You Could Be Next

The man in the photograph, Boaz Arad, used to be an Israeli artist. A good one, as I think you can see for yourself. He was also a charismatic teacher in his field. The fact that he was single did nothing to diminish his popularity. But last week, following an article in which a nameless female student was quoted as saying that he had harassed her, he killed himself.

He left behind a letter (in Hebrew) I want you to read:

“This female journalist calls me and says she has heard complaints about my romantic involvement with students at Telma Yallin [an Israeli art school, MvC]. She does not provide names. She does not provide facts I can respond to. She does not explicitly mention sex, just drops hints about it. The complaints mention romance, not sex. But the journalist interprets this as sex between a man and a woman.

Under any legal system in the world, there is such a thing as a statute of limitation [the alleged sexual encounter took place two decades ago]. Under any legal system in the world, a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But there are cases in which the law must be circumvented. Suddenly [the man] is weak. I have to stand up against unspecific accusations and defend myself. But given how powerful the media are, who will believe me? How can I look anyone in the eyes? How can I fight back?

At Telma Yallin I met wonderful young people. With some of them I am still in touch. In some cases the ties became stronger [but only, as Arad made clear in an interview, after the girls were over sixteen, which is the legal age of consent in Israel; and only after they were no longer his students]. Who can stop a liaison that is growing stronger? There was nothing there that had to be concealed.

For years on end there was gossip about me. And I, instead of denying it, became paralyzed.

And then there is xxxxx, who has never been known for truthfulness. She accused the school of allowing me to participate in a show even though some female students had complained that I had harassed them. I never had an affair with a student. Investigations both at Telma Yallin and Bezalel [another art school, MvC] showed that there never has been a complaint. But xxxxx is convinced I am guilty. She will get her pound of flesh. And to hell with the truth. For years she has been active behind my back, trying to shame me. The great warrior for justice. Goodbye, Ms. xxxxx. I have no doubt that you are behind all this. You have left plenty of evidence in your wake.

I’ve had a wonderful life filled with teaching and art. Now it has all been turned into muck.

How can I look anyone in the eye? Who will allow me to teach? Who will put my work on show?

All I ever was is gone.

Goodbye to my wonderful family. Goodbye to my wonderful students.

My apologies to anyone I may have hurt in this letter.

I love you.

Boaz.”

The Good Life

Tomb of Qabus in Gonbad-e Qabus

Half a century has passed since I studied Plato under the guidance of my revered teacher, Prof. Alexander Fuks. I’ll never forget how, early in the course, he told the class—just five or six of us—that all philosophy is an attempt to answer just two questions. First, what the nature of things is; and second, what the good life is and how to lead it. I won’t go so far as to say that the first without the second is worthless. Study is, and for me has always been, its own reward. But there is no doubt that one of its main purposes is to serve the second and more important one.

At that time I was twenty-one years old and a graduate student in Jerusalem. I lived in a rented room on less than $ 100 a month, walked to the university each day, and had a girlfriend. For recreation I played tennis and went long-distance running. Once a fortnight I would take the bus to visit my parents in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv. Life was as good as it has ever been before or since.

Prof. Fuks is long dead. Now that my seventy-second birthday is only a few weeks away, though, I thought I would write down a few of the things I think I have learnt about what the good life means. Trying to do so, I quickly realized that the task is beyond my powers. Partly because there are so many of them. Partly because many of them contradict each other, and partly, because it seemed impossible to put them into any kind of logical order. So I decided to submit, by way of a somewhat belated New Year greeting to my readers, the thoughts of another man. I came across him by accident while reading, of all things, William Murray’s History of Chess (1913).

Qabus bin Washmgir (976-1012) was ruler (Emir) of Gurgan and Tabaristan, southeast of the Caspian in what is now Iran. He was not exactly a nice guy—very few rulers are. He spent most of his life fighting for the throne, gaining a reputation for cruelty on the way. Not that his contemporaries were less cruel; as is shown by the fact that his men, after having deposed him, ended up by freezing him to death. Still his poem struck an echo with me. I hope it will do the same with you.

Here goes.

The things of this world from end to end
are the goal of desire and greed.

And I set before this heart of mine the
Things which I most do need.

But a score of things I have chosen out of
the world’s unnumbered throng.

That in quest of them I my soul may
Please and speed my life along.

Verse and song, and minstrelsy, and
Wine full flavored and sweet,

Backgammon, and chess, and the hunting-
Ground, and the falcon and cheeta fleet;

Field, and ball, and audience hall, and
battle, and banquet rare.

