A Really Cool Blog

… about science & space, people & politics, various musings & other cool things too.

Month: June 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

Analyzing Clausewitz’s Theory on War

The Nineteenth century strategist Carl von Clausewitz argued that ‘the fundamental nature of war is immutable. The characteristics or form of war typical in any particular age might change, but the essential nature of war could not. This distinction carries significant weight and holds considerable merit. As the course of international history and relations progresses, technological advancements, changes in operational and tactical strategy, and different international makeups have altered the way wars are conducted and the way in which they are fought. The underlying causes of and reasons for war, however, have remained the same throughout history, thereby affirming Clausewitz’s assertions.

Since the beginning of the ‘Westphalian’ era of international relations, warfare has experienced a number of periods of differing techniques, technologies, and strategies. The analyst William Lind described these periods as the ‘four generations’ of warfare. The ‘first generation’ of warfare is defined broadly as one of muskets and line and column tactics. Battles were formal and the battlefield orderly, with competing armies facing each other in open fields and firing in rank. Many of the distinguishing factors of the idea of the ‘military’, such as uniforms, ranks, and saluting, are products of this generation. Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, however, the introduction of rifled muskets, magazine-based ammunition and rapid-fire weapons made the application of lines and columns obsolete and, eventually, suicidal. The ‘second generation’ of warfare was one which applied mass firepower, most of which involved indirect artillery fire, and a defensive-based mentality. The First World War, with its intricate trench systems and static, defensive-based fronts, exemplified the second generation. The introduction of tanks, aircraft, and armored vehicles, intended to break the stalemate of the western front, brought about the ‘third generation’ of warfare. This generation was based on speed, surprise, initiative and decentralization of command. The Second World War was fought during this generation, and the German ‘Blitzkrieg’ doctrine of swift attacks, individual initiative, and encirclements was the prime example of the application of the ideas of this generation. The ‘fourth generation’ of warfare, which the modern world is transitioning into, is one where the state loses monopoly over war. Lind argues that state militaries find themselves fighting non-state opponents, such as Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, or the FARC, more often than one another in this generation of warfare. Furthermore, victory on the battlefield in this generation does not carry the same operational weight as it did in those prior, and rather victory can be determined by destroying the opponent’s political or societal will to fight as opposed to defeating his armies on the field.

Other forms of warfare have remained constant throughout these generations. The prime example of this is asymmetrical warfare, where one side faces an overpowering, better equipped, and/or more technologically advanced foe by engaging in guerrilla warfare. Tactics for this form of warfare include ambushing opponents, surprise raids, sabotage, and targeted killings. Although asymmetrical warfare has been a sustained component of warfare through the ages (while conventional warfare has changed considerably in technique and operational strategy), the technologies utilized in asymmetrical warfare have changed in powerful ways. Modern guerrillas utilize weaponry such as IEDS (improvised explosive devises) to destroy armored vehicles and portable anti-aircraft weapons to down helicopters and fighter aircraft. The fact that these weapons are often easy to acquire, cheap to make, yet devastating in effect presents a large challenge to the conventional force they are used against. Additionally, fighters in an asymmetrical war can, and do, now utilize elements of modern society against their foe. For example, Al-Qaeda used commercial aircraft to attack the World Trade Centers in New York on 9/11. Organizations or fighters can utilize the internet to spread their ideology, recruit to their cause (oftentimes within their foe’s country), spread information on weapon-building and utilization, and even hack or disrupt important electronic services with devastating effect.

The characteristics and forms of war have thus changed through the ages, as evidenced by the various ‘generations’ of war and military strategy and the consistent improvement and changes in technology. While these facets of war have changed, however, the underlying causes of and reasons for war have not. Clausewitz argued that war was the ‘continuation of politics by other means’. He further contended that war ‘is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will’. By these assertions he meant that war was a tool used by the state to both further act on it positions in international politics and to force the opponent to bend and submit to those positions. By defeating an enemy, a state can impose its will, whatever that will may be, upon it, and therefore further its position in the international arena. This definition of war, which explains its ‘essential nature’, has remained steady throughout the history of war and conflict since the beginning of the Westphalian era.

