in Jerusalem have it within their power to turn Egypt into a radioactive lake within rather less than an hour of the decision being made.

Having been heavily defeated in the first Gulf War, Iraq was out of the picture and remains so today. This left Syria which, however, was much too weak to take on Israel on its own and has become even weaker since. At that time as now very few Arabs lived on the Golan Heights, explaining why its occupation by Israel never met strong resistance or drew much international attention. Consequently holding on to it was, and remains, relatively easy and need not preoccupy us here.

In what was surely the most daring move in a remarkable career, Sharon, against howls of opposition, built a fence around the Gaza Strip, demolished the Israeli settlements there, and pulled out. It cost him his life, but he effectively put an end to attempts by suicide bombers to enter Israel proper. To be sure terrorism, now in the form of underground tunnels and rockets, did not come to a sudden end. As if to prove the fact that the role of territory was declining, the rockets in particular gained in range and power, causing much trouble. This kind of terrorism was only brought to an end during the second half of 2014 when a massive Israeli military operation (“Protective Edge”) inflicted many casualties and enormous destruction. Since then an equilibrium, albeit an uneasy one, has prevailed in southern Israel. As is shown, among other things, by a tremendous real estate boom in that part of the world.

This in turn suggests that, had Israel launched the operation in question a few years earlier, it might have spared both itself and the other side considerable grief and trouble. Looking on the withdrawal from Gaza from the perspective of 2017, it appears to have been a great success. It rid Israel of some two million unwilling Palestinians, leaving them to govern themselves as best they can and forcing their leadership into what, in practice, is some sort of accommodation.

During the Second Intifada a beginning was made in constructing a wall around the West Bank as well. A measure, incidentally, which this author of had proposed, in public, as early as 1993. But two reasons have prevented its completion. First, through East Jerusalem, which Israel claims for itself, passes the only highway connecting the two “bulges” that forms the West Bank, making it all but impossible to seal off. Second, the Jewish settlers in the Bank, supported by a considerable part of the Israeli government and public, fear that, should the wall be completed, it would herald at least a partial withdrawal from that region as well. And with good reason; doing so was something both Sharon and his successor, Ehud Olmert, actively contemplated.

Whether, had Sharon not died in harness and Olmert not been forced to resign, they would have been able to dominate Israeli politics to the point of carrying out such a withdrawal will never be known. At present any attempt to proceed in this direction is certain to be stopped by Israel’s right-wing government and public. Still the example set by Gaza refuses to go away. Hovering in the background, it is a constant reminder that an alternative to present-day policies does exist.

As Defending Israel argued, and as events since then have clearly shown, the most important problem the West Bank poses to Israel is neither “strategic depth” nor terrorism. The former is rendered all but irrelevant by the advent of ballistic missiles, peace with Jordan, the demise of Iraq, and the Bank’s topography which makes an attack from east to west almost impossible. The latter could be solved by the construction of a wall and a withdrawal. The real threat is demographic. Six and a half million Jewish Israelis cannot go on forever governing an Arab-Palestinian population now numbering some two and a half million and growing fast. In this day and age, indeed, the very idea of an occupation that has now lasted for fifty years is simply crazy. Either pull out, unilaterally if necessary, or risk Israel becoming an apartheid state—which, I hate to say, in many ways it already is.

Finally, East Jerusalem. A story, probably apocryphal, dating to the first months after the June 1967 War illustrates the problem very well. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol is touring East Jerusalem. All around him people are beaming with happiness, but he alone keeps a gloomy face. Mr. Eshkol, they ask him, why all these sighs? In response he says that getting in was easy (as indeed it was). But getting out!

And so, indeed, it has proved. There is no way in the world Israel can be persuaded to give up the Old City and its immediate surroundings, the place which, whatever UNESCO may say, gave birth to the Jewish people well over 3,000 years ago. Nor, given the historical record, is there any reason why it should. But Israel should be able, and willing, to let go of many East Jerusalem neighborhoods that were recently joined to the city and have absolutely nothing to do with holiness. Such as Sheik Jarach, Dir al Balach, Ras al Amud, and quite a few others. All are inhabited exclusively by Palestinians and all are poor and underdeveloped. As in the case of Gaza, a withdrawal from them, even if it has to be carried out unilaterally and even if it only leads to a modus vivendi rather than peace, would be a blessing, not a curse.

