May 07

Today marks the five year anniversary of On Violence. We feel like, on an occasion like this, it’s a moment for self-reflection, but we’re, oddly, not in a self-reflective mood. Despite how good this year has been for us in terms of traffic and exposure, we don’t feel like looking back.

We’re always charging away on a number of projects, always busy, always looking for more time. So instead of looking back, we’re looking forward.

All that said, this last year has been a huge for us, mainly off the residual energy of Lone Survivor, including an article in Slate. We’re really proud of the work we did, as one of a few resources compiling the facts on the most popular war film and memoir since 9/11. We’re also proud of the other posts we did, on COIN media, on Syria, on quotes, on everything.

So look forward to another year of writing. We’re going to keep charging away until we run out of ideas. We haven’t run out of them yet. They keep multiplying like rabbits.

Stay tuned.

Oct 15

Before last month’s “On V Update to Old Ideas” post, we hadn’t run one in months, but we’ve been collecting links the whole time. Prepare for a bunch of updates, sorted by theme. Today’s theme? Money.

We Don’t Need a Sequester to Waste Money

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned that if the sequester went through, it would force the military to implement blunt budget cuts, which would waste money and (hypothetically) harm our soldiers in the future. (The go-to argument for anyone defending the military.) He neglected to mention that the Pentagon routinely makes terrible financial decisions. For instance...

...the Army is now literally junking the mine resistant vehicles that it spent billions shipping to Afghanistan instead of shipping them home.   

...the Army is constructing a headquarters building in Afghanistan, costing millions per month, which it plans to leave vacant. it prepares to leave Afghanistan, an Inspector General report found billions of dollars in waste in only three months.

...Air Force officer Dan Ward writes that military contracting is so poorly managed, we don’t even know how bad we are at it.

When the military does contracting this bad, no one wins. Oh, except for defense contractors. They make lots of money. To fix the system, one assumes we need strong civilian leadership to rein in Generals and Admirals. Unfortunately, President Obama nominated military industry executive Deborah Lee James as Secretary of the Air Force. The revolving door between government and contractors continues to spin.

It also turns out that defense spending doesn’t provide the economic benefits many claim. Blogger, professor and zombie aficionado Dan Drezner has a new paper that debunks the idea that American military spending provides economic benefits to the world or America.

And that go-to-defense of military spending, “that it will hurt our men and women in uniform”? Friend of the blog Sven Ortmann delivers a marvelous pieces combining economics and military budgeting which debunks that notion completely. He asks, "How much should the U.S. spend to keep its soldiers safe?" and comes up with a number. For all the economists out there (or conservatives who claim to follow economics), you have to read this.

Contracting Money Influences the Debate

Since the NSA debate has triggered a lot of journalist-on-journalist attacks, we have avoided taking sides or commenting. (If our readers want to know our takes, wait until January...) However, we absolutely agree with Glenn Greenwald when he nailed the press--particularly Face the Nation--for not disclosing the financial self-interest of many pro-NSA commentators to its viewers, like General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA under President Bush. From Greenwald:

“But worse than the omission of Hayden's NSA history is his current - and almost always unmentioned - financial stake in the very policies he is being invited to defend. Hayden is a partner in the Chertoff Group, a private entity that makes more and more money by increasing the fear levels of the US public and engineering massive government security contracts for their clients. Founded by former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, it's filled with former national security state officials who exploit their connections in and knowledge of Washington to secure hugely profitable government contracts for their clients."

As we wrote in our coverage of Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, many government officials exaggerate the threat of terrorism. While they sincerely believe in their work, they also have financial interests to do so.

An Update to Doing Aid Right

While this article on “The Matador Network” seems like a Reddit link bait scam, it accurately explains why dropping bombs of free t-shirts and shoes (as TOMS does) is terrible aid policy. The best part about the TOMS story is that I swear my entire business school loves TOMS. Literally, business school students take economics in one class, then give a presentation during communications advocating the TOMS model.

I, (Michael C), say this criticism as a solid moderate. I just think we should do aid/government/business efficiently and effectively. While business has built-in mechanisms for that, aid and government don't. The podcast Tiny Spark had done great work critiquing foreign aid, with a recent episode on Jeffrey Sachs’ Millenium Villages. I’ve advocated before for renewed U.S. foreign aid spending. I still want that, but our government must do it right, using controlled experiments, analyzing data and spreading it liberally.   

Why Does the U.S. Keeps Sending Weapons to Egypt?

Because of defense contractors.

Before Syria replaced Egypt in the news, there was a lot of discussion about U.S. aid to that specific country. For a primer and explanation on why that aid doesn’t make a lot of sense--because most of the money spent on Egypt goes to American defense contractors--listen to this excellent Planet Money episode, then shake your head.

Jul 02

As we do twice a year, Eric C and I will be taking a break from posting for the next two weeks. (It's summer; we're busy.)

Expect new posts on the July 15th.

May 07

As always, more On V updates...

An Update to Sexual Assault in the Military

Unlike the last couple years, we haven’t written about this year’s Oscar contenders yet, which is insane. Between Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino’s The Slavery Revenge Blaxploitation Feature, we’ve got more than enough war and violence to write about.

Every year the documentary category tends to have one war-related pic (though they never win) and this year was no different. The Invisible War covered an issue Eric C has followed closely since we launched this blog: sexual assault in the military. A trendy upset pick in the category of Best Full Length Documentary, The Invisible War made waves around D.C., including a viewing by then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Sexual assault in the military was also featured in a cover story in Rolling Stone a few months back, and an NPR news story last month. (We could probably do an “On V Update on War and Rape” every other month.)

Unfortunately, the updates keep coming. Just yesterday the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention chief was arrested for sexual assault. And a report released today by the Pentagon today shows that:

"Sexual assaults in the military are a growing epidemic across the services and thousands of victims are still unwilling to come forward despite a slew of new oversight and assistance programs...Troubling new numbers estimate that up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year..."

Growing Beards in the Muslim World Redux

Last December, and again a few weeks back, we questioned the widespread growth of deployment beards by Special Forces soldiers. One commenter pointed out how SF beards tended to be unkempt, whereas locals took immaculate care of their own. Francis Conliffe, an armour officer from Canada, forwarded us this article, pointing out that “It will hardly make anyone an expert, but the main point is that how you wear the beard is even more important than having one at all--a point that may be lost on some of the men in your photo collection.”

Doing other research, we also found possibly the greatest SF beard yet.

This guy knows how to build rapport.

Two More Innocent Criminals Released

I hate it when innocent people go to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. On the one hand, I understand that no criminal justice system can get it right 100% of the time. On the other, why are the innocent people always poor, often minorities, and never represented adequately in court? In recent months, both Radiolab and 60 Minutes showed how confirmation bias encouraged wrongful prosecutions. (I’m also taking Organizational Behavior right now, so confirmation bias is on my mind.) Worse, these articles both show how our justice system refuses to admit mistakes when it makes them.

Check out our series “Intelligence is Evidence” to understand why this is a problem for law enforcement...and the intelligence community. Intelligence folks at Langley should heed the warnings from our criminal justice system, but they have no incentive to do so.

An Amazing Link Drop for the Military’s Culture

Peter J. Munson on his blog (and cross-posted on SWJ) pulled together some thoughts for a panel with the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group, creating a pretty exhaustive list of articles about the need to think about our military’s culture, and its implications. On the way, he cites our series, “Our Communist Military”; we appreciate the shout out.

Our Communist Military’s Gun Control/Defense Rhetorical Inconsistency

When we write about guns--which we explained here won’t be for a while--we’ll be on the lookout for sneaky those from “Our Communist Military”.

For instance, as Dominic Tierney absolutely throws down, Republicans are crazy hypocritical on this issue. Republicans believe gun control will hamper a citizen’s right to stop tyranny; they also want a giant military--the same military that would enforce that tyranny. Tierney writes:

“In the current debate over gun control, the pro-gun lobby has an ace card up its sleeve: We need weapons to prevent government tyranny, they say. These self-styled champions of liberty see guns as the ultimate insurance policy to protect the Constitution. The problem is that most of those making this argument also strongly support a massive U.S. military -- exactly the behemoth we must be armed against...

“When conservatives take up armed resistance against D.C. despotism, they'll really regret some of the toys they gave the government. Rubio and Palin want the populace to be able to arm itself with assault rifles. But they want the government armed with F-35s -- a $100 million-plus stealth plane with a top speed of Mach 1.6. When President Obama discovers his inner tyrant, it won't be a fair fight...

“Conservatives say that a weaponized citizenry is a necessary shield against dictatorship. I'll take the argument more seriously if conservatives stop arming this tyrant to the teeth.”

We couldn’t have said it better, except maybe to add...

The ACLU on Our More Militarized Police

The ACLU recently launched an investigation into America’s increasingly militarized police forces. We have to imagine that conservatives will be right there with them---we have to stop tyranny. What’s more tyrannical than a police force armed with military grade weapons and body armor?

Finally, a Shout Out to the Center for Army Lessons Learned...

...who, we just found out, linked to Michael C’s article “Influencing the Population: Using Interpreters, Conducting KLEs, and Executing IO in Afghanistan” in November of 2012 about cultural analysis and Afghanistan.

May 06

Four years ago to the day, without much fanfare, we launched On Violence. Over the last four-tenths of a decade, we've written about numerous topics, received countless compliments (and criticisms) and reached more people than we thought possible. Thank you to all the people who have made this possible, they know who they are.

(If you want to see the best posts of the last four years, please look at the sidebar for our centennial recaps.)

Apr 25

This post, the one you’re reading right now, is our 600th post. As we like to do every hundred posts, we’re sharing our best/favorite posts from the last 100. We’ve divided them into our best series and our best individual posts. (To read more “Best of On V” collections, check out the sidebar or click here.)


Four large series dominated our last 100 posts. First, Michael C tried to offer solutions to the situation with Iran (we don’t like the words conflict or war). Our favorites from that series include “Which Country Do You Prefer? Putting Iran's "Evil" In Context”, “My Solution to the Iran Problem” and “The Best Comment On Violence Has Ever Received

Meanwhile, we finally wrote about HBO’s seminal war mini-series, Band of Brothers, where we wrote a post (or two) on each episode of the series. Eric C’s two favorite posts were from the last two episodes, “Band of Brothers' "Why We Fight" or: No, That's Not Why We Fought” and “The Myth of the Good War: Band of Brothers ‘Points’” Michael C wrote the excellent post, “The Feeling You Might Live Through It: Band of Brothers' "The Last Patrol".

We also continued our trend of igniting small “Twitter wars” with Eric C’s post “The Sobel Problem: Band of Brothers "Currahee" where he argued that officers weren’t just equal to enlisted men, but better. We defended the idea here, but noticed that a lot of the arguments (“Everyone is equal, regardless of rank!”) were...


Oh yes, if you want to piss people off, call the military communist, even if you’re just using the phrase rhetorically. Our favorite posts from the “Our Communist Military” series were “The Most Greatest Institution in Human History...Our Communist Military!”, “Our Politically Correct Communist Milblogs” (which upset the usually imperturbable Jonn Lilyea) and the pro-market “Our Command Economy Communist Military”, “Our Pro-Veteran Communist Criminal Justice System” and asked, “Is Toys for Tots...Communist?

Finally, Eric C finally learned how to spell “Petraeus” when we wrote our 2013 “Most Intriguing Event of the Year” about Benghazi and the General Petraeus sex scandal.


