WWII Naples as a Feral City

One unfortunate theme running through arguments against US intervention in general is that of “ancient hatreds”–the idea that just because a given Third World state is corrupt, superstitious, and fractured at one point in time it has been that way since the dawn of recorded time and will continue to be so forever. In a review of a Allied intel officer’s World War II memoir of occupied Naples, Kenneth Payne at Kings of War notes the parallels to Iraq and Afghanistan:

“Criminality is rampant – military and medical provisions are lifted straight off the ship, copper wire is no sooner installed than stolen. Pervasive corruption extends to the provisional government, whose officials are deeply complicit in the huge black market. Armed groups patrol the countryside, raiding convoys and villages. Allied soldiers, in this case rapacious Moroccans, are captured by locals, tortured and decapitated. Flagellants march through the streets, beating their bloodied chests. Nascent democracy, imposed by the allies, produces great political fragmentation, extremist ideas, and politicized religion – nuns distribute bread in exchange for votes. Rumour and superstition are rife, as are hunger, disease and poverty.”

So are Italians naturally uncivilized? Anyone with a passing grasp of history gained from watching History Channel, PBS, and National Geographic can tell you otherwise. Furthermore, the US bore some responsibility for the mess through the both accidental and purposeful re-importing of criminal syndicates that Mussolini had largely crushed in his rise to power. We should debate the costs and benefits of stability operations missions, but make extra effort to refrain from the 19th century colonialist idea that peoples living in failed states are unusually rapacious and incapable of governing themselves.

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The Trump Card

This is the single most important factor that none of the NGOs villifying China for its non-response to the Burma crackdown actually considered:

“While the [Chinese Navy] may be able to contest control of its immediate coastal waters, its capabilities fall off rapidly with distance. If the United States wanted tomorrow to constrict China’s maritime access to oil, minerals and markets, there would be very little Beijing could do in direct response. Chinese strategists are acutely aware of this potential vulnerability and they are hard at work on a variety of projects which, taken together, may help to mitigate the danger. Included among these are: a strategic petroleum reserve; transcontinental pipelines to Russia and Central Asia; the pursuit of undersea resources close to China’s coasts; new transportation routes through Southeast Asia that would permit oil and gas from the Middle East to bypass the narrow straits off Indonesia; the construction of ports and airfields in Myanmar and Pakistan that could be used in an emergency by a future Chinese air and naval ‘rapid-deployment force’; a deepening strategic relationship with Iran that could provide a bridgehead to the Persian Gulf; and the development of aircraft carriers and long-range nuclear-powered attack submarines, and the construction of large numbers of diesel subs, which will give the PLAN some capacity to defend China’s sea-lanes and perhaps to attack the shipping of its rivals..”

The Chinese are trying to outflank us through Burma, which they would be dumb if they did not consider at one point in time. Geopolitics and geostrategy’s utility has been overrated both as a method of strategy and a method of analysis, but analysts should not discount it entirely in explaining the behavior of great powers.

It’s a Trap!

Abu Muquwama’s Marine Corps cousin asks a somewhat offbeat question:

“Why didn’t the Rebel Alliance pursue a strategy of insurgency in their rebellion against the Galactic Empire? I would argue that they pursued a strategy of conventional war against the Empire and forwent every aspect of insurgent strategy and tactics. They finally came around a bit in the end by co-opting the Ewoks onto their side. Why hadn’t they pursued that strategy on a larger scale? Instead, they simply staged two conventional assualts on the Empire’s center of gravity: the Death Star.  Although both attempts were successful, I think they got lucky. I think they would have been better served had read their Mao and followed his maxims. Why didn’t the Empire follow counterinsurgency doctrine? Destroying Alderan was probably the dumbest move ever, one that the Alliance could have exploited to their advantage with the proper IO campaign. “

The analysis here does not really deal at all with the political context established in the films and Star Wars expanded universe. Instead, there’s merely a discussion of operations and tactics. Classical insurgency and and population-centric counterinsurgency are just automatically assumed to be the best uses of force that both parties can employ.