With the 1967 war’s fiftieth anniversary coming soon, what is the point in waiting?

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?

Guest Article: Israel – The Price of Independence

Dr. Eitan Shamir*

On May 2nd of this year, Israel will be celebrating its 69th Independence Day. As always, the cheerful opening celebrations on the evening of May 1st will begin within hours of the memorial ceremonies for the fallen soldiers carried out that very morning, during Memorial Day. On Memorial Day, the nation is sunk in grief, remembering some 23,500 fallen members of the Israeli security forces and 5,150 civilians who lost their lives to ensure Israel’s national survival, freedom and prosperity.

As always, the ceremonies will include a reading of a poem by Natan Alterman (1910-1970), one of Israel’s best known poets. Its title, “The Silver Platter,” is attributed to Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann. Just two weeks after the UN decision, on November 29th, 1947, to partition British Mandatory Palestine, and amidst the rapidly escalating Arab attacks on the Jewish community, he declared that “the state will not be handed out to the Jewish People on a silver platter.” Thus foreseeing the great sacrifice in lives that the community in question would have to make in its pursuit of statehood. Four days later, on 19th December 1947, Alterman published the poem. As the years passed, it gained status as a national canon epitomizing the sacrifice the nation has asked from its members:


And the land shall again be peaceful, the red eye in the sky

Slowly dimming over smoking frontiers,

And the nation will rise, heart torn but still breathing,

To accept this miracle, this one and only miracle…

A ceremony it will prepare, standing before the crescent moon,

Facing them dressed in joy and terror.

And then towards them will walk a young woman and man

Slowly marching toward the congregated nation.

Dressed in dirt and battle-gear and heavy shoes

They will ascend the path, treading quietly.

They will not have changed their garb nor wiped their brow,

Nor cleaned any trace of their days in labor and nights in battle.

Exhausted, but never resting,

Still in the dew of Hebrew youth…

Silently the two will approach and then stand perfectly still

Revealing no sign whether alive or shot.

And then the nation shall ask, tearful and amazed,

“Who are you?” And the two quietly will answer:

“We are the silver platter

On which you have received the Jewish State”.

Having spoken they will fall at the nation’s feet, covered in shadows,

And the rest will be recounted in the chronicles of Israel.


Each year, shortly after the sun sets, Memorial Day comes to an end, giving way to Independence Day and causing the country’s mood to shifts all at once. Hundreds of thousands of people join public celebrations complete with fireworks, food stands, music and dancing. A stronger contrast than the one between those two days would be hard to imagine.

This phenomenon of a sudden switch of national mood, from one extreme human emotion to its complete opposite, might seem peculiar, and a stranger might not appreciate it. Indeed, each year there are Israelis, especially among the families of the fallen, who argue that the abrupt extreme change in mood is abnormal and that more space should exist between these two days, allowing for a more gradual transition between the emotions they represent.    

However, Israel’s founding fathers created these two days as inseparable twins for a good reason. They wanted to make sure the nation remembers that its freedom was acquired and is being maintained at a dire cost; that before the nation begins to celebrate it must pause to pay tribute to the Silver Platter. One cannot be without the other.

Since Alterman wrote his poem in 1947, the State of Israel has gone through profound changes. One such change is Israel becoming a technology powerhouse. If, in the past, Israel’s main export product used to consist of oranges, then today it is high technology: a wide variety of software- and hardware related products. Included among these products are “apples.” Though not the kind one can eat, but rather the new model iPhone 8 that has been mostly developed in Israel.

These technological developments have affected not just the methods by which Israel wages its wars but also the way the Israeli public perceives the wars in question. In the past when a reference was made to Israel’s qualitative edge, what was meant was the quality of its field commanders and combat training; today it means Israel’s technological advantage. Technology is expected to deliver a solution for every security challenge, from rockets to tunnels.

This expectation leads to a perception that wars have become – or should become – a “clean business.” The heroes of our era, argue certain self-proclaimed pundits, are the men and women behind the keyboard or joystick. In other words, “cyber warriors.” These new military professions “should be elevated” above all the rest, they argue, as they represent the future. The prestige and status society reserved for its combat soldiers, those who operate in the line of fire, killing and risking being killed, should be shared with these new cyber warriors. The IDF prestigious definition of “combat soldier,” they continue to argue, should include soldiers who operate systems that can definitely shoot, even though their operators are located in secure places, very far from harm’s way.  

While cyberwar and technology are indeed important, even crucial, this entails a grave danger as the new ethos could affect young recruits who are led to believe that self-sacrifice is not needed on today’s battlefield. If, in the past, the best and brightest felt that their first calling was a combat unit, this is slowly changing. Sadly, as the recent wars in Gaza, Iraq & Syria remind us, war is still very much a bloody affair of soldiers “running around with rifles shooting each other” as one observer commented. I often show my students a scene from Spielberg’s “Band of Brothers” in which a company of American paratroopers fight house to house to recover a small village in Normandy France, 1944. There are always a few students who approach me after class and say, “this is exactly what we experienced in Gaza and Lebanon”.

Blood is the currency of war, said Clausewitz. Vast technological change notwithstanding, for those who engage the enemy at the front little has changed. Unfortunately, on its 69th birthday, while Israel celebrates its many astonishing achievements, it is still embattled, and will continue to face war and bloodshed for the foreseeable future. The struggle and the sacrifices necessary to uphold the state have not ended, and before we celebrate, let us not forget the Silver Platter that enabled us to do so.


* Dr. Eitan Shamir is a Senior Research Fellow with the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA Center) Bar Ilan University. He is author of Transforming Command (2011) and Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies (2017) with Beatrice Heuser.


At fifteen, my grandfather left home and became an apprentice to a chicken-feed dealer (later he worked himself up until he became a very rich man, but that is beside the point). My father and I both happened to leave home at eighteen. Fast move forward. In the US between 2000 and 2011, the number of women aged 25-34 who lived with their parents went from 8.3 to 9.7 percent. The corresponding figures for men were 12.9 and 18.6 percent, a vast increase indeed. These changes have been accompanied by others, such as allowing people up to 26 years of age to join their parents’ health insurance (in the US, under Obamacare) and extending the licenses of “child psychologists” so as to enable them to treat 25-year olds (in Britain).

Crowning the process is the rise in the age at which people have their first child, which is now the highest in history. Even so, the above figures only form the tip of the iceberg. They are the last—for the time being, at any rate—stages in a process of compulsory infantilization that, in all Western countries, has been going on ever since the industrial revolution. Some of the earliest moves were made in Britain during the middle decades of the nineteenth century when parliament first limited the number of hours young people could be put to work and then gradually prohibited them from working at all. Then as now, some of those involved in the efforts were true “philanthropists,” as the phrase went. Others, though, had less lofty motives in mind. Either they were trying to eliminate competition from small family-operated enterprises, as big business did; or else they hoped to increase wages, as trade unions did.

Today, things have reached the point where anyone who suggests—as, famously, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once did— that it might be good for teenagers to do some work will face a storm of disapproval. And yet, as thinkers as far apart as Aesop, St. Benedict, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud have recognized, working and earning one’s keep as one of the most important ways in which people can maintain their own self-respect and take up their place in society.

Meanwhile, youngsters who were not allowed to work had to be looked after. Traditionally doing so was the job of mothers. Especially middle-class ones who neither had the money to hire substitutes nor were compelled to work by economic necessity. Starting the 1960s, though, the advent of feminism led to a vast increase in the number of women who worked outside the home; meaning that they could no longer do as they used to.

