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Category: Robert Farley


[ 46 ] July 19, 2017 |

Metallica at Comerica, doing its rendition of a hippie drum circle. Own work, 7/12/17.

So last Wednesday, apparently in an effort to relive my late teens, I went to see Metallica in Detroit.

They were quite good.  Extremely professional, but not without displaying quite a bit of energy.  It was almost 90 at showtime, but apart from a couple of recorded guitar/drum intros, they remained on stage and active for the duration, and even stayed around for quite a while after the encore, talking to fans. It undoubtedly helped that the expectation of thunderstorms pushed the show up by about an hour; these are old men who appreciate the value of an early bedtime.

The setlist was solid, although I wish they had done Creeping Death instead of, say, Fuel. That said, it’s hard to complain too much when Trujillo does a creditable rendition of Anesthesia.  The five songs from the new album are legitimately the best five songs from the new album, and in a significant shift from recent Metallica policy, are actually all pretty good songs.

The crowd was pretty much what you would expect; white folks my age or somewhat older.  It was considerably less violent than the last Metallica concert I saw (1994), but then your contemporary Metallica fan risks much more in lost productivity from a mosh-pit-mishap than s/he did twenty-three years ago.


One of These Is Not Like the Others

[ 39 ] July 19, 2017 |

Martin B-10B

I have some reservations about a recent CNAS report on the B-21 “Raider.

Late last month, the Center for New American Security (CNAS) released a new report from Jerry Hendrix and James Price on the history of strategic bombing, and on the place that the Northrop Grumman B-21 “Raider” will occupy in the lineage of strategic bombers. Reminiscent of Jerry Hendrix’ structurally similar report on the history of the carrier air wing, and the place of the CVN-78 carrier in U.S. naval doctrine, the report concludes that the U.S. Air Force may need more Raiders (164) than it currently expects to acquire (100).

GoT Open Thread

[ 151 ] July 16, 2017 |

Hey gurl, wassup?

Stay away from this thread if you don’t like spoilers.  Otherwise, spoil away!

On Military History

[ 164 ] July 15, 2017 |
Shelby Foote.jpg

Dr. Erik Loomis

I must dissent from Brother Loomis on several points. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a political scientist who studies military organizations, which often places me in the company (methodologically, epistemologically, and physically) with professional military historians. Thus, I am generally familiar with professional, academic treatments of military organizations, ideas, and campaigns, especially in the fields of airpower and seapower.

First, points of agreement (with necessary caveats):

1. Erik has an aesthetic distaste for military history. I’ll grant this as a statement of fact about Erik, and as a generally defensible position to hold as a human being. Not everyone finds details of the clash of the 33rd Guards Rifle Corps against the 3rd SS Panzer on the seventh day of the Battle of Kursk all that exciting; my eyes tend to glaze over at some of the more detailed treatments of particular battles, even as I recognize the intense archival, interview, and even archaeological work necessary to establish and contest factual claims about such battles. It’s entirely fine not to care about that, although I do suspect that Erik would get mildly irritable if someone said “I don’t like labor history because stories of workers getting crushed make me feel bored and sad.”

2. The academic study of military history has periodically been kind of a mess. There are lots of reasons for this, but I think I’d settle on two main causes. The first is that, unlike in most other fields (except perhaps biography) there are exceptional rewards to producing popular work that does not usefully engage with relevant academic debates, or employ rigorous methods of inquiry and analysis. This is especially true of particularly “popular” conflicts such as the American Civil War or World War I; it can be very hard to sort out the useful product from the dreck, especially as writers have little incentive to produce the latter over the former. The second is that military history often finds itself tied up in arguments about popular nationalist narratives that academic historian often find a) distasteful and b) dangerous. It’s a slight exaggeration to say that this all goes back to Vietnam era disdain for military conflict and military life, but it’s not completely wrong; the same dynamic occurred in political science, although it seems to have passed more quickly in polisci than in history.

3. Military history is not well-regarded among mainstream academic history departments. This is a big generalization, but while Erik’s views on the question are probably a touch stronger than the mean (that’s why we love him!) my own experience suggests that they aren’t terribly wide of the mark. That said, there are a number of institutions (often although not always associated with professional military education) where academic military history is well-respected, uses the most modern and rigorous methods of inquiry, and is subjected to productive critical analysis.

Now for the points of disagreement. First, I think Erik misunderstands the nature and direction of modern academic military history, and second, I think that he radically understates the contribution that academic military history can make to other historical fields.

Regarding the first, academic military history does not, by an large, focus on recapitulations of particular battles or campaigns. It’s a slight exaggeration to say that modern military history has taken an organizational turn, but only slight. This is to say that military history has become the study of how particular military organizations have developed, changed, and executed their primary objectives. A different way of saying this is that military history has largely become a story of the functioning of large bureaucratic organizations. Even histories of particular campaigns (for example, the air campaign over Korea) increasingly focus on bureaucratic questions; what ideas inspired how the organization explained itself, how did the organization conceive of war, what sort of societal footprint did the organization create, how did it attempt to marshal the resources necessary to conduct war, what kinds of arguments did people inside the organization have with each other and with outsiders, how did the organization react to actual military action, etc. All of these are subject to rigorous historical inquiry, and all of them have been so subjected by professional, academic military historians.

The second disagreement should be obvious in context of the first. Military organizations are, generally speaking, gigantic government bureaucracies. They draw resources from the nation, and in so doing often transform the relationship between state and society. Military organizations tend to produce intense, internally coherent identities that have a broad social impact, including on members, former members, and outsiders. Military organizations both reflect and structure broader social cleavages, including race, class, and gender. Military organizations play a remarkably important role in the creation and sustainment of national identity, for good and ill. In practical terms, military organizations enable or restrict certain kinds of public policy; the state can use military organizations for repression, for the development of cohesive national identities, for the pursuit of resources, or for the defense of territory and socio-political structure against adversaries. Long story short, telling a story without trying to understand the relevance of military organizations to social life is deeply problematic, whatever kind of history you’re working on.

I can hear an objection: None of the above is really “military history,” in the common understanding of the term. You don’t need to know anything about the order of battle at Shiloh to appreciate the broader impact of the expansion of the United States Army (and its corollary, the national security state) on American politics and society during the Civil War. To an extent, this is true; any academic account needs to “black box” certain phenomena in order to conduct a useful, coherent inquiry. Indeed,”the conduct of the Battle of Tannenberg has been dealt with extensively in other works, and will not be recapitulated in detail here” is an extremely common move in modern, academic military histories. But every inquiry also needs to appreciate that what happens in the black box is also the subject of potentially useful, legitimate historical inquiry. The Union won the Battle of Shiloh because reasons, and some of those reasons have to do with social cohesion, ethnicity, communications, and technology, all of which are of legitimate, if variable, interest to professional academic historians.

Let’s give an example. I’m currently pushing through Alexander Hill’s The Red Army and the Second World War, which is an extremely detailed account of the history of the Red Army from about 1921 on. It builds on (and revises) a lot of the secondary English language literature, while also integrating heavy Russian and German archival work and even some quantitative analysis. The book has substantially improved my own understanding of the development and functioning of the Red Army, in both peace and war. And here’s the thing about the Red Army; it was really, really important to the Soviet Union, and it’s really, really important to understanding the functioning of Soviet politics, economics, and society in just about every era of Soviet history. The combat experiences of the Imperial Russian Army, of the Red Army in the Civil War, of the Red Army in Finland, and finally of the Red Army in World War II are immensely consequential to Soviet state policy, and consequently to any useful account of Soviet history. The impact of the specific experiences of the Red Army and its antecedent helped structure ideological conflict (tension between the military and political elite), technology policy (Soviet technology investment was largely driven by the perception of specific aviation and mechanization needs), ethnicity policy (the politics of Russian relations with the periphery are extremely complex, and were often driven by perceptions of military effectiveness), social policy (creating a populace that could be effectively mobilized for war was a key Soviet goal, and one that was formulated in context of the Red Army’s understanding of what future conflict would look like, which was based on experience in the Civil War etc.); you get the idea.

