May 07

Please put up with a little self-indulgence from the On Violence crew today. Yesterday, May 6, was our third anniversary--the leather anniversary!--and coincidentally, on Friday, we publish our 500th post. So we want to celebrate.

Our plan for the week? The regular writers--Michael C, Eric C and regular guest poster Matty P--plan to write about topics that encapsulate our thoughts and writings over the last three years. On Friday, our 500th post will, asbe a "best of" the last 500 posts.

But before that, we want to look back. First, the numbers alone are kind of breathtaking, if we do say so ourselves:

- Number of years:      3
- Number of posts:      500
- Number of words.     Over 300,000.
- Total Visitors:           Quarter of a million.

And we just had our most popular week ever last week.

Most importantly, we feel we have added to the discourse. Looking back on these last three years, we asked ourselves: what have we given the world? We named the phenomenon of “war-is-war”-iors, Michael C shared some excellent personal experiences of war, we explored “intelligence is evidence” and published an op-ed on,“I didn’t deserve my combat pay”. Eric C reviewed countless post-9/11 war memoirs, we debunked “quotes behaving badly” and “facts behaving badly”, we exposed Lone Survivor, had On V song battles, and some pithy thoughts on war films.
       
We’ve also moved towards larger and longer series. We echoed John Horgan by asking, “Will Humans Ever Stop Fighting Wars?”, argued for cultural empathy, and, most recently, started making the case against going to war with Iran. We’ve had some misfires--defining political war, not nearly enough posts on the military budget--but feel our successes far outweigh our mistakes.
       
Since one half of our team got a degree in English, we also cannot help but conduct a meta-literary analysis of the progress of our own blog over the last three years. The quality of our writing has improved...dramatically. We hit our stride about eight months in, but we’ve kept improving over the years. We’ve also improved our blogging by adding in photos--we’ve slacked on this of late--and, recently, videos.

Finally, we want to thank all of our supporters, friends and families. Blogging has taken way longer than we ever expected and we’ve devoted thousands of hours to this site, and I hope it comes across. So this thank you goes out to anyone who has commented, told their friends, liked or retweeted or favorited anything we have written, or supported us in this endeavor.

Those people are too countless to name, but sincerely, thank you.

Apr 30

(To check out other “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, click here.)

One quick note before today’s update. Next week, On Violence will celebrate its simultaneous third anniversary and 500th post, so yay us! On to the update:

Update to Drone Strikes

While the US continues to conduct drone in Pakistan--which we believe exacerbates the problem of extremism--the Wall Street Journal reports that new rules from the Obama administration restrict the CIA’s unilateral ability to launch strikes. Another AP story claims that the Taliban routinely exaggerates civilian casualties. This CNN article backs up that claim, while also arguing that the CIA might just be running out of targets. While I hope that is the case, when it comes to investigating or researching a topic shrouded in “Top Secrecy”, I have my doubts we will ever know the truth.

And as we were editing this post today, President Obama’s top counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, talked at length about drone strikes, officially acknowledging their existence. We have a lot more to say on his speech, Attorney General Holder’s speech and drone strikes in general in the coming year.

On the academic side of things, this article on Kings of War makes an excellent case that “signature strikes”--drone strikes conducted because a target acts like an militant--flies in the face of Just War theory. A great read, along with excellent insight into under-reported “signature targeting”. The key question we must ask is, if we conduct drone strikes of targets whose names we don’t even know, how can we really be sure they are terrorists? How is that “just war theory”?

Another article on the Small Wars Journal, “Why COIN Principles Don’t Fly With Drones”, explains the drawbacks of drone strikes in Pakistan. It got flack for using the acronym “COIN” in the title, but I enjoyed it.

As an added benefit, a commenter on “Why COIN Principles Don’t Fly With Drones” perfectly exemplified the old “war is war”-ior shoulder shrug when it comes to civilian casualties, writing:

“Civilian casualties will always be a part of war. A terrible part? Yes. A completely preventable part? No. Especially when we run into a conflict with a non-conventional enemy that uses civilians as camouflage.”

