Lazy Hazy Days of Summer

Once upon a time, a little less than eight decades ago, one of the things the German air force was famous for was the speed with which it could and did push forward its bases. First in Norway, where fighters actually landed on, and took off from, frozen lakes even as the campaign was proceeding. Passing through the French campaign; even before the armistice was signed on 25 July 1940, Luftwaffe units, operating from newly captured Norwegian, Dutch, and French bases had started to turn their attention towards England. Later the same speed and determination were evident both in North Africa and Russia.

Though distances were measured in thousands, rather than hundreds, of kilometers, the campaigns in Norway and North Africa were relatively small. Not so those waged in the West and Russia. The latter in particular was the largest in history, dwarfing anything that came before or after. To focus on the Luftwaffe, thousands of aircraft, tens of thousands of men, and hundreds of thousands of tons of equipment had to be redeployed. Often repeatedly so as the Panzers advanced and the Blitzkrieg unfolded.

Captured enemy airfields, many of them rather primitive, had to be reconnoitered and re-equipped. Others had to be constructed from scratch. Sheds for repair and maintenance had to be erected. Communications-networks had to be established. Fuel, spare parts and ammunition had to be brought forward, stored, and secured as best conditions allowed. A weather service had to be installed. Shelters, however improvised, had to be built for crews, all sorts of ground personnel, and commanders. Often anti-aircraft defenses had to be provided as well—this, after all, was a real war in which some airstrips were located as little as 25 kilometers behind the front and, occasionally, exposed to enemy action.

All this, without the benefit of modern transport aircraft. The Luftwaffe’s workhorse, the famous “Tante” Ju-52, could only carry 17-18 men. It had an operational radius of less than 500 kilometers and a maximum speed of just under 200 kilometers per hour. And all this, against the background of a chronic shortage of motorized vehicles of all kinds. A shortage which, on the eve of Operation Yellow, the code name under which the invasion of the West was known, had forced the Wehrmacht to start replacing many of its trucks by horse-drawn vehicles.

And today? Here is what Zeitonline, a website run by one of Germany’s most respected newspapers, has to say about the matter. The date is 17 June 2017, the translation and the material in square brackets are mine.

“Bundesrepublik minister of defense Ursula von der Leyen (Christian Democratic Union) has presented a timetable for moving the German air contingent from Turkey’s Incirlik air base to Jordan. ‘Until the end of June we shall remain part and parcel of the anti-Daesh coalition,’ she told the newspaper Bild am Sontag.’ Then we shall move the tankers to Jordan as quickly as we can.” From that point on our troops will operate from the Jordanian base of al Asrak, not far from the southern border of Syria.

The tankers will only take a few days to start operations, probably towards the middle of July. ‘Moving the Tornadoes and the complex equipment needed to support photo-air reconnaissance [the German aircraft are not equipped to participate in combat, and in any case Daesh has no air force and no serious anti-aircraft defenses of any kind] is more difficult,’ said the minister. It will take two months, from August to [the end of] September [the entire French campaign only took six weeks, MvC]. From October on the reconnaissance-Tornadoes will recommence operations according to plan. The most important considerations are shortening the transition-time as much as possible and the safety of Germany’s troops.” Against what? One asks. Suicide bombers? The oh-so great temptations of Amman’s famous nightlife?

Never mind that the entire mission, such as it is, could have been carried out by drones to better effect and at a fraction of the cost. Now guess how many troops, how many tankers, and how many Tornado aircraft we are talking about here.

Answer: 280, one, and six respectively.

How to Fight Daesh

paris-military-exercise-634x350Ever since Daesh first burst on the international scene back in the spring of 2014, a vast amount of ink has been spilt over its relationship with its parent organization, Al Qaeda; its objectives; its peculiar ability to attract Muslim volunteers from all over the world; as well as its methods—the latter, it turns out, taken straight from the days Mohammed and his followers first started their campaign of terror and conquest. Including beheadings, crucifixion, and the enslavement of both men and women. Let those who are interested consult the literature in question; here I want to focus on the most important problem of all, i.e. how to fight and win.

Four separate theaters of war must be distinguished, viz:

  1. Syria and Iraq. Daesh is essentially the product of the foolish American invasion of Iraq. As former President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, drawing on a traditional Islamic image, predicted, it “opened the gates of hell.” It is in these countries that Daesh was formed and where most its fighters are concentrated. The essence of the problem is political. Let Presidents Obama, Putin and Arduan finally decide on who the main enemy is and start cooperating against him. Even if it means leaving President Assad in place, at least for the time being. Let the US, Russia, and Turkey mount a combined air offensive against Daesh, targeting its forces in Syria as well as the oilfields from which it draws its revenue in Iraq. However, as over a year of strikes by aircraft and drones has shown all too clearly, air operations on their own will not do the trick. For that the assistance of Syria’s ground forces is needed. To be sure, all this means teaming up with some pretty unsavory people and countries. But what other choice is there? As long as Daesh’s main forces and leadership are not smashed, terrorism will continue. If not here then there, and if not there then here.
  2. France and Europe. Stop shilly-shallying and start controlling immigration by every available means with the objective of bringing it to a halt. Also at sea to take care of Libya. Net install passive defenses. That means guards, metal detectors and surveillance cameras at every parking house, shopping center, theater, university, school, etc. If considered appropriate, arm them and train them in self-defense. Such measures need not be as expensive as they sound. Europe has plenty of unemployed. They should be happy to work, and their wages can be offset against the benefits they currently receive. At the most sensitive installations, such as airports, use profiling, i.e. separate people into various classes so as to identify those considered particularly dangerous and subject them to extra scrutiny. Profiling may not be very democratic. However, experience shows that it works. Set up volunteer neighborhood watches—no one knows neighborhoods better than the people who live in them. Provide them with good communications to call in reinforcements if necessary and have them cooperate closely with the local police. This method has the additional advantage of engaging people and make them feel they can do something to help. Repair any damage terrorists cause as quickly as possible so as to restore normal life and enable it to continue.
  3. The intelligence services. Passive measures on their own are insufficient. What is needed is a high-quality organization capable of identifying terrorists, tracking them, and foiling their plots ahead of time by arresting or killing them if necessary. Also, of tracing the financial flows on which they depend and making them dry up. So beef up your intelligence services. Provide them with the most modern surveillance equipment and pass the laws that will allow them to use it. Focus on communications; by making it hard for terrorists and their supporters to talk and work together, you will draw much of their sting. Inside the national borders, make sure the various departments work in tandem. Across such borders, make sure that the borders do not stand in the way of the information flow. In other words, that the services cooperate closely both with their counterparts in other countries and with the police. A Pan-European Intelligence Czar, responsible for overall coordination, would surely be useful. Do the political problems facing the establishment of such an office turn it into an impossible dream? If so, tant pis.
  4. The courts. An essential part of any anti-terrorist campaign is deterrence. So make sure judges have the necessary authority to do what has to be done. The establishment of special courts with augmented authority for the purpose should be considered. Punishments of the guilty should be appropriate and follow swiftly after terrorists are apprehended. They should also be well publicized.