This definition of the nature of war is backed empirically by the examples provided in major wars that have occurred since the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The War of the Spanish Succession and War of the Austrian Succession in the early 18th century were fought by its participants with the intention of instilling a specific monarch (and thus ruling family) over another. The victors of these wars accomplished their will by putting their choice of monarch on the throne, and thus furthered their political position in an international environment where ruling families controlled great amounts of international clout and power. The Seven Year’s war was a conflict over colonial territory, a major source of power, prestige, and wealth during the 18th century, and saw the alliance under the United Kingdom gain considerable swaths of French territory in the Americas. Through this victory, British international power was increased, and thus its political clout too increased. The American Revolution saw the United States attempting to create a separate political entity from the United Kingdom, and the war was thus an extension of political and domestic disputes between the colonists and their mother country. The American victory saw the U.K. bend to the will of the American people and granted them sovereignty. The Napoleonic Wars saw an emergent France attempting to spread ‘liberal’ ideology and increase its empire, and thus its political position on the world stage. The ultimate defeat of France made her concede to the Coalition’s will of returning to a pre-Napoleonic Europe, both ideologically and in borders. The American Civil War saw the extension of domestic disputes and politics into military conflict, with the Confederacy attempting to succeed from the Union over the issues of state rights and slavery, along with others. Again, the Union’s victory coincided with the enforcing of their will for the return to a united nation. The First World War and Second World War saw the attempt of Imperial and Nazi Germany to form larger and more powerful ’empires’ and thus be dominant political powers, and the victory of the Allies in both wars saw their will for the dismantlement of these empires (and, they hoped, the destruction of the German war machine) enacted. The American wars in Korea and Vietnam were extensions of its political goal of containing the spread of communism, and the ultimate failure of the US in Vietnam enabled the Communists to gain political control of the country. Finally, American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq saw its will for the toppling of the Taliban and Hussein regimes complete, and these were in turn due to the extension of the American ‘neo-con’ political viewpoint that the establishment of democracies in the Middle-East would stabilize the region and counter the threat of terrorism. Even non-state actors, such as Al-Qaeda, hold political motivations when conducting war with its foes. For example, they sought the removal of American troops from the Middle East and the extension of Islamist principles into Middle Eastern politics and societies. By attacking the United State and attempting to demoralize and terrorize its populace, it was simply attempting to enact this political will. Therefore, even while the world transitions into this ‘fourth generation’ of warfare against non-state actors, the underlying nature of war still remains the same. While this list of wars is not nearly comprehensive for the period of time between the modern era and 1648, the general trends shown in this list exemplify Clausewitz’s assertion that the nature of war is immutable despite changing characteristics of war. In each case, the participants were acting with a political reason and position in mind, and the victors enacted their will on the loser to further or accomplish that position.

Clausewitz asserted that the fundamental nature of war was immutable, despite the changing characteristics of war. While technologies, strategies, and even participants in wars change with the times, the underlying nature of war, where one state attempts to enforce its will upon another in order to accomplish its political goals, does not. Major wars throughout different eras of history, which all experienced different tactics, strategies, technologies, and applications of war, shared this fundamental facet. In each case, despite the different application of war, the fact that the victor enacted its will upon the loser and that the belligerents used war as an extension of its political agenda remains the same. Because of this, Clausewitz’s assertions are affirmed.

Introspection # 36: “Humanism” in lieu of “Atheism”

Something that I occasionally struggle with is defining what term would classify my system of beliefs. For many people, its quite easy: they associate themselves with their faith. Christians try to live the life of Christ, Muslims emulate the life of Muhammad, followers of Indian religions (Buddhism, Hinduism especially) try to model a life respecting the forces of karma with an eventual goal of reaching nirvana, Shintoists try to live in harmony with spiritual forces in all things. Religion serves as a moral guide, as an explanation for creation, and provides clarity for questions that we cannot or could not answer.I, however, associate myself with atheism: I do not believe in a divine power, a god, nor any spiritual ‘forces’. Atheism is, by the literal definition, the lack of belief in a deity. However, atheism is not a religion: it does not provide answers to any questions, it does not set any moral guidelines, it does not explain how or why we are here like all religions do. Atheism, just as it definition describes, simply discounts the idea that God does. Thus, I find it hard sometimes to classify myself as simply an ‘atheist’, because atheism describes more of what I don’t believe in than what I do. Christians don’t describe themselves as Christians because they don’t believe in Hindu religious tenets, but rather because they follow the life guide that Christianity provides for them. I often long for some term of my own which does the same thing.

In order to understand that term, I have to describe first what it is that I believe in.

I believe that science offers the only reliable, changeable, and rational method we have to understand our place in the universe and its workings. Science offers knowledge and power that before could only be attributed to the gods. I believe that rational inquiry, constant critique and skepticism of provided evidence and answers, and deep investigation is a better way to answer questions about ourselves, our lives, our existence, and our universe than to accept the word of an ancient, primitive society as infallible.

I believe that the universe is so much more vast, more ancient, more complicated, more wondrous, more beautiful, and more weird than any mystic could ever know. I believe that the fact that most of these ancient mystics, and the religions they followed, attribute humanity and the Earth as the center and reason for the universe contrasts so powerfully with our present understanding of the enormity, vastness, and incomprehensible history of the universe that it says much about their validity, or lack thereof.