Partly as a result, the school-leaving age was raised still further. Until, in many countries, it reached eighteen. Nor did graduation from high school necessarily end the confinement of young people. Increasingly, those of them who went on to college found the latter acting in loco parentis, supervising and chaperoning them as if they were unable to act responsibly. Linguistic usage reflected this fact. The phrase “college men” used to be standard but has been on the decline since its peak in the 1920s. By contrast, “college kids” has been steadily rising until, in 1996, the curves showing the frequency at which the two expression were used intersected.

Meanwhile, more and more children who used to walk or cycle to school are now either being “bused” there or driven by their parents. Statistics show that the maximum distance from home at which they are allowed to roam on their own has been falling. Instances when parents who allowed children aged ten or so to play, unsupervised, in a park near home were threatened with having their offspring taken away from them are on record. In many cities those under sixteen, or seventeen, or eighteen, now face a curfew; meaning that, unless they are accompanied by an adult, they are no longer allowed to be on the streets at night. Amidst all this the age of consent has been rising. The more years young people spend at school and the better educated they are, apparently, the less able there are to resist the appeal of sex and to handle it responsibly.

Briefly, young people are increasingly being treated as if they cannot look after themselves. Not in respect to work. Not in respect to study. Not in respect to freedom of movement, not in respect to drink—in the US and some other countries, one must be over 21 in order to enjoy it—and not in respect to having sex. All for their own, good, needless to say.

But that is not half of it. For as long as humans have existed, the moment at which young people of both sexes were separated from each other was considered a critical step on their way to adulthood. Normally this took place when they reached puberty or slightly earlier. Now we are told that, in Norway and Sweden, recent reforms in the military have led to male and female recruits being made to share the same bedrooms as if they were not yet twelve years old.

The ultimate insult to both men and women, I would say.

Bravo, Mr. Trump

For those of you who have forgotten, it is now almost exactly six years since President Barak Obama, that left-wing, hesitant, weak, and vacillating Obama, launched his cruise missiles at Libya, thereby firing one of the first salvoes in what soon became a French and British air campaign against that country. A few months later Dictator Muammar Gadhafi was captured and killed; not that he had not richly deserved it. Leaving the stage, he took with him the last government Libya has known or is likely to know in the foreseeable future.

As the war expanded it turned into a struggle of all against all. A country whose per capita income had been about $ 11,000, which in “developing world” terms is nothing to sneeze at, literally fell apart. Uncounted thousands were killed, hundreds of thousands more forced to flee from their homes. Taking to any rickety boat they could find they poured across the Mediterranean, hoping that the Italian Navy would pick them up on the way. Sometimes it did, sometimes not. Thank you, US, thank you, France, thank you, the United Kingdom (which is not so United any more, but never mind.) The war whose flames you helped stoke is still going on. And on. And on.

Last week it was the turn of right-wing brave, confident, daring President Donald Trump—he who, unlike presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, had promised not to take the US to an unnecessary and unwinnable war—to resort to cruise missiles. The very weapons, nota bene, of which right-wing brave, confident, daring, President George Bush Jr., and his equally right-wing, brave, confident, daring, secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, famously said was that all they could do was to hit a camel in the ass. In doing so Bush was referring to his own predecessor, the left-wing, hesitant, weak and vacillating President Bill Clinton who had used them in Iraq.

Syria being further away, France and Britain, too weak to play any significant role, stood on the sidelines, cheering Trump’s action and egging him on. So, of course, did Israel. The latter’s role in the conflict has been especially contemptible. Hyena-like, for years now it has been trying to push someone, anyone, into doing its dirty work for it and bring down Assad. Never mind that the alternative, namely the total collapse of government in Syria, is even worse.

All these, and many others besides, were happy to assume the high moral ground. All also willfully overlooked the fact that, when it comes to breaking the laws of war as well as engaging in sheer cruelty, there is little or nothing to choose between the warring parties in Syria. Look at the Net! Assad’s forces, long specialized in dropping dynamite-filled barrels on markets, have now graduated to gassing children as well. However, some of his enemies boast of turning people into human torches, roasting them, and killing them in all kinds of other exotic ways.

The immediate casualties, of which there seem to have been very few, apart, the two people most affected by the American strike are Assad and Putin. Neither is exactly a kind, liberal guy, as Donald Trump notoriously is. But both have a finger—in Assad’s case, much more than a finger—in the pie. And both are determined to safeguard their interests. Nor, at any rate in Assad’s case, is it a question of interest alone. Should his forces be defeated and his government collapse, then the fate of the Alawite community to which he belongs and which in Syria numbers anything between 1.5 and 3 million people, cannot even be imagined.

For these and other reasons, it is inconceivable that the war will end in a way that will not take account of Putin’s interest, which is to re-build and maintain his country’s presence in the eastern Mediterranean. As for Assad, barring some unforeseen accident he will stay in power for as long as Putin wants him to. Putin’s immediate reaction to the American strike was to terminate military coordination with the Americans, thus making any future operations considerably more difficult. If necessary he could also make Russian troops share the bases of their dear Syrian brethren, thus rendering such operations impossible.

To be sure, Assad and Putin are bad, bad people. Though whether they are really worse than the American heroes who, in December 2016, deliberately (as they themselves say) bombed an Iraqi hospital is another question. However bad they may be, without their cooperation no solution will be found.

So bravo, Mr. Trump. Thanks partly to you, this war too will go on. And on. And on.

Guest Article: Air Forces – Balance of Power in the Middle Eas

By: Karsten Riise

Air forces are of colossal importance in the Balance of Power between states. Without air superiority, a state is open for huge devastation from potential adversaries. To get a clearer picture of the Balance of Power in the Middle East, I therefore decided to focus on the balance of assets for air superiority in the Wider Middle East – see figure 1:

Figure 1


My methodology in figure 1 is straight forward: Only high-end fighter (or multirole) aircraft in service are relevant for the contestation of air space. It is assumed high-end fighters in service have received all technical upgrades for high-end status. Light or older fighter aircraft are shown, but may quickly be eliminated.  To keep the methodology robust, I focus on the sheer number of high-end air superiority fighters. Only easily available, open sources have been used.

Readiness is a significant quantifiable factor which has not been easily available. If a modern air force has a normal readiness of for example 70%, it may well be, that Iran, due to lack of spare parts, lack of instruments, lack of trained pilots and technicians, may have a readiness of only 35%. If that is the case, the effective force of Iran would be only half of what her number of 44 high-end units indicates, bringing Iran’s total force down to 22 comparable “units of force-level”.

The “qualitative factors” like pilot-training, support-structures, leadership, configuration of bases, communication, support from other assets (ground-sensors, AWACS, satellites) etc. can be decisive. Also lethality and availability of modern munitions (e.g. air-to-air missiles) go into this. A “quality-factor” is difficult to measure, but it is still possible to say something in general about “quality” level. If USA=100 in “quality-factor”, it is generally accepted that Israel’s “quality-factor” is probably quite above 100, that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are probably a bit below 100, and that Iran is very much lower due to lack of training, and other modern assets. In this analysis, I will not measure “quality-factors”, just point to them.


Figure 1 brings up four issues for my discussion: First, Iran’s obvious lack of air power against all of her many competitors. Second, the enormous increase in GCC air power, not least in Saudi Arabia. Third, the balance of power in relation to Israel. Fourth, the issue of nuclear weapons.

