Dec 06

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

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

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 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.

Sep 11

In honor of the tenth year anniversary of September 11th, we want to pause On Violence for a weekend of remembrance.

We’ll be back on Monday.

- On Violence

Sep 07

Five times before this--on our 50th, 100th, 1 Year, 200th, and 300th anniversaries--On Violence took time to look back at our best posts. In honor of our 400th post, we present another fantastic link drop.

Before we come at you fast and furious, we want to thank all our readers and supporters, especially Michael C’s young wife who doesn’t get nearly enough credit on this blog for her sacrifices. (Mainly having to listen to us edit posts together.) We also want to thank which has started sponsoring the site, as you’ve probably seen on the side bar. Check them out.

The big trend in our last 100 posts was the big, ongoing series. First up, we had “Intelligence is Evidence”, probably our most academic series to date. Check out the Introduction to see how terrorism in Iraq relates to arson investigations in Texas and to Devil’s Advocates in the Vatican.

Then we addressed a philosophical issue close to our hearts, asking the question, “Will Humans Ever Stop Fighting Wars?” Thanks to all those who provided answers and contributions.

In July, we anointed our first, “On V’s Most Intriguing Event of the Last Six Months” to make room for the Greg Mortenson/Central Asia Institute fiasco. (We followed up a few weeks back on this by comparing Greg Mortenson’s spending to the waste in U.S. national security.)

Our last series, which is by no means over, was “Why I Got Out” by Michael C, in an ongoing quest to explain himself--whether he needs to or not.

The winner for best title in the last 100 posts must be Eric C’s immensely clever, “Exit Through the Graft Shop” part of a week on the Oscar films, particularly the documentary Restrepo.

One of Michael C’s favorite posts is his contribution to the continuing “War is War” series, “War is War is Heinlein”. Be on the look out for a sequel to this next month. Second to that has to be a rare time-warp guest post from Michael C in 2040, “The On V Archives from 2040”.

Our best use of a picture was probably “One of the Inevitable Casualties” showing an emotionally stirring (possibly cliched) picture of one of the puppies who didn’t make it through a deployment.

Eric C also continued his analysis of war memoirs. Despite loathing memoirs as a genre, he ended up loving a few: War, Kaboom and Dispatches. Eric C also asked, “Why Do War Memoirs Rock So Hard?” and “Why Is War So Damn Funny?

His art posts also tackled themes of war and the military from works as far afield as The Butter Battle Book in ”The Zook Lobby and American Foreign Policy“ to A Few Good Men in “We Can't Handle The Truth”.

Finally, Matty P continues his great regular guest posting by asking this poignant question, “What Does a Terrorist Look Like?

The biggest event of the last 100 posts was our wildly successful and eminently controversial, “I Didn’t Deserve My Combat Pay” published in The Washington Post’s opinion section and picked up by Stars and Stripes and The Small Wars Journal among other publications. It was controversial--though we haven’t met anyone who disagreed with my final three recommendations--and we responded a week later. (Stars and Stripes probably had the most entertaining comments section, but SWJ was right behind.)

One final note: with Michael C out of the military, we plan to have a very public next 100 posts. Hopefully by the time we reach 500 posts, On Violence will have had many more guest posts and some exciting new things to write about. We also plan to move to a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday schedule, with guest posts on Tuesdays.

Stay tuned, and as always please “tweet”, “plus” or “like” this post to spread the On Violence word.

Jun 30

With a wedding this weekend and a cross country drive the next, On Violence will be off until July 11.

See you then!

May 09

Something really important happened last week: On Violence had its two year anniversary.

We would have posted on our proper two year anniversary on Friday, but Michael C was personally invited to listen to the President speak. And by personally invited, we mean he was invited along with everyone else at Fort Campbell. Watch the video here; he’s one of the guys on the top row with the long hair.

First, we want to say something we haven’t said in a while: thank you. Thank you to all the loyal readers, argumentative commenters, retweeters and facebook-likers. Thanks to everyone who helped us get our thoughts out there, and to everyone who nominated or voted for On Violence over at the milbloggies (with a particular shout out for Starbuck over at Wings Over Iraq.)

Second, instead of compiling a “Best of On V” link drop, we’ll link to what we consider our biggest accomplishment in the last year: getting published in the Washington Post with Michael C’s controversial op-ed, “I Didn’t Deserve My Combat Pay”. Nothing compares to seeing your name in print in a major newspaper.

Third, we’d like to address a question some of you may have been thinking, one we’ve been asking ourselves. With the death of Osama bin Laden, the impending draw down in Iraq in 2011, and the probably soon to rapidly increasing draw down in Afghanistan, and Michael C leaving the military in July, what’s going to happen to On Violence?

Well, we’re not going to stop. Violence isn’t going anywhere, and we still have years before both wars are fully over. We also will focus more on international conflicts, the meaning of war and violence, and of course, reviewing art and books about war.

Finally, some bigger news/updates. Michael C is getting out of the Army. We mention this for two reasons. First, posting may, counter-intuitively, go down. We try to publish 3 to 4 times a week, but in the next few months it will go down to three times a week. Second, we’re looking for writing jobs in the Los Angeles area. So if you have a job, know of a job, or know anyone involved in the writing industry (film, print or interwebs), we’d really appreciate it if you dropped us a line.

If you are looking for a team of amazing writers, please contact our sales office. Or just email us.

Apr 06

When it comes to the On Violence blog roll (see the sidebar), there are only have three requirements: update regularly, have a take and provide original content.

That is why I have to add Secrecy News to our blog roll. When it comes to providing original content, no one covers this unique topic better. Besides Top Secret America, few mainstream media outlets cover intelligence and government classification. This is disheartening considering the complexity, cost and importance of national security intelligence.

I would also add that Secrecy News excels at having a take. Their take is simple--the federal government needs to do a much better job at managing its classified information--but they tackle the intricacies and difficulties of trying to fix this eminently broken system. Instead of trying to summarize their points, I’ll let their about page do the work:

“Secrecy News, a publication of the Federation of American Scientists, reports on new developments in government secrecy and provides public access to documentary resources on secrecy, intelligence and national security policy.”

Written by Steven Aftergood, I first heard him as a guest on NPR’s On The Media. Besides graduating from UCLA (a big plus for this blog) he has won numerous awards for his first amendment advocacy. He has also published articles in a variety of academic journals and magazines.

Personally, I love Secrecy News because as an intelligence officer finding out news about intelligence is surprisingly tough. Much like the WaPo’s Top Secret America series, the Secrecy News blog shows how the private sector can often produce much better research and useful products then can the government.

So if you’re a libertarian, free speech supporter, open government fan, intelligence worker, in the government or just like original, though provoking posts, check out Secrecy News.