Fireside this week! Next week we’ll be diving into a series (I am imagining four parts) on pre-modern generalship (with a particular emphasis on the broader Mediterranean world in classical antiquity and the middle ages) and the ways that it was shaped by key constraints which are often removed in modern imaginings of command (particularly video games, but also films). I should also note, for those of you who are members of the ACOUP Senate that the next vote of the senate on what major topics I ought to look to address in the coming months is occurring now over on my Patreon. That vote will set some of the agenda after the generalship series is done.
For this week’s musing, I thought it might be useful to look back to late February and consider what I did and did not expect (mostly the latter) from the developments of the conflict in Ukraine. I think this kind of retrospective is valuable because it is important to reassess one’s priors and assumptions as events actually unfold rather than remaining trapped in the “current events reinforce everything I already believed” mode.
Fortunately for present-tense me, past-tense me stressed quite a bit of uncertainty. As Clausewitz notes (drink!) “No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance” as war and so that leads to a lot of uncertainty. I think it is an important skill as a historian to be able to signal uncertainty: there are some things about the past we do not know and other things which we can probably never know and being honest about that is crucial. Likewise, when trying to predict the course of future events, hard predictions (‘this will happen’) are almost always less useful than an experts sense of a range of likely outcomes.
That said I did make some basic predictions, so let’s assess them:
- The war will not end quickly or, more particularly, “Putin is likely to carry this war to its conclusion” and alternate centers of power which could compel him to stop early are not strong enough to do so. This, I think, has so far borne out.
- Then that “the balance of equipment and numbers suggests that Russian forces are very likely to win in the field” but that “it is increasingly clear that ‘swift Russian victory’ is also a rapidly vanishing possibility.” Complicated (and will be discussed more in a moment) but I think this was my biggest miss.
- Russia’s ability to actual control any territory it takes will be limited by the intense popular resistance, the difficulty of urban warfare and the limits of Russian resources. This has mostly held, I’d argue.
- The human toll is likely to be terrible because 1) Russian forces when they get stuck will attempt to level cities with artillery and 2) civilian supporters of the Ukrainian government who find themselves in Russian occupied territory will be targeted by Putin’s forces. Alas, both have come to pass.
In addition, I didn’t make a firm prediction, but I think it is clear reading my original post that I did not anticipate the speed and strength of western sanctions (I thought de-SWIFTing was unlikely, for instance); I expected something but not the scale of what we got. And while I did expect NATO to supply money, supplies and arms to Ukraine, I have been surprised here also by the immense scale and speed of supplies and the willingness of NATO states to shift from small arms to heavy equipment as Ukraine’s needs changed.
But clearly, as noted, the biggest miss here was that I expected Russian forces to win the initial battles, at least until the fighting shifted to heavily built-up urban areas. Should one comb through my Twitter, its fairly clear that I expected that Russian forces were likely to encircle Kharkiv and that the Russian advance would likely stall out in ground assaults and urban fighting in the largest cities on the Dnieper, particularly Kyiv, Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro after which Russian forces would be in real trouble trying to hold the territory they’d taken. In contrast, Russian forces, though they were able to seize Kherson, never even encircled Kharkiv, much less any of the other major Dnieper cities; the Russian offensive culminated before the grinding house-to-house fighting of deep urban centers everywhere except Mariupol and Kherson. The expected Russian logistics failure happened but much earlier than expected, before serious efforts to seize those major cities could occur; Russian forces ran out of gas before I expected them to run out of combat power.
Once again, present-tense me has to thank past-tense me for noting the “small but non-zero chance that the balance of morale and ability surprises everyone and the Russian offensive fails” but clearly I underrated the probability of that outcome which has now largely (but not entirely) come to pass.
So what happened? By the time I wrote my explainer, it was already clear that Ukrainian resistance was not collapsing; instead most of the surprise here has been the failure of the Russian military to perform to expectations. At the start of the invasion, the Russian Armed Forces had a set of fairly clear advantages: they had more military equipment and much of it was newer. Russia’s tank fleet, for instance, was both notably larger but also consisted of more recent models of T-80s and T-90s, whereas a lot of Ukrainian units were still working with upgraded T-64s.1 Russia entered the conflict with around ten times as many aircraft (fixed wing and rotary) as Ukraine. All of which was the product of Russia having about ten times Ukraine’s defense budget.
So you can see why early predictions expected substantial Russian gains and imagined that the Russian advance would probably only ‘run out’ when it hit urban terrain that neutralized Russia’s advantage in armor, airpower and indirect fires. What turned out to be incorrect was the assumption that Russia could effectively leverage all of that potential combat power. Instead, Russian problems of execution were legion, from the unworkable operational design of the entire offensive (planning ambitious advances on no less than four different axes of advance, each of them under resourced for the job and lacking sufficient logistics) to failures to coordinate naval and air assets with the ground war effectively to tactical failures in combined arms leading to avoidable AFV losses to finally the failure to inform most of the army doing the invasion that they were doing an invasion meaning that none of the logistics challenges of doing an invasion were resolved ahead of time.
I should note here that just because Russian forces have been failing doesn’t mean they necessarily will continue to do so. The fighting has now shifted, for instance, to the Donbas region, which is much friendlier to Russian logistics, while at the same time Russian operations have become, by necessity, more methodical. The problem for Russia is that while they retain advantages in combat power, they are behind the curve in developing further capabilities; Putin must largely fight with the army he has whereas Ukraine is planning to grow its army considerably. At the same time, even once the balance shifts to Ukraine one should be cautious: Ukraine on the offensive will face many of the same problems Russia has in terms of dug-in opponents and the withering impact of fires on offensive maneuvers. ‘Violent, shifting stalemate’ seems the most likely outcome moving forward, which is still, it must be noted, a massive improvement for Ukraine over initial assumptions.
The whole fiasco (on the Russian side) has been a valuable reminder that a country doesn’t really know if its military will perform to expectations until it does. Surprises of this scale are fairly rare, but they do happen. There is already a lot of discussion in the security studies space about how western observers managed to so severely overrate Russian capabilities, but I think on the balance this sort of error is understandable and even, in an odd sense, desirable. When assessing a potential adversary, you have to assume their ‘kit’ – not merely the equipment itself, but the doctrine, decision-making and command systems – are going to basically work. Western observers knew Russian doctrine and they knew Russia’s on-paper capabilities and so ran the numbers assuming Russia would execute its doctrine with that equipment and those troops and concluded that if Russia followed its playbook, they’d win in the field (and then lose in the occupation); it was that consensus that I followed because it seemed reasonable. I too could look at what we knew and conclude that, assuming Russian forces functioned more or less like their doctrine told them to, they ought to be able to make major gains.
Again, as errors go, that’s the error you’d rather make, compared to assuming that your opponents will simply fail to execute their doctrine and fall apart. That’s the error that Putin and his generals made and it is not hard to conclude that right now it is a lot more comfortable to be a mildly embarrassed western policy analyst than it is to be Putin or worse yet one of Russia’s ::checks notes:: nine dead generals. Likewise, predictions before the First Gulf War were fairly dire and pessimistic, which turned out to be a better place to be than the overly rosy and optimistic predictions prior to the second War in Iraq.
Nevertheless it is a potent reminder of the inherent unpredictability of war, especially for armies that are untested in a particular kind of warfare. I hope that lesson is being absorbed in the Pentagon and the various capitals of NATO right now, given that no NATO military has really had to operate in contested air environments or facing enemy fires superiority in a long time, although the core backbone of NATO are probably some of the most tested modern militaries in the world by virtue of the long GWOT. I also hope that lesson is being properly absorbed in Beijing; the People’s Liberation Army is one of the least tested armies in the world. If put the test, it might work as expected or it might surprise everyone with failure, as Russia’s armed forces have. That ought to be a humbling caution both for the United States as it seeks to compete with China in the Pacific (‘What if all of their kit works to everyone’s surprise, the way ours did in 1991?’) and for China doing much the same (‘what if it turns out that our authoritarian, corrupt and information-suppressing regime has the same military performance problems as Putin’s authoritarian, corrupt and information-suppressing regime?’).
Would that all the tigers remained on paper, but alas we do not live in that world.
On to the Recommendations:
If you are trying to follow the War in Ukraine, I strongly suggest watching the War on the Rocks podcasts for the times they bring in Michael Kofman. Kofman is a real expert in the Russian military (he also has a Twitter feed which is a source of good analysis as well; Rob Lee, another actual expert on the Russian military is also worth following there) rather than one of the many, many ‘experts’ that the media mints out of journalists or retired military officers any time one of these crises occurs. His analysis is worth listening to, especially because it often tempers both the optimism and pessimism of the moment.
And on the subject of podcasts, I realized with some confusion this week that I have never gotten around to recommending The Partial Historians: Ancient Roman History Podcast run by Dr. Fiona Radford and Dr. Peta Greenfield. It is fantastic. Though they have a lot of episodes covering quite a bit of Roman history, the main course of the podcast is the “From the Founding of the City” series which walks through the history of the Rome in chronological order, contrasting our various textual sources at each stage of its development. It’s a very thorough approach, which means that so far they’re only in the fifth century (but a little further each month!) but at the same time that’s a real virtue since they’re covering a period – particularly the Early Republic – which tends to get very little attention but is obviously foundational and important (albeit complicated by issues with our sources, as they discuss). Check it out!
Last week, I participated in a panel on “The Gamification of War” set up and chaired by Matthew Gibson (PhD Candidate in History at UNC-Chapel Hill) and hosted by the Carolina Public Humanities. We had both a traditional panel, and also a series of interview videos with each participant, including me on the topic, all of which are hosted online at Carolina Public Humanities’ Youtube channel. The panel discussion touched on a lot of good elements, though I wish in retrospect we had picked either table-top wargaming or computer wargaming and stuck to that narrower focus. Nevertheless it was a good discussion (and the interviews are more focused as well) and hopefully worth a listen!
Meanwhile, AGreatDivorce continues his progress adding audio versions of my posts here, this time with all six parts of the series on “Iron, How Did They Make It?” which you can find now as part of the ‘How Did They Make It‘ combined playlist.
Friend and colleague Joshua Tait did a long podcast over at the Niskanen Center on the history of ideological conservatism in America. Josh wrote his dissertation on exactly this question of how the conservative movement was shaped intellectually as it grew to be such a force in American politics (and why it was in some ways peculiar, as conservative movements go). I think it is an important topic for the obvious reason that the governing philosophy of one of the two largest political parties in the world’s most powerful country is going to be important to understand. In particular, Josh notes that catastrophism was always a feature of this ideology and had the potential to poison its ability to govern effectively, a facet which seems dominant in the ideological mix of the movement right now.
For this week’s book recommendation, I’m going to recommend K. B. Neuschel, Living By the Sword: Weapons and Material Culture in France and Britain, 600-1600 (2020) which I had the good fortune to pick up at this year’s meeting of the Society for Military History. The book follows its title: it is a look at the roles that swords played in the medieval cultures of France and Britain through the Middle Ages and into the Early Modern periods. The book is organized with four chapters, each covering a particular era (Early/High/Late medieval and the 16th century), along with a solid foundation introduction (“What do Swords Mean?”) and a brief conclusion.
What I find particularly valuable in this book is its focus on swords as real objects; there is absolutely an attention to swords as literary devices or symbols but that discussion remains grounded in swords as real things people interacted with in their daily lives. There is a real risk in taking a purely literary approach to the physical elements of everyday medieval life in that the words of the text of something like Beowulf can end up detached for the modern scholar from the physical reality of, say, a sword (or a meadhall, or a ring – any physical thing with symbolic import in the narrative) in a way that it simply couldn’t be so detached for a medieval reader/listener for whom these were very real, very practical objects they encountered regularly. Instead, Neuschel also brings in as evidence swords in inventory lists, burial deposits and actual surviving exemplars to try to illustrate a more complete picture of the changing cultural, social and economic import of these objects.
That said, I should be clear what the book is not. This is not a typological study (if you want that, the works of Ewart Oakeshott are of course there for you) nor is it a discussion of how swords were wielded in battle (for which one might consult some of the surviving medieval fencing treatises). That isn’t a criticism of Neuschel’s book: as noted, Oakeshott already wrote those books and there was no need for Neuschel to rewrite them; this is simply a book with a different scope and topic. Nevertheless, I very much like that Neuschel remains keenly aware throughout of the purpose of at least some swords – excepting display pieces (which figure prominently in the inventories she studies) – as personal defense weapons or battlefield tools. This is a book that does not lose sight of the fact that swords were, at their core, practical objects even if elites occasionally made impractical versions of them for prestige or display purposes. And Neuschel need not make the case (she does anyway) that the social import of swords is also worth studying because of course it is.
The volume is well-written and eminently readable; the lay reader will have no trouble here. It also packs a lot of detail for its c. 200 pages (including full scholarly end-notes and bibliography). Of course at that length and given the book’s scope, what Neuschel offers is mostly an overview of the topic (though not without delving deeply into key specific examples). It has a number of black-and-white images (particularly of surviving swords) along with a few color images (mostly of period artwork involving swords); one cannot complain about a lack of illustration but I did find myself wishing, given the topic, that the publisher had sprung for maybe a few pages of full-color plates in the center to show off a lot of the swords discussed in their full glory. Overall the book is a great starting point for someone looking to get a handle on the various functions swords could play in a society: as literary symbols, political iconography, visual indicators of wealth and power and of course as practical everyday weapons.
374 thoughts on “Fireside Friday, May 20, 2022”
“Russia’s tank fleet, for instance, was both notably larger but also consisted of more recent models of T-80s and T-90s, whereas a lot of Ukrainian units were still working with upgraded T-64s.”
That’s not accurate. Ukrainina T-64BV is really decent tank. Better than T-72, thats form a basis of Russian Forces.
T90 are very rare.
The thing is that line T64/T80 was more advanced than T-72 (cheaper counterpart). T-90 is essentially combination of line T-64/80 with T-72, due to cost saving measures.
Sorry, what’s meant by “catastrophism” here? Seeing as it wouldn’t seem to be the old geological theory…
In a political sense, catastrophism is the belief that grand social or political upheaval is inevitable in the near future. Near future being a squishy term, of course.
Could be a self-fulfilling prophecy unfortunately.
Reading the article, I get the impression that “catastrophism” is referring to the belief espoused by some conservative intellectuals that liberalism is a corrosive evil that, if left uncheck, will inevitably lead to the suicide of western civilization.
As near as I can tell from a lifetime of listening to liberal propaganda the destruction of western civilization and it’s replacement has been the goal of left leaning political activists since the mid 20th century at least.
For suitably narrow definitions of Western civ, perhaps.
I would note that leftists tend to assure me that liberalism isn’t left.
Yes, and communists tend to assure me that real communism has never been tried. I don’t take their protestations very seriously, either.
I was raised a liberal. It’s definitely left. I am of course speaking of American liberalism. I understand the terminology differs abroad.
19th. See Marx
The 19th century civilization Marx saw and wanted to change is already gone; we don’t live that way anymore.
By the standards used to justify saying that, say, Bernie Sanders wants to destroy ‘Western civilization’ and replace it with something else… Well, capitalism and its prototypical forms have already destroyed and replaced civilization several times over, and will no doubt continue to do so.
If it’s that easy to destroy a civilization, there’s no civilization left to fight for and hasn’t been in our lifetimes.
Which realization, I suppose, would explain an ideological turn to a demand to radically alter existing society to duplicate imagined and heavily romanticized past institutions. And attempts to identify everything about modern times as corrupt and wretched, blaming all the people and factions that won past historical disputes (pro-democracy against monarchy, anti-slavery against slaveowners, freedom of religion against extreme anti-Semitism).
Because the realization that civilization is in a process of continuous change and always has been, rather than being a static eternal verity that must be preserved through all the ages, can be quite unsettling.
It is not, however, gone as he said it would, and his ideas were clearly catastrophism.
One of the chief criticisms leveled against liberalism is the claim that it’s a failing strategy if none of your rivals are liberal. If e.g. you believe in complete tolerance of other religions while the hardcore fundamentalist muslims you allow into your country do not. Ditto feminism. Or limiting births while third-world societies still have huge birth rates. Or criticizing the way police deal with urban underclasses when the police are the only thing keeping the thugs from breaking out into open pillaging. IOW, the claim is that taken too far, liberalism simply makes you a sucker: out of starry-eyed idealism, you’re unilaterally forfeiting the selfish bastard contest when no one else is.
By the standards used to justify saying that, say, Bernie Sanders wants to destroy ‘Western civilization’ and replace it with something else… Well, capitalism and its prototypical forms have already destroyed and replaced civilization several times over, and will no doubt continue to do so.
Fallacy of the excluded middle. Societies change all the time, but most changes don’t represent the destruction of a civilisation.
