Home / Robert Farley / And it Continues

And it Continues


Back in April, John Quiggin wrote what was at the time, to my mind, the worst post in the history of Crooked Timber. To their credit, the commenters at CT utterly disassembled the first iteration of that post, forcing Quiggin to make major revisions. They then utterly demolished the second iteration of that post. I wrote a 1400 wordish points on why Quiggin was crazy, but decided to hold fire both because the commenters had done such a good job, and because there was no need to develop any bad blood between CT and LGM.

And so now that we’re in the midst of an inexplicable war between LGM and CT, let me point out that this post is worse. The commenters are again giving it a good once over (the CT commentariat is not notably hawkish in disposition, but they do know sloppy and indefensible when they see it), but a couple additional points:

What does it deliver for that money? 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.

It’s hard to figure out where to begin. I’m happy to grant, for sake of discussion, the outcomes he describes, but John is apparently utterly ignorant of how those wars were fought. Finding out that the USN participated in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, both Iraq Wars and the Afghan War isn’t particularly difficult; there are books about it and everything. There was even a Presidential candidate named John Kerry who was in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and engaged in actual combat. Swift boating is a thing.  I’m guessing that John must be equating aircraft with “Air Force,” because he apparently doesn’t appreciate that a very large proportion of the aircraft engaged in all conflicts were flown off the decks of aircraft carriers.

This sets aside the most important issue, which is logistical; turns out that there are relatively few rail lines between Pusan and the United States, and that in any case the trains run infrequently.

The arms race between Britain and Germany before 1914 was focused on ‘dreadnought’ battleships. They helped in building up the fever that led to war, but did almost nothing in the war itself.[2] Many more battleships were built after 1918, contributing once again to the resurgence of militarism, and again they proved an expensive waste of resources when war broke once more. Battleships and cruisers were sunk by planes, submarines and even frogmen, but otherwise did little or nothing.

I dunno what to say about this, other than it’s probably the single most unsophisticated, ill-informed passage that I’ve ever read about World War II on the internets. I want you to know that I fully appreciate the gravity of this claim.

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.

Again, John is defining “in anger” as direct ship-to-ship combat, which is an appallingly stupid war of describing the combat contribution of a naval force. With regards to the Falklands, naval advocates often note that the United Kingdom could not have prosecuted the war without the Royal Navy; whatever the wisdom of the decision to go to war, the Royal Navy proved an effective tool for securing the ends of the British government.

The trillions of dollars that have been spent on building, maintaining and scrapping fleets since 1945 has yielded almost zero benefits to the nations that have spent this money, in the belief that all respectable countries should have a navy. China’s carrier is an extreme example. About the best that can be said is that a zero benefit-cost ratio is substantially better than that for military expenditure in general.

It turns out that most MiG-21s and Patton tanks ended up in the scrapyard, too.  And if “zero benefit-cost ratio is substantially better than that for military expenditure in general,” then why is this a post on naval spending rather than military expenditure in general?

There’s so much more… U.S. naval predominance is one reason there’s so little naval combat…. naval combat is different in character than land combat in the sense that it’s difficult to compensate for material disadvantage by using terrain or defensive position… navies play a more important role in humanitarian relief operations than either armies or air forces… and so on, and so on.

… John responds by searching for “battleship” on Wikipedia. I’ve had some thoughts over the years on battleships…

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  • wengler

    I guess all those cruise missiles magically appeared.

    • Halloween Jack

      One of my brothers was stationed on a submarine that fired off a few Tomahawks during Gulf War I. Both being in the navy and participating in that event were life-forming experiences for him, and I’ll be quite regretful to inform him that he was hoodwinked by a prop from a Tom Clancy movie.

  • Robert Farley

    I believe John’s point is that they weren’t fire in anger. They were happy cruise missiles!

    • Peter Hovde

      Not anger, just . . .disappointment.

    • They were fired in moderate disdain. This is long-recognized by international law as something short of anger.

    • They were fired more in sadness than in anger.

    • Halloween Jack

      Like the duchess who yelled, “Fuck me!”, more in hope than in anger.

  • Malaclypse

    Speaking as a Quaker pacifist, in the insane world where I am elected as absolute dictator, I’m abolishing the Air Force on day 1, because those guys are nuts. And I’m working on a plan to shrink the Army down and absorb it into the National Guard. But I’m keeping the flipping Navy as is, because what does he think the infrastructure required for maritime trade is, if not the Navy?

    • Captain Haddock

      Marines? Coast Guard?

      • DrDick

        FWIW, the Coast Guard were in Vietnam as well. Had a friend who joined the Coast guard and wound up guarding the Mekong River in a patrol boat.

      • Halloween Jack

        SEALs in Zodiacs.

    • Warren Terra

      You might mothball half our aircraft carriers, though. We’re ludicrously oversupplied with aircraft carriers.

      • rea

        Rule of 3, though–it takes 3 carriers to keep one deployed, the way the USN operates (one under repair, one in training, one deployed).

        • So can we cut down from 11 to 9?

          • rea

            I believe the plan is to add one (the USS George HW Bush).

            • swearyanthony

              Imagine the poor bastards who will one day serve on USS George W Bush.

      • We’re ludicrously oversupplied with aircraft carriers.

        We’re ludicrously over-supplied with jobs for them to do, too.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve taught maritime history and one of the big points my class ended on was: hey maritime history is not over! The ocean is still a primary theater of war, trade, and environmental changes. Aside from the various other points of stupidity in the original post, it reflects an annoying landlubbery ignorance of how exactly our big wet planet works.

  • Scott Lemieux

    midst of an inexplicable war

    I should note that I don’t actually endorse this; I have a couple posts disagreeing with CT writers and likewise, the end.

    • SEK

      Agree. It wouldn’t be polite of me to endorse a war with CT until I return the shoes Holbo left at my apartment the last time he bunked here.

      • Robert Farley

        And apparently we have some fifth columnists who need to be purged…

        • Bruce McCulley

          Nah, not columnists, just an bunch of bloggers. And probably better at bingeing than purging.

          • NonyNony

            But if you look at the top of the page, SEK actually is the fifth columnist here.

        • SEK

          Do you really want to try and purge the Scotts? May want to talk to England about that before you get all gung-ho about it.

        • Anonymous

          Damn those enclaves on the coasts!

        • rea

          This war would go better if we had a couple of battleships . . .

      • wengler

        No calling off the war now. I got my face paint on and everything.

      • Jamie

        That happened to me once. Getting back to Brooklyn from Midtown without shoes kinda sucked, but was funny in retrospect.

      • Alex

        You got hostages. You can hold them for ransom, like a Somali pirate.

  • wjts

    The trillions of dollars that have been spent on building, maintaining and scrapping fleets since 1945 has yielded almost zero benefits to the nations that have spent this money…

    Zero benefits? Why, if it weren’t for the Navy, we’d all be speaking dialect.

  • witless chum

    The idea that safe, open sea lanes haven’t been a benefit to the U.S. commercially seems so crazy that I had to go back and read the post twice. He really doesn’t mention that.

    • Cody

      That’s silly, everyone knows we just drive semis to Europe.