Way back, we wrote two art posts that we especially love, “War is War is Film Part I” and “War is War is Film Part II”, where we found quotes from movie characters that espouse “war is war” philosophy. Eric C’s favorite line:

“I expected to find mostly bad ass action heroes like John Rambo or “Dirty” Harry Callahan. Instead, I mostly found super villains. And comparing “war is war”-iors to Grand Moff Tarkin or General Jack D. Ripper is like comparing them to Hitler...   

“Or it might just be that if super villains espouse your military theory, you may be on the wrong side of history.”

Eric C wrote up an art post, “I’d Buy That Police Station for a Dollar!: RoboCop and America’s Awesomely Privatized Future”, on how one of the greatest action films of all time predicted America’s militarized-police future. Michael C read it and asked, “Is that all you got?”. He wrote, “The Enforcement Droid is Programmed for Urban Pacification!

Of course, our still-too-small stable of guest posters contributed some great work. Matty P wrote one of Eric’s favorite posts of last year, “Guest Post: You Think You Know Pain?” Matthew Bradley absolutely threw down academically with “Guest Post: Opportunistic Scavengers in the Sahel”. And finally, an anonymous author sent us “Guest Post: When Saying, “Thanks for Your Service” Doesn’t Cut It”. Thanks for the great work guys.   

Though it didn’t get as large a response as we wanted, Michael C’s “The Military’s Gay Shower Fiasco...and 5 Other Anti-DADT Predictions that Never Came True” is also one of our favorite posts from last year.

Hey, want to stop insurgencies? Michael C explained what we’re doing wrong in, “Hearts, Minds and Gatorade Bottles Filled With Urine” and then offered solutions in “Don't Burn Korans, Kill Children, or Drop Bomblets That Look Like Candy: An Incomplete List of Counter-Insurgency Do’s and Don’ts”.

Eric C wrote two posts that got long standing ideas off his chest, first asking how “The Best Trained, Most Professional Military...Just Lost Two Wars?” and detailing the “The World War I Problem

Michael C, on the other hand, just wanted to break the internet. With that in mind, he wrote, “A New Game: Spot the Navy SEAL!” to (rightfully) piss off special operators. He followed that up with “Growing Deployment Beards Works! So Do These 8 Ideas”. Oh, and Clausewitz happened.

Finally, Michael C’s favorite post from the last year was “Queer Eye for the Straight Navy: An Argument to Paint Aircraft Carriers Rainbow Colors”, offering a suggestion for how the Navy should paint its ships. Unfortunately, he dashed cold water on himself two days later in “A Flock of Seagoing Easter Eggs: Four Reasons Why It Won't Happen”.

Dec 12

Update to Drone Strikes

In our series, “Intelligence is Evidence” we expressed plenty of skepticism about America’s ability to accurately and justly target suspected terrorists with drones. Fortunately, President Obama--probably in reaction to the chance he could have lost the election; probably not due to continuing skeptical press coverage like here, or here, or here, or here--has decided to roll out a new “rulebook” for its so-called “kill list”.

Better late than never, though it still isn’t enough.

Update to the World is Less Dangerous

Inspired by John Horgan and Stephen Pinker, Eric C and I track the statistic of global violence. Whether on terrorism or deaths by war, we have concluded--based on the mountains of data supporting our position--that the world is getting less dangerous. The last few months have provided more supporting evidence. The numbers--again quantitative data not emotional arguments--also indicate that the biggest threat to Americans is gun violence, not terrorism.

- This National Journal article shows how little money the U.S. spends on preventing gun violence compared to terrorism (though gun violence kills far more people). Similarly, this article in New York Magazine lays out the shocking frequency of shooting sprees as opposed to terror attacks.   

- The National Counter Terrorism Center found that only 17 Americans died of terrorism [pdf] in 2011.

- The State Department released a similar report. It found similar low double digit deaths of Americans by terrorism.

- On the anniversary of 9/11, John Horgan reviewed the exaggeration of the terrorist threat.

- Stephen Walt--who we have relied on before in this field--again muses that we have inflated the risks of terrorism for funding purposes.

- And finally, in a shocking moment for Eric C, On Violence agrees with George Will. On ABC’s This Week a while back, he said that, “The world's always dangerous and all that, but the chance of dying on this planet from organized state violence is lower than it has been since the 1920s.” As he notes, there are protests all over the Middle East, but protests “beat the heck out of war.”

Update to Iraq War Repercussions

Though the national debate remains focused on Afghanistan, violence continues to plague Iraq. One of our favorite blogs, Musings on Iraq, hasn’t forgotten about that conflict. Check out the posts, “Iraq’s Insurgents Have Grown Deadlier Since U.S. Withdrawal” and “Iraq Remains A Deadlier Place Than Afghanistan” to read about continued violence.

Update to Both the Green Revolution’s Neda and the Whistleblower Protection Act

If you haven’t had a chance, check out last week’s On The Media episode, which covers both the woman who the media mistakenly thought was Neda Soltan and the new Whistleblower Protection Act. Expect more on the issue of “chasing the news” during next month’s “On V’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affair Event of 2012”.

The Feds Just Can’t Do Anything Right...Except Overseas!

As we’re exploring in “Our Communist Military”, conservatives cannot decide whether or not government is effective. For instance, during the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the Arab spring (lump this into the both-sides-of-the-aisle-use-foreign-affairs-to-score-cheap-political-points category). He then campaigned on a small government platform, claiming that the federal government can’t do anything right. As Andrew Sullivan wrote:

“It's more evidence of Republican incoherence: the government can't be trusted to intervene in Texas because it is too far away and the feds are incompetent. But Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya? Why don't we control them directly from Washington?”

Or from Greg Scolete:

“But this leads to the absurd assumption implicit in the criticism of the administration: that the U.S. federal government can deftly finesse the direction of Middle East politics in the 21st century. Particularly for those who profess a love of "limited government" it seems rather farcical to claim that the same incompetent government that can't be trusted to balance the budget can reach across the ocean and create a Middle East more to its liking.”

Update to Hypocrisy of SEALs Continued

Since we first wrote about how special operators have run rampant with self-publicity and the corresponding OPSEC violations, the Navy SEALs as a group have decided to 100% avoid needless self-promotion. Oh, except for this video game.

The self-promotion is so rampant the Daily Beast’s Daniel Klaidman wrote an entire article about Hollywood’s allure for special operators and how this might damage the force in the long run.

Update to How The Ain’t Hell responds to Criticism

First off, check out this great post, “The Rank Hypocrisy of Veterans on OPSEC”, by Jason Fritz at Ink Spots. It echoes our thoughts on SEALs criticizing the Obama administration’s leaks but ignoring their own OPSEC violation.

But what’s more interesting is how John Lilyea of This Ain’t Hell fame responded.

When we wrote the post, “Our Politically Correct Communist Milblogs”, Lilyea didn’t like what we had to say. “Obviously with a title like “Our Politically Correct Communist Milblogs” the author was just trolling for us to link to him. It’s a great tactic, since apparently no one reads the thing anyway, and he’s achieved his goal. Bravo!” At some point, Lilyea complained that he only found out about our post because someone emailed it to him.

When Jason Fritz criticized This Ain’t Hell in “The Rank Hypocrisy of Veterans on OPSEC”, Lilyea again took offense. “Do you want to discuss this with me? Or is it better that you just take shots at me behind my back? You send the link to other milbloggers, but not me? Welcome to obscurity.”

He followed that with, “Well, I never heard of your little blog before someone sent me a link today, so how would I know you were writing about me? You took the time to send a link to another milblogger, but you neglected to include me in the discussion. This is a blatant attempt to garner traffic and it failed...You took the whole post out of context so you could call me names hoping that I would send my hordes.”

So if you disagree with This Ain’t Hell’s John Lilyea: 1. You’re doing it to get traffic. 2. You should really email Jonn Lilyea. 3. John Lilyea doesn’t read your blog anyways and neither does anyone else.