The above are the main elements of any successful anti-terrorist campaign. Let me conclude by listing, in addition to the does, some of the don’ts:

  1. At all cost, don’t allow mobs to attack real and suspected terrorists and lynch them without due process of law. Uninformed and undirected, such attacks can mean gross injustices in the form of mistaken identities etc. Worse still, they will encourage the populations from which terrorists come to unite and fight back. You may end up with just what you want to prevent, i.e. civil war.
  2. For the same reason, do refrain from using collective punishments. There is a good chance that they will turn out to be counter-productive.
  3. Finally, the war on terror will not be won quickly. So do not expect quick results and do not allow yourself to be discouraged by possible setbacks. To be sure people are not, mount a sustained public relations campaign to explain why all those measures, as well as the inconveniences they inevitably cause, are needed.

Good luck.

When Will They Ever Learn?

For over a year now, the US armed forces have been fighting The Monster. AKA ISIS, AKA DAESH, AKA one of the most ferocious band of cut-throats the world has ever seen. Joining President Assad’s Army, who is the only one with the necessary guts, as of this writing Turkish, Russian, and French forces have all entered the fray. So, in less direct ways, have some 60 other countries. As the growing list of belligerents indicates, without too much success. Fearing casualties, officially at any rate none of the abovementioned interventionist forces have deployed boots on the ground. They prefer to rely on air strikes instead.

article-1292462-0A4255CC000005DC-773_634x483So just to remind those of you who may have forgotten, here is a short list of some of the things airborne devices, regardless of whether they are or are not manned, fly high or low or circle the earth in the manner of satellites, can not do:

Manned or unmanned, such is the cost-benefit relationship that airborne devices have difficulty coping with a widely dispersed enemy. In plain words: one cannot send an F-16 or a Predator after every terrorist, real or, much less, suspected.

Manned or unmanned, airborne devices cannot take prisoners and interrogate people. In other words obtain HUMINT from both enemy combatants and the civilian population.

Manned or unmanned, airborne devices cannot look inside houses and other buildings which terrorists/guerrillas/insurgents use to hide, plan their operations, store weapons, recuperate, and so on.

Manned or unmanned, airborne devices, owing to their inability to look inside, cannot normally block transportation arteries except by shooting up everything that moves on them. In other words, they cannot do so in a discriminating manner; it is either/or.

Manned or unmanned, airborne devices cannot occupy territory and hold it. To quote a World War I saying which still holds true in many cases: They come from the devil knows where; drop bombs on the devil knows what; and disappear to the devil knows where.

The really interesting point, which ought to make us all think, is that none of this is at all new. In fact it dates back to the earliest days of airpower. The first to use aircraft in war were the Italians in Libya from 1911 on. Initially, when the opponent still consisted of the Ottoman Army and most of the fighting took place along the coast, the few primitive airship and aircraft deployed to the theater of war were quite useful in obtaining intelligence and artillery-spotting in particular. Later things changed. Airships and aircraft remained absolutely essential for reconnaissance and surveillance. They were the eyes of the army, as the saying went. Too often, though, the opponents, now consisting mainly of native nomadic Bedouin, adapted and started devising countermeasures. As by taking pot shots at their enemies, forcing them to fly higher and use their ordnance less effectively; as by switching to night operations; and as by using terrain features, dispersion and camouflage in order to avoid discovery. In case they were discovered the small bombs dropped on them often killed combatants and noncombatants alike. Instead of extinguishing the flames of war they stirred them up. So great were the difficulties that, at one point, the Italians decided to forget about bombs altogether but resorted to leaflets instead.

All these problems explain why the campaign, which the High Command in Rome had expected would take up just a few weeks or months, lasted intermittently until 1928. And why, ultimately, it was decided not by aircraft and their pilots, important as they were, but by a quarter million of ground troops sent by Mussolini with license to commit every kind of atrocity (including the use of poison gas) under the sun until “order” was restored.

Do these problems sound familiar? If so, that is because, since then, they have resurfaced so many times as to make me, at any rate, lose count. The British lost first Ireland and then, after World War II, the rest of their colonial empire. Starting in 1946-47, the same fate overtook the French. The Americans, stepping in where their former allies had failed, lost first Vietnam and then the rest of Indochina. The Soviets lost Afghanistan. The Americans were thrown out of Lebanon. The South Africans were thrown out of Namibia. The Americans were thrown out of Somalia. The Israelis were thrown out of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The Americans were thrown out of Iraq. The Americans were thrown out of Afghanistan. Etcetera, etcetera.

The above is just a small sample of a list that could be continued indefinitely. It covers a very wide variety of countries, circumstances, and armed struggles no two of which were exactly alike. What makes it remarkable is the fact that, whatever else, in every single case, the one thing the “forces of order,” “counterinsurgents,” or whatever they called themselves, enjoyed was absolute control of the air. And in every single one, that control availed them little if at all.

When will they ever learn?


I get feedback on my articles. For that I am grateful; it makes me think. Recently someone took issue with my claim that, in the military, where there are women there are no bullets and where there are bullets there are no women. How about the brave Kurdish women who are fighting Daesh? Don’t they make up 30-35 percent?

30-35 percent of what? I asked. After all, women make up nearly 30 percent of the Israel Defense Force. Nevertheless, in the so-called Second Lebanon War of 2006, 130 male soldiers were killed against just one female. The 66 IDF soldiers who died in operation Protective Edge in 2014 did not include a single woman. So just what do 30-35 percent mean?

Regarding the fighting Kurdish troops  he answered rather brusquely. In support he sent these sites: 

I opened them. They did not mention any figures on the ratio of brave Kurdish fighting females to brave Kurdish fighting males. And the headline? Here is what it read: “No Frontline Deployment for Female Kurdish Troops.”

What the article did say was that, in a place called Dobruk, there is or was a colonel who commanded “a 30-woman unit.” Strange, that: since when do colonels command platoons? Isn’t their job to command brigades in which there are normally 27 platoons as well as other units? Never mind. The purpose of the unit? “To show,” says the colonel, “that we are different from IS, which will never let women fight.” In other words, propaganda. Though whom the propaganda is intended for, the Kurds themselves or their slavering Western admirers, is left unsaid.

