Mar 26

(Spoiler Warning: I basically spoil everything in the book and movie of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.)

On Monday, I (Eric C) wrote up a review of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, both the film and book. Today, I want to cover some of unique thoughts it inspired.

The Odd Criticism of “Western Decadence”

At the end of the book--massive spoiler warning--Bill Haydon reveals why he became a double agent for the Russians, “He spoke not of the decline of the West, but of it’s death by greed and constipation.” From the film, “It was an aesthetic choice as much as a moral one. The West has become so very ugly.”

Oddly enough, I recently heard a similar thing from a reporter on an Economist podcast, explaining the the Hungarian Prime Minister opposition’s to America and the rest of Europe. In the Prime Minister’s mind, “The West is a bit past it, a bit decadent.”

Russian leader Vladmir Putin feels the same way. From The American Interest, “Putin believes that the West is decadent, weak and divided.” According to the Economist, ISIS recruits are inspired by the same thought, “Boastful combatants post well-scripted videos to attract their foreign peers, promising heaven for those who leave their lives of Western decadence to become ‘martyrs’.” Some Westerners believe the same thing.

It’s an odd idea: that being rich and powerful makes a country “decadent”, a synonym for weak.

Not that I should spend time debating communist or extremist ideology, but this argument is absurd. Prosperity tends to defeat poverty. Wealth creates advantages, not weakness. Perhaps some of the super-wealthy become weak and feeble. Poverty almost always guarantees that someone will become weak and feeble. You just don’t have the resources.

In terms of security, the argument is especially absurd. Prosperity, ironically, creates a better military. It’s like poker. If you have a larger stack of money, you can take more risks, take advantage of opportunities. For example, spending resources--time and money--to train your military. You have the freedom to allow people to spend time training in the Special Forces, and after Israel--another wealthy nation--America has the best special forces in the world.

Or you can spend gobs and gobs of the world’s largest fortune on technological advances for your military. Your country can fly unmanned, small planes over any other country and bomb them.

Wealth, instead of causing weakness, actually makes people harder working, more productive members of society. From David Brooks’ op-ed on Charles Murray’s The Great Divide:

“Republicans claim that America is threatened by a decadent cultural elite that corrupts regular Americans, who love God, country and traditional values. That story is false. The cultural elites live more conservative, traditionalist lives than the cultural masses…

They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids.

Murray’s work can be really controversial--especially his work on race--but I agree with this particular argument. To me, the educational opportunities afforded to the rich, well, it clearly gives them a leg up in America. And the world.

Intelligence can be so Pointless       

At some point near the end of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the British discover an operative pretending to be a double agent to a Russian embassy worker who is also pretending to be a double agent to the British. Both sides deliver fake or meaningless information to the other side, pretending that they’re giving them gold. (Meanwhile, one British spy is delivering real intelligence to the Russians.)

It all seems so incredibly pointless.

I didn’t arrive at this conclusion on my own. Doing the aforementioned research on intelligence, I came across two Malcolm Gladwell articles in The New Yorker--both reviewing books on intelligence by Ben Macintyre--that make a very good case for the futility of intelligence. Because both the Germans and the British knew the other side was trying to send them bad intelligence, they ignored good intelligence, then acted on the bad intelligence they wanted to avoid acting on.

It’s a refreshing read. Andy Rooney prepared me for this after reading My War. He has a whole sub-chapter on his distaste for spy craft and its pointlessness. In short, spies spend much of their time looking for other spies. Both sides feed each other disinformation. Even when you get intel, you can’t use it much of the time because it reveals your source.


Mar 25

(Today's guest post is by long-time friend of the blog, Sven Ortmann of Defence and Freedom. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.)

It's simple to start a war, common to win battles, but difficult and rare to complete a war with one's objectives achieved.

This crucial final step ought to be about as simple as the second according to Clausewitzian military theory: All you need to do is win big enough or many enough battles to 'disarm' your opponent (to deny your opponent the ability to resist). A disarmed power yields to your will--that's what the theory implies.

There are several exceptions to this rule which turned all-too many conflicts even messier than anticipated. One such exception has gained a lot of attention in the last about ten years: The opponent could devolve into a lesser state of organization and persist (as a guerilla force, for example). The opposing power might even avoid disarmament by becoming elusive and by keeping the intensity of warfare at a level which doesn't exceed its ability to regenerate its potential for violence: A conflict cooled down just enough to sustain the refusal of offered conditions.

There's a different and historically very powerful case; some wars are fought over a distance which doesn't allow the initially-superior power to force a decision. The despair of non-nomadic invaders of Russia comes to mind. Imperial Japan faced a similar difficulty in its war planning. It did defeat Russia in 1905, but probably only because Russia was politically unstable and at the brink of a thorough revolution. This kept Russia from continuing the land war with a hastened completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Later on, Imperial Japan faced the dilemma that it couldn't possibly bring the US, UK or France to their knees. Even the loss of Singapore was but a small scratch inflicted on the British Empire, and even the British shipyards in isolation would have been able to compensate for a lost “decisive” battle within three to four years. The French could have ignored the loss of Indochina and French Polynesia for decades without agreeing to peace. The US could have ignored the loss of the Philippines and rebuild its fleet in three-year intervals completely.

A Mahanian focus on decisive naval battles, reinforced by the memory of the Battle in the Tsushima Strait, was the Japanese' mental escape from this Sword of Damocles. The Clausewitzian view treats a major victory in a battle of great army concentration (and by theoretical extension, its naval equivalent) as disarming and war-winning because this was true for the relatively small and neighboring powers in Europe. The stubbornness of the people of Spain under the Napoleonic occupation and the ability of the Russians to sacrifice vast areas of land including their biggest city without yielding should have signaled the very limited validity of this view from the very beginning.

The difficulty in reaching a satisfactory completion of war by defeating the enemy's military might coined the 20th century: The British Empire refused to accept defeat because, though inferior on land and in the air, it was able to avert an invasion of England. The asymmetry between a land-centric power and a naval-centric power precluded the Clausewitzian decisive clash of Schwerpunkt forces vs. Schwerpunkt forces and thus a Clausewitzian completion of the war.

Guerillas all over the world followed the Spanish example of averting final defeat and survived as political movements even if temporarily disarmed, rarely ceasing resistance entirely.

And then there's another completion of war, without a decisive battle (though some scholars will stretch the meaning of Schwerpunkt beyond recognition to cover this case): The strategic coup de main, which often precluded a major war with its fait accompli: Often times it's simply not worth or promising enough to wage war when the other power has already grabbed what it wanted.

The Shiites and Sunni of Iraq dealt the real decision of the recent Iraq war by the fait accompli of ethnic cleansing and majority rule, while Americans were being fed stories about harassing attacks with mines that had no real bearing on the outcome:

Such a demographic change will likely last for centuries, whereas the question whether the harassment of convoys with the mine campaign was defeated or not is inconsequential in Iraq today already.

The completion of war after a fait accompli is typically found once some face-saving exit is being left open by the "winner" or created by the loser through sheer narrative manipulation. The recent conflict about the Crimea shows the power of the coup de main and its achievement of a fait accompli: The Ukrainian military wasn't disarmed or incapable of continued resistance; it hadn't even completed gearing up by the time the Ukraine de facto accepted the loss of the Crimea to Russia since reconquest or intervention of the UNSC was out of question.

It is notable that much of the (largely unsuccessful) Western interventionism, such as cruise missile diplomacy, bombings, assassination drone campaigns, military assistance programs and no-fly zones was devoid of a decisive battle, fait accompli or offering the enemy a face-saving exit.

It's no wonder Western scholars of military affairs are bemoaning the difficulty of “successfully” completing a war: The West is thoroughly incompetent at it, while others aren't.

This is something even gold-plated combat aircraft, multi-billion dollar warships, nuclear weapons, UNSC veto powers and the heaviest infantry of the world cannot change.

Sven Ortmann is a German blogger. Since 2007, his blog, “Defence and Freedom,” has covered a range of military, defence policy and economic topics, with more than a million page views. His personal military background is his service in the Luftwaffe. He has guest-blogged at the Small Wars Journal Blog and other blogs on military topics.

Mar 23

(Spoiler Warning: I basically spoil everything in the book and movie of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Then again, it is over 40 years old)

When we started On Violence, Michael C and I had an odd writing arrangement. He would write two posts a week on the military and violence; I would write one post a week on art and violence. (And not just limited to contemporary art, as this post proves.)

At the time, this worked out quite well. I was living in Italy with Michael C, so I had plenty of time to power through books and movies on war, and write up reviews. (It also helped to inspire us on other projects we’re working on…) As time passed, we focused less on art--plus we wrote about everything we needed to write about war memoirs--and I began writing up more military and foreign affairs posts.

Recently, I’ve been able to catch up on some books I’ve been meaning to read (for years now). Researching the intelligence community for a new screenplay we’re writing, I read John Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Excited by the book, I re-watched the film for the third time.

Here’s my review: they’re both wonderful. Review over.

What matters more than the what is why: why do the book and the film work so well?

On the surface, the book Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is, ostensibly, a spy thriller about a retired spy investigating a mole--oddly enough, according to my copy’s introduction, a word invented by John Le Carre--at the top of the British intelligence services. And yes, that is the plot.

But the subplot of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy matters even more. The wife of the main character, George Smiley, has left him and, more importantly, cheated on him with a former friend and colleague. In basically every chapter, Smiley recollects events and puts together puzzle pieces about the main plot, then, at some point, he thinks about his wife Ann and her betrayal. In terms of mental energy, George Smiley spends almost as much time thinking about his wife’s affair as he does the larger mission to find the mole.

(In the same vein, the chapters about Jim Prideaux--a retired spy who was captured by the Russians--spend zero time discussing spy craft, focusing on Prideaux’s relationship with a lonely boy at a boarding school.)

In other words, this spy novel is actually about personal relationships. The two plots work together perfectly, thematically: spies can’t trust anyone; neither can husbands. (For Prideaux, he’s been retired and forgotten, and is both figuratively and literally broken.)

It’s why critics love Le Carre (and other “genre” writers like Ursula K. LeGuin and Elmore Leonard). They write literature even when they write in a “genre”. In my mind, when I view and analyze fiction, I make a distinction between fiction and literature. Fiction describes all writing. Literature, for me, rises above the rest, an esteemed category for the best books, usually defined by the quality of the writing, the characters, and whether or not the book has anything to say about the world we live in. (And like pornography, it’s that thing: I know it when I see it.)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is literature.

On to the film: why does it work so well? First, the wonderful acting, including almost every important British actor: Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Hardy, Simon McBurney, Toby Jones, and, of course, Gary Oldman.

More importantly, the film is paced so well. In short, the film moves slowly and doesn’t explain everything on the first go. It takes a second viewing to understand the subtext and meaning in each distinct scene. I love this. I love this style of filmmaking. I want more complicated films, with lots of details packed into every crevice that you can’t catch on the first viewing.

Great literature often fails on the screen for two reasons. First, great writing often doesn’t translate. Think about the problems filming great stylists like Hemingway.

Second, and more importantly to this film, you lose inner-monologues. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (the novel) bubbles over with plot. It can’t all fit in the film so the director and screenwriter didn’t didn’t even try to force it all in. In Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (film), we also lose most of the subplot featuring Ann. Yes, one scene hints that Bill has slept with Ann, and other characters ask Smiley about Ann, but we don’t have an inner-monologue running throughout the film. Basically, we can’t hear what Smiley is thinking.

To compensate for this loss of the personal, the film turns one of the characters into a gay man (a nice, subtle touch that humanizes the character as concisely as possible) and adds a flashback--not included in the book--to a New Year’s Eve party that partly fleshes the personal relationships out between the characters. It works, maybe not as well as the book, but then again, they’re different mediums.

But check out both.

Mar 19

(We still have a ton of thoughts on Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)

So this is it. Our (probably) last post on the sheepdog analogy, at least in the foreseeable future.

Obviously we had some space limitations in our Slate piece “The Surprising History of American Sniper’s “Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs” Speech” We didn’t have room to debunk more of the analogy, without losing focus. So, since we have our own blog, here are some final thoughts:

This is a very troubling analogy...for libertarians and small government conservatives.

Just think, what is the job of a sheepdog?

No, not the fictional sheepdog on this shirt, but a real sheepdog. I’m not a farmer (no surprise), but my sister-in-law once took her border collies to a sheep ranch where they train the sheepdogs. The video she brought back is below.

Notice what you don’t see: wolves. Notice what you do see: a sheepdog herding sheep. Yep, it’s just sheep and an untrained (but instinctual) sheepdog. The sheepdog doesn’t give a damn about wolves. Nope, all it cares about is telling the sheep what to do. That’s right, the sheep want to go left, go right, stop in place, go too fast. The sheepdog says, ‘Nope, you go where my master wants you to go.”

And that my friends, is the ultimate, unintended irony of libertarians (or small government conservatives) embracing the sheep, sheepdog and wolves analogy. They praise the idea of sheepdogs as protectors of freedom, while also worrying that President Obama wants to take their guns and steal their freedom. But presidents don’t steal freedom; sheepdogs do. Police forces and armies steal freedom, not social workers.

The sheepdog, far from being a symbol of liberty, should be the symbol of oppression. Sheepdogs herd the people, telling them what they can or can’t do. They represent fascism, not liberty.

We love unintended ironies.

Structural solutions versus human solutions

This is my (Michael C’s) second least favorite part of the Grossman essay.

“They [parents] can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids’ schools. But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid’s school. Our children are dozens of times more likely to be killed, and thousands of times more likely to be seriously injured, by school violence than by school fires, but the sheep’s only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their children is just too hard, so they choose the path of denial.”

Grossman is utterly incorrect in his analysis of the situation above. Yes, fires have plummeted in schools, but firefighters aren’t the reason why. Fires have declined across America largely because, as a society, we realized that firemen are a terribly ineffective way to deal with fires. Instead, overhead sprinkler systems douse fires before they spread out of control. Improved construction techniques and improved electrical systems reduce the chances of fires starting in the first place. Same with regulations (yes regulations) banning space heaters or flammable furniture and clothes. In short, America created structural changes to prevent fires in schools. If we hadn’t changed the structures fires occurred in, no amount of firefighters would have helped.

Are there structural changes we could make to prevent school shootings? Absolutely: remove the means of mass murder from society. The above historical analogy about fires versus violence in schools indicates that we need structural changes to prevent school shootings, not more “good guys with guns”.

Occasionally, the entire essay is a “quote behaving badly”.

As long time readers know, we hate “Quotes Behaving Badly”. In our minds, it’s exhibit one of how bad information spreads on the internet.

Quite entertainingly, we can dissect how a quote behaving badly gets birthed. In this case, Grossman quoted Bennett to open his article, people quote Grossman’s essay, but give credit to Bennett. Here are some examples.


Mar 18

(We still have a ton of thoughts on Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)

We had a ton of material that didn’t make the Slate piece, and that’s the luxury of having your own blog: we can post it here. But we’re almost finished debunking this analogy, after one last post tomorrow.

Today, we’re criticizing the analogy through its own internal logic. Even assuming society can be neatly divided into three different groups, problems arise. For example...

Wolves believe they’re sheepdogs.

To put this another way--again, using the logic of the analogy that these categories exist--there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature: wolves don’t know they’re wolves. As the old axiom goes, a good villain believes he’s the hero in his own movie. (Every terrorist is a freedom fighter, too.)

If you believe otherwise, you fundamentally misunderstand the enemy you’re fighting. ISIS doesn’t consider themselves wolves. They believe America and the West are wolves. If we don’t know why they’re fighting, we’ll never be able to address the underlying concerns of the movement. And we won’t be able to stop it.

How come wolves can’t become sheep?

Grossman writes that sheepdog-ness is not innate, but a choice. How come that choice doesn’t apply to the wolves? Grossman spends a lot of time convincing sheep to become sheepdogs (i.e. arm themselves) but almost no time writing about rehabilitating the wolves instead of killing them.

Using a simple analogy to paint the world in good versus evil terms does little to solve global problems, and probably more to promote them.

The sheep don’t fear the sheepdog.

One of the many things Grossman gets wrong is the sheep’s fear of the sheepdog. In Grossman’s worldview, the sheep fear the sheepdog because he has sharp teeth. They don’t understand him and wish the sheepdog could de-fang himself.

But as James Fallows wrote last month, “This has become the way we assume the American military will be discussed by politicians and in the press: Overblown, limitless praise, absent the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions, especially ones that run on taxpayer money.”

In short, soldiers don’t suffer from a lack of praise from the sheep. As we’ve written about before, since the Vietnam war, Americans can’t praise the soldiers enough. Ironically, American Sniper’s box office returns prove it.

To go a step further on the above point, this analogy is just one more way soldiers, veterans and gung-ho supporters of the military bash their critics. If you criticize the military, prepare to get yelled at. And one of the moral justifications is that critics of the military are just sheep who want to de-fang the sheepdog.

Mar 16

We should have a number of updates coming over the next month, starting with today...