  • Edward Furey

    The only U.S. Navy battleship “sunk,” in the sense of being lost, in WWII was the Arizona on the first day of the war. Several other battlewagons were sunk that day, but all were refloated, and except for the Oklahoma, were back in action with modern radars and more antiaircraft batteries. They provided gunfire support — artillery — to just about every landing in the Pacific as well as D-Day and other landings in the ETO. Fast battleships provided antiaircraft defense to carrier task forces. At Santa Cruz, for example, the South Dakota shot down 26 Japanese planes.

    • Alex

      The Oklahoma actually was refloated. However, it was deemed damaged beyond repair and sank when being towed back to the West Coast for salvage.

      Fast battleships where not terribly efficient means of providing anti-aircraft support, since you could build and man several cruisers for the same amount of money and manpower and amplify that force. The South Dakota’s claims at Santa Cruz are widely dismissed as a gross over estimate.

      But the growing obsolesence of battleships was largely caused by naval aviation and carriers, not land based aircraft. Both Yamato and Mushashi were sunk by carrier strikes.

      • Edward Furey

        The cost advantage of cruisers has to be weighed against their vulnerability. Cruisers were much easier to sink than battleships, none of which were sunk in task force operations. In the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Spruance deployed a ring of battleships, cruisers and destroyers in a formation similar to the carrier task groups, positioned closest to the Japanese fleet. The Japanese aircraft that made it through the Hellcats (not many) attacked the battlewagons, did little damage and were short down.

        Certainly carriers supplanted the BBs as capital ships, but the carriers had to be protected from air attack and the BBs with 20 or more 5 inch guns with VT fuses played a useful role.

        • Alex

          You could build 10 light cruisers, each of which had 12-16 5inch DP guns, and the total cost would be far cheaper than the price of a single fast battleship.

          The battleships were useful as escorts, in part because they could defeat any surface threat the IJN could mount. They were large and useful AA platforms, but I just don’t think that facet alone would justify the expense and time consumed in constructing them, just because you could provide far more AA with other, cheaper platforms.

  • John Quiggin

    “the single most unsophisticated, ill-informed passage that I’ve ever read about World War II ”

    Umm, maybe also this

    “The Second World War saw the end of the battleship as the dominant force in the world’s navies. On the outbreak of the War, large fleets of battleships—many inherited from the dreadnought era decades before—were one of the decisive forces in naval thinking. By the end of the War, battleship construction was all but halted, and almost every existing battleship was scrapped within a few years of its end.”


    • Robert Farley

      And so you know what you know of battleships because of Wikipedia?

      It’s probably worth noting that most of the battleships sunk by aircraft during World War II were sunk by carrier aircraft, which are launched from aircraft carriers, which are naval vessels. This suggests, at best, that naval construction was misallocated, rather than useless, during the interwar period. It’s also true that the United States had decided to go in heavily on the aircraft carrier even before the war began.

      And of course, none of this means that the battleship was useless during World War II, or that it didn’t perform critical tasks. As commenters here and at your own site have noted, battleships performed a wide variety of tasks from air defense to shore bombardment to surface warfare. If you’d like I could detail those for you, along with an exhaustive list of the surface engagement of battleships.

      By the end of the war naval authorities determined (correctly) that battleships were not an efficient use of resources; no one believed that they were useless.

      Surely, John, you can do better than this. Can’t you?

      • John Quiggin

        “It’s probably worth noting that most of the battleships sunk by aircraft during World War II were sunk by carrier aircraft”

        Depends on how you count them – for example, in other parts of this thread, people only want to count Arizona as a loss from Pearl Harbour.

        But if you take all sinkings of battleships, only a minority are from carrier aircraft or other battleships

      • John Quiggin
        • Robert Farley


          That list counts a large number of vessels (including all the Scandinavian ones) that fall under virtually no extant definition of “battleship.” When the ships that no one would ever consider to be “battleships” are removed, you’ll get the following loss numbers (parentheses include ships refloated):

          Frogmen: 2 (2)
          Submarines: 3
          Land based air: 4
          Carrier air: 13 (5)
          Surface ships (non-bb): 1
          Surface ships (battleships): 8 (2)

          Of the ships lost to carrier air, 11 were in port, two under way. A couple battleships were sunk by a combination of causes, but I think’s its reasonable to assign Hiei to non-bb surface ships and Bismarck to battleship fire.

          Now, if you’d like to continue with the pretense that an 11000 ton heavy cruiser that commentators (not even the German Navy) temporarily dubbed “pocket battleship” should be considered the same subject of analysis as a dreadnought that’s….. well, that’s just fine.

          • Robert Farley

            Forgot Fuso; +1 to the “surface ships (non-bb) category.

            • Robert Farley

              And while we’re at it, let’s talk WWI (dreadnoughts, since this was specified in the original post):

              Mines: 1
              Frogmen: 2
              Surface (non-bb): 1
              Surface (bb): 4

  • Aren’t logistics the beginning and end of it? How can a military action be prosecuted half way across the world without a navy? If you accept we need the ability to transport tank divisions across oceans then it should follow that we should probably provide enough protection that they don’t get sunk en route. Given that sinking such a ship would likely kill thousands of people at the cost of a couple of torpedoes/missiles it seems worthwhile to ensure that such things don’t happen. Ergo: Navy.

    • Heron

      It isn’t well known, but battleships have also provided fire-support during most of our Iraq operations. No matter how ill-advised you think those adventures were, and I think the second one was supremely stupid, that battleships participated and contributed to combat in some way can’t be denied.

      That isn’t to say that battleships should be the main-stay of our fleet or anything; only that gunboats serve a purpose even in a navy strategically focused on carriers and subs. They might not be terribly useful against a foe closer to parity with us militarily, but that’s largely irrelevant; the US mil isn’t designed to fight parity enemies, it’s designed to fight inferior enemies and help convince anyone close to parity with us that the benefits of friendship -open trade, military patronage, cultural exchange, safe oceans- outweigh the potential benefits of upsetting the status quo.

      • ajay

        I think you mean warships, or more accurately surface combatants. Not battleships.

      • Pseudonym

        Weren’t all the US battleships retired by ’92?

    • Brautigan


  • John Quiggin

    I was just making the point that my allegedly absurd claim was very similar to what you can find on the first Google hit for “WWII + battleships”.

    I’m happy to settle for “misallocated” instead of “useless” if you’re happy to replace “the single most unsophisticated, ill-informed passage” with “a rhetorical overstatement”

    • Robert Farley

      No; I’m pretty happy with my phrasing. You haven’t the faintest notion of how battleships were actually employed in World War II, how naval task forces were constructed, how engagements were fought. Nor do you have any realistic sense of naval construction priorities in World War II or the interwar period; if only for legal reasons, carrier construction surpassed battleship construction by a substantial margin.

      No; there’s no halfway, here. You know shit about naval affairs, and you’re trying to talk your way out of it with random wikipedia citations. Good luck.

      • John Quiggin

        So, you’re now claiming that, in the absence of these legalities, it would have made sense to build more battleships and less carriers?