That business disposed of, I decided to do a little research. And yes, I did find a BBC article titled, “Kurdish women fighters wage war on Islamic State in Iraq (photo report).” It claimed that women made up some thirty percent. Thirty percent of exactly what? Military personnel (assuming that, in a place like Kurdistan, there is a clear distinction between the military and civilians)? All kinds of support troops? Fighters who actually hold a gun, fire at the enemy, and are fired at in return? The article provides no answers. What it does provide are nice-looking pictures of women posing with Kalashnikov assault rifles. So do a great many similar sites.

The words “photo report” are important. Many years ago, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels used to tell his public that “pictures do not lie.” That, of course, was itself the greatest lie of all. I do not want to imply that the BBC was lying. Only that doing so with the aid of pictures is, if anything, easier than with words. One takes a good looking, somewhat dark-skinned, woman in some dilapidated-looking setting. One pays her a few dollars. Many women (and men) will help even without the dollars. Some will happily sell their grandmothers simply in order to appear on BBC News or some similar show. The paperwork having been settled, one puts her into something that looks more or less like a uniform. To add a local touch, her head may be adorned by a kefiyeh. One gives her the rifle which she does or does not know how to fire. One makes her stand up and pose, kneel and pose, lie down and pose. Easy.

Another article claims that the Kurdish Peshmerga have “hundreds” of female troops. Hundreds out of how many? 250,000, as The Guardian, 22.2.2015, claimed? And what do they actually do? Have “Daesh on the run,” as an article in Toronto Sun, published on 18.8.2015, claimed? Frankly, I did not know Daesh was on the run. The latest I read was that, according to US intelligence agencies, “Daesh remains as powerful today as it was in mid-2014. It can replace fighters faster than any other military organization on earth” (Albawaba News, Egypt, 13.8.2015). Notwithstanding that more than 60 countries, a third of the total, are trying to counter it. But back to the women. In proportion to their number in the Peshmerga, how many women fight weapon in hand? How many were killed or wounded? Nowhere could I find clear answers.

And why the Kurds? All Western armies now have legions of heroic fighting females. So why should anyone go all the way to Kurdistan, normally not the most important, progressive, or interesting place in the world, to hunt for them? Shouldn’t they be everywhere? Perhaps the history of the Greek Amazons provides an answer. Originally they were supposed to live in Phrygia, not far from the city of Troy which they vainly tried to save from the Greeks. Next, since they could not be found there, they shifted their habitat to the country north of the Black Sea. When they could not be found there they shifted their habitat to Libya. Next, since they could not be found they moved into the “frontiers of the inhabited world.” Or so the historian Diodorus, who wrote between about 60 and 30 BC, says.

Wherever Greek armies and colonists arrived they eagerly looked for Amazons. Failing to find them, they did their best to fake them. By one legend, the Amazon Queen Thalestris presented Alexander the Great with 300 of her subjects in the hope that they would conceive and have children as strong as he was. Perhaps because Alexander does not seem to have been terribly interested in women, though, nothing came of it. Some subsequent Greek and Roman rulers put captive “Amazons” on display during victory celebrations and the like. Freaks, they knew, always draw crowds.

From then to the present, the question has not been whether women fight in war. Except on rare occasions, usually such as are linked either to insurgencies or to last-ditch home defense, they do not. The question, rather, is why fighting females have such a strong hold on the male imagination.

For an answer, I shall select just example. In Berlin there is the world-famous Pergamon Museum. Inside the museum there is the altar built by King Eumenes II at some time between 200 and 150 BC. So stunning is it that I have seen visitors standing in front of it, speechless and unable to move

Athena+PergamonIn the present context the important sculptures are those of Zeus, the father of the gods and the strongest among them by far, and his warrior daughter Athene. The unknown artist has portrayed Zeus as one would expect him to be, i.e. as the very image of a bare-chested, powerful, dominant male with muscles and pubic hair to match. Not so Athene who obviously presented the sculptor with a problem. On one hand she had to look robust (“Pallas,” in Greek, one of her epithets) in order to appear credible as a warrior. On the other she cannot be made to look too robust. Or else she will make her male partner in battle less credible. Besides, it is necessary to make clear that she is a woman. How to reconcile the conflicting demands? Here goes. Her arms, which are considerably weaker than those of Zeus, have been left exposed. There is no bare chest, no pubic hair. Instead the left half of her chest is encased by armor. The right one is covered by a thin, almost transparent, fabric that leaves her nipple clearly visible.

The combination of combat with cleavage continues to fascinate the male mind. Throughout history, that fascination has led to strange results. Down to the end of the nineteenth century female on female duels—there were a few—always drew crowds of leering men. Nowadays the same happens wherever a “catfight” is announced. Nothing like a couple of half-naked women bashing one another to get spectators on their feet! Meanwhile real fighting women remain as rare as they were when Alexander vainly looked for them.

Or else, conscious of his public relations as he was, merely pretended to do so.

For Whom the Bells Toll

bashar-al-assadFor Bashir Assad, the bells have been tolling. If one believes the media, he and the regime he represents are on their last legs. Whether or not that is true is not at issue here—similar predictions have been heard ever since civil war broke out in Syria four years ago. What I do want to do is take a look at the origins of the war, the way it has been going, and what the future may look like in case the predictions come true.

The decisive fact about the Assad—meaning, in Arabic, “Lion”—family is that they are Alawites. The Alawites are a section within the Sunni tradition. They do not, however, form part of the mainstream. Some Islamic scholars do not even regard them as Muslims; claiming that they are basically pagans who worship the moon and the stars. The community is scattered among Syria, Turkey and Lebanon. It is, however, only in Syria that they form a significant minority, counting perhaps one seventh of the population. That explains why Bashir’s paternal grandfather, Ali Suleiman al Assad (1875-1963), supported French colonial rule. He and his fellow Alawites knew well enough how majority Muslims deal with minority ones.

Suleiman’s son Hafez made his career as an air force officer. In 1963 he took part in a coup that brought the Ba’ath, a party that professed a curious mixture of secularism, nationalism, and socialism, to power. In 1966 he co-authored another coup, this time one that took place inside the Ba’ath leadership; in 1970, following a third coup, he assumed power as a military dictator. He did not, however, do much to change the nature of the regime. The latter remained what it had been. An amalgam of secularism, nationalism, “Arab” socialism; and of course the kind of brutal police state which seems to be more or less the only kind most Arabs understand and can live under.

Assad Père governed Syria with an iron fist. In 1973 he and Egypt’s Sadat launched a massive war against Israel; the way he and most Arabs understood the outcome, it was a major success. To be sure, it did not return the Golan Heights to Syria. But it did increase Assad’s popularity and helped consolidate his rule. When civil war broke out in Lebanon in 1976 he played a major role in the conflict. Supporting now this militia, now that, at one point he made himself the de facto ruler of the country. So much so, in fact, that not even a major Israeli invasion of Lebanon succeeded in dislodging him for very long.