Updates on Iran

Overall the odds for war have dropped...slightly. According to the betting market Intrade, the odds of war with Iran have lowered to 5.5%, a drop of 2.5% since we started writing on Iran. On the Atlantic’s more academic (and renamed) Iran War Dial, the odds of war with Iran have dropped to 42%, primarily because of renewed diplomatic talks and the promise to hold more talks. Also, former Senator and current Nebraskan Democratic candidate for Senate Bob Kerrey (Medal of Honor winner as well) has come out vigorously against war with Iran, the most prominent candidate for elected office to oppose war with Iran (I believe).
   
The best article I have seen since our Iran articles is the Foreign Affairs article “Botching the Bomb” that says that Iran probably won’t ever be able to make a bomb or a whole set of bombs because... it’s Iran. To prove the article’s point, autocratic North Korea failed to launch another rocket. In short, democratic-capitalist states with well-developed political systems have a built in advantage when it comes to innovation. This clashes a bit with my perspective of the IRGC as an innovative force which embraces asymmetric and unconventional warfare, but it explains another reason why we don’t need a war with Iran.
   
Thomas J. Bounomo’s Small Wars Journal article “Changing Iran’s Cost-Benefit Analysis of its Nuclear Program” provides a unique solution to the crisis. He says the U.S. should offer Iran reduced-cost green technology. This would provide Iran with an alternative energy source instead of nuclear power and a sign of goodwill.

An Update to On V’s Lexicography

A long time back, I wrote a post encouraging myself and others to use the phrase “foreign policy” as opposed to “national security”. While debates over nomenclature can get tedious--especially when it comes to defining war--the terms do matter. International relations refers to states. Foreign policy differs from foreign affairs because one refers to policies/laws/regulations/decisions and the other to everything. Most importantly, not everything that occurs overseas falls in the category of “security”, especially when it comes to government agencies. The overuse of “security” has led to a Department of Defense budget of around 750 billion dollars, and a State Department budget of 50 billion. That’s unbalanced.

We haven’t been doing this, as we re-discovered recently. We’ll rededicate ourselves to using foreign policy and foreign affairs as much as possible, and avoiding national security when possible.

An Attack on Cultural Sensitivity

If our posts on Gratitude Theory and Cultural Sensitivity haven’t made the point clear enough, we believe too many of our soldiers still don’t get the need for cultural empathy and respect. To prove our point, two soldiers, both enraged by the Afghan response to the burning of Korans by American soldiers, spoke out on two blogs we regularly read. In the first, “Medium Rare: Some Thoughts From an Afghan War Vet on the Koran Burning Riots” the author argues for shooting into crowds of unarmed civilians. I cannot think of a better way to gain support. (Sarcasm.)

In the second, “The Downside of Cultural Sensitivity”, Tony Barrett claims that cultural sensitivity training denigrated the U.S. culture. I totally disagree, and this article testifies to a way of thinking most soldiers hold, “our way or the highway.”

From Russia with Love: Counter-Terrorism Blinds the U.S. in Intelligence

We’ve written before about the intelligence/espionage threat we face from China, but we neglected another global competitor. This conversation on The Economist’s website shows that we should worry about Russia just as much. Like China, Russia didn’t completely over-react to 9/11. And it could have. (Remember, Chechnya.) Instead, as it has since the 1950s, it continues to train spies and deploy them to the U.S. to steal state secrets. Man, counter-terrorism is such a waste of money.

President Obama Won’t Start an ICC for Terrorists

Plenty of ink was spilled over Attorney General Eric Holder’s (non) statement about the U.S. government targeting American civilians abroad. Our takeaway? Obama doesn’t plan to start a new ICC anytime soon.

Updates to the Hideous Monster I Call the Pentagon Budget
   
Around the business world last year, you couldn’t swing a dead wampa rat without hitting someone reading, reviewing or commenting on Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacs. Having left the military, I, Michael C, don’t know if the biography made the same impact on the Pentagon. I mean, if the Pentagon ran Apple, the iPad 1’s release date would be next year, would run around 2,000 dollars a unit, and probably would have every input cable imaginable--something Jobs specifically abhorred.

Yet the pearl of government efficiency, the largest section of the discretionary budget, is again begging for more money and more expensive weapons to win wars that aren’t/weren’t named Afghanistan or Iraq.

Here’s a rundown on the good articles:

The Supper House” from “Battleland” describes the Senate’s enabling of the Pentagon.

The F-35 Budget Disaster” updates us on the ongoing woes of the Air Forces’ premiere fighter.
   
The circle graph we showed on “What Do I Think of Iran’s Military?” was part of this graph released by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Will the 55 Billion Bomber Program Fly?” we mentioned a few weeks back describes the impending train wreck which will become the Air Force’s next long range bomber.

Finally, this F-22 update shows how we have to throw more money at this program. By our records, the Air Force has failed on three consecutive manned aircraft. 0 for 3 baby.

Mar 13

(To check out other “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, click here.)

Finally, after three “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, we’ve finally gotten to current events and recent-ish articles. Enjoy.

Update to War: It’s Still Unfair

After an Afghan soldier killed two Air Force officers in a secure building in Kabul, General John Allen labeled the perpetrator a “coward”. It reminded us of an excerpt from The Battle for Algiers we posted in “All’s Fair in War: Guerrillas, Justice and Counter-Insurgency”,

"When I watched 'The Battle For Algiers', I was amazed how succinctly the film summarized the western perspective of counter-insurgency warfare. A reporter asks Ben M’hidi, a captured terrorist leader, 'Isn’t it cowardly to use your women’s baskets to carry bombs, which have taken so many innocent lives?'

"Ben M’hidi responds, 'Isn’t it even more cowardly to attack defenseless villages with napalm bombs that kill many thousands of times more? Obviously, planes would make things easier for us. Give us your bombers, sir, and you can have our baskets.'"

If the Eric C/Left Hand of Darkness definition of war--”War is the opposite of civilization”--is true, than civilized norms like honor, valor and cowardice don’t exist in war. “All’s fair in love and war” is another way of saying that nothing in war is.

Update to Cultural (Un)Awarness

Michael C has long written that the U.S. military should improve its cultural awareness. Say what you will about the U.S. burning Korans in Afghanistan, it demonstrates a massive lack of cultural awareness; a blind spot so big we could drive an AT-AT through it. This quote by Nancy Youssef on Washington Week sums up my thoughts:

"You know, Yochi, I was talking to some of my Afghan friends this week and one of the things they said was they couldn’t believe that 11 years into the war, that the United States through all its training and exposure to Muslims, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, were making these basic mistakes of not respecting the Islamic holy book, which is a basic tenet of Islam. What are you hearing in the Pentagon about this? How are they explaining this kind of mistake this late into the war?"

Afghans are not over-reacting. Cultural awareness is putting oneself in another’s shoes. So the Americans who say they don’t get what the big deal is should just imagine a situation where Barack Obama lit an American flag on fire, which was surrounding a bible and pocket Constitution. Would Sean Hannity’s head would explode?

In seriousness, many Americans so value the flag they want to pass a Constitutional amendment forbidding flag burning. The same motivation that inspires Americans to want that amendment motivates Afghans to protest against a burned Koran.

The Debate about Social Media and Revolutions
   
Consider this another “discovery” where we link to articles that aren’t new temporally, but just a series of good links we have never shared here at On V. In “On Violence's Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2009”, Eric C and I discounted the role Twitter and other social media played in fomenting revolution. Since that post in 2009, the debate around new social media and revolutions has only gotten more complicated:

- First, Malcolm Gladwell in September of 2010 wrote a skeptical New Yorker article about the use of social media in future revolutions.

- Then, Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic wrote an article which disagreed with a few of Gladwell’s core points.

- In February of last year, Gladwell responded in two paragraphs on the Arab Spring, again saying he doesn’t believe social media inherently caused the revolutions.

- Finally, he and Fareed Zakaria debated this point on GPS 360, with Zakaria arguing that social media had some impact while Gladwell points out that a million people got together in East Germany to overthrow the Soviet Union, and they didn’t need Facebook.

- Finally, in December, The Economist wrote that social media helped cause the reformation in the 16th century, well before the Arab Spring.

In the end, we’ll have to wait, probably years from now, to see if studies--subtracting other factors--prove that social media helped cause the Arab Spring, more than they have from time immemorial.

On Killing the Right People...

A recent Small Wars Journal article--“We Own the Night” by Jonathan Smith--debunks a lot of the perceived effectiveness of kill/capture missions, especially when they kill civilians. “Carl”, commenting on my post “Fixing Intelligence is Evidence in Counter-Insurgencies”, argued that instead of saying “don’t kill civilians”, I should write, “Kill the Right People.” I think this article shows how even “killing the right people” can counter-intuitively hurt the long term mission.

More Bad News for Pessimists

But more good news for those few of us who believe the world is, indeed, getting better. Two academics, Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen, argue that the U.S. national security establishment has severely inflated the dangers facing America in an article called, “Clear and Present Safety” in Foreign Affairs. I still haven’t read a a coherent debunking of “the world is getting better” theories.

Update to Whistleblowing

David Carr excellently points out the gulf between the Obama administration praising reporters who seek to uncover wrong doing overseas, and die in the process like Marie Colvin and Anthony Shadid, while harshly prosecuting legitimate whistle-blowers uncovering legitimate waste, fraud, abuse and illegal actions under the espionage act.

Feb 29

(To check out other “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, click here.)

Two updates in two weeks, and we still have more articles harvested from the fields of the Internet that update our old ideas:

Oh, Iraq!

Oh, Iraq, will the question of your civil-war-ness ever be conclusively answered? Between 55 and 60 people were killed in bombings across Iraq last Thursday. Yes, we can compare the violence to the peak of 2007-2008, and say, “My, how it has dropped.” However, Iraq remains fantastically violent, something most Americans cannot comprehend. See “The Other Things That Happened Two Weeks Ago” for our previous thoughts on the topic, most of which still apply.
   
Of course, when Iraqi violence spikes, so does the (much needed) debate over its meaning. The general consensus between Thomas Ricks, Joel Wing of Musings on Iraq and Michael Knights of The Washington Institute is that Iraq is more violent than Afghanistan, just not for US troops. Joel Wing, though, believes that Iraq is not heading towards a civil war. Michael Knights believes the opposite.
   
On Violence, however, predicts nothing. Especially when it comes to violence, which may or may not indicate whether Iraq enters a civil war. Michael C does tend to agree, though, with Joel Brinkley, writing in Politico, that the most important features of the post-America Iraq are simmering sectarian tensions and a budding police state.
   
(As an added benefit, US news outlets continue to refer to “Al Qaeda in Iraq” as part of the Islamic State of Iraq, who took credit for the bombings. Michael C wrote about his issues with the confusion around using the phrase “al Qaeda” in, “Getting Orwellian: Al Qaeda in Iraq”.)
   
Finally, some conservatives still want troops in Iraq. (Shaking my head.) Seriously guys?

Update to “A New International Criminal Court”

The Piece de Resistance: A New International Criminal Court” might be the best idea Michael C ever created. In full disclosure, he isn’t the first person to link the ICC to terrorism. A quick google search reveals several journal articles or blogs on that topic. The ICC itself is vague on whether its mandate covers terrorism. The one key difference, though, is that we believe--since the U.S. is no longer a signatory to that treaty (the U.S. had signed on, then withdrew their signature)--that we need a completely new organization with gobs of funding from the U.S.

Stationing More Troops Abroad?

In “Trimming the Overseas Military Budget”, we argued that instead of stationing more troops abroad, our government should station less. In a severe recession, we shouldn’t funnel millions of dollars overseas to support Europe and other countries, especially since the U.S. doesn’t really need troops stationed overseas from a strategic standpoint.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration, in a show of strength in their “pivot to Asia”, has decided to station more marines in Australia. On the one hand, at least we aren’t sending more troops to fight the Russians; on the other, we don’t need any marines in Australia. If the Pentagon truly cared about trimming their budget, they would dramatically decrease the number of troops stationed abroad.

