Foucault, Clausewitz, Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh, my!


Although your Grouchy Historian loves preparing book reviews...and bacon...hmmm, one of the things I don't usually prepare is a response to a web article.....

However, this week, I make an exception.

One of my favorite websites, which I check every morning, is the Small Wars Journal. Started during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, it has become, in my opinion, one of the premier forums for discussing counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, defense and intelligence issues. It is lively, controversial and very well done.

Which brings me to this post. I read this article a couple of weeks ago and it kinda rubbed me the wrong a set of nails on a chalkboard (if anyone is old enough to remember that).

Ok, so before I get into the meat of why this article annoys me, let me say that in the course of my MA from know, that weeny little on-line school, I was privileged to take a course in historiography. Long story short, I was introduced to Foucauldian thought and had to say, it didn't impress me much. Subjective truth at its finest, post-constructionist drivel and general touchy-feely 1960s hippie crap. But, hey it's the cool thing...kinda like the Obama Stimulus...until you pick it apart...then it's just a lot of overblown nothing....

So I read this article, written by what I can only assume is some Master's student who may have read Clausewitz, but sure as heck doesn't understand Clausewitz, war, or politics. This spiffy quote got my little Clausewitz radar all in a tiz:
The figure that forms the beginning of Foucault’s analysis of war, Carl von Clausewitz, will similarly form the backbone of any genealogical critique of the unity of war. Clausewitz’s oft (mis)-quoted aphorism that “war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means” has shaped theoretical understandings of war since the 19th century. Given the intense and dazzling array of technological changes in the waging of war since the time of Clausewitz, it seems absurd to imagine that the tenets that Clausewitz espoused still hold their same power. (my emphasis)
Really?!? On what frickin' planet? Obviously this kid has missed the fact that warfare may change with technology, but war does not. War has always been, and will always be an act of politics (or power) and if there's one thing the U.S. has painfully learned the last 10 years is that satellites, smart bombs, and robo-soldiers do not affect the basic fundamentals of waging war.

In contrast, one of my other favorite websites....wait for it...The Clausewitz Homepage, had a much better article that talks about non-linearity, know that pesky "friction" thing...that anyone who can spell Clausewitz knows is one of his primary maxims.

So, the article Clausewitz, Nonlinearity and the Unpredictability of War has some really wonderful quotes that shows that any good student of war will not try to draw exactly linear conclusions about military history, but will always keep in mind context, context, context...
Clausewitz's emphasis on unpredictability is a key manifestation of the role that non linearity plays in his work. This emphasis links widely recognized, fundamental, enduring elements of On War. A look at what Clausewitz says about "interaction," "friction," and "chance" may allow us to explore his understanding of the nonlinear nature of war.
So, war is waged by people, and people have all kinds of faults, foibles and brilliant lunacy. Clausewitz, of course, keenly understood this...and his first and foremost maxim is that war can never be reduced to mathematical matter how good your sensors, weapons, computers, or fly-by-wire systems are...war is about people.
The essential difference is that war is not an exercise of the will directed at inanimate matter, as is the case with the mechanical arts, or at matter which is animate but passive and yielding, as is the case with the human mind and emotions in the fine arts. In war, the will is directed at an animate object that reacts. The second attribute of military action is that it must expect positive reactions, and the process of interaction that results. Here we are not concerned with the problem of calculating such reactions—that is really part of the already mentioned problem of calculating psychological forces—but rather with the fact that the very nature of interaction is bound to make it unpredictable. [my emphasis]

BUT no, this guy goes on to trash what he calls "transcultural" attempts to look for universals in military history:
Michael Handel, in a thoroughly problematic attempt to read Clausewitz and Sun Tzu together, quotes the former in order to justify his approach: “war, though conditioned by the particular characteristics of states and their armed forces, must contain some more general—indeed, a universal—element with which every theorist ought above all to be concerned.” Such a supposition is deeply troubling under Foucauldian theories.
Well, WAHH, I don't care that it's deeply troubling. YES, Sun Tzu espoused waging war very differently than Clausewitz...yes, the Oriental approach was based much more on subterfuge, maneuver and what we now call PSYOPS. But the end goal was still the same...some political objective..power, survival, resources that would have been no different than their European counterparts. I happen to think Handel is a very good scholar and thinker...much more so than this young-un.

Then, of course, this would have made me spit out my coffee...
In the first place the details of Foucault’s biography as an open homosexual and his ultimate death from an AIDS related illness raise the hackles of what remain a staunchly conservative military environment. Works by authors such as James Miller have sought to portray Foucault’s liberal lifestyle as one of libertine excess, riddled with sado-masochism and homosexual eroticism. These issues present barriers to the serious study of Foucault in the military establishment. A perhaps more pressing concern, however, is the apparent refusal to study Foucault and other liberal thinkers because their ideas cut at the very core of the disciplines of military history and strategy. The critical reexamination of closely held beliefs that Foucault demands is not just difficult and time consuming, it is also profoundly destabilizing and frightening. Given the obvious flaws that holding to a model of military history that emphasizes continuity and seamless transitions from one generation to the next, however, and the real world consequences in terms of human lives lost and resources expended, the fear of questioning these deeply rooted beliefs can not afford to be used as an excuse. The consequences of inaction in this regard are just too great to be ignored.
REALLY??? Was it even necessary to bring up the guy's lifestyle? He's a subjective truth hippie nutjob, period...oh, and by the way...I have read a LOT the last 10 years about the soul-searching by the U.S. military about the influence of Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon in 2006 and other conflicts...there is no destabilizing and frightening going on here junior...

Oh, and by the way NO one I read in the military history field assumes a SEAM-LESS transition or continuity in warfare...oyyyy, what a knucklehead...on the contrary, most of the authors I read emphasize the discontinuities...or REVOLUTIONS in Military Affairs...not a phrase I always like, but a useful discussion point. BUT even the most ardent proponents of RMA say it may affect how wars are waged but not what wars are for...

ARGHHH, I need to go have some therapeutic bacon now....maybe even some pulled teeth hurt from gritting them so much....