Iran – vacuum of air-power

Iran has only got 44 high-end aircraft to disperse, and they may not all be upgraded to deserve “high-end” status. Due to lack of training, spare parts etc. it may well be that Iran’s readiness factor is only half of her neighboring countries, which means that her 44 units may only count as a “force-level” of 22. These 22 units of “force-level” have to be split up in (minimum) 3-6 sectors to defend a vast territory of 1,6 million km2, leaving only a meager 3-7 units of modern “force-level” per defense sector. It is obvious, that Iran does not possess any of the air assets necessary to protect her air space, not even against the air force of her smallest neighbors. Deficits in other “qualitative” combat factors like pilot-training only reinforce this conclusion. A few S-300 anti-air missiles may serve as a “trip-wire” for point-defense, but without a comprehensive, layered integrated air defense system, a few S-300 do not change the overall picture of a nearly undefended air space. The regional stability risk, therefore, seems not to be that Iran becomes “too strong”, but rather, that Iran in terms of air defense is a power-vacuum, which could invite intrusion from any of her numerous competitors. Iran does possess a substantial number of surface-to-surface missiles of considerable range, which are often cited (especially by USA sources) as a “threat”. But you cannot win a war with surface-to-surface missiles alone, and all of Iran’s competitors have got effective Patriot missile defenses. In view of Iran’s lack of air power, Iran’s surface-to-surface missiles are a stand-alone capability. Iran’s missiles must merely be seen as a deterrent, in other words a defensive capability, which stabilizes the region, because Iran’s missiles discourage attack on Iran. Iran also possesses a capability of armed speed-boats, land-to-sea missiles etc. which can obstruct the oil traffic in the Persian Gulf. This marine capability, like Iran’s conventionally armed land-to-land missiles, must also in the overall context be seen as a deterrent, discouraging attack on Iran, but not a capability which gives Iran encouragement for a very adventurous strategy. As it will appear below in figure 2 and 3, Iran is not investing an overly great portion of her economy in military.  

Is this “good” or “bad”? Well, anyone reserving a “right” to attack Iran, may think it is “good”.  Given the troubling experiences in the region of turning a functioning country into havoc and chaos, it may arguably also be “bad”.

GCC – enormous increase in air-power

All the GCC countries relative to their size possess very large quantities of high-end air assets. The GCC total is 409 aircraft, and with 349 units more on order, this group is on way to an inventory of 758 units. In comparison, France and Britain have a total of 369 high-end units, according to the same sources. Even the smaller GCC-states have by a wide margin plenty of assets against Iran. Saudi Arabia alone has got 222 units, and 156 more on order, for a total of 378 units. An additional order of 72 Eurofighters is under consideration, which could bring Saudi Arabia up to 450 units. According to, Saudi Arabia has also asked for 100 units of F-35 “stealth” fighters. If Saudi Arabia is denied F-35 from the USA, she may instead choose to buy J-31 “stealth” fighters from China. That might bring the Royal Saudi Air Force up to 550 units. Saudi Arabia also possesses 13 units of E3-sentry AWACS. In comparison, NATO for patrolling all its Eastern flank from Norway to Turkey (4,000+ km) has got about 16 similar units.

The question comes up, why Saudi Arabia invests in air superiority assets on such a large scale. Air force may be the most expensive part of Saudi Arabian military spending, and Saudi Arabia’s military spending of 13.7% of GDP in 2015 is the third the highest in the world after Oman (and South Sudan, not shown) – see figure 2:

Figure 2

Oil prices have been high for many of the preceding years. Surplus money may tempt military spending. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s high air force investments are felt now that oil incomes have been depressed the last few years, and Saudi Arabia also wants to invest huge sums of money in diversifying her economy to achieve a broader economic footing to prepare for her “post-oil” era in due time.