A Discovery on International Relations Liberalism

I cannot in good faith call this an update, since the original article and book came out seven years ago. Nevertheless, while researching another topic, I stumbled upon this article by Ian Bremmer in The Washington Post called “The World is J-Curved”. In short, getting to an open-democratic society from a closed-totalitarian one is chaotic. In other words, when democratizing a totalitarian nation expect bloodshed and violence. This article seems even more relevant now than it was in 2005, especially considering the Arab Spring.

Updates and Discoveries on Intelligence is Evidence

In our post, “Why Intel Goes Bad: We Want Bad Intel”, I identified “shaken baby syndrome” as another instance of the justice department over-zealously prosecuting innocent people relying on faulty evidence. Last November, the Supreme Court refused to rule on this important issue, and basically sent a grandmother back to prison for a crime she probably didn’t commit.
   
Next, we have two more examples of “Intelligence Gone Bad” in regards to terrorism. Both cases took place in Pakistan and show the limits of intelligence collection in that lawless region. First, in an example of a discovery not an update, I found this Jane Mayer article that describes the search for and execution of Baitullah Mehsud. It required fourteen months, countless strikes, and over two hundred non-Baitullah Mehsud dead people to finally get the right guy.
   
The next case of “Intelligence Gone Bad” is that of Tariq Aziz in Pakistan. After meeting with human rights groups outside of Waziristan, Tariq pledged to bring back proof that US drone strikes kill civilians. A few weeks later, a drone strike killed him.

MolleIndustria is Back At It Again

Last year, we published a review of MolleIndustria’s Oiligarchy for the video game journal Kill Screen. (The original post seems to have disappeared, and we’re trying to find it.) In short, my review went like this: this game is propaganda, propaganda is bad, thus the game is bad.

Well, MolleIndustria just released a game about drone strikes. Expect a review soon.

Feb 24

(To check out other “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, click here.)

Since we took so long between updates--before yesterday’s post, we posted our last update in the beginning of December--we have quite a few updates to get through, so we decided to keep the fun rolling along with another On V update today:

Update to “I Didn’t Deserve My Combat Pay”

Of all the guest posts and op-eds Eric C and I have written, my op-ed “I Didn’t Deserve My Combat Pay” for the Washington Post created by far the most controversy. Since we have no plans to start a political action committee dedicated to reforming the pay system, and the military tends to move as slow as molasses and never against the troops, we expected it to end there.

However (and huge hat tip to former “Helldiver” Jesse Murphree for the notice), it looks like the military (and by extension, the Obama administration) has changed the rules of who qualifies for Imminent Danger Pay.

The change is simple: imminent danger pay is now prorated by day, not month. This means--as we specifically spelled out in our op-ed and repeated by the Air Force Times--that people who visit a war zone for two days--on the last day of one month and the first day of another, like Generals visiting for Change of Command ceremonies--only receive two days worth of Imminent Danger Pay, not two months--something like 15 dollars versus 450.

So two issues remain. First, some conservative blogs blame Obama for screwing the troops. He isn’t. He is simply eliminating a loophole to prevent soldiers--especially flag officers--from gaming the system and screwing the taxpayer, which conservatives should love. It is also unclear who made this change; did General Dempsey propose it? Some finance officer? The secretary of defense? Or did President Obama do it himself, because he routinely goes through the Pentagon budget line by line searching for ways to screw soldiers? We don’t know.

Second, this doesn’t solve all of the military’s issues with pay, including how many different countries qualify as “war zones”, the fact that the “combat zone tax exclusion” is still given out by month, the fact that sailors and airmen not deployed to war zones can collect the same benefits as those soldiers deployed on the ground, and the fact that soldiers who bear the brunt of the fighting still deserve plenty more.

Despite the need to change more, I cannot believe that we might have played a role in this. The Air Force Times, for example, uses almost my exact analogy to justify the change. Expect us to follow up on this issue.
   
Inanities and Hyperbole in the Defense Department Budget Fight, continued...