Fallacy of ignoratio elenchi. That societies change has no relevance to the question of catastrophism, especially if the changes can be regarded as preparation for the catastrophe, and they can.
Poor Percy, persecuted by the paparazzi! 😆
The thing that confuses me is that if there was something in the civilization of 1840 that was vitally important to preserve… It’s probably already lost beyond recognition in the world of the early 2020s. It’s not just that our society has changed, it’s that it has changed a lot.
To correctly anticipate catastrophe if socialists or ‘American liberals’ or actual liberals are allowed their way, it seems that we would need to be able to clearly outline the precise nature of the catastrophe, and how it is likely to arise.
@Michael Alan Hutson
This claim does at least have the virtues of being clearly stated and coherent. At the same time, we live in societies that are spectacularly wealthy by historic standards, and which seem quite well prepared to defend themselves against a wide variety of threats that would have broken most historic civilizations like a dry stick.
Roman authors asserted that their people were soft, weak, and decadent, and thus inferior to hard, strong, virile barbarians, for hundreds of years. And yet Rome continued to defeat barbarians for hundreds of years, and was not defeated by barbarians until many other things had gone wrong, things having little or nothing to do with softness, weakness, or decadence.
I submit that this “but what if we’re being too nice” idea is the sort of idea that can colonize a man’s mind very easily. There is something in the human spirit that fears being taken for a sucker, that fears being exploited by someone we don’t think has a right to do so, that fears being ‘replaced’ by foreigners or what have you. This fear sometimes leads us to unreasonable or inaccurate conclusions, or to misinterpret harmless events as harmful ones.
You misunderstand me. My entire point is that most changes don’t represent the destruction of a civilization. This includes changes that alter a civilization beyond all recognition, apparently. After all, Western civilization had apparently not already been destroyed by, say, 1980, despite how wildly different 1980 appeared compared to 1780 or 1580.
My own assessment is that someone like Joe Biden, or even Bernie Sanders, is vanishingly unlikely to deliberately (or even accidentally) do anything that would cause Western civilization to be any more destroyed (compared to now) than it already was in 1980 (compared to 1880 or 1780).
Most changes don’t represent the destruction of a civilization. This includes the changes desired by people who happen not to be members of right-wing political parties.
If your argument is restricted to the simple proposition “Marx was a catastrophist,” then I am not guilty of ignoratio elenchi because I am not actually trying to refute that simple proposition. I do not care whether Marx qualified as a catastrophist or not. I didn’t even mention Marx, after all.
Not all responses are attempts at refutation.
In which case, do you disagree with me, if what I said doesn’t attempt to refute what you said?
But perhaps your argument or beliefs in this matter are more extensive than “Marx was a catastrophist.” If so, and if you feel that you are being contradicted by something I said, then I cannot very well be accused of having ignored that other elenchus of yours, even if I did not directly attempt to refute your claim that Marx was a catastrophist.
When you respond to a comment, you are responding to a comment and must face that people will therefore deem you competent enough to be addressing it.
By “a civilisation” I mean, roughly, a group of cultures which have attained a high level of material sophistication, and which trace their descent from a common ancestor. In the case of Western civilisation, that common ancestor would be the ancient Greeks. One of the ways of destroying or supplanting a civilisation is by delegitimising the works considered classic to it, and/or delegitimising the study and preservation of them, which is what we’re seeing nowadays, with claims that Classics (along with basically all of Western history prior to a few years ago) is a hotbed of white supremacy or whatever. It’s this attempt to delegitimise the Western cultural tradition as a whole that makes the current moment different to previous societal changes.
I submit that this “but what if we’re being too nice” idea is the sort of idea that can colonize a man’s mind very easily. There is something in the human spirit that fears being taken for a sucker, that fears being exploited by someone we don’t think has a right to do so, that fears being ‘replaced’ by foreigners or what have you. This fear sometimes leads us to unreasonable or inaccurate conclusions, or to misinterpret harmless events as harmful ones.
That sort of “move along, nothing to see here” rhetoric might be more convincing if the claim that changing demographics were going to deliver perpetual progressive government hadn’t been a common talking-point on the left for the last two decades or more.
Your last reply is singularly unclear as to which elenchus you think I have been ignoring. If you are concerned that I’m not trying hard enough to prove that Karl Marx wasn’t a catastrophist, I don’t know how to help you. If I’m ignoring something else that’s important, you’ll need to be more specific.
All I can really do in response to you, off the top of my head, is restate the point I have been trying to make as a whole. This is in regards to the overall trend of commentary I’m seeing here.
I do not think Western civilization, in any constructive and valuable sense, is so fragile as all this.
Or we could take the contrapositive of that. Supposing that whatever Western civilization is defined to be (a slippery question) turns out to be this fragile, supposing that it can be laid low so easily as some here seem to believe… It has probably already been destroyed by accident with no one noticing. Probably some time before 1900, given how much changed with the Industrial Revolution.
Either way, there is no sense in panicking, and we should simply address the actually extant crises in front of us, whatever they may be. Either Western civilization is robust enough that the introduction of ideas fully native to the Western tradition and created within it with no intention of bringing about global ruin will not destroy it… Or Western civilization is probably already dead, done in by a list of suspects including broadcast radio, the Maxim gun, canned goods, antiseptic surgery, and the steam engine.
@GJ’s First Post of May 23
>One of the ways of destroying or
>supplanting a civilisation is by
>delegitimising the works considered
>classic to it, and/or delegitimising
>the study and preservation of them…
Would you say, then, that the downfall of Western civilization began with the decline of mandatory education in ancient Greek in socially respectable institutions of secondary/tertiary education? Can Western civilization survive this deficiency just by having a relative handful of antiquarians and historians studying this same material?
In the long run, do we need to reintroduce foreign language instruction in Latin and Greek as they existed c. 250 BC or so, in order to save Western civilization, and regard as uncultured any ‘Western’ individual who does not learn these ancient languages? Or would that be an excessive precaution?
In your opinion, is interest in, say, the Romance of Three Kingdoms a dangerous sign of cultural contamination because it involves ‘Westerners’ being improperly interested in foundational classic works of an entirely different civilization?
>which is what we’re seeing
>nowadays, with claims that
>Classics (along with basically
>all of Western history prior to a
>few years ago) is a hotbed of
>white supremacy or whatever.
So, you feel that Western civilization is endangered by claims that (1) prominent Westerners of some generations ago were often white supremacists, and (2) scholarship in classical history has often been influenced by white supremacist thought. Is that correct?
Would you say that the problem is that these claims are lies?
Or would you say that the problem is that these claims are true, but that Western civilization is unlikely to survive if they are widely believed and taken seriously?
Because the proper course of action would seem to be different in either case. Personally, I think that these statements are true, and that the correct response is to try to take a fresh look at old information and learn new lessons.
>It’s this attempt to delegitimise
>the Western cultural tradition as a
>whole that makes the current
>moment different to previous
So you would say this is fundamentally different from the 1750-1900 period, in which a great deal of foundational Western culture was reinterpreted to delegitimize formerly dominant elements of that culture such as established churches and the divine right of kings? Or the 300-500 period, in which a great deal of foundational Western culture was reinterpreted to accommodate large Germanic influences and the overthrow of Western Roman governance along with the rise of Christianity?
I think you are conflating “this civilization is in danger of collapsing because everyone is going to stop valuing the things that make it possible for this civilization to survive” and “new ideas have arrived and I don’t like them”
@GJ’s Second Post of May 23
>That sort of “move along,
>nothing to see here” rhetoric
>might be more convincing if
>the claim that changing demo-
>graphics were going to deliver
>perpetual progressive govern-
>ment hadn’t been a common
>talking-point on the left for the
>last two decades or more.
I can think of two such demographic arguments.
The first argument is that political conservatism in modern Western society tends to concentrate very heavily on appealing to people born before, say, 1980, and preferably before 1965. And that as such, as these people die of old age, the conservative ideas are likely to become less popular.
But this argument seems quite natural and in no way a threat to Western civilization as a whole. Indeed, how else is a civilization is to persist across generations if the older generation is not eventually supplanted by the young? It would seem most unwise for any ideology that wishes to survive to disregard its own ability to draw new recruits below, say, the age of thirty.
The second argument is, let us not mince words, racial. The actual argument is that modern Western conservatism appeals overwhelmingly to whites, often by appealing to prejudice against nonwhites. And that as such, it is likely to lose strength if nonwhites make up a larger percentage of society. Having the loyalty of 60% of the whites and 10% of the nonwhites is a lot more sustainable when 90% of your society is white, and a lot less when 70% of your society is white.
But you seem to see this as an argument (gleefully) heralding the imminent collapse of Western civilization. How so? The main ethnic groups found in the United States are whites, blacks, and Latinos. If you are concerned that the American version of Western civilization will somehow collapse this way, does this mean that blacks and Latinos in America are somehow less authentically Western than American whites are? If so, how did this come to be?
Please explain. I am confused.
“But you seem to see this as an argument (gleefully) heralding the imminent collapse of Western civilization. ”
Either you don’t actually believe this, or your reading comprehension needs some work.
GJ appears to see the existence of the progressive “demographics favor us” argument as evidence validating the concern of “what if liberal democracy is being too nice.”
Given the context of this discussion, there is a straightforward link from this to the obvious implication. The obvious implication of GJ’s argument is a claim along the lines of “Liberal democracy is being too nice, thus making it more feasible for the progressive-socialist-??? movement to destroy Western civilization via demographics. Claims that Western civilization are not in danger, or that liberal democracy is not being too nice, are clearly invalidated by the fact that the progressives themselves expect to succeed via demographic shifts.”
Which implies that the demographic shifts in question are themselves a threat to Western civilization… again, whatever ‘Western civilization’ actually means in context.
But then one has to dig deeper. Which of the demographic shifts? The two progressives actually cite are that they have more support among the young, and more support among racial minorities.
The idea that the young eventually supplanting the old is a threat to Western civilization, in and of itself, is nonsensical, since no civilization could persist more than a generation or two without this process happening all the time. Perhaps the problem is that the young have somehow been psychologically or culturally “poisoned,” then… but if so, the entire demographic argument and conservative fears of same would be a red herring. The hypothetical threat to Western civilization isn’t some kind of demographic replacement, it’s losing an argument.
The idea that increased numbers of racial minority groups in Western societies is the threat? Well, it runs into some interesting problems. First of all, if that is the issue, then it might sound pretty wrongheaded if spoken out loud in plain English. Second of all, it implies some rather odd and contradictory ideas about which ‘kind’ of people count as properly ‘Western’ and how ‘Western-ness’ propagates itself.
If there’s something going on here that I’m missing, I’d really appreciate it if people would speak plainly about it, instead of just acting huffy when I extrapolate from the text in front of me to the many similar texts I’ve seen. Or instead of telling me I have poor reading comprehension when they don’t like the subtext I find there.
The claim was that liberalism leaves people open to being exploited. That in itself has nothing to do with whether the exploiters and exploitees are members of Western or any other civilisation. E.g., if Ireland decided to open its borders with France, and then got flooded with French people who voted to make Ireland a French colony and make French the sole official language, that wouldn’t make Ireland less Western, but it would make them Irish suckers.
The second argument is, let us not mince words, racial.
Givne the left has spent the last few years telling us that colour-blindness is racist, pushing for racial quotas in virtually everything, and seeing white supremacy under every bed…
I’m sure you’ll understand if I am sceptical that this objection is being made in good faith.
Yeah, it’s one of these celebration parallax things. If you say “Leftists want to destroy Western civilisation — and that’s a good thing!”, your claim is true and right; if you say “Leftists want to destroy Western civilisation — and that’s a bad thing!”, you’re peddling deranged conspiracy theories.
I think that before you can asset that there is such a parallax situation…
You would need to clearly define “Western civilization,” in hopes of actually proving that both you (presumably) and the leftists (allegedly) want it destroyed.
If the tribe uses stone hatchets, and you propose to replace them with hatchets made of steel, I may assert that you are trying to destroy the tribe’s way of life. After all, our way of life indisputably contains stone hatchets, and you want to end that.
But common sense would show that replacing a stone hatchet with a steel hatchet is not a loss of function; hatcheting will continue, and better than ever!
We would have to sit down and discuss exactly which things in our shared culture are essential, and in precisely what way they are or aren’t threatened by replacing stone with steel.
What in that comments leads you to impute to him the desire to destroy Western civilization? If anything?
Apologies. That was a genuine typo on my part, on par with the infamous “wait, I forgot to put the ‘not’ in there.”
To clarify, what I intended to say was more along the lines of:
I think that before you can assert that there is such a parallax situation…
You would need to clearly define “Western civilization,” in hopes of actually proving that both you (presumably) and the leftists (allegedly) foresee circumstances under which they (the leftists) want it destroyed and have a viable strategy for doing so.
Because depending on what GJ thinks “Western civilization” is, the claim that it is under threat may or may not be plausible, and the right course of action may vary wildly. Obviously, the nature of the threatened destruction by leftists can’t be any truly simple thing, such as nuclear war destroying everything physically, or a disease killing everyone directly.
It would have to be something more subtle and cultural, something where if an alien from another planet landed and asked “so how is this resulting in your civilization being destroyed,” the explanation would be somewhat complicated and nuanced.
Which means we really need to dig into this and define our terms to avoid sloppy thinking, panicked conclusion-making, and spectacularly bad policy-making.
This seems somewhat exaggerated. Among post-1950 American Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama and Biden were all considered liberal and left of centre. Did they all have the destruction of western civilization as their central goal?
From Carter on. Yes.
Roxana, you have asserted that Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson were not trying to destroy Western civilization.
But that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden are trying to destroy Western civilization.
(I may have misunderstood you about Carter being in the second list instead of the first, but that’s rather beside the point)
I confess, at this point I am more than a little confused as to what you think Western civilization is. Also, as to precisely what you think is endangering it.
Can you give a reasonably compact definition of “Western civilization” that lists the key elements that could plausibly be destroyed if US presidents make the wrong choices?
What is the mechanism that explains how the first three men were acting to preserve or at least not destroy Western civilization, but the later four men were acting to destroy it?
This seems somewhat exaggerated. Among post-1950 American Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama and Biden were all considered liberal and left of centre. Did they all have the destruction of western civilization as their central goal?
No personally, although even your squishy moderate centre-left types are generally much less comfortable criticising the far left than they are criticising the centre-right, with the end result that the far left is gradually (or not so gradually, in recent years) able to shift the overton window further and further along.
I find it interesting that two people so confident that there is a powerful political movement which bids fair to destroy “Western civilization” (still a nebulously defined) cannot agree on which (if any) presidents of the United States had this destruction as their goal.
Presidents have a lot of power and opportunities to make their mark. Their words are recorded and observed closely, and they’re usually prominent over long periods of time, both before and after their time in the Oval Office.
If a president were part of a broad movement seeking to destroy something huge and important, I’d expect it to be relatively easy to ascertain, as a matter of basic fact, that said president was or was not a member.
But if two different people can be firmly convinced that a movement to destroy “Western civilization” exists, and yet have no consensus as to whether (for example) Bill Clinton was a part of that movement… Well, that surprises me, to put it mildly. It’s not as if there’s any shortage of evidence about Bill Clinton’s actions, so either those actions would tend to destroy Western civilization, or they wouldn’t.
Or maybe, just as it’s nebulous exactly what ‘Western civilization’ is, and how it might be plausibly destroyed, it’s also nebulous exactly which actions tend to destroy it? Such that we can all agree on what Bill Clinton did as a matter of fact, and yet have different people not agree on whether his actions mean he was plotting to destroy Western civilization?
Except that if we can’t agree on which actions are supposedly threatening Western civilization, then doesn’t that present some issues for the entire premise? Again, if Western civilization is a well defined and well understood system, and one in danger of destruction, then the mechanisms by which it can be destroyed should be fairly easy to understand. It shouldn’t be this hard…
Unless, of course, the conviction that Western civilization faces destruction is like the Roman tendency to believe that their civilization was sliding into decadence- a belief they could sustain at any and all times, even during the height of their golden age, because it spoke to cultural anxieties and cultural beliefs, not to the underlying reality of what was happening.
It’s not as if there’s any shortage of evidence about Bill Clinton’s actions, so either those actions would tend to destroy Western civilization, or they wouldn’t.
People can take actions which are harmful to X without intending to harm X. Proving that Bill Clinton (or whoever) was destroying Western civilisation wouldn’t prove that Bill Clinton was trying to destroy Western civilisation, because the latter has to do with internal motivations, not external actions.
I would have thought it was the left that was always insisting that capitalism, meritocracy, fossil fuels, etc. were corrosive evils that would destroy life as we know it in very short order if the lefist agenda wasn’t implemented immediately.
