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The flute that sets Kurosawa’s Kagemusha in motion

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- also the battle of Gaixia, 200 BCE, with an echo late in the Korean War -- and a tip of the hat to Emlyn ]
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Kagemusha, the flute call:

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There’s a sequence near the start of Akria Kurosawa‘s masterpiece, Kagemusha, when a flute player on the ramparts of a besieged castle belonging to Tokugawa Ieyasu so captivates the men of the daimyo Takeda Shingen‘s besieging force that everyone listens for the flute each night:

Our men are impressed. They can’t wait for night to come.

This flute, in turn, becomes the primary indicator of whether the besieged castle will or will not fall after the besiegers cut its water supply. The daimyo’s general and close confidant suggests whe asked:

The castle can stand longer. The garrison leader is a fine warrior. He lets us hear the flute at night. …

If we hear him tonight the garrison will hold. The castle will not fall. But if we do not hear the flute, the castle is doomed. Its fall is near.

To which the daimyo responds:

I want to hear if the flute is played tonight. Prepare my seat.

The daimyo’s seat is prepared, the flute plays, a shot rings out… the daimyo is mortally wounded… and the narrative of the film unfurls.

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I was watching Kagemusha with son Emlyn last night, saying how close the film seemed to come to my current interests, and remarked on the scene with the flute because it illustrates so perfectly the ideas that morale may prove more powerful than materiel, and the arts as valuable in coflict as ballistics.

Emlyn spent a short while at the computer, and found two web-pages he thought might interest me.

The first page pointed me to the battle of Gaixia in 202 BCE, in which Han Xin trapped Xiang Yu‘s Chu forces in a box canyon,

To further break the Chu army’s spirit, Han Xin employed the “Chu Song from Four Sides” tactic. He ordered the Han soldiers and captured Chu troops to sing Chu songs. The Chu songs made the Chu troops remember their families back home, greatly reducing their will to fight.

Increasingly homesick, the Chu soldiers began to desert, Han Xin’s brillinat tactic gave him the vistory, and the Han dynasty was established.

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The second page Emlyn pointed me to was titled The Use of Music in Psyops. In it, SGM Herbert Friedman takes a long (67 pp.) and detailed look at this general topic, and made a fascinating “DoubleQuote” style connection with the first in its near-final paragraph:

The Communist Chinese used music against American troops on several occasions during the Korean War. Soldiers from the U.S. Army 2nd Infantry Division recalled that when the enemy played Joni James’ rendition of Hank Williams “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” on dark and foggy nights it gave soldiers some reason to pause and think of home.

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For your edification and delight, Joni James sings Hank WilliamsYour Cheatin’ Heart:

Here Liu Fang plays the celebrated pipa solo that depicts the stages of the battle, The Ambush from all Sides:

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For what it’s worth, the banner and motto of the Takeda clan, Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain — given in the subtitles as —

Swift as the wind
Quiet as a forest
Fierce as fire
Immovable as a mountain

— which adds much to the poetry of our understanding of Japanese warfare, is known as the Furinkazan, and derives from Sun Tzu‘s seventh chapter:

Therefore the army is established on deception, mobilized by advantage, and changed through dividing up and consolidating the troops.
Therefore, it advances like the wind,
it marches like the forest,
it invades and plunders like fire,
it stands like the mountain,
it is formless like the dark,
it strikes like thunder.

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Beautiful film, great film.

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Commentary on Politics and Strategy

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Infinity Journal has a good article by eminent Clausewitzian strategist Colin Gray on the interrelationship of politics and strategy (free registration required):

Politics, Strategy and the Stream of Time

….Second, many scholars appear to be resistant to the conceptually, perhaps even morally, necessary recognition of the implications of the fact that all ‘policy’ is made by political process, and that that process, everywhere and in all periods, is run and dominated by the people who succeed in being influential over others. The substantive content of policy is made in a process of political negotiation among the people and organizations who contend for power, as they must. Decisions on national defence are taken politically, usually with input from subject-specific experts and interests. But, in all systems of governance politics ultimately rules. Prudent assessment concerning the maintenance of their preeminent popular influence flags to political leaders where the limits of the politically tolerable most probably lie. This is not to be critical, it is simply to recognize that we humans run our affairs, including our security affairs, by the means of a political process that is geared to generate power as influence, not prudent policy. Policy does not emerge, pristine and unsullied by unduly subjective emotions, as the ever dynamic product of objective expert analysis.[xviii] This is not to claim that political process will be indifferent to arguments that are armed with evidence of apparent national danger. But it is to say that strategic theorists and defence analysts (like this author) need to appreciate the humbling professional truth that their contribution to debate on public policy can always be trumped by politics.