Assad’s greatest challenge came in early 1982. It took the form of a Sunni—Sunnis form just under 90 percent of Syria’s population—uprising against his Alawite, secular rule. So bad was it that, for several months, it looked as if he the regime was about to disintegrate. In response Assad had his troops, commanded by his own brother Rif’at, surround the city of Hama where the head of the snake was located. Opening fire, Rif’at turned much of it into a sea of ruins. Later reporters asked Rif’at whether he had really killed 25,000 men, women and children. Looking them straight in the face, he answered that he had probably killed more.

From that time on Assad no longer faced any serious opponents inside Syria. Though his troops withdrew from Lebanon in 1990, he remained a major player in the complicated ethnic politics of that country. The same applied to his son Basher who took over in the year 2000. Both Hafez and Basher tried to negotiate with Israel in an attempt to reach a deal that would return the Golan Heights. To no avail. Both Hafez and Bashir supported Hezbollah in Lebanon, causing Israel endless trouble along its northern border. Both were themselves supported by faraway Iran which provided arms as well as training. However, being concerned above all with the stability of their regime, neither launched a major war against anybody. To that extent they were a stabilizing factor in the Middle East.

In April 2011 civil war broke out. As in 1982, the perpetrators were mainly Sunni Moslems, combined with a sprinkling of “liberals.” Bashir used his army to respond in kind. However, unlike his father he was unable to quell the rebellion, causing it to go on and on. To-date, the death-toll is estimated to approach a quarter million people. Millions of others have fled, mainly into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. There is nothing very special about any of this. To the contrary: in the absence of democracy violence, great or small is simply the way Arabs normally use to settle their political differences.

What is remarkable about the conflict is not so much the butchery as the way the ropes are drawn around the rink. Assad Jr.’s only supporters are Iran, which does not want to lose its right-hand man on the Mediterranean, and Russia. He has, arrayed against him, practically the entire world—including most Arab countries, Israel and the West. Some of these actively assist his opponents; others pray for them day by day. They do so in spite of the fact that most of those opponents are associated with the kind of militant Islamic movement that, over the last four decades or so, has wrought havoc wherever and whenever it appeared; in Lebanon, Iran, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and, most recently, Yemen. Not to mention any number of other countries all over the world where its troops have engaged in terrorism, including the single largest terrorist act of all time. And notwithstanding the fact that, as experience shows, it is only strong Arab dictators who are able to hold Arab countries together and keep them from causing even more trouble for themselves, each other, and the rest of the world they already do.

Much the most important of the numerous militias that are trying to unseat Assad is IS, also known as Daesh. Truth to say, Arabs have never been exactly famous for the gentle way they fight their wars. Daesh, however, prides itself on being even worse than most. That is why, writing on this site, I have called it “The Monster.” Why any kind of regime, Arab, Muslim, Israeli, or Western should support Daesh and its fellow Sunni militias is a riddle that does not have a solution. Unless, of course, that solution is simply called stupidity.

To repeat, Assad is not a nice guy. He and his Alawite cronies have plenty of blood on their hands and are going to have lots more. Nevertheless, his ties to Hezbollah and Iran notwithstanding, on the whole he and his regime have been stabilizing factors in the Middle East. Should Assad fall, then the consequences may well be unimaginable. The first to suffer will be Syria’s Alawites or, at any rate, those of them who have not yet fled. Having sustained the regime for so long, they are going to face genocide on a scale that may make that committed by the Turks on the Armenians a century ago blanche. The same applies to other minorities such as the Druze and the Shiites. But Daesh does not want to rule just Syria. It wants Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Yemen as well. Whether or not it succeeds, in the short and medium run that means destabilization, terrorism, guerrilla, and civil war. In Iraq and Yemen, all this has already happened. Do we really want the same to happen in other countries too?

In the face of all this, it is high time for countries, leaders, and people to reconsider and stop ringing the bells for Assad’s funeral. Rather than trying to hasten his fall, they should finally agree to take for what he is: namely, the devil we know.

Or else.


What War is Good For

I. Morris, War! What Is It Good For? New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014, pp.xi+496.*


Morris, a professor of classics and of history at Stanford University, thinks he can distinguish between two kinds of war. The first kind, which he calls “counterproductive war,” is waged by non-state entities against each other and also against what more developed communities exist. It is the oldest form of war by far, consisting of skirmishes and raids and leading to little but death and destruction. It prevalence was responsible for the fact that, among the simplest known societies such as the Yanomamo of Brazil, as many as 10-20 percent of all people used to come to a violent end. It goes without saying that a population consisting of tribes, all constantly fighting each other for honor and for resources such as water, cattle and women cannot produce much by way of a civilization. As Morris, quoting Thomas Hobbes, says, its members’ lives are almost certain to be nasty, brutish and short.

Enter the other kind of war, which Morris calls “productive.” Productive war was made possible by certain technical and organizational innovations the first and most important of which was the invention of agriculture. It enabled the “stationary bandits” who best knew how to use them to break the cycle and set out on the way to empire-building. To be sure, doing so was a slow process with many ups and downs. Some 9,000 years, Morris says, had to pass from the time the first steps were taken to about 200 B.C. By that date four mighty empires had arisen. One in the Mediterranean (Rome); one in the Middle East (the Parthian); one in India the Mauryan); and one in the Far East (China). All had this in common that they were, or soon became, centralized organizations under a powerful monarch. All extracted money from the peasantry and used it to hire soldiers, set up standing armies, and pacify the country.

Life under absolute government was not always fun. Still that government, and the armies on which it rested, did enable towns, i.e. the kind of civilization in which at least some people do more than just scratch the earth, to exist and, quite often, to flourish. Even more important: as they did so, the proportion of people who met a violent end went down by as much as four fifths.

Unfortunately it did not last. By about 200 A.D all four empires just mentioned were in a state of decay. In all cases the decay was brought about by nomads who, seeking “living space” as well as riches, overcame the empires’ defenses and poured across the borders. Attempts to stem the flood by using some of the invaders against the rest might work in the short term but proved counterproductive in the long run. Furthermore, as the rulers of each empire were left helpless to assist their subjects the latter sought shelter with local grandees. The outcome was what the author calls “feudal anarchy.” As dozens, sometimes hundreds, of tiny principalities fought each other tooth and nail the number of war-dead increased in proportion.

It was not until 1400 that the wheel—one is tempted to say, the wheel of fortune—again reversed course. This time the main trigger was the invention of firearms. However much tribesmen might excel in using the weapons they had purchased or captured, producing them was beyond their capabilities. Combined with the re-construction of standing armies, firearms enabled their owners to expand their power on a scale not even the ancient empires had approached. By 1700 or so, says Morris, death-by-violence had again fallen to Roman levels, though in fact the figures are too uncertain to allow definite conclusions to be drawn.