I believe that humanity have the potential to achieve great things, and that humanity has unrealized power. We are a united species, one which has conquered and dominates the natural world. We are all of the same flesh and blood. We have all developed societies and cultures which, while separate, unite us as being distinctly human. We share a collective responsibility on this Earth and for the future of mankind, regardless of our differences in faith, in political values, in worldview, and in outlook.  Together, we’ve defeated smallpox, traveled to the moon, mapped our own genome, and peered back in time to begin to understand the events that occurred billions of years ago in our universe’s infancy. None of these we did with any divine guidance or intervention.

Many people don’t like being defined by what they are not, by what they do not believe. This is why, often, ‘atheist’ isn’t a term I prefer to use, although it is the most mainstream term. Per its definition, it implies that I do not have a worldview, that I do not have a moral code, that I do not have an answer to creation. Even more importantly, it implies that believing in a religion is the default, and that people like me are abnormal, when the opposite is distinctly true: no baby is born a believer, no child comes to believe a faith their parents did not instil in them. I think that we’re getting to a point, globally, where religion isn’t necessarily the default, faith isn’t necessarily the dominant answer to some challenging and contriver questions.

So, what should I call myself? I’ve heard and experimented with a number of terms: secularist,  skeptic, freethinker, rationalist.I think the one that stands out more than any however, which really explains my worldview, is the term ‘humanist’.

According to the Institute of Humanist Studies, Humanism is a comprehensive world view which embraces human reason unaided by divine revelation, and one which consciously rejects supernatural claims, theistic faith and religiosity, pseudoscience, and superstition. Humanists derive their moral codes from a philosophy utilitarianism, ethical naturalism or evolutionary ethics, and some advocate a science of morality.

In short, Humanists put faith into human reason and rationality, as opposed to superstition, to answer questions. Science, to me, is the most powerful example of the application of human reason and rationality: when science is wrong, it gradually gets corrected, when things don’t make sense, new answers are developed. Moral codes are derived not from a supernatural source, but instead from the natural world: utilitarianism and ethical naturalism are one in the same: species follow ‘good’ morals because they will evolve stronger and society will function better if they do so. A society which steals, cheats, and murders will die out long before one which shares, cares, and respects another.

I feel that the time when I can suppliant the term atheist with humanist is still a ways away: people still equate atheism to religion, and people aren’t familiar with the term humanist. Perhaps this is why I still call myself, when asked, an atheist as opposed to a humanist. But slowly I believe, and I hope, that perceptions on the terms and misunderstandings will gradually fade away and the two terms will blend together. I feel that those who don’t believe in god need a term to describe their worldview just as much as those who do believe in a god do.

A Brief Analysis of Presidential Scandals

The office of President of the United States of America is the most important in the world, and the person who holds it is granted a massive amount of power and responsibility. The President is the top elected official in the United States, someone who the American public put their trust and faith into when deciding to choose him. He is the representative and embodiment of the American people, the leader of the United States’ government, and represents the pinnacle of achievement towards the ‘American Dream’. Yet he is also human, and like all humans he is prone to error, miscalculation, and lapses in judgment.

Of course, because of the trust granted to him by the public, and the perceived higher moral and occupational standards that come with the job, when a president errs he is subject to much more scrutiny than the average person. The term ‘scandal’ is applied to the famous cases in which a president has suffered from such a error or lapse in judgment, and in these cases various consequences have befallen the office of the President, ranging from the erosion of public trust in the position to impeachment processions being undertaken. Yet the parameters defining a ‘real’ scandal are ambiguous, and history has shown that some actions have caused more and less of a scandal than they really warranted.

No president ever acts or has ever acted out of malicious intent. The people who execute the office of the Presidency often do so following a prestigious or lengthy career in public service, or who are genuinely concerned about the condition of the country they are running. Their intentions and actions are always, in their mind, beneficial for the nation. This must be kept in mind when considering the reasons behind why certain presidents subject to scandals acted as they did. However pure the intentions of a president may be, however, the office he holds is the top official position in the United States, and thus is expected to be the most upstanding and upholding of law and accountability. When a president circumvents or disregards the law or refuses to be accountable and take responsibility for his actions, a scandal is often the result. Examples of this are seen clearly in the Iran-Contra and Watergate Scandals that befell the Reagan and Nixon presidencies. In the case of Iran-Contra, president Reagan, along with members of his staff and the CIA, set into motion a complex series of interactions, arms and drug trades, and money peddling in order to secure the freeing of American hostages held by Iranian-backed militants and also topple the left-leaning Nicaraguan government. The intentions of the American operatives who oversaw this were, in their minds, good: they were attempting to seek the release of hostage Americans and topple a government that they perceived to be an ideological threat to the United States. However, the way they went about the operation, by trading through arms dealers, supporting drug cartels, and assisting a militia known for its notorious human rights abuses, was outside the realm of law. To add to the issue, Reagan’s refusal to acknowledge the events that took place, as well as the destruction of evidence and documents by his operatives, eliminated any accountability in his position as president.

