Thursday, August 31, 2006


Not sure what it means, but this kind of thing makes me so sad I feel like I could vomit.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Why do I wish I knew more Finns?

'German ground troops ... had given it the nicknames Schwarzer Tod (Black Death) and Eiserner Gustav (Iron Gustav). The Finnish nickname Maatalouskone (The Agricultural Machine) derived from the habitual low attack pattern of the Il-2 (a WWII Soviet anti-tank aircraft).'

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

More truisms

I haven't really posted anything specifically about the Lebanon-Israel crisis so far because I don't really have anything specific to say, and I can't claim to be completely familiar with the specifics. In the general context the mistakes (and seriously, it's mistakes all the way down) are the same as they always are. A little while ago, I posted a list of, among other things, facts that policy-makers seem to be largely unaware of. I think I'd just like to expand upon that a little more.

(3-5) I think people in the west retain a sort of vestigial cultural memory of empire that has become completely obsolete in the modern world. Whether it's the Roman empire, the British empire, the Russian empire, the Austrian empire, even the Akkaddian empire, one thing all of these had in common is that their expansion was directed into areas which (1) were already amenable to being part of an empire and/or (2) lacked the historical precedent of being a nation-state.

The Russian empire did not conquer Kazakhstan but the land and a people whose political loyalties were much more local than the conquerors' own; in 1991, when Kazakhstan had a choice, it went it's own way. By contrast, Polish nationalists rarely missed an opportunity to blow up something Russian, even when there wasn't actually a broader uprising. Reaching back even further, Kievan Rus, a fairly motley collection of little principalities, fell to the Horde ridiculously quickly, who didn't even attempt to administer the territory directly, while two hundred years later, a unified Muscovy (not a remarkably potent military power) could stare them down.

When Hungary became part of the Austrian empire, it wasn't Hungary but the Lands of the Crown of St. Stephen, including what is now Croatia, some of Slovakia and Slovenia, and it came as a concession from the Ottoman empire, and could be seen as an improvement on the rule of the Infidel. On the other hand, the Ottomans managed to maintain their European empire only tenuously and through grossly vicious, even genocidal, methods--the boy tax in Bulgaria, for example--which at no point finished off the resistance in those areas.

When Britain conquered India, it did so in pieces, picking off individual rulers one by one; later, when the concept of India as the nation of Indians became coherent, Britain couldn't hold it.

The Roman empire conquered two kinds of peoples: those that were already part of Alexandrine successor states--whose lives would not be altered significantly by a change of Hellenistic overlords--and those with relatively parochial political structures like the Gauls or the Iberian Celts, who lacked a central authority or central principle to organize resistance. Notably, the Romans never had any serious chance at conquering and annexing the Parthian kingdom.

I bring up these examples because in the modern world, there aren't really any peoples who satisfy (1) or (2), and my thesis is that a people who do not satisfy (1) or (2) are essentially unconquerable even in the medium term. Moreover, I tend to believe that this fact extends to most threats to a people's sovereignty or collective pride from an outside power. People in the modern world will not be beaten down. And this spawns any number of bloody responses, state-organized or not, sometimes fairly noble resistance to an occupying power, sometimes seemingly inexplicable civil wars--the actual response is conditioned on a ridiculously complex array factors, and only a fool would try to make a specific prediction before the fact. From the standpoint of the occupier, though, the high-level prediction that the engagement will lead to disaster is almost certain bet: the target will not yield, and then something horrible will happen.

Israel and the U.S. should know better by now. We should know better than to think that even elements of backwardness belie some fundamental weakness or vulnerability to persuasion by force. The Lebanese, or specifically Hezbollah, were never going to yield. We would all be safest assuming that no one will ever yield. It's not a terribly heroic conclusion--epics of iron-willed nations who stand against all odds are off the table--everyone stands, or if they fall, the get back up. When they get back up, they do it with righteous fury. The question "Is this nation strong, or will they yield?" can always be answered: they are strong. All nations are sufficiently heroic.

I'm wandering now, so let me try to summarize. For myself, I am a pacifist for non-pragmatic reasons, but I think even the pragmatist really has to look at pacifism seriously now. Only idiots fight wars when they are not obviously compelled or when they cannot guarantee the victory. In the modern world, we can never guarantee or even seriously expect anything but a terribly pyrrhic victory or a genocidal mess. Any serious international agenda has to begin with something like the following: "The people over there are going to do what they want, or if threatened, they are going to do what none of us want."

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I passed! I passed my qual! God is great!