More and more “leviathans” (as Morris calls them) appeared in various parts of the world. Some fell, some rose again, in an infinitely complex process. Often they waged bloody war both against each other and inside their own outlying provides; by the first half of the nineteenth century, though, things had developed to the point where one of them, Britain, was able to act as a “globocop” and maintain a Pax Britannica over much of the world.

After 1945, following two ferocious world wars, that role was assumed by the United States. Throughout this, starting somewhere in the seventeenth century, the chances of any single individual around the world of dying by violence gradually went down to the point where it is now much smaller than it has ever been. In this way, “paradoxically” as Morris says more than once, war, “productive war,” has acted as the basis not just of power but of civilization itself. Nowhere more so than during the post-1945 years which, so far, seem to have been the most peaceful in the whole of history.

So far, the past. How about the future? Will the “long peace” endure and expand? Or will the wheel of fortune turn back as it did after 200 A.D? At the end of World War II there were only about sixty states in the world. Now there are three times as many. The splintering process does not appear to be over yet. Some of the new states gained their independence by peaceful means. But many did so by using armed violence or, at the very least, threatening to do so. That, incidentally, is something even the saintly Mahatma Gandhi did on occasion.

A few of the new states went on to build highly successful modern societies with relatively low levels of violence. Good examples are Malta, Israel—which, its problems with the Palestinians apart, has a very low murder rate—and, above all, Singapore. Many others did not do so and became known as “failed” states. In them, as events in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, the Sudan, the Congo, and others show, politically-organized lethal violence, AKA war, remains as widespread as it has ever been. The fate of many others, including the Central Asian Republics and large parts of Africa, seems to hang in the balance. A political scientist who tells the people of these countries that theirs is the most peaceful period in history will just make them smile.

Furthermore, as past events in Yugoslavia and current ones in the Ukraine indicate, even Europe, long considered (along with North America, Australia and Japan) one of the most peaceful regions of all, is not necessarily immune. The more so because the American globocop, under which Western Europe has lived since 1945 and Eastern Europe since 1990, seems to be losing some of its power. And the more so because of massive immigration from less successful countries; a factor which, though Morris does not even mention in this context, is becoming more important every day.

As I have written elsewhere, the most significant military development of our times seems to be the decline, much of it due to nuclear proliferation and deterrence, of large-scale conventional interstate war. In its place we see the rise of “non-trinitarian” war. Those who wage non-trinitarian war are the barbarians of old; fanatical and organized in ever-shifting groups that operate in a decentralized way.

As the atrocities Daesh is committing show, in point of ruthlessness they have nothing to learn. Unlike some of their predecessors they are often at home with the most advanced technologies. That includes computers and communications as well as propaganda techniques. In fact one could argue that, given the ability of those technologies to cross borders, they are more suited for the use of all sorts of terrorists, guerrillas and insurgents than in helping states to put them down. Assuming that such is indeed the case, the future does not look at all bright.

Morris’ book is not quite as original as he, and those who provided him with blurbs, would like us to think. Similar ideas concerning the rise of the state have long been advocated by the sociologist Charles Tilly. Some of Morris’ assertions are erroneous or at least too sweeping. For example, his claim (which has by no means been proved) that the barbarians who brought down the Roman empire fought mounted; or when, seeking to show how events happened more or less simultaneously in different places around the world, he exaggerates the decline of China from the end of the Han dynasty on. Contrary to what he says, one could argue that, in spite of some interruptions, the T’ang centuries, and even more so those of Song and Ming, were precisely the ones under which Chinese civilization outshone all the rest. Thus they do not fit the timetable he has postulated.

At other times Morris goes into more tactical and operational detail than is needed to substantiate his thesis. That is particularly true of chapter 5, which is basically a politico-military history of the years 1914-1990 and does not have much new to say. Since he only uses footnotes for quotes, some of his data cannot be checked.

On the whole, the closer the text gets to the present the more questionable it becomes. Nevertheless, the book’s very title—the idea that war, or at any rate some kinds of war, may actually be good for something—poses a challenge not only to incorrigible peaceniks but to serious scholars as well. Thanks to the easy and sometimes breezy style in which it is written, it is also accessible.

If you are at all interested in war and its impact on history, do yourself a favor and get a copy.


* Thanks to Morgan Norval who first brought War! What Is It Good For? to my attention.

And Then There Were Five


Former Spanish defense minister Carme Chacon reviews her troops

As Margaret Mead, perhaps the greatest female anthropologist of all time, wrote in 1948, in all known societies whatever men do is considered most important by both men and women. As she also wrote, when any number of women enter fields previously reserved for men the latter start leaving. Unless the hemorrhage is stopped, the social and economic rewards attached to the field in question decline. As the history of professions such as secretaries, teachers, social workers, and the like show, often the end result is a female ghetto with few if any men about.

The process also works the other way around. If women start entering a field previously dominated by men, one can be well-nigh certain that, in one way or another, that field is in decline. That is true both in terms of the prestige that is attached to it and the economic rewards it can provide. Dozens of scholars, many of them female, have confirmed Ms. Mead’s findings in fields as diverse as pharmacy, book-editing, and school-teaching. For good or ill, it is the way the world works.

So what do we make of the fact that the number of female defense ministers is growing and that, as of November 2014, no fewer than five European countries had female secretaries of defense? Does this prove, as many feminists claim, that even the last “male bastions” are crumbling in front of the onslaught of the fair sex? Or is there a different, and perhaps better, explanation?

The countries in question are Albania (Mimi Kodheli), Germany (Ursula von der Leyen), Roberta Pinotti (Italy), the Netherlands (Jeanine Hennis-Plasshaert, and Norway (Marie Eriksen Soreide). With the exception of Albania, which during the 1999 Kosovo conflict was located too close for comfort, what all these countries have in common is that, for seven decades now, they have not fought a single serious war anywhere near, let alone inside, their own borders.

Especially since the end of the Cold War, their basic security—the fact that nobody would try to invade them, or bomb them, or blockade them—was taken very much for granted. What military operations they undertook, if they undertook any at all, were invariably conducted in faraway places against third- and fourth rate opponents such as the
Taliban. So much so, in fact, that many of their citizens could never understand why those operations had to be conducted at all.

Occasional alarms to the contrary, everywhere the feeling was that there was no threat. Absent a threat, many armed forces did away with conscription. A surer sign that no enemy is ante portas would be hard to find. The armed forces were cut and cut. For example, in Germany the number of troops went down from 500,000 in 1990—750,000, if the former East German forces are included—to well under 200,000 today. The equivalent figures for Albania are 120,000 (excluding 500,000 reservists) and 15,000. Considered as part of GDP, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway have all cut their spending by about one half.

