Nov 24

Our nation doesn’t understand its heroes. Just ask Marcus Luttrell (from Lone Survivor):

“It’s been an insidious progression, the criticisms of the U.S. Armed Forces from politicians and from the liberal media, which knows nothing of combat, nothing of our training...”

“Knows nothing”? Maybe that was true when Luttrell co-wrote Lone Survivor, but as we wrote in “The Loudest "Quiet Professionals" Start Screaming: Hollywood Edition” and “The Political Navy SEAL” , the media can’t get enough of SEALs. These “quiet professionals” have become stars, especially in the “mainstream media” (though we hate that term).

60 Minutes has led the charge on glorifying SEALs. In the last few years, On V favorite Scott Pelley has done two stories about SEALs. In the first, he--like every other reporter on the planet--reported on the Osama bin Laden raid. However, he followed this story with another in-depth piece about this SEAL rescue. Lara Logan has gotten in on the action too. And 60 Minutes did a story on Luttrell. None were critical of SEALs at all.

Then there is the whole sub-genre of SEAL articles just about killing Osama bin Laden. Esquire featured the most notorious version with “The Shooter”, with some odd sections about why “the shooter” doesn’t have health care. (Another “shooter” also recently outed himself.) ABC News also featured another SEAL explaining why they shot Osama on sight. Vanity Fair’s Mark Bowden published an entire book on the subject, and compared his writing to Mark Owen’s book No Easy Day. Peter Bergen questioned “The Shooter”’s accuracy as well on CNN. Another “shooter” also recently outed himself, again no one can really prove if he did or didn’t do the job. He also gave a talk last year at a Republican fundraiser.

But what if you prefer reading and avoiding the mainstream media? How will you ever find books about the Navy SEALs? You won’t. The SEALs are just too damn secretive.

Unless, of course, the Navy grants access to a photographer. Take this contradictory passage from an article by NBC News. The article opens with the lines, “Since the U.S. Navy began its special Sea, Air, Land Teams, commonly known as the U.S. Navy SEALs, in 1962, little about them has been made public. That was on purpose.” Then a few paragraphs later...

“Mathieson has spent the last six years photographing and researching the SEALs. He recently published a definitive book on the SEALS with David Gatley titled, United States Naval Special Warfare/U.S. Navy SEALs. This is not an outsider’s peek inside the SEALs. Rather, Mathieson was given unique access to the inner workings of the secretive group because the Navy blessed his project.

Not so secretive, is it? It’s okay, the Washington Times used almost the exact same words to describe Mathieson’s book. (As if they read the same press release...) (H/T to Abu Muqawama.)

If you need more reading, USA Today gives you seven more options on books by SEALs recently released, including...

- Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior by Rorke Denver

- SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper by Howard E. Wasdin

- Inside SEAL Team Six: My Life and Missions With America’s Elite Warriors by Don Man

- Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown by Eric Blehm

- Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson

- The Red Circle: My Life in the Navy SEAL Sniper Corps and How I Trained America’s Deadliest Marksmen by Brandon Webb

And they didn’t even include A Captain’s Duty, American Sniper, SEAL Target Geronimo or Luttrell’s second book Service.

Our point isn’t that Navy SEALs aren’t quiet professionals. The vast, vast majority are; they go about their service without writing about it, even after they get out.

Some SEALs, though, are ruining that for the rest.

Nov 21

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of the Year so far", please click here.)

Last January, knee deep in Google traffic from people searching for the facts about Lone Survivor, some readers started sending us scoops. (Most of which we didn’t have the time to investigate.) One of those scoops came from a soldier who served in Bowe Bergdahl's unit, asking us to spread the word about Bergdahl’s desertion.

We didn’t investigate the matter any further, because Michael Hastings nailed it in a story for Rolling Stone on Bergdahl. (Though Hastings used Bergdahl’s desertion as a platform to criticize the war in Afghanistan in general, which felt out of place.)

It didn’t matter, though, because a few months later, President Obama arranged a prisoner swap with the Taliban for Bergdahl. Surprisingly for myself (Eric C), an avowed liberal, I ended up agreeing with Fox News, spending a week thinking that President Obama really screwed up.