        • John Quiggin

          I mean “fewer” of course

          • Robert Farley

            No? Naval authorities in the interwar period didn’t have a full appreciation of the implications of changing technology. This is not uncommon, in either military or civilian affairs. Unconstrained by treaty world navies would have over-built battleships, just as air forces and armies made procurement decisions based on guesses about what future warfare would look like. As it turned out, smart naval theorists in Japan and the US did, by 1940, have a pretty good sense of what future warfare would look like.

    • elm

      John, your claim and wikipedia’s are quite different. Wikipedia says that battleships went from being central to naval thinking to being phased out. You claimed battleships “did little or nothing” other than be sunk. These are not even close to equivalent claims.

      Personally, I think the Falklands War argument you make is even more bizarre (sure, the Royal Navy wasn’t able to walk over the Argentines, but tell me how Britain wins the war without the navy?) and I think Rob is being at least mildly hyperbolic, but you really are making an indefensible claim in re battleships in WWII.

  • John Quiggin

    On the Falklands, you’re not really responding to my point, which is that, for countries other than the US, navies haven’t been of much use. The Falklands is noted as an exception but a problematic one, given the vulnerabilities it exposed.

    The final para you cite also refers to countries other than the US – I’ll clarify this.

    • Robert Farley

      You’re rather clear that the USN also has been of much use; would you like me to directly cite lines where you make this claim? “An armed force that hardly does any actual fighting” is a good example.

      And with regards to countries other than the US not using their navies, the claim is simply wrong. China has used its navy extensively since the 1970s to strengthen its various territorial claims. The United Kingdom used its navy to win a war (the aforementioned Falklands) and has used it in a wide variety of different global interventions (often stupid interventions, but you’re explicitly comparing naval spending to other military spending). Same with France; French ships in the Cold War were used extensively in pursuit of (often stupid) French national aims. The Soviet Union often used the Soviet Navy to indicate political commitment.

      Australia, it should be noted, uses its navy almost constantly to conduct a large number of “maritime maintenance” missions, from rescue to disaster relief to anti-piracy.

      It’s unclear to me that you’re familiar with any of this. I can spell out in greater detail if you’d like, but I’d rather that you just read a goddamn book about modern maritime affairs.

      • Keaaukane

        Could you list some that you would recommend?

      • rea

        Hell, he needs to read Mahan.

        • Keaaukane

          Curse Poe and his little law too! I wasn’t being snarky, I was hoping for some recommended reading on a subject that I am interested in, and would like to learn more on, from someone who has obviously thought deeply about the subject.

    • wengler

      It’s kind of hard to know where to start with this.

      Most of this planet is water. Controlling that space is within the defense parameters of state actors. States with coastlines cannot effectively control their territory without naval units. You can’t interdict and inspect boats with an air or land unit.

      The oceans are full of stuff that need to be protected. Not just trade, but fishing territories, oil and natural gas and conservation zones. You do this with navies, even if you aren’t much of a power on the world stage.

    • Anonymous

      Despite not being an Arctic nation, China has intense interest in the arctic and soon will have more icebreakers than ostensibly Arctic littoral nation USA

      If you don’t think that doesn’t have strategic implications in an increasing navigable arctic, I don’t what to do for you.

      I enjoyed the series on Swaffords Red Plenty though..

  • ploeg

    Sorry, I got hung up on

    a status quo ante ceasefire in Korea

    which captures in a nice, compact phrase that the post wasn’t quite thoroughly thought out. One wonders exactly how the outcome could have possibly been better (at least without assuming a serious risk of worldwide thermonuclear war).

    And the outcome was not quite status quo ante either. Matt Ridgway and Co. made sure to secure a border that was rather more defensible than the 38th parallel (though admittedly not as far away from South Korea’s main population centers as we would like).

    • RepubAnon

      If we’re going to talk about the Navy’s involvement in the Korean War, someone should mention the amphibious landing at Inchon. Does that count as a significant assistance to the overall war effort?

    • Heron

      If MacArthur hadn’t pushed up to the Yalu river like a damn, over-confident, fool who knew fuck-all about diplomacy, I’d say we could have gotten a better resolution to the conflict. If he’d held his line closer together, instead of letting units sprint all over northern Korea, then it’d have been more difficult for the Chinese to infiltrate the line and surround formations. Maybe my info about the Korean War is just behind the times -I don’t really read much about it so that’s very possible- but I was under the impression that what convinced the Chinese to step in was how close we pushed to their border. Stopping at Pyongyang and handling the rest via negotiation would have probably been a far better idea.

      • Murc

        To be fair, while MacArthur bears ultimate responsibility, much of what happened could not have happened without both Charles Willoughby and Ned Almond, the former of whom should have been cashiered, the latter of whom should have been stood up against a wall and shot.

      • mpowell

        This seems pretty apparent. Even if the Chinese still gets involved, there’s no reason to overextend your forces in the lead up which forces you to surrender substantial terrain. North Korea could and should have been much smaller.

  • What surprises me most is that there are not 100s, nay 1000s of posts of the type Robert posts here for Yggie.

    Though If I may say, “Quiggie” has stepped on a nest of Hornets, or should I say Wasps? WE must Repulse his post. I wouldn’t want to be in his position for all the corn in Iowa. I presume the commenters here will have the requisite Enterprise or Independence.

    • Steve

      True. I do not understand the vehemence here, considering the essential unimportance of the topic.

      • Left_Wing_Fox

        It’s an academic defending his turf.


      • spencer

        Well, considering that it’s a topic to which Farley has devoted a significant amount of time and effort (to say the least), I can understand the importance he places on it.

    • mpowell

      It is Farley’s topic. JQ could quite easily make the point that the US spends more than is needed on it’s navy and then go home. He doesn’t need to defend claims about the useful of battleships or navies where he has no chance of actually being right.

      I will say this though: this is a lower stakes debate than the other recent argument between LGM and CT.

      • Pseudonym

        What was that argument? Linky plz?

  • John Quiggin

    “One wonders exactly how the outcome could have possibly been better”

    Well, if Macarthur had stopped at Pyongyang, and negotiated from a position of strength, the same or better outcome could have been achieved at a fraction of the cost.

    But, I’ll concede error as regards the Korean War – naval power was crucial to the capacity to mount an opposed landing in the first place.

    • Robert Farley

      Can you also concede error with regards to your “shots in anger” phrasing? The good peoples of:

      North Korea
      North Vietnam
      South Vietnam
      Serbia (again)
      Iraq (again)
      Libya (again)

      would be extremely disappointed to discover that all the shots that the USN delivered unto them were launched with a complete lack of affect.

      • Pseudonym

        Maybe they were effective but not affective?

    • ploeg

      Well, if Macarthur had stopped at Pyongyang…

      Well judged in hindsight, but hardly possible at the time. Five years after World War II, practically everybody was part of the no-more-Munichs-don’t-negotiate-with-aggressors-unconditional-surrender-fight-them-there-so-we-don’t-have-to-fight-them-here crowd. There are certainly avoidable disasters in foreign policy, where past experience and careful calculation should lead you to do X but you let Y happen instead. In Korea, we didn’t have past experience that took into account the threat of global thermonuclear war. Those lessons we had to learn the hard way, and we’re fortunate that the outcome wasn’t a whole lot worse than it turned out to be.

      • Heron

        I’d say it was less inexperience with fighting under the threat of nuclear war, and more an inability to control his racism. MacArthur viewed Asians, and the Chinese in particular, as inferior humans, particularly when it came the “military virtues”. He simply didn’t take the threat of fighting the People’s Army seriously.

        You do have a point in that his comments at the time also make it clear that he didn’t understand all that was at stake with nuclear war. I can’t remember the exact quote, but I seem to recall MacArthur saying something to the effect that if China intervened, we’d just nuke their armies and a few Manchurian cities to show them what’s what. It’s possible he said those things purely for their intimidation value, but if he honestly meant it then it means our supreme commander for that campaign was unaware of his CnC’s opinion on nuclear strategy, and rather myopic about the wider consequences of deploying nuclear weapons in a proxy war.

        • ajay

          MacArthur viewed Asians, and the Chinese in particular, as inferior humans, particularly when it came the “military virtues”.

          Which you have to admit is bloody odd for a man who has just spent four years fighting the Japanese Empire.

          • John

            The Japanese were always viewed differently from other Asians, I think. It’d been clear they were no joke since at least 1904.

            • ajay

              Fair point. “Your Chinaman is a native, but your Japanese isn’t a native, and he isn’t a sahib either” as someone or other observed.

        • Murc

          It’s possible he said those things purely for their intimidation value, but if he honestly meant it then it means our supreme commander for that campaign was unaware of his CnC’s opinion on nuclear strategy,

          No, he knew. He just didn’t CARE.

          MacArthur was riding pretty high in the saddle by that time. When you’ve reached the point where the Joint Chiefs, who weren’t exactly a bunch of wilting lilys, are scared to give you direct orders, and when you can openly disrespect them and get away with it, you’re bound to start thinking you can dictate policy.

          • swearyanthony

            By the time of the Korean War fuckup, I think it’s safe to say that MacArthur had been spending a little too much time reading his own press releases. Meglomania is an ugly word, but I think it fits him fine.

            Kinda reminds me of 2004-era Rumsfeld, to be honest.

            • Pseudonym

              Except I thought Rumsfeld’s problem was that he was all hyped up on transforming the military and didn’t actually give a shit about fighting a war (or two).

        • mpowell

          He didn’t care about his CnC’s opinion. MacArthur may be the most dangerous high military commander that the US has ever employed.

          • swearyanthony


            I thought I’d heard tales about MacArthur threatening a military coup, but it appears this was from a Niall Ferguson book, so that’s probably utter bollocks. Still, all in all, a terrible blowhard and a useless military officer. For all Iraq was an utter catastrophuck, imagine how much worse it would have been if MacArthur had been in charge. He probably woulda invaded Iran and Syria just for the hell of it.

            • Murc

              Now, this is just unfair.

              I hate MacArthur’s guts and think his flaws were only barely outweighed by his gifts.

              But those gifts did exist, and they were prodigious. He was far from useless as an officer.

              • rhino

                One of the best generals in the history of warfare, with absolutely no sense of proportion. Has always reminded me of Napoleon.

          • Pseudonym

            More dangerous than LeMay? Who else is in the running?

  • elm

    Also, the line about how it’s not a credible threat if it’s never been used is also pretty ridiculous both because, as Rob argues, it has been used, but also because it just isn’t true that you have to use force to prove you can. (This was Tom Friedman’s argument for going to war with Iraq, essentially, that we had to throw a country against a wall to show we were willing to.)

    There’s a classic article by Chris Achen and Duncan Snidal from 1989 about how we can’t conclude that deterrence doesn’t work just because we never see it working. There’s also the whole idea of MAD: that neither side never used their second-strike nuclear capability does not imply that the existence of said capability wasn’t important. (This also goes to John’s FN2 where he discounts the important of missile subs because if they’re ever used, we’re all dead anyway. Surely the point of the subs was that the US believed that their existence prevented the need for their use. Perhaps the government was wrong about this, but a more convincing argument would have to be made.)

    • firefall

      Indeed, to many this is the point of ANY armed forces – to appear so daunting and powerful as to scare others off from aggression, so never actually being used on the battlefield.

  • John Quiggin

    Testing: my replies don’t seem to be appearing

  • John Quiggin

    On “shot in anger”, the immediately preceding sentence is “What’s true of the US is even more so of other countries.”

    I think you are letting your annoyance with my post lead you into wilful misreading

    • Halloween Jack

      And I think that, having been caught talking out your ass, you’re fighting some sort of rear-guard action (so to speak) to preserve what’s left of your dignity. Let it go, man.

  • John Quiggin

    I agree though, that I overstated the point wrt the US Navy. It would be more accurate to say that its role has been substantially smaller than that of land forces (including Marines operating from land) and land-based air forces.

    • Pseudonym

      Marines operating from land? How did they get there?

  • Jordan

    Abolish the Navy!

    Oh wait, am I doing it wrong? :)

    • Pseudonym

      Abolish the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps!

  • John Quiggin

    OK, so the problem was links. I’ll just mention Rob’s post saying that “A Russian nuclear-powered cruiser has captured 10 Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean armed with grenade launchers,” to endorse his point that the kind of ships navies like to build aren’t ideally suited to the kinds of non-combat tasks often cited as important uses for them.

    • Lurker

      Actually, a nuclear-powered ship is eminently useful for Russian operations on Indian Ocean. They are operating some ten thousand naval miles from their nearest domestic port. With nuclear power, you are able to reach it without refueling.

      We Finns sent a minelayer to combat Somali piracy on Indian Ocean. :-) For such missions, the actual combat capability is not important. The ship is just a platform carrying a radar, a boarding squad and the necessary stores.

    • More importantly, that Russian nuclear cruiser just completed a month long training cruise and series of exercises along the Northern Sea Route, which thanks to the melting ice cap, is poised to cut shipping time between the far east and Europe in half.

      Lots more in the Russian press than the US press…

  • Suffern ACE

    So our Navy is useful. That’s ok. I’ve always had a fondness for sailors. But is it too big? Its utility is not in doubt. But does that mean its the right size for all of those tasks? It certainly is expensive and much bigger than those of other countries.

  • todd.

    If there’s going to be a war between CT and LGM, I’m going to quit the internet as fucking hopeless.

    • Uncle Ebeneezer

      I guess this makes Balloon Juice officially Switzerland.

      • Jameson Quinn

        You mean Costa Rica.

        • Informant

          Are you suggesting Balloon Juice killed off its native population?

          • mds

            Well, its native population used to be partisan Republicans who were still fairly sane. So I’m gonna go with “yes.”

            • MPAVictoria

              Ballon Juice’s transition from republican to democratic while maintaining an extensive readership is one of the most interesting things to happen in the history political blogs. One day I hope to be able to learn more about it.

              • swearyanthony

                It’s actually pretty incredible to read Cole’s transition. The key point is around the time of Schiavo, if you want to go back into the archives.

                I was already reading him as one of the few vaguely sensible right wing bloggers. He brought Tim F. in as an additional blogger, despite (at the time) opposing political viewpoints. Around Schiavo time, Cole just snapped.

