Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘Military history

Balkanization, the wave of the future?

with 5 comments

The world, 2031? I doubt it. This in fact was touted as a “random Balkanization map,” and it looks pretty random to me. I’m willing to bet though, that like my proposed map of the Middle East post, sooner or later a commenter will think it’s completely serious and take great umbrage. Stay tuned.

Why a random map? To illustrate Balkanization. What is Balkanization? It’s when a big country breaks up into smaller countries. It came into popular usage after World War One, when the Austrian, Russian, and Ottoman Empires were broken up. A lot of this happened in the Balkans. According to Wikipedia, the term Balkanization is usually used as a pejorative. Curious. In any event, this topic is more current than many people, especially in the USA, realize. Over the past few decades there has been extensive Balkanization in Europe, the breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia being the foremost examples.  Czechoslovakia also split in two. A map of Europe now is considerably different than the one I grew up with.

Now however another wave of European Balkanization seems to be on the horizon. Spain, Belgium, and Great Britain all have very serious separatist movements that are gaining in popularity. In Great Britain it’s primarily Scotland, but the Wales independence movement is getting stronger. Flanders (in Belgium) and Catalonia (in Spain.) Then there’s Venice, an independent republic for centuries before it was conquered 156 years ago. I mean, Spain, Britain, or Italy could break up? Anything is possible, the incredible scope and breath of human history shows that.

Why does Balkanization occur? For the most part, nationalism. A people, culture, or ethnic group decides they would prefer to have their own government and run their own affairs. Seems reasonable enough, right? Sadly, no. Reasonable as it may be, governments tend to be adamantly opposed to peoples and territories under their control declaring independence. In fact, that encompasses much, if not most organized violence on the planet, now and historically. Sometimes countries break up peacefully, more often than not violence is involved.

What does the future hold? My guess is a lot more Balkanization. There are two reasons for this. First, there are thousands of ethnic groups on the planet, and only a few hundred governments. Many of these thousands of people would prefer to have their own nation. Few, if any, of the hundreds of governments want to give up people and territory. And modern communication is increasing nationalism, or at least a  case can be made that it is facilitating it. On the other hand, modern propaganda is ever more effectively blurring the boundary between people and government. In some cases, governments and peoples more or less overlap. Many of the European nations. A handful of small nations around the globe. In much of the rest of the world, governments and peoples have little relation. And while the masses in the west are propagandized into thinking that “Libyan, Syrian, Somalian, Iraqi, Mali, etc.” are describing real peoples, the peoples living in these regions are not confused. These “nations” are are lines drawn on maps by the western colonial powers. People are setting themselves on fire in Tibet to demand their own state for god’s sake.

So we have some problems. Compounding this argument, is the idea that smaller is getting more powerful. As I have said before, gunpowder ended feudalism as a way of life. Smokeless gunpowder ended overt colonialism. It’s looking like a combination of computers (in the broadest sense of the word) and the IED/RPG/AK47 are ending the era of neocolonialism. As evidence look at Afghanistan. The USA, the greatest military power the world has ever known, has fought it’s longest war ever against a rag-tag insurgency that has no major international supporters. The Viet Cong had China and Russia at their back, the Taliban has nobody. And yet the USA is no closer to vanquishing them than ever.

In other words, I see a lot more Balkanization in the future. And a lot more violence. Not a terribly sophisticated argument, but one of many that flies in the face of rosy predictions that The End of History is here and western, especially American, confidence that overwhelming military power will solve all our problems internationally. No, no it won’t, the age of gunboat diplomacy is long over, no matter how powerful our gunboats.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. Yadda yadda, yadda. The credit and copyright may belong to someone who goes by the Internet moniker Thespitron 6000. Notice how I subtly snuck in that now the US Navy is building drone warships.)


Written by unitedcats

November 8, 2012 at 6:16 am

The greatest empire in history, and the USA hasn’t won a war since 1945?

with 8 comments

Being all too focused on America’s endless wars, I sometimes lose track of the big picture. This little factoid was brought to my attention recently, and as all bloggers do, I thought, “This will be a cool blog topic!” Even better, I remembered it. Yes, despite the fact that we have more firepower than God, a network of global bases and fleets, and staggering spending on our military by any standard … the past few decades of military history has been pretty dismal. At least in terms of wars where the USA was fighting a substantial adversary, “wars” like Grenada and Panama don’t count. Let’s review, from most recent wars back to World War Two …

Afghanistan. Um, longest war in America’s history. Our enemy is as strong as ever. I guess it could still turn into a win, but right now it’s a very very expensive draw at best. Libya. Well, we’re claiming it as some sort of win, but the jury’s still out. And, well, our ambassador being killed like a dog is not exactly normally associated with victorious wars. Iraq. Right. Only people with surgically induced tunnel vision claim that as a win. No WMDs, Iraq now aligned with Iran, Iraq now a world class terrorist haven, Russia and China got their oil. We didn’t even get T-shirts. Then there’s the Serbian war, where we “freed” Kosovo. Except ten years later it’s still a criminal haven that hasn’t even been able to qualify for independence, with ethnic violence all too common.

Back to the eighties, there’s Iraq war I and Kuwait, where we saved a feudal Monarchy from a tin pot dictator in a “war” that we engineered. Kuwait had a farce democracy for a few years after the war, but that was it. Saddam was still around, Al-Qaeda was created, and the stage was set for the disastrous second Iraq war and occupation. Some might claim the Cold War as a victory, but it’s pretty hard to make the case. The USSR collapsed because large scale centrally run economies don’t work, and they thought they could invade and occupy Afghanistan. In any event the Cold War hardly fits any reasonable definition of war.

Then we get to Vietnam. I think I can safely say this was a draw at best. Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh City. The Korean War? Well, technically it’s not over yet. And the North Koreans, whatever else they may be, are armed to the teeth including nuclear weapons. Hardly a win. No, one has to go back to 1945, and Japan and Germany’s unconditional surrender to the USA to find a clear cut American victory. And even that is not without its critics, Eastern Europe was thrown to the wolves after the war for starters. Still, that’s 1945, it’s been some 67 years ago and 12 administrations without a Vday moment. Now I begin to see why Obama claimed that the assassination of Osama Bin Laden was one of the greatest military operations in US history, by recent standards, maybe it was.

Does this mean anything? I think it does. It hardly goes with American’s seemingly unshakeable conviction in their military might. Granted American’s being out of touch with reality is nothing new, but it would be nice if more of them recognized the limits of military power. That’s the main lesson in this, since World War Two there have been limits to what can be accomplished with military might. Yet Americans and the American government persist in thinking and acting upon the idea that military power can accomplish anything. Even worse, as a government and a nation we appear to be oblivious to the fact that not only are there limits to military power, waging war almost always has unintended negative consequences.

And as these consequences manifest, our response is often more war! This is a huge part of the reason why the Middle East and North Africa are spiralling out of control, for decades the USA and Israel have been waging war in the region in a quixotic attempt to reshape the region into a compliant western oil field. Every war creates new enemies and often strengthens old ones. I fear now that World War Three has already begun and not only are we blind to it, we have trapped ourselves in a spiral where our leaders are just going expand the war. We need new leadership with a  new vision for America’s role in the world, because our cowboy foreign policy isn’t working. Ain’t gonna happen this election though.

“He who defends everything, defends nothing.”    — Frederick III

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law  as it was produced by a Federal Employee in the course of their duties. It’s the Japanese delegation arriving on the US Missouri to sign the unconditional surrender of Japan, ending World War Two. The guy on the front left actually argued vociferously against the war, and was demoted to postmaster somewhere in China two days before the war. They brought him back into the government in time to sign the surrender papers, but Stalin had him jailed as a war criminal anywise.)

Written by unitedcats

October 6, 2012 at 11:36 am

Industrialization, War, and Politics: Trifecta of Doom

with 4 comments

I read a lot of history, especially military history. And I am convinced at this point that one truism about history is indeed true: “War is a continuation of politics by other means.” If anything it doesn’t go far enough, war and politics have been inextricably intertwined since the beginning. People with political ambitions routinely use war to gain power. They range from brilliant military minds like Julius Caesar, to shameless opportunists like Teddy Roosevelt. The one thing they all have in common is a perfect willingness to kill to get more political power. Pause for reflection.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I wouldn’t want to have a boss who was willing to kill to get what they wanted, let alone a political leader. And of course it’s entirely debatable on a case by case basis if such leaders do more good than harm. Still, for every “good” leader one can pull from the annals of history dozens of incompetent or evil leaders. Incompetence slips in there because being willing to use military accomplishments to gain political power doesn’t require any military skill whatsoever. Again, one can easily pull from the annals of history endless examples of military leaders who got their positions through politics … and performed catastrophically badly when called upon to actually lead armies and fleets in battle. In other words, this horrible intertwining does a disservice to both politicians and military leaders. Granted this is not an original observation, just something that fuels my lack of faith in human governing institutions in general.

In other words, studying history can be really depressing. Moving right along however, there’s a recent fly in this ointment that makes it a lot worse. Living in the lap of luxury and consumption (comparatively speaking historically,) modern people forget that throughout most of history the entire human race was fantastically poor compared to today. In most times and places the vast majority of people for all practical purposes slaved their lives away growing food, up until the late Middle Ages at the very least. And this widespread poverty had at least one very positive effect. It limited the race’s ability to wage war.

And these were very real limits. Typically throughout history an army was a few thousand men at most, a few tens of thousands on rare occaisions. Even then the majority of people who fought in wars were peasant conscripts who only served a few months a year, as they had to both plant and harvest the crops. Thus the armies that did exist were very much limited in both their mobility and their ability to wreak widespread destruction. Certainly cities and even civilizations were destroyed, but these were the exception. Today tiny handfuls of military persons can rain destruction down on people on the other side of the planet. And modern armies can number in the millions, something inconceivable even as late as the mid nineteenth century. The destruction wrought by modern armies makes was of the past look trivial in comparison. Millions dead, entire countries laid to waste. And the destructive power available to modern armies (not to mention insurgents and non-state actors) continues to grow.

So already I’m finding that I see little to be optimistic about in humanity’s future. And if these aspects of the human condition weren’t bad enough, modern propaganda is vastly more effective than the propaganda of old. Science applied to advertising has multiplied the power to do evil the same way science applied to warfare has done. And as a final icing on this cake of doom, scientists are once again raising alarm about the health of the planet’s ecosystem and the catastrophic effects human activity is having upon it.

We’re not really an intelligent species. Convince me otherwise.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s central to illustrating the post, isn’t being used for profit, and arguably is an historically important image. Credit and copyright: Some anonymous Russian photographer during World War Two. It’s an image taken during the Battle of Stalingrad in World War Two, though to be fair it may be a staged image. It does show the destruction of the city though.)

Written by unitedcats

June 14, 2012 at 2:45 pm