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Vo Nguyen Giap

[ 24 ] October 4, 2013 |

The BBC reports that General Vo Nguyen Giap has died at the age of 102. Obviously, one of the most important military figures of the post-WWII 20th century.  People’s War, People’s Army is a critically important document, even if it should be thought of as a starting place on Dien Bien Phu rather than an ending point.

Sequester, then Pivot

[ 2 ] October 4, 2013 |

My latest at the Diplomat examines the USAF’s strategy with respect to the sequester and the Pacific Pivot:

Last week, at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference, questions about the impact of the sequester on the future of American airpower loomed large. The Pacific Pivot and the associated development of AirSea Battle (ASB), commits the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to an extensive set of doctrinal and procurement targets, targets that the sequester may endanger. It’s hardly unreasonable to be concerned about how cuts in funding (especially haphazard cuts like the sequester) could affect the ability of the service to meet these targets.

However, with respect to the platforms that will form the core of the USAF’s contribution to the Pacific Pivot, the Air Force’s commitment appears to remain strong. Despite the growing concerns about the F-35, the service has not wavered in its insistence that large numbers Lightning IIs are necessary to maintaining air supremacy. Similarly, Air Force leaders have consistently maintained that the K-46 tanker and the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) will form the foundation of USAF capabilities long into the 21st century. All of these platforms have obvious applicability to the USAF’s ability to project force along the Pacific Rim.


Boehner: We Won’t Shoot the Hostage

[ 169 ] October 3, 2013 |

I dunno whether the appropriate reaction to this is relief or surprise:

With attention shifting to potential consequences of not increasing the debt limit, one House Republican said Thursday that Speaker John A. Boehner has told colleagues that he was determined to prevent a federal default and was willing to pass a measure through a combination of Republican and Democratic votes.

The lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of not being named, said Mr. Boehner indicated he would be willing to violate the so-called Hastert rule if necessary to pass a debt limit increase. The informal rule refers to a policy of not bringing to the floor any measure that does not have a majority of Republican votes.

Other Republicans also said Thursday that they got the sense that Mr. Boehner, who held two meetings Wednesday with groups of House moderates, would do whatever was necessary to ensure the country did not default on its debt.

It’s a relief that Boehner doesn’t intend to carry the country over a cliff.  It’s surprising that conditions inside the House GOP conference have gotten so bad that members are willing to completely undercut Boehner’s negotiating position by revealing that he won’t hurt the hostage.

I suppose from here on out it’s just theater; how viciously will Republicans go after one another?

A Plethora of Options for the Discerning Consumer!

[ 42 ] October 2, 2013 |

A helpful FAQ with the author:

Can I order the book now?

Grounded is available for pre-order at Amazon, at the University Press of Kentucky website, and elsewhere.  UPK has an eBook loyalty program that provides anyone who purchases a physical copy of the book with an electronic copy; take this into account when making a purchase decision. Publication is scheduled for March 6, 2014. A helpful widget has been added to the far right sidebar to assist your ordering.

How many copies should I order?

How many friends do you have?  How many friends would you like to have?

I’d like to give Grounded as a Christmas gift, but it isn’t released until March 6.  What should I do?

The best approach would be to design an aviation related holiday card that could be placed in a strategic location, helpfully reminding the recipient for each of the 71 days (plus shipping) preceding arrival that his or her Christmas gift is, in fact, on the way.  Consequently, the recipient will feel like he or she is having 71 consecutive Christmases (plus shipping).

What about Valentine’s Day?

There is nothing so satisfying as sitting across from your beloved, gazing into his or her eyes, then launching into a discussion of the organizational perversities that prevented the Air Force from achieving air supremacy over the PAVNAF in the early stages of Rolling Thunder.

Is the book appropriate for my infant or toddler?

Of course.  It has lots of pictures of pretty planes.  What infant or toddler doesn’t like planes? However, note that infants and toddlers can be extremely destructive; you should probably invest in several copies in order to keep them entertained.

Why would I ever consider signing up for the Facebook page or the twitter feed?

Because I consider the book a single, if central, part of a larger academic project, I’m also devoting some time to a Facebook page and a twitter feed. In addition to relentless sales updates at both, at the former I’m posting photos and documents that I came across during my work, and at the latter I’m tweeting a wide variety of aviation-oriented links, as well as book-tweeting works such as Richard Overy’s immense, majestic Bombing War. Take a look if you’re interested.

Ok, I’m not really sold. What else do I get?

A two year paid subscription to LGM at the “Elite” level, with all the benefits and privileges entailed.


Tom Clancy RIP

[ 171 ] October 2, 2013 |

What to say about Tom Clancy… He wasn’t a particularly good writer, and his books got worse as he got older.  Nevertheless, it takes a certain degree of talent to make the techno-thriller, well, thrilling, and I think that his earlier works certainly succeeded on this metric. I haven’t re-read recently, so I can’t say that the following “hold up,” but given infinite time I might actually consider revisiting the following:

As a few have noted on twitter, Clancy was enormously influential on a generation of defense wonks and journalists. Almost everyone who works in the field today is familiar enough with Clancy’s work to make reference and analogy with some degree of comfort that the audience will understand.

The Olden Days…

[ 18 ] October 1, 2013 |

The September 2004 archive has now been fully restored. Some highlights:

What’s This?

[ 16 ] September 30, 2013 |

Book has a cover.  Also a twitter feed and a Facebook page.  Of course.

LGM Baseball Challenge Liberated!

[ 10 ] September 30, 2013 |

Sic Semper Tyrranis!

In a final day effort that can only be described as “epic,” the horrific regime of Free Leonard has finally been thrown down.

1 War On Error, SouthSideFan773 8304 99.9
2 Free Leonard, mattricci 8295 99.9
3 Fbern, fbern06 7997 99.1
4 Hail To The Victorinos, cosmic_horror 7958 98.9
5 dsalmanson 1, dsalmanson 7947 98.8
6 Jersey Burkers, john theibault 7641 96.4
7 [random], FTAVII 7629 96.3
8 Welcome (Mat) Astros, kinestx 7610 96.1
9 boz’s q team, jboz1373 7595 96
10 The Rob Deer Hunter, Aaron Veenstra 7545 95.4

And the people celebrated!

Back in March I put out a bounty on Free Leonard. SouthsideFan773 should contact me ASAP (address on right sidebar) to collect.

Sunday Book Review: Beneficial Bombing

[ 20 ] September 29, 2013 |

Mark Clodfelter’s Beneficial Bombing: The Progressive Foundations of American Air Power, 1917-1945 attempts to situate the development of airpower theory within an early twentieth century Anglo-American political context. Specifically, Clodfelter argues that the development of strategic bombing theory (including its “industrial web” variant) in the United States should be understood as part of the big P Progressivism, and that airpower enthusiasts envisioned what was effectively a Progressive vision of the future of war. Clodfelter makes a good, compelling case, although I think that the relationship between strategic bombing theory and Progressivism is a case study in the larger story of twentieth century high modernism.

Put briefly, strategic bombing enthusiasts argued that air forces could win wars through direct bombing of enemy cities, without the need to resort to the destruction of enemy armies. They (as Clodfelter discusses at length) viewed the destruction of enemy cities in essentially humanitarian terms; anything had to be better than the slaughter and chaos of the Western Front. Strategic bombing theory has an international character, and most major European powers dabbled in such theory during the interwar period, but strategic bombing as a vision of warfare only really took organizational hold in the United States and the United Kingdom.  In the continental powers, the needs of conventional armies demanded yoking, to greater or lesser extent, airpower to ground power. Not incidentally, the United States and the United Kingdom were liberal democracies with varying degrees of commitment to a liberal internationalist vision; in both (but especially the United States), there was an elite commitment to a vision of foreign policy that was simultaneously hegemonic and beneficent.

As Clodfelter discusses,the Progressive political vision animating airpower advocacy in the United States pushed strategic bombing theory in a different direction than that of the RAF.  U.S. aviators were less concerned with the demands of “savage warfare,” as the United States had fewer colonial possessions to maintain.  Also, U.S. aviators were more resistant in principle to the notion of area bombing, preferring instead logics of industrial and social disruption.  The institutional commitment of the RAF to area bombing can be overstated, of course, but the rhetorical distinction between night area bombing and daylight precision bombing was taken seriously by both the British and the Americans.

Clodfelter covers familiar territory with regard to the origins of the USAF, and especially of the connection between strategic bombing, independence, and intelligence.  He gives a good account of the progress of the Combined Bomber Offensive, especially in context of how aviators viewed their relationship with the other services, and how they understood how victory would be won. The chapters on Japan aren’t as strong, perhaps because the “beneficial” frame becomes less useful; the firebombing campaign against Japan is less about a Progressive vision of state action than old fashioned racism, punishment, and vengeance.