All of these things should be pretty important to historians of the Soviet Union. Rigorous inquiry into the nature and conduct of the Red Army isn’t the only thing that historians should be doing, but it surely should be of interest to historians concentrating on other fields. And while the Red Army may be exceptional in its influence over broader Soviet society, the difference between it and, say, the US Air Force or the US Navy is one of degree, not kind.

And so… yeah.  Brother Loomis should take military history more seriously, as should the rest of his field.  There’s a lot of excellent work out there, and there are plentiful grounds for productive engagement between that work and practitioners of other fields.

The Hits. They Keep on a’Coming.

[ 186 ] July 10, 2017 |

Is it wrong to sit down with a foreign lawyer?  Is it wrong if that lawyer has promised to give you dirt on an opposing candidate?  What if you have reason to believe that the lawyer represents a foreign government, regarded by some as hostile to US interests?


Obviously, even asking any of these questions makes you a modern day expression of the most vicious elements of McCarthyism. Nevertheless, I support a full investigation of these allegations.

Promoted from comments; we need much, much more of this.

Economic Statecraft

[ 10 ] July 10, 2017 |
Mao Zedong and Enver Hoxha.jpg

Mao Zedong and Enver Hoxha., Public Domain.

In my latest at the Diplomat, I relate some thoughts about Chinese economic statecraft during the Cold War…

The growing financial might of China has spawned numerous studies of Chinese economic statecraft, ranging from the measured to the alarmist. However, while Beijing’s use of economic tools to achieve its diplomatic ends has taken on a new character since the end of the Cold War, the PRC has long used foreign aid as a means of shoring up its geostrategic position. A new book by Shu Guang Zhang, Beijing’s Economic Statecraft during the Cold War, 1949-1991, details how Beijing used “soft” economic power for the first 40 years of the PRC’s existence to both resolve core problems with the domestic economy, and to expand the China’s international influence.


[ 91 ] July 7, 2017 |
North Korean missile range.svg

By North-korean-missile-ranges.svg: TUBS derivative work: Cmglee – This file was derived from  North-korean-missile-ranges.svg: , CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

So as you’ve probably heard, North Korea tested a missile earlier this week that fits the extant definition of “ICBM.”  In its current form it can probably hit the thriving metropolis of Anchorage.  I hope that LGM’s Alaska correspondent can fill us in on the panic that is even at this very moment undoubtedly overtaking the streets of Juneau.

I recommend Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang on the technical and strategic details.  See also Max Fisher on some of the implications for the next step, and Stephen Haggard on the China angle. 

Additional brief thoughts:

  • Functionally, there’s not really all that much difference between North Korea having the capacity to destroy Seoul, Tokyo, Guam, Anchorage, or Seattle.  The North Koreans probably achieved the requisite level of deterrence against US/ROK attack even before they went nuclear, although the addition of nukes and long-range delivery devices an insurance policies is relevant at the margin.
  • The idea that a North Korean ICBM is going to force the US off the Korean Peninsula, or break the alliance with the ROK is fundamentally silly.  It turns out that the United States has endured the threat of nuclear attack on behalf of alliance partners in the past, and in much more dire circumstances.  The ROK-US alliance may break for a variety of reasons, but increased DPRK capabilities likely isn’t one of them.
  • Turns out that shooting missiles at Syria and dropping a large bomb on Afghanistan and sailing aircraft carriers in circles around Australia wasn’t actually enough to demonstrate our toughness and resolve.
  • And no, the Dealmaker-in-Chief cannot force China to abandon North Korea, primarily because he cannot offer anything that resolves Chinese concerns about a North Korean collapse.


Caught in a Trap

[ 118 ] July 1, 2017 |

This seems significant…

Towards the end of one of our conversations, Smith made his pitch. He said that his team had been contacted by someone on the “dark web”; that this person had the emails from Hillary Clinton’s private email server (which she had subsequently deleted), andthat Smith wanted to establish if the emails were genuine. If so, he wanted to ensure that they became public prior to the election. What he wanted from me was to determine if the emails were genuine or not.