Bergdahl deserted his unit; you just can’t do that. And for Obama to host a Rose Garden ceremony announcing his release, that’s just bad politics. I was actually pretty excited; I don’t find myself agreeing with the far right all that often, so I prided myself on my lack of bias. And as the right worked itself into a lather, I joined them, asking all the tough questions, like…

- Why would we free five prisoners for just one of ours?

- Why send hardened terrorists back to the battle field?

- We negotiated with terrorists?

- Can the President release Taliban/Al Qaeda prisoners?

- Six to eight soldiers died looking for Bergdahl?

- His dad has a terrorist beard?

- Why would Obama call Bergdahl a “hero”?

But then the answers started coming...

Why would we free five prisoners for just one of ours?

Michael C corrected me on this point: I wasn’t looking at the issue from the right perspective. In numeric terms, the deal sucked. But percentage-wise, it’s a really good deal. America got 100% of its prisoners of war back in exchange for less than 1% of theirs.

If you look at it that way, this deal makes sense.

Why send hardened terrorists back to the battle field?

Oops! As Michael C covered yesterday, that just isn’t the case. And as the Afghan Analysts Network and the LA Times pretty clearly debunked, only one of the prisoners we exchanged for Bergdahl could be described as a hardened war criminal. The rest were bureaucrats.

To which you might say, “One war criminal is too many.” But that’s not what the media told us.

We negotiated with terrorists?

We didn’t negotiate with terrorists; we negotiated with an opposing army. We’re at war with the Taliban...of course we’d negotiate with the group we’re at war with.

Others have made this connection before. My connection would be to the larger, philosophical and lexicographical issues we’ve been writing about for months. If America is at war with terrorists--or savages or barbarians or primitives--then we can’t negotiate with them.

Which means these wars will never end.

Can the President release Taliban/Al Qaeda prisoners?

Well, President Bush did it as well. Hmm. Fox News didn’t really mention this. Legally, as Zach Beauchamp at Vox writes, the jury is out and may never come in.

Six to eight soldiers died looking for Bergdahl?

This is probably the most disturbing aspect of this story. Even the Salon article I linked to earlier--which debunked myths about Bergdahl’s release--inaccurately claimed that six to eight soldiers died looking for him.

The New York Times debunks the story pretty handedly:

“But a review of casualty reports and contemporaneous military logs from the Afghanistan war shows that the facts surrounding the eight deaths are far murkier than definitive--even as critics of Sergeant Bergdahl contend that every American combat death in Paktika Province in the months after he disappeared, from July to September 2009, was his fault…

“Two soldiers died during the most intense period of the search after Sergeant Bergdahl’s June 30 disappearance. Both were inside an outpost that came under attack, not out patrolling and running checkpoints looking for him. The other six soldiers died in late August and early September.”

So let me restate that: the information about Bergdahl’s release was so bad that even articles debunking myths about his release contained myths about his release.

His dad has a terrorist beard?

I’m not even going to dignify this one with a response, but The Daily Show handled it pretty well. (Min. 3:00)

Why would Obama call Bergdahl a “hero”?

The myth that started it all and it isn’t even true. I really thought Obama had used those words, but check out the transcript of the event. It’s not there. (I only found this out trying to search for a quote to use against President Obama in the introduction of this post.)

How did I get this impression? Because news reports asked whether Bergdahl was a “hero” or a “traitor”, despite very few people outside of Bergdahl’s hometown using that word.

- The CNN article, “Fellow soldiers sall Bowe Bergdahl a deserter, not hero” doesn’t have an example of someone calling him a hero.

- Howard Kurtz on (Where else?) Fox News, wrote “The president has also refused to walk back the initial casting of Bowe Bergdahl as a hero...” Except the President didn’t need to; he didn’t use that word.

- An NBC News’ headline asked, “Bowe Bergdahl: Is The Freed Soldier a Hero or Deserter?” despite the fact that only his hometown supporters claimed he was one.

- Time’s sub-headline asked, “What began as an uplifting tale of a rescued hero has become a political headache for President Obama. Did the White House oversell the controversial deal for Bowe Bergdahl?” And then didn’t use the word “hero” in the rest of the article.

So you’d be forgiven if you thought Democrats and President Obama were casting Bergdahl as a hero, even though they didn’t. (To be fair, Susan Rice said he served with honor and distinction, but that still mischaracterizes the issue.)

So, if you’re following the tone of this post, I’m no longer on the Fox News side of things on the Bergdahl swap. A Republican party that vehemently disagrees with the President saw an opportunity to score cheap political points, and did everything they could to drive the point home, including misusing and abusing the facts in the case.

Unfortunately, I have feeling the mistakes, distortions and lies will stick in the public’s mind, rather than the truth.

Nov 17

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of the Year so far", please click here.)

Earlier this year, the entire world became (rightfully) enraged when an obscure terrorist organization kidnapped approximately three hundred girls because they went to school.

Since we avoid “chasing the news”, we haven’t written about Boko Haram yet. But this story perfectly connects to many of the things we’ve been writing about recently. Without further ado, six (hopefully unique) thoughts:

1. The world is getting safer...because of technology. In other words, Genghis Khan would not like Twitter.

How many women did Genghis Khan and his army rape and kidnap? I’d guess it was over 300. But without a modern media/social media apparatus and travel technology, his crimes went unrevenged by Europe.

I tend to question most assertions about how the modern world is different than the world of the past, specifically generational biases. The exception to this rule is technology, which can create lasting change. And this crisis, like many others, proves that our interconnected world--both through data and travel--makes getting away with dastardly acts of violence much, much harder. The whole world can observe, judge and, eventually, destroy you.

And that’s exactly what happened to Boko Haram. Even ten years ago, this focus and outrage would not have been possible. (Remember the Second Congo War? No seriously, do you remember the civil war in Congo, because no one does despite the deaths of millions.) Boko Haram kidnapped 300 girls and did a pretty good job (with an assist from the Nigerian government) of keeping it quiet. Still the world found out. Then the world turned their attention to their misdeeds and debated how to respond. They even got Americans to care about something that happened in sub-Saharan Africa, a region America often ignores.

At least for a few weeks...

2. Damn, we just cannot keep up with areas of the world where America will go to war.

We’ve been writing about this a lot recently, but how many countries (or stateless terror groups) does America have to fight? In a weird, not really accurate way, we can connect Boko Haram to the Global War on Terror, even though they had nothing to do with 9/11.

But that’s just one incident of at least three this year. Russia invaded Crimea, And then Nigeria became the focus. And when we wrote the first draft of this post, Iraq hadn’t descended into chaos yet again.

So we were going/not going to war in Ukraine, then Nigeria, and now Iraq, in the space of three months, and I haven’t even mentioned the civil war in Syria or Iran’s nuclear program. It feels like a bit much. Does America’s military really have to play a role in each of these conflicts?

3. Does this attention actually help Boko Haram?

At first glance, no. They pissed off America, and America is the boss. The world’s super cop. It’s Superman. I tuned into an episode of PRI’s The World mid-segment discussing Boko Haram, and I heard this:

Marco Werman: Could you argue that this attention could ultimately weaken Boko Haram?

Zeynep Tufekci: The attention within Nigeria and the condemnation could definitely weaken Boko Haram.   

Great, I thought, this focus could take this group down, as I just argued above. But then I heard the next part:

“...could be countered if {Boko Haram] get a new unpopular enemy that they can pretend they're fighting against, or that they can create this 'Oh, look, we're fighting the Great Satan…”

So, ethically, one could make the argument that to save Eastern Ukrainians, innocent Syrians, the Kurds, the Shiites in Iraq, and Nigerian civilians, America’s military must intervene and go to war in Syria, Iraq, the Ukraine and Nigeria…

Except that every time we do, there are unexpected consequences. Like elevating a terror group to the level of “super terrorists”...

4. Or as Marc Lynch puts it, America shouldn’t give this group primacy.

By going after Boko Haram, we’re legitimizing them on the global stage. We’re giving fanatical young Muslims a new, hipper terrorist group to join. (Though ISIS pushed Boko Haram off the stage pretty quickly.)

The best analogy, to explain this process, comes from Marc Lynch. When The Game attacked Jay-Z (the most powerful rapper in the country, or rap’s “hegemonic” power) Lynch counseled Jay-Z to ignore the attacks. At its best, it would give The Game legitimacy and publicity. For the full take, read the original article and its follow ups, but this snippet summarizes the point:

“My basic argument was that Jay-Z handled his hegemonic position by exercising restraint, declining to engage in most provocations in order to avoid being trapped in endless, pointless battles. Jay-Z battling the Game would have risked being dragged down into combating an endless and costly insurgency with little real upside. Better for the hegemon to show restraint, be self-confident, and to carefully nurture a resilient alliance structure to underpin leadership.”

Can you think of any country (**cough** America **cough**) that needs this advice?

6. Not a trend, just a singular data point.

Well, it depends where you are looking. In Nigeria, the kidnapped girls probably do represent an increase in kidnappings and violence. However, finding accurate data is difficult. FiveThirtyEight received a lot of blowback from their article using media reports of kidnappings to chart the rise, because it failed to account for the growth of media in the country.

On a larger level, it is hard to connect this kidnapping to a larger trend of increasing violence in the world or violence against women. I mean, the world now holds global conferences condemning sexual violence in war, and it has even tried a war criminal (unsuccessfully) for allowing rape by his units. This kidnapping doesn’t represent a growing trend, just a single data point.

Nov 13

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of the Year so far", please click here.)

When the US exchanged five Afghan detainees for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, the news coverage might have scared you into thinking President Obama made a future terror attack more likely. Senator John McCain called them five “vicious and violent” Taliban who he worries will attack the U.S. again. Dexter Filkins on the New Yorker’s “Political Scene” podcast called them “bad guys”. And Bret Stephens on Fareed Zakaria GPS described them as “five hardened Taliban commanders”.

To all the hand wringers terrified that President Obama released five hardened terrorists who want nothing more than to kill Americans as soon as possible, I ask you this: if I can promise you that these five men will never kill Americans in America, will that make you feel better?

Because I promise, right now, that the five Taliban prisoners will never kill anyone in America.

How can I make such a bold promise when the media has breathlessly repeated rumors and leaks from intelligence officials/Congress persons about these dangerous Taliban? For a couple of reasons…

1. Terrorism is not insurgency. Calling the Taliban prisoners “terrorists” is extremely disingenuous, as we have written about before. And mentioned a dozen times since. When Americans think “terrorism” they think non-state groups attacking civilians--the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, Oklahoma City, 9/11, the London Subway bombings. Only a smaller group--that has included the State Department, the CIA and the DoD--believe that insurgents fighting U.S. forces in their own countries count as terrorists. Doesn’t it seem odd to call an attack on a soldier deployed to a country in the midst of a civil war an act of terrorism?

Beyond semantics, the former Taliban officials released in the Bergdahl deal have very little interest in attacking the U.S. homeland. Al Qaeda conducted 9/11, not the Taliban. Since 9/11--and even after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and propped up a new government--there hasn’t been a single Taliban terror attack on U.S. soil. There hasn’t even been evidence of an attempted attack. The Taliban wants to govern Afghanistan, not attack the U.S.

2. Oh, and for good measure, terrorism is still incredibly rare. The media’s focus on rare and unusual events skews Americans’ perspective on the frequency of terrorism. Looking at the long term trends, I can say with a fair bit of confidence that there won’t be another terror attack on the U.S. just simply because it is so rare in the first place. (And even rarer for Taliban-led terror attacks.) For good measure, check out how many Americans died by gun violence since Bowe Bergdahl was released. The threat to Americans is gun violence, cancer, traffic accidents and other less shocking events.

