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Quick notes on intelligent intelligence, 2

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on a quote from my fellow whacky Brit, Geoffrey Pyke ]


Whacky? From a short description of the man by his biographer, Henry Hemming:

Geoffrey Pyke, an inventor, war reporter, escaped prisoner, campaigner, father, educator–and all-around misunderstood genius. In his day, he was described as one of the world’s great minds, to rank alongside Einstein, yet he remains virtually unknown today. Pyke was an unlikely hero of both world wars and, among many other things, is seen today as the father of the U.S. Special Forces. He changed the landscape of British pre-school education, earned a fortune on the stock market, wrote a bestseller and in 1942 convinced Winston Churchill to build an aircraft carrier out of reinforced ice. He escaped from a German WWI prison camp, devised an ingenious plan to help the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and launched a private attempt to avert the outbreak of the Second World War by sending into Nazi Germany a group of pollsters disguised as golfers.


And for good measure, here’s Jami Miscik on oddballs:

To truly nurture creativity, you have to cherish your contrarians and give them opportunities to run free. Leaders in the analytic community must avoid trying to make everyone meet a preconceived notion of the intelligence community’s equivalent of the “man in the gray flannel suit.”

and Reuel Marc Gerecht:

And the service can ill-afford to lose creative personnel with a high tolerance for risk.

It’s a sad fact that the folks who are in government, especially in the “elite” services of the CIA and the State Department, aren’t what they used to be. They are, to be blunt, less interesting. There are vastly fewer “characters” -— the unconventional, often infuriating, types who give institutions color and competence.


Okay, here’s Geoffrey Pyke in his own capital letters:


And why does that interest me?

Well first, today it corroborates my comment just now on David Barno and Nora Bensahel and the importance of their suggestion that “The Army should also reinstate the requirement for every career officer to develop skills in two specialties.”

And then second, because I have been saying for a while that:

Two is the first number

and quoting along the way Aristotle, Jung, and the tenth-century Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’..


For these reasons, and with a hat-tip to Bryan Alexander, I cherish the contrarian intelligence of Mr Pyke.

Easter Sunday surprise

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — rising from the dead: sacred & secular, natural & military, past & future ]

tablet dq ghost fleet easter

The story of the mostly wooden ships featured in the upper image of this DoubleQuote, is an intriguing one:

On the Maryland side of the Potomac, in the rural community of Nanjemoy, you’ll find a sheltered cove called Mallows Bay. The sandy bluffs and dense stands of ash and pine resemble many other quiet spots along the river. But there’s something in the water: the largest ship graveyard in North America.

How’d it get there? Well, in the final years of World War I, the Allies found themselves short on sea-power: German submarines had taken a heavy toll. With ample timber reserves, Americans hit on a plan to make up the losses by building hundreds of wooden steamships. The U.S. government doled out contracts, and a building frenzy ensued.

But the war ended sooner than expected, leaving officials with the peculiar problem of what to do with its unused (and now unwanted) armada. Riding at anchor in Widewater, Virginia, the hastily assembled fleet posed a hazard to shipping traffic and a nuisance to fishermen, so the decision was made to move most of the ships across the river to the secluded Mallows Bay.

The fleet—and the Mallows Bay property itself—changed hands through a succession of salvage companies that tried everything to get rid of the ships: sinking them, beaching them, burning them, burying them, and taking them apart nail by nail. No one managed to turn much profit or to finish the job—and in the process of trying, they made a junkyard of the once pristine river cove.

But in the decades that followed, writes historian Donald G. Shomette, nature took its course.”The years rolled by and the battlefield contours of Mallows Bay softened, as wind-borne seeds took root in the rich, soil-filled holds of burnt-out ships, as creatures large and small began to return, as the green chain of life was slowly reforged.”


Donald G. Shomette‘s book is titled Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay: And Other Tales of the Lost Chesapeake, and I came across it today discovering this DoubleTweet

— with its two striking and very different visuals and links to two articles, each with its headline The ‘ghost fleet’ graveyard where nature has risen from the dead.


So that’s the past, and the link to Easter lies in the wording of that headline: risen from the dead.

But there’s also the future, nicely represented in the lower panel at the head of this post by PW Singer and August Cole‘s novel, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War.

As I suggested in my comment at the top of this post — rising from the dead: sacred & secular, natural & military, past & future. I wish you a blessed Easter if such may be found in your calender, and a happy future to the extent possible in any case.