There are indeed catastrophist veins among the left. On the other hand, “the actual left” is well to the left of the Democratic Party; Joe Biden is not a catastrophist, he is the kind of guy who keeps chugging along with business as usual, if only because he is eighty years old or so and remembers a lot of business as usual. “Wild-eyed pistol-wavers who ain’t afraid to die” doesn’t describe his sort.
It should be noted that accusations of catastrophism are made complicated in the modern world by the existence of very real problems that, if they reach full fruition, probably would represent global catastrophe. Nuclear war is a potential catastrophe waiting to happen. Global warming is an objectively real thing, and if we get enough of it warming the globe enough, the results for humanity will be catastrophic. A sudden epidemic, highly infectious like COVID but with much higher lethality rate, could be catastrophic to humanity and we might reasonably worry that we wouldn’t be able to contain it given our failure to contain COVID. And so on, and so on.
Much as it would be inaccurate for a psychiatrist to diagnose a man with “paranoia” when he really is the subject of a criminal manhunt or pursuit by assassins, one has to be careful to distinguish between real and imaginary ‘catastrophes.’
So if I understand the situation, we need two sorts of analyses. First, analyses by psychiatric experts to help us deal with, comprehend, and maybe even cure or at least quarantine the catastrophist delusions of the right, and second, analyses by scientific and social scientific experts to help us solve the genuinely catastrophic risks identified by the left. How fortunate we are that the academy produces both sorts of analyses in abundance!–and nothing else.
And the people in the houses/All go to the university/And they all get put in boxes/And they all come out the same.
ey81, let us be direct. I have no love of obfuscation and passive-aggressiveness. I imagine you have no such love, either. Often, we find ourselves trying to say-without-saying certain things.
I am passably familiar with certain things that get said in conversations like this. And because of that experience, it sounds to me as if you’re trying to say-without-saying something along the lines of:
“Ah, well how convenient for you, Simon the leftist, that the kinds of catastrophic threats you think are real are real things that scientists should deal with! How convenient for you that the kinds of catastrophic threats I, ey81 the non-leftist, think are real are not, and should be treated as delusional insanity! And how convenient for you, Simon, that our clearly biased institutions of education and academia are so very, very well equipped to deal with both your self-proclaimed very real concerns and my alleged delusional insanity! Clearly, this convenient state of affairs is some kind of plot on the part of you leftists, at the expense of us non-leftists! Maybe the catastrophes you discuss aren’t real at all! Or if they are, we shouldn’t be talking about them unless we give at least as much air time to the catastrophes I prefer to discuss!”
Now, I may be misapplying my past experiences. I may be being uncharitable. Maybe the above paragraph isn’t what you’re trying to hint at, to give subtle voice to without actually saying it out loud.
But since I have no love of obfuscation and passive-aggressiveness, let us have it out in the open.
Is this what you are trying to say?
The very fact that you are interpolating all the objectional things into that comment ought to give you pause.
Let us be done with vagueness. Let us speak clearly and candidly about what we truly believe.
I sense a lot of insinuation in ey81’s statement. Insinuation I’ve heard before. The object of statements of this kind is usually to imply a great deal, without actually saying any of it. To cast doubt on things one disagrees with, without having to openly admit one disagrees with them and be forced to engage in a dispute about a matter of physical fact or formal logic.
So let us speak plainly. If I’m wrong about what ey81 is saying, what is ey81 saying?
Well, that was pretty vague.
Mary, I already asked a specific question and you sneered at it.
So then I explained the context of the specific question- namely, my desire to dispel vagueness and get clarity on what is actually being argued. And I distilled my question to ey81 to a simple single sentence:
If I’m wrong about what ey81 is saying, what is ey81 saying?
And you call that vague. You don’t even try to address the question, you just call my question vague, when the sentence in italics seems pretty concise and specific to me.
You’re sniping, not debating, at this point.
Seriously. Answer the question.
What do you think all this is about, if not about the subjects I presented in my 7:37 p.m., May 22 post? If I’m actually missing the point there, what is the point? What do you think is actually being argued here?
Let’s not mince words. Let’s have it out in the open.
That’s certainly what I’ve been seeing and hearing for the last fifty odd years.
And no matter what the catastrophe, over population, the new ice age, the ozone hole or global warming the answer is always the same much more centralized government control imposing a reduced standard of living on the populace.
Always the same absurd dismissals and misrepresentations from conservative, too.
Roxana, consider other, entirely hypothetical disasters that might occur.
Imagine an invasion from the planet Mars! What would be the logical solution? Well, we would need to arm ourselves, train and equip an army, and fight a war against the Martians. Presumably, this would entail recruiting many soldiers, mobilizing war production, and taxing civilian wealth to fund the mobilization effort. If someone said “no, let us disband our expensive armies and fight as individuals, answering to no leaders,” you would probably suspect them of being in the pay of the Martians- with reason!
Imagine the outbreak of some horrible, nigh-unstoppable wasting disease that is transmitted by mosquitos! What would be the logical solution? Well, we would need to care for the sick, spend considerable sums seeking a cure, and perhaps live differently to make it less likely that we would be bitten by mosquitos. Many things would have to change. Those who are fond of leaving standing water around their homes and property might suddenly find themselves in trouble with the law. It happened before, back before we treated malaria as a non-threat in the United States. If someone said “let us do nothing, spend no money, and not worry about it,” you would probably be at best suspicious of the wisdom of their plans.
Imagine a city slowly sinking into the sea. What would need to be done? Structures such as dikes and breakwaters might need to be built. To limit liability on the part of insurers and the city, there would need to be changes in how land was used and how buildings were constructed. Existing properties might well be endangered, and have to be abandoned at considerable expense.
In each case, you will find that centralized government winds up issuing orders, and that dealing with a crisis costs money.
When the government issues orders, people tend to parse that as “more centralized government control,” especially if they dislike being told what to do more than they dislike the nebulous process of experiencing a disaster that hasn’t happened yet.
When doing things costs money, that money is not available for other things. Standard of living therefore declines.
And yet, dealing with real problems requires both coordination and money.
It is probable that Noah’s sons complained about how Noah was imposing centralized government on them and lowering their standard of living by making them build a giant ark. That doesn’t mean building the ark was a bad idea.
Now, if you are an anarchist who believes that all such disasters either would not occur or could be easily solved in the absence of central authority, then that is your right. But I would argue that historical evidence suggests otherwise.
And I survived the purported catastrophes of drugs and “superpredators” for which the right-wing advocated more centralized government control.
“the answer is always the same.. more centralized government control.”
As opposed to what? We are living in a new Gilded Age where the entire society has been warped to favor a relatively small number of very wealthy people. The only way to have less government control would be to get rid of what we have completely and start over.
And it’s interesting to hear all these complaints about “catastrophism” when talking about the left but no one seems to be able to find an actual leftists politician who subscribes to this. You can find plenty of them on the right both in the US House, in the US Senate, and elected to offices in states like Idaho, Montana and Oklahoma.
Every single leftist would be happy to have a level of government involvement similar to Germany, the Nordic states, France or a number of other big successful EU countries. The right argues that this would somehow bring about the “end of western civilization, and it doesn’t seem to have any democratic country existing in the world today where they would be satisfied including the USA after nearly 40 years of their project at work. I think says something in itself about which side is actually engaged with reality.
Capitalism is like democracy. It seems like the worst form of economic organization possible, until you consider the alternatives.
Unless you are a committed progressive.
The issue with socialism is simple; From each according to his means and to each according to his needs. Who decides what your means are? Who regulates your needs? And how do they enforce those decisions?
Capitalism is great! It helped build the powerhouse US economy of the 20th century and propel US and Western European living standards to a level unimaginable a mere 100 years previous.
But when it came time to fight the Nazis and Imperial Japan, the central government had to tightly control the economy- repurposing factories, setting production targets, rationing civilian goods, temporarily nationalizing industry, in effect. Was this command economy efficient? Not really. But it was absolutely necessary to address the crisis.
I recommend Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Built the Arsenal of Democracy That Won World War II by Arthur Herman
But the short version is that you are ascribing powers to the War Production Board it never had. Sure, it had powers to ban the production of goods, but not to order a business to produce goods.
This is a pointless quibble.
If you have the power to tell a business to stop making what it is now making, and to offer it a contract to make what you want at a price of your choosing…
You have the power to make a business manufacture what you want.
If the War Production Board can tell every dressmaker in America to stop making dresses, and if the only way to get a reasonable priority for cloth to make anything is if most of your production is making infantrymen’s uniforms… Well, the dressmakers will start making infantrymen’s uniforms, or they will go out of business and their sewing machines will be bought up by someone else who will.
The simple fact of the matter is, you don’t win a war, or solve any other major crisis, without organization and resources. Which involves the government actually doing things and spending money, usually on a large scale.
They had no power to order dressmakers to stick to making clothes. Really, we aren’t like Brave New World‘s lower castes.
Mary, at this point you’re almost painting yourself into a corner without outside intervention.
Think through what happens next, if they respond that way.
No, the dressmakers in World War II America don’t have to stick to making clothes. But if they are a capitalist business whose prewar business was dress-making, then “stop making clothes” is more or less tantamount to “go out of business” for them.
All their capital equipment, the machinery and handling facilities, are oriented around handling fabric and clothing. All their workers are experienced in making and handling fabric and clothing. Any patents or special competencies they have will involve fabric and clothing.
What happens to a company that manufactures civilian clothing banned from production, but that for some inexplicable reason doesn’t want to take government contracts to make uniforms like the government wants? They can’t sell what they usually make, they refuse to sell anything enough like what they usually make to offer them a comparative advantage. They can’t just sit around doing nothing because they have to pay the bills on the factory and keep the equipment from rusting.
What are they supposed to do? Reinvent themselves as a meat-packing plant?
We’re better off if we look not at some bizarre fancy of “but the government couldn’t make them,” but at what the government actually did and what its influence was.
And the practical answer is “the government took a huge amount of control over industrial processes, started bossing industry around, and surprise surprise, all those corporations ‘decided’ to produce war materiel now that ‘suddenly’ there was no viable way to make a profit on the civilian market instead.
Progressives are very fashionable. They will always be the first to jump on any new bandwagon, such as banning women from working in coal mines, allowing women to work in coal mines, supporting eugenics, opposing eugenics, terminating Down syndrome foetuses while opposing eugenics, etc
Conservatives are very old fashioned. They will always denounce any policy change as likely to destroy civilisation, such as introducing slavery to America, banning slavery in America, banning racial discrimination in America, stationing troops in Europe to deter the Russians, withdrawing the troops in Europe that are there to deter the Russians etc.
The way to decide if a proposition is true is not to start by finding out if it is conservative or progressive.
To produce this neat observation, one must glide over some details. For instance:
1) The conditions under which women worked in coal mines in the early 1800s and the late 1900s were not the same. It is not self-contradictory to block mine owners from legally employing women at lower wages to work themselves to death mining coal by hand, but support requiring mine owners to hire both men and women equally at equal wages to mine coal with heavy machinery and adequate protective equipment.
2) I am sincerely unclear as to which conservatives of any note opposed eugenics. You have strongly implied that such conservatives exist, and I for one would like to know who they were.
3) I was unaware of any significant bloc of conservatives who were originally opposed to the establishment of slavery in the Americas. Again, you have implied that such a bloc existed, and I would be curious to know who they were.
The conservatives on the Supreme Court who voted against the decision in Buck vs. Bell.
> I am sincerely unclear as to which conservatives of any note opposed eugenics
Are you aware of existence of Catholic Church that is quite generally considered as conservative nowadays? Even if it could be described as progressive in the Roman Empire?
And as you are looking for individuals: John Paul II, famous for being a pope (among few other things), quite conservative and definitely opposing eugenics. In one bundle with abortion, anti-conception, euthanasia and gay marriage – and treated as aspects of the same problem. Just in case someone would want to dispute him as not conservative.
(replying to this part specifically because it is hilariously wrong, not looked at other)
Are you aware of existence of Catholic Church that is quite generally considered as conservative nowadays? Even if it could be described as progressive in the Roman Empire?
Indeed; until eugenics became unpopular due to its associations with Nazism, it was quite the progressive cause celebre, with most opposition to it coming from (usually Catholic) conservatives.
In one bundle with abortion, anti-conception, euthanasia and gay marriage – and treated as aspects of the same problem. Just in case someone would want to dispute him as not conservative.
Worth pointing out here that many of the early proponents of abortion and contraception were quite explicitly motivated by fears of upper-class whites being outbred by poor people and foreigners.
Simon, to take your points in order:
1) Mining was an unusually grim, dangerous and unpleasant employment in the 1800s and also in the 1900s. And now. If progressives thought it right to bar women from such employment in the 1800s, then they should also think it right to bar women from such employment in the 1900s. Unless they have changed their minds about whether women should be barred from unusually grim, dangerous and unpleasant employment.
2) I didn’t say conservatives originally opposed eugenics; I said that progressives supported it. But practically every conservative Catholic opposed eugenics. If you want someone in particular I might name G. K. Chesterton, author of Eugenics and Other Evils.
3) Samuel Johnson was a staunch Tory and opponent of American Independence who famously proposed a toast “to the success of the next Negro revolt in the West Indies”. But to be fair, I was cheating a little with that one: By the time the Whig/Tory opposition meant much in Britain and America, the slave system had been established in the British colonies for some time. So it was no longer an innovation for conservatives to oppose.
Sounds like the old historical cycle hypothesis of civilization: out of barbaric slavery, conquest and the brutality of rule by might, government slowly rearises. Enlightenment and the rule of law replace despotism. Liberalism brings long-overdue abolishment of ancient holdovers of barbarism, but then goes too far and becomes decadent. Civilization eventually collapses back into barbarism; and then the long cycle repeats.
The one that was disproven in the Fremen Mirage series on this blog?
> I did find myself wishing, given the topic, that the publisher had sprung for maybe a few pages of full-color plates in the center to show off a lot of the swords discussed in their full glory
Are you saying you wanted a sword centerfold ?
Reading, back to back, your articles on Paradox games and your articles on economics & cities, I’ve been wondering if there may be something interesting to do with the representation of pre-modern societies in city builders games (Caesar/Pharaoh, Banished, Anno, etc), with their baked-in assumptions, point of focus, gameplay abstractions, way of representing different population groups/stratas, sources of wealth for the state, etc etc
> ‘What if all of their kit works to everyone’s surprise, the way ours did in 1991?’
Fleet Arm 1982: “hopefully our superior tactics and training will enable us to overcome the on-paper inferior performance of our fighters versus land-based opposition. After all it worked in the Med forty years ago”
Yeah, I get uneasy when people now write off the Russian military. Their Soviet counterpart blundered pretty badly in Finland in 1939 and were still able to monster mash their way into Berlin six years later…
Two key differences I think:
1. The USSR had the manpower reserves to endure the kind of losses the Nazis inflicted on them. Russia is not in that position, already in the early stages of a demographic crisis even before they got the wood chipper revved up.
2. The USSR benefited greatly from US lendlease supplies, not just for the shooty boom boom part but things as simple as trucks and trains, kitchen table logistics stuff that helped them hold the line while reconstituting their badly disrupted industrial capacity. Not only does Russia not have that now, their opponent is the one to avail of it.
You’re correct to not write them off, and the fighting in the Donbass is currently brutal to both armies and may yet pay off for Putin, but I’m not sure we can one-to-one compare Russia to WW2 anymore, as much as they’d like us to.
There’s also the consideration of who they’re fighting and why. The Germans shocked everyone with how they did in the war and then attacked the USSR. That gives the upper class of the USSR a good reason to remain in the fight and keep fighting, along with giving the conscripts a good reason to keep fighting.
The current war doesn’t really have that reasoning when you look at it. Which makes the meat grinder all the worse as you get people asking why they’re going to all this trouble. Plus sanctions? That gives a very real possibility of the political will breaking long before the army can become actually functional.
Obviously the difference in terms of morale and determination between fighting a war of aggression and a defensive war is massive, and the Great Patriotic War is hardly comparable to anything before or after it. Unfortunately, we don’t need to move beyond the Winter War to make the same point – the Soviets eventually stopped their offensive, rebuilt their forces, learned some lessons, changed their tactics, and then launched a second offensive against Finland, which broke through relatively quickly because (and this is key) Finland was exhausted.
That’s the real danger for Ukraine at the moment – not that they’re likely to exhaust their manpower (unless Russia severely escalates, declares war and mobilizes), but that they might run out of equipment, particularly heavy equipment. That won’t happen if NATO countries take arming Ukraine as seriously as they should, but is there a real political will not only to hand over old equipment to Ukraine, but also to actually produce vast amounts of new equipment and essentially serve as Ukraine’s military industry in wartime? Other than possibly the US, I’m not sure any countries are on board with that.