Intentions are never known for sure, and may even change. I will go through a range of seven theoretical types of thinkable intentions. First, air forces have prestige. But the “bling” factor can hardly explain investment on this scale. Second, “defense against Iran” can be ruled out as a reason, because the Iranian air force is so small, ref above. Third, the Saudi Arabian and GCC assets are so numerous, that an offensive strategy (for example against Iran) may be a possibility, especially if the Patriot systems (which all the GCC countries have) are effective to defend against possible retaliatory missile strikes. Fourth, protection of Saudi Arabia against internal revolts, might theoretically be thought of, but the Saudi Arabian air force seems bigger than needed for that. Fifth, Saudi Arabia might seek the role of a great regional power. For the general role as a regional power, Saudi Arabia will need a strong navy to complement her air force in power-projection. And according to the open sources used here, Saudi Arabia actually has got an ambitious navy program with 7 frigates, 4 corvettes, and contemplates buying 2-3 destroyers, including the powerful American Arleigh Burke class, plus the advanced Freedom class littoral combat ship. Submarines are missing. For power projection, Saudi Arabia also has 2 tanker aircraft, 3 more tankers on order, plus a number of heavy transport aircraft. Saudi Arabia also has a satellite program, but her missile force seems not built out. Sixth, Saudi Arabia might not rule out, that a conflict with Israel could erupt one day, willingly or unwillingly, perhaps just due to misunderstandings. Here, however, Israel is in possession of the “great peacekeeper” in form of nuclear devices. Seventh, we may look at the timing of Saudi Arabia’s increase in military spending – see figure 3:

Figure 3

The acceleration in Saudi Arabian military spending started 2004/2005, after the USA war for “regime change” in Iraq. It might be thinkable, that Saudi Arabia wants to have an “insurance policy”, that such an American action should never be turned against Saudi Arabia. To make this effective, Saudi Arabia would need to add aircraft from non-US suppliers, and (better) to have themselves the kind of “devices” which Israel has in possession. All this is of course theoretical, because the surge in Saudi Arabian military spending since 2004/2005 also to some degree coincides with a higher general level of oil prices.

The balance

Iran’s air force is not a threat to Israel – probably not even Iran’s missiles, due to Israel’s layered missile defense systems. However, figure 1 shows that Israel soon will have 366 fighter aircraft against 1,046 fighters from the GCC-countries, Egypt and Jordan – and they are out to buy more. These countries are not Israel’s enemies, and Israel has good practical relations with all of them. Still, a numerical disadvantage of 3:1 is something to think about, even taking into account Israeli historical superiority in training, her satellites etc. – but above all, her nuclear weapons.
Israel being free from major conflict hinges on Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons. This will also apply, if more sides possess them. Nuclear weapons, however, do not hinder that “Low-Intensity” War will continue.

Karsten Riise
Partner & Editor


Karsten Riise is Master of Science (Econ) from Copenhagen Business School and has university degree in Spanish Culture and Languages from University of Copenhagen. Former senior Vice President Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Mercedes-Benz in Denmark and Sweden with a responsibility of US Dollars 1 billion. At time of appointment, the youngest and the first non-German in that top-position within Mercedes-Benz’ worldwide sales organization.

Karsten Riise can be reached at

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Kama Sutra

Ever since my first visit to India back in 2001, I always have an illustrated translation of the Kama Sutra not far away. Today I want to explain why I keep it and what I see in it. Not for any a particular reason—but simply because it pleases me to do so.

(Note, you yahoos who may be out there: don’t expect any smutty stories, let alone steamy confessions. In case you have not yet noticed, that is not me.)

As some readers will know, the Kama Sutra (The Way of Pleasure or, as others translate it, Desire) dates back to the last centuries before the beginning of the Christian era. It is the oldest surviving Sanskrit text, a fact which may indicate its importance in the eyes of subsequent scribes who kept copying it. In the process various other bits, pieces and commentaries were added.

The best known English translation of the Kama Sutra was made by Sir Richard Francis Burton towards the end of the nineteenth century. Since then there have been many others, some by people whose native language was English, others by Indian scholars. Translations into other languages also abound. These editions vary considerably in what they include, what they exclude, and the number of pages they contain. For those who are interested, the one I have was published by Bookwise, New Delhi, in 1999.

Burton himself was a traveler, explorer, geographer diplomat, and occasional spy who worked first for the East Indian Company and then for the British Government. Above all, he was a demon linguist who often took only weeks to master a new language. By the time he died he had learnt no fewer than thirty, or so people said. Throughout his life he published a vast number of works on geography and ethnology, many of them heavily annotated.

The reason why he translated the Kama Sutra as well as some other erotic works is of some interest here. Today most of us are convinced that, when it comes to what is and not permitted in the bedroom, it is the West, having gone through the so-called “Sexual Revolution,” which is freer, less inhibited, and psychologically healthier than other civilizations. Aren’t the media full of stories about all the terrible things Moslems in particular do to their poor enslaved women? Burton’s view was exactly the opposite. Partly perhaps because he was married to a strictly Catholic wife, partly because he had his experiences over much of Africa and India, he saw his Victorian contemporaries as sexually ignorant, straight-laced and frustrated. In this view he was later joined by many others from Sigmund Freud down.

Freud’s method in trying to rid his patients of their neuroses and set them free was to put them on the couch and psychoanalyze them. Burton sought to achieve the same goal by having them read and savor oriental erotic literature. Not always with success, as it turns out. Some years ago I wrote a magazine article in which I quoted a couple of lines from the Sutra. Whereupon the editor, a good friend, asked why I was troubling him and myself with such smut. It turned out that he had never laid his eyes on the book. Whereupon I sent him an illustrated copy. What he did with it, if he did, I do not know.

Ever since Burton translated it, the Kama Sutra has owed its fame above all to the endless lists of sexual positions it contains. Each has a name, and each is explained in some detail. But two observations need to be made. First, only about one fifth of the book deals with the positions in question. Second, almost any non-fiction ancient Indian book one opens will be found to contain similar lists of various things. Why? Because dividing reality into different parts, categorizing it, slicing it (like a loaf of bread, so to speak) was the typical Indian method of coming to terms with it and understanding it. Not the most entertaining one, some might feel, but certainly one that is as valid as any other.

So let’s forget about the positions. The rest of the book consists of advice, less in sexual questions than in those that pertain to love. Presumably because most people could not read, much of the advice is aimed at well educated, well to do, men belonging to the upper classes. Some is aimed at women, particularly courtesans who have no man to feed and protect them and who must fend for themselves.

To explain why I admire the book as much as I do, here are some typical verses. The translation is by Indra Sinha, an English writer of Indian descent. His novel, Animal’s People, was shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize and winner of the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Europe and South Asia.

Never touch the wife of a relative,

Friend, high-priest or king.

Ignore [the] commonly quoted dictum

That these women may be enjoyed

If they have slept with five or more lovers.

Within the context of a society based on rigid class distinctions, this is sound, even tender, advice. However:


corrupts both men and women

ruins their characters, destroys virtue and wealth.

Men and women with any wisdom

will never even think of doing these evil things.

And what does a desirable woman look like?

Her heavy breasts

Are firm as ripened pomegranates,

like jars of beaten gold.

High they ride,

Twin bosses on the brow of Krishna’s elephant.

The image of pomegranates also occurs in the Song of Songs, though in a somewhat different context. I go on reading:

The wise know also that physical pleasure

Is not the sole end of lovemaking.

It can be like music, stirring the emotions,

quickening the senses, dissolving

Thought into rhythm, until only rhythm exists.

And here is what the Kama has to say about love blows, so beloved of the hucksters and fucksters that crowd the Net:

Try always to remember, therefore,

That your lover is much weaker than you are

and passion is much stronger.

Furthermore, since not all girls like being struck,

Think twice before you use the love blows.

Both tender and realistic, isn’t it? And now, to courtesans. The basic assumption is that women do not like to make love for money but are sometimes led by circumstances into doing so. To be successful, a courtesan must be clever without showing it too much and look after herself first without going too far in this direction. She must study and master the sixty-four arts including drawing, decorating a house, music, dancing, acting, conversation, using scents and perfumes, and playing a good party of chess (remember Miranda playing with Ferdinand in Shakespeare’s The Tempest?). However:

The greatest courtesans are beauties

With alluring youthful bodies,

Sweet voices and charming manners.

They adore lovemaking

And value a man’s character above his wealth.

Neither tricking nor deceiving their lovers

Faithful and self-possessed.

These girls are connoisseurs of the arts

Devoted to the gods

And welcome at every society gathering.

How absolutely wonderful.