Third, civil-military relations may well be said to lie at the heart of strategy, as Eliot Cohen claims, but it would probably be more correct to argue that public political tolerance is as, if not even more, vital.[xix] As a very general rule, people will go only whither they are content to be led. Great leaders always require willing, even if somewhat politically passive, followers. Civil-military relations vary in detail, of course, given the breadth of unique historical circumstance that is their particular foundation in every polity. However, this critically important subject does allow authority to an elementary golden rule: the military power of the state must always be subject to authority that is accepted very widely as politically legitimate. The substantive reason for this is that the well-being of society and state cannot prudently be entrusted, or surrendered, even to their coercive instruments. It is only common sense to deny those coercive instruments the opportunity to be more than they should be, given the temptations to organizational mission creep that can come opportunistically to soldiers. Military culture often differs from public and private political culture(s), and it would be imprudent to have one’s national security policy and strategy decided by professional military experts (or their civilian defence analytical associates and frequent functional allies). The price one pays for insisting upon civilian political authority over defence matters is, naturally, necessarily an acceptance ultimately of the sovereignty of a public political will that is ever likely to be inadequately understanding of security problems. It is worth noting that the danger of undue military influence over the policy realm is understandably enhanced when the polity is committed to war (even only to ‘armed politics’ or ‘politics with arms’). However, the peril to civilian (political) supremacy in war lies not only in the scope and weight of the burdens of actual armed conflict, but also in the nature of war itself. By this I mean that the balance of relative influence between the civilian and the soldier is likely to alter simply because of the dynamic and ever unpredictable course of a (necessarily unique) particular war. Whatever the constitutional niceties and formalities in relations, in wartime the state can find itself serving the present and near-term future apparent necessities of a conflict that has evolved beyond expectation, let alone confident anticipation. There is in effect a natural and inevitable tendency for the needs of an on-going conflict to subordinate and even subvert civilian society so that national priorities are reordered more and more in practice in favour of the plausible necessities of war. Not infrequently in strategic history, this re-prioritization in favour of the military security interest has occurred with good enough reason. My point is that even when military leaders are not seeking to reduce or subvert civilian political authority, a context of armed conflict may itself achieve that end.

I think in the second paragraph Gray is correct in the broad historical sense of major wars and existential conflicts. As violence escalates, the war tends to become a Darwinian (or Clausewitzian) ratchet turning in the direction toward “absolute war“. We can see examples of this tendency in historical conflicts as diverse as the Peloponnesian War, the Punic Wars, the Thirty Year’s War and of course, the Second World War, which culminated in nuclear fire.

Curiously,the United States since the end of WWII has had the exact opposite tendency than the one described by Gray: the politicization of war as a mere prop for or tool of civilian domestic politics -and strategy being subordinated to (increasingly trivial) political matters- without regard to combat effectiveness, the external strategic effects or the ultimate outcome of victory or defeat. There are, in my view, many reasons for this. Most of them are particular to the sad state of American culture and our current generation of “leaders”, but some are intrinsic to the epistemological natures of strategy and politics themselves.

Strategy, if it is to be done well, requires a clarity of vision that is willing to strip away cherished illusions, unfounded assumptions and more intentional forms of intellectual dishonesty. This is because making effective strategic decisions depend upon having a realistic calculus of actual and potential power, situational probabilities, material resources, psychological frameworks and other variables with which to work. In a trite and overused phrase, strategy has to be “reality-based” in the sense of being empirical, to the greatest extent feasible, even as it tries to shape future outcomes. As strategy is an iterative process and in warfare something done by tactics, the feedback provided by combat (“lessons learned”) and intelligence about the enemy needs to be understood in context as accurately as possible. This means that enforcing party-lines, shooting the messenger, “not-invented-here” syndrome, putting turf battles over real ones and bowing to ideological fantasies (“the Slavs are subhumans”, “they will greet us with flowers”, “they are only agrarian reformers”) in making strategic assessments is inherently a form of self-defeating intellectual derangement, a willful blindness likely to bring loss or even ruin.