                The more amazing transition, for my money, is Charles Johnson (LGF). It’s like he woke up one day and realised he was in cahoots with a pack of hideous racists. Seriously, go back and read the LGF posts around the time of Rachel Corrie’s death, and compare to recent posts.

                It’s actually kinda sad. The only right wing bloggers that are still worth reading are either paleos like Larison, or else ones who’ve just said “fuck it” like Drezner. The rest are either insane (see Moe Lane &c) or just stupid (McArglebargle).

                • Johnson actually began as a vaguely left of center bicycle/music blogger. Then 9/11 happened and he went full bore nuts. But in about 07 he got into a gory/hilarious fight with Pam Gellar and the deeply crazies took out the knives for him. Now he seems mostly an Obama partisan, a place he got to in part because he got pushed there, and in part because that’s where he started. He’s never struck me as especially bright, anyhow, though he is smarter than Jim Hoft, at any rate.

                • Pseudonym

                  Well my toenail clippings strike me as smarter than Jim Hoft, but their blog doesn’t get more than a few hundred hits a day.

                  I’m always a little skeptical of these sudden conversions from one wing to the other: David Horowitz in particular comes to mind. John Cole sounds eminently reasonable though these days, and appears to possess genuine human compassion and empathy and all that mushy business. I haven’t spent enough time on the other /LG./ to know whether that applies to Charles Johnson too.

                  It’s something though when the paleos are the logical ones. Maybe there are still a few honest libertarians out there who haven’t reasoned away their humanity, who knows…

              • swearyanthony

                I should also note that one thing that kept the Balloon Juice readership united, regardless of political beliefs, was that Tunch is one um, big-boned? generously-proportioned? cuddly? cat. Yeah ok, he’s a lard-arse. But Cole’s love for his pets actually made a huge difference. It wasn’t just a random man yelling at clouds on the internet. It was a human being. That made a huge difference.

                • MPAVictoria

                  There is a lot of truth in this post. When I read John Cole’s posts about his animals it really makes me think about him as a man I would love to know in real life.

                • Pseudonym

                  Random man yelling at clouds <<< random man yelling at pets

  • Oh, wow, I’d forgotten that “Republican brain” post. Man, that was a stinker.

    But you, know, to John Q.’s credit, he admitted it was all wrong, retracted it and wrote something more sensible. Not many bloggers would do that.

  • Gwen

    Remember what Eisenhower said. Every naval vessel takes bread out of the mouths of children.

    Compromise: cut the navy in half, use the remaining carrier battle groups to drop fat kids on our nation’s enemies.

    • Aaron B.

      I think the word you’re looking for is “triangulation.”

    • ajay

      Compromise: cut the navy in half,

      But then the ships would all sink! Proving that the Navy is useless! #quiggin

    • ajay

      Remember what Eisenhower said. Every naval vessel takes bread out of the mouths of children.

      Wait, here’s an issue that will split LGM right down the middle: are you saying that we should be fighting obesity by building more battleships?

      • newsouthzach


      • firefall

        I’m not sure a battleship built out of fat kids would have much utility (a submarine, maybe, all that flotation)

        • ajay

          I believe the children are the future – of naval architecture!

    • Anonymous

      drop fat kids on our nation’s enemies.

      Well, we seem to have an endless supply of munitions, and all good and patriotic American families can contribute to the war effort.

    • Hogan

      Remember what Eisenhower said. Every naval vessel takes bread out of the mouths of children.

      Everything that isn’t bread baked for the mouths of children takes bread out of the mouths of children.

      • Pseudonym

        Better than taking coffee beans out of the anuses of civets, I suppose.

  • John Quiggin

    I agree with JWM that the Republican Brain post was a disaster. I think the revised post stood up a lot better than Rob suggests here, though there were still some fair criticisms made of it.

    OTOH, while I’ll admit (and fix) some errors in the current post, I’m not inclined to retract at this point. Even less so, given that the critique and most of the initial comments (which tend to set the tone) rely on a misquotation that was repeated even after I pointed it out.

    • Pseudonym

      Please to have link sir?

  • Aaron B.

    We can give Quiggin at least this much credit: whatever its actual value the USN has done a rather poor job of communicating that value to the public. After all, Quiggin seems pretty blissfully unaware of it.

  • Navies are pretty useful during peace time too. The Ghanaian navy regularly engages in anti-piracy and drug interdiction operations. It often does this in cooperation with larger powers like the UK or the US. I am not sure how you fight piracy without a navy.

    • rhino

      What makes a drug interdiction societally useful?

      • Organized crime is dangerous and violent. Breaking up criminal gangs and disrupting their activities is something the government should be doing.

        I don’t think Prohibition was a good idea at all, but it was still a good thing to bust Al Capone.

        • rhino

          Yeah. My point was more that in this case having a navy makes possible to do something that probably should not be done.

          Having a navy helps make prohibition more feasible. This is a bad thing. In a similar way, having police forces make it easier for governments to oppress citizens. It doesn’t mean that we don’t need navies, or police forces, but I do think that the possession of certain tools can lead you down the wrong path.

          As an aside, the military industrial complex is much much MUCH more dangerous to society than the organized crime boogie man being used to sell us an awful lot of boats.

  • MacGyver

    i love the smell of a good flame war in the morning.

  • I hope we’re not at war with LGM, because at CT we have no Navy.

    • Malaclypse

      Whereas LGM has “guns” right up there on the masthead.

      Clearly, this war is vacuumslayer’s fault.

      • spencer

        Actually, I think expansive readings of the commerce clause are to blame.

      • Halloween Jack

        People don’t know that vacuumslayer moonlights as one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

        • Cody

          I always assumed the four horsemen were… men.

          Sexism is too prevalent!

          • Pestilence

            We tried Horsepeople but that got ridiculed, so now we’ve settled on Riders

            At least as long as we can elude PETA

            • Pseudonym

              The Four Equestrians of the Apocalypse? With their dancing dressage demon horses?

              • danah gaz

                The four horseman of the apocalypse is best when translated from English to Mexican Spanish and then back to English:

                The Four Jockeys of the Apocalypse.

  • Unsympathetic

    Quiggin: How do the land forces get to the countries where the fighting happens?

    If only there was an organization dedicated to keeping forces safe during transport. And, let’s just theorize, supporting their operations inland both via missiles and air cover. And provide the supplies needed to keep those forces functional while in harm’s way.

    If you’re going to support without question the 3 service branches tasked with the house-to-house clearing, by definition you also support the Navy. This isn’t a debate – the supply chain is actually more important than the initial landing.

    “Amateurs think about tactics, but professionals think about logistics.” — General Robert H. Barrow, Commandant of the USMC

  • Barry

    “Back in April, John Quiggin wrote what was at the time, to my mind, the worst post in the history of Crooked Timber. ”

    I’m too lazy to look it up, but Daniel Davies posted a loooooong whine about how everybody should stop picking on the financial industry, and got roasted so badly that he closed his own blog to outsiders.

  • You never see this level of ignorance from liberals on other issues. You get into a discussion with liberals about health care policy, or climate change, or public transit, and depth of knowledge is amazing.

    But on anything remotely connected to the military, way too many liberals sound like conservatives talking about climate change. They know nothing about the facts, they don’t even know what the issues are. It’s just all ideology all the time. It’s like a point a pride that they never sullied their beautiful minds by actually trying to learn something about military affairs.

    It’s a branch of government like every other branch of government, and it needs to be understood in the same reality-based way.

    • Ronan

      First of all you’re strawmanning again, very few liberals call for an end to the US Navy or any other branches of the armed forces (this is a minority position) – in fact the majority tend to support/remain ambivalent towards most US military actions..secondly, all you’re doing here is declaring that anyone who disagrees with you lacks a ‘depth of knowledge’

      • swearyanthony

        Dunno about an end to navies, but I’m happy to say that stopping building gigantic floating targets (aka “aircraft carriers”) is a good plan. I mean, in 10 years time the idea of building these monster ships for human piloted jet aircraft to launch from will seem hilariously out of data.

      • Where did I say most liberals are calling for the end of the United States Navy? Do you realize you just made up an argument to assign to me, so you could accuse me of strawmanning?

        secondly, all you’re doing here is declaring that anyone who disagrees with you…

        Since you don’t even seem to know what I said, this is not a terribly compelling accusation.

        • Ronan

          Then what exactly is your point Joe? The US Navy was the the topic of the thread. Although your response was vague on what it is ‘liberals’ don’t understand about the military, I thought it might have some relevance to what’s being discussed here?

          • Then what exactly is your point Joe?

            That the factual weaknesses in the linked piece, which Farley points out, are not unique to this particular writer, but part of a broader problem.

            • Ronan

              But you’ve excepted the left generally don’t take positions as extreme as Quiggins,so it’s not part of a broader problem

              • Ronan


              • People are going to start thinking I’m paying you if you keep this up.

                I didn’t criticize Quiggens for his extremism. I criticized him for his weak factual knowledge. I specifically named the problem as “the factual weaknesses in the linked piece,” and didn’t mention his position at all.

                And, because you’re one of those liberals who can’t tell the difference between knowledge about military affairs and ideology, you someone managed to interpret my criticism of him, and of the left more generally, as being about ideological extremism.

                Which was my point from the beginning. Like you keep doing, too many liberals ignore issues of fact, and put ideology in its place, when it comes to military affairs.

                • Ronan

                  How are politics and ideology not always prevalent in ‘military affairs’?

                • How are politics and ideology not always prevalent in climate change policy? Or health care policy?

                  And yet, there is this whole universe of facts and information which is objective, and has nothing to do with ideology, which liberals commonly avail themselves of when discussing climate change and health care policy.

                  If anyone pointed out the right wing’s disinterest in and lack of knowledge of actual climate change science, and accused them of substituting ideology for a solid factual foundation, would you respond by asking “How are politics and ideology not always prevalent in climate change policy?” Oh, and with the scare quotes, too?

                • Ronan

                  What’s your point? It’s not an observable fact, for example, that the US should invade Iraq. If you want to know what’s the best course of action once there, yeah don’t ask me. But once again any answer you get isn’t an observable fact

                • What’s your point?

                  That having a solid, reality-based understanding of issues, policy choices, and the available tools is as necessary in the realm of military affairs as it is in every other aspect of government, but that far too many liberals think it isn’t. Instead, they take the same stance towards that field of knowledge that right wingers take towards climate science.

                • Ronan

                  Maybe, or perhaps you’re the one of kilter (considering your objectives seem to align quite closely with the right on this topic)

              • I swear to God I’m not paying Ronan to make me look right.

                Nor am I posting under his name.

                I swear. to. God.

                • Lit3Bolt

                  LOL this is hilarious.

                  Also, great point joe. The internet fairy granted you a troll to slay with your point immediately.

                  You have gained 100 commenting experience points.

    • Ronan

      And coming from someone who won’t accept the FACT that Obama wanted to retain a presence in Iraq, this is a little much

      • What FACT?

        Does a theory based on interpretation become a fact if you write it in all caps?

        It’s also worth noting that the question of Obama’s intentions in Iraq is not an issue of military affairs, and it has nothing to do with knowledge about the military an how it operates.

        Do you see how you just proved my point? You don’t even know what “military affairs” are, and instead of being able to talk about them, you talked about a completely different subject – and one that, like everything that even touches on the military, is mainly about your ideological/partisan spats.

        Nice own-goal.

        • Ronan

          My point was that declaring others can’t deal with reality, while not dealing with it yourself is…ironic?

          • Except that I’m using “reality” to mean “established, knowable, objective fact,” while you’re using it to mean “my subjective impressions about an issue of speculation.”

            I understand your point just fine. It’s a really stupid point.

            • Ronan

              You didn’t understand it, unless you were strawmanning again, because you went of on a rant about how little I know about military affairs (I agree)completly missing/ignoring my, very limited, point

              • Actually, what I did was use your point, and the fact that you felt the need to make it, and the fact that you thought it was relevant here, as evidence.

                No, I didn’t answer. Why would I?

                • Ronan

                  It’s not evidence of my knowledge, or lack thereof, on mil affairs (Although I admit to an ignorance on the topic. My objections to certain military interventions is political rather than a pragmatic analysis of US capabilities)

                • Indeed, it’s not evidence of your lack of knowledge of military affairs.

                  It’s evidence of your lack of interest in, perhaps even aversion to, knowledge of military affairs. When the issue of knowledge of military affairs came up, you felt the need to change the subject to whether Barack Obama, in his heart of hearts, is a true progressive.

                  My objections to certain military interventions is political rather than a pragmatic analysis of US capabilities

                  Which is fine – but it would be better to be able to make such critiques from a solid factual foundation about not just capabilities, but also the (proposed) mission.

                • Ronan

                  Oh nonsense Joe, I didn’t say anything about Obama’s ‘progressiveness’, cause I don’t really care. And if you think you’re devoid of politics and ideology and argue only’factual’ reasoned positions, then I’ll have to respectfully disagree.
                  Anyway I’m of to get something to eat so I’ll leave it there

                • Ronan

                  Christ, you actually don’t think military interventions are driven by politics and ideology, or am i misunderstanding you?

                • Oh nonsense Joe, I didn’t say anything about Obama’s ‘progressiveness’, cause I don’t really care.

                  And coming from someone who won’t accept the FACT that Obama wanted to retain a presence in Iraq, this is a little much

                  So, whatever.

                  And if you think you’re devoid of politics and ideology and argue only’factual’ reasoned positions, then I’ll have to respectfully disagree.

                  I have never said, and would never say, that. My criticism is not about what is present (politics and ideology) in many liberals’ position; it is about what is absent.

                • Ronan

                  Joe for the last time, the Iraq comment wasn’t critiquing Obama, it was highlighting the fact that you made a grand sweeping statement about an imaginary left, totally unsupported by evidence, claiming they don’t deal in facts, while all the time you hold a position that is completly contradicted by the evidence

                • Ronan,

                  Stop explaining. There is no misunderstanding.

                  Stop deflecting the conversation just because the actual subject – the importance of knowledge – makes you uncomfortable.

                  you made a grand sweeping statement about an imaginary left

                  Yes, Ronan, imaginary. You sure have demonstrated that the left is thoroughly saturated in deep knowledge about military issues, and furthermore, that you consider such knowledge, deeply, profoundly important. I just made up the whole notion that liberals are disinterested in military knowledge, or have a low level of it. Really, such a strawmanny straw man!

                  And no, my interpretation of the facts is not “wholly unsupported by the evidence.” I cite evidence – a great deal of evidence – every time the subject comes up.

                  If you don’t find my interpretation of the evidence compelling, fine, but at this point, I’m starting to doubt that you even understand what evidence is.

      • scott f

        Nor can joe accept a fact so simple as the fact that Obama has institutionalized and expanded Bush’s War on Terror, making Endless War a part of the bipartisan consensus. Only a person with serious white privilege like joe could seriously say the WOT is either over or winding down regardless of what Obama calls it.

        • See, this person has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to military affairs, and since he knows it, his defense when called on that fact is to change the subject to an ideological dick-measuring contest.

          Very typical. You see that a lot.

          • scott f

            Go ahead joe. Tell us how the WOT is over again. Your prviliege will shine bright.

            • You know what shines bright?

              A griddle, when you give it a good scrub after you cook some pancakes.

              • spencer

                I miss all the good inside jokes.

                Like this one, and the Saginaw Grand Valley Hotel or whatever it is that you keep posting.

    • Halloween Jack

      The number of liberals who responded to DADT and the process of repeal who made the case that nobody should be in the military was greater than zero, but a small minority nonetheless.

      • I’m not even talking about the tiny fringe of ideological, pacifist absolutists. You’re right, they are pretty close to zero.

        But how about the people who confidently declared that the end of combat operations in Iraq, and the withdrawal of the combat forces, meant nothing, on the theory that the difference between a combat brigade and a military unit that isn’t a combat brigade is just in the name? That was not a close-to-zero number.

        That is just not knowing what you’re talking about.

      • Or, how about that embarrassing little episode in 2003, when the armored columns driving through Iraq made such fast progress that they paused to let the supply lines keep up, and the liberal blogosphere was full of screaming headlines about them being stuck in a quagmire, just like Vietnam, man?

        We looked like a bunch of freaking idiots, because the only thing half the liberals in America know how to say about military affairs is “just like Vietnam, man.”

        • Lit3Bolt

          Guys, joe is totally right. One of the biggest embarrassments a lot of liberals suffered was predicting that Gulf War I was going to be a Vietnam like quagmire with tens of thousands of casualties. The fact that it wasn’t and was thankfully quickly over (except for the Shias who were thrown under the bus by Bush the Elder) should have been a lesson, and indeed was a lesson in political calculation years later for Senators voting for the Iraq War (like Kerry and Clinton).

          You may now return to regular scheduled disingenuous weeping over dead Muslim children.

    • Bertie

      See also gun control, where the Venn Diagram overlap between gun control measures that liberals propose and gun control measures that might actually accomplish something beyond losing seats in Congress is quite small.

      More generally, I’m afraid that I’m starting to disagree with the lack of liberal ignorance — as time passes, the left is getting more and more hackish even on its own “home” issues.

      • I disagree. The discussions on liberal sites about health care, monetary policy, fiscal policy, urban policy, you-name-it consistently amaze me in the level of in-depth knowledge. It’s the striking disparity between military affairs and everything else that really stands out.

  • With the exception of Air Force bombers, Dr Farls, aren’t all branches of the military basically currently used in strategic deployments? Why send troops and tanks when you can fire a cruise missile for a third the overall cost (and fewer dead Americans)?

  • scott

    OK, I get that you know way more about the technical details of navies than CT does because that’s your thing. The big-picture point, though, was that we’ve spent absolutely huge sums on them and to raise questions about whether the returns justify spending those monies. Your post amuses you by pointing out how much bigger your dick is than the other guy’s in terms of relative knowledge but dances around that question and fails to answer it.

    • mds

      Well, if you weren’t new here, you’d know that Professor Farley has observed that we have an air force and a navy with aircraft, and that one of these separate branches should be eliminated. He just picks the correct one. (One could similarly consider scrapping the Marine Corps and relying on the army, without disbanding the entire navy.) When the proposed solution to the indisputably huge sums the US spends on the military is to eliminate the US Navy, however, then technically-obsessed experts with large genitalia are certainly going to point out that the proposed solution is embarrassingly ignorant. And I say that as someone who generally sees Professor Quiggin as amply endowed when he’s wearing his tight economist pants.

      • Lurker

        And even in the Navy, you might plausibly argue that a focus on brown- and white water work would be useful. E.g. a fast attack craft with a crew of 20 and a marine complement of 10 would be able to conduct most “maritime maintenance” missions (COIN, anti-piracy etc.) that the current LCS does. And the cost per ship would be one tenth.

        The problem is that the US Navy considers the loss of any of its ships unacceptable. This means that any ship must be built big enough to:
        * withstand a cruise missile hit without sinking
        * carry extensive self-defence AA weaponry.

        At a cost of a single carrier group, you could build hundreds of light attack craft, and a number of motherships for off-shore maintenance and refueling.

        • swearyanthony

          Precisely right. I also think it’s a prestige thing for the folks with lots of shiny christmas tinsel on their upper chests and shoulders. Who wants to be in charge of a bunch of tiddly little boats when you can float around in a carrier?

          • Leeds man

            I also think it’s a prestige thing for the folks with lots of shiny christmas tinsel on their upper chests and shoulders.

            Yes, my impression is that this explains the Canadian military hard-on for the F-35.

        • mpowell

          I think it’s an understandable preference for peacetime, though. You aren’t going to lose too many sailors in today’s Navy fighting the likes of Iraq. But if you send in small boats they’ll start dropping like the army boys because those’ll be manageable targets for our foes.

          But yeah, probably misguided. All told, the idea that the Navy, and military in general, are in investing in the wrong areas is probably true, but it takes at least some expertise to get the critique right.

        • Pseudonym

          Speaking of the Navy’s brown-water work, I think i accidentally a tomahawk cruise missile in my toilet and now no workey.

    • thusbloggedanderson

      If Quiggin wrote, “Do We Need Such a Big Navy,” that would be one thing.

      But that’s not what he wrote, and it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

      • scott

        “According to Wikipedia, the Navy’s budget is around $150 billion a year. What does it deliver for that money?”

        Still waiting for the answer, which I haven’t heard.

        • Hogan

          It delivers nothing that you understand or care about. Good enough?

        • Pseudonym

          What is the annual value of goods shipped over the open ocean? In the trillions, I’d expect?

  • If you’re interested, we did a run-down of how all post-Dreadnought battleships over at CIMSEC: http://cimsec.org/you-sunk-my/ the figures are interesting, showing only 9% sunk due to enemy surface gunnery or torpedo fire, but as others have noted this does not suggest navies writ large, or even battleships were ineffective in their purpose.

  • I find it amazing how someone who is respected for knowledge of economics doesn’t understand the value of seapower to the global economy today. That’s like failing to see the connection between Santa Claus and Christmas.