3. The intelligence on the “terrorists” wasn’t great to begin with. I wrote an entire series on this, but I’ll be blunter with it this time: everyone in America--starting with President Obama and moving down to Joe Six Pack on the street--needs to question the accuracy of U.S. intelligence. U.S. intelligence isn’t peer reviewed, doesn’t use devil’s advocates, and doesn’t correct past mistakes. It often rushes to judgement and is spun to win the PR news cycle. Of course, this is exacerbated by…   

4. The media using “unnamed intelligence sources”. Too many journalists relied on “off the record” intelligence sources to paint the Guantanamo detainees as hardened terrorists. Without having to put their names to it, these same “unnamed sources” could skew the coverage to support their political viewpoints.

And political pressure often distorts the findings, as we’ve discovered multiple times this century.

5. Only one prisoner could be described as a war criminal. As the Afghan Analysts Network has reported, only one of the five has been linked to war crimes and specific violence. The rest were in civilian posts or not controlling ground troops prior to the U.S. invasion. Many also lack terror or insurgent experience, as opposed to government positions. And again, except for one individual, most lack violent histories.

Of course, you could come to this conclusion when the “intelligence” on the five men was poor in the first place. Most of the intelligence was gathered in the invasion by CIA officers without extensive knowledge (yet) of Afghanistan. Most of it contains unsupported assertions, and the Afghan Analysts Network debunked many of the reports. Yet, we never would have seen these reports except for the unauthorized release by Wikileaks. While an outside group debunked the reports very quickly, it never would have happened internally in the intelligence community.

These were five men involved in an insurgency, who weren’t really fighters in the first place, and terrorism is still incredibly rare. Americans have nothing to worry about.

Nov 10

 To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2014", click on the articles below:

- The Five Taliban Exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl...In Context

- Genghis Khan Would Hate Twitter and 5 Other Thoughts on Boko Haram

- Eric C Ventures to the (Fox News) Dark Side: 7 Myths About the Bowe Bergdahl Prisoner Swap

 

Unlike 2012 and 2013, foreign affairs has dominated the news this year.

First, the world watched the crisis in Crimea, which expanded to the Ukraine as a whole. We’d love to comment more extensively, but--like Syria last year--we’re not experts on Russia so we’re holding off for now.

Next, Eric C was detachedly fascinated with the kidnapping of school girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria. (Detachedly because neither of us breathlessly follow the cable channels, just because they so often get the analysis wrong in the short term. We’d rather read longer articles.) He was fascinated that pundits couldn’t stop talking about Nigeria when it had so little impact on the lives of everyday Americans. Like Iran, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq (now), North Korea, and Egypt in the last few years, as soon as news coverage focused a light on the problem, people in Washington D.C. started discussing intervention.

Earlier this year, Michael C couldn’t stop fielding questions about Bowe Bergdahl. Everyone it seemed, wanted to know, “What do you think?”

At first, his answer was a giant, “Eh.” Most everyone in the military knew/suspected Bergdahl had walked off his base back in 2009. At the same time, Michael C assumed everyone would still want to get Bergdahl back. And no, On Violence was not worried about a Homeland-esque scenario playing out. That’s a fictional television show.

But--as often happens when we both reflect after the fact--some ideas percolated. Like the insistence that the Taliban prisoners released for Bergdahl would become terrorists that would strike the U.S. in the future. Or the idea that the kidnapping in Nigeria represents a growing trend of Islamic militancy. So we stored both events as candidates for "On V’s Most Thought Provoking Event of the Year.

Then Iraq fell apart. (Spoiler alert: that’s our most thought-provoking event of the year. Unless some absolutely devastating catastrophe occurs between now and then.)

When enough news events pack the beginning of a year, sometimes we like to turn them into our, “On Violence Most Thought Provoking Event of the Year So Far”. So this week we have thoughts on Bowe Bergdahl and Boko Haram.

Enjoy.

Nov 06

Usually when we write our updates, we link to the individual articles we are updating. Today, consider all these articles updates to our posts on the statistics of terrorism. By statistics, we mean terrorism’s remarkable rarity in modern life. (And since many of these links are old, we don’t even consider the statistical insignificance of ISIS.)