Obviously, I think that Clodfelter could have used some more James Scott. I think the phenomenon he describes is better understood as a facet of high modernism than as a peculiarly American phenomenon. I don’t think it’s difficult to read Progressive politics as the American manifestation of High modernism. Quick review of Scott’s essentials of high modernism:

  • A strong confidence in the potential for scientific and technological progress, including a reliance on the expertise of scientists, engineers, bureaucrats and other intellectuals.
  • Attempts to master nature to meet human needs.
  • An emphasis on rendering complex environments or concepts  legible, most often through spatial ordering (for example, city planning on a grid).
  • Disregard for historical, geographical and social context in development.

Echoing Clodfelter, I argue in the book that theories of strategic bombing represent the essence of high modernist thinking. They posit an essentially intelligible target population or organization and propose a relatively programmatic series of steps for influencing and reorganizing that population. The most sophisticated theories of strategic bombing delineate the social, economic, and organizational impact of the destruction of particular targets. Destroy this police station and criminality will ensue. Destroy workers’ homes and industrial production will slow. Destroy this factory and the German economy will collapse for lack of ball bearings. Destroy this communication facility and Saddam Hussein will lose control over his military and security services. Sufficiently damage North Vietnamese industry and Hanoi will conclude that further war is too expensive. All of these theories presuppose a social system that is both highly legible and highly susceptible to outside influence.

However, the state can see only certain things. Many social structures and human relationships are essentially invisible to the state, beyond the ability of bureaucracies to catalogue and organize. In active and passive ways, these structures resist high modernist efforts in such areas as urban planning, agricultural reform, and social revolution. In this context, it is hardly surprising that strategic bombing campaigns fail in particularly destructive ways. Even strategic bombing campaigns that do not depend on deep insight into a target population do demand a very sophisticated understanding of how the enemy thinks about costs and benefits. Strategic bombing campaigns fail because they cannot meet the huge informational demands for success. The campaigns run up against concrete limitations on the reach of the state.

I’d add that this animating spirit of the strategic air campaign really hasn’t changed. Warden’s “Five Rings” theory fits very comfortably in the high modernist framework, as do careful, patient explanations of how PGMs and modern intelligence collection capabilities will finally allow airpower to sever the sinews of state control. Clodfelter touches on this with an epilogue on the Kosovo War, and of course has written in detail about the failures of the various air campaigns over Vietnam.

With respect to the post-war pedigree of “beneficial bombing” Perry Smith’s The Air Force Plan’s for Peace gives, I think, a better account than Clodfelter of how many aviators viewed the role of the USAF in a liberal internationalist system, including some (in retrospect) goofy ideas about how fleets of American crewed, American built B-29s would act as the UN air force, enforcing world peace.  Clodfelter doesn’t really follow up on this, preferring to concentrate on the domestic military and political legacy of the Progressive vision of airpower.

Beneficial Bombing is a solid account of the intellectual milieu in which the United States Air Force developed.  I would have preferred if Clodfelter had gone even more in the intellectual history direction, using the operational details only as illustration, but I can understand his choices.  It’s a useful contribution to the airpower literature.

Bye, Lane. It’s Been.

[ 49 ] September 29, 2013 |

Well, that was efficient.

Lane Kiffin has been relieved of his duties as USC’s head football coach, Trojan athletic director Pat Haden announced early today (Sept. 29).

Haden informed Kiffin of his termination upon the team charter’s arrival back in Los Angeles early Sunday morning following USC’s 62-41 loss at Arizona State.

Kiffin’s Trojans have lost 7 of their past 11 games. USC is 3-2 this year and has lost both of its Pac-12 games. His overall record in 4 years at USC is 28-15.

Haden will hold a press conference at USC on Sunday afternoon at a time and place to be announced.

The arbitrary and overly harsh sanctions levied by the NCAA against USC obviously hurt the program, but Kiffin has made a series of bad decisions and has done little with the (still immense) talent available to him. However much I may delight in the Trojans’ failures, the Pac-12 needs a strong USC to be taken seriously as a top conference. Maybe Kiffin can get a job at Kansas…

Saturday Morning Linkage

[ 24 ] September 28, 2013 |

To assist in hangover management:

Foreign Entanglements: Westgate

[ 1 ] September 26, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Laura Seay and I talk about the Westgate attack: