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A Quote Doctor?


John has retreated to the twin bastions of “I’m being misquoted!” [post since revised/removed] and “I was only trying to be provocative!” Of the former:

And now I have my own confirmatory example. In my much-denounced post on the utility or otherwise of navies, I argued that, while the US got some benefits from its huge navy, “it’s hard to see this expenditure as good value for money”. I then went on to say

What’s true of the US is even more so of other countries. Since World War II, vast amounts of money have been spent on navies that have not fired a shot in anger. The one exception, the Falklands War, is scarcely encouraging for naval advocates. The Royal Navy came to the edge of defeat against the air force of a Third World dictatorship, operating at the limits of its range.

In a response to my post, which he describes as the “worst ever” on CT, Rob Farley of Lawyers, Guns and Money quotes this passage, but omits the first sentence, implying that the statement is meant to encompass the US as well as others. Sure enough, the very first commenter jumps on this, with a snarky reference to US cruise missiles, and Farley jumps straight in after him. He repeats points about cruise missiles further down in the thread, again with reference to the doctored quote.

As is standard in cases of this kind, repeated protests in the comments threads and a series of direct emails did not induce Farley to present the complete quote – doing so would have made nonsense of a fair bit of the comments thread. And, if past experience is anything to go by, this piece of dishonesty will get plenty of support from those who’ve lined up on Farley’s side of the debate.

I’ll confess that I don’t understand what John’s objection is here. The phrase “What’s true of the US is even more so of other countries,” is an explicit parallel (not a contrast!) between the United States and other countries. In the previous paragraph, John stated what he believed to be “true” about the USN:

The US hasn’t engaged in naval warfare on any significant scale since 1945, a period during which the other arms of its military have fought five major wars, and lots of smaller ones. The record in those wars, including an outright defeat in Vietnam, a status quo ante ceasefire in Korea, and highly equivocal outcomes in the two Iraq wars and Afghanistan casts plenty of doubt on the idea of that US military as a whole is a “high-performing agency”, and raises the question of why so much of the budget has been allocated to an armed force that does hardly any actual fighting.

Call me crazy, but reading this I draw the implication that John doesn’t believe that the US has engaged in naval warfare of any significant scale since 1945, and that the USN is an armed force that hardly does any actual fighting. Since in the post John reveals not even a passing knowledge of the actual combat that the USN has been involved in (air combat, airstrikes, shore bombardment, and cruise missile strikes) this further leads me to believe that he just doesn’t know very much about what the USN has done; that he mentions submarines towards the end but mentions only commerce raiding and nuclear deterrence (rather than cruise missile launches) only reinforces this impression. Consequently, I’m inclined to take John at his word he uses the phrase “what’s true of the US is even more so of other countries” in that I believe that he believes that world navies, including the USN, don’t do very much fighting. As such, it didn’t seem to me that the first sentence was anything but redundant.

I suppose that John is resting his case on the “even more so,” which could be read as an upgrade of “hardly any actual fighting” to “no actual fighting.” This, to my mind, seems a very thin reed indeed, but I’ll let the assembled multitudes determine whether I am, in fact, a “quote doctor.” John is apparently put out that I refused to alter my post in response to e-mail entreaties; I had not previously been aware that quote approval was a policy adhered to in such situations. It’s also worth noting that John’s claim about non-US navies is simply wrong on its merits. While the intensity of combat operations certainly varies from service to service (not to mention ship-to-ship), many navies other than the USN engaged in significant combat operations during the Cold War, often operations similar to those of the USN. These include but are not limited to the Royal Navy, the French Navy, the PLAN, the Argentine Armada, the Royal Australian Navy, and the Royal Canadian Navy. Moreover, many more navies commit warships to such collaborative efforts as Operation Atalanta, Operation Active Endeavour, CTF 151, and a variety of disaster relief efforts around the world. Finally, I do wish John would appreciate that the fact it never fought the USN directly does not mean that a force such as the Soviet Navy was a complete waste of time and money; through its very existence the Soviet Navy created major problems for the Soviet Union’s primary geopolitical adversary, and consequently performed its role as a tool of state policy.

With regards to provocative… well, there are lots of things that are provocative. Preaching the gospel naked from a street corner in downtown Lexington is provocative. Punching someone in the nose is provocative. Miscalling the infield fly rule in a one game playoff to determine the Wildcard winner is pretty goddamn provocative. And finally, writing a post about naval policy which evinced no actual knowledge of naval policy, naval theory, or naval history is, indeed, provocative. It’s just that “provocative” doesn’t, at the end of the day, amount to a very compelling defense.

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