Putting the Boston Bombing in Perspective

As we wrote back in “Our response to an ‘On the Media’ Question”, terrorism is incredibly rare. (Particularly, check out Chris Hayes’ take.) Due to its rarity, spending large sums of money to stop it makes very, very little economic sense. This Bruce Schneier piece about the Boston Marathon bombings, which re-examines the evidence surrounding the likelihood of terrorism, helps make that case. Even better, Schneier lays out why, from a behavioral and psychological perspective, Americans overreact to rare events like terrorism. (H/T to Andrew Sullivan.) Conor Friederdorf, also at the Atlantic, pleads for similar sanity here.

That won’t stop the main argument that drives terrorism spending, though...

Why Does the Government need to spy on everyone? Because we live in a dangerous world.

This line stuck out to me in an op-ed from last year in the The LA Times by career intelligence analyst Andrew Liepman [bolding mine]:

“But those following the Snowden saga should understand two key points. First, though many things need to be kept secret in today's dangerous world, the line between "secret" and "not secret" is fuzzy rather than stark, and if the goal is security, the harsh truth is that we should often err toward more secrets rather than fewer…”

First, semantically, one can either write “we live in a more dangerous world” or “a less dangerous world”. You can’t write “We live in a dangerous world” because we just live in the world. By writing “dangerous”, he obviously means, “more dangerous than before 9/11”. And as we’ve written about before and will continue to write in the future: this isn’t the case.

The world is safer than it has ever been, and continues to get safer. If you’re going to argue that we need to keep more secrets, not less, you need to prove that the world is more dangerous.

Holy Crap! A Bag!

The guys at Decision Science News tear apart an ad about suspicious bags. Turns out, most abandoned bags (by most, I mean all but around 0.000008% of bags) aren’t dangerous.

This is another example of bad use of language. The ad says “probably” but no sane definition of “probably” means less than 50%, especially not 0.000008%.

Nuclear Terrorism is Unlikely Too

Georgetown University political scientist Keir A. Lieber and Dartmouth College political scientist Daryl G. Press make the case that nuclear terrorism is particularly unlikely, in a paper shared by the Monkey Cage. In short, states are extremely unlikely to give them to non-state actors, read terrorists.

Stopping Every Single Attack Forever

Researching the Boston Bombings, I came across this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Paul Campos describing a hypothetical basketball game against Lebron James, where he would win if he scored a single basket. If the game could go on forever, he would always have a chance to win. So goes terrorism, which explains the Sisyphean task the intelligence, national security and political leaders of our country have embarked when they say the U.S. can, could or should stop every terror attack.

Nov 03

A few years ago, I wrote in an “On V Update to Old Ideas” that Eric C and I fall into the “optimist-idealist” camp when it comes to the future of war. Not only do we think war is decreasing over time, we think someday humans will be able to end all war. That makes us optimists.

But it feels strange to describe ourselves as “idealists”. Certainly a view of humanity as fundamentally good is idealistic. But is that inherently unrealistic? We didn’t come to that idea in a vacuum. Rather we found it in in academic research by Stephen Pinker, Joshua Goldstein, John Horgan, Bruno Tertais, Micah Zenko, Michael Cohen and John Mueller, who all wrote that--despite the constant war coverage in the media--the world is actually more peaceful and less violent than at any time in its history. The forces making it less violent and more peaceful, they also tend to argue, will likely continue in the foreseeable future. In essence, our optimistic views aren’t idealistic at all, but founded in a realistic view of contemporary events.

Yet, ironically, some international relations realists stand in front of this academic train yelling, “Halt.” For instance, Frank Hoffman writing on the realist website War on the Rocks, “Plato was Dead Wrong: Embracing Our Better Angels”.

When it comes to debating war, the “realists” like Frank Hoffman may as well be the idealists. Instead of using facts, data or anything empirical, they rely on ideals...an idealism based in a pessimism. To show this, I am going to go through Hoffman’s 2,500 word article and show the (lack of) evidence he uses to support his worldview that the world isn’t getting less violent:

- A misattributed quote. That’s right, the central uniting theme of his article is a “quote” from Plato, an incorrectly attributed quote that, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” As we’ve written before, Plato didn’t say this; the unknown George Santayana did. Unfortunately for Hoffman, he googled the phrase to link to it. GoodReads.com doesn’t count as a reputable academic resource. If he had scrolled down, he might have stumbled across our article on “Quotes Behaving Badly.

- No academic citations or footnotes. Yep, after linking to Stephen Pinker, Bruno Tertais, Micah Zenko and Michael Cohen, Hoffman doesn’t link to a single academic article that argues that war is increasing in frequency. He doesn’t link to them because they don’t exist. Instead, he simply argues that globalization makes interstate war more likely, but can’t provide the data to support this.

- No charts or graphs. As a student of history and business, I know better than most that line graphs can be easily manipulated to prove anything. Hoffman, though, doesn’t even bother because he doesn’t even have the basic data on his side. No amount of chart manipulation will make it seem as if the world is on the verge of cataclysmic war.

- Elevating current news stories to data points. The key to arguing against optimists who say the world is less violent is doubling down on what one sociologist has called, “mean world syndrome”. Because the constant news cycle emphasizes violent and particularly heinous crimes, it makes the world seem more violent and chaotic than it really is. Hoffman absolutely embraces this strategy in his second paragraph:

“Ignore the front page of today’s paper. The civil war in Syria doesn’t exist and Damascus is a vacation hot spot. Egypt embraced Jeffersonian democracy while you slept. North Korea’s leadership has offered Disneyland and Starbucks unlimited access to the Hermit Kingdom...the Mullahs in Tehran have renounced clerical rule, asked for forgiveness for storming our embassy, and given us permanent basing rights on their coast.”

And Hoffman wrote this before Russia invaded Ukraine. (The article is from last year.) He takes four data points and says, “See the world is more violent than ever.” Hoffman, like most realists who insist the world is more dangerous than ever, do so by selecting certain current data points and ignoring the rest, all the countries not engaging in wars.

- An anecdote. Hoffman then tells a story how British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, Norman Angell and Ivan Bloch all predicted peace and were proven wrong by World War I. He, of course, doesn’t mention the countless people who predicted a nuclear war in the 1950s, only to be proven wrong. The point is, the accuracy of past predictions isn’t evidence either way.

- Appeals to pessimistic beliefs about human nature. To cap off his argument, Hoffman, like most pessimists/realists, relies on the foundational belief that humans are naturally violent and self-interested:

“...human nature and history have not changed.  Better yet, go back and glance at Plato, Thucydides, Hobbes and Clausewitz.  They all recognized that the “better angels of our nature” was mere gossamer.  A realistic appreciation of the human condition, one founded on a few millennia of frequently brutish and violent human history, will always serve as a reminder of the folly of illusory and Utopian thinking.”

For a website founded on realism that allegedly prefers personal experience to ideology as a starting point, Hoffman seems to start with Thucydides, Hobbes and Clausewitz--again, his Plato quotation is completely inaccurate and contrary to much of Plato’s writings--and goes from there. Worse, as John Horgan completely demolished in The End of War, there is hardly any scientific evidence--either genetic, historical, anthropological or cultural--that human nature is fundamentally evil.

Unlike the times of Thucydides, Hobbes and Clausewitz, we now have rigorous social science that can test hypotheses. And the hypothesis that human nature is fundamentally evil has failed.

So there you have it: quotes, single data points, anecdotes, and an over-riding pessimistic belief a la Hobbes that mankind is nasty, brutish and violent. Data is the enemy of the realists, so that doesn’t make them very realistic, does it?

Oct 29

Two weeks ago, Don Gomez, on Carrying the Gun, put out a list of “7 Underrated Milblogs That Can’t Get No Respect” and included us on it. Thanks, Don.

He also threw down the gauntlet that we hadn’t been posting enough. He’s right, but we’re back up to 2 to 3 a week (since last week), and look to continue that pace moving forward. So take that Don; more posts!