Nov 28

President Obama (Maybe?) Listens to On Violence

Unfortunately, congress just can’t seem to pass the comprehensive Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which extends protection to national security and intelligence workers. While On V may not make endorsements of candidates, we enthusiastically endorse that legislation. To fill the gap, President Obama (finally) used a Presidential directive to extend protections to federal whistleblowers working in national security or intelligence, a move praised by the ACLU, the Secrecy News blog, and now us.

Update to Checking the Mental Health Box

Grim news came out of the Army earlier this summer. According to CBS News, “Suicides among active-duty soldiers in July more than doubled from June, accelerating a trend throughout the military this year.” Until the military stops checking the mental health box--we’ve written about it before here and here--these suicides will continue. Worse, the suicide epidemic among veterans is largely ignored because the VA has no chance at accurately figuring out how bad the problem is.

Update to the Statistics Behind Terrorism

Steve Coll, writing about the Sikh Temple Shooting in Oak Creek, Minnesota last August, referred to a new joint project between the New America Foundation and Syracuse University to put all terrorism cases in America in context.

No surprise, but fundamentalists are behind most of the attacks. Not Muslim fundamentalists, but right-wing Americans, often motivated by racist attitudes. The research also shows that, unsurprisingly, terrorism is much less of a threat than un-politically motivated violence. As we’ve said before, the statistics behind terrorism don’t match either the public’s understanding or the government’s funding.

Omni-Consumer Products Keeps Supplying Our Police
Eric C and I are always a pinch disappointed when our favorite posts don’t grab the twittersphere by storm. One of our favorite movies growing up was Robocop. (Because eight year olds love robot cops.) As grown ups, we love Robocop because of what it has to say/predicted about the rise of drones and the militarization of police forces across America.

Check out this Wired post from June to see how many police departments across the country have decided to become armies. In August, Blackfive’s Uncle Jimbo used the phrase “taking advantage of military programs to Robocop themselves” about the same idea.

And yeah, based on images taken from the set, we think the new armor looks terrible, though other, newer images give us some hope.

Update to the Lone Survivor Film

Longtime readers know that we called Luttrell and Robinson’s memoir the worst since 9/11. We even wrote a post asking Universal to stop production on it. While Universal did ultimately decide to drop out of financing the Lone Survivor film, it still plans to distribute it. But the film pushes on, having cast Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana, Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch and others to play the SEALs.

Ah well, you can’t win them all.

Maybe the Military is Just Liberal...

Though she didn’t know it, Rosa Brooks dismantled our entire “Our Communist Military” series, by writing about how the military is actually...liberal?

She makes the case by arguing that the beloved Military Times poll (cited by On Violence here) skews its results by surveying:

“voluntary responses to surveys sent by email to subscribers -- and, as the editors note, a disproportionate number of the respondents are white, male, and older than average. What's more, many polls fail to differentiate between career military personnel and short-timers, or between officers and enlisted personnel.”

And then this:

“Dempsey's most interesting finding, perhaps, is that self-selected political labels are extremely poor predictors of servicemembers' actual views on social, political, and economic issues. Regardless of how they label themselves to pollsters, for instance, officers' views on issues ranging from abortion to government spending on social programs tend, on the whole, to be moderate to liberal, while the views of enlisted soldiers tend to skew liberal.”

Does this change anything for us? Yes and no. Having recently studied random sampling in business school, I can’t argue with her logic. To see the most biased sample ever, read about the 1936 Literary Digest poll of ten million people. She is also right that, taken as a whole, the Army’s enlisted men tend to reflect the country they serve. However, we still believe that the military’s officers skew overwhelmingly conservative. And they tend to be the people who respond to these surveys.

Her main point, though, that “political labels are extremely poor predictor’s of servicemembers’ actual views on social, political and economic issues” could sum up the point of our series. Too many partisans in America hold viewpoints they don’t actually practice.