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New Book from SWJ! The Plutocratic Insurgency Reader

Friday, July 26th, 2019

[Mark Safranski / zen]

Plutocratic Insurgency Reader edited by Robert J. Bunker and Pamela Ligouri-Bunker

The newest book published by Small Wars Journal contains 376 pages of essays by 15 contributors, a foreword by Nils Gilman and conclusion by longtime criminal insurgency analyst John SullivanWhat is a “plutocratic insurgency” you ask?

According to Robert Bunker:

The plutocratic insurgency concept dates back to 2011 and has been influenced by earlier work done by John Robb (Onward to a Hollow State, 2008) and Nils Gilman (Deviant Globalization, 2010). As a theoretical construct, it was further inspired by the global street protests and demonstrations of the Occupy movement taking place during that period. Research on this topical area for its U.S. national security threat potentials has been conducted related to U.S. Department of Defense and Army programs, with a number of works produced or derivative of these efforts; Op-Ed: Not Your Grandfather’s Insurgency (2014), Global Criminal and Sovereign Free Economies and the Demise of the Western Democracies (2014), and Old and New Insurgency Forms (2016). Of these works, the “Foreword: The twin insurgency—facing plutocrats and criminals” written by Nils Gilman for the derivative 2014 edited book project—and reprinted online as The Twin Insurgency in The American Interest—is by far the best known and eloquent of these writings:

The defining feature of the plutocratic insurgency is its goal: to defund or de-provision public goods in order to defang a state that its adherents see as a threat to their prerogatives. (Note that, conceptually, plutocratic insurgencies differ from kleptocracies; the latter use the institutions of state to loot the population, whereas the former wish to neutralize those institutions in order to facilitate private-sector looting. In practice, these may overlap or co-mingle.) Practically speaking, plutocratic insurgency takes the form of efforts to lower taxes, which necessitates cutting spending on public goods; reducing regulations that restrict corporate action or protect workers; and defunding or privatizing public institutions such as schools, health care, infrastructure, and social space.

Review: Tolkien Maker of Middle-Earth

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

[mark safranski / “zen“]

See the source image

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth by Catherine McIlwaine

I have been a lifelong fan of The Lord of the Rings and of J.R.R. Tolkien generally, Tolkien being one of a small handful of writers who were formative influences in my youth and who remain favorites today. Therefore, I was quite pleased when Scott Shipman alerted me to the publication of Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth by Catherine McIlwaine. Other than Christopher Tolkien himself, there could not have be en a better author and editor of a retrospective look at Tolkien’s creation of Middle-Earth than McIlwaine, who is the longstanding Tolkien Archivist of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.  The book, which includes original essays by Tolkien scholars, including McIlwaine herself, is a companion catalog to the major exhibition of the extensive Tolkien collection held by Bodleian:

The Bodleian Library will publish Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth as a companion to the forthcoming exhibition of the same name on 1 June 2018.

The “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” exhibition will be held at the Weston Library, part of the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, from 1 June to 28 October 2018. It will feature an unprecedented array of Tolkien materials – manuscripts, paintings and maps – sourced from the Bodleian’s archive, Marquette University in Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and private collections.
According to The Bookseller, the companion book will be “the largest collection of material by J.R.R. Tolkien in a single volume”. It will also include “new” material, including draft manuscripts of The Hobbit, Middle-earth illustrations and paintings by Tolkien, and letters from admirers such as W.H. Auden, Joni Mitchell and Iris Murdoch.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth is both a serious addition to any Tolkienphile’s library as well as a 411 page coffee table book full of resplendent pictures of Tolkien’s handmade artwork, annotated maps, marginalia, correspondence with publishers and authors, calligraphic character sketches from the legendarium and photographs from J.R.R. Tolkien’s life, many published for the first time. The essays, by John Garth, Verlyn Flieger, Carl F. Hostetter, Tom Shippey, Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull as well as McIlwaine are thoughtful and reflective investigations and commentary on par with what readers would find in Philip and Carol Zaleski’s The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings. I particularly liked Shippey’s “Tolkien and that noble Northern spirit” and Garth’s ” Tolkien and the Inklings” but the entire catalog section contains informative and explanatory passages about the immense mythic legendarium that Tolkien created.

Friend of ZP, T. Greer has weighed in at The Scholar’s Stage with a superb post about the importance of J.R.R. Tolkien as a literary figure that is a must read for fans of Middle-Earth:

On The Tolkienic Hero

….Here I’ve sketched out an archetypal template. This is the template upon which the vast majority our era’s hero-tales are crafted. This is the story of Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Luke Skywalker, and Jack Ryan. It is Captain America and Spiderman. It is the central trope of science fiction, fantasy, international thrillers, super hero stories, and their “YA literature” counterparts. It is the myth that drives the imaginations of our times.

For all of this we have John Ronald Reuel Tolkien to thank. I am sympathetic to the argument that Tolkien is the seminal Anglophone author of the 20th century. Perhaps his literary craft is deft enough to deserves that title. Perhaps it is not. Either way I wager that in a few centuries time when our descendants’ literary memory has collapsed our age down to one author (as we have done with the ages of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton), Tolkien will be the man remembered. This is not just because Tolkien’s works have been fantastically popular, even decades after its first publication, and in cultural milieus quite divorced from its creation. Nor it is because in Tolkien we find the genesis of so many of our era’s most popular genres (fantasy, science fiction, role playing games, and so forth). Tolkien’s influence is both subtler and more fundamental than this. Tolkien redefined the way popular literature treats many of its most common themes. This post looks at only one of those themes, but I am comfortable with the contention that Tolkien’s work embodies an entire era’s way of understanding the world. It is hard to say if Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings actually created the central cultural currents of our age or if it is simply their most prominent and enduring incarnation. Either way, Tolkien’s work is here to stay.

Readers familiar with Lord of the Rings will immediately see the connections between my opening sketch and the tale of Tolkien’s ring-bearer. I am not going to devote an entire essay to this topic—a great deal has already been written about Tolkien’s conception of good and evil, power, corruption, innocence, and heroism, and I see no reason to repeat others’ feats here—but I will emphasize two points that deserve strong restatement.

The first point: An aversion to glory is not just the defining character trait of the novel’s central hero. The distinction between greatness and power as goods to be strived for versus greatness and power as burdens to be carried is the distinction that sets apart almost of all of the novel’s protagonists from their foils. It is the defining difference between Frodo and Smeagol, Faramir and Boromir, Aragorn and Denethor, and Gandalf and Saruman. The second trait saves Galadriel in exile; the first corrupts Sauron anew after his master’s defeat. If one is allowed to describe objects as foils, this same distinction sets Sauron’s rings, key to his strategy for corrupting Middle Earth, as a foil to the methods of the ‘wizards’ sent from Western lands to save Middle Earth….

Read the rest here.

Tolkien’s influence will be here to stay for many an age.

From the Bunker

Sunday, February 17th, 2019

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]
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Friend of ZP,  Dr. Robert Bunker had a few new publications lately with other Friend of ZP co-authors and I thought I would begin my return to semi-regular (or at least occasional) blogging by giving them a nod here. The first was run a few weeks ago at Small Wars Journal: 

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 13: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Command and Control (C2) Geographic Variations

by Robert Bunker and John Sullivan

Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) is a well-known and extremely violent street, and in Central America, prison gang with an estimated transnational membership of 50,000 to 70,000 individuals.[1] Essentially a transnational gang network, MS-13 maintains a relatively robust media presence due to its ongoing criminal activities within the United States, many of which have resulted in homicides and even torture killings, as the gang continues to expand into new communities in Texas and the East Coast of the United States. The gang is organized on a networked, i.e. biological (and/or software program) based model with open architecture ‘plug ins’ that utilize a cellular synapse/and open coding-like strategy that facilitates network linkages and alliances, i.e., interfaces with violent non-state actors (VNSAs). Such network interfaces and organizational schemes go by a number of terms including netwar (John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt) and open-source warfare (John Robb).[2] This note specifically looks at the C2 geographic variations of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) network in the United States, Mexico, and Central America (primarily El Salvador) and MS-13s interface with more powerful violent non-state actors (VNSAs) which result in localized hierarchical organizational expressions.

Read the rest here.

The second is a monograph at The Strategic Studies Institute:

Contemporary Chemical Weapons ... Cover Image

Contemporary Chemical Weapons Use in Syria and Iraq by the Assad Regime and the Islamic State 

This monograph focuses on an understudied, but yet a critically important and timely component of land warfare, related to the battlefield use of chemical weapons by contemporary threat forces. It will do so by focusing on two case studies related to chemical weapons use in Syria and Iraq by the Assad regime and the Islamic State. Initially, the monograph provides an overview of the chemical warfare capabilities of these two entities; discusses selected incidents of chemical weapons use each has perpetrated; provides analysis and lessons learned concerning these chemical weapons incidents, their programs, and the capabilities of the Assad regime and the Islamic State; and then presents U.S. Army policy and planning considerations on this topical areas of focus. Ultimately, such considerations must be considered vis-à-vis U.S. Army support of Joint Force implementation of National Command Authority guidance.

And finally, heading back to SWJ, a book – with Dave Dilegge, John Sullivan and Alma Keshavarz  :

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Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities

Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities provides a foundation for understanding urban operations and sustaining urban warfare research. This Small Wars Journal (SWJ) Anthology documents over a decade of writings on urban conflict. In addition to essays originally published at SWJ it adds new content including an introduction by the editors, a preface on “Blood and Concrete” by David Kilcullen, a foreword “Urban Warfare Studies” by John Spencer, a postscript “Cities in the Crossfire: The Rise of Urban Violence” by Margarita Konaev, and an afterword “Urban Operations: Meeting Challenges, Seizing Opportunities, Improving the Approach” by Russell W. Glenn. These essays frame the discussion found in the collection’s remaining 49 chapters. Blood and Concrete continues the legacy of Small Was Journal’s coverage of urban operations, conflict and combat.

Probably not this kind of megacity…..

See the source image

 

New Book: Strategy, Evolution and War

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen“]

Strategy, Evolution and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence by Kenneth Payne

This book by Kenneth Payne of King’s College  is newly released by Georgetown Press. I saw it mainly by chance while perusing my twitter feed and ordered a copy. At first glance, it looks very promising, albeit I have a bias toward cultural evolutionary frameworks. Perhaps it will get me more up to speed on the implications of Ai for emerging warfare.

Just thumbing through, Payne has a solid bibliography and some intriguing chapter and section headings. For example:

The Hoplite Revolution:Warriors, Weapons and Society
Passionate Statesmen and Rational Bands
The Ai Renaissance ad Deep Learning
Chimps are Rational Strategists, Contra Humans

Enough to whet the appetite. May discuss Strategy, Evolution and War further after I finish it.

What have you been reading in the realm of strategy or war lately?

REVIEW: Commander of the Faithful by John Kiser

Friday, March 30th, 2018

[Mark Safranski / “zen‘]

Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader by John Kiser  

A while back, I received a copy of Commander of the Faithful from friend of ZP, Major Jim Gant who had been impressed with the book and urged me to read it. My antilibrary pile of books is substantial and it took a while to work my way towards it. I knew a little about Algerian colonial history from reading about the French Third Republic, the Foreign Legion and counterinsurgency literature but the name of Abd el-Kader was obscure to me.  The author, John W. Kiser, had also written a book on the martyred Monks of Tibhirine, a topic that had previously caught the eye of Charles Cameron and made a significant impression. Therefore, I settled in to read a biography of a long forgotten desert Arab chieftain.

What a marvelous book!

Kiser’s fast-moving tale is of a man who attempted to forge from unwieldy tribes and two unwilling empires, a new nation grounded in an enlightened Islam that transcended tribal customs ad corrupt legacies of Ottoman misrule while resisting encroachments of French imperial power. A Sufi marabout who was the son of a marabout, el Kader was the scholar who picked up the sword and whose call to jihad eschewed cruelty and held that piety and modernity were compatible aspirations for the feuding tribes of the Mahgreb. There are a number of themes or conflicts in Commander of the Faithful that will interest ZP readers;

el-Kader’s political effort to build a durable, modernizing, Islamic state and Mahgreb nation from feuding desert tribes and clans

