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.

Dec 06

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

With another month down, here is another On Violence update, where we highlight other blog posts and news stories that agree or disagree with our previous ideas. (Again, we’ll be honest: we mainly select articles that agree with us.)

Without further ado, the update:

More From Lone Survivor

Our post on Lone Survivor from last Tuesday (“Marcus Luttrell Stands By His Mistakes”) got a fairly good response on Twitter. Well, that post left out the most recent exaggeration of enemy numbers. Interviewed by Deadline Hollywood in May, Peter Berg increased the number of “Al Qaeda” (actually loosely allied wtih Hezb il Gulbuddin, but in reality mainly farmers in the Korengal just fighting against outsiders without real knowledge of the larger conflict) to 250 fighters, the highest total short of Glenn Beck’s ridiculously high 2,500. Berg also claimed there were four goat herders and and misstated the number of SEALs killed in action.

A quick note to all concerned military bloggers. If you thought The Hurt Locker mis-portrayed soldiers, just wait. This film could take the cake and then some.

Being Nice, and Management

I have a simple belief about management that I learned from Manager Tools: being nice is generally the best policy. Kindness has also popped up on our blog as it relates to “gratitude theory” in counter-insurgency. Unfortunately for On Violence, one of the biggest counters to this idea, Steve Jobs, just died, and had a widely read biography published. He was a notorious task master who was brutally honest with his employees. He has been called a jerk in many quarters.

This Atlantic article, though, does a fantastic job explaining why Steve Jobs was an exception to that rule. A great read for kindness.

Who says the world is dangerous?
Eric C keeps me on my toes, always asking during editing, “Is this a Ray Bolger?” (Ray Bolger being the actor who played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, the definitional strawman.) So with our big push last month of links about people writing books that the world is safer than it ever has been, did we create a strawman? Which politicians or columnists deny this idea?

Many. The key word to look for is “dangerous.” Those who reject deep defense cuts commonly call our world, “dangerous.” They often call it “more dangerous”, but don’t say what it is more dangerous than. (Presumably the past.) The latest candidates using “dangerous” with regards to the world (some say defense cuts are dangerous, but these four individuals specifically said the world is more dangerous for Americans than the past): Representative Buck McKeon, Representative J. Randy Forbes, The Washington Times Frank Gaffney and BlackFive writer “MCJ”.

Some quick points. None of the above columnists or politicians provided a shred of evidence that the world is more dangerous. They assert “the world is dangerous” and let it stand on its own. They don’t provide evidence the world is more dangerous because there isn’t any.

Further, check out the donations to the two honorable congress-people’s campaigns. See any correlations? (Hint: high defense industry donations equal a belief in a need for more defense spending. As InkSpots pointed out, it is a myth that the defense community has no domestic constituency. In fact, it might have the most powerful lobby in congress.)

Defense Spending

And now our regular update where we argue that we spend too much on defense, and we waste a lot of what we spend. First, the contrary opinion from J. Randy Forbes. He has said that decreasing defense spending will cost 1.5 million jobs. Politicfact has rated this as “mostly true”, so we acknowledge that defense cuts will include some financial pain. (See not every link agrees with us.)

On to the counters. This Best Defense post by Richard Kohn argues that much of our spending is wasted confronting Cold War threats. I couldn’t agree more. This article argues that defense spending has actually largely been spared any cuts, and most of the public cuts are exaggerated. This DangerRoom article presciently predicted that sequestration defense cuts won’t happen, and that looks to be happening.

Meanwhile the F22, the Joint Strike Fighter, and the SBInet “Virtual Border Fence” continue to be over-budget, inadequate or unsafe. How many times do military contractors have to deliver over-budget projects before Congress or the DoD says enough is enough?

Humanitarian Interventions

A long time back, I argued that the US should start participating (for free) in UN humanitarian interventions to help train Army brigades in irregular warfare. This would double the amount of troops involved in peacekeeping, help the US reputation around the world, and provide us training. However, humanitarian interventions are always tricky, and often backfire. Joshua Goldstein--who we cited for his new book Winning the War on War last month--released an excellent Foreign Affairs article with Jon Western arguing that humanitarian interventions have become increasingly capable and successful.

This just proves my point: the US should assist in humanitarian interventions more often (though politically that will become less likely).

Criminals and Counter-Insurgents

This isn’t one of our ideas, but Mike Few brought to a lot of people’s attention the involvement of the city of Salinas and students at the Naval Post Graduate School discussing the comparisons between counter-insurgency and fighting crime. I couldn’t help think about this when it came to Fresh Air’s interview with David Kennedy called, “Don’t Shoot” about solving crime with a technique opposite to the “Broken Windows” theory. I feel like preventing crime and fighting counter-insurgencies are almost more similar than maneuver wars and counter-insurgencies.

Of course, that would mean that not all war is war with the same underlying principles...

Nov 04

(To check out other “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, click here.)
Last month, Eric C and I wrote a post that had a bunch of links that either refuted, proved or updated ideas we have argued for and against on this blog. (To be fair, though, there’s a bit of self-confirmation bias going for most of the links.) Well, here we go again; we’ve decided to make it a monthly feature.