Horse, and arms, and a generous hand,
And praise of my Lord and prayer.

A History of the Future

  1. J, Bowler, A History of the Future: Prophets of Progress from H. G Wells to Isaac Asimov, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

As Yuval Harari’s Home Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow shows, “histories” of the future are all the rage at the moment. Why that is, and what it means for conventional histories of the past, I shall not try to discuss. Where Prof. Bowler’s volume differs from the rest in that it is real history. Instead of trying to guess what the future may be like, he has produced a history of what people thought it might be like. The outcome is fascinating.

To the reviewer, the book provides so many possible starting points that it is hard to know where to begin. True, there had always been people who envisioned a better society. Most of the time, though, that society was located in the past—as with Plato and Confucius—in the afterworld—as with St. Augustine—or on some remote island (from Thomas More to about 1770). “Prophets of Progress” started making their appearance towards the end of the eighteenth century when the industrial revolution was making itself felt and when idea of progress itself took hold. As technical advances became more frequent and more important during the nineteenth century, their number increased. Starting at least as early as 1880, for any half literate person not to encounter their visions was practically impossible. Even if he (or, for god’s sake, she) only got his impressions from pulp magazines, themselves an invention of the late 1920s. And even if he was a boy (rarely, girl) who got his information from the long defunct Meccano Magazine, as I myself did.

Bowler himself proceeds not author by author, nor chronologically, but thematically. First he discusses the background of some of the authors in question. Quite a few turn out to have been scientists, engineers or technicians, a fact which in Bowler’s view gave them an advantage. Many were moved by personal interests, particularly the need to promote their own inventions. Next he takes us over one field after another; from “How We’ll Live,” through “Where We’ll Live,” “Communicating and Computing,” “Getting around,” “Taking to the Air,” “Space,” “War,” Energy and Environment,” all the way to “Human Nature.” Some predictions, such as the discovery of a method to counter gravity, travel at speeds greater than that of light, and tele-transportation proved totally wrong and have still not come about, if they ever will. Others, such as air travel, TV, helicopters, and megacities—though without the moving people conveyors many visionaries thought they could see coming—were realized rather quickly. Often it was not the technical characteristics of a new invention but its commercial possibilities, or lack of them, which determined the outcome.

Interestingly enough, two major inventions whose role very few people saw coming were radar and computers. The inability to envisage radar helps explain why, between about 1920 and 1939, fictive descriptions of future war almost always included apocalyptic visions of cities totally destroyed and even entire countries annihilated. The initial lack of attention paid to computers was probably linked to the fact that, until 1980 or so, they were only used by government and large corporations as well as the somewhat esoteric nature of the machines themselves. As a result, it was only after the invention of the microchip around 1980 that their full impact on daily life, both that of individuals and that of society as a whole, began to be understood.

William Blake (“black satanic mills”) and the Luddites having gone, until 1914 the reception new inventions got was normally positive. After all, who could argue with cheaper goods, faster travel, electric trams (taking the place of the clumsy, dirty horses of old), better control of many infectious diseases, and a zillion other things that made the lives of those who could afford them better and more comfortable? Next, the wind shifted. World War I with its millions of victims having come and gone, it was hard to remain optimistic. The change is well illustrated by the difference between H. G. Well’s Modern Utopia (1905) and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1921). The former is lightly written and not without an occasional bit of humor. It describes a world which, though it may not be to everyone’s taste, is meant to be an improvement on the existing one. The latter is a grim tale of totalitarian government and control that extends right down to the most intimate aspects of life.

From this point on most new inventions have usually met with mixed reactions. Some people looked forward to controls that would reduce the proportion of the “unfit” in society, others feared them. While the former approach seemed to have been finally buried by the Nazi atrocities, later fear of global overpopulation caused it to return. The advent of television for entertainment and education was countered by the fear less it would turn all of us into what, much later, came to be called couch potatoes. Many welcomed continuing industrialization and growing productivity, but others worried about eventual shortages of resources as well as the things pollution might be doing both to the environment and, through it, to our own health. As Bowler points out, most prophecies were based on the relentless advance of technology. However, the arguments pro and contra changed much more slowly. Indeed they displayed a clear tendency to move in cycles, repeating themselves every generation or so.

