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.