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john t reed's thoughts on war and the military:

Do people glorify war?

  • My guess at the moment is that the answer to that question depends on what you mean by "glorify".

What does it mean to "glorify" war?

  • Making war seem more pleasant than it is.
    • Downplaying / hiding the unpleasant parts of war.
  • Conferring benefits on people who engage in war-related behavior.
    • A police officer letting a veteran go with a warning when he catches the veteran speeding.
    • Politicians praising filmmakers who create films that put that nation's warlike behavior in a positive light.

Why do people glorify war?

  • A: My initial guess is that war-making has been an evolutionarily-successful behavior, and that since it is an extremely risky activity, and since each individual person has an incentive to back off and let his buddies take the risks, praising soldiers is an evolved behavior (maybe only socially-evolved, maybe genetically-evolved) that encourages people to do things that otherwise they would have little incentive to do.
  • it seems to me at the moment (istmatm) that you need to know what you'll be up against way before you actually start to fight; you need to know what the other side is preparing before and while you're preparing your own plan. gathering accurate information on your opponent's condition and plans is half the battle.
    • ex1: rock-paper-scissors - if there was a way to figure out what the other side was going to choose that would be the way to win.
    • ex2: some strategy games have a "fog of war" in which you can't see everything going on in the world; you need to have units present in an area to see what's going on there (ex of fog of war: starcraft; ex of no fog of war: chess and risk). a huge part of the fight then becomes gaining accurate information on what the other guy's situation is.
  • istmatm that because new technology can have dramatic effects on the appropriate tactics and outcomes of war, groups can get in trouble if they fail to pay attention to these changes


  • John T. Reed's article on elite-but-not-really military units is the most damning critique that i've ever read on the subject, and he provides very compelling reasons for the claims he makes:http://www.johntreed.com/ranger.html I can attest, though, that these units can attract first-rate individuals.


  • Where Men Win Glory (skimmed it) - seems to have lots of info on pat tillman's experience in the rangers (wasn't a good one even before he was killed by friendly fire)
  • Victory Point (read the website) - lots of info on operation red wings / fighting in afghanistan. its big thing is providing compelling arguments that "lone survivor" was not an accurate account of what happened. for example, those SEALs were not fighting off hundreds of guys; it was probably ~10-14. also, the helicopter that was sent in to rescue them was probably shot down by a heat-seeking anti-aircraft missile, not an RPG. most memorable: afghan math - take any reports of enemy combatants and divide by 10 to get the real number (100 fighters = 10 fighters).
  • War by Junger - i got the impression he was trying to write another hit book (Junger also wrote "the perfect storm"). it does seem to give a good idea of what it's like at the tip of the spear in afghanistan. the most memorable thing about this book was how small it made the war seem; pretty much all the fighting is being done by a couple hundred guys at any one time. something like 80% of the bombs being dropped are being dropped in a single valley. and this book takes place just a couple hundred meters from where "victory point" takes place and where "lone survivor" takes place. a lot of the enemy fighters are from outside afghanistan, and there aren't very many of them. also, everyone at the tip has volunteered to go there; you don't just end up there by chance.


  • https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/22/opinion/vietnam-was-unwinnable.html
    • the revisionist case rests largely on the assertion that our defeat in Vietnam was essentially psychological, and that victory would therefore have been possible if only our political leadership had sustained popular support for the war. But although psychological factors and popular support were crucial, it was Vietnamese, rather than American, attitudes that were decisive. In the United States, popular support for fighting Communism in South Vietnam started strong and then declined as the war dragged on. In South Vietnam itself, however, popular support for the war was always halfhearted, and a large segment (and in some regions, a majority) of the population favored the Communists.
    • even as American soldiers began pouring into the country in 1965, there were already enough South Vietnamese troops on hand that they should have been able to defend it on their own. After all, the South Vietnamese forces outnumbered the Communists, were far better supplied, had vastly superior firepower and enjoyed a considerable advantage in mobility thanks to transport planes and helicopters. But their Achilles’ heel was their weak will to fight — and this shortcoming was never overcome.
    • As long as the war in Vietnam didn’t demand too much of them and they believed that victory was just around the corner, most Americans would support it. But if Johnson admitted publicly that South Vietnam could not survive without a full commitment by the United States, he knew that support would crumble.
    • As the renowned historian George Herring put it, the war could not “have been ‘won’ in any meaningful sense at a moral or material cost most Americans deemed acceptable.”
    • Perhaps the key lesson of Vietnam is that if the reasons for going to war are not compelling enough for our leaders to demand that all Americans make sacrifices in pursuit of victory, then perhaps we should not go to war at all. Sacrifice should not be demanded solely of those who risk life and limb for their country in combat theaters overseas.