One particularly fascinating story Bowler does not follow as carefully as he might have concerns nuclear weapons. As he notes, following the discovery of radium and radiation in the 1890s more than one author started speculating about the possibility of one day “liberating” the enormous energy within the atom and using it for military purposes. So much so, indeed, that one World War II American science fiction writer had to put up with visit by the FBI because of his stories’ uncanny resemblance to what, without his knowledge, was going on at Los Alamos. Coming on top of steadily improving “conventional” (the term, of course, is of much later vintage) weapons, this new form of energy threatened to literally destroy the world. Yet after the first “atomic” weapons were used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 there was a tendency to belittle the danger they posed. Especially by way of radiation which some politicians and officers declared to be a “bugaboo” hardly worth taking seriously. More twists and turns followed, culminating in Johnathan Schell’s 1983 dark volume, The Fate of the Earth. What practically all authors Bowler discusses missed was the ability of nuclear weapons to impose what is now known as “the long peace.” An ability due, not to the efforts of well-meaning protesters but precisely to proliferation.

But I am beginning to quibble. Based on a vast array of sources—mostly, it must be admitted, British and American ones—clear and very well written, Bowler’s book is a real eye opener. For anyone interested in the way society and technology have interacted and, presumably will continue to interact, it is a must.

On Balance

At the beginning of 2018 the alarm bells are ringing. Doomsayers are crawling out of their holes, terrifying the rest of us with their predictions. Including, pollution, global warming, anti-biotic-resistant germs, nuclear war (especially in northeast Asia), computers that are more intelligent than we are, and what not. Accordingly, this is as good a time as any to draw up a balance of what we humans have achieved and not achieved on our particular cosmic speck of dust over the last few millennia or so.

Without any further preliminaries, here goes

 

What we have achieved

 

By some studies, 70,000 years ago humanity numbered just a few thousand individuals. Today the figure stands at about 7.6 billion. Had something similar applied to any other species, e.g chimpanzees, surely we would have called it an unparalleled triumph. Some ninety percent of the increase, incidentally, took place during the last two centuries or so.

We have extended our life expectancy from less than thirty years during the Neolithic to a little over seventy years today. Most of the increase also took place during the last two centuries or so.

We have reduced women’s perinatal mortality by approximately 95 percent. Ditto.

We have more or less done away with a number of important killer diseases. The last global outbreak of a pandemic that killed tens of millions was the so-called Spanish flu in 1919-20. Since then, all we’ve had is flashes in the pan. Hats off to the medical establishment.

The kind that is self-inflicted apart, we have more or less overcome famine. In many parts of the world today we are more likely to die of overeating than of not eating enough.

We have made life more comfortable. In fact, such are the amenities most of us in the West in particular enjoy as to exceed anything available even to royalty until the middle of the nineteenth century.

We have vastly increased our understanding of the universe, the things it contains, and the laws according to which it works.

Our technological genius has enabled us to set foot on the bottom of the sea as well as the surface of the moon. Also, to explore the planets. It has even enabled us to build machines that think, after a fashion.

We have built weapons capable of more or less putting an end to us. Though whether or not that should be counted as an achievement is hard to say.

What we have not achieved

We have not succeeded in uniting humanity under a single government (not that such a government would necessarily be a blessing).

We have not put an end to war.

We have not surpassed the achievements of, say, the ­ancient Greeks in such fields as sculpture, architecture, literature, drama, rhetoric, philosophy, and historiography.

We have not put an end to misery or to madness.

We have not made life less stressful. Some claim, to the contrary.

We have become no happier.

My grandfather used to say that, while growing old was good, being old was bad. That was almost certainly true during the Paleolithic It remains true today.

We have not put an end to death (though that may very well be a good thing).

Pace Freud and the entire psychological community, we do not understand ourselves any better than we did millennia ago. Did anyone ever understand human nature better than Shakespeare did?

Feminist claptrap to the contrary, the gap that separates men from women has not closed or even narrowed. Men are still from Mars and women, from Venus. Make up your own mind as to whether that is good or bad.

We still have no direct knowledge of the way animals think. Nor improved methods of communicating with them.

We have not become wiser.

Everyone thinks he or she knows about education. So how come we have not yet found a way to make our children better than ourselves?

We have not built a kinder, gentler, more just society. Nor, though everything is relative, is there any question of eliminating poverty.

We have not improved our methods of dealing with evil, when and where it raises its ugly face.

We have not closed the gap between free will and determinism even by one jota.

We have not discovered the secret of life. As a result, we are unable to create it either.

We are unable to control the weather or even forecast it much more than a week in advance.

We are unable to predict earthquakes.

We do not know what the future will bring. That means we are not in charge of our destiny.

We still do not know whether God exists.

 

Make up your own mind which of those two lists predominates.

On Technology and War (3)

Two weeks ago I tried to answer the question, how to use military-technological superiority when one has attained it. A week ago, to point out the things that technology does not change and will not change and cannot change. Today’s post is the last in the mini-series. I want to use it in order to ask: How is a new military technology received, and what happens to it once it is received?

Many of you will be familiar with the name of Giulio Douhet (1869-30). The Italian general who in 1921, published Il dominio dell’aereo, probably the most famous volume on the topic ever written. His portrait graced this column last week. But it is not this book I want to discuss here. In 1913 Douhet was a major on the general staff. In that capacity he produced an article on the above question, which I have used as my guide.

Stage A. A new technology is introduced. Normally this is done by the inventors and manufacturers who hope to make a profit and turn to the military as a potentially very large client. The idea meets with skepticism on the part of the officers who are sent to examine it. Though ingenious it is a mere toy, or so they declare. Good examples for this argument can be found in the Zeppelin; heavier than air aircraft; the submarine; and the tank. All of which were invented before 1914, and all of which initially met this fate. There is even a story about a British regimental commander, who receiving a couple of machine guns, told his men to take the “bloody things” to the wing and hide them.

Stage B. The manufacturers do not give up. They continue to push, sometimes by offering their invention to an enemy of the country they first approached. Sir Basil Zaharoff, though not an inventor but a merchant, was the undisputed master in this game, selling warships to both Turkey and Greece. Slowly and gradually, the military undergo a limited shift. They are now ready to see whether there is any way in which they can incorporate the new weapon or weapon system into the existing organizations without, however, acknowledging the need to change that organization in any fundamental way. At times indeed, they start adopting a new invention in order to prevent change; as the German Luftwaffe did when it developed the V-1 as a counter to the early ballistic missiles favored by the land army. Other good examples of the attempt to pour new weapons into old organizations are, once again, the heavier-than-air aircraft, and the submarine. And the aircraft carrier, of course.  

Stage C. Quite suddenly, the wind changes. As older officers die or retire, younger ones—those in charge of the new technologies and in favor of them—start shouting their virtues from the rooftops. Military history is making a fresh start! They (the new technologies) are about to take over! Everything else is ripe for the dustbin! And so on and so on. Douhet himself set the example. By the time he wrote his book he had convinced himself that armies and navies were about to disappear and that aviation, like the Jewish God in one of the prayers addressed to him, “all alone would rule in awe.” Similar claims on behalf of aircraft were made in the US by General Billy Mitchel; whereas in Britain another officer, Colonel John Fuller, was doing the same on behalf of tanks. Nowadays they are being made on behalf of artificial intelligence and autonomous killing machines among other things,

Stage D. It becomes evident that, useful as the new technologies are, they do not provide answers to all problems. As the defense becomes stronger, pilots find that their aircraft cannot simply bomb the hell out of whomever they want at any time they want. Submariners discover that, without support from the air (later, satellites), their ability to find their targets is very limited. Tanks are threatened by anti-tank guns and are, moreover, only useful in certain, well-defined, kinds of terrain. Carriers have to be escorted by entire fleets of anti-missile destroyers, anti-submarine destroyers, and supply ships. And autonomous killing machines kill indiscriminately. Briefly, the new technologies must be integrated with everything else: strategy, tactics, command and control, logistics, intelligence, doctrine, training and what not.

Stage E. Following the usual logistic curve, shown above, the process of reorganization has been driven as far as it will ever be and is now flattening out. Advanced, even revolutionary, weapons and weapon systems have become an integral part of the forces. Perhaps, as in the case of carriers from 1941 on, their lynchpin. By this time most of those who initially opposed the changes are gone. A new generation officers has risen and takes things as they now are for granted. And they start asking themselves: What has really changed?

Which, of course, itself is both cause and consequence why, as we have seen, so much does not change.

On Technology and War (2)

In last week’s post I addressed the following question: In view of rapid military-technological development that affects every aspect of war, how to best use military-technological superiority in order to win? Today, while remaining in the same general field, I want to look at the relationship between technology and war from a different point of view. In view of the speed and comprehensiveness of change, are there any aspects of war that remain essentially the same?

  1. The causes of war. Whether war is due to man’s nature (which is inclined towards evil from his youth on, as the Talmud puts it), or to structural problems inside human communities (as Rousseau and Marx, each in his own way, claimed), or to issues that arise between those communities (which seems to be the “realist” position), is moot. Nor is there any shortage of other explanations, including evolutionary ones such as are rooted in our biological nature. Which of them is correct I shall not presume to judge. What I do want to emphasize, though, is that not one of the has anything to do with technology; they are the same now as they were about fifteen thousand years ago when war, to the best of our knowledge, was firs invented.
  2. War requires an enemy. Without an enemy, no war. Many years ago, I had this fact brought home to me by a director general of the Australian ministry of defense with whom I had a conversation. He had succeeded he said, in formulating a strategy for a country that does not, or did not at that time, face any threat. With Papua-New Guinea to the north, Chile to the east, South Africa to the west, and penguins to the south, a difficult feat indeed! War, to put it in a different way, consists of the interaction between two (or more) belligerents. A single blow, delivered without opposition and over before it has even started, is not war.
  3. Strategy. Originating in ancient Greece (stratos means army, or host; strategos means general, strategama means stratagem, and strategia, generalship) strategy has become one of the buzzwords of our age. Definitions vary. The way I understand it, it is the art of waging a conflict between two or more opponents, each of whom has the right and the ability to pursue his objective while actively trying to prevent the other from doing the same. So understood, strategy is the same regardless of the environment in which war is waged (land, sea, air, space, cyberspace); the level at which it is waged, high or low; and the size of the forces that wage it. And also, nota bene, of the kind of technology in use at any particular place and time.
  4. War is the domain of uncertainty, friction, hunger, thirst, fatigue, deprivation, suffering, pain, and death. Also, last not least, sorrow. So it has been, so it is, and so it will remain. Such being the case, the qualities needed for waging war do not change. At the level of the individual they are courage in the face of death, determination, endurance, and perhaps a certain kind of callousness as well; fighting is no business for the soft of heart. At that of the unit or formation they include discipline, cohesion, and sheer fighting power; and at that of the commander, all of these plus the willingness and ability to bear the horrendous responsibility involved. All this was true at the time when Roman legionaries, carrying javelins, swords, helmets, body armor, and greaves conquered the oikoumene (known world). And all this remains true in the face of today’s most advanced and most powerful weapons and weapon systems.
  5. The difficulty of containing escalation. Starting a war may—perhaps—be a rational act. One that those in charge perform with a clear mind on the basis of cool calculation. No sooner does it break out, though, then things change. Whether for hormonal or for psychological reasons, the most elementary and most powerful emotions known to man emerge from deep inside the soul and start playing a major role. Among them are anger, fury, revenge, cruelty, and above all, hatred. Under such conditions making sure that war does not degenerate into a sheer orgy of violence, which is of no use to anyone, but continues to follow the direction of policy is certain to be very difficult, not seldom impossible.

 

See you next week.

On Technology and War (1)

As anyone who casts even an occasional and superficial view at the media knows, military-technological development, driven by hundreds of billions in R&D funding, is proceeding at a furious pace. Not a day passes without the announcement of some new and revolutionary weapons and weapon systems that have recently transformed the entire face of war or are about to do so in the near future. The objective is always the same: namely, to obtain that elusive and often ill-defined thing, military-technological superiority.

As one who has spent much of his life studying military history, specifically the interaction between technology and war, today I want to address the following question. Suppose you have got this kind of superiority. In that case, how do you go about using it?

 

  1. On its own, even the most novel and most powerful weapon or weapon system is useless. That is why it is essential to embed it in everything else that waging war involves. Including, at the very least, organization, logistics, training, doctrine, strategy and tactics. The officers responsible for all these fields must learn what the technology they are working with can and, above all, cannot do. Also, which is equally important, how the various factors interact and how to make them work together in a seamless team.
    A good example of what can happen if this is not done is provided by the rise of modern armored divisions. Come 1940, it was the French who had the most and the heaviest tanks. However, it was the Germans who, having learnt how to use them along with other technologies in an armored division, went ahead and won a victory so spectacular as to turn into a legend.
  2. Any weapon (except nuclear ones, against which the only defense is deterrence) can, in principle, be countered by one means or another. The enemy is not stupid. That is why, the longer the war the more likely this is to happen. Such being the case, the side with technological superiority has a strong interest in making sure that the war is as short as possible. And the other way around, of course.
  3. To shorten the war, it is necessary to take the enemy by surprise. To take the enemy by surprise, the new technology must be developed and introduced in secret, as far as possible. A technology whose existence and characteristics are known is a technology half-countered. But pay heed: maintaining secrecy comes at a price. It can lead to a situation where one’s own troops do not know the new technology as well as they should and where the integrated whole mentioned above is not achieved. A well-known example was the mitrailleuse, an early kind of machine gun. Come war in 1870, it was a revolutionary weapon the French alone possessed. Being large and heavy, though, it was misunderstood and misemployed as an artillery weapon. In World War II, the fear lest the Germans would use proximity fuses against the Allied bombers caused Washington to delay their operational use by about one year.
  4. Any new technology should be used en masse. Short of nukes, rarely if ever in war has any weapon been so powerful as to be capable of acting as a silver bullet. That is why new ones must be husbanded until there are enough of them around to make a real difference. The British in 1915-17 violated this principle. As a result, their armored attacks made little impression on the German defenses. Only towards the end of 1917 did things begin to change. As Guderian, the creator of modern armored warfare, used to put it during the 1930s: boot them, don’t tickle them.
  5. Following directly from this premise, the new technology should be used at the decisive point. In other words, at that point where it can do the greatest good to one’s own side and the greatest harm to the other. Again, 1940—the German breakthrough at Sedan—provides as good a case in point as may be had. French armor was so dispersed that entire units never saw any action at all. By contrast, the German armored divisions were concentrated against a single sector of the French front (so much so, in fact, that the queue of vehicles reached back a hundred kilometers all the way across the Rhine). Supposing there is no decisive point, a situation of which Afghanistan provides a particularly good example, not even the greatest military-technological superiority will be of much avail. The outcome is likely to be a long war which will finally be decided by attrition

Is that enough for today? See you next week.

How Have Heroes Fallen

For those of you who are too young, or have forgotten: there used to be a time when the Israeli military was supposed to be one of the best, perhaps the best, in the world. This was particularly the case between about 1967 and 1973. In 1967 the Israel Defense Force (IDF) only took six days to defeat several Arab armies which, between them, enjoyed a two-and-a-half to threefold numerical superiority over it. In 1973, though similarly outnumbered, it succeeded in repulsing a surprise attack and ended by threatening both Damascus and Cairo. At the time and later—but especially at the time—rivers of ink were spilt in an attempt to explain the “secret” behind these performances. Here I don’t intend to recapitulate the literature in question. Suffice it to say that, when everything is said and done, all of it came down to three factors: motivation, motivation, and motivation.

Today, though, that motivation is no longer there. Official figures how that the percentage of conscripts who volunteer for combat units, especially but not exclusively the armored corps and artillery, has reached an all-time low. What follows is a brief analysis of a few of the causes that have got the IDF into this sad state.

  1. Social changes. In the Israel in which I grew up, the Israel of the 1950s and 1960s, the best thing anyone could be was a soldier and a “fighter” (in English). To the point where the first Hebrew-language song I, having arrived from the Netherlands as a four-year old, learnt had to do with how wonderful soldiers were and how the girls should welcome them (instead of looking for opportunities to accuse them of sexual harassment, as is currently the case). To the point where people sent each other New Year cards with pics of soldiers, tanks, jeeps, etc. And to the point where youngsters who for one reason or another were not drafted sometimes committed suicide. But no longer. Much the best positions the IDF has to offer are in intelligence, computers, and combinations of the two. To the point where people are prepared to pay for having their offspring enter them. And with good reason: as was described in D. Senor and S. Singer’s Startup Nation (2011), it is these units that lead to good jobs and, here and there, great wealth. Adding a hundred dollars to combat soldiers’ monthly pay, which has recently been decided upon, is unlikely to change this situation.
  2. The role of women in the military. The IDF during its years of glory was the world’s only army to draft women and provide them with some kind of weapons training, albeit that it was almost purely symbolic. In return for not having to fight or shed their blood, women served for shorter periods, had to be content with less glamorous work, and enjoyed limited prospects for promotion. No longer. Owing to their physical weakness, women are still very rare in any units where they have to do excessively heavy work, let alone such in which they might become casualties if war breaks out. For example, when announcing the graduation of the first thirteen “tankwomen” the other day the IDF was careful to point out that they would not serve in any dangerous sectors. Nor is it clear who is going to do the heavy maintenance work required. Women can volunteer for “combat” units if they feel like it; men are assigned even against their will. Meanwhile, in units and positions that do not come under fire and do not require such work, women have gained complete equality. Women in other words, get all the cushy jobs. Nor, owing the above-mentioned social changes, can men compensate by serving in combat units. Not to put too fine a point on it, men get screwed.
  3. Until 1973 inclusive the IDF always fought enemies stronger, or at any rate more numerous, than itself. As it did so it heaped glory on itself. No longer. Starting as far back as the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, it has fought weak opponents almost exclusively. So much so, indeed, that in many cases the term fought—as against Palestinian kids armed with nothing more dangerous than rocks—has become a misnomer and should have been put in apostrophes. Fighting the weak, the IDF became weak. Its performance deteriorated and its victories no longer counted as such. To quote Friedrich Nietzsche, nothing is more boring than a victory endlessly repeated. Especially because, as the very need to repeat them shows, the victories in question are, in reality, no victories at all.