By contrast, Politics is not harmed by expressions of fabulism, mythmaking, self-delusion or the construction of elaborate, closed systems of thought predicated upon ideological fantasies. Arguably, such visions are empowering and inspiring by helping to craft an attractive narrative that men find compelling, unifying and motivating to action, including the will to power or a call to arms to stand, fight and die in a “higher” cause.  That political ideas may only bear a passing resemblance to reality or may be entirely composed of ahistorical nonsense, irrational hatreds and conspiracy theories is not always relevant to their memetic success or failure. To a degree, the process of political radicalization itself, as ideas become more extreme and demanding, tend to attract the kind of true believer personalities given to turning the ideas into violent or even apocalyptic action. Furthermore the intensity of belief or the closed system nature of the ideology tends to make the followers anti-empirical – highly resistant to information (or even the outcomes of physical reality) that run contrary to deeply held beliefs, as seen in the historical examples of die-hard Communists, Imperial Japanese ultranationalists and fanatical Nazis.

If politics trumps strategy then strategy can only prosper if the political mind is rationally sound.

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The Darkness behind Colonel Nightingale’s Two Great Truths

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Colonel Keith Nightingale, was featured  at Thomas Rick’s Best Defense blog  ”future of war” series at Foreign Policy.com. It is a strong piece, well worth reading:

The seven ingredients of  highly adaptive and effective militaries  

The there are two great truths about the future of war.
The first is that it will consist of identifying and killing the enemy and either prevailing or not. We can surmise all sorts of new bells and whistles and technologies yet unknown, but, ultimately, it comes down to killing people. It doesn’t always have to happen, but you always have to prepare to make it happen, and have the other guy know that.
The other great truth is that whatever we think today regarding the form, type, and location of our next conflict, will be wrong. Our history demonstrates this with great clarity.
Well then, how do we appropriately organize for the next conflict if both these things are true? There are a number of historical verities that should serve as guides for both our resourcing and our management. In no particular order, but with the whole in mind, here are some key points to consider that have proven historically very valuable in times of war. The historic degree of support for any one or all within the service structures usually indicated the strengths and shortfalls of our prior leadership vision, preparation, and battlefield successes or failures at the time…..
Read the rest here.
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Nightingale goes on to explain the important variables of technology, intelligence, personnel quality eccentric or maverick thinkers, linguistic and cultural expertise, deployability and leadership. His points are sound and I recommend them with general agreement.
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One area I wish he had spent more time expounding upon was the part “prevailing or not“. We face a major problem here in that the current generation of  American leaders, our bipartisan elite, our ruling class – call them whatever you will – do not seem to care if America wins wars or not.
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Certainly, our civilian leaders stand ever ready to claim political credit from any tactical success or bask in the reflected glory of the admirable heroism of individual soldiers, Marines, pilots and sailors. And no one wants to be the guy blamed for an overseas disaster (“Who lost China?”, the Vietnam Syndrome, Desert One,  Iraq) or losing a war, but winning one? Victory in a strategic sense? Not really a priority for this administration or its prominent GOP critics. Not even close.
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While the Beltway elite are generally fairly enthusiastic about starting wars, once begun the orientation of our officials appears to be one of “management” rather than “leadership”. The war is perceived a problem to be “managed” – like unemployment, sex scandals or high gas prices – in terms of how short term public perceptions of the war impact domestic politics and the fortunes of politicians, donors, lobbyists and other credentialed, upjumped ward heelers. Victory, if it comes, is as likely to be a product of chance rather than design. Few nations as fantastically wealthy and militarily puissant as the United States could lose a war to an enemy as backward and impoverished as the Taliban without an impressively clueless political culture wallowing in narcissism and moral retardation.
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Perhaps this astrategic or anti-strategic posture is merely the natural course of cultural evolution in complex, imperial powers.  Did Roman senators,  patricians or the plebian masses living on the dole in Rome circa 180 ad trouble themselves to look beyond the pleasures of the bath house or the table and worry overmuch about the sacrifices of the legions manning the the forts on the Rhine that kept them safe? Did the British aristocracy and gentry of Hanoverian Great Britain cease their addictions to gambling and whoring long enough to preserve their empire in North America?
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Has human nature changed enough in the last two hundred or two thousand years that it is reasonable to expect that we are any different?
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There is time to turn away from the path of decline, oligarchy and creeping authoritarianism – America is an incredibly wealthy and powerful nation, blessed in many ways, which is why we can survive periodic bouts of corruption and gross mismanagement. However, this time we have raised a new class among us; children of the sixties and seventies, now turning gray, and this Manhattan-Beltway nomenklatura have the ethical compass of the locust and the spirit of the courtier as a form of class solidarity. They seem to view their fellow Americans with a mixture of paternalism, disdain and fear,
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They will go neither easily nor quietly.
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Quick Link: Manea interviews General John Allen