    I love how he says this…

    “According to Wikipedia, the Navy’s budget is around $150 billion a year. What does it deliver for that money? The US hasn’t engaged in naval warfare on any significant scale since 1945”

    The world hasn’t engaged in a war of any significant scale since 1945… hard to believe he can’t connect the dots. That always present yet never seen nuclear deterrence that kept world leaders at the table during the cold war – yeah, that’s part of the $150B we spend today.

    Guess if it isn’t on wikipedia, it isn’t real? Talk about a guy who failed to do any research.

    • scott

      Asserting that the money spent is responsible for the lack of a universally damaging war is just that, an assertion.

  • rea

    “According to Wikipedia, the Navy’s budget is around $150 billion a year. What does it deliver for that money? The US hasn’t engaged in naval warfare on any significant scale since 1945″

    Goodness, it’s 2004, and we don’t really need levees protecting New Orleans–they haven’t really been used on a significant scale since 1922 . . .

    • Y’know what? You’ve convinced me. My house hasn’t been robbed in twenty years. What’s the point in having an alarm system or even a lock on the door? It’s just costing me money…

  • scott f

    Something tells me the closest JFL has ever come to military combat is Civilization V, yet he’s lecturing us on military affairs. Dick Cheney would be proud.

    • Jason

      Didn’t you need a pretty decent navy in any Civ game that wasn’t on a large landmass setting?

      • brandon

        Well, in Civ V, you don’t need to build transports – the units just turn into boats when you move on the sea (once you’ve researched the appropriate tech). Though naval units are very handy in that game for other reasons (shore bombardment).

        • Jason

          Thanks. I didn’t really go past II, but checked in on friends games from time to time. I did notice that fortified phalanxes on hills weren’t responsible for sinking any Battleships in the post.

          • Lit3Bolt

            Hey man, those spears were SHARP.

    • Something tells me scott f had never worked as a line cook in a griddle house, but he’s always giving us pancakes.

    • Although the troll’s adopted persona demonstrates a meaningful point:

      The well-read-layman-level of knowledge is what one finds almost universally among liberals in discussions of climate change and health care policy, and yet the comment “This guy doesn’t work in a hospital!” or “This guy isn’t a climatologist, yet here he is lecturing us” would never be seen in discussion among liberals on those topics.

      • Ronan

        It would if they were talking bulls**t

        • No, it wouldn’t. If someone came into such a discussion with bad facts, liberals would rip his facts apart, not his credentials.

          But thanks for yet another assist in demonstrating my point: I haven’t made any factual statements on this thread about military affairs. None. And yet, merely because you don’t like my political message, you write as if I have.

          Because, to repeat, your sort of liberals is so poorly informed about the field, so utterly disinterest in being informed about the field, and so eager to replace reality-based knowledge with ideology, that you can’t even tell the difference.

          • Ronan

            Jeez Joe. I can see you have a cool temperament with that beautiful mind

            • I see you’ve found yet another way not to talk about the subject.

              • Lit3Bolt

                Ignorance is strength.

          • Cody

            I suppose I can respect what appears to be your widespread war against ideological zealotry.

            Though you sure do piss a lot of people off. Which makes it much more fun to read!

  • Leeds man

    So, is the US (or UK, French, etc) Navy bigger than it has to be? Has Robert covered this topic? If so, I’d appreciate links. Did a quick site search, but didn’t find anything.

  • Patrick

    The other thing he seems to be missing is that during a large part of the post ’45 period the USN was sized to keep sea lanes to Europe open in case of (conventional) WWIII. Being able to assure reinforcements from the US would get through was a vital piece of US security guarantees through NATO.

    • Yea, that whole Cuban blockade thing, too. Also.

  • Since it involves both naval ships and debt maybe LGM could do a post on Ghana’s seizure of the ARA Libertad from Argentina. A Ghanian judge ordered that the ship be held on Friday in response to complaints by NLM Capital Limited one of the Argentine government’s former creditors before the default. How do these things work? Ghana is holding an Argentine ship at the request of a US company.

  • Quiggens’ piece reminds me of movement conservatives trying to discuss tax policy. This tax, that tax, estate taxes, capital gains taxes, whatever – they put together an argument, usually playing fast and loose with the facts, about why that particular tax is inefficient and produces all sorts of particularly awful perverse incentives. But when you ask what better-performing taxes they’d replace it with, their answer is, you shouldn’t.

    It isn’t a policy piece about the issue it purports to address at all. It has nothing to do with Matt Yglesias’ comment about the Navy being a high-performing agency. Any actual policy discussion is a pretext.

    Except conservatives who go off on rants about abolishing some particular tax generally have higher quality, well-informed arguments. The usually actually know tax policy – and not just anti-tax issues and arguments, but actual tax policy.

    • Leeds man

      What it reminds you of has at least as much to do with what you bring to it, as the piece itself.

      His latest version says what I thought its original purpose was (i.e. what it reminded me of);

      This post was intended as a provocation, to get people to think about whether the standard justifications for spending lots of money on naval power stand up to scrutiny. Obviously, it overdelivered in terms of provocation, and underdelivered in terms of getting people to think.

      • What it reminds you of has at least as much to do with what you bring to it, as the piece itself.

        Isn’t that what I’ve been saying all along?

        If you bring neither knowledge or, nor interest in having knowledge of, actual military policy, you probably don’t notice the glaring holes.

        If all you bring is an anti-military political stance, you could well read that dreck and pump your fist, because it’s giving you exactly what you want, and can relate to.

        • Leeds man

          If you bring neither knowledge or, nor interest in having knowledge of, actual military policy, you probably don’t notice the glaring holes.

          I think Quiggin wants knowledge, and discussion, of military policy. He failed miserably, since what he got was a crushing of his specifics (rightly so!), and a fair bit of testosterone-laced hooting. It’d be nice if we could get past that, and talk about how big navies should be. Again, that’s what I think his intent was.

          • That’s probably not going to happen. This strategy for trying to open up that discussion is a very bad strategy.

            He might have been better off if, instead, he’d written a piece about what he actually thinks – his concerns about militarization, his beliefs about spending priorities, his ideas about the the United States’ role in the world.

            Ginning up pretexts that you don’t actually care about isn’t a good way to get a meaningful conversation. Especially if you don’t have the level of knowledge it takes to make a meaningful argument in that area. It’s a shabby, dishonest tactic, and it’s not even effective. As you’ve noticed, it creates something to “get over,” an obstacle to the very discussion you want to have.

      • Imagine if someone who was against universal health care wrote a piece about the British NHS that was this riddled with errors, and later wrote “I was trying to be provocative.”

        • Leeds man

          Imagine if you could get through a thread without one of your little pissing matches. So many things to imagine…

          • It would, indeed, be nice to get through a threat without people like you writing shit like this in response to reasonable comments, just because you don’t like what I have to say.

            But I have up on that a long time ago.

  • “I was being provocative” is the new “That wasn’t means to be a factual statement.”

    • Lit3Bolt

      It’s short for, “B-b-but I *HAVE* to troll to generate any meaningful discussion!!!”

      I can see myself becoming a burned-out, grumpy internet user. “It was great at first, but then all the damn trolls showed up, making weak-ass, pig-ignorant, ad-hominem arguments, and then bleating that this was their intent all along and why was everyone so angry at them?”

    • That last post from Quiggin was shockingly… Althousian.

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