World War 2


  • http://www.tankbooks.com/interviews/contents.htm
    • The interviews here are extremely interesting. There's a lot to be learned from them.
    • Excerpts:
      • But you don’t plan these things. You’re out there, and something’s occurring, you just do what you have enough training to do. They taught me when I received my tactical training that the worst thing you can do in combat is nothing. To do something, even if it’s wrong. And I remembered this, so I’m going to do something.
      • In those days, we were an all-volunteer force, and of course they got a lot of their men, individuals like me, and other young men who would get into some type of minor trouble with the authorities. A judge would call them before him and give them him a choice of paying their fine and spending 15 to 30 days in jail or going into the military. So a lot of them would take the military. And in those days, the basic training in the military was to weed them out; in other words either make a man and a soldier out of them or out they would go. Later on, I ended up being a recruiting instructor in the same outfit. And this was quite a problem, because as a corporal in those days I had more authority than the majors had later on as far as disciplinary actions were concerned. If we had a problem recruit, we could take him down and put him in the guardhouse and leave him there overnight, with no charge. He didn’t know how long he was going to be there and this would scare the heck out of him. When he came back, why, he’d turn out to be a good soldier. Can you imagine trying to do that today in this type of Army? No.
      • If you had a problem with the individual, they had an area behind the garbage rack where you could back and fight it out, as long as you used your fists, and when it’s over you’re supposed to get up and shake hands.
      • Aaron Elson: How did you meet your wife?
        Arnold Brown: I met her at a community dance. It was a USO activity.
      • General Patton got out of the jeep and said, "Who’s the blankety blank commanding officer of this blankety blank outfit?" You can fill in the blanks.

        At that time I was hoping the Germans would start shelling us so I could jump in a hole. And then I was thinking, well, if he relieves me of my command, with the experiences I’ve had in the past, he’d be doing me a favor. I stepped out and reported to him and said, "I am, Sir."

        He looked me over a little bit and made a few comments. Then he got back in the jeep and drove on. It was just his way of letting everybody know that he’s in charge of things and he’s up there.

      • In an attack position such as this, I always attacked with two platoons forward and one in support, and my position is always in between and slightly to the rear of the two attacking platoons, so I can keep abreast of what’s going on and if I need to commit my support platoon, I’ll know where to do it.
      • I had nine years of training and experience before I got into combat. No matter how smart a guy is, it’s no reflection on him, they’re good men, you can’t send a person because he’s got a college degree to OCS for 90 days and make a combat leader out of him, not really psychologically or they don’t know tactics. You can’t teach them in that amount of time.
      • whenever I would get in these positions where I would start to entertain the idea that there ain’t no way I can survive, I’d push those thoughts out of my mind. And I just trusted in my Supreme Being and on a guardian angel because He’d already proved to me that there was one there, you see? I might add my men may have thought I was brave, but they’d better give the credit to the Supreme Being because I was scared all the time.
      • As the commanding officer, I could never show any fear to my men. So I just stood up and moved forward.
      • In the regular Army it took you years to get any kind of rank.

The 21st-century cold war between the US and China

  • It seems like a weakness for China may be one that Russia seems to share: brain drain. They have a collectivist system that can mean that an individual could find a better deal in another country.

Possible improvements to tactics / strategy in past wars