Thus the female invasion of defense establishments—not just at the top, but at the bottom too—has been gathering steam just as a growing number of people in Western countries concluded that those establishments were losing their relevance. That, in turn, meant that their potential as springboards for further advancement was limited. For example, it is said that the reason why German Angela Merkel appointed Ms. von der Leyen was not her mastery of the field, about which the former minister for family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth knew next to nothing. It was because she expected her to fail in the job. Having failed, which given the sad state of the Bundeswehr was likely to happen, she would no longer present a political threat to the Chancellor.

It may be true, as one female defense analyst has written, that “women could actually make a difference in how Europe reacts” to “Russian sabre rattling in nearby Ukraine.” After all, she says, “women tend to find a more reasonable approach and could de-escalate” the conflict. As that conflict and quite some others in other places around the world also shows, though, it simply is not true that “defense is no longer about lining up soldiers against each other to do battle;” nor that, as a result, some kind of “military service experience” has become superfluous.

Briefly, those who go the way of all females should not be surprised if they get f—ed. Decades of neglect have left the defenses of most Western countries in a disgraceful state. Like it or not, of this neglect the ongoing feminization of many defense establishments is a vital part. Faced with kindly, gentle characters such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Daesh’s Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, it will take more than five women, however reasonable and adept at de-escalation they may be, to put things right again.

Pussycats V, Or Finding Dr. Livingstone

At the time he arrived in Zanzibar in March 1871 he was thirty years old. He took just 28 days to find out what was needed and put together an expedition into the east African wilderness. Next, having crossed the strait that separates the island from the continent, he found his way into the interior. A country so rarely before travelled by white men that wherever he passed the entire population, infants included, came out to gape at the Musungu.

The fact that the terrain was almost entirely unmapped did not deter him. Neither did the fact that parts of it were densely inhabited by unfriendly native populations. Like his fellow explorers, he did not fear isolation and the absence of communications—no telegraphs, no radio, no pho11_canotnes, np fax machines, no GPS. All this made him entirely dependent on his own resources.

He had the stamina to travel hundreds of miles, on foot or else on the back of a donkey. It being the wet season—for fear that his prey might elude him, he did not dare delay his departure—he braved endless tropical rain. He waded for hours through lakes that reached up to his and his men’s chests, crossed streams some of which were crocodile-infested, and marched through mountain ranges, jungles, and dry plains where any delay would have meant dying by thirst. All this, while often on an unappetizing, unnourishing diet and frequently drinking rather dubious water.

He acted as physician-in-chief to about 200 men who, normally travelling in several separate columns, served under his orders. Later the number went down to 50. Along with him, they suffered from all kinds of festering wounds with no antibiotics to help them. Many were struck down by disease. Unsurprisingly, some died. He himself not only survived repeated attacks of the same diseases, including malaria and dysentery, but hardly allowed them to delay him on his journey.

Though no geologist, he took a vivid interest in different kinds of soil, rivers, rocks and boulders. Using either English or some native language, he seems to have been able to name almost every one of the numerous plants, animals and birds he met on his way. Not even the various kinds of fly that pestered him and his men escaped a fairly close examination under the microscope.

He knew how to drag his men, animals and equipment across a raging mountain stream. He knew how to build a boat and dismantle it. He knew how to cook. He knew how to butcher animals and dissect a horse’s carcass so as to find out the cause of its death (one horse, presented to him as a parting-gift by the Sultan of Zanzibar, turned out to have cancer).

He also knew how to capture a sleeping man and cut off his head as some of his Arab associates did at one point, though he does not say he participated in such an act. And he knew how to fight a battle. After all, he was one of very few men who, having moved from his native Wales to the U.S in 1859, successively served in the Confederate Army, the Federal Army, and the Federal Navy during the Civil War.

Over nineteen years after 1871 he periodically left Africa but always returned to lead other expeditions. In 1890, aged forty-nine, he finally decided that his travelling days were over. He married Dorothy Tennant, fourteen years younger than him and a painter of typical Victorian themes. Since they had no children they adopted a son. A Welshman by birth, he died in London in 1904. By that time he had long been world-famous.

Needless to say, Henry Morton Stanley’s—an adopted name, not his original one—fame had everything to do with the various books of memoirs he published. Though he never went to journalism school (an illegitimate child as well as an orphan, he spent much of his youth in a workhouse), he was a superb writer. That was one reason why James Gordon Bennett, son of the proprietor of the New York Herald, had recruited him in the first place.

Some of the authors of the enormous literature that grew up around him even during his lifetime accused him of falsification. Like all good writers of memoirs from Julius Caesar down, he may indeed have embellished the truth or bent it to his purposes. Even the most famous sentence he ever uttered, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume,” may very well have been invented post facto. Certainly Livingstone’s own account of their meeting does not mention it; but then Galileo’s most famous words, “nevertheless, it moves,” are not firmly attested either.

Other biographers, particularly but not exclusively those writing after World War I, accused him of excessively brutal behavior both towards his own men and any natives he met who in one way or another stood in his way. The accusations may well have been justified. One problem was the need to deal with petty local rulers. Some had armies at their disposal. Without exception, all were determined to extort as much as they possibly could both from Stanley himself and from his chief subordinates.

Another very difficult problem was thieves and deserters among his own men. They belonged to various nations—today we would have said “ethnic groups.” Serving for pay, mostly in the form of cloth, wire and beads, they did not form a cohesive team of any sort. Engaged on an enterprise of immense difficulty, often anticipating nothing but suffering, presumably the only way they could be kept in line was by punishment, mainly beatings. Given that the alternative was often his own death, Stanley’s brutality, if not forgivable, is understandable. The more so because, as he makes clear, friends and enemies alike behaved in a similar way as a matter of course.

Gun in hand, at one point he even had to quell a mutiny. Nothing could stop him. In the words of Mark Twain, “when I contrast what I have achieved in my measurably brief life with what [Stanley] has achieved in his possibly briefer one, the effect is to sweep utterly away the ten-story edifice of my own self-appreciation and leave nothing behind but the cellar.” As he himself wrote when unexpectedly having to build a bridge across a stream, “be sure it was made quickly, for where the civilized white is found, a difficulty must vanish.” As he also wrote, he would die rather than return with his mission unfulfilled. On the other hand, his experience with Arabs, some friendly other hostile, made him see them as hopeless cowards.

With Western nations determined to send in no ground troops and only attacking Daesh from 20,000 feet, who are the cowards now?

The Monster II

What went wrong? During the middle ages the Arabs developed a brilliant civilization, or so we are told. Next, at some time during the fifteenth century, things began going wrong. The Arabs missed the invention of print (only in 1775 did the Ottomans, who at that time ruled over most Arabs, allow the first printing shop to be established. They missed humanism, the Renaissance, and the Reformation. They missed the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. They missed the French and American Revolutions along with the principles of democracy and human rights; and they also missed the industrial revolution.

As so often, backwardness meant military weakness and invited invasion. By 1919 there was not one Arab country left that was not under European occupation with all the attendant bloodshed, destruction, and humiliation. The process of liberation started in the 1930s and lasted into the 1960s. Many of the regimes that now took power were republican and secular. They promised to catch up with the modern world, usually by adopting some version of “Arab socialism.” Algeria, Tunisia, Libya (after 1969), Egypt, Syria and Iraq all took this approach. The situation in the monarchies (Morocco, Saudi, Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf countries) was more problematic. The need to assert themselves in the world drove them, too, toward modernization. However, they were less able to cut loose from their traditions, since doing so would compromise the basis on which their regimes were built.

Either way, modernization failed. To this day there is no Arab Hyundai, no Arab Toyota or Alibaba. The reasons for this—political instability, extreme poverty, or the kind of oil-based riches that makes it easier to import whatever is needed rather than produce it locally—vary. With the failure to modernize the economy came the kind of regime in which corruption is an integral part of government. The rule of law is unknown, the secret police commits any crime it wants, and whatever elections are held are a farce. Not even the much overrated “Arab Spring” has changed these facts.

Some Arab leaders, notably the Saudis, distinguished themselves by their conservatism and bigotry. Others, notably Libya’s Muammar Khadafy, mixed their brutish despotism with a kind of clownishness. The Arab states’ attempts to assert themselves by force of arms were regularly defeated by Israel, which most Arabs see as a Western stooge, and by the West itself, as in 1991. By the turn of the millennium, so bad had things become that prefacing anything with the word “Arab” automatically marked it as second, third and even fourth rate. The only exception, apparently, is being an “Arab” horse.

It was against this background that Daesh, IS as it is known in the West, emerged. The organization originated in Iraq during the U.S occupation when Sunni groups, resenting the loss of the privileges they had enjoyed under Saddam Hussein, broke away from Al Qaeda and started fighting both the Americans and the Shiite majority. From there it spread into Syria where civil war broke out in 2011 and where it joined other militias fighting the regime of Basher Assad before again turning its attention to Iraq. It feeds on a century of near constant humiliation both at the hands of foreigners and at those of various Arab rulers. That accounts for its evident ability to attract volunteers from practically all Arab countries as well as the Arab minorities in the West.

Some of these people are highly educated. Yet they do not condemn the atrocities for which Daesh has become infamous. To the contrary, they see them as one more reason why it deserves their support. Here, they feel, is one organization prepared to adopt real Islam. It will burn its bridges and go to the end of the world fighting both the hated, corrupt Arab governments—whether republican or monarchical—and the overbearing West. The position of the Arab governments is more problematic. Syria and Iraq barely have any governments left. The rulers of the Gulf States, Qatar in particular, dislike Daesh but are trying to buy them off. The Hashemite monarchy stands in mortal fear of it, and with good reason. Egypt’s military rulers, seeing links between Daesh and the Islamic opposition to their regimes, share the same attitude.

Most interesting is the position of the Saudis. A reborn Caliphate is hardly in the interest of the Saudi royal house whose ancestors used to be governed, albeit very loosely, by the Caliphs in Constantinople. They also dislike the atrocities which are giving Sharia a bad name in the U.S whose support they need against Iran and, perhaps one day, their own people. Yet some Saudis see a parallel between Daesh and themselves before, following the discovery of oil, they were subjected to Western influences. Should the house founded by Ibn Saud during the 1930s be overthrown, this view may well prevail.

Thus the entire, geo-politically critically important, area from the Mediterranean coast and the Persian Gulf stands in danger of being engulfed by a whole series of interrelated wars. So far Sunnis, Shiites, and, here and there, the small Christian minority in the various countries have done the bulk of the killing and the dying. Outside powers are, however, taking a hand. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran are all more or less heavily involved. So are Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon. As so often the U.S plays, or is trying to play, a critical role. It is mobilizing a broad coalition of allies—including several Arab ones—and bombing, or threatening to bomb, everything in sight.

And the outcome? Nobody knows. Daesh may or may not defeat Assad and set up some other government in Syria. It may or may not succeed in overrunning Iraq. Jordan, Israel and Lebanon may or may not become even more heavily involved than they already are. Ditto in respect to the Saudis, the Gulf States, the Turks and the Iranians. All we know is that Daesh is but one of several similar and competing organizations all of which want to establish a new Caliphate. It can also be safely said that air strikes will do little to contain the fighting. The one certainty is that a great many people will die and whatever political order exists will be destroyed before another can take its place, if it can.

As the process unfolds, far from giving birth to a new pan-Arab politico-religious order, it may well bring about the Arab world’s terminal decline. The question is, will we allow them to take the rest of us down with them?

Pussycats II: Seek and You Shall Find

“Seek and you shall find,” says the Gospel. Never more so, one supposes, then in our own “post-modern” age when everything goes and countless things that were supposed to have an objective existence suddenly stand revealed as “constructed” in this way or that. Not only words, as Humpty Dumpty said, but things mean what we choose them to mean. If not completely so—here I differ with some of the most extreme followers of Michel Foucault—then at any rate to a considerable extent.

Take the case of war. In ancient Greece and Rome war was supposed to be associated with arête and virtus. Both are best understood as (manly, but in the present context that is beside the point) excellence and prowess respectively. Achilles preferred a short, heroic life to a long and dull one. Alexander, who studied Homer under the guidance of Aristotle, told his troops that “work, as long as it is noble, is an end in itself.” Virgil, by common consent the greatest Roman poet, celebrated virtus, the quality that had made had enabled his city to conquer first Italy and then the world, as follows:

Strong from the cradle, of a sturdy brood,

We bear our newborn infants to the flood;

There bath’d amid the stream, our boys we hold

With winter harden’d, and inur’d to cold.

They wake before the day to range the wood

Kill ere they eat, nor taste unconquer’d food.

No sports, but what belong to war, they know;

To break the stubborn colt, to bend the bow.

   Our youth, of labor patient, earn their bread;

   Hardly they work, with frugal diet fed.

   From plows and arrows sent to seek renown,

   They fight in fields, and storm the shaken town.

   No part of life from toils of war is free,

   No change in age, or difference in degree.

   We plow and till in arms; our oxen feel,

   Instead of goads, the spur and pointed steel;

   Ev’n time, that changes all, yet changes us in vain;

   The body, not the mind; nor can control

   Th’ immortal vigor, or abate the soul.

   Our helms defend the young, disguise the gray

   We live by plunder, and delight in prey.

At some point during the Middle Ages the idea of excellence was replaced by the related one of honor. The rules of honor dictated that fights should be fair. This was just the opposite from antiquity when stratagem was often seen as preferable to a head-on clash. In tournaments and other forms of mock warfare, the outcome was attempts to ensure that the opponents should be balanced as well as the use of umpires. Again this was just the opposite from the gladiatorial games where umpires were inconceivable. Honor meant that one should respect the enemy’s courage. One should not stab an opponent in the back. One should not violate truces. Oaths, even those made to the enemy and even those that result in negative consequences for oneself, are binding and should be kept.

Better death than disgrace. Roland, the hero of the poem by that name, prefers death to the likelihood that subsequent generations will sing of him as a coward. At the Battle of Maldon the defending Anglo-Saxons voluntarily surrendered the tactical advantage they held over the invading Vikings. As a result they were defeated, or so we are told.

Following his crushing defeat at Pavia in 1525 King Francis I of France is said to have exclaimed that “everything is lost, save honor.” The embodiment of this ideal was Francis’ contemporary Bayard, the chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, Such was his reputation that, having been captured twice, each time he was released without having to pay the customary ransom. So conscious of honor were Spanish soldiers during the same period that they sometimes executed those of their comrades who proposed surrender.

As expressions such as “the field of honor” and an “honorable death” show, such ideas had a long future in front of them, They also underlie many royal mottos, including “Dieu et mon Droit” (the English Crown), “nemo me impune lascevit” (the ‘Scottish one), Ne Plus Ultra (Emperor Charles V), and “Je Maintiendrai” (the House of Orange). Louis XIV had “nec pluribus impar.” The Sun King opened his memoirs by explaining that, to earn honor, it behooved a young prince in particular to go to war. Frederick the Great once said that the only thing that could make men march into the muzzles of the cannon trained on them was honor. But he did not always have it his way. In a fit of pique, he once ordered one of his subordinates to demolish the property of an enemy commander. Only to have the officer in question invoke honor and refuse.

Nor was honor the final word. As my friend and former student Prof. Yuval Harari has shown in his book, The Ultimate Experience, towards the end of the eighteenth century it became outmoded in turn. Its place was taken by the idea of some kind of secret, or superior, knowledge only those who had been through war and battle could acquire. That notion went well with the waning of aristocratic rule and the dawning of the bourgeois age. Here is Siegfried Sassoon, English poet and a serving officer in World War I, writing to his family in 1916:

“Last year, before the Somme, I had not known what I was in for. I knew now; and the idea was giving me emotional satisfaction! I had often read those farewell letters from second-lieutenants to their relatives which the newspapers were so fond of printing. ‘Never has life brought me such an abundance of noble feelings,’ and so on. I had always found it difficult to believe that these young men had really felt happy with death staring the in the face and I resented any sentimentalizing of infantry attacks. But here I was, working myself up into a similar mental condition as though going over the top were a species of religious experience.”

Needless to say, the transition from one idea to the succeeding one was not a simple one. It proceeded in different ways, at a different pace, in different countries and among people belonging to different social classes. There were always those who adhered to old ideas even as others were already discarding them. As even the most superficial inquiry will show, to say that the ideas in question always made themselves felt would be a gross overstatement. Yet to say that they were merely a hypocritical cover for barbaric deeds and never had any influence at all would be an even greater one. They are perhaps best understood as forming the mental framework that formed the skeleton or chassis, of war; one that had a certain impact even when it was violated.

At the time Sassoon wrote war was still supposed to generate “an abundance of noble feelings” in the breasts of those who had experienced it. Shortly after, however, and with Sassoon himself very much in the lead, that idea in turn started waning away. The essential nature of war remained what it always had been. What changed was the way it was perceived and understood. From a revelatory experience akin to a religious one—Sassoon again—it was turned into a thoroughly rotten business. It was without either virtue or honor or knowledge; merely a process whereby obtuse generals sent millions to be mechanically slaughtered, often by men and weapons whom they never laid their eyes on. Excitement and heroism were out, unspeakable suffering was in. All “for an old bitch gone in the teeth, for a botched civilization” (the American poet Ezra Pound).

Throughout the interwar years famous writers such as John Dos Passos, Robert Graves, and Ernst Hemingway never stopped hammering away on this theme. So did the most famous anti-war writer of all, Erich Maria Remarque. From there it was but a short step to the idea that war, far from elevating the soul in some way as most past generations had believed, was harmful to it and that anybody who spent enough time fighting had to suffer psychological damage. This was almost entirely new. Some modern psychologists—but few historians—have done their best to project Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as distinct from the most intense fear and trembling experienced before and during battle, as far back as Achilles around 1200 B.C. In fact no period earlier than the American Civil War seems to have been familiar with it. Nor will anybody who has read his Iliad with its gory descriptions of brains being dashed in and blood spurting out in face-to-face combat—often conducted by men who knew one another—necessarily agree with those who claim that modern war is more terrible, hence more likely to give rise to PTSD, than any of its predecessors.

Instead, the rise to prominence during World War I of what the British knew as “shell shock” and the Germans as “war neurosis” both reflected the idea that war was not worth fighting and promoted it. It was from this point that PTSD began its march of conquest. During World War II, there were moments when the number of GIs discharged from the U.S Army exceeded that of recruits being drafted into it. Following Vietnam, the problem assumed such huge proportions that not only the military but public opinion at large became alarmed. Henceforth no war, however short and however easy (the First Gulf War is a good example) that did not produce an abundant crop of PTSD victims. Rising to the occasion, physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists leaped into the breach, using it to have the satisfaction of serving their country, help their fellow men, and make money, all at the same time.

Worst of all, to avoid subsequent lawsuits the U.S military started insisting that all personnel returning from war be screened for PTSD. Seek, and you shall find. Instead of being welcomed home as heroes, the troops are being treated as damaged goods. No wonder that, by 2014, the cost of treating veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, including also the pensions paid to many serious victims, was said to run into the billions each year. The consequences, both for them and for society’s readiness to go to war in order to protect its interests, its way of life, and yes, its honor, were predictable.

To conclude, two points. First, I think that the approach to the history of Western military history expounded in the present essay—periodizing it by the way war was understood rather than by organization, technology, strategy, tactics or whatever—is as good as any. Second, one cannot help but wonder whether PTSD has also affected those who, in recent years, have fought against the West—in Vietnam in 1965-73, in Afghanistan in 2002-14, and in Iraq in 2003-10. How about the Viet Cong? How about the Taliban? How about Daesh? Many of those troops committed worse atrocities, and suffered proportionally more casualties, than Western soldiers have done at any time since World War II. Did that cause them to come down with PTSD? If not, why? Did what, at first sight, looks like a unique Western weakness, play a role in the rise of pussycat-ism? If so, what can and should be done?

Given the present state of knowledge, my friends, the answer is blowing in the wind.