War: An Owner’s Manual — Chapter 1

Canadian_Mounted_Rifles_posterIn order to understand your military and know whether it is operating properly you need to know why you have one.

This isn’t a vague philosophical question whose answer is inevitably “End war now.” I, along with every soldier I’ve ever met, would love to live in a world without war. Unfortunately we don’t. The question of why we have a military is actually a very important real-world question which the Pentagon itself asks and then answers every four years in its Quadrennial Defense Review.

In order to figure out how many of those tanks, sailors, nuclear war heads, fighters etc., we have to answer one very simple and complex question: What do we want the military[1] to do?

The answer at first seems obvious. Nations have militaries in order to protect themselves, right? That’s part of it, but what is it protecting us from? In some cases this is easy to determine. Israel, for example, needs protecting from neighboring states which would like it cease existing. India wants its military to protect it from its neighbors to the north, Pakistan and China, as well as rebellious groups which pop-up from time to time.

Defining protection can be quite complex and India is a perfect example of this. India has at different times fought with both Pakistan and over control of some or all of India’s northern province of Kashmir, which borders the other two nations. What’s odd about that is there is little there to fight over. Kashmir consists mostly of a part of the Himalayan Mountains. It is a beautiful, inhospitable area. It’s barely populated and so far few, if any, valuable resources have been discovered there. Not only is there little if any reason to fight over Kashmir, it is also a terrible place for military operations. It is distant from everywhere, making resupply difficult even for the nations bordering it. With the possible exceptions of the South Pole and Siberia in mid-winter, it is likely the most difficult place on the planet to conduct a war. Not that has stopped any of the three nations from trying. To this day, the armies of India and Pakistan occasionally fire artillery shells at each other just to see if anyone is paying attention.

You get the feeling that the nations themselves know this. Consider the war between India and China in 1962. It lasted about a month and resulted in about 2,000 deaths. The cause both sides claimed to be fighting for was territory, a resource both nations have in abundance.

In which case, why did they fight? At the time of the war both nations were relatively young as independent, unified political entities. India had become a free nation in 1947 when the British, who had ruled India as a colony for more than a century, handed control of the government to the indigenous people. China had become a nation united under a government of its own people at roughly the same time, after the Communists kicked out the Japanese, the Nationalists and the various colonial powers which had controlled the nation for the past century.  In 1962, China was perceived as having an expansionist foreign policy because it had conquered Tibet a few years earlier. Just before the conflict the Indian government set up some border posts on parts of the land no one really wanted but which the Chinese considered to be on their side of the border. So China attacked in order to push them back to the correct part of the land no one really wanted. In other words, two young nations/governments wanted to prove that they couldn’t just be pushed around and so 2,000 people died.[2], [3]

So we can see from this example that militaries are not just used for protection.

Certainly directly protecting the borders of the nation isn’t why the United States has such an enormous military. The U.S. is ideally situated defensively. In the east and west two oceans separate it from the rest of the world. Its two other borders are with Canada and Mexico, neither one of which have ever posed even a nominal military threat to the nation. It has been 200 years since a foreign power directly invaded the U.S.[4] The only real direct threat to the nation’s existence was 150 years ago and that came from other Americans. It is this splendid geographic position that has allowed the U.S. to develop almost entirely unmolested by nations which were much more powerful than we were for the first 150 years or so of our history as a nation.

Although national security is frequently cited when justifying the huge amount we spend on the military all it would take to defend our borders is our nuclear submarine fleet to deter anyone from launching a nuclear strike against us, a few warships to help protect our import and export capabilities[5] or attacking us at sea, some fighters and bombers and a land force perhaps the size of the Marine Corps. Except for the nuclear weapons the military would then be reduced to size and role it had prior to both World Wars I and II.

The other reason that nations in general – and our nation in particular – have militaries is to prevent other nations from telling us what to do and get them to do what we want. To understand how this works it’s necessary to look a little deeper at what war is and what it is that nations get from it.

onwarWe will begin with a book called On War by Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian officer who fought in the Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Clausewitz lived during the Enlightenment, a European intellectual movement which hoped to wean society from irrational beliefs and superstitions.  This movement came about as part of the great scientific revolution which happened at the same time. The Enlightenment was, among many other things, an attempt to apply the scientific method to how people thought and acted and especially to their philosophies. In On War, Clausewitz tried to examine and define the theory of war; to look at the why of it and determine what, if any, universal rules and laws it operates under.[6]

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Vaseline launches skin-whitening Facebook app for India

whitey I really couldn’t top that headline. I’m not sure what’s more appalling the fact that Vaseline is doing this or the fact that they’re responding to an actual demand in the market place.

Skincare group Vaseline has introduced a skin-lightening application for Facebook in India, enabling users to make their faces whiter in their profile pictures. The download is designed to promote Vaseline’s range of skin-lightening creams for men, a huge and fast-growing market driven by fashion and a cultural preference for fairer skin.

So let me see if I got this right: Indian men want to look like Michael Jackson? Creeeeeepy.

Do they sell Barbie in India? They must. I wonder which skin color of Barbie sells more? Like I have to ask.

1st Haagen Dazs store in Delhi excludes Indians

ice cream cone I’m just going with Boing Boing on this one:

The inaugural Delhi outlet of Haagen Dazs (A Danish phrase that means, "Made in New Jersey," apparently) opened with a "no Indians allowed" policy. The sign on the door read, "Access restricted only to holders of international passports." After a public hue and cry, the franchise operator (who is Indian) dropped the policy and claimed it had never existed.

Yeah, I really can’t top that.

Arms dealer’s ad for India is a Bollywood music video

The Israeli firm Rafael was trying to win an arms contract in India.  So the company made a Bollywood music video promoting its military hardware. How bad is it? To quote the London Times: You truly have no idea how bad, or hilarious, this could be until you see it.

Sample lyric:

We’ve been together oh so long
Trusting friends and partners
What more can I pledge
To make the future strong?

My favorite element – there are sooooo many to choose from – is the missiles covered in flowers. No, wait, it’s the women (who appear to be from the Levant and not the Indian sub-continent) dancing around the phallic missiles covered in flowers. No, wait, it’s the paintings in the background which are certainly in the style of Hindu religious paintings.

Is this the Plan 9 from Outer Space of marketing? Or Howard the Duck (the movie)?

Viral campaign fights virus with “condom, condom!” ringtone

Kind of redefines what it means when your cellphone “goes off.”

A cellphone ringtone that chants “condom, condom!” has been launched in India to promote safe sex and tackle the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. The “condom a cappella” has been designed to break down Indians’ reluctance to discuss condom use and to make wearing a condom more acceptable. Organisers of the campaign, funded by the foundation set up by Microsoft mogul Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, hope the ringtone will become a craze among young Indians.

Biz School names Monkey God as chairman over GM CEO

Hanuman, the revered Hindu monkey god known for his strength and valor, has been named official chairman of the recently opened Sardar Bhagat Singh College of Technology and Management in northern India.

“When we were looking for a chairman for our institution, we scanned many big names in the field of technology and management. Ultimately, we settled for Lord Hanuman, as none was bigger than him,” said Vivek Kangdi, the school’s vice chairman. “And c’mon, you don’t have to be a Hindu deity to know you should plan for fluctuations in the price of gas.” (Note part of this quote is fictitious.)

Judging by his head shot I’d say Hanuman isn’t just smarter than Rick Wagoner but better looking too.

(And yeah, I know orangutans aren’t monkeys but this guy was just too handsome to resist.)