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]


Octavian Manea, the David Frost of SWJ, interviews General John Allen, USMC on the lessons learned on the Post-9/11 military campaigns.

Lessons from the Post 9-11 Campaigns

Octavian Manea

General John R. Allen, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) is a distinguished fellow in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings, working within the Center on 21st Century Security and Intelligence. Prior to joining Brookings, Allen commanded the NATO International Security Assistance Force and United States Forces in Afghanistan from July 2011 to February 2013.

“The outcome in Afghanistan was not going to be decided by military operations alone. It was to create the security platform operating in the hard end of the hard-power spectrum that then permitted us to leverage those outcomes in governance, economic development and civil society, which was going to deliver the knockout blow to the Taliban.”

SWJ: In the past, the US military trained for high-end maneuver warfare and intensive firepower – historical key ingredients of the American way of war. Since 9/11 we’ve seen a totally different approach. What has changed, in your experience, in the nature and the character of war, in how you wage war?

General John R. Allen: War is fundamentally a human endeavor; the character of war may change, but not its nature. Conflict may be characterized by high intensity firepower and maneuver dominated operations and campaigns or we may find that the character of war is dominated by counterinsurgency operations, or even cyber operations. But the nature of war still continues to remain the same, a human endeavor. What was unique about Iraq and Afghanistan was what we undertook after the decisive phase of the campaign, because both of them were seen as part of a paradigm that emphasized the traditional application of the American way of war. In the aftermath of those campaigns we ultimately undertook the kind of capacity building and nation-building that would be necessary for that state to endure. We wanted to make sure that what emerged after the destruction of both central governments is something that we could live with. That required and caused us fundamentally to change the manner in which we conduct operations in both theaters.

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Landmines in the Garden: religious violence and peace-making

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- describing one of two books I am currently working on -- your comments invited ]
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I’m currently working on two book proposals for a publishing start-up a couple of friends of mine are putting together, and wanted to keep interested ZP readers informed. One proposal is titled Landmines in the Garden: religious violence and peace-making, and the other Coronation: the magic of monarchy. In this post, I want to say a little about landmines in the garden.

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Ali parlays with Amru bin Abd al Wudd prior to their duel, illumination from Bal'ami MS

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In what seems to have been my eighth guest post here at at Zenpundit, I introduced readers to the Duel of Ali ibn Abu Talib with Amru ibn Abd Wudd. It’s a story that interests me a great deal, appearing as it does in Muslim lore in Jalaluddin Rumi‘s Mathnawi among other sources — and with a variant form recounted by Joseph Campbell, who makes of it a Samurai story

What I find so fascinating about the story as Rumi and others tell it is that is shows us what are called the “greater jihad” or struggle against one’s selfish nature happening in the context of the “lesser jihad” or war to defend the fledgling Muslim community. It is often claimed that the ahadith which depict these two jihads, with Muhammed obseerving that warriors returning from battle are returning from the lesser to the greater, are of late date and/or dubious provenance, and (tho no expert) I am inclined to accept that claim. Nevertheless, this story vividly illustrates the relation between them — and is one that has been used by Muslim sources more than once to restrain potential and wannabe jihadists from a foolish and dangerous impulse…

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The story of the duel between Ali ibn Abu Talib and Amru ibn Abd Wudd is one in which a great Muslim warrior, Ali, interrupts an act of war (killing an enemy in the course of the “lesser jihad”) because he finds himself filled with angry pride (a condition that is unacceptable in terms of the “greater jihad” of the struggle for purity).

