Why I Blog

Some three years have passed since I started this blog, and it is time to draw up a balance. No, my site has not drawn very large numbers of readers and has not developed into the equivalent of the Huffington Post. And no, I do not do it for profit; though at times I was tempted by offers to open the site to advertising, in the end I rejected them all. As a result, never did I receive a single penny for all the work I have been doing (normally, about two hours per week). More, even: since I am not very computer literate, I rely on my stepson, Jonathan Lewy, to run the site for me. But for him it would not have been possible. So let me use this opportunity to thank him from the bottom of my heart.

What I have received and am receiving is feedback. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Some people have used the appropriate button on the site to say what they think of my work or simply in order to get in touch. Others suggested that they write for me or else responded to my request that they do so. Others still have asked, and received, my permission to repost my work on their own sites. A few have even taken the trouble to translate entire articles into their native languages. Except for a few yahoos who ranted and swore, almost all my contacts with the people in question, many of whom were initially complete strangers, have been courteous, informative, and thought-provoking. Thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart.

Most of the ideas behind my posts are derived from the media. Others have to do with my personal experiences; others still, such as the series on Pussycats, have to do with the research I am currently doing or else were suggested by various people. Perhaps most important of all, I often use my posts as what Nietzsche used to call Versuche. By that he meant attempts to clarify his thoughts and see where they may lead. The most popular posts have been those which dealt with political and military affairs. Followed by the ones on women and feminism, followed by everything else. Given my background and reputation as a longtime professor of military history and strategy, that is not surprising.

At one point I tried to enlist the aid of a friend to have the blog translated into Chinese and make my posts available in that language too. No luck; I soon learnt that the Great Chinese Firewall did not allow them to pass. Why that is, and whether my work has fallen victim to some kind of dragnet or has been specifically targeted I have no idea. Thinking about it, the former seems more likely; to the best of my knowledge I have never written anything against China. But one never knows.

That brings me to the real reason why I write: namely, to exercise my right to freedom of thought. And, by doing so, do my little bit towards protecting it and preserving it. My heroes are Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. The former because he has exposed a few of the less decent things—to put it mildly—out dearly beloved governments have been saying and doing in our name. The latter, because he has shown how vulnerable all of us are to Big Brother and called for reform. Both men have paid dearly for what they have done, which is another reason for trying to follow in their footsteps as best I can.

Freedom of speech is in trouble—and the only ones who do not know it are those who will soon find out. The idea of free speech is a recent one. It first emerged during the eighteenth century when Voltaire, the great French writer, said that while he might not agree with someone’s ideas he would fight to the utmost to protect that person’s right to express them. Like Assange and Snowden Voltaire paid the penalty, spending time in jail for his pains. Later, to prevent a recurrence, he went to live at Frenay, just a few hundred yards from Geneva. There he had a team or horses ready to carry him across the border should the need arise. Good for him.

To return to modern times, this is not the place to trace the stages by which freedom of speech was hemmed in in any detail. Looking back, it all started during the second half of the 1960s when it was forbidden to say, or think, or believe, that first blacks, then women, then gays, then transgender people, might in some ways be different from others. As time went on this prohibition came to be known as political correctness. Like an inkstain it spread, covering more and more domains and polluting them. This has now been carried to the point where anything that may offend anyone in some way is banned—with the result that, as Alan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind has shown, in many fields it has become almost impossible to say anything at all.

Let me give you just one example of what I mean. Years ago, at my alma mater in Jerusalem, I taught a course on military history. The class consisted of foreign, mostly American, students. At one point I used the germ Gook. No sooner had the word left my mouth than a student rose and, accused me of racism. I did my best to explain that, by deliberately using the term, I did not mean to imply that, in my view, the Vietnamese were in any way inferior. To the contrary, I meant to express my admiration for them for having defeated the Americans who did think so. To no avail, of course.

And so it goes. When the Internet first appeared on the scene I, along with a great many other people, assumed that any attempt to limit freedom of speech had now been definitely defeated. Instead, the opposite is beginning to happen. Techniques such as “data mining” made their appearance, allowing anything anyone said about anything to be instantly monitored and recorded, forever. All over Europe, the thought police is in the process of being established. Sometimes it is corporations such as Facebook which, on pain of government intervention, are told to “clean up” their act by suppressing all kinds of speech or, at the very least, marking it as “offensive,” “untrue,” and “fake.” In others it is the governments themselves that take the bit between their teeth.

Regrettably, one of the governments which is doing so is that of the U.S. Naively, I hoped that Trump’s election would signify the beginning of the end of political correctness. Instead, he is even now trying to prevent people in- and out of the government from discussing such things as global warming and the need to preserve the environment. Not to mention his attacks on the media for, among other things, allegedly misreading the number of those who came up to witness his inauguration. Should this line continue and persist, then it will become imperative to do without him and go against him. Not because of what he has to say about both topics is necessarily wrong, but to ensure the right of others to think otherwise.

This won’t do. That is why I promise my readers, however few or many they may be, one thing: namely, to go on writing about anything I please and go on speaking the truth as I see it. The English poet W. H. (Wystan Huge) Auden, 1907-1973, might have been referring to blogging when he wrote:

I want a form that’s large enough to swim in,

And talk on any subject that I choose.

From natural scenery to men and women

Myself, the arts, the European news.

On Blogging*

bloggingThe opposite is also true. I blog, therefore I think. It is now almost two years since I started doing this. Except for one five-week period when technical problems prevented me from posting, I have done so week in, week out. The present piece is No. 94. A good time, it seems to me, to stand still and look back.

First, has blogging taught me anything? No and yes. No, in the sense that, over the years, I have published enough opinion pieces in enough papers and magazines around the world to know how to do it. Or so I hope, at any rate. For those of you with no experience in the field, here are a few simple rules.

Make sure you know exactly what you want to say, and say it. Keep it short and, if you can, snappy. Use short sentences and short paragraphs. For heaven’s sake, don’t use jargon. Above all, don’t go for academic, especially social science, writing with its endless strings of abstract, not seldom incomprehensible, nouns following each other like beads on a string. Don’t try to impress people with your learning—usually, doing so all you will achieve is bore them and make them stop reading. It is in knowing where to stop that true mastery reveals itself. Always try and find a nice picture to illustrate what you have to say.

Yes, in the sense that I have discovered that there is no knowing which of your pieces is going to be the most successful. You leave your desk, or close your laptop, thinking that you have written a particularly interesting piece. But the stats, which I look at from time to time, show you that you have missed the boat and that no one cares. You think that you have written a so-so piece—perhaps because you were not feeling very well, perhaps because you just did not have the time. But all of a sudden the stats explode. After two years it seems to me there is just one remedy. Keep typing away. Maybe you’ll hit the jackpot one day. Or not.

When I say jackpot, I do not mean money. Except that some readers have gone to Amazon.com in order to take a look at my books, so far I have not made a penny on my blog. Given the restrictions on free expression that are sure to follow if you allow advertising a foot in the door, I am not even certain I would like to do so.

Unlike many other bloggers, and contrary to the advice of some, I have not restricted my posts to a single topic or field. Many of the topics I address I get from the daily press. Others reflect issues I have been contemplating for some time past and wanted to get off my chest. A few, notably the ones about nuclear proliferation, resource wars, Russia and China reflect the things I have discussed with my students in class. For making me think, I thank them.

As I have written more than once, I get quite some feedback. A few of the emails are offensive, even obscene. Pay attention, you yahoos out there: I ignore them and will continue to do so in the future. The rest fall into two main categories. Some readers like my pieces and ask permission to re-post them, either in the original language or in translation. Usually I go along; but not before asking my correspondent whether he (so far, no she) would like to reciprocate by posting something on my site in return. Several have.

Then there are those who want to argue, usually over some point linked to my views concerning women and feminism. Those I provide with brief answers; brief they have to be, or otherwise I won’t have time for anything else. Here and there a critique is sufficiently interesting to catch my attention and make me engage in a little more research. Whatever others may feel or think, for me the feedback is very important. Quite often it makes me think of things that have never occurred to me before; so let me take this opportunity to thank those who provide it.

Finally, why do I do it? Being a fairly well known academic, over my lifetime I have published dozens of books in twenty different languages. I have also been interviewed by numerous TV stations, radio station, magazines and newspapers around the world—so many that I have long stopped counting. Not to mention articles I myself wrote.

Generally I enjoyed doing all this. Yet nothing gives me the sense of freedom which, sitting down week by week, I have when working on my blogs. Freedom from the kind of control many editors will impose on your work. Freedom to say what I want, on any subject that comes to my mind, in the way, and at the time; and freedom to do so regardless of the laws Israeli ministers and MKs, to their eternal shame, are trying to pass.

To abuse a famous quote, give me freedom, or give me death.

* I wish to thank my stepson, Jonathan Lewy, who not only takes care of all the technical arrangements but has provided the idea behind this particular piece.