Update to Gratitude Theory

In our post, “Don’t Burn Korans, Kill Children or Drop Bomblets That Look Like Candy”, I failed to mention another key “don’t” in a counter-insurgency:

“Don’t pee on the dead bodies of your enemy, take pictures of it and post them on Youtube.”

Marine Sergeant Joseph Chamberlain who did those actions--and got fellow marines and soldiers killed because of it--says he has no regrets. Marines with his attitude have helped lose the war in Afghanistan, and they doesn’t even realize it. Yes, this is a very old update (though we never commented on the “urinating on dead bodies scandal” at the time), so this is that comment: bad marines/soldiers pee on the bodies of their enemies. Their defenders are defending actions that kill Americans.

Also, do these action count as barbaric or savage?

More “Isolationism” Bashing

The National Journal had an excellent article on the specter of “isolationism”. “Phantom Menace: The myth of American isolationism”, by Peter Beinart, just nails the problems with modern politician’s use of “isolationism”. (Check out our take on the term here.) Among a number of great points--from rebutting the idea that America was isolationist in the 20s and 30s to breaking down Rand Paul’s “isolationism”--he closes with this:

“Hawks worried that Barack Obama, or Rand Paul, or the American people have not defended American interests forcefully enough in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, or Iran can make plenty of legitimate arguments. Calling their opponents “isolationists” isn’t one of them. It’s time journalists greet that slur with the same derision they currently reserve for epithets like “socialist,” “fascist,” and “totalitarian.” Then, perhaps, we can have the foreign policy debate America deserves."

Well put.

Remember, China and Russia have spies too…

The New York Review of Books reminds us that--despite the gads of news coverage the media showered on them--Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden had nowhere near the reach, support, and logistics of good old fashioned espionage. Anne Applebaum’s review of Deception should remind Americans clearly of this threat.

Everyday, Russian and Chinese spies attempt to flip U.S. government and business workers to spill secrets and access to U.S. information systems. As we’ve written before, unlike Manning and Snowden and Wikileaks, Russian and Chinese spies don’t publicly release the information they’ve stolen. They’re also much more effective because they’re professionals.

On V Update to PowerPoint

Man, I hate PowerPoint. At this point, it is more irrational than rational. And Jeff Bezos agrees with me. (From Wonkblog, h/t War on the Rocks):

“Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past two weeks. When Jeff holds meetings at Amazon he asks people not to use Powerpoints but to write an essay about their product or program or what the meeting is to be about. For the first 10 or 15 minutes everyone sits and reads the essay. His point is that if you write at length, you have to think first, and he feels the quality of thought you have to do to write at length is greater than the quality of thought to put a Powerpoint together.”

An interesting side note: Michael C now works for Amazon Studios, the original content production arm of Amazon. Michael C don’t miss PowerPoint at all.

Another Call to Purge the Generals

I’ve written before that we don’t hold our bureaucrats in Washington accountable. Most small government Republicans would agree with me on that point. Unlike them, though, I also list the generals and admirals in our military as Washington bureaucrats. Daniel Davis, writing in both the Armed Forces Journal and The Guardian, agrees with me. (He also proposes a novel change in military organization and theory, which I need to research further.)

Mar 09

(We still have a ton of thoughts on Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)

If you want to know how silly the entire “sheep, sheepdog and wolves” analogy is, just read the following paragraph [emphasis mine].

“The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.”

As Michael C wrote last Thursday, Grossman and his followers very condescendingly refer to the “sheep” as “naive”. As Grossman writes, “We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world.”

But you could easily reverse that sentiment to apply to Grossman: “We know that the sheepdogs live in denial. They do not want to believe that there is evil in themselves.” In other words, does Grossman really believe that law enforcement and the military don’t protect their own? He doesn’t write “should be punished and removed”. He wrote “will be punished and removed”.

Really? Bad sheepdogs are always punished?

Both parts of Grossman’s assertion are wrong. First, sheepdogs--either law enforcement or military--regularly harm the sheep. I mean, we wrote the Slate article because of the number of unjustified police shootings that occurred last year. To be fair, they occur every year; the country finally noticed it last year. It doesn’t help that the federal government doesn’t keep a database for police shootings.

Second, and maybe more important, law enforcement and the military have a long history of not policing themselves. Even if you think Michael Brown’s death was justified, Eric Garner was killed using an choke hold that violated NYPD policies. And no one was held responsible. According to a report by the NYPD Inspector General, police officers are rarely punished for such chokeholds.

Banned chokeholds are just one example. Police misconduct then denials or cover-ups are a historical part of policing. Some examples…

1. The police officers who beat Rodney King wrote fraudulent reports that he had resisted arrest. Video evidence proved them wrong...and they still weren’t convicted. (At one point, a judge told prosecutors that "You can trust me.")

2. A recent New Yorker article provides another example of a police department that refused to evict multiple wolves. In Albuquerque, New Mexico the police department has a shockingly high number of fatal shootings. But they always circle the wagons to defend these wolves in their midsts, usually by slandering the victims:

Grover, the former sergeant, said that when officers shot someone the department typically ordered a “red file” on the deceased. “The special-investigations division did a complete background on the person and came up with any intelligence to identify that, you know, twenty years ago, maybe, the person got tagged for shoplifting,” he said. “Then they gave the red file to the chief.”

Instead of investigating the police, they investigated the victims, smearing their character. That’s actually the exact opposite of what Grossman believes happens. (Unless the entire Albuquerque police department has been taken over by “wolves”.)

3. While we were writing and editing this post, This American Life did an episode on the relationship between police and African-Americans. A quote from that episode, after describing an incident where Milwaukee police officers (off-duty and on-duty police officers) beat and tortured someone:

“Eventually, seven officers were fired. Three were sentenced to over fifteen years in prison. But before that, officers closed ranks. No one talked. No one knew anything. It showed the city how cops would turn the other way and protect their own, even if they saw something truly terrible.”

Think about it this way. No one has to define what “protecting their own” means. Everyone knows that concept.

4. Part two of the This American Life episode on law enforcement opened with another example of police misconduct--Miami City police officers arrested one person over 60 times for his job--and ended with the not-shocking revelation that multiple police officers who harassed this man were still working. (As a side benefit, this episode also covered the material in our original piece about implicit bias in the decision-making of police officers, and actually made it sound worse than what we originally wrote.)

5. Or take some of the most defenseless lambs: the wives of police officers. It turns out that police (sheepdogs) have higher rates of domestic violence than the general population (the sheep). Are those police “punished and removed” as Grossman naively believes? Nope. Turns out that police officers are protected by their precincts. (Check out the great work by The Atlantic, The New York Times and FrontLine/ProPublica.)

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list, just a few examples I found following the news recently reading about this topic.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be starting a series on why I (Eric C) don’t trust the military or national security establishment, pointing out examples of the military deceiving the public for their own self-interest. In short, I couldn’t write an entire four or five post series like that if there weren’t dozens of examples for me to find.

Because I’m not naive.

Mar 05

(We have a ton of thoughts on Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)

Many conservatives were introduced to Colonel Grossman’s essay, “On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs” through a chain email circulated on the conservative email-o-sphere. Allegedly addressed to the President of the University of Washington student body, a retired Lt. General Dula who (Again, allegedly. We can’t confirm the details.) wrote this email:

“Miss Edwards, I read of your ‘student activity’ regarding the proposed memorial to Col Greg Boyington, USMC and a Medal of Honor winner. I suspect you will receive a bellyful of angry e-mails from conservative folks like me. You may be too young to appreciate fully the sacrifices of generations of servicemen and servicewomen on whose shoulders you and your fellow students stand. I forgive you for the untutored ways of youth and your naïveté. It may be that you are, simply, a sheep. There’s no dishonor in being a sheep--as long as you know and accept what you are.”

“Please take a couple of minutes to read the following. And be grateful for the thousands--millions--of American sheepdogs who permit you the freedom to express even bad ideas.”

He then inserts Grossman’s sheep dog essay wholesale.

This email is insulting.

First, Grossman and Dula insult “sheep”, calling them all variety of names. Together they label sheep variously “naive”, “untutored”, ungrateful, unable to survive adversity, and (most insultingly for me) “living in denial”. As Grossman writes:

We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world.”

This leads into the second insult: Dula and Grossman don’t realize they’re insulting people. Dula and Grossman both write, “There’s no dishonor in being a sheep.” Grossman says, “I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep.” Paraphrasing Grossman and the above email, basically say, “Hey, you’re a sheep and I don’t mean that insultingly. You’re a naive, ungrateful coward who lives in denial if you don’t support gun rights, but no offense. Seriously, no offense.”

So the essay allows people to insult their opponents, but claim they aren’t. Two insults in one.

But the real question behind the insults is: who is really living in denial?

All the evidence in foreign policy says that Americans live not just in the safest times in American history, but the safest times in the history of the world. That’s right. We just fought the safest two wars in American history. You are more likely to win the lottery than die of terrorism in the U.S. And the crime rate has plummeted. If you think evil is expanding its reach in the world, you’re living in denial.

And all the evidence says guns kill people. The myth that good guys with guns kill bad guys with guns is just that, a myth. The presence of firearms increases the odds of their use in their own homes, but that’s what the data says. Oh, and guns are most often used in suicides. Again, that’s what the evidence says.   

So, in summation, people who don’t carry guns are not “untutored” nor “naive”. The so-called sheep aren’t living in denial. To say otherwise is insulting.

Mar 02

More updates, this time on the state of America’s security state.

Militarization of Police Forces

According to Sarah Stillman at The New Yorker, before 1990, law enforcement conducted at most, “several hundred paramilitary-style drug” raids each year. Now, across America, police forces routinely conduct tens of thousands of such raids. (H/T to the now retired Andrew Sullivan.) We’ve been following this trend since our posts a couple of years ago comparing this to Robocop’s prediction of militarized future to the present.

And now the police have military-style equipment. Partly in response to the events of Ferguson, the Obama administration researched and released a report on police militarization that came in the beginning of December last year. Some critics pointed out that only 4% of the gear is actual combat equipment. Reason debates that point:

“But the report does also show how big that four percent is in real numbers:

“‘To date, approximately 460,000 pieces of controlled property are currently in the possession of LEAs. Examples of controlled property provided include: 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night vision devices, 5,235 high mobility, multi-purpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs), 617 mine resistant ambush protected vehicles and 616 aircraft.’”

“Mine resistant vehicles?” you ask. Yeah, like this one. I mean, listen, I don’t like Ohio State, but I’m sure their fans aren’t planting IEDs around their own stadium. (Maybe the Michigan fans are terrorists?)

Violent Crime is Down, But...

Unfortunately, our police forces don’t need military equipment. The job is safer than it has been since the 1960s (and the increase in heavy weaponry and equipment had little to do with it). It turns out that assaults on police officers have just plummeted overall. Articles in the Huffington Post and The Atlantic both push back a narrative of a “war on cops” that some media outlets have pushed.

As multiple, multiple media outlets have covered post-Ferguson, violent crime is at its lowest level in decades. Ironically--and the records are incomplete, because the government doesn’t track all police shootings--civilian deaths by police are on the rise.


Our Awesomely Privatized Prison System

Why does America have such a large prison population compared to the rest of the world? One reason is that we’ve privatized prisons. Fareed Zakaria, in his “What in the World?” segment, explains the problem:

“Believe it or not, many of our prisons are run by private companies that then lobby state legislatures massively for bigger prisons, larger budgets, and of course more prisoners.

“According to the non-profit Justice Policy Institute, the two largest private prison companies in America together generate revenues of $3 billion a year – paid by taxpayers, of course. These private prison companies also happen to be major donors to a number of state campaigns, lobbying for more resources.”

We’ve haven’t touched on the deplorable state of our prisons before. (Consider it one of many issues like gun violence, war films, and COIN board games, which we’d write about more if we had more time.) But we have written about privatizing law enforcement, which we absolutely oppose.

Also, Leon Neyfakh, over at Slate, offers a new theory for the America’s developed-country-leading incarceration rate: overly aggressive prosecutors. Stay tuned for more on this.

A Good Plan for the Department of Homeland Security: Shut it Down!

We’ve read two persuasive articles on this in the last two years. This article in Bloomberg Business, by Charles Kenny of the New America Foundation, advocates for shutting down the entire Department of Homeland Security as an over-reaction to 9/11 and the terrorism threat. This week, with Republicans threatening DHS funding, we agree with Dara Lind at Vox to just let it go. We still hold the hope that libertarian-minded Republicans will one day consider national security spending as wasteful as other government spending.

Al Qaeda FBI Continues to Lead All Al Qaeda Branches in Planned Attacks

Journalist Trevor Aaronson (we’ve written about his work here) has an entire book, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism, on how the FBI plans, launches and captures suspected terrorists. While these stings bring us no closer to stopping actual Al Qaeda terrorists, they do waste the FBI’s time convincing people to launch “terror attacks”. The last supposed domestic terrorist was an exemplar of FBI agents encouraging, motivating, funding and training an otherwise harmless person.