The question is, can Russia’s existing army degrade Ukrainian equipment faster than it can be replaced and also faster than Russian stocks get exhausted? And would Ukraine still be able to fight to a stalemate without heavy equipment? (to this latter question I’d answer ‘yes’, but a stalemate would still likely lead to significant territory losses. Ukraine needs to be able to launch a major counteroffensive at some point)
As a Finn, I would like to challenge the narrative here. The Winter War didn’t end with the Finnish forces broken. The army was severely weakened, but at all fronts, the defence lines were holding. When peace was made on 13th March 1940, the Finnish army retreated in good order to the new border.
Your wider point stands: the Red Army used only the troops in Leningrad district in their initial attack (about two-fold superiority on the Karelian Isthmus). From February onwards, their strength was about four-fold, and on the Karelian Isthmus, they had managed to advance about fifty kilometers in a month.
The big thing that happened with the USSR, which I think the original poster is referring to, is they basically rewrote their military doctrine and organization after their failures in Finland. Part of the reason that the Nazis did so well at first was they were still in the process of doing this when Operation Barbarossa happened. By the time that the Red Army hit Berlin, it was an effective military engine lead by competent people, instead of a broken thing drained by the Great Purge.
As Ukraine is not going to drive towards Moscow and topple the Putin regime (nor is NATO going to, inshallah), the war will continue for as long as Putin wants it to. Regardless of how long that is, in 5 years, Russia will have by far the most on-the-ground experience relevant to peer warfare of any currently existing country, except maybe Ukraine. Realistically, it will also have reworked its doctrine and organization to better reflect its true abilities and the principles of modern warfare.
I think you’re missing out on an important assumption: that Putin wants competent military leaders. He does not as that would be a legitimate threat to his personal control of Russia. This is the same reason why Stalin had the “great purge” to begin with and how he continued to meddle as much as he thought he could get away with during the war with Germany even after allowing for them to make improvements.
Russia’s army is made up of a small core of professionals which has been hamstrung before the war and decimated afterwards. They have a much larger pool of conscripts who will not be around after their term is up. There’s no reason to believe they’ll learn anything from the war in Ukraine.
The famous bit about tires applies to all those things, too
I think you’re overlooking an even more important part. The USSR in WW2 was facing an existential crisis such that if the failure on the battlefield was bad enough, the Wehrmacht would not only destroy the USSR, but then combine that with the Nazis absolutely brutal methods probably exterminate most of everyone who lived in there. Russia in Ukraine is fighting a war of choice that while it might have personal existential stakes for Mr. Putin (and even that is questionable), Russia is going to be around when this war ends, unless something really weird happens. As of today (May 20th, 2022 for anyone reading this far in the future), Putin still is insisting this isn’t a war and not moving Russia to a war economy and fully mobilizing.
The WW2 situation lit a fire under the belly of Soviet command and control. Stalin made an unprecedented (for him) decision to let people he purged back out of prison and into positions of command. Even things that weren’t connected to direct material factors, stuff like ability of different formations to coordinate with each other, distributions of intelligence that their various intelligence organs were picking up, level of autonomy field commanders possessed; stuff like that pretty much continually improved for the red army as the war progressed. Granted, Stalin and his successors pulled the reins in again once the war was over, but you did see real loosening of the political grip on the military which is very rare for authoritarian regimes and I would argue only caused by the dire nature of the military crisis. Since that does not really exist in the war in the Ukraine, I think it is far less likely to happen here, and you will not be seeing the sorts of reforms that would prevent the Russian military from flailing around so badly, at least not in any sort of quick timetable.
Other parts (adding up worse for today’s Russia):
1. Russia was being invaded in WW2, and the Germans made it quite a ways in (at least in terms of populated areas), a less motivated Soviet union, facing an enemy not looking to straight up conquer them, may well have lost a lot, or made peace in a way that loses a lot.
a. Russia isn’t being invaded and won’t be any time soon because nuclear weapons, so all of its wars will be motivating themselves for offensive war, which isn’t as easy.
2. Soviet union had fought some battles (like against Japan) that went better than the winter war. Russia’s recent wars (Georgia fighting, chechnya fighting in the 1990’s)have been bigger struggles, mostly, than expected, except possibly Syria which wasn’t against a fully equipped military.
It is still possible that Russia fixes itself up and anyone military/intelligence/whatever doing their job properly will watch for this, but also
3. Russia is a smaller country relative to the world than the Soviet Union was in WW2. (population is straight up smaller), so any wars it learns from and fights are still as likely as not going against more resources, with fewer allies in the near term. A fixed up Russia could still threaten smaller countries around it, but even Ukraine might be tough to fight again, with lots of experience gained from this war, possibly gains of some sort from working with NATO/EU more closely.
4) Additionally, the political structure of the USSR could continue to exist after making necessary changes to strengthen their armed forces.
Stalin had a firm grip on the country, and his lines of control did not depend on the army being weak, incompetent, or badly organized. His own paranoia had to some extent led him to believe it did, but in fact, it did not. Thus, he could order new weapons manufacture, order new doctrines devised to use those weapons, and delegate more flexible and practical-minded control of operations to his generals without the state falling apart.
By contrast, Putin’s grip on the country relies very heavily on the cooperation of a (subjugated but extant) class of oligarchs. The systemic corruption that dominates the Russian economy is a load-bearing part of Putin’s ability to rule Russia at all. The Russian people’s nihilism and pessimism about politics being something they should ignore and corruption being inevitable plays a key role in keeping Putin in power. If Putin changed all these things, his regime might fall apart even if no external enemy threatens to remove him from outside… But if Putin does not change these things, it is hard to see how he could remain in power.
This blog has spoken several times of the role of cohesion in tactics and operations. I think that the differences between Stalin’s USSR c. 1942 and Putin’s Russia c. 2022 are an illustration of the role of cohesion in strategy.
How unfortunate the Russians were that not one other country in all the world was fighting Germany, blockading it or supplying the USSR.
I’d read elsewhere that one possible factor for the west overestimating Russian capacity was their intelligence was aimed at the upper echelons of Russian government, and as a result they received the same rosy assurances from Russian intelligence that we’re now seeing was shaped to Russian expectations rather than the facts on the ground. There are many reports of Putin and his circle basically being told what they want to hear, and in many regards he fell into the dictator’s trap of believing his own reality.
Putin under-estimated the Western response and Ukrainian resolve and competence, and over-estimated his own force’s capabilities. Ukraine probably under-estimated their own chances, and most analysts over-estimated Russian capability. Old story. Two key works here are Geoffrey Blainey’s The Causes of War and Jacob Black-Micheaud’s Feuding Societies. Both make the point that conflicts arise from mis-perception of relative power. The actual conflict brings perception and reality into alignment, but then they drift apart again – not least because ‘power’ is a slippery notion, encompassing much more than armed might.
There is an apparently incurable tendency to overrate the power of dictatorships and underrate that of open Democratic systems. No matter how many times the tough dictatorslose to the effete democracies the assumption doesn’t change.
I don’t think that a few protests and one bombing of a railway can be considered “intense popular resistance.” The situation in Kherson is remarkably calm.
I think ordinary citizens calling in UAV strikes on armor columns counts as pretty effective popular resistance, even if it doesn’t look like what the Marines faced in Fallujah.
That’s a good point. Still, I think this happened in the north in the areas which were briefly occupied by Russia. In the south a lot of territory has been occupied for almost 3 months already in Kherson, Zaporozhye and Donetsk regions, and I haven’t heard of anything that can be described as “intense resistance”
I have heard of eg. mayors getting kidnapped, which points to the Russians thinking that they could organize an inconvenient amount of resistance
Perhaps 1 or 2 American soldiers were killed per day during the Iraq war. Does that count as “intense resistance”? Because the Russians are loosing people a hundred times faster than that on the battlefronts. Resistance on the scale of Iraq in the rear areas would simply not be noticed by us.
A few typos:
nine dead generals. Likewise, predicts before
least tested armies in the world. If put the test, it might work with expectations
put to the test?
work as expected? meet expectations?
That out to be a humbling
ought to be?
We both had a traditional panel
had both? We had?
Re the over-estimation of Russian military capability by the West. I think this is a historical issue going back centuries. It seems to me that much Western (nowadays primarily US?) analysis focuses far too much on numbers – both of men and “stuff” – rather than on how the men and stuff are used. For example, a lot of serious analysts still use the by-now-much-discredited 3:1 superiority as a rule of thumb for successful offensive action.
As Russia, and previously the USSR, has a lot of men and stuff (less nowadays, owing to the lesser geographical extent of “Russia” of course), these are translated by western analysts into over-inflated combat capability without due regard to how such forces have performed in the past. Perhaps there is a combination of cultural issues here. First, we in the west over-emphasise statistical approaches to the assessment of combat capability, because, well, we can crunch the numbers, whereas assessment of softer aspects of combat capability is much harder (therefore, we got “tank gap”, “missile gap”, and so on, in the Cold War era). Second, a failure by lots of analysts and leaders (particularly in Russia) to understand the weaknesses that Russian military culture imposes on its combat capability. Noting in particular that Soviet victory in WW2 came at a ridiculous cost in lives and equipment even when the Soviets were overwhelmingly superior in numbers of everything.
I agree very much with your points about the unpredictability of war. The Ukraine situation, and earlier “difficulties” that the US and UK particularly have experienced since WW2, confirms that crossing that boundary into “other means” is fraught with danger. We desperately need leaders who are prepared to think more deeply about what the phrase “war must be a last resort” actually means.
Kamil Galeev’s threads in Twitter are a very interesting reads if you want to have a sociological and mindset approach to Rusia. Also historical.
I’ve seen comments criticizing him for having 10% falsehood/misrepresentations in his threads, and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised, for I initially expected them to be 90% made up (but entertaining) bullshit.
I read him. I think he is a very very smart and well-informed guy who likes to wing it. It’s a sloppy first draft, but there are flashes of brilliance and a lot of solid stuff along with the extempore. He’s worth reading if you can handle unreliable narrators. My rule for unreliable narrators: if I think they’re in good faith, I may engage; if I scent bad faith, I stop reading. Galeev is good faith, and has enough good stuff to make the filtering worthwhile.
Kamil Galeev is a Tatar nationalist, who’s ideal future is a breakup of Russia and an independent Tatarstan. Search twitter for “@kamilkazani national divorce” for this part of his writings. I’ve read a lot of his threads, and he is a very good writer and seems persuasive, but I’m not sure how much he can be trusted because of his bias.
Partially that is simply because it is all but impossible to know how “stuff” is going to be used until it actually is used. (like you can know how it’s *supposed* to work, but not how it actually will hold up) while you can always count stuff.
I agree it’s difficult. However, in the case of Russia, one of the points I was making is that they have a very poor record of making effective use of their men and stuff – and it’s a good idea to take that into account when assessing combat capability.
By the same token, though, assuming your enemy will screw up their own plans is a recipe for disaster. “Russia has a poor track record of effectively using its stuff” should absolutely have been something Putin considered, but I’m not sure it should have been a major consideration for opposed analysts.
You don’t need to assume perse. You could for example quantify the number of transport trucks, instead of tanks. The state of their roads, how long it takes a truck to get from point a to point b. How reliably they do so.
We’re now hearing all about how the number of soldiers is less of a factor here, than the type or their source. Conscripts vs contract. Internal security forces vs regular military. How long it takes to draft them up, what sort of training. What proportion of serving troops have any experience or serious amount of training.
The *state* off all those tanks.
These are the things Russia is failing at. It’s all stuff that was known, and was covered ahead of time.
It just doesn’t seem to have been addressed in the math heavy “Russia bas X badass tanks” approach that dominated before it became apparent Russia not being able to source quality tires was a bigger concern than how many vehicles they were putting tires on.
I suspect that analysts did analyze the number of transport trucks, or tried to, and this detail just didn’t get past the journalists.
But also, it seems tougher to quantify exactly how many of the vehicles in Russia would/could be mobilized for logistics than to determine which of them have thick armor, big guns, and no non-martial purposes. Meanwhile, things like “How well will Russia be able to get new tires to its armies in the field?” are just a step easier to determine than “How will Russia’s army fare in battle?” It’s not impossible to figure out how well they’d do on paper, but there are plenty of things that kind of analysis doesn’t cover.
You’re assuming it was as easy to see Russia’s weak points before the war as it is now that we have a few months of war behind us, and that’s just not true.
While underestimating enemy capabilities is worse than overestimating them, it’s still not good. Ideally you’d want an accurate assessmemt and give a range of possible outcomes where there’s uncertainty.
In particular, in this case a more accurate assessment might’ve motivated the West to lean into deploying heavy equipment earlier or even in advance of the invasion, and making preparations to train Ukranians on NATO gear.
I mean, yes, obviously having perfect knowledge of your enemy capabilities would be ideal. But that’s not something we can actually achieve.
The question isn’t “Should we bother trying to get accurate information about what the enemy can achieve?”, because the answer to that is an obvious “Yes”. It’s “What should we assume when there’s uncertainty about enemy capabilities?” And there always will be. Even if you have enemy spies feeding you everything about the composition of enemy forces, you won’t know how a given unit or piece of equipment will function in a given circumstance until that circumstance actually arises—and despite what you’ve heard, on the level military analysts need to worry about, war always changes.
To be fair, a lot of the things (russian reliance on rail transport and trucks being a potential bottleneck) WAS pointed out. Bret even posted an article talking about it some time ago. The potential problems with the russian army was (somewhat) well-known, what wasn’t expected was that the russinas would ignore these problems rather tahn try to work within them.
Didn’t Iraq massively underperform vs. the US both times? Part of that may be the US “huh, everything actually worked” but I thought part of it was also Iraq crumbling despite paper strength, for perhaps similar reasons as Russia: corruption and internal misinformation.
Yep. Half the reason Gulf War I went so well was because the Iraqis were ridiculously incompetent. I remember reading somewhere that when wargaming the Battle of 73 Easting, when the equivalent of a reinforced battalion of US armored cavalry utterly shattered most of two Iraqi brigades at a very low cost, the Iraqi side basically just had to do some very elementary things to make the outcome much less lopsided.
It seems to me that much Western (nowadays primarily US?) analysis focuses far too much on numbers – both of men and “stuff” – rather than on how the men and stuff are used. For example, a lot of serious analysts still use the by-now-much-discredited 3:1 superiority as a rule of thumb for successful offensive action.
The Soviets’ analysis worked like this in the middle of the Cold War. They tried to reduce battles and wars to a single mathematical formula that would determine victory.
The US armed forces used a much deeper analysis than that. They acquired copies of doctrine documents that the Soviet Union distributed through the Warsaw Pact and reconstructed the late Cold War Soviet tactical framework(1). They then trained some of their own units for those tactics and had them play OPFOR (opposing force) in competitive exercises. This training helped NATO develop tactics to beat Warsaw Pact armies, but it also gave them more refined estimates of what Soviet tactics could accomplish using simulated Soviet kit. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Americans continued to try to imitate pieces of other countries’ armies for training purposes.
The OPFOR testing method has an inherent flaw, which American analysts apparently overlooked leading up to the invasion of Ukraine. It assumes the adversary’s men uphold NATO standards for professionalism at all levels. It further assumes that the adversary’s officers are cross-trained in NATO tactics to at least the level of a lieutenant, because those are the most junior officers simulating OPFOR commanders. In hindsight, these assumptions were implausibly generous to Russia and probably the Soviet Union as well.
(1) Dept. of the Army Field Manual 100-2-1 “The Soviet Army: Operations and Tactics”,1984 as accessed at https://archive.org/details/fm100-2-1
> The Soviets’ analysis worked like this in the middle of the Cold War. They tried to reduce battles and wars to a single mathematical formula that would determine victory.
This is a rather common misinterpretation of how Soviet theory operated. They did not believe all factors could be reduced to a single mathematical formula, rather they thought that all factors which COULD be used simplified into a mathematical formula should be to help guide planners and officers. The tension naturally occurs at what point does the “calculable” factors cross into the “incalculable” ones.
Letting your Opponent know that you’ll do anything to avoid war is a really good way to get a war. See the run up to WWII. An aggressor is not discouraged by appeasement.
A policy of war as a last resort is not appeasement. A state can have strong defences and strong alliances to deter aggression. It can also operate various strategic policies that are not military ones. Of course, if another state invades your territory, you’ve got a war, and you don’t have a “last resort” choice.
It can. But unfortunately that’s not been how it’s played historically. And in the 1930s there were actually those who argued that invaders should be submitted to and given whatever they want.
” You could for example quantify the number of transport trucks, instead of tanks. ”
IIRC, there were articles as Russia was building stuff around Ukraine that said they didn’t have the logistics capability to support a sustained offensive because of the number of trucks and potential problems with rail transport for resupply. I think one of them was even linked here back in January or something? That was one of the reasons why people were concerned by “fait accompli” types of wars. So that was quantified and analyzed as well.
And yeah, that kind of seems to be underperforming too.
> For example, a lot of serious analysts still use the by-now-much-discredited 3:1 superiority as a rule of thumb for successful offensive action.
Except the 3:1 rule isn’t discredited at all? Having 3+:1 superiority at the point of contact is still the basis for successful offensive action. From what I’ve seen, the problem is when the 3:1 rule is MISAPPLIED: it’s a TACTICAL rule, not an operational or strategic one. How to generate a 3:1 tactical superiority from a 1:1 or worse operational or strategic ratio is one of the key questions operational and strategic art is always wrestling with.
It’s limitations and usefulness (very limited, not very useful) are discussed in Dupuy’s “Understanding War, History and Theory of Combat”. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy to hand. The idea of a defensive value factor of 3 can be quickly shown to be false by looking at pretty much any historical day (Dupuy is a good source “Numbers, Prediction, and War”, but there are others). I think Stephen Biddle (from memory) has a good go at it as well. Also see Zetterling, Normandy 1944, Appendix 10. It seems just as bad in tactics as in strategy. By now classic examples include pretty much any German offensive operation in WW2.
> It’s limitations and usefulness (very limited, not very useful) are discussed in Dupuy’s “Understanding War, History and Theory of Combat”. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy to hand. The idea of a defensive value factor of 3 can be quickly shown to be false by looking at pretty much any historical day (Dupuy is a good source “Numbers, Prediction, and War”, but there are others). I think Stephen Biddle (from memory) has a good go at it as well. Also see Zetterling, Normandy 1944, Appendix 10.
I can’t speak to any of the Dupuy stuff, but my copy of Zetterling’s Normandy 1944 doesn’t have an Appendix 10. It tops out at Appendix 8 (“German FlaK in the West”). Is this an edition issue?
> By now classic examples include pretty much any German offensive operation in WW2.
Really? Because to me it seems that it explains German offensive operations in WW2 pretty well, what with them constantly maneuvering to gain tactical advantages of 3:1 despite operational and strategic numerical parity or even disadvantage. A good example of this during the Battle of France is the 7th Panzer’s crossing of the Meuse at Dinant. 7th Panzer was (initially) up against the French 18e Division d’Infanterie, but 18e DI moved much slower than 7th Panzer to the Meuse, so on 13 May when Rommel began forcing his crossing, only the 18e DI’s 66e Regiment d’Infanterie was in position. Thus, for the critical first crossings it was one German panzer division against one French infantry regiment. Given the firepower of a panzer division and the considerable concentrated air support given to Rommel this was actually rather more than a 3:1 ratio in practice (the “force multipliers” of tanks and air strikes), but the basic rule still clearly applied.
My Zetterling is a 2000 edition.
I’m not aware of anything in German doctrine about 3:1 ratios in respect tactical advantage. They didn’t calculate things in that way at all. They used manoeuvre to maximise combat power at the vital point, and to generate both surprise and shock. Putting any form of mathematical ratio to that would have seemed peculiar to German staff and commanders. Rommel’s career is full of examples where he gained massive tactical results from situations of inferiority, notably during the battle of Caporetto in October 1917. He used similar techniques in the early and middle part of WW2.
> I’m not aware of anything in German doctrine about 3:1 ratios in respect tactical advantage.
It’s not doctrinal. It’s a generalised rule of thumb. And yeah, the Germans didn’t specifically codify it as “achieve this specific superiority ratio” but using “manoeuvre to maximise combat power at the vital point” basically does amount to just that. And from the actual examples of when the Germans are doing that (successfully, that is), we see that the degree of superiorities they wind up generating at the aforementioned “vital point” are usually 3:1 or better. The Germans may have relied more on a “feel” for the battlefield for when they had reached the necessary ratio rather than sitting down and calculating it out, but that doesn’t mean the ratio didn’t exist.
> Rommel’s career is full of examples where he gained massive tactical results from situations of inferiority,
Situations of operational inferiority, yes. And he did so by generating massive tactical superiorities. His comment to a captured British officer during the Desert Campaign reveals as much: “What difference does it make if you have two tanks to my one, when you spread them out and let me smash them in detail?”
> notably during the battle of Caporetto
Which often involved maneuvering so his battalion could concentrate against a smaller portion of the overall much larger Italian force at any given time. While we generally don’t have exact numbers for how many of the men were actually in contact with however many other men (and such fine details are rarely possible), I’m willing to bet that if we DID boil it down to such fine detail we would see a result of something like 3:1 ratio or better.
Again, nothing in your actual examples show that the “3+:1” rule for the attacker is false.
On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of western would-be conquerors assuming that all russian strength is merely on paper, and ending up with russians on the seine/oder.
Which just shows how hard it is to gauge what will happen in a war before it actually happens.
Exactly why the last resort argument is so strong.
I’m not sure that two examples really counts as plenty. Especially as the first of those examples ended with Russia allied to every major power (but one) in Europe, and the second had Russia allied to every major power (but one) in the Western world.
You might also recollect such things as Brest-Litovsk, the Polish occupation of Moscow, the Crimean War and so on.
Russia used to be seen as roughly comparable to a major European power, such as Britain or France. And it still is. That is not enough, at the current moment, to match the US or China. Nor is it enough to allow the complete conquest of a country like Ukraine without fully mobilising for war.
In several wars, Russia’s main strength was simply that it had an effectively infinite hinterland to retreat into. Consequently, invaders found themselves in a scorched wasteland with resupply fifteen hundred miles in the rear and an intact Russian army still in front of them. In such circumstances even a very inefficient Russian army could bring an invader to grief.
True that it’s a long way to Moscow – but in the Napoleonic Wars the Russians under Suvorov gave the French a bloody nose, under Kutuzov and Tolly Napoleon a hard time at Friedland and a worse one at Borodino, and then pursued him to Paris. Their cavalry and artillery was admitted to be better than the French, their infantry very good.
Sure, my point is simply that both of these things are true, and it’s very hard to say which one is true at any given time until you actually throw the dice. (well, you can try, but despite best attempts people have been known to make mistakes anyway)
I can’t wait to see your article “reassessing your priors” after NATO fails as a fake political entity in the face of the massive internal political backlash and cultural Russia is inevitably reunited.
When has he talked about NATO?
Almost every post on the war mentions NATO, this one mentions it as suppliers for Ukraine, so NATO gets talked about.
And you can see the inevitable collapse coming, Sweden and Finland applying for membership, Germany and other member states actually planning to spend the agreed on 2% of GDP on their military. I’m not clear on just HOW these are signs of an impending collapse, but I am quite sure that the various PutinBots can explain it all.
Whatever happened to DanGer? He was a much more entertaining putinbot.
I Eagerly await Bret’s article reassessing his conclusions as Carthage destroys its upstart northern neighbor and unifies the Mediterranean under Punic hegemony. This was was caused by rampant Roman expansionism and their arrogant imperialistic political class should be blamed for the destruction forced by Western Hegemony on the rest of the world.
Oh, and those gay trans woke Roman soldiers can’t stand up to our tough manly testosterone infused Carthaginian……..(cue tweets with Elephants fallen down in various ways.. Or…yea…just remembered the comments saying elephants weren’t like tanks. But they probably were like some other armored vehicle, so close enough.)
Carthaginians did sack Rome in 455 AD
Pardon but the *Vandals* sacked Rome in 455.
Was that before or after the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?
I think he meant “the people who were then occupying north Africa”.
Little known fact: The German bombing of Pearl Harbor was launched from an airbase on Krakotoa, East of Java.
Is that the same Krakatoa that buried Pompeii in 1979?
War elephants are probably more like tanks than anything else Carthage had. For this serious an analysis, it’s an apt analogy.
I’m waiting for the inevitable crisis of a modern Russian civil war with nukes going missing and everything!
“A political entities are fake.”
For a certain definition of “fake,” all political entities are fake. Some just fake it better.
Once you get about 100 – 200 individuals, a human being cannot keep a personal relationship to all of them at once. In order to exist in a society above that number, artificial structures must be implemented and observed — “I respect this person that I’ve only seen on TV a couple of times in my life because they are a senator and society has taught me that’s a difficult post of obtain and the people who have done so are highly skilled.”
So yes. Modern societies/polities are “fake”/artificial. And that’s a good thing, because living in large, complex societies allows for much greater specialization and a higher standard of living than smaller, “simpler” ways of living.
Dunbar’s Number. An underappreciated limit on several forms of human social structure
I have no idea what you’re arguing against, but it wasn’t anything I actually said.
Interesting alternate universe you live in.
As I’ve said before, it’s really flattering that the FSB thinks Bret and his readers are important enough to be worth monitoring and attempting to demoralize. Putindude, it’s the Ukrainians you need to be influencing, not a bunch of American armchair strategists.
“I also hope that lesson is being properly absorbed in Beijing; the People’s Liberation Army is one of the least tested armies in the world.”
If I’m Xi Jinping, I’m warning the various sections of the PLA that every individual bolt & screw is going to be audited in, oh say six months, and everything that shows up on paper better actually exist in the number and condition it says it does.
As you say, you can’t really pretest the army, but China can at least make sure the shop isn’t being looted before war breaks out.
The problem with regimes like this is that you can do all of the audits you like, but unless Xi intends to count the bolts and screws himself, he can’t trust the auditors anymore than he can trust his generals.
Just my opinion, but, imagine being the one honest general in a corrupt army. You live on your pay rather than looting supplies (and your pay scale was determined by people who assumed you’d be looting your supplies and your men’s pay).
You try hard to force your subordinates to do the same to the extent that you can.
Then the auditors come in, every other general has plenty of money to bribe the auditors, you don’t. Every other general has hand picked subordinates whose gravy train depends on the general helping to claim everything is in order. Your subordinates know that you are the main reason they’re actually having to try to live on inadequate army pay….
After the audit, the army no longer has one honest general, instead it has zero.
Audits work when almost everyone is honest, and you’re trying to root out a few bad apples before they rot the entire barrel. I’m not sure what works when almost everyone is rotten and you’re trying to find and promote the handful of capable people. Public accountability has a small chance, but needs to start a the local level (so people are close enough to know who’s doing their job) and needs generations to build, and isn’t something a dictator wants.
That’s also probably related to why dictatorships often have so many parallel military organizations, an attempt to sidestep rot and create new organizations from the ground up, staffed by people who are at least supposed to be capable and more ideologically aligned with the regime, who can in theory be trusted more.
It’s also a reason for nepotism and favoritism to flourish, you can’t actually trust anyone else to tell you who is capable and honest, so you can’t simply promote the best people.
As the best available alternative, you can assume your close friends and relatives (and their close relatives and friends) will at least have some interest in preserving your common interests.
But this in turn corrupts any hope of actually establishing a meritocratic promotion system. Everyone can see that the guys on top got there by careful choice of relatives, and the next level down got there by sucking up to authority really well. So that’s how promotions at lower levels also work since that appears to be the expected and approved method.
Note that when building a parallel organization from the ground up, the “who do I trust to build this” problem is far worse, which means you are MORE likely to fall into the nepotism and favoritism trap.
Civil service exams and regulations are an attempt to bypass this problem, but as someone who was a good test taker in school, I have no real faith that doing well on a test necessarily means you will do well in the field. (OTOH, China was fairly stable and effective for a long time with much of the government chosen by exam.)
Being a good test-taker doesn’t select for being good with troops or managing a provincial irrigation system or whatever. But it does at least do a few things:
(1) It doesn’t actively select against being good at your job the way some kinds of highly corrupt patronage systems do.
(2) It broadens the pool of available candidates, meaning you can hire from outside any particular tiny incestuous mini-class of hereditary bureaucrats.
(3) It selects for people who can, at a bare minimum, sit down, shut up, study written materials, and absorb expert consensus on what is best. While a good leader doesn’t have to have those traits, on average a leader with them will outperform a leader without them.
At the very least doing well on a test shows that you have knowledge of the subject of the test, which is a key requirement for a lot of jobs. If it’s
a) A good test
b) Reasonably objective
c) Graded and overseen by trustworthy people
It can at least break up networks of nepotism and patronage.
Of course, the smart way to handle this is to say “look, I’m not even going to punish anyone, I just want to know how many actual functioning vehicles and troops we have so I don’t get us into a war like the one Putin got us into.”
The problem is that if you are an autocrat with a history of smiting people who displease you, you don’t have much credibility when saying this. They’ll just assume you’re trying to lull them into a false sense of security.
On an unrelated note, China has the considerable advantage that they make their own stuff, by and large, whereas Russia has been increasingly reliant on imports for high-tech. It’s easier to make sure your military has a steady supply of tires when the tires come from a factory in your own country. Especially if you can just build another tire factory if demand for tires is resulting in your troops flogging the spare tires of their own trucks on the black market.
Russia isn’t in good shape to do this.
Not quite. If the auditors are as decentralized as the generals, they are as untrustworthy as the generals. True dat! But it is generally true–at least in most Western countries (inc. Japan & US) that the central government is far less corrupt than the provinces. The trick is to empower more-honest central auditors over corrupt regional satraps. That’s not easy, but is at least possible. Look at the US Department of Justice’s public integrity division–they collect a fair number of provincial pelts every year, despite being hamstrung by the US Supreme Court.
According to what evidence is the central government less corrupt? The money is bigger after all and so the temptations. And should we really trust a federal bureaucracy more than the supreme court?
The money is bigger yes, but the scrutiny is MUCH bigger. Of course the financing/lobbying/etc. in the Federal realm could be described as corruption, but in terms of the actual dirty-dealing palm-greasing that I think is what is usually meant by “corruption” there’s nobody paying as much attention to State and especially local government.
I have no actual experience in assessing corruption, but I can say that in my times dealing with government entities, I get a much more professional and competent response from Federal regulators (e.g., EPA rule writers) than State (environmental regulators) or local (city engineers and such) people.
Do you have any evidence to support your assumption that the PLA is somehow less reliable in its audits (or in anything else) than the Pentagon is?
The U.S. military repeatedly fails audits. Which means the auditors aren’t receiving bribes.
The US military has been carrying out fairly large scale military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for well over a decade, and smaller scale operations around the world. You can certainly argue that the level of competence hasn’t been that great at times – eg USS Bonhomme Richard catching fire – but the US military has not suffered the widespread type of corruption related problems that the Russian military are demonstrating in Ukraine.
Other western militaries such as France and Great Britain have also been operating on a smaller scale around the world in the same time frame, and likewise have not suffered large scale corruption problems.
Countries with Soviet/Russian style military systems and government and a low ranking on the Corruption Perception Index table have awful militaries: Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria all rate in the ten most corrupt countries in the world. (It isn’t a perfect correlation: Armenia is less corrupt than Azerbaijan but still lost their recent war. Military operation. Whatever.)
So no there isn’t actual evidence that the PLA is less reliable, and Bret didn’t say so. But there isn’t actual evidence that the PLA *isn’t* corrupt / unreliable either, since China isn’t fighting anyone and hasn’t since 1979. (Against Vietnam, and that didn’t go well for them.) Historical record is that countries with the kind of government China has are much more likely to suffer from corruption in the military.
DanGer, you’re here! We missed you. Coxida is a lousy substitute, and you can tell the FSB I said so.
But Xi has what the USSR also had – a Party with its own channels to monitor and report. Corruption frequently does get dealt with (harshly) in China, and while protests are not reported in the media for fear of a snowball effect, they do prompt action – often at the expense of the targets. Not always, not reliably, but often enough. As with the USSR up to the late 60s, there is a great deal of popular backing for the grand project (in this case, making China strong and rich. The PLA is a generation behind in advanced weaponry, and probably lacks the experience in large-scale manoeuvres, but it’s not the prey of the kleptocrats. It will have different problems.
The kill the chicken to scare the monkey trick? It doesn’t work. The monkeys know they aren’t chickens.
A fair number of monkeys have ended up in prison (or worse) – including some apparently well-connected ones.
No thanks, I’m not interested in a bridge today.
Besides, they will just blame them for not having the right connections. It will not curb them.
IIRC; China is often misinterpreted in how it works. Rather than an efficient bureaucratic machine it’s a bunch of overlapping local fiefdoms and officials, and Xi doesen’t as much give actual directives as vague propaganda statements that he then leaves up to lower-ranking officials to interpret, and can then take credit for (if they are successful) or blame on them (if they fail)
Reminds me of the response to the information problem with Wuhan in the early stages of Covid.
Local officials in Wuhan suppressed initial reports of a new SARS outbreak because they didn’t want a panic and any sort of disruption would reflect badly on them. They even arrested a doctor who tried to speak out. This kept news of COVID during the first few, crucial, months from circulation until the disease had effectively broken out of Wuhan.
Xi opts against breaking up this system where local officials are both incentivized to, and capable of, suppressing bad news*. Instead, he creates a new, secret auditing group to keep track of local officials. I’m skeptical that’s the best approach.
* in general. With Covid specifically, it seems that the incentive now is for officials to declare a lockdown and start executing pets at the first signs of positive cases.
Except that, IIRC, the Wuhan medics didn’t raise the alarm until late November, the local authorities tried to keep a lid on it but Beijing intervened in early January and went full on in late January. All in all, a pretty quick response to a disease that initially seemed to be a standard flu variant. I don’t know that it would go much quicker in, say, the US (where cases turned up from mid-November, but also did not register as an emergency).
A response in early December, when the doctors had identified it as a novel coronavirus, might’ve done a fair bit. Disease growth is exponential, so even a small reduction in early cases could’ve lowered the pre-vaccine death toll considerably.
More relevantly for this conversation, the Wuhan authorities actually arrested someone and IIRC destroyed samples to cover up the outbreak and the story hit the international press before the central government really took notice. That to me suggests the authorities were in the habit of hiding problems and there are probably quite a few problems that stay buried.
There have been a lot of fires at military sites in Russia since the war began.
Sorry, Comrade Xi, the records and equipment went up in smoke.
Regrettably, I suspect Xi is only receiving confirmation of the inferiority of big noses, and remains serenely confident that the Han master race will not have the same problems. A dangerous thing, belief in one’s racial superiority.
“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”. -Yogi Berra
On the topic of sanctions: has there ever been serious consideration about how to apply sanctions to induce a change of government? About every other time, the sanctions are intended to hinder the ability to do the stuff we don’t want to be done, like waging war, but the actual change of government (to one that actually doesn’t want to do that) seems at best to be merely considered a pleasant bonus rather than end in itself.
Like, suppose we have calculated that X will hurt the economy of our enemy more, but will piss off the locals against us. Meanwhile Y, which will hurt the economy less, will make the locals pissed off against their own government.
I don’t know if any examples even exist, I’m merely curious if somebody already tried to use sanctions in this manner.
I think most of our sanctions are meant to induce a change of policy (e.g., sanctions on Iran or Cuba), rather than destroy their ability to carry out their policy (the Russia sanctions). I’m not sure we have any examples of successfully changing a government through sanctions alone – North Korea is proof that you can always keep saying no, no matter how bad your economy gets.
Regime-changing sanctions work on the same principle as “terror bombing” (strategic bombing targeting enemy morale). Hurt the citizens of a state, until they turn against the state for not doing something to stop it. Terror bombing was experimented with extensively by both sides in WW2, and by several actors since then. To my knowledge, when terror bombing affects a country’s morale, it does so by hardening their resolve to fight. They know who’s pulling the trigger.
Personally, I expect sanctions to be effective at the same things as strategic bombing—degrading enemy production/logistic capabilities and schadenfreude at the expense of “the enemy people”.
I think the main problem there is that people are pretty likely to blame the people imposing the sanctions for the sanctions, no matter what they are.
Probably if you’re trying that, rather than attempting to enflame local opposition you’re better off trying to lever at cracks that already exist, and effectively attempt to target the mechanisms the regime uses to sustain itself. Definitely don’t target stuff the general public gets; they’ll blame you and rally behind the regime. Real high-end luxuries the government uses to buy off high-ranking supporters might work. If there’s active military resistance then weakening the regime’s military (plus arming the resistance) will increase the chances of an overthrow.
But ultimately I think you only get economically-powered regime change when the regime has opted to cut off or restrict imports itself.
One of my inspirations for asking are the Russian community on reddit, by definition more cosmopolitan lot than the average. But in spite of – or rather, because of that – plenty of folks there take the sanctions as a personal offense. Putin? Bad, sure. Basic goods suddenly more expensive? Oh well, planned going vegan anyway. Getting cut off from Etsy, OnlyFans, and video game vendors? Wait, what-HOW DARE YOU?!
So, the irony is that most of the stuff they got angry about is not enforced by any state, but rather a series of independent decisions by the private sector, but it got me wondering anyway.
From the viewpoint of the victim government, there might not be much difference between an attempt to overthrow it by means of sanctions, and an attempt to overthrow it by military force. So it might respond similarly either way. Awkward if it has a few hundred ICBMs to hand.
Basically Russia has proved to be much less effective than anticipated and the West astonishingly less pusillanimous. I fully expected the NATO nations to be eager to throw the Ukraine under the Russian tank treads – for Russia’s oil and in quivering fear of her nuclear arsenal.. I am stunned and delighted to be wrong.
NATO now includes the Baltics, which were flat-out annexed by Russia/Soviet Union; as well as several former Warsaw Pact countries who had pro-Soviet governments installed by force 1945-1990. They have every reason to fear a revanchist Russia that considers all of eastern Europe its proper “sphere of influence”, and which has now attempted to overthrow the government of a neighboring state for daring to have a truly independent government.
Yes, I was forgetting the new NATO member with their personal experience of Soviet rule. It’s the western democracies that were all so willing to crawl to the USSR
Not quite. Germany invested a lot in trade etc with Russia over the last decade or so, in the hope that tying it into the network would moderate its policies. France took a strong line from the start, as did Britain. And once the war started, pretty much everyone swung hard. The media plays up the notes of caution (some quite reasonable – you don’t switch half your energy supply overnight), but the tone has actually been remarkably stiff.
Yes, and that surprises me imensely.
I don’t think the USSR felt very crawled to, between 1946 and 1991.
Then they weren’t paying attention. In every confrontation the intelligentsia screamed like little girls and sided with the soviets. All too often they were listened too.
As we now know an embarrassing number of highly placed people including government officials were not only sympathetic to the soviets but actually working for the. McCarthy turns out to have been right.
I see two possibilities.
One is that the USSR, which supposedly had vast penetration into all branches of academia and the media, somehow did not realize just how overwhelming their advantage was, and utterly failed to make any organized, deliberate use of it, beyond a tiny flyspeck of infiltration here and there.
The other is that there weren’t actually as many people advocating “crawling to” the Soviets as you think. And that your portrayal of broad and vague categories of people as being pro-communist is influenced more by a negative opinion of them than by them actually being reliable sellouts to communism.
Opposition to the guy you think of as a heroic anti-communist does not make one a communist; there may be other things to dislike about him. Opposition to a war you think of as ‘against communism’ does not make one a communist; wars are very very often not worth the price of admission.
Questioning aspects of the social order in a capitalist country does not make one a communist; democracy and capitalism necessarily exist within a balance of creative tension and it’s deeply unhealthy to treat everyone who isn’t maximally pro-capitalist as being an enemy of liberty.
The third possibility is that the snake oil they were selling did not lend itself to taking advantage in the way they wanted to.
The Soviet Union did not implement Lysenkoism because they WANTED famine.
So how would that work, exactly? Are you arguing that Western intelligentsia was uniformly in favor of doing things that would… somehow benefit the USSR without actually being exploitable by the USSR?
That can’t be right; could you please clarify?
Why not? The USSR was, in spite of propaganda, BLAZINGLY incompetent.
The Red Army that entered Berlin drove there in Studebaker Trucks, fueled by gasoline refined in America as well. (And in several cases used Sherman Tanks to fight their way in).
Yes, the Russians received a bunch of material during WW2 that they made good use of. The thing that I notice people tend to forget in that equation is it still came down to the Red Army to make that lend-lease mean something.
We can see this by contrasting it with all the cases where aid proved ineffective or useless because the receiver squandered it: Russia in the First World War also received tons of aid from the Western Allies. It largely piled up on the docks, gathering dust until the Bolsheviks came to power and seized it all. The Nationalist Chinese in World War 2 and the following Civil War also received large inputs of lend-lease. The corruption and incompetence of the regime largely ensured that it was squandered and most of it wound up being captured by the Communists. The Republic of Vietnam was amply armed and sustained by American aid. Again, corruption and incompetence ensured this was wasted and led to it just meaning the Communists captured or destroyed it by the job lots when they won. The US pumped vast quantities of aid into the Republic of Afghanistan, into equipping their security forces, into trying to build them up. The Taliban rolled over them in a few months and seized or destroyed it all.
War and logistics are about more than just having the material.
Very true. People also tend to gauge Soviet performance by the first years of the war. By mid 43 they were the equal of the Germans, and by 44 better than them.
According to Wikipedia, during the Battle of Kursk in mid 1943, the Germans were outnumbered by ~ 3 to 1, and the Soviets suffered 4 or 5 times the casualties of the Germans.
According to the same source, during Operation Bagration in mid 1944, the Germans were outnumbered by 2 or 10 to 1 (depending on whether you are counting men, tanks, guns or whatever), and the Soviets suffered perhaps twice the casualties of the Germans.
I will not dispute that these were great victories for the Soviets, but it is not obvious to me how they demonstrate the Soviets achieving qualitive parity or superiority to the Germans.
There are reasons to look more closely at these casualty reports, generally the soviets and germans counted casualties differently, so they are not equivalent. They were also fighting fairly different types of war, the germans had the luxury of attacking an unprepared enemy while the soviets had to launch offensives into a prepared positions.
Axis dead on the Eastern Front numbered around 5 million (German, Romanian, Hungarian, Italian, Finnish). Soviet dead around 10 million, of which 3 million were murdered POWs. Given the mismatch of the first two years, the Red Army gave better than it took in the last two years. German generals cite individual operations, but the war was enormous – while Bagration was happening the Red Army was rolling over the Carpathians, pushing the Finns out of the war and hammering away in north Ukraine and the Baltics.
Logistics are necessary but not sufficient for victory. The best weapons in the world are useless without transport to the front and supplies to expend.
Remember when after Gulf War 1 we were all commenting on how one of the reasons that the Iraqi Army was performing so badly was that all of their tanks were the export “Monkey Model”.
Now it seems that the supposed superior models built for the Russian Army are doing just as poorly.
I’m curious if anyone here besides you was actually doing that kind of commentary 30 years ago. I know I wasn’t born yet, and i believe our gracious host was still in elementary school at that point.
I am also old enough to remember some of the commentary at the time, IIRC James Dunnigan and Gwynne Dyer. The 1991 Gulf War was not a great advertisement for Russian military gear. This was nearly thirty years ago, so I can’t be precise, but my memory is that yes one explanation being advanced was that the Iraqis didn’t have the best Russian gear.
Of possible relevance for today, the 1991 Gulf War is/was accepted as a major reason for the dramatic speedup of Indian nuclear weapon development in the 1990s. (Yes, they were already working on nuclear bombs and would have acquired some eventually.) The Indian army had a lot of the same Russian tanks, aircraft, etc as the Iraqis, and seeing western militaries absolutely demolish the Iraqis in no time at all was a nasty shock.
To quote one Indian general of the day: “Never fight the Americans without nuclear weapons.”
Are we likely to fight the Indians? I wasn’t aware that the US regarded India as a threat.
From the Generals point of view, the question is whether the US could be a threat to India.
Roxana: Pakistan is, sort, of a US client state. Pakistanis India’s worst enemy. The fear that the US might get involved in their traditional rivalry isn’t entirely fantastical (and was much less so in the 1990’s, before the afghan invasion damaged US-pakistani-relationships)
India’s first test was 1974. They used plutonium from a Canadian-built reactor. I remember this because my dad worked for Ontario Hydro and had the newspaper clipping up on his wall. That was not a cause for joy at his work.
I assume they would have been building more after that. I guess they built faster after the Gulf War?
India wanted a nuclear capacity in case nuclear armed China proved to be more of a threat than it was. But after achieving the bare capacity, for many years it was a low priority. India didn’t explode a second test device until 1998, the same year that Pakistan also achieved a nuclear weapon capability.
I was doing that sort of commentary, if not in 91/92; between 92 and 2003 or so, and even after 2003.
And yet much of that same gear is being utilized and is doing great for the Ukrainians. Almost as if it isn’t the ‘gear that’s the problem, but the soldiers using it.
” yet one of Russia’s ::checks notes:: nine dead generals”
If you actually bothered to read the wikipedia page you linked to, you would see that in fact only two generals are confirmed to be KIA. Two are disputed, and the other five are merely claimed. A glance at the references reveals an overwhelming slant towards pro-Ukrainian sources. Don’t you think a responsible scholar ought to mention these rather important caveats?
By the way, what about Ukrainian casualties? How many generals have they lost? A search on Google doesn’t turn up much, and this is a hint that the information filtering back through English sources may not be giving an impartial view of events on the ground.
Given that, so far, the Ukrainian press releases have proven to be less untrustworthy than the Russian ones, I’ll lean in the direction of Kiev.
By the way, which destroyer is the new flagship of your Black Sea fleet?
“the People’s Liberation Army is one of the least tested armies in the world”
When was the last time the US Navy fought against a foe with a serious capability to strike back at its ships?
The escort carrier USNS Card was sunk in harbour by North Vietnamese frogmen in 1964.
It may also be worth pointing out that the USN does exercise against other NATO navies, and I believe they have been scored as sinking a carrier quite a few times.
Most recent actual attack was just five years ago. At least one of the factions in the Yemeni Civil War has imported anti-shipping missiles and fires them at ships they don’t like. In 2016 that included a US warship, USS Mason. No damage inflicted.
Warships allied to the US have also been shot at by the Yemenis before and since then, and I’d assume there is some information exchange going on.
Before that Hezbollah has fired anti-ship missiles at Israeli warships from time to time. In the 1980s “Tanker Wars” the Iranians and Iraqis were attacking shipping in the Gulf, and US warships got shot at by both sides.
Since the 1960’s the environmental movement has had elements of catastrophism, with the more extreme predictions of the results of not meeting net zero carbon emissions by 2050 rivaling God will smite us if we don’t adopt a theocracy as the ultimate in catastrophism.
I have personally survived overpopulation, the new ice age, acid rain, the ozone hole and global warming, all of which should have killed me long ago.
Me too. Plus I survived Ronald Reagan’s arms buildup, which was likely to produce a nuclear holocaust and kill us all (but it didn’t).
Instead the Soviet union fell. There are those who regard that as a Bad Thing.
Note that governments actually did stuff about some of those things. Acid rain and the ozone hole specifically, they banned certain things or mandated filters that prevented the problematic stuff from being emitted and that over time *fixed the problem*. For global warming the action is not as simple and has not been done as decisively, but it has been slowed which is a part of why doomsday predictions have their dates shifting around (mostly being pushed back).
Overpopulation turned out to be countered by people in richer countries feeling less need to have kids as a retirement strategy and thinking they are so expensive they are not worth it. (In a city in Europe, a child may be able to start paying for some of his stuff at his first job age 15, and only be wholy self-sufficient at age >20 after doing high school and then some other education. In a farming town in Africa where most work is done by hand, they can start working at age 5 or so and are probably self-sufficient at age 15 (I have actually also seen this in slums in Romania while doing volunteer work there, teenage mothers everywhere))
I don’t know what you mean by “the new ice age”, probably I am just too young to have heard of it in practice and either way I guess it lost out to the greater power of the CO2 we pumped into the atmosphere.
A journalist in the 60s noticed an article by a couple of scientists noting that the Earth has is now on the cooling phase of a Milankovitch cycle, which might bring on an ice age in a few thousand years if there was no counter-acting force. This has now become “OMG leftist scientists were predicting an imminent Ice Age!!!!”. Sigh.
I remember the early seventies. Maybe scientists weren’t pushing the new ice age but environmental activists certainly were. I was just a child, I believed them and was duly frightened. I am no longer a child and I no longer believe junk science used for political ends
The trick is in having a robust definition of “junk science.”
In particular, one must be able to reject poorly sourced claims (i.e. predictions based on climate modeling using 1970s computers that the climate scientists stop making after refining their models and using better computers)…
…Without going on full autopilot and rejecting all claims on the grounds of “I don’t like your face, and I’m convinced that you’re part of a plot to destroy us all, so you must be lying” regardless of the actual evidence.
In the end, the world doesn’t care what we think; it does what it does. The Northwest Passage is now ice-free enough that cruise liners can, and have, transited it in summer. In 1972 that would have been a fancy way for a bunch of tourists to commit suicide.
The northwest passage was open multiple times prior to global warming, some of those times cruise ships went through.
When the Times (London) posted an article about the Northwest passage being open for the first time due to global warming, someone posted a listing of articles from the Times announcing the passage was open going back to the 30’s or earlier.
Was the Passage open for a dozen years in a row, so consistently that the Canadian government started seriously considering it as a major seaway possibility?
Were the ships passing through comparatively regular merchant vessels, or heavily built ones designed to deal with exceptionally heavy ice?
The Passage being open briefly and occasionally in the 1940s should not be equivocated with the Passage being open fully, every summer in the 2020s. Any more than we can say “well, there was one day in this town where the temperature surpassed 100 degrees in July of 1924, so it’s clearly the same as now when the temperature surpasses 100 degrees for several degrees every July!”
Since the population of Roumania has declined by 15% from its peak in 1990, and the growth rate remains below replacement level, those teenage mothers had better get busy. Also – the high growth rate in Africa is found in the cities as well as the countryside.
I believe the Green Revolution was also important in mitigating the effects of global population increase
“New ice age” was never a scientific consensus the way global warming is.
Acid rain and ozone layer hole are smaller problems now *because* of the catastrophic predictions and government actions that you denigrate. This is how predictions should work: you see an oncoming problem, you take steps to avoid the problem.
“should have killed me along ago” is hyperbole, not matching actual warnings, and as global warming is ongoing and getting worse, it is premature to claim you’ve survived it.
It’s called climate change now specifically because the warming narrative could not be sustained. Also science fact is not established by popular vote.
Roxana – there are satellites out there measuring the radiative balance of the earth. There’s more incoming than outgoing, and the gap is in the bands absorbed by CO2. Average earth land temperature up by c 1.1 degrees over average to 1950. It’s global warming, which continues to drive climate change.
The satellite measurements are equal to within a fraction of their estimated error bars. Stop drinking kool-aide.
The satellite measurements are not equal to within such a narrow margin. There’s a reason that the overwhelming supermajority of the real scientists who apply rigorous statistics are worried.
Because if you meet one who isn’t worried, it’s usually because they started out by deciding not to worry, then cherrypicking the data to fit.
The rest of the atmospheric scientists would dearly love to believe that the Earth isn’t warming or never has been, because they’re the ones who know how fast the trend’s moving and are already aware that society isn’t going to take the problem seriously until coastal cities start crumbling into the sea. Or worse yet, local politics in the coastal cities will be quietly shoring everything up even as members of the same party in the federal legislature officially refuse to accept that there’s a danger.
You do realize we’re in an interglacial period where warming is normal? And that their projected temperatures are well within normal range?
Grasping at such thin reeds is unworthy of you.
Interglacials are thousands of years long. Characteristic timescales for a temperature change during an interglacial are also thousands of years long. The rate of global temperature increase we’re seeing right now is measured in degrees per century, not degrees per ten millennia. We are seeing global warming that is fast compared to the ‘interglacial’ warming trends
See here for an example of a temperature timeline and an illustration of the issue. We have pretty clear records of how global temperatures during the past twenty thousand years line up with temperatures today, and how they changed over time. Historically, a change of one degree Celsius in global mean temperature during a thousand years was pretty rapid.
We’ve already seen approximately one degree Celsius of warming in the past fifty years alone.
Earth is getting hit with changes in its climate now that are in the range of ten, twenty, or thirty times faster than any known naturally occurring interglacial climate change.
If present trends don’t magically come to a screeching halt for no readily apparent reason, it’s quite possible that the temperature difference between the world of 2100 and the world of 1950 will equal that between the world of 1950 and the world of the last ice age, when mile-thick glaciers covered much of what is now the temperate zones.
There is no known or even theorized truly natural process that explains why this would be happening.
At this point, attributing current global warming trends to natural processes is little or no better than saying the Devil buried those dinosaur bones in side rocks to trick scientists into false conclusions.
Either way, it amounts to saying “the total lack of plausible physical mechanisms to explain how else this could have happened doesn’t matter, it can’t be the obvious and straightforward explanation the scientists have already come up with and predicted many decades ago before it even began to happen.”
Actually we have caught them lying about the evidence.
Which them? Which evidence? One study, or dozens?
This is an entire complex scientific field of study. New people join it constantly all over the world, through different institutions and often speaking different languages.
How, mechanically, would this notional conspiracy of nearly all the world’s atmospheric scientists coordinate? How would they all keep their supposed lies more or less straight? There are great potential rewards for any one person who blew the whistle. Or simply acted in ignorance of the suppression effort and suddenly found they had discovered a massive mistake.
How would we be sure that scientists in America would all conspire to lie about global warming, while scientists in, say, Italy or Brazil or India would notice the lie?
I just can’t imagine such a conspiracy functioning. There could be individual atmospheric scientists falsifying an individual study here or there for personal advantage (though you have not proven that this is true). But for the whole field to be categorically wrong about the existence of a rapid warning trend, at a time when you can literally just go outside and see supercharged weather and areas that are dramatically warmer than 20-40 years ago…
At some point, you’re basically positing that the conspiracy of liars is actually a conspiracy of mind control wizards.
Grants. Obey the party line, get grants. Don’t, don’t.
It’s called climate change more than global warming now for multiple reasons, from the effects that are not warming (eg. different rain patterns) to politics. This is an article on it that looks good to me:
We fixed acid rain and ozone layer in large part due to environmental regulations.
Arguing with flat-earthers is fairly pointless. Every time you debunk their loonie “counter-arguments”, another conspiracy theory pops into its place.
E.g. climate scientists falsifying data to get grants… in exchange for minimum-wage salaries. While the billions of $$$ funneled into elaborate misinformation campaigns by oil&gas companies go conveniently unmentioned.
Please check some basic physics and then re-assess.
RE: Gaming and restrictions, I always found Dominions to be an interesting excercise there. (in a “game not attempting to be “realistic”, but sort of making someof the constraints)
It’s a fantasy setting, you build armies and commanders and cast spells and stuff. Basic structure is turn-based but of the simultaneous (well, not really) resolution one: Eg. all sides submit their orders, and then they are resolved, then you get the results, and get to draw up new orders.
Battles are resolved entirely by the AI, but you can give your commanders orders on what to do before the battle, both general behaviour (“Advance and Cast Spells”, “Stay Behind Troops” and speciifc scripts “Cast Ironskin, then cast Summon Earthpower, then cast Soul Vortex”) but the number of scripting “slots” is limited, and after that units will go “off-script” and act according to the AI. This will also happen if the script for some reason becomes unworkable (“You told me to cast Demonc Cleansing but there are no demons, so I’ll go offscript and cast Body Ethereal instead”)
This means actual fighting is very much “try to figure out what your opponent is going to do” (which remember, sicne you only can get information from the turn before, is by it’s nature very “foggy”) then counteract them with your own things, and hope things work out and that your commanders does what you want them to.
Couple with that MP games has diplomacy but it’s entirley conventional: There’s no in-game diplomacy system, and it’s all trust-based agreements makes for pretty fascinating things to watch.
A series on ancient and mediaeval generalship sounds really interesting! I would like to learn more about the differences between a system where the leader is expected to battle themselves and where they are not. It is notable that Roman emperors tended not to fight, before things went really dire in the 3rd century and onwards
“From Carter on. Yes.”
Claiming that Carter and subsequent Democratic presidents had “the destruction of western civilization as their central goal” shows how utterly divorced from reality you are.
No, just observant. Democrats have been pushing an agenda of government control and reduced standards of living based on faux environmentalism as long as I can remember and that’s back to Johnson. The open hostility towards western institutions and thought has grown increasingly open over those same years. It is now rampant and hysterical.
Please, don’t make yourself stupid. You may believe that some of say Jimmy Carters policies may unwittingly lead to the degradation of western civilization, but to claim that his conscious goal was to destroy western civilization is deranged. Do you think he sat down with Zbignew Brzezinsky and discussed “how are we going to make sure the west loses and western civilization is destroyed”. I can understand if you claim that the extreme woke left might want to destroy western civilization, but you should temper your claims about the moderates that end up in the White House (and especially Carter, who unlike Reagan or Trump was a real Bible believing evangelical).
Jimmy is a well meaning man. I’m sure he was convinced that a poorer, weaker US was necessary for the safety of the world. That’s been the popular position of the Democratic establishment for my lifetime.
Once one accepts that there is a conspiracy to ‘destroy Western civilization,” while carefully refusing to tell anyone what “Western civilization” actually means…
It becomes an inevitable consequence that one will start falsely identifying people as members of the conspiracy.
Because the reason “Western civilization” is nebulously defined is that it’s not actually a cohesive concept that ‘cleaves reality at its joints.’
“Western civilization, in this framing, is Youtube influencers but only if they say the right things so you don’t notice them being millennials. It’s talk radio but not Broadway anymore, not since Rent and Angels in America came out, because those clearly can’t be the products of upstanding virile Western minds. It’s gleaming white marble statues, but not gaudily painted ones that look suspiciously ‘African.’ It’s culture, until culture makes you want to reach for your Browning. It’s rationalism, until the scientists make predictions you don’t want to hear. It’s “we hold these truths to be self-evident,” until some of the men who want to be called “created equal” are a little too strange to be really sound.
Thus, the list of things “Western civilization” is in danger from is in constant flux and gets rewritten easily. It’s a conspiracy theory, structurally not that different from, say, the beliefs of the conspiracy theorists who fabricated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The entire point is that anyone and everyone who has ever tried to stop you or to change society in a way you don’t like is part of a sinister conspiracy to destroy everything, not just, y’know… disagreeing with you.
What’s darkly amusing is the idea that the United States will remain rich and strong by ignoring outside trends, ignoring scientific research, and re-lining the pockets of whoever had the best-lined pockets already. Because those are not the marks of a successful power; they’re the marks of an ossified and declining power.
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.
Folly is that which, when confronted with an inconvenient fact, decides to ignore it because admitting a mistake would be somehow emasculating. Folly does not lead to wealth.
It’s like watching a sailor assure us that the secret to going places fast in a ship is to ignore all those stupid namby-pamby warnings about “rocks” and “shoals.” Reality will rip the bottom out of your boat real quick, if you decide to stop believing in it.
You can’t win a game of chicken with a lighthouse, and you can’t ensure the prosperity of your twenty-first century nation by deciding global warming is a hoax.
What’s really darkly amusing is that your line could be put in the mouth of any Leftist of a century ago, while telling us to hop on the bandwagon of the great Leninist/Fascist experiment in Europe. The differences between what you said and they said are cosmetic.
Yet, which lasted?
You’re comparing a 1920-era prediction about which political systems will work out to a 2020-era prediction about the laws of physics. They’re not the same thing.
If your politics tell you that the person saying “it’s time to stop flying the kite, there’s an electrical storm coming” is a liar who’s being paid by Big Umbrella to destroy your righteous enjoyment of the innocent hobby of kiting…
Well, you are still going to end up the one who was flying a kite in an electrical storm. The electrical storm is neither Marxist-Leninist nor liberal democrat nor fascist nor anything else. It’s just electrons looking for a path to ground, and it doesn’t care what you or anyone else thinks. It does what it does, for purely material reasons that can be observed in very simple ways by those with the tools to look and see for themselves.
If your politics tell you that the correct response to someone warning you about a plague, a melting glacier, or a lightning bolt is to argue with them, to accuse them of some kind of plot, then I’m not sure what to tell you.
How about “You’re completely right!”? Your side keeps on warning, being completely wrong, and not even pretending to admit any error is committed.
Your storm analogy is a better description of your ignoring warnings.
I am somewhat concerned that the “your side keeps on warning” argument may exist in isolation from the actual list of warnings that have been delivered.
Comments about “your side” have a tendency to shape up that way. At some point, it stops being about “I seriously think that because a bunch of climate scientists trying to model the Earth on a 1975-era mainframe screwed up, all the scientists trying to do the same thing with two generations of refined techniques and a 2015-era supercomputer cluster must be screwing up too!” And it starts becoming about “I don’t like your face, and I have a list of reasons to ignore people whose face I do not like!”
Your complaint would have more merit if you actually varied your demands. The way you keep insisting that appointing you and yours as dictators is the only cure is more revealing than you realize.
I also note that how dare you compare us to the those guys? we’re different! has been a chorus for a century. And every single time, the leftists have proven that yup, they are exactly like those guys, the differences in death toll being mostly dictated by circumstance.
“I no longer believe junk science used for political ends”
Nor believe real science, either.
The thing about real science is that it is a continuing, open ended process. When somebody states ‘the science is settled’ and demonizes dissenting views or questioning then we are not talking about science but religion.
When the ‘science’ has a painfully familiar political agenda it becomes propaganda.
“Lead is a known neuro-toxin. Spreading it through the air by burning leaded petrol is very dangerous to the development of children and harmful to adults.”
“That’s a political position! Clearly lead is good for you.”
Actually some science is settled. The laws of thermodynamics are foundational to the universe: so no physicist will accept that a perpetual motion machine is possible.
“Lead is a known neuro-toxin. Spreading it through the air by burning leaded petrol is very dangerous to the development of children and harmful to adults.”
“That’s a political position! Clearly lead is good for you.”
Not sure that’s the best example to use, given that “lead is good for you” was the settled science for several decades, largely for political reasons (all the research into its effects was funded by manufacturers of lead additives), and the guy who proved otherwise, Clair Patterson, was initially dismissed as a kook.
AIUI, lead was known to be neurotoxic *before* we started putting it in gasoline. So which decades was that settled science in?
I was being a bit hyperbolic with “lead is good for you”, but the settled science until the 1960s/70s was that lead fumes from petrol caused no risk to humans.
A bit of research shows that the toxicity of tetra-ethyl lead (TEL) was known at the time of its introduction (there was a ban briefly imposed on production in the US). It was accepted from 1926 to the early 60s that lead harms were only significant at higher levels – BUT most of the data came from one source and there was not much research. From the 60s on, with more research and as evidence accumulated, pressure rose. So not quite ‘settled science’. More – ‘we’ll accept this in the absence of other data’. They should have looked harder at the source of the research – a centre funded by profits from GM and its head hand-picked by the guy with a patent on TEL.
“You would need to clearly define “Western civilization,” in hopes of actually proving that both you (presumably) and the leftists (allegedly) want it destroyed.”
I mean, both Catholic monarchism and Enlightenment anti-clericalism could make a decent case for being “Western civilization” and they’re diametrically opposed.
Hell, Marx is hardly *not* Western.
The difference is that Catholic monarchists and Enlightenment anti-clericalists both draw (/drew) inspiration from the Western cultural and historical tradition (even if they draw from differening aspects of it), whereas modern far-left activists are more likely to say that the entire tradition is tainted.
By way of analogy, imagine that the British in India had subjected everyone there to propaganda about how the Mahabharata et al. were obsurantist, superstitious nonsense, that the people studying them were out-of-touch fanatics, that Indian history before the British was simply a litany of oppression and violence. I don’t think anyone would have any difficulty in identifying this as an attempt to wipe out traditional Indian culture to replace it with British culture, nor in recognising it as qualitatively different to, say, conflicts between Indian Muslims and Indian Hindus.
Depends on what part of the far-left you are looking at, I would say. Many leftist activists are marxists or anarchists, thus in a tradition of Western philosophers (Marx, Kropotkin, Gramsci &c.) descending by long way from Hegel. Of course there are also those who want to “abolish everything”, “burn the entire system down” and so on, but I would imagine there were such thoughts among Enlightenment radicals too, what with their new revolutionary calendars and cults of Reason
Many leftist activists are marxists or anarchists, thus in a tradition of Western philosophers (Marx, Kropotkin, Gramsci &c.) descending by long way from Hegel.
Well, everybody’s in a tradition of some kind, because nobody exists in a vacuum. That doesn’t mean people can’t reject the tradition that produced them, as many Marxists did/do with pre-Marx thinking.
Of course there are also those who want to “abolish everything”, “burn the entire system down” and so on, but I would imagine there were such thoughts among Enlightenment radicals too, what with their new revolutionary calendars and cults of Reason
So some of the more radical Enlightenment guys wanted to abolish Western civilisation too. That doesn’t mean that radical modern people don’t want to do the same thing.
I mean, that is precisely what the a lot of the enlightenment anti-clericalists *did*.
The enlightenment anti-clericalists generally put up big neo-classical buildings, deliberately aped ancient Roman aesthetics and terminology, etc. Rejecting the entire Western tradition generally wasn’t something they were interested in. As for any who did, so what? If some enlightenment anti-clericalists wanted to destroy Western civilisation, then some enlightenment anti-clericalists wanted to destroy Western civilisation.
The point is that to the christian traditionalists christianity *was* western civilization, and the enlightenment anticlericalists was trying to replace it with something else.
Or in other words, wanting to destroy western civilization is a long tradition of westerners.
The point is that to the christian traditionalists christianity *was* western civilization, and the enlightenment anticlericalists was trying to replace it with something else.
The pre-Christian Greeks and Romans were widely considered part of Western civilisation (cf. the Renaissance). For that matter, not all Christians were considered Western — nobody ever thought of, say, Ethiopia as a Western country. So wrong on both counts.
You’re overlooking something important.
Different people have different ideas about what counts as part of Western civilization.
Is Russia part of Western civilization? Different generations have given different answers.
Is Latin America part of Western civilization? Gee, there sure are a lot of American conservatives worried about Latino immigrants who seem not to think so… Which raises a lot of weird questions about what “Western” means, if Australia counts and Guatemala doesn’t.
To 19th century clericalist conservatives, Christianity was absolutely an indispensable part of “Western civilization.” An atheist version of Western civilization would of course immediately degenerate into godless monstrosity and horrors of every kind. Reverting to ancient paganism? Unthinkable!
To the anticlericalists, it was perfectly safe to dial the ‘Christianity’ setting down a few notches, or many notches, or even as many notches as there were on the dial, and the civilization would remain Western.
Likewise, there are plenty of socialists who think that Western civilization would remain perfectly ‘Western’ in every way that’s actually relevant and worthwhile and good for people, even if you confiscated all the fortunes of all the billionaires and put control of the manufacturing equipment in the hands of the workers.
It’s hard for me to see how billionaires are a more critical pillar of “Western-ness” than literally Jesus, so I’m curious as to whether (and why) you would disagree.
So what exactly if your claim — that if people disagree about how to define X, then X is meaningless? Because I highly doubt you apply that logic in other situations.
“2) I am sincerely unclear as to which conservatives of any note opposed eugenics. You have strongly implied that such conservatives exist, and I for one would like to know who they were.”
G. K. Chesterton for a UK one.
I default to supposing that any Catholic conservative at the time was opposed to eugenics, due to the Catholic opposition to any intelligent interference with human reproduction.
Everyone *else*, though, progressive or conservative… eugenics was the hip idea all around. Even among some non-white leaders, though with a different criterion than skin color.
Eugenics is a Very Bad Idea whichever political faction pushes it. The history of Eugenics in when put in practice is horrifying.
In particular it must be remembered that eugenics was not primarily based on improving the lot of individuals. Its focus was on improving society as a whole by eliminating the fraction of the population blamed for the lion’s share of social problems.
How Progressive! Rather than let these people stand or fall with the knowledge that they will fall (which we can tell because we are So Smart!) we prevent them entirely.
And yet somehow, if we fast-forward to the present day, the belief that there’s a quasi-hereditary permanent natural underclass of people who are just bad to the bone and who have no natural right to anything other than police beatings… is…
Well, you’d have a hard time finding any of the Dreaded Ess Jay Double Yous who actually believe that.
You’d want to go over to the other side of the political spectrum to find people who sympathize with that idea.
Nonsense. Not only do the SJWs believe it, they literally teach it in schools, telling white children that they are intrinsically evil by dint of their color, and they can never make enough amends for it. That’s CRT, and too many examples of actual school materials have been turned up to deny their existence.
That African-Americans are disproportionately likely to be poor, to suffer from untreated mental illness and chemical addiction, to be both the victims and perpetrators of violent crime, to have higher percentages of single parenthood, to be disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, and to have lower test grades in school- in short, that they’re an underclass- is undeniable. The dispute is where responsibility lies. Some place the problem entirely on the history of blacks in America and on enduring discrimination and class superiority by whites. Some place the blame on an entrenched pathological urban culture that promotes the most incorrigible of habits. My guess would be that the truth lies somewhere in-between.
>…they literally teach it in schools,
>telling white children that they are
>intrinsically evil by dint of their color,
>and they can never make enough
>amends for it. That’s CRT, and too
>many examples of actual school
>materials have been turned up to
>deny their existence.
All right, would you mind providing some examples?
Preferably in the original, authentic form, in some context that makes it clear that this is actually something intended for and likely to achieve wide distribution to the aforementioned children.
Because my own experience teaching is that the kids have no trouble parsing anything they’re actually learning as “yeah, a bunch of very nasty very powerful people in America have, historically speaking, been white, and have done a lot of dirty to those who wasn’t, which doesn’t make me somehow innately evil, but does mean I shouldn’t just uncritically repeat whatever dirty they were doing.”
It is only in the minds of those who in their hearts wish the Confederates had won, that teaching “the Confederates were the bad guys and so were the invariably white movers and shakers behind Jim Crow” will result in modern white children developing some kind of self-hating complex.
The kids aren’t simpletons.
You managed to miss the entire CRT when it has been blazoned in headlines and yet still deemed yourself knowledgeable enough on the subject to lie about who the racists are?
I’ve seen a lot of headlines about “Critical Race Theory.”
They tend to divide into two groups. One group is using “Critical Race Theory” as code phrase for “my grandkids might learn something embarrassing about what white people did to brown people in my grandpappy’s day, or might question why I’m still doing it today.”
The other group has been using “critical race theory” as a technical term with a clear definition for rather longer, since before all those headlines cropped up.
Since the first group exists, it is not enough to just say “Are you daft? Read the headlines! Critical race theory is on the rampage!” A lot of those headlines are the product of people who are afraid of something I don’t see as a problem. I don’t think that racial amity in America, or the future of white people continuing to exist, or anything like that, is somehow dependent on no child ever learning embarrassing facts about Jim Crow.
So I’m trying to be charitable and assume that you’re worried about something that would actually be a problem.
In which case… It should be no great matter to provide specifics and evidence of the nature of the alleged threat. Specifics beyond the level of “I don’t actually know what CRT is in detail, but I know it’s bad, it’s teaching everyone to hate white people, and I know this because a talking head on the TV said so!”
I don’t believe that talking head. I want something straight from the primary sources on the ground, as unaltered and truthful as possible.
The first group does not exist except in your propaganda. That is how you dismiss people with plentiful evidence of the evil being taught.
I think we’re done here. There are plenty of places to argue about what ‘CRT’ means on the internet, this need not be one of them.
Thank you, Bret,
Yeah, it’s an interesting ideology because when you take a look at the cover page it’s all about creating a happier, healthier world for all peoples. No one can argue that those aren’t good things, but then you start reading how people actually want to achieve these things and holy cow the methods are abhorrent and inhuman in the extreme. Even the modern versions, which tend to just be genetic engineering writ large, raise serious ethical issues due to the huge amount of human experimentation required to get anywhere.
Anyone actually advocating for eugenics in this day and age either hasn’t put a single thought into what achieving their goals would actually require, or worse has and is willing to let vast suffering occur in order to archive them. I.e. they’re either ignorant or a sociopath, and I wouldn’t trust either with the genetic and social future of humanity.
Thing is, that’s how most abhorrent ideologies are. “Look at the shining utopia we’re going to set up, pay no attention to all the people we’re going to need to kill for it.”
Even the Nazis didn’t lead with “And in order to achieve German self-sufficiency, we’re going to kill or enslave just about everyone east of the Oder.”
The Nazi Conscience by Claudia Koonz is an interesting study and covers how they learned to fashion their propaganda that way.
Back when you wrote the first article you were saying that people who wanted a no fly zone were being naive because that would require bombing Russian air defenses inside Russia. At the time that seemed like a massive overestimation of Russian air defenses. Since then, there seems like even more evidence of Russian air defenses being hapless.
Sure feels like we could hasten an end to this conflict if a no fly zone wasn’t treated as a taboo and was seriously considered. How much more do we need to see before we realize that Russia would be completely unable to detect modern stealth aircraft?
The answer is “nuclear weapons”. NATO first-striking Russian soil is the taboo. The fear was never about the effectiveness of Russian air defense to NATO air force.
Well then it’s probably a good thing I’m specifically not talking about attacking targets in Russia. Russian air defense is a joke. The US could enforce a no fly zone IN UKRAINE without needing to attack targets in Russian territory.
God there is nothing more infuriating then a person who mistakes their own cynicism for knowledge.
Enforcing a no-fly zone would require shooting down Russian planes, which is generally considered an act of war.
It would be an act of war if they were in their territory or had declared war. Neither applies.
AiryW, the United States is, and has done for many months now, flown warplanes through territory (South China Sea) that China considers their own.
I doubt you would be saying “oh that’s not an act of war” if China was routinely firing SAMs at those planes.
@AiryW Russia gets to decide if NATO shooting down Russian planes in Ukraine is an act of war against them or not, not the US or NATO, regardless of what they were doing or where they were at the time.
It can generally be taken as a given that when you start shooting at someone they will start shooting back. Hell, even if Putin specifically orders them not to return fire it’s probable that will not be the main concern in the heat of being shot at.
The one thing known about the opening shot of the American Revolution is that neither commander ordered it fired.
And the regulars responded normally to being fired upon.
Legal / ethical / moral reason why NATO is not declaring a no-fly zone: no United Nations approval.
Bret has discussed before the difference approaches to international diplomacy. You are suggesting a “realist” (think that’s right) policy, that we (NATO and friends) should enforce a no-fly zone because the Russians can’t stop us anyway. In this case it would be considered a good cause by most people, so doesn’t the end justify the means?
No, because the other way of thinking about international relations is based on the concept of international law and rules, a major reason for why the United Nations exists in the first place.
We (again US, NATO, most western countries) want a world where countries don’t just start shooting and invading other countries any time they feel like it. So we invent rules, and policies, and international law. And here the law, or principle, or guideline, is that shooting down Russian planes would be an act of war. Since Ukraine is not a member of NATO, has not signed a formal alliance (“contract”) with NATO countries for defence, we won’t, under our own principles / ethics / laws, take military action ourselves.
And since the US and at least some of the other Western countries don’t exactly have a great record when it comes to obeying international law ourselves in the past, we really have to try hard to live up to the standards we want everyone to obey. So we are doing everything we can to assist Ukraine, *within* international law.
Civilian life analogy: if I murder someone with a gun, I’m very guilty. But if I sell a gun to someone who later commits a murder, I’m not. Russia right now is the a wanted criminal who’s name and face are all over the news wanting to buy ammunition, or a getaway car, or plastic surgery.
Russia is invading a sovereign nation without declaring war on them. That sovereign nation has requested a no fly zone. It would not be a breach of international norms for the US to provide military assistance to a country under attack by forces which are not taking part of a declared war. The US has done so on many, many occasions over the past century.
Have you somehow missed all the missiles and guns and ammunition that the US and NATO nations are sending to Ukraine? The unconfirmed but likely data from US/NATO air search radar and spy satellites and warships electronic intelligence being sent to Ukrainian commanders? The training of Ukraine military personnel in how to use their new NATO supplied weapons in neighbouring countries?
We are providing as much military assistance, possibly more, as the United States did to assist Great Britain and the Commonwealth in the early years of WW2 before Dec 1941.
The Ukrainians want a no-fly zone, but again they’re not NATO members, they don’t have a formal alliance, so other countries are not obliged to do so.
And while I am in favour of the international law approach, the realists have a good argument in not provoking someone with nuclear weapons. Or even if you don’t think that Russia would go nuclear, they certainly have the long range artillery and missiles to start hitting targets outside Ukraine themselves.
> Or in other words, wanting to destroy western civilization is a long tradition of westerners.
“My goal is to replace Western civ with Western civ.”
@Bret Devereaux, can you please do something about the firestorm going on in this comment thread right now? Like it or not, the arguments here are reaching a point where everyone personally hates each other…
Also, can you delete the above comment and this one once you’ve interfered? I don’t want to attract people’s ire and contempt by weighing in here at all.
“Capitalism is like democracy. It seems like the worst form of economic organization possible, until you consider the alternatives.”
Roxana, you have above declared that half the elected American Presidents of the last fifty years were enemies of western civilisation. It is hard to believe that every other system of government has a worse record than that. Most hereditary monarchs, for example, seem not to have been enemies of their own civilisation.
I cannot help but feel there is a certain amount of exaggeration going on in this thread.
Opposing western civilization has become the fashionable ideological position among the hip intelligentsia since the thirties, if we believe George Orwell.
Read the man’s letters and nonfiction.
George Orwell was a socialist, who was convinced that to successfully deal with the realities of the twentieth century, Western civilization would have to embrace some form of socialism or dissolve into (fascist-styled) barbarism.
That has zero relevance to his point.
Roxana- his- okay.
Well, in any case, I think it’s quite relevant.
If you feel inclined to distrust “trendy intellectuals” who oppose Western civilization…
…And you think communism is antithetical to Western values…
…Well, you really, really shouldn’t be trusting George Orwell about much of anything.
Because George Orwell was quite the intellectual in his own right, and also quite the communist. Just because he wasn’t a Stalinist doesn’t mean he was someone you’d feel comfortable letting inside the tent of “Western civ.”
Personally, I have no problem letting him into my version of that tent, but then, I have a pretty robust definition of what constitutes the tent. With fairly low and flexible standards about how ideologically and, ah, otherwise pure it needs to be.
Complaining that someone forgot the handle of whom you were responding to is exceedingly weak sauce, especially when you follow it up with this farrago of nonsense.
Do you want insults, Mary? I’m prepared to give them in response to your passive-aggressiveness.
” Your side keeps on warning, being completely wrong, and not even pretending to admit any error is committed. ”
That’s a more accurate description of your side, Mary. Wrong again and again, and refusing to admit error, while having the unjustified arrogance to think you know more than scientific experts in a field.
That’s the real threat to civilization, Western or otherwise.
If Group A is supposedly aiding Enemy B by doing Thing C…
But Enemy B does not in fact find a way to benefit from what is actually done…
One might sensibly go back to the drawing board and question “Was Thing C actually done? Come to think of it, even if it was done, was Thing C really chosen as a mechanism for aiding Enemy B in the first place? Was Group A truly trying to aid Enemy B at all?”
It can become an article of faith, when one spends enough years marinating in semi-conspiratorial thinking, that of course the ‘intellectuals,’ the ‘media leaders,’ the ‘rootless cosmopolitans,’ the ‘cultural Bolsheviks’ were conspiring against the rightful upstanding folk all along.
The exact details of how, mechanically, any of this conspiracy was taking place are irrelevant. They can be filled in randomly, mad-libs style. They can be tailored to cater to whichever prejudices seem most relevant and topical and good at keeping one nice and infuriated at ”’those bastards,”’ the ones behind the conspiracy. The details can even be outright fabricated. It doesn’t matter, because the real message is that there is a sinister conspiracy backed by ”’them”’ and ”’they”’ are out to destroy all the right-thinking folk, and that we should stay mad at them and blame our problems on them. Contradictions or holes in the supporting evidence or the structure describing the conspiratorial threat are irrelevant because it was never about proving the existence of the conspiracy. Only about telling people what they wanted to believe all along.
Easy mindset to enter.
But if we are to discuss this seriously, then details become quite important. Who, what, where, when, why, and how? Because by paying attention to these things, we can tell true enemy plots from false ones.
For instance, it is clearly true in hindsight that the USSR paid a network of agents to access US military and diplomatic and technological secrets. This is unsurprising; every major nation does this to every other. This spy network objectively existed and was an objectively extant Soviet plot.
It was obvious to a 1960-era John Bircher that the civil rights movement was a communist plot to foment race riots and an uprising by blacks, that anyone who wanted labor unions to flourish more and the suits on Executive Row to flourish less was a communist plot to destroy industry and turn everyone into a brainwashed commie, that the idea of tolerating homosexuality was a communist plot to destroy morality and usher in an age of anarchy and pedophilia, and so on, and so on. All undesired social change was seen as a communist plot in that mentality.
And all the Soviet plots were connected.
Except… it wasn’t. The Soviet Union didn’t create the civil rights movement, wasn’t the origin of the American labor movement, didn’t come up with some galaxy-brained idea to destroy America with gayness. None of those plots were real.
And I would argue that there was no plot among “academia” to sell out America to the communists. There were some individual academics who criticized the US, and even some who praised communists, but there were also plenty who did the opposite, or who existed at different, nonthreatening places on the sliding scale.
That’s a silly argument. Especially given the confessions we have seen. Right up there with people who insist that real socialism has never been tried because the real thing always differs from their imaginary socialism. (I particularly love the way they insist that the unreal socialism is the only real one.)
That is stupid and unfair, like using a category “rightist”, and include every right wing dictatorship from Pinochet’s to Hitler (it doesn’t matter if you argue that the nazis “is really left wing”, they are generally considered right wing, and this is about unfair comparisons, not what something really is). There are plenty of people who both considered themselves “leftist” without being “like that”
For example, the two British gentlemen who took the initiative to create NATO, Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin. If you exclude them, you also have to exclude a lot of the other people you are tarring with your very broad brush.
“Grants. Obey the party line, get grants. Don’t, don’t. ”
Across multiple countries and funding agencies? This is a very silly idea, that also ignores all the publicly available evidence of global warming.
“appointing you and yours as dictators”
Who do you think you’re convincing by blatantly lying to people about what they want?
We’re not blind. Wrapping it up in euphemisms is not convincing.
This is why people won’t talk with your side. You’re evil.
Even Bret disagrees with you.
You think this is an argument how?
As an argument that your side does not desire dictatorship, this is the very reverse of strong.