It is no overstatement to say that my conversations with Smith shocked me. Given the amount of media attention given at the time to the likely involvement of the Russian government in the DNC hack, it seemed mind-boggling for the Trump campaign—or for this offshoot of it—to be actively seeking those emails. To me this felt really wrong.

See Josh Marshall for more.  There doesn’t seem to be clear evidence of successful collusion, but there is clearly evidence of an interest in colluding with Russia on the part of folks in and around the Trump campaign, which seems worthy of investigation.

One more thing… if you’re the sort of person who likes to write 1800 word screeds or 60 tweet storms about how the Democratic Party is unwilling to really face its problems, and how this Russia stuff is all a smokescreen intended to protect the DNC, and intelligence agencies all lie all the time about everything, and bad people want nuclear war with Russia, then please save us the trouble of making your last nine words or last 140 characters “Nevertheless, I strongly support a real investigation into Russia’s electoral interference.” An investigation of potential Trump campaign collusion with the intelligence agencies of a right-wing, semi-autocratic country (agencies which may have repeatedly probed US voting systems looking for vulnerabilities) will not be made to happen under a Republican Congress by polite, measured requests.  Media organizations will get things wrong, political leaders will exaggerate, and of course grifters will grift.  Concentrating on these things, rather than on the increasingly troubling underlying story, serves to exculpate Republicans who want to sweep this under the rug. Better simply to end with “I prefer not to know about Russian influence over the election.”


[ 34 ] June 29, 2017 |

Things seem to be looking solid for the moment regarding the Disqus transition.  Please let me know if there are any enduring issues, either through comments or e-mail (still resolving a couple of outstanding requests).  For the time being we are going to keep media comments available, and rely on the “flag this comment” to eliminate any problems; basically, a certain number of flags will mean that the comment is no longer viewable.  Let’s see how that works out.

Racing for Power, Peace?

[ 6 ] June 28, 2017 |

People’s Liberation Army (Navy) ship PLA(N) Peace Ark (T-AH 866) steams in close formation during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shannon Renfroe – Public Domain.

Some thoughts on how Sino-Indian naval competition is manifesting in the Indian Ocean:

In a recent article, Abhijit Singh explains how the Indian Navy has stepped up its humanitarian operations in the Indian Ocean since 2004. The purpose of this action is twofold; to simultaneously provide a foundational maritime maintenance function in the region, while also hedging against an increase in the range and power of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). As Singh notes, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR) has become a core naval mission since 2004, one that all major powers need to take seriously.

Brave New World

[ 396 ] June 28, 2017 |

Let this post serve as a test-bed for commenting.  Please note any problems or bugs; if you can’t login or comment for some reason, just send me an e-mail (far right sidebar).

And remember, I don’t necessarily see any problematic ads that you see.  If you do not send me a URL, then I cannot help you.



UPDATE: Thanks for all of the comments below.  We’re going to be doing an overall template update soon (weeks), so some of the smaller stuff may wait until then, rather than patch up the old template.


Allow Upvoting of Comments


make free surveys

Comment Addenda

[ 54 ] June 27, 2017 |

A couple more thoughts on the comment transition…

We are firmly of the camp “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” with regard to technical updates to the blog. I can appreciate that, from the outside, it does not appear that the comment system is broken. From the inside, however, we’re on the edge of collapse; the tools that we’ve been using for years to manage comments are breaking down and becoming non-functional. This has meant slower (and less effective) elimination of trolls, slower liberation of comments pushed into “pending,” and slow-to-non-existent responses to editorial requests. Our tech people tell us that things will not get better without a significant expansion of our server footprint, which will cost more than moving to Disqus while providing less functionality.

With regards to the complaints about Disqus… I get it. If we loved Disqus we would have moved over years ago. But I honestly don’t see that much of an overall difference for the commenting experience between the system we have now and the system we’ll be adopting. For the administrator, on the other hand, Disqus offers many more management tools than WordPress. It’s not a total lock that all of these tools will be used for good, but at least there’s some reason to expect that they’ll work three months from now.

In any case, I plan to be around all day tomorrow, troubleshooting the problems that can be troubleshot.  As always, thank you for your patience…

The Management

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