In every On V update so far, we have provided some links about the defense department’s struggle to keep every single dollar of its budget intact. Today we will limit it to three good articles on the topic:

1. Chuck Spinney’s article on the F-35 is brilliant. The plane--in as simple words as possible--is a waste of money.

2. This is an even handed take on the subject by the NY Times.

3. This Todd Purdum article in Vanity Fair bemoans the growth of Top Secret America and the Military Industrial complex through George F. Kennan’s eyes. A great read.

Video Games Aren’t Violent?

A long time back, close friend Will M. guest posted about the link between violent video games and school shootings. Will quoted an expert in psychology and killing, Lt. Col. David Grossman, whose wildly influential books On Killing and On Combat influenced my thinking on this subject for years.

However, a recent EconomistSpecial report on video games” took issue with this very premise. In general, the link between video games and violence just hasn’t been shown in any scientifically rigorous way--ie experiments.

Update to Criminals and Counter-Insurgents

Any long time reader can tell that Michael C generally finds more in common between counter-insurgency wars and crime than between conventional inter-state wars and counter-insurgencies. On this, read this blog post by Mike Few, which shows the cooperation of the city of Salinas and students at the Naval Post Graduate School to help fight crime. It sure seems like crime and COIN are related.

Also, listen to this Fresh Air interview with David Kennedy called “Don’t Shoot”. David Kennedy’s approach to stopping inner-city crime seems awfully familiar to population-centric counter-insurgency too.

Wanat Stays in the News

Besides being the best topic for a war movie, Wanat had a profound effect on both authors of this blog because it occurred in Michael C’s battalion right before he returned to Italy. In the larger world, it remains insanely controversial (as pointed out by Derek in the comment’s section of that post.). But I believe Mark Bowden did a fairly even handed description of the larger issues with the battle of Wanat in his piece for Vanity Fair. (Full disclosure: I remain close to the leaders in that battalion, particularly Colonel Ostlund.)

Update to Kill Company

In the first few months of On V’s existence, we wrote about a brigade run amok in Iraq, punctuated by a company that earned the moniker “Kill Company”, in part for killing civilians. The leader of the Rakkasans--third brigade of the 101st Airborne Division--Colonel Michael D. Steele of Black Hawk Down fame, ended up becoming a case study in unethical leadership.

He popped into the news recently, supporting Herman Cain for presidential campaign. Enough said.

Update to Offensive and Security Operations

While researching a different post, I stumbled upon this Command and General Staff College thesis paper that argues for a middle ground between “population-centric” and “enemy-centric” counter-insurgency. It sounds a lot like my argument for having offensive, defensive and security operations going on simultaneously.

Feb 23

(To check out other “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, click here.)

Before we begin the updates, I would like to congratulate Eric C on a life-changing award he received in December. Time magazine bestowed Eric C with their esteemed “Time Person of the Year” award. This is our fourth win between the two of us. (Michael C has previously won for “The American Fighting Man” and “You”, while Eric C has now won for “You” and “The Protester”.)

It’s been a while since we’ve done an “On V Update to Old Ideas”, so this will be the first of two updates this week, with a third coming shortly:

David Kahneman is Everywhere

Since our last update, one of our posts went “milblog/foreign affairs” viral. “Getting Rid of The Chicago School of Counter-Insurgency” garnered responses ranging from the enthusiastic and thought provoking to the dismissive. In a few weeks, we will launch round two of “On Violence Criticizing Gratitude Theory and the Army’s Lack of Cultural Empathy,” where we will respond to our critics. We tend to avoid immediately responding to blog posts because that leads to a downward spiral of post, counter-post, counter-counter-post and counter-counter-counter-post and readers just sigh.

Daniel Kahneman, whose evidence we cited, meanwhile, seems to be everywhere from Vanity Fair to Kings of War to Fareed Zakaria GPS. Hearing and reading him in multiple other media sources, all we can say is our entirely uncontroversial banality stands: warfare is as influenced by emotion as it is by rational thinking. Now, if only we can get the military theorists and strategists to start using that idea in modeling and doctrine...

Update to Hating Other People’s Soldiers

Mike Few summed up in one paragraph--in his ForeignPolicy.com article, “This isn’t the COIN you’re looking for”--our three posts on “Everyone Hates Everyone Else’s Soldiers”, “Who Watches the Watchmen?” and “From the On V 2048 Archives”:

“2. Generally speaking, people view foreign armies as occupiers.  The populace's reaction to attempts at winning hearts and minds is often taken to be support, but in reality, these reactions show deference, perceived legitimacy, and temporary respect whose impact is fleeting and fluid.”

Well put, Mike F.

Update to Officers Avoiding Punishment

In Eric C’s post on the final scene in A Few Good Men, he wrote, “Our military punishes enlisted soldiers, and excuses officers. The higher up an officer, the less likely he/she is to get punished.” To prove our point, Time’s “Battleland” blog reports that the Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Cowpens, Holly Graf, who was relieved for “cruelty”, still retired with an honorable discharge. Just a shame.
   
Statistics, Damned Statistics and Anecdotes: Disgruntled Veteran Edition

Last spring, we wrote that the proper conclusion to Twain’s pithy aphorism, “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”, should read, “lies, damned lies and anecdotes.” We particularly singled out terrorism and firearms as debates marred by anecdotes.  

Well, friend of the blog Alex Horton linked to an article on the Gunpowder and Lead blog which made this exact point about disgruntled veterans. Essentially, the media portrays violent veterans as “crazy” or “PTSD riddled”, and the population assumes this applies to all veterans. In our words, society substitutes an anecdote--the stray, violent veteran--for the statistic--which shows that veterans are not that violent compared to the population.
   
Updates to Wikileaks and Top Secret America

Instead of moving towards a better, less secretive system, the government--especially the intelligence community--continues to cling to its over-classification. Here are the latest examples of the hypocritical and nonsensical system of classification at work:

1. According to On the Media, the CIA tried to censor retired FBI agent Ali Soufan’s book because it contained classified information. The New York Times was able to find every redaction already revealed online.

2. Out of curiosity, the ACLU asked the State Department, via FOIA request, for cables that Wikileaks had already leaked. Instead of simply handing over the documents, the State Department redacted large portions. Now anyone can go find out exactly what the State Department wants kept secret, and what they don’t--essentially giving other governments and intelligence agencies a road map to what the government considers valuable.

3. Finally, the new Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal film that will tell the story of the Osama bin Laden raid has been plagued by accusations from republican lawmakers that the Obama administration leaked confidential information to the filmmakers. Will the Obama administration drag the leaker through hell like Thomas Drake? (They won’t, and we wrote about that here.)     

Lying is Getting Tougher, Still

A McClatchy newsreporter accused the Marine Corps of inflating the story of Dakota Meyer, a Medal of Honor recipient, in order to increase his chances of winning that prestigious medal. In full disclosure, my previous unit--the 2nd of the 503rd, the greatest unit in the history of armed combat--was present at the time this event (without me), and my platoon worked in this exact district the previous deployment.

As we have said before, lying (and exaggerating) is getting tougher. That doesn’t mean people will stop trying.

Feb 09

In our “Most Thought Provoking Event of 2011” series last January, we again touched on the theme that,“making predictions is tough”. Fortunately, we aren’t the only ones cautioning against this trend. Several pundits--David Weigel, Fareed Zakaria and Nate Silver--held themselves to account for the predictions they had made during the last year by doing “prediction audits”.

This led Michael C to ask Eric C a simple question, “How well do we follow our own advice? Should we run an ‘On Violence Prediction Audit?’”

We decided that we should. Thankfully, most of our “predictions” fall under the category of “vague guesses about the future”. Also few, if any, of our “predictions” have time stamps on them, which could either be a good or bad thing. Here are our limited predictions for the future, in rough chronological order of when we made them:

Prediction: Another Wikileaks will happen. In “The Most Thought Provoking Event of 2010”, Michael C warned that the intelligence community hasn’t solved the core problems that allowed the first Wikileak to happen. In his defense, though, he didn’t predict when either of these events would happen. In fact, this January we doubled down on this idea, saying that the intelligence community still hasn’t reformed enough to prevent another Wikileak.
   
Status: Hasn’t happened yet, but we’re still waiting.

Prediction: Things in Iraq will stay violent. Michael C predicted, in “The Other Thing That Happened Two Weeks Ago”, that violence in Iraq, which claims hundreds of lives every month, will continue. And possibly get worse. He stands by that, especially if the Kurds and Shiites move to split the country apart.

Status: Confirmed. Iraq remains mired in bombings, murders and simmering sectarian tension.

Prediction: “Terrorist hordes will not invade the U.S.

Status: So far, so true.

Prediction: Leaving the Army “will free up [Michael C] to express himself more. (From “Hasta La Vista...Baby”) That actually hasn’t really happened. Michael C guesses that time tempers all ill judgements, and there is little point to saying things he would regret later.

Status: Wrong...so far (with cryptic laugh).

Prediction: Michael C is not optimistic the U.S. will ever embrace an expansive foreign policy that tries to prevent global conflict instead of just reacting to it. Michael C wrote this in, “Brazil Part 1: Do you know what CioPaz is?

Status: Unclear. One one hand, President Obama has (so far) steadfastly avoided going to war with Iran. On the other, the defense budget feels as sacrosanct as ever, while the State Department gets by on peanuts.

Prediction: Humans will stop fighting wars. In our series on this topic, “Will humans ever stop fighting wars?”, Eric C, Michael C and a few others answered, “Yes, humanity will stop fighting wars.”

Status: So far, so wrong.
   
Prediction: More memoirs will be revealed as frauds. Since Eric C made this prediction in, “You Broke My Heart, Mortenson” and “Is Lying Getting Tougher?”, no major memoir debunkings have occurred.

Status: True. Just yesterday another military fraud was revealed. The internet allows more people greater ability to fact check backgrounds than ever before.

Prediction: A screen version of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian will probably not get made. Eric C a few years back came up with an amazing cinematic take on Blood Meridian that set the novel in Afghanistan (the way Coppola set Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in Vietnam). But we doubt this film, or even a version true to the novel, will ever get made. Unfortunately.

Status: Confirmed. According to iMDb, a Blood Meridian film will be released in 2015. Yeah, good luck on that; according to Wikipedia, there are no official plans.
   
If any readers think we missed any other On V predictions, please let us know in the comments section and we will update it in the next “On V Update to Old Ideas”.

Dec 07

About once a year, in December, we--the On Violence duo--like to update our blogroll to reflect the great finds we have come across, and to highlight the blogs we read (our primary consideration is that blogs update regularly).

We’ll start with an omission. Almost a hundred posts ago, we added the Secrecy News blog to our blog roll. Except someone forgot to add it. (**cough** Eric C **cough** **cough**). So we’re amending that mistake today as we post the article. Read the reasoning for its original selection here.

Second, while we were updating this list, we realized we’ve left off several good friends of the blog including VAntage Point--by the Veteran’s Affairs department with our two faves Brandon Friedman and Alex Horton (check out this post asking, "Who is a veteran?")--and Kerplunk, Kaboom author’s Matt Gallagher’s personal blog. (That guy sure loves onomatopoeia.) Kerplunk mainly collects Gallagher’s outside writings, and since we think everyone should follow Gallagher’s outside writings, you should follow this blog. So, again, we fix that mistake today.

Next up, we’re adding friend of the blog and general “violence optimist” John Horgan’s blog at Scientific American--”Cross-Check”--to our blog roll. He posts more on science than violence, but just enough on violence to qualify. Plus, he inspired our posts answering, “Will Humans Ever Stop Fighting Wars?”, so we are in debt to him. His “What I am thankful for post” is a very positive explanation about human progress.

And finally, on a more mainstream media side of things, we are adding Wired.com’s "DangerRoom” and Time.com’s “BattleLand” blogs. Simply put, they are the best daily catalogues of the goings round in the Pentagon. (You’ll remember them from the “Defense Spending” section of yesterday’s update.) Between them, “The Best Defense” and the NYTime.com’s “At War” blog, these are the four best blogs for keeping up on military affairs knowledge.