Update to An Army Level AAR

I followed a ”Best Defense” link to this Atlantic article where some smart defense thinkers propose a new commission to study the military and national security establishment’s response/conduct of the post-9/11 wars. They call it “The Commission to Assess the Long Wars”. I totally agree, and wrote as much in a post I called, “The Army Level AAR.” With long overdue cuts looming over the budget, the Department of Defense should prioritize its missions for the next generation. (We’ll have a post way in the future about how irregular/small/uncoventional/political/asymmetric wars are probably the wars of the future too.)

I do have one additional recommendation. I think that the commission should also host a group of thinkers who are under 40, specifically the junior officers/NCOs (and ex-officers and ex-NCOs) who blog and write about these problems. I would call this this "The Blogging Commission to Assess the Long Wars". Starbuck should chair, with Kaboom as co-chair, Mike F of SWJ definitely on board, some of the gents from Ink Spots, and the boyz at VAntage Point. That’s not an exhaustive list, but I would follow their recommendations.

The Continuing Decrease of Violence and “Will Humans Ever Stop Fighting Wars?”

A long time back, Eric C discovered this brilliant TED lecture by Stephen Pinker about the decline of violence in the world. It, and John Horgan’s writing, prompted us to ask the question, “Will Humans Ever Stop Fighting Wars?” We both tend to take the “optimist” viewpoint.

Well, in the last month or so, the optimists have gotten a lot of intellectual heft from several books. Stephen Pinker published The Angels of Our Better Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, a book expanding the thesis of his lecture that violence has steadily decreased over the last millennium. (We plan to read, review, and then review the reviews of this controversial work.) Joshua Goldstein has a new book called Winning the War on War. He accompanied this with a “Think Again” piece in Foreign Policy on the decline of war. In both works, Goldstein argues that the frequency and severity of war has decreased. John Horgan is releasing a book called, The End of War in November, and we’ll try to review that as well.

Most importantly, after trolling around the YouTubes, we found video proof that humanity does have a starting point for warfare. Check it out.

Update to Terrorism and Iraq

A few months after we launched, Eric C and I wrote that the next terrorist attack would have ties to Iraq. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet. We’ve seen a Nigerian, some Somalis and Yemenis acting up instead. However, this Danger Room article links to research claiming that the next terror attack will likely come from Iraq. I tend to agree. The war in Iraq radicalized a generation of young Iraqis. It would not stun me if one of them ends up attacking America.

Update to Military Whistle Blowers

In my series, “Why I Got Out”, I mentioned that the U.S. military hates whistle blowers, despite the obvious benefits for exposing fraud and corruption. This Battle Land post, “Why Military Whistleblowers Fear Reprisal”, cross posted at the Project for Government Oversight, describes exactly what I meant. Read the story carefully. Senior officers, under investigation for “vast corruption and malfeasance”, ended the cooperating soldier’s career--the person adhering to military values. That is a tragedy.

Department of Defense Waste

If Eric and I continue posting monthly update on our articles, we will just as often include a paragraph on Department of Defense spending. It seems like every day in Defense News or The Washington Post or The New York Times, some senior advisor for the Pentagon or some policy wonk from the Heritage Foundation bemoans how defense cuts will kill every baby in America.

On the other hand, there seems to be a weekly post in Battle Land or Danger Room about another fantastic weapons program failure. This month we saw an investigation into the safety record of the Osprey, the regrounding of the F-22, some senators calling out the Pentagon for terrible funding practices, and some other senators revealing that the Pentagon spent a trillion dollars with contractors charged or convicted of fraud.

Meanwhile, reconstruction from Iraq to Afghanistan continues to be marred by corruption. “Cross-Check” has this post on the money wasted rebuilding Afghanistan’s electricity, and Fresh Air interviewed Peter Van Buren about his new book called We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.

Update to Facts Behaving Badly

Finally, the awesome blog Polite Dissent--which weekly reviews the science behind House--verifies a fact behaving badly is truly behaving badly. We don’t only use ten percent of our brains.

Oct 03

(To read other editions of "An On V Update to Old Ideas", please see below:

An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Two

An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Three

An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Four

An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Five

An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Six

An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Seven

An On V Update to Old Ideas: Drone Strikes, Iran and Lexicography

An On V Update to Old Ideas: Iran, Guantanamo, Hypocrisy and Bar Fights Edition

An On V Update to Old Ideas: Marketing, Management, and Shaken Babies Edition

An On V Update to Old Ideas: More ASU Talk, Modeling Emotion, and Iran Edition

An On V Update to Old Ideas: Military Waste, DADT and OPSEC Edition

An On V Update to Old Ideas: Quotes, American Military Superiority and Orwellian language Edition

An On V Update to Old Ideas: Obama and Whistleblowers, Checking the Mental Health Block and Robocop

On V Update to Old Ideas: Sexual Assault Edition

On V Update to Old Ideas: Money Edition)

Mistakes in the U.S. judicial system haunt me. In my mind, nothing embodies injustice better than a poor, probably minority, suspect trying to prove his innocence in the face of a system spending millions to ensure his death. After listening to a series of Frontline articles on both Afghanistan and wrongful convictions, I made the connection that “Intelligence is Evidence”--mistakes on the battlefield and in the courtroom are more similar than they are different.

While I’ve (mostly) finished my series “Intelligence is Evidence”, the justice system hasn’t stopped making mistakes, so Eric C and I decided to post a link drop updating various topics we’ve covered here at On Violence. If today’s post has a theme--especially in light of the Republican presidential campaign--it is that wild mistrust of government can’t just apply to social policy; it has to apply to the whole kit and caboodle.

Especially to the use of violence.

Update to “Intelligence is Evidence”
Our theme comes from an excellent Dahlia Lithwick article from a few weeks back. She trenchantly shows how Republican nominees from Perry to Romney to Paul rail against government waste, mismanagement and general incompetence. Except when it comes to killing people.

Her article preceded Troy Davis’ execution in Georgia, the biggest piece of capital punishment news in the last few months. Plenty of words were printed on this topic, but our favorite is this piece by Trymaine Lee. (Lithwick and Andrew Cohen covered the execution too.) On the other hand, some states have dismissed notable capital cases, including the Memphis Three (read about it at On The Media here). McClatchy also wrote a great series about how the military poorly prosecutes capital cases as well.

All of the news about capital punishment has the same ring to it: we just don’t know. Some commenters said that “intelligence has a lower threshold for proof than evidence” when we first published “Intelligence is Evidence”. Well, it seems like “evidence” has a pretty low threshold for proof too. More than anything, these cases show that the power of the state can easily overwhelm poor and uneducated suspects.
The burden of proof is so hard to prove because so many of our beliefs about the criminal justice system don’t hold water. For instance, The Economist had a great article about how easily people confess to crimes they didn’t commit. The science isn’t definitive, but the idea that no one would confess to a crime they didn’t commit is just a belief, not fact. If we overturn that principle, plenty of convicted criminals would go free. This Slate article shows how easy it is for eyewitnesses to make mistakes too.
Update to Contracting

Right now Representative Darrell Issa is holding hearings about the bankruptcy filings of Solyndra, a solar panel maker that went bankrupt after getting 500 million dollars or so worth of government loans. Bill O’Reilly made the same point about Solyndra on The Daily Show, using Solyndra as the raison d’etre for why we need less government.

But what about the contracting decisions made by the Department of Defense? A few months back we wrote about some of the irrational spending overruns by defense contractors. Representative Issa, please check out the Department of Defense too, the single largest spender of the discretionary budget. Check out cases like this one.

Or this one.

Or start reading DangerRoom on a regular basis.

Update to Terrorism

Continuing with our “faith in government theme”, I’ve been stunned how loosely the Republican candidates define “government”. Apparently mandatory health care is creeping socialism; anything that keeps citizens “safe” is perfectly constitutional--no need to worry about tyranny or fascism in those sectors. Plenty of candidates love the second amendment, but forget about the first, third, fourth...and so on amendments. This article by The Economist’s Lexington columnist--one of my favorite weekly reads--explains how the trinity of wars on terror, crime and drugs have eroded civil liberties. (It’s a bit late but I can’t believe I never linked to it before).

Last spring, Eric and I went on a bit of a kick about how terrorism is not worth the amount of money America spends on it. The anniversary of 9/11 brought a host of articles echoing this theme:

- NPR had a fantastic series about counter-terrorism at work at the Mall of America.

- Fresh Air also had a great piece asking, “Where is the language legacy of 9/11?”

- The LA Times came to a simple conclusion: the biggest result of 9/11 is more domestic surveillance.

- The NY Times calculated the cost of terrorism at 3.3 trillion.

- As George Will noted the spending and decisions made after 9/11 were mistakes in and of themselves.

- Finally, John Mueller of Ohio State and Woody Hayes broke down exactly how likely we are to die of terrorism.

Update to Language Training

Thomas Friedman’s 9/11 column echoes one of our core arguments about the post-9/11 world: America let a great opportunity go by. He even made the same Eisenhower and the Cold War analogy. He didn’t mention language training, but recommended everything else we did. This SWJ post does lay out a way forward for language training and cultural immersion; I’m skeptical the Pentagon will ever embrace it though. We might write about this topic again in a few weeks.

Update to Art
Friend of On Violence Matt Gallagher wrote a spirited defense of Once an Eagle by Anton Meyer for the “Battleland” blog at time.com. I agree with him that the novel isn’t as bad as the press it receives, and we are going to get resident art reviewer Eric C on it. I will write a post eventually comparing the treatment of revolutionary/irregular war to conventional war, a fascinating undercurrent in the novel.  

Update to Sympathizing with Warren Buffett

This last update doesn’t have anything to do with violence. Warren Buffett wrote a controversial op-ed in The New York Times, saying billionaires and millionaires should pay more in taxes. A common refrain was, “Fine, why doesn’t he just pay more then?” We got a similar response with “I Didn’t Deserve My Combat Pay”. I just love that so many Americans--especially some really smart pundits--resort to such a silly rhetorical argument that is essentially, “I’m going to ignore the merits of your argument while I insult you with a ridiculous proposition.”

Stay strong Warren, we know how you feel.