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Mini-Recommended Reading

Top billing goes to a very tough post by Pundita:

Pundita –Would the U.S. pay Pakistan’s military to help murder American troops if the U.S. had military conscription? 

Through it all — throughout all the deceptions, denials, evasions, rationalizations and insultingly useless advice given over the years by Americans in civilian government, the military and academia — there is one question relating to U.S. tolerance for Pakistan’s proxy war against NATO and Afghanistan that towers above all others. And yet it’s the one question that has never been asked of a public figure. So in the title of this post I’ve put the question to the public.

I’d say the answer to the question is “Very unlikely.”

By this I don’t mean to shift blame to Americans at large, nor am I arguing to restore conscription. I’m simply pointing out that if service in the U.S. military was compulsory, there would have been such a large number of Americans personally involved in the outcome of the Afghan War that there would have been no ‘dark’ or ‘lost’ years in the war while the U.S. was fighting in Iraq. 

Combine this with the instant era in global communications, and I think the outcome would have been that factions in Washington that managed for the better part of a decade to hide Pakistan’s proxy war from the American public would have found their machinations quickly overwhelmed by the volume of complaints from conscripted Americans and their parents — many of those parents veterans of the Vietnam War, I might add.

This would have forced the U.S. news media to dig deeper and faster into the conditions that kept Pakistanis pouring across the Afghan-Pakistan border to kill Afghans and Americans and troops from other NATO countries. This would have quickly destroyed the rationalizations voiced by factions in Washington and Brussels that wanted to hand off Afghanistan to Pakistan’s junta, or which preferred to see American troops die as a tradeoff for what they term “geostrategic” reasons; e.g., keeping Russia off balance, placating Saudi Arabia, etc.

Again, I’m not arguing for conscription but I am asking whether it’s possible for the United States to field an all-volunteer fighting force that’s not treated as a mercenary army. The question needs to be answered. Unless you want to subscribe to the thesis I floated several weeks ago, which is that card-carrying fiends attached themselves to the U.S.-NATO prosecution of the Afghan War. By the way, my thesis does carry some weight. Let’s face it: even history’s most sadistic tyrants wouldn’t have paid a military to murder and maim the tyrant’s own troops.  Even Vlad the Impaler wouldn’t have thought of that one. ….


Militaries come in several forms, historically speaking. There are military castes like the Samurai, Spartans or the Janissaries; there are armies of citizen volunteers as with ancient Athens, ancient Rome or Washington’s Continental Army; there are armies built by conscription and finally there are professional mercenaries. Each kind of military has a different relationship with the political community from which it emerged and when a political community changes it’s form of military, this signals a change in the political community.

The Roman legions annihilated at Cannae by Hannibal were of a different character than the Roman legions lost by Emperor Valens under the hooves of Gothic heavy cavalry at Adrianople ( note which set of Romans had the systemic capability to recover and win). Richard Nixon is the father of our AVF and he initiated the transformation at the time for shrewd, self-interested, political reasons. One of those reasons was that a republican (small “r”) military composed of conscripts representing the broad population of American citizens was a politically difficult army to employ ruthlessly for reasons of state compared to a military with the ethos of professional soldiers.

Herein lies the root of the much remarked distance between the American public and the small fraction who are soldiers, sailors airmen and marines fighting wars on our behalf.

Milpub (seydlitz89) – The Death of COIN, or the Death of Strategic (“C”) Thought? 

….First, tactics has become the sole focus for the simple fact that the government has been loath to define what the actual political purposes/policy goals of the wars conducted were/are. This was particularly true for Iraq. The military was essentially given a list of propaganda themes (WMDs, overthrow a terrible dictator, inflict punishment for 9/11, ensure our security) and told that they were the political goals, when in reality the actual goals were the overthrow of the Iraqi government and the establishment of a US client state, bases for US force projection throughout the area, domination of Iraq’s national resources and economy. That US economic interests/corporate players botched the last two goals should come as no surprise. They were too busy chasing the no-risk war $$$ .

….Second and very much related to this was/is the assumption by US policy makers that force and violence were/are the preferred means of attaining their strategic (political) goals, and with the level of force and violence the US was/is able to wield, there was/is no question of failure. I include the present tense here to indicate that this dubious assumption is still very strong in spite of the obvious reality to the contrary. It is in fact driving our current policy in regards to Iran…..

Lexington Green –Vaclav Havel, 1936-2011


The Cold War didn’t have to end the way it did. The Communists could have won. Or it could have ended with a lot of big explosions. Instead it ended when a lot of people who had lived under Communist lies, oppression, stupidity, waste, pollution, hypocrisy, squalor and corruption stood up, risked getting their heads kicked in by the cops, and pushed the whole stinking pile of junk onto the ash heap of history.

Vaclav Havel was one of the guys who did the pushing.