I find it striking that both the Muslim intellectuals / theologians of Ihasanic Intelligence, in “The Hijacked Caravan: Refuting Suicide Bombings as Martyrdom Operations in Contemporary Jihad Strategy” [p. 13], and the Muslim film-maker Kamran Pasha, in his episode of Sleeper Cell [Season 2 episode 4}, offer this tale of Ali and Amru as illustrating the erroneous thinking of AQ and its collowers.

I strongly recommend the sermon and subsequent discussion that Kamran Pasha puts into the mouth of his visiting Imam in that episode, which can be seen here:

— and note in particular how Pasha explicitly connects this story of Ali with the issue of the greater and lesser jihads.

If both the writers of a scholarly treatise and the writer of a popular television series use the same story to convince their fellow Muslims, it seems plausible that the story in question may in fact powerfully and appropriately serve such a purpose as deradicalization — while emanating from within the culture and context of Islam itself.

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I shall be using that story as the narrative heart of my book, which will explore both religious violence and peace-making.

The cover I’d like for the book is this one, since it emphasizes the peaceable side of things — the terrorist side is only too clear, and in my view requires balancing from the side of the peace-makers:

My over-arching theme will be that religions offer us Pardes, Paradise, Firdaws — a garden or orchard of peace — but that buried within their scriptures and narratives there are texts which, if triggered, can be interpretetd as offering divine or transcendent sanction for violence — hence, landmines in the garden.

I am all for the identification and avoidance of landmines.

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Here, then, is my “executive summary” for the book:

War and peace are getting more, not less, religious as we move from the second into the third millennium.

Somewhat to the surprise of those who felt sure the world was growing ever more secular as time went on and the marvels of science and technology prevailed over myth and magic, it seems as though religion is enjoying an upswing — and while this might seem no more than a mild sociological curiosity for many of us, for those concerned with threats to national and international security and peace, it’s a major problem.

And it’s a far more intractable problem than it needs to be, because we have a blind-spot with regard to religious violence: we either don’t see it at all, thinking it’s all just politics as usual, wearing a religious mask — or we think it’s all religion’s fault, or all the fault of one religion in particular — someone else’s religion, one we don’t much like at all. What we don’t see is the whole picture.

There are robust industries proclaiming that religion is responsible for all the woes of our times, and that Islam is responsible for terrorism in particular — and a powerful lobby, backed by US presidents of both parties, that argues that Islam is a religion of peace and that al-Qaida and its offshoots have “hijacked” that peaceable religion for purely political reasons.

In truth al-Qaida is but one expression of Islam — a religion as widespread and diverse across centuries and continents as Christianity or Buddhism — but by no means representative of all that Islam has to offer the world.

In this book, we shall explore the strands of violence, warfare and terrorism to be found across all the major religions — Buddhist killings of Muslims in Myanmar, Sikh separatist assassinations in India, Christian vs Muslim militias in Africa (with touches of cannibalism on both sides), Hindu mobs razing a Muslim temple, Jews attacking the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron… and the call, in each of these religions, for moderation and peace.

Christian contemplatives, Islamic Sufis, Taoist masters, Hindu yogis, Tibetan lamas, and Jewish mystics find common cause in a self-surrender to a power greater than themselves, a power which offers love as its highest goal, seeks justice balanced with mercy, and has compassion as its practical expression in the world. These religions do not merely teach peace, they show us how to find it in ourselves, and how to practice it in our lives.

The great and glorious beauties that the various religions have brought into this world offer us fruits of that contemplative love, foretastes of the Garden, the Paradise all religions proclaim. But there are landmines in that Garden. If we are to come to grips with the perils of religious terrorism and hate, we must understand religion’s potential for both violence and peace.

My book will refute the myths, expands our horizons, and offer reconciliation, beauty and hope.

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Your comments and suggestions for the book are most welcome.

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