So far, the IDF. But this blog gets read in many different places around the world. Does any of this remind anyone of the situation in your own countries?

 

Guest Article: The View of the Jade Emperor: Why North Korea is Right for China

By Karsten Riise

It is always a delight to read William S. Lind. His informed way of putting issues on their head is thought-inspiring, and always makes you wiser – even if, as in this particular case, he happens not to be right.

Is North Korea really a disadvantage to China?

In an analysis “The North Korea Threat to China” 9 November 2017, Lind argues, that North Korea should be seen as a threat by China. Briefly put, his argument is that North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons may induce Japan, South Korea, and perhaps even one day Vietnam to acquire their own nuclear arsenal. And that indigenous nuclear arsenals in the hands of China’s immediate neighbors would make it difficult for China to create a buffer-zone of client states around herself.

It serves China

This argument neglects the Olympic fact that China is already confronted by an enormous arsenal of US nuclear weapons, based in South Korea, Okinawa and aboard the US Navy. It also overlooks the fact that some American leaders, due to their country’s faraway location, may be much more prone to risk a nuclear confrontation in East Asia than the indigenous countries inside the region are.

Accordingly, my response to Lind is that China must be happy with North Korea and its nuclear policies. If North Korea can somehow cause the enormous arsenal of US nuclear weapons on China’s doorstep to be swapped for a much smaller nuclear arsenal controlled by the people who live close to China’s borders, and who depend on good relations with China, not only for their survival, but also for their prosperity – then China should be satisfied. 

Finally, we must remember that North Korea has a pivotal role as a friendly buffer state for China. 

North Korea needs a nuclear deterrent

Unfortunately North Korea needs nuclear weapons as a deterrent against the USA. 

In 1945, the USA used nuclear bombs not once but twice. You might have thought that one such mass-killing was enough. But it wasn’t. General Douglas McArthur wanted to use nuclear weapons against North Korea, but fortunately was prevented from doing so by his president, Harry Truman. At the time, in closed talks, the US leaders shocked the British by casually hinting that the USA was considering attacking Communist China with nuclear weapons. To calm their allies they said that, in that case, they would “avoid striking the bigger cities” (Gribb-Fitzgibbons, Imperial Endgame, 2011). During the Vietnam War Henry Kissinger, according to a TV documentary, raised the possibility of “nuking” North Vietnam, telling Nixon “don’t be so shy about it”. 

Numerous historic deliberations of the USA to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear adversaries, and the way the USA breaks its commitment on the Iran nuclear deal, all confirm this. 

North Korea needs intercontinental capability

Now you would think that North Korean possession of nuclear weapons capable of devastating its neighbors Japan and South Korea should be enough to deter the USA from attacking. But unfortunately it is not. 

The current panic in Washington DC, just as North Korea is on the verge of acquiring missiles capable of reaching the continental USA, proves that, deep inside the minds of US leaders, there has been a false sense of comfort that any US escalation to a nuclear exchange involving North Korea could not touch the American homeland. It even seems to make a difference to US leaders whether North Korea can “only” reach Guam, Alaska or California – or if North Korea can hit their own personal residences in Washington DC. Now, due to North Korea’s new long-range missiles, that false sense of US comfort in its ability to apply nuclear blackmail is about to evaporate. 

In other words, North Korea now makes sure that nuclear deterrence in East Asia will become absolutely effective. 

It is often argued that North Korea is somehow posing a problem for China. That is entirely wrong. North Korea acts as a “wild-dog on a leash” – and China holds the leash. This is exactly similar to the old play of “good-cop”/“bad-cop.” North Korea plays the role of “bad-cop,” and allows China to play the “moderator.” Thus China can always enter the scene as the “good-regional-cop,” as an indispensable partner in talks with the USA. 

China’s play-book works every single time.

China now gets into an even better position vs. the USA

Armed with nuclear missiles capable of reaching Washington DC, North Korea becomes an even better “bad-cop.” As the false sense of comfort of the US leadership vanishes, the “wild-dog” on China’s leash becomes ever more awe-inspiring for the USA. 

Now the USA needs China even more, so as to handle the “wild-dog.”

What China – and North Korea – do is, from their point of view, quite correct.

No Escape

Of Saint Augustine it used to be said that anyone who claimed to have read everything he wrote was lying. The same is true of Philip Roth. I do not claim to have read everything he has written. But I have read pretty much, and each time I add another volume I am astonished at how good a writer he really is.

The Dying Animal, the book I want to discuss today, just fell into my hands by accident. Published as long ago as 2001, it is as fresh today as it was then. The basic story is simple. The life of the protagonist, David Kepesh, has been described in some of Roth’s previous books. Now he is a moderately well-known art critic in New York. He appears on local TV and radio on a regular basis and teaches a class in “creative criticism.” Needless to say, most of his students are young women. Each year he immediately notices the one he wants. There are, however, any number of spoilsports around. That is why he waits until the course is over and all the grades have been handed out. At that point he invites the students to a party at his home, and the mating game can get under way.

Her name is Consuela Castillo. She is twenty-four to his sixty-two. As Roth is careful to point out, the attraction is mutual. He is attracted to her reverence for him as well as her beauty. Especially the erect way she carries herself (she is Cuban, and very proud) and her “powerful” breasts. The latter she is careful to put on show by keeping the upper three buttons of her blouse open. She is attracted to the courteous way he treats her, his relative renown, and his culture. In addition to being a literary critic he plays the piano, albeit not too well. So different from men of her own age who “masturbate” on her body, as she puts it.

Some feminist critics, desperately jealous of their younger “sisters,” have denounced Roth and his protagonist as typical male chauvinist pigs. For the benefit of any members of that extraordinary breed—feminists—who may be reading these lines, let me emphasize: Consuela is not an innocent victim. She has slept with men before. Even as she sleeps with David she also sleeps with others, including two brothers. She is neither too stupid to understand what is going on nor, as we soon learn, too weak to say no. In fact it is hard to say who, David or Consuela, leads the other in the minuet that slowly, inevitably, takes them to bed. By presenting Consuela as if she were an unwitting ninny, the critics in question do her a much greater injustice than David ever did. If, indeed, he did her any injustice at all.

In fact it is Kepesh, much the older of the two and very much aware of approaching death even when they are making love, who holds the weaker cards. She can throw him out at any time. A year and a half into their affair, when he refuses to join a party her family is throwing in which he would have to pretend he is nothing to her but a kindly old teacher, that is just what she does.

The loss of Consuela sends David into a depression that lasts for years. What we, the readers, get are his memories and his thoughts. About sex, that enormously powerful drive no one, young or old, can ignore. About nature which, for reasons of its own, has made men basically polygamous (marriage kills sex, is what Roth says not only in this volume but in several others as well). About nature which, again for reasons of its own, has made women want nothing as much as children, which of course implies a long-term, stable, relationship even if, over time, it becomes sexless. About the man—David’s son—who, trapped into a marriage he hates, takes a mistress and is crushed by the resulting burden of guilt. About another man who, trapped into a marriage he hates, escapes from it, only to quickly enter into another one just like it.

About the young woman (not Consuela) who, overwhelmed by the freedom modern contraceptives provide her with, uses it to do exercise her right of sleeping around with anyone she wants and ends up with serial divorce and a nervous breakdown. About the woman who, determined to do whatever it takes to have a good career, attains that goal—only to discover that she is past the age at which one can fall deeply, deeply in love and that what she really wants, i.e. a family and children, is beyond her reach. About the childless couple who call five times a day so as to forget that, in reality, they have nothing to say to one another. And about the man and the woman, both of them unattached and independent and mature people, who are looking for a “pure” relationship based exclusively on free will and mutual attraction. Only to discover that time creates its own obligations and that such a relationship does not exist.

Another six and a half years have passed. David is seventy now. All of a sudden Consuela reenters his life. She is thirty-two, a young woman in the prime of life. Even better looking than before. But she has cancer. One of those glorious breasts is going to be cut off, and she worries no man will ever love her again. Besides, her chances of survival are just sixty percent. Of course she is terrified. Most of her immediate relatives having died, she turns—where else?—not to any of the young men she has slept with. But to the one man who, though he is no longer sexually attracted to her, she knows she can trust. Absolutely and unconditionally. She asks David to photograph those magnificent breasts of hers from every side and angle, which he obligingly does. Next thing he knows, she calls him. In the middle of the night. She needs him right by her side. And he knows that, if he goes, he will be “finished.”

Roth is too good a writer to tell us the outcome of all this. But the moral, I think, is clear. However much we may twist and turn, and however much feminists may rant and rave, neither men nor women can escape from what nature has made them.a