We’re a legacy industry in a world of start-up competitors

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]

chautauqua haqqani daveed


From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”

I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:

Amb. Haqqani:

None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.

You’ll see how neatly this fits with my recent post on borders, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.

Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..


If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.

Daveed G-R:

In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.

Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.


The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us

a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities

— down to our own times.

Amb. Haqqani:

What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.

The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:

Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.

Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.


Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.

Daveed G-R:

The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.

And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being real – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.


Amb. Haqqani:

The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.

This makes a nice DoubleQuote with Gabriel Marcel‘s more general aphorism:

Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.


Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..

Daveed G-R:

Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?

He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:

Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.

— and had the final, pointed word:

We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.


Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:

A Bit of Summer Reading

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

[by J. Scott Shipman]

dead wakestraight to hellGhost Fleet

The Fate of a ManBachCalvin Coolidge


Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

Straight to Hell, True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion Dollar Deals, by John Lefevre

Ghost Fleet, A Novel of The Next Work War, by P.W. Singer & August Cole

The Fate of a Man, by Mikhail Sholokhov

BACH, Music in the Castle of Heaven, by Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, by John Derbyshire

The summer of 2015 for me is becoming memorable for the diversity of the books making it into my queue through unexpected circumstances. Larson’s Dead Wake was an surprise gift from a neighbor familiar with my professional pursuits. I read “Wake” in two sittings and it is superb. Larson puts faces on the victims, and highlights the politics from both sides of the Atlantic, to include the German U-boat commander responsible for the sinking. This tragedy reads like a novel and is wicked good.

Last year my son turned me on to the feed of @GSElevator on Twitter. I would have never read this book  had I not become a fan of Mr. Lefevre’s decidedly politically incorrect sense of humor. With over 700k followers on Twitter he created an instant potential market and I bit. Straight to Hell is an entertaining irreverent look at the top of the banking profession, and is not for the faint of heart—and very funny.

Ghost Fleet is one of the most anticipated techno-thrillers in recent memory. Singer and Cole have spun a good yarn of how a future world war between the USA and China/Russia. While the book is a page turner, the authors thankfully sourced their technology assertions in 22 pages of notes! A great resource for a very good book. One could quibble over lack of character development, but this book is driven more by technological wizardry and is a fun and instructive read.

Fate of Man was recommended either at a blog or in blog comments—I don’t remember. This tiny but poignant book (it is more a bound short story) provides the reader with a glimpse of the hardships and sacrifices in Russia post WWII. Torture and suffering on a scale foreign to 99.9% of those living in the modern Western world.

BACH was a birthday gift, and I would like to report I have finished Gardiner’s masterpiece, but that may take some time (I’m at page 330). Gardiner shares insights on JS Bach’s life and music, and while I have over forty Bach recordings in my iTunes account, this lovely book is introducing a massive body of Bach’s cantata work—over 200 and I’m unfamiliar with most. My method has been to read Gardiner’s description of the piece, then find a recording on YouTube. Unfortunately, Gardiner does not discuss one of my all-time favorite Bach Cantatas Ascension Oratorio BWV-11 (the last five minutes are simply divine).

Finally, the Calvin Coolidge book came to me via CDR Salamander in a Facebook thread. As a fan of Coolidge and Derbyshire, I grabbed a copy and I’m glad I did. Derbyshire has written a sweet and insightful story of love, betrayal, and redemption, all the while providing the reader a frightening description of China’s cultural revolution.

My China study continues, adding Edward Rice’s Mao’s Way, along with CAPT Peter Haynes’ Towards a New Maritime Strategy: American Naval Thinking on the Post-Cold War Era—-both are thus far very good. Also thanks to a friend, I recently spent some quality time with the late master naval strategist, Herbert Rosinski’s The Development of Naval Thought. This is my third or fourth pass through a very good little book.  If naval strategy holds any interest, this little book is not to be missed.

Are you reading any unusual titles?

The Second Coming: insight as fact and poetry

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — witnessing the second and third order effects of the blood-dimmed tide, almost a century later ]

Something which identifies itself as “Fact” apparently says:

I submit that “Poetry” said it better:


Let’s give Yeats’ comment a little of its context:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

The whole poem, The Second Coming, is a notoriously difficult one, and almost demands that one read the poet’s A Vision (perhaps both the 1925 first and 1937 second versions) — and yet the eight opening lines — such insight, such power:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


Where does one turn for hope in such a world as Yeats, writing in 1919, just short of a century ago, both saw and foresaw?

What if the best regain conviction?

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