Abd el-Kader struggled to unify disparate Arab tribes and subtribes through piety, generosity and coercion while integrating Turco-Arabs and Algerian Jews who had a place under the old Ottoman regime into his new order. Jews like the diplomat Judas Ben Duran and Christian French former military officers and priests became  el-Kader’s trusted advisers and intermediaries alongside Arab chieftains and Sufi marabouts.

el-Kader the insurgent strategist and battlefield tactician

As a military leader, Abd el-Kader demonstrated both a natural talent for cavalry tactics as well as the organizational skill to build a small, but well-disciplined regular infantry with modern rifles on the European model. It is noteworthy, that while Abd el-Kader suffered the occasional reverse (the worst at the hands of a wily Arab warlord loyal to the French) the French generals fighting him all came to grudgingly respect his bravery, honor and skill. Never defeated, Abd el-Kader made peace with the French and surrendered voluntarily; all of his former enemies, Generals Lamoriciere, Damaus, Bugeaud and Changarnier interceded on al-Kader’s behalf to prod the French government to keep its promises to the Amir, who had become a celebrity POW in a series of French chateaus.

el-Kader the Islamic modernizer and moral figure

The 19th century was a time of intellectual ferment in the Islamic world from Morocco to British India with the prime question being the repeated failures of Islamic authorities in the face of European imperialism of the modern West. El-Kader found different answers than did the Deobandis of India, the Wahhabis of Arabia, the later Mahdists of the Sudan, the followers of al-Afghani or the Young Turks who began turning toward secularism. Educated in the Sufi tradition, el-Kader’s vision of Islam, while devout and at times strict, encompassed a benevolent tolerance and respect for “the People of the Book” and general humanitarianism far in advance of the times that is absent in modern jihadism.

It was Abd el-Kader, in retirement in Damascus, who rallied his men to protect thousands of Christians from being massacred in a bloody pogrom (the 1860 Riots) organized by the Ottoman governor, Ahmed Pasha, using as his instrument two local Druze warlords who were angry about their conflict with the Maronite Christians of Mount Lebanon and Sunni Arabs and Kurds enraged about the Ottoman reforms that had ended the dhimmi status of the Maronite Christians. It was the Emir who faced down and chastised a howling mob as bad Muslims and evildoers and by his actions thousands of lives were spared. Already honored for his chivalrous treatment of prisoners and his banning of customary decapitation as barbarous, the 1860 Riots cemented Abd El-Kader’s reputation for humanitarianism and made him an international figure known from the cornfields of Iowa to the canals of St. Petersburg.

Kiser, who it must be said keeps the story moving throughout, is at pains to emphasize the exemplary moral character of Abd el-Kader. As Emir, he “walked the walk” and understood the connection between his personal asceticism, probity and generosity to his enemies and the poor and his political authority as Emir. When some Arab tribes betrayed Abd El-Kader in a battle against the French, consequently they were deeply shamed and ended up begging the Emir to be allowed to return to his service. On the occasions when harsh punishments had to be dealt out, Abd el-Kader meted them not as examples of his cruelty to be feared but as examples of justice to deter unacceptable crimes that he would swiftly punish.  This is operating at what the late strategist John Boyd called “the moral level of war”, allowing Abd el-Kader to attract the uncommitted, win over observers, rally his people and demoralize his opponents. Even in defeat, realizing the hopelessness of his position against the might of an industrializing great imperial power that was France. el-Kader retained the initiative, ending the war while he was still undefeated and on honorable terms.

In Commander of the Faithful, Kiser paints el-Kader in a romantic light, one that fits the mid 19th century when concepts of honor and chivalry still retained their currency on the battlefield and society, among the Europeans as much as the Emir’s doughty desert tribesmen (if there is any group that comes off poorly, it is the Turks, the dying Ottoman regime’s pashas and beys providing a corrupt and decadent contrast to el-Kader’s nascent Islamic state). The nobility of Abd el-Kader shines from Kiser’s text, both humble and heroic in a manner that rarely sees a 21st century analogue. It is both refreshing and at times, moving to read of men who could strive for the highest ethical standards while engaged in the hardest and most dangerous enterprise.

Strongly recommended.

 


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