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.

Military Women Are Not the Cure, They Are the Disease

For about twenty years now, I have been warning whoever would and would not listen about the dangers of feminizing the military. Now, in my own country, the chicks—no pun intended—are coming home to roost. As readers will know, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are the only ones in history to have made women wear uniform even against their will. However, from the end of the War of Independence (1948) to the late 1970s they only did so in a variety of auxiliary Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) that had little impact on the fighting “teeth.” At that point a shortage of manpower generated by the forces’ expansion following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War on one hand and feminist pressures on the other caused the situation to change. Female officers and enlisted personnel increased in both numbers and importance until the IDF was blessed with three small “combat” battalions made up mostly of women. Albeit that they are deployed along the borders with Egypt and Jordan, where hardly a shot has been fired for decades past.

Fast-move forward. For about a month now I have noticed, in Israel’s most important paper Yediot Ahronot, a series of articles about various combat IDF units. How little the public knew about them. How wonderful they were. How important the missions they carried out, and how daring their feats. Which towns provided them with proportionally the largest number of recruits. And so on. Briefly. the kind of stuff you would expect from a military that has difficulties attracting manpower.

Last week, the reasons behind the various publications came out of the bag. What I had suspected all along has now been announced with great fanfare. Year by year, fewer recruits are interested in joining the combat arms. From 2015 to 2016 alone, the figure went down by two percentage points, from 71.91 to 69.8. The decline is less pronounced among women, more among men. Coming on top of the fact that more and more men do not serve in the first place, the IDF has good reason to worry about its ability to fill combat slots as they should be.

Throwing in money apart, several solutions have been proposed. One is to cut down on the training of cadets and fresh recruits so as to free them for tasks such as holding down the Occupied Territories. Another is to dramatically lower physical standards. Should this come to pass, then soldiers previously classified as fit only for desk-bound tasks and disaster relief either in the Territories or in Israel itself will be able to serve in “combat” MOS. For example, by controlling passports and looking for contraband at the various checkpoints leading from Israel to the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Jordan.

The most radical idea of all is to have women serve in the armored corps. But don’t let the slim figure, narrow shoulders, slender arms, and manicured nails of the good-looking girl in the picture mislead you. Over half of a tank’s weight consist of armor, and each of the road wheels shown weighs about as much as she does. As you would expect from such a machine, operating and maintaining it—as by loading ammunition, or swabbing the barrel of the gun, or changing a link in the tracks—is very heavy, and often very dirty, work only a handful of women can do. Should a woman be included in a tank crew, then the outcome will be to increase the burden on her male comrades. Perhaps even more problematic, in the confined space of an armored vehicle privacy is not minimal—it simply does not exist.

Such a system, in other words, can only lead to one of two things or, perhaps, to both. First, there will be another increase in the number of injured, in some cases even crippled, women hobbling about. And of course in claims for compensation of the kind which, even now, amounts to fully four percent of Israel’s entire defense budget. Second, there is going to be a big rise in “sexual harassment” claims; a problem which, as I pointed out in my recent book Pussycats, is currently wrecking not only Israel’s armed forces but those of all other Western ones as well.

More women in the forces are not the cure. They are the disease, or at least part of it. Feminization will inevitably lead, by all signs has already led, to the creation of a vicious cycle. By definition, the more women enter any professional field, institution, or branch of service the fewer men will remain in it. The fewer men remain, the more its prestige and the economic rewards it can command will be compromised. The more its prestige and economic rewards it can command are compromised, the fewer men it will be attract.

This process has been documented many, many times. Often by female researchers who worry, with good reason, about the impact their own growing presence may have on the rewards they can expect in their chosen fields. The best-known cases are those of secretaries (once upon a time, practically all secretaries were male), bank-tellers, pharmacists, book-editors, bakers, psychologists, and “wealth managers.” The ongoing decline in the ability of the humanities to attract students also seems to be linked with the fact that the percentage of female faculty members is them is exceptionally high.

And which IDF combat units do not suffer from a shortage of men? You guessed it: The two elite, entirely male, infantry brigades, Golani and the paratroopers.

What Must Be Done

Some of those who read my recent book, Pussycats, have asked me to say a little more about what could and should be done to restore the West’s waning fighting power. Given the differences between various Western countries, obviously there cannot be a single solution: still the following should apply, more or less, to most.614WXaCRlAL

To start at the beginning, the all-pervasive system whereby many young people are doomed to remain crybabies and forcibly prevented from growing up should be terminated. Provide them with opportunities to be among themselves and play with as little, if any, supervision as possible. Give them freedom to experiment—or else how are they going to learn? Instead of drugging them, demand performance from them and encourage them. Put an end to what one writer called “the war against boys,” under which boys keep being told how bad, how wicked, how oppressive, they and their male friends and relatives are and punished whenever they make a “gun” out of schnitzel and shout “pow-pow” or even look at a girl. Terminate the situation whereby boys over six, or eight, or ten, or fourteen, are taught mainly by women. Have more male teachers in elementary school. If necessary re-segregate the education system so as to allow boys to be boys and save them the humiliation of having to compete with girls.

Second, recognize that training, unless it incorporates some risk, will turn into a childish game and re-organize it accordingly. Bring down the average age of the troops while at the same time ceasing to treat them as if they were infants. Stop subjecting them to all kinds of petty restrictions and trying to turn them into eunuchs. Those sent by their country to kill and be killed should also have some latitude to drink and wench as troops have always done and, if they are worth their salt, will continue to do until doomsday comes. And stop denouncing “militarism.” Instead, recognize the fact that troops are unlikely to fight well if, in a word gone berserk with political correctness, they are not permitted to express their pride and joy in their chosen profession. Including, yes, the joy of fighting enemies and killing them.

Third, women in the military. That many women do their job as well as any man no one questions. However, their widespread presence in the military gives rise to three major problems. First, even a cursory look at the way things are managed will show that women are privileged, causing widespread resentment among the male personnel (the more so because they are not allowed to talk about it). Second, it deprives that personnel from what is perhaps their most important reason for enlisting and fighting, which is to prove their masculinity to themselves and to others. Third, it opens the door to all kinds of claims about “sexual harassment,” to the point any male soldiers are now afraid of being accused or it (and sexual assault, and rape) than of the enemy. To solve these problems, 1. Cut down the number of women to, say, 10 percent of the total. 2. Put an end to coed basic training, which is a pure waste of (to see what such “training” looks like, watch ) and a humiliation to the men who participate in it. 3. Remove women from all combat and direct combat support jobs, which also means capping the ranks to which they can rise. 4. Reconstitute the woman’s corps in such a way that only women will command woman and sexual harassment of inferiors by superiors brought to an end.

Fourth, the vexed question of PTSD. The idea that war is necessarily harmful to the soul and, unless properly treated by all kinds of experts, will tend to destroy it is peculiar to the modern West. Looking back into history before 1860 or so, there is little or no evidence to support it; nor does it seem to be, or have been, a major problem in non-Western forces such as Hezbollah, Daesh, and, four decades ago, the Viet Cong. Ergo the phenomenon, which in recent year has grown to the point where it is threatening to undermine what little of the West’s will to fight remains, is a cultural one. So stop the system whereby anyone returning from war is automatically suspect of carrying the problem and practically forced to suffer from it. Reward those who do not contract PTSD instead of those who do so. Instead of pitying veterans and treating them as damaged good, find ways to reward them and above all, celebrate them for their heroism and their sacrifice.

Finally, it is vital that the old truth be recognized once again: Yes, war is a terrible thing. It destroys, it injures, it kills, often on a massive scale. Unless it is very carefully controlled, moreover, it may very well escape control while giving rise to the worse instincts in us humans—sadism, brutality, and what not. Still it should be understood that some things are even worse. Including to mention but a few, injustice, persecution, and slavery. Should the Spartans have surrendered and provided the King of Persia with soil and water, as the latter demanded? Should Abraham Lincoln have avoided war and allowed slavery to continue? Should Britain and France have avoided war and allowed Hitler to proceed with his plan of conquest? War, to repeat, is a terrible thing. But the situation whereby, in Europe and among some left-wing American democrats, this idea is carried to the point where society is incapable of waging it and pay the price it demands should be brought to an end. As the ancient Romans used to say: si pacem vis, bellum prepara (if you want peace, prepare for war.) Not just by improving your technology and purchasing new weapons, which seems to be the preferred Western answer to any military problem. But by changing attitudes.

Note that it is not a question of money. The US and its Western allies comprise all the richest countries on earth. As I have argued in several of my past posts, they already spend enough on their armed forces and to spare. Instead, nothing less than a fundamental change in mentality is needed. Enough to keep Donald Trump, who back in April 2016 promised to spend the first months of his putative presidency fixing the US military, busy for a long, long time.

Just published!

Martin van Creveld, Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West—and What Can Be Done about It.

In the kingdom(s) of the West, something is rotten. Collectively, the countries of NATO are responsible for almost two thirds of global military spending. In terms of military technology, particularly electronics, communications and logistics, they have left most of the rest so far behind that it is no contest. Yet since at least the end of the Korean War back in 1953, almost every time they went abroad and fought non-Westerners they were defeated and had to withdraw without achieving their objectives. As happened, to cite but two recent cases, in Iraq and Afghanistan; and as may yet happen if and when Islam keeps spreading into Europe, as it is doing right now.

What went wrong? How did the ferocious soldiers, who between 1492 and 1914, brought practically the entire world under their control, turn into pussycats? Readers of this website will recognize some of my earlier attempts to answer these questions; now those answers have been extended and put together in a single book.

Chapter I, “Subduing the Young,” focuses on the way Western societies raise their scanty offspring. Protecting and supervising them at every step; depriving them of any kind of independence; forcibly preventing them from growing up; and, if they refuse to sit still for so many hours as to drive any adult out of his mind, pathologizing them and dosing them with Ritalin (a close relation to cocaine, incidentally). Briefly, in the words of a recent American best-seller, turning them into “excellent sheep.”

Chapter II, “Defanging the Troops,” shows how the same is happening in the military. Troops may be, and routinely are, ordered to go to the other side of the world so as to kill and, if necessary, be killed in turn. Depending on the army in question, though, they may not be allowed to be in the streets after 2300 hours, drink a beer, wear uniform in public (lest they become a target for terrorists), watch pornography (lest the sensitive souls of their female “comrades” be offended) or visit a brothel. Briefly, they are not allowed to be men; notwithstanding that proving their manhood has always been, and always will be, one of the most important factors that make soldiers fight.

Chapter III, “The War on Men,” examines the way in which the forces are being feminized affects, indeed infects, their fighting power. In theory female and male soldiers are treated equally as they should be. In reality the former are privileged in many ways. First, the system of “gender norming” means that the standards required from female soldiers during all kinds of training, courses, and tests are lower than those men must meet; with the incidental result that everyone’s training suffers. Second, when it comes to pregnancy and delivery female soldiers enjoy privileges male ones do not have. Third, various factors have created a situation where, in quite some militaries, it is now easier for a woman than for a man to gain a commission with all the advantages that the latter brings. The further removed any arm of service from the front, the truer this is. Worst of all, though everyone knows these facts, no one is allowed to mention them even unconsciously; meaning that the entire military is based on a lie so big as to undermine the foundations on which it is built.

Chapter IV, “Constructing PTSD,” looks at the history of post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD, as it suddenly emerged during the American Civil War, is not so much a medical phenomenon as a cultural one. It is the product of a society which tolerates it and, all too often, encourages it and even celebrates it. It does so partly because the idea that war is bad for the soul is taken very much for granted; and partly because of the fear of litigation. Whatever the reason, things have got to the point where American troops returning from places like Afghanistan are now obliged to undergo annual testing for PTSD. Instead of feting its heroes, society, treating them like damaged goods, does what it can to humiliate them.

Chapter V outlines the emergence of modern societies which, exalting rights and forgetting about duty, have come very close to delegitimizing war itself. Especially in Europe, to use armed force for any purpose, specifically including self-defense or correcting a manifest wrong, has become almost taboo. For soldiers to express their pride, let alone joy, in their profession has also become intolerable.

Finally, the conclusions repeat the main problems. The also argue that, if Donald Trump is going to make good on his promise to “rebuild the military,” he has is going to have his hands full.

Like all my books, Pussycats is written in jargon-less language laymen can understand. But it is also as thoroughly documented as academics would wish. Go ahead, you bold readers, and take a look!

Sic Transit


Last week I got a request, one of many I have received over the years. Two scholars asked me to do a chapter in a book they were going to edit. The topic? Security challenges facing European states. That includes strategic and doctrinal responses, technological and industrial capabilities, European armed forces in action, the web of alliances, etc, etc. The book was going to be published by Oxford University Press. My role was to do the chapter on land forces.

I told my father, who is 96 years old. He responded with one word: nebbish (Yiddish for “poor bastards”). I on my part turned down the offer. Why? Because there was no challenge in it. Starting in 1571, when the Turks were defeated at Lepanto, no other non-European navy has ever dared challenge the Europeans at sea. Starting in 1683, when they tried to capture Vienna and failed, the same was true on land.

European navies and armies together ruled the world for several centuries. What were often almost ridiculously small expeditionary forces easily swept away any opposition they encountered. The point was reached where, in 1914, five European states—plus one that was an offspring or Europe, plus one that had successfully started to imitate the Europeans’ methods—dominated practically the entire earth. By 1939, owing to the rise of the USA, the USSR and Japan, that domination was no longer as complete as it had been at the beginning of the twentieth-century. Still it was strong enough.

Depending on how things are calculated and whom one believes, World War II is said to have caused the deaths of anything between 50 and 80 million people. Perhaps as many as two thirds of them were Europeans. Especially in 1944-45, when the Allies were closing on Berlin from east and west, the Continent was hell on earth. Entire armies were being destroyed or captured. Entire cities were being pulverized from the air; until, in Germany, hardly two stones were kept standing on each other. No wonder the survivors turned towards pacifism. The Continent which for several centuries had produced the world’s best sailors and soldiers wanted nothing more to do with war.

To be sure, some European States still tried to behave as if nothing had changed. Many of them sent their troops to fight in the colonies. “Over there,” as the phrase went, they tried to put down rebellions, uprisings, brushfire wars—a term frequently used during the 1950s—guerrilla, terrorism, or whatever. In all cases their opponents were puny (sometimes literally so, like the Viet Minh). Often the attempts involved massive bloodshed and even more massive cruelty; one need only think of the interesting methods the French “paras” used to “win” the battle of Algiers.

In the end, all of them failed. In my view that even applies to the British “victory” in Malaysia which has so often been held up as an example of what could be achieved. In reality it was a triumph of propaganda, not arms. It was orchestrated by none other than Winston Churchill. Returning to office in 1951, Churchill had the good sense to announce that “we shall win this war, then we shall get out.” He did “win,” and he did get out.

The end of the Algerian War in 1962 marked the last time when any European power seriously tried to hold on to its overseas possession. True, in Europe itself the Soviet Union continued to pose a formidable challenge. However, those who carried the main burden of dealing with that challenge were not the Europeans but their American Allies. The latter spent about twice as much on defense as all European states combined.

To be sure, things developed differently in different countries. By and large, though, all kept cutting their defense budgets and, with them, their armed forces’ size and capabilities. Starting in 1967, almost all of them also did away with conscription. So strong did pacifist sentiment become that many forces found it almost impossible to attract high-quality manpower. That, incidentally, was one reason why they increasingly turned to women; who, as everybody knows but nobody dares say, for many purposes, are no more than half soldiers.

As the Cold War came to an end the process accelerated. Take the Bundeswehr, which during the first few days at any rate would have to bear the brunt of an eventual Soviet attack. In 1989 it had 500,000 soldiers in twelve superbly armed divisions. Now it has 186,000 and three respectively. Much of its equipment is out of date, inoperable, or both. The armed forces of NATO’s remaining members are no better off. Most of the countries in question only spend between 1 and 2 percent of GDP on their militaries. In late 2014 it was decided to raise the figure to 2 percent. No sooner did this happen, though, than the resolution was declared to be “non-binding.”

The Europeans’ miserable failure to deal with the challenges facing them over the last quarter century speaks for itself. Had it not been the US, no doubt Saddam Hussein would still have been in power. In 1992-95 it was the US and not the Europeans which put an end to the war in the former Yugoslavia. In 1999 it was the US and not the Europeans who did what had to be done, if it had to be done, in Kosovo. In both 2002—the war in Afghanistan—and 2003—the invasion of Iraq—so limited was the role most Europeans played as to be barely visible. But for the US, the Persian Gulf would long ago have become a Persian Lake. And so it goes.

There used to be a time when the French prided themselves on their furor Gallicus and the Germans on their furor Teutonicus. Others had similar beliefs—I vividly remember the British officer who, long ago, looked at me down his nose as he said that they, the British, were rather good at “the smacking business.” They may have been. But by now they have become pussycats like all the rest.

In view of this total lack of the will to fight—in the face of a growing challenge from Moscow, what is more—of what value and interest are strategic and doctrinal responses, technological and industrial capabilities, the web of alliances, and all the rest?

As so often, the answer is blowing in the wind.

Pussycats III, or the Rise and Fall of Empires

“What is time?” asked Saint Augustine. And, answering his own question, wrote: “I know what it is, but I cannot easily explain it.” Thirteen hundred years or so later Isaac Newton described some of time’s outstanding characteristics as he saw them. In his scheme of things time had an objective existence, i.e. it was not something that existed merely in our feelings or thought. It moved from the past to the future, never the other way around. Flowing along, so to speak, it could never repeat itself. The speed of the flow was fixed, and nothing could interfere with it.

053e603f99bd3334c36df8effbc28a3bThe Einsteinian Revolution challenged these ideas. Nevertheless, to this day many, perhaps most, people see time in Newtonian terms. Some scholars believe that the idea had something to do with the invention of mechanical clocks around 1300. But that is a subject we cannot explore here. Suffice it to say that, around 1760, it was joined by the idea of progress. Not only did time move from the past to the future, but as it did so things became better, or at any rate were capable of becoming better, than they had been. All men will become brothers” wrote Friedrich Schiller in his Ode to Joy (1785).

Shifting the emphasis from the individual to the polity, the father of modern history, Friedrich Hegel, led his strong support to this idea. So did all three of the most important modern ideologies that drew on his work, i.e. liberalism, socialism/communism, and fascism. As Steve Pinker‘s The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) shows, not even the experience of two world wars, Auschwitz and Hiroshima have put an end to the idea that man, and by implication society, is capable of moral improvement and has actually been improving.

Strictly speaking, neither the idea of progress nor that of the kind of time in which it takes place can be proved. That explains why the latter has always coexisted, and to some extent continues to coexist, with several others. Particularly interesting in this respect is time as moving in cycles. The idea was prevalent during classical antiquity. Such key figures as the statesmen Lycurgus, the philosophers Plato and Seneca, and the historians Polybius and Livy (who wrote that Rome “was struggling with its own greatness”) all advocated it. The great fourteenth-century Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldoun based his history on it. So did Machiavelli and the eighteenth-century philosophs Montesquieu and Gibbons. During the first half of the twentieth century it enjoyed a strong revival at the hands of historians such as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee.

Some of these men sought ways to delay the process or, if possible, bring it to a halt. Thus Isocrates, the fourth-century BC Athenian statesman, hoped that Athens, by not ruling its subject city-states too harshly, could avoid the kind of rebellion that had brought previous empires (including its own as it had existed in the previous century) to an end. Arguing that trade generated gaps between riches (plutos) and poverty (penia) and that such gaps necessarily led to civil war and collapse, Plato in The Republic sought to ban it. In Sparta, private property as well as gold and silver were prohibited. Yet as was clear even as such measures were being proposed and implemented, in the long run the cycle of rise and fall could not be halted.

As one would expect from a line of thinkers stretching over two and a half millennia, there was no agreement as to just how the process works. Still, looking back, the gist of the argument can be summarized as follows. The earliest humans lived in rustic tribes. They fought each other over land, domestic animals, and women who, as the book of Exodus makes clear, were seen as little different from cattle. One tribe having conquered the rest, it took on its richer settled neighbors. As, for example, the Persians did in respect to Babylon; the Goths in respect to Rome; the Aztecs in respect to the Toltecs; and the Mongols in respect to China.

Having triumphed, conquered and subjugated, the former tribesmen grew rich and soft. Allowing themselves to be governed by women, they indulged in every kind of luxury. Pushing the process along, rich societies are almost always urban. Making a living in such an environment requires a long education. This causes childhood to become extended and makes raising children very expensive. Hence, as some Roman statesmen began arguing even before the Emperor Augustus passed legislation to increase the birth rate, people who live in cities tend to have few children.

Relative to their size, such societies end up by having fewer men of military age. The small number of men of military age turns them into a precious resource and makes societies reluctant to have them shed their blood even for the best of causes. If, on top of all this, the young are prohibited from experiencing and expressing the joys of war, let alone enjoying the rewards it can bring, the remaining ones are unlikely to be good at waging it.

Some such societies have tried to solve the problem by enlisting mercenaries, foreigners included, thus separating thinkers from fighters. The outcome, says Thucydides, is that decisions are made by cowards—excellent sheep, to quote one recent writer—while the fighting is done by idiots. Others put their trust in technology as the mid-fourth century anonymous author of De Rebus Bellicis (About Things Military) and quite some Chinese officials of various ages suggested. To no avail. Less than a century after De Rebus was written the barbarians brought the Roman Empire to an end. Far from defeating the northern barbarians once and for all, China was conquered by them not once but twice.

Finally, here and there attempts have been made to alleviate the problem by enlisting women. They are, however, unlikely to succeed. For obvious biological reasons, women are vital for the future of any society. As a result their blood is invariably perceived as more precious than that of men and very few of them actually fight or are killed in battle.

All this caused the societies in question to abandon the military virtues that had once led them to greatness or even start looking down on them. Attacked in turn by their poorer but more virile and aggressive neighbors, who were often joined by subject peoples, they ended by collapsing in ignominy. Often the conquerors were backward peoples whose only advantage over the conquered was their fighting spirit. The cycle, Plato and the rest believed, repeated itself, forming the stuff of which history was made.

Is there any reason to think it has ceased doing so?


For several decades now, Western armed forces—which keep preening themselves as the best-trained, best organized, best equipped best led, in history—have been turned into pussycats. Being pussycats, they went from one defeat to the next. True, in 1999 they did succeed in imposing their will on Serbia. But only because the opponent was a small, weak state (at the time, the Serb armed forces, exhausted by a prolonged civil war, were rated 35th in the world); and even then only because that state was practically defenseless in the air. The same applies to Libya in 2011. Over there, indigenous bands on the ground did most of the fighting and took all the casualties. In both cases, when it came to engaging in ground combat, man against man, the West, with the U.S at its head, simply did not have what it takes.

On other occasions things were worse still. Western armies tried to create order in Somalia and were kicked out by the “Skinnies,” as they called their lean but mean opponents. They tried to beat the Taliban in Afghanistan, and were kicked out. They tried to impose democracy (and get their hands on oil) in Iraq, and ended up leaving with their tails between their legs. The cost of these foolish adventures to the U.S alone is said to have been around 1 trillion—1,000,000,000,000—dollars. With one defeat following another, is it any wonder that, when those forces were called upon to put an end to the civil war in Syria, they and the societies they serve preferred to let the atrocities go on?

By far the most important single reason behind the repeated failures is the fact that, one and all, these were luxury wars. With nuclear weapons deterring large-scale attack, for seven decades now no Western country has waged anything like a serious, let alone existential, struggle against a more or less equal opponent. As the troops took on opponents much weaker than themselves—often in places they had never heard about, often for reasons nobody but a few politicians understood—they saw no reason why they should get themselves killed. Given the circumstances, indeed, doing so would have been the height of stupidity on their part. Yet from the time the Persians at Marathon in 490 B.C were defeated by the outnumbered Greeks right down to the present, troops whose primary concern is not to get themselves killed have never be able to fight, let alone win.

One would think that, aware of the problem, the politicians and societies that so light-heartedly sent the troops to fight under these circumstances would do everything in their power to compensate them in other ways. For example, by allowing them some license to enjoy life before a bomb went off, blowing them to pieces; making sure that those put in harm’s way would be given a free hand to do what they had to do; allowing them to take pride in their handiwork; celebrating them on their return; and giving them all kinds of privileges. Was it not Plato who suggested that those who excelled in war on behalf of the republic be given first right to kiss and be kissed? After all, in every field of human activity from football to accounting it has always been those who enjoy what they do who do it best. Conversely, in every field those who excel are those who enjoy what they are doing. Is there any reason why, in waging war and fighting, things should be any different?

Instead, far from honoring their troops or even showing them respect, Western societies have done the opposite. During training and in garrison, they are surrounded by a thousand regulations that prevent them from doing things every civilian can do as a matter of course. That includes, if they are American and not yet 21 years old, buying a can of beer and drinking its contents. On campaign they are bound by rules of engagement that often make their enemies laugh at them, prevent them from defending themselves, lead to unnecessary casualties, and result in punishment if they are violated. Anybody who openly says that he took pride in his deadly work—as, for example, the legendary, now retired, four-star U.S Marine Corps General Jim Mattis at one point did—will be counseled to shut up if he is lucky and disciplined if he is not.

American troops returning from a tour undergo obligatory testing for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. PTSD, of course, is a real problem for some. However, as all history shows, it is simply not true that fighting, killing and watching others being killed is necessarily traumatic. Suppose the Roman Army had dealt with PTSD as we do now; would it have conquered the world? Nor, contrary to what one often hears, is it true that historical combat was less terrible than its modern equivalents. Perhaps to the contrary, given that the combatants could literally look into each other’s eyes, hear the screams, see the spurting blood, and touch the scattering brains.

As I wrote decades ago in Fighting Power, the real origin of PTSD is found in a personnel system which, for reasons of administrative efficiency, treats the troops like interchangeable cogs, isolates them, and prevents them from bonding. Adding offense to injury, the abovementioned tests, introduced with the possibility of liability in mind, are humiliating. Wasn’t it Frederick the Great who said that the one thing that can drive men into the muzzles of the cannon trained on them is pride? Nor do things end at this point. Far from celebrating the troops’ courage and sacrifice, society very often treats them as damaged goods. Indeed things have come to the point where it expects them to be damaged.

An important role in all this is played by military women and feminism generally. In every known human society (even, as far as we are able to judge, in some animal societies) since the world began, whatever treatment was considered suitable for males has been seen as too harsh for females. Conversely, to be treated like women was perceived as the most humiliating thing men could undergo. By insisting on gender equality the way they have—even putting in place “equal employment opportunity officers” charged with hounding any man who dares “offend” a woman—Western armed forces have dragged their men’s pride through the mire. The more so because, as the distribution of casualties shows, it is the men who do practically all the fighting. At the same time they have often confronted women with demands that were too much for them. The proof of this particular pudding is in the eating. Proportionally speaking, far more female than male soldiers are said to suffer from PTSD.

Had the system been deliberately designed to sap the fighting power of Western armies, it could hardly have been improved on. This might well make us ask: cui bono? Who profits? There are several answers. First come thousands of “mental health professionals” hired to treat the people in question. Like the female psychologist in Philipp Roth’s book, The Human Stain, who asks a Vietnam veteran whether he has ever killed anybody (firing a machine gun from a helicopter, he has killed hundreds, perhaps thousands), most would not recognize a bullet if they saw one. Next come the corporations that produce all sorts of psychopharma (the standard method for treating PTSD is to drug the patients). Third are the media. Always eager to throw the first stone, very often they have a field day selling those suffering from the symptoms to a slavering public. Between them, these three make billions out of the enterprise.

Last not least are feminist organizations which always insist on “equality” (in reality, privilege) even if it means going over the bodies of many “sisters” and wrecking their countries’ military. Two points remain to be made. First, as their repeated victories prove, the Taliban, their brothers in arms in other countries, and non-Western societies generally know better than to follow the West on is self-destructive path. Second, societies that lose their fighting power by treating their troops in this way are doomed. Sooner or later, somebody will come along, big sword in hand, and cut off their head.

Let those with ears to listen, listen.