Velvet Revolution, where as few people get killed as possible, is a great achievement.

Havel is one of the guys who made that happen.

1989 and the Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe already seems like something from ancient history to many people.

To me it seems like last week.

An entire disgraceful and brutal episode in our past is being sanitized and tossed down the memory hole.

Please do not forget the Soviet Union, do not forget the Cold War, do not forget Communism, do not forget the people who suffered under it, do not forget the people who opposed it, do not forget the people who wanted to give in to it, and who lied about it, do not forget the people who brought it all to an end.

Vaclav Havel, rest in peace.

Ribbonfarm– How the World Works: Part II 

….Let’s tackle World 3.0 next.

Ghemawat’s book is a tour de force of quantitative synthesis. Let’s start with an annotated version of the 2×2 that anchors World 3.0 (cleverly rotated by 45 degrees; I don’t know why other 2×2 inventors don’t do this)

This 2×2 is almost the only major piece of conceptual scaffolding in a book that is otherwise an empiricist’s delight. Everything is argued with numbers, and what cannot be argued with numbers is mostly not argued at all. It makes for a book with a lot of narrative potholes wherever the data gods to not smile, but where there is data, the book is extremely solid. It’s a refreshing change for me to read something that stays away from data-free speculation.

That’s it.




6 Responses to “Mini-Recommended Reading”

  1. seydlitz89 Says:


    Thanks for the mention.

    I was reading Lex’s post over at CBz and a specific memory came to mind.  Maybe I’ve told this one before, but I think it of interest.  Back in 1990 we had a Soviet Army officer come through.  He was a real catch, had worked in a specific design bureau and could provide a wealth of insight in something that up to then had been mostly conjecture.  My boss told me to have a short talk with him while he was waiting to get flown out and get something interesting that we could pass on, a story, a political joke, anything to tell my boss’s boss and thus show we’d got something out of the guy too.  That’s kinda how it worked back then with high-grade defectors.  And I had a rep for being able to get a couple of high value IIRs (Intel information reports) out of high grade sources before we shipped them west which made us look really good and pissed off every other collector down the line . . .

    So anyway I’m talking to this guy in English and he’s very friendly and talking away.  Tells me a couple of funny Russian jokes from the period which I noted down quickly to pass on.  It was time to leave, so I asked him one last question: what was the major difference he saw between the USSR and the USA?

    He said, “Twenty years”.   

  2. zen Says:

    Hi seydlitz,
    Good story. When systems become more complex than they need to be they waste more than they take in and start to break down. The USSR, aside from the bad economics, was not fixable because Stalin designed it to “work” using periodic applications of terror to break up incipient power centers and cause  ordinary ppl to live in fear. Once ppl realized that they were highly unlikely to be carted off in the night for being 5 minutes late to work by a corrupt elite, they worked as little as they could.
    Our problems are different and fixing our system is still possible but it is blocked primarily by elite corruption whose careers and class are advanced by the current downward spiral they have set in motion

  3. seydlitz89 Says:


    I think the rot predated that, was with their system all along.  Max Weber wrote circa 1917 that centrally planned economies operated at a great disadvantage since it was impossible to calculate how much something actually cost to produce, a loaf of bread for example.  That and by putting the government in charge of the economy, one was left with a single massive bureaucracy running the entire society, not just the state.  There is thus imo something very deterministic about the collapse of the USSR.  Still as Lex mentioned in his post it could have gone out with a bang instead of imploding in on itself.  We were lucky.

    As to the US, that Russian’s view in 1990 was that we were caught in something like the same deterministic spiral ending up in collapse.  Agree as to our dysfunctional elite and I don’t see many questioning the assumptions that have got us to this point.  The indicators as I see them are not very promising . . .

  4. zen Says:

    interesting. Ludwig von Mises came to the same conclusion regarding calculation and socialism as Weber around the same time – never knew Weber had dealt with that subject also, 

  5. seydlitz89 Says:

    Your comment on von Mises brought something to mind I had read some time ago . . .

    After World War I, Neurath’s ideas (concerning a socialist economy) were challenged by Ludwig von Mises in a now famous article which according to Hayek, was the first to successfully state the central problem of socialist economics: namely, that it is impossible to formulate effective prices without recourse to a capitalist market. Hayek also points out that Weber ‘arrived independently at very similar conclusions’.

    Richard Swedberg, Max Weber and the Idea of Economic Sociology, page 80.

    Great minds think alike . . . 😉 

  6. zen Says:

    They do. I wonder if the two men knew each other? The intellectual world was very small in that era, numbering in the hundreds, maybe low thousands even in sizable advanced nations. Fewer in backward states. And in this instance, Germany and Austria enjoyed a preeminent global place in scientific and scholarly inquiry. Most scientific papers were published in German then and Germans were overrepresented in physics, philosophy, mathematics and international law.

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