Nixon’s scandal was a result of a break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee headquarters by men hired by Nixon’s campaign staff. Following the break-ins, Nixon attempted to cover-up his connection to the burglars, and, as an investigation was mounted, refused to release tapes that recorded conversations which would have proven his guilt. Nixon’s refusal to take responsibility, as well as his guilt in the entire affair, destroyed the accountability of the office and also caused what is considered to be the biggest scandal in presidential history. As these two examples in presidential scandal have made apparent, actions taken outside the realm of law and for which responsibility is not taken cause scandal, and these scandals are often very warranted. The President is elected into his position by a trusting public, who believe that he will execute his office under the same laws and guidelines that they are subject to. When the president fails to do that, he has destroyed not only the trust of the public in him, but also in the office itself. When accountability cannot be held for the presidency, the perceived superior values and conduct that the office entails disappear, and the position is not as sacred in the eye of the public.

Yet these are not the only examples of scandal in presidential history, nor are the reasons behind them the only cause of political scandal. The ‘Teapot Dome’ scandal which befell the Harding administration did not involve actions taken by the office of the president which were outside the realm of law, but rather involved cases of corruption within the president’s staff. Interior Secretary Albert Fall leased oil production rights at Teapot Dome, which was an oil-producing area designated as a Naval Oil Reserve, to Mammoth Oil and Pan American Petroleum. These leases were issued without competitive bidding, were very favorable to the oil companies, and resulted in a number of kickbacks for Fall. Fall illegally received over 500,00 dollars in kickback money from the owners of the oil companies. The deal was later investigated by the Senate, in 1927 the Supreme Court ruled that the oil leases had been corruptly obtained, and in 1929 Fall was found guilty of bribery. A case like this also warrants a scandal, because illegal activity was undertaken by the President’s staff. While Harding himself was not implicated in the scandal, the fact that one of his political appointees took part means that Harding holds responsibility as his boss. It is highly unlikely that talk of the transactions never reached Harding’s ears, but regardless of whether or not Harding was responsible for the actual actions himself, the wrongdoing of his subordinates can be linked to the administrative style of the president himself. Illegal activity took place, and the Harding administration’s public reputation was largely destroyed.

Another important scandal in presidential history is the Monica Lewinsky scandal which hit the Clinton administration. Monica Lewinsky was recorded by coworker Linda Tripp saying that she had had a sexual relationship with Clinton while working in the White House from 1995 to 1996. Clinton at first denied having a relationship with Lewinsky, though would later admit in grand jury testimony that he had an ‘improper relationship’ with Lewinsky. The scandal resulted in an impeachment procession against Clinton, though he was acquitted of all charges. The Lewinsky scandal represents a non-political related scandal, in which Clinton had engaged in highly immoral, but not illegal, activity. The ultimate result was that the later part of his presidency became highly bogged-down and revolved around the scandal, while actual punishment was not brought upon Clinton.

Having examined some scandals that have taken place in presidential history, the actions taken or necessary for something to be considered a ‘scandal’ become clear. A president must do something that either is illegal or outside the realm of law, and/or refuse to take responsibility or be accountable for his actions. In each of these major scandals these actions can be seen: a refusal to be accountable and illegal activity took place in the Nixon and Reagan scandals, illegal activity took place in the Teapot dome scandal, and the Lewinsky scandal stemmed from Clinton’s denial of a relationship. A scandal must, in some way, damage the office of the presidency. When a president is unaccountable or when an illegal activity is undertaken by the office, the presidency looses the public’s trust, looses its appearance as being held to a higher standard, and is therefore weakened. Nixon was forced to resign from the presidency, Reagan saw his operatives indicted for illegal activity, Clinton’s presidency ground to a standstill during the investigation, and Harding’s administration saw its Interior Secretary get sent to jail for his actions.

However, despite these events being scandalous, the actual actions that caused them weren’t all in actuality a scandal. When the president does something that would be illegal for a common man to do, that action is indeed a scandal. While in his position, the president is circumventing the laws of the country he is running. Illegal activity is thus scandalous in itself, and should lead to a scandal. Personal behavior, however, or any actions undertaken by the president outside of the realm of the presidency, should not be considered a scandal. What Clinton did was morally bankrupt and wrong, but not illegal, and thus not necessarily worthy of a scandal and definitely not worth of an impeachment hearing. It was his lying to the American people, however, and his overall handling of the chain of events that would cause the scandal to erupt. A president must follow the laws and rules of the country that he governs, and be honest and accountable to the people who trusted him enough to vote him into office. When he does that, he will not see a scandal erupt under his administration.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén