Iklé — Annihilation From Within

Iklé, Fred C., Annihilation from Within: The Ultimate Threat to Nations, Columbia Univ. Press, 2006. 142pp.

[cross-posted on Albion’s Seedlings]

Recently, Jay Manifold posted a review of this book which included an insightful summary and an extended discussion of the impact that science and technology will have on the survival of the nation-state.

A brief synopsis of this book:

  1. The separation between the values of science and the values of political and religious systems is stark, and ever-widening. One deals in uncertainty and constant revision, the other with certainty and idealized end-points.
  2. The lethality and portability of “weapons of mass destruction” has increased since WW2. Dual-use (peaceful/military) of nuclear technology has spread the knowledge necessary to create a variety of nuclear and radiological weapons.
  3. New forms of weaponry, including direct chemical control of human minds, are under development.
  4. Modern nations are now extremely vulnerable to decapitation strikes — removing much of their administrative infrastructure — by non-state actors.
  5. For many of America’s enemies, throwing the nation into chaos is reward enough. For others, however, it is merely the first step in a political agenda of national control.
  6. A nation with a missing or damaged national government would be extremely vulnerable to a domestic coup, and we have examples in the 20th century in Germany and the Soviet Union.
  7. It is time that the government respond to these issues with (1) better nuclear detection methods, (2) improved assurance of continuity of the US government, (3) mobilization laws to establish law & order, (4) better control over territorial sovereignty, and (5) a clearer sense of the importance of national unity in the face of such threats.
  8. In the event of a “clandestine mass destruction attack,” four principles of restoration must be applied: (1) the legal and constitutional foundation must be reconstituted (and revitalized), (2) a way back to nuclear non-use must be found, (3) a refocus on the global economy must be supported, and (4) the spiritual dimension of restoration must avoid aggravating violent religious conflict.

In contrast with Jay Manifold, I’d like to take a cultural approach to Iklé’s long essay. I found myself struck both by Iklé’s valuable insights (which will be familiar to anyone following discussion of Fourth Generation Warfare), and his bizarrely academic attitude to American culture and politics (when assessed from the perspective of Anglosphere exceptionalism).

Mr. Iklé is a former American arms control mandarin and a man with many years of foreign policy experience. His book is blurbed on the back cover by the likes of Henry Kissinger and James Schlesinger. So this gentlemen has both experience and serious reputation. Does he have any familiarity with American life outside the Beltway or think-tanks? In Iklé’s world, danger comes from technology and religious passion, despite sixty years of American history when the country has had overwhelming capacity for both. No effort is made either to reconcile the American capacity for self-control with the current dangers generated by people whose cultural background gives them none.

In “Annihilation from Within” (AFW), we have a very European view of the problem of WMDs, dangerous technology, and national administration. The global spread of WMDs, the negative empowerment of individuals, and the domestic takeover of government (à la Hitler or Stalin) through decapitation are reasonable themes. But they really ring hollow when applied to the American political system and its people. America is not, I think, just “France with fast food.” It’s very instructive to see a foreign policy wonk reflect on the future as if it were. This is a book that worries about the dangerous, violent American people as much as any foreign adversary. And you’d never know that America had a federal system from reading this book. The Western world is very ill-prepared for serious WMD attacks. Granted. But the idea that authoritarian rule is one Washington DC bomb away seems to fly in the face of a great deal of contrary evidence. No surprise that it’s evidence that never makes its way to the RAND Corporation or the halls of the federal bureaucracy. A lot goes on in the country without the direction of the State. AFW ignores it … except for the capacity for religiosity and riot.

The crux of the Anglosphere argument, in contrast, is that culture matters. That it has mattered in the past, that it matters now, and that it will matter in the future. The Anglosphere habits of decentralized authority and popular responsibility are deeply ingrained in the culture, the law, and government. Every town hall and state capitol is rife with the same challenges and passions as the national capital. Out of chaos, Americans have a blueprint for self-organization and self-regulation. In America, to paraphrase a recent book by Frenchman Frédéric Martel, ” the national government is missing, yet government is everywhere.”

Surely even the most brilliant insight into current events is ungrounded when a problem is posed or a solution offered without reference to how the issue will be received politically and culturally. A glance at the history of America and the English-speaking world, and its engagement in existential struggles, shows that timing and cultural values had everything to do with when the American people fought and how they fought. Why should the future, rife with radiological and biological dangers, be any different? And why should it be a painless or bloodless process, especially for America’s enemies? The Anglosphere arrives late to every existential war, suffers horribly, and prevails. Can we expect anything better from the future, and still be ourselves?

It forces the reader of AFW to wonder whether biographical experience of the author hasn’t removed much of what would be really interesting about an American response to the increasing lethality of WMDs and individuals. Iklé has written a book that can be read with profit by any national bureaucrat in the industrialized world. It’s just that the book is less valuable to any Anglosphere (and especially American) bureaucrat. Which is a strange twist of fate for an author who worked for Reagan’s defense department.

One of the great cautions of life is watching brilliant, gifted, or lucky men and women stray from their areas of expertise and extrapolate their personalities and experiences to Life In General. Bohemian scoundrel Albert Einstein on God and dice. Southern Protestant E.O. Wilson on mobilizing humans for global conservation. George Clooney on any subject of importance. The pattern is clear and never-ending. If cleverness or charisma could fix the world’s problems, Bono and his friends would have solved things a decade ago. We all assume that our personal experience of life somehow scales accurately and effectively out to geopolitics. It doesn’t. And blogs like this one are an attempt to escape our own blinkers through reading and discussion.

When we turn to commentary on current events, it’s always worth matching purported “solutions” with the personal history, cultural background, and academic training (if any) of the commentator. In the past I’ve referred to the “Thomas Barnett conundrum” (actually, I wasn’t that polite) … which I define as the creation of a credible geopolitical strategy without a credible set of Americans to execute it. Somewhere along the line, some vast number of Americans are required to be doormats for well-meaning bureaucrats. Living in terror and dying in ignominy so that some idealized European vision of “peace for all mankind” can be executed. Fred Iklé’s discussion of how the nation-state should prepare for WMD attack, and adjust afterwards, makes a similar mistake of assuming that all civic power in America derives from that state, all security tools are controlled by it, and all rationales for living and dying are dispensed by it. America’s future is apparently dependent on the federation and Constitution that current exists.

I disagree. I have my doubts that the Cold Warriors, with their fixations on the nation-state, have much to offer as the world turns to a stage for dueling nuclear-armed tribes. In my view, the multi-ethnic Anglosphere tribe can spin out governance and lethality faster than any on the planet, and can catch up on the legal paperwork afterward. It cannot do so, however, without turmoil and bloodshed. Messy history is an Anglosphere feature, not a bug.

The Anglosphere discussion over the last few years has been all about resurrecting the facts and scholarship associated with explaining why America in particular, and the English-speaking world, in general, seem to be so different from the rest of the industrialized world. This “meme archaeology” has meant a real reassessment of historical events. As Lex mentioned in a recent post, the Anglosphere was exceptional before it was Protestant. It was exceptional before it spoke an English we’d recognize. It was exceptional before the franchise, and a thousand years before it had Americans.

It is this fact that we must match against any proclamation of geopolitical fixes for the future. Not tweaks to legal papers and government procedures. In applying Iklé’s justifiable concerns with (a) the divergence of scientific and cultural values, and (b) the continued spread of WMDs to non-state actors, we need to begin with a credible model of American (and more generally Anglosphere) culture.

For Iklé, apparently, once a certain level of economic structure has been reached, previous history is irrelevant. The nation-state stands as a uniform condition, and the deployment of its strengths requires a well-established approach. The author can only imagine a bureaucratic/governmental solution because without the State, there’s no coherence. This, in my opinion, is wrong generally, and very wrong for the Anglosphere.

Some Illustrations

I’d like to turn briefly to some short quotes from AFW to illustrate the culture-less, rather anachronistic, attitude of the book:

p. Xiii “[…], bear in mind, only sovereign nations can marshal troops and rally political support to defeat terrorist organizations, deter aggression, enforce UN decisions. When push comes to shove, only nations can keep some order in the world.” “Military history offers no lessons that tell nations how to cope with a continuing global dispersion of cataclysmic means for destruction.”

The focus on “nation,” as if human success is now predicated on its existence seems in conflict with liberal democracy in the Anglosphere. If WMDs are, in fact, escaping control by nation-states, the capacity for their creation and deployment is just as likely within the western world as without. But more likely as a response to attack rather than to initiate it. As for how “nations” respond to the global dispersion of cataclysm … I’d say that World War 2 gave us plenty of intellectual fodder. The scale and speed of cataclysm may have changed but this only re-inforces the key point made by Jim Bennett in The Anglosphere Challenge … that the Anglosphere has a superior culture for responding to change. As bad as it may get for humanity as a whole, the Anglosphere will have the best of it.

p.5 “It seems fair to say that the essence of America’s political order — its political soul — was created by a nation of fewer than four million inhabitants, more than two-thirds of whom worked on farms.”

Here again, we can see how the new generation of scholarship on the roots of American culture can offer a wider and deeper interpretation of the Anglosphere advantage. We carry traditions independent of our religions, independent now of our ethnicities. Denigrating “farmers” as being unable to respond to the needs of the “nation-state” is a laughably Continental view of modern Americans.

p. 14 “My interpretation of the divergence between the two cultural spheres — the scientific one and the ethical-religious one — is shared by John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics.”

[cough] Not an authority who holds much sway in my household. The European capacity to work themselves up into a lather over the mote of American religiosity, while blithely ignoring the beam of Third World barbarity, will be a source of endless amusement in years to come.

p. 80 “We do not know how to build a citadel to protect democracies from nuclear or biological weapons.”

Indeed, we don’t. Yet. God forbid we have to. Mostly for what it will mean for those living outside America.

p. 83 “We have seen that nuclear deterrence as a strategy for preventing attacks with conventional arms was oversold, while the policies against proliferation were gradually undone by the curse of “dual use.”

It seems to me far easier to accept that the genie is out of the bottle permanently than envision an America willing to enforce a nuclear-free world. And any other entity with the ability to help enforce such an embargo (with the resulting disruption to electricity supplies and medical technology across Europe, Japan, and the developing world) would be authoritarian, not democratic.

p. 106 “That leaves us intellectually ill-prepared to throttle the dark side of technology without stumbling into a prolonged economic depression.”

Hmm. Economic depression should likely be the least of our worries. Because of the role and scale of the Anglosphere in the global economy, a depression for us is a “problem.” For everyone else, it’s a nightmare. We can go back to making sneakers and steel, far easier than most nations can go back to planting rice and sorghum by hand. The dark side of technology isn’t something that can be micro-managed, as far as I can see. Here again, the Anglosphere perspective offers the basis for optimism and the foundation for public discourse (on disintermediated knowledge and practice) about preparing and coping with disasters.

In Conclusion

Setting aside my critical comments above, Annihilation From Within is a good book. Brief, well-written, and with a useful perspective. If you’ve been short on things to worry about, this book is just the ticket. A domestic coup after nuclear or radiological decapitation of national government is liable to get everyone’s attention. And if you already have plenty to worry about, this book will tide you over during those rare moments of contentment you may experience in the future.

For readers thinking about how an actual America will respond to actual problems, AFW is more problematic. Like Tom Barnett, Iklé has little apparent interest in the question of how American domestic political culture is to absorb sacrifices on behalf of the rest of the world, with no history of ever having done so before. Nor in how the nation is to hand over unprecedented power to its national government to deploy its people and funds. Missing the Anglosphere perspective on how culture underlies the political and constitutional paperwork, both authors are frustrated with the current situation and consider it anachronistic.

While acknowledging all the valid points in the book about the dissemination of vile weaponry to those with finite religious and political goals, I remain unconvinced that the future is friendly for “nation-states” anyway … or that the “nation-state” per se is the likeliest source of innovation and security for most of the world’s peoples. In this, the odds are more in favour of Neal Stephenson’s fictional high-tech tribes (phyle in ancient Greek) as outlined in his book, the “Diamond Age” (reviewed on this blog recently).

As the stakes get excruciatingly high, the distinction between Them and Us will become necessary, inevitable, and fraught with all the tragedy that history confirms.

Table of Contents

1. Mankind’s Cultural Split [1]
2. Science Pushes Us Over the Brink [19]
3. Five Lessons of the Nuclear Age [39]
4. Annihilation from Within [59]
5. Time to Get Serious [81]
6. Restoration [101]

33 thoughts on “Iklé — Annihilation From Within”

  1. Most excellent. I agree absolutely. The USA is very resilient and will not sink into a tyranny just because some idiot destroys Washington. That would be regrettable, and we’d avenge it, but we’d get along without it, maybe better once the smoke had fully cleared. The response of a decentralized and networked America to the decentralized and networked Global Guerrillas, or whatever they are, may be must more fast and lethal than whatever Uncle Sam’s vast, overfunded and increasingly irrelevant military machine may be able to dish out. If the cops cannot or will not protect us, we pass concealed carry laws. If the Federal G cannot defend us, we will decentralize the response to those threats, too, and be much more effective at it. Ikle’s incapacity to see beyond the model of “the State does everything” is pretty funny. Old white guys in suits appearing on Sunday talking heads shows seems to him to be as stable and permanent a feature of public power as, oh, the conclave of the electors of the Holy Roman Empire must have once looked. All forms of government evolve. Their main function is to provide security. If the security threats are as grave as he seems to say (I’ve not read the book) then the nature of government will change with it. Which is probably all to the good.

  2. James, excellent review.

    Mr. Ikle is going to learn that government’s primary responsibility is to provide security, and if the security challenges he describes are as bad as he thinks, the nature of government is going to have to change, too. That is what has always happened in the past, and the vector has always been toward increased centralization. Now it has to go the other way. If it takes a nuclear explosive destroying DC to bring that change about, it will be tragic, and the attack will be avenged. But the future organization will be a decentralized, networked and resilient model that (1) will draw on proven Anglospheric capacity for bottom-up self-organization, and (2) will have the capacity to survive, prevail and dominate in a world of disseminated access to weapons of mass destruction.

  3. (There are 2 comments because the first one was stuck as spam. So I rewrote it. Then Jonathan liberated the first one.)

  4. Amen to that.

    He seems to forget that the US really is a federal state. If DC were vaporized, there would be some Cabinet secretary or undersecretary away on a junket somewhere. He would become Mr. President, immediately. He would call one of the governors and ask for the loan of the state capitol — maybe Annapolis or Harrisburg. He would send a circular out to the fifty govenors asking that they act quickly to appoint the replacement Senators, hopefully within the week. Some of them would be former Senators, so there would be institutional continuity. Most of them would have served in their state Legislatures, so they would know the job of a parliamentary member. The new Senate would convene as soon as a quorum would have arrived in the temporary capital — after all, the US capital has been in New York, Philadelphia, Annapolis, even York, Pa. The new Senate would quickly confirm the new Vice President and Cabinet, so succession would be restored. Six weeks later the newly-elected House of Representatives would be sworn in. Some of them would be former Congressmen, and most would be former state legislators. Most of their former staffers would probably come along. Sorry about the dead people, but two months later, the US would go on.

  5. “… but two months later, the US would go on.” The US Government would go on in two months. The rest of the country would be going on all along, with people doing work-arounds and rerouting and accomodating the new reality in an infinite number of ways. And the first order of business of the new Congress would be a resolution authorizing the new president to find and annihilate whoever did it. And not by shooting our way in and occupying some Hell hole and building kindergartens, either.

  6. Yes, the agencies wouldn’t even slow down. There would be an acting secretary for each department within hours, and the services would continue. The seniority principle has its problems, but it’s good for continuity.

    The larger point is that the Anglosphere has a common toolkit for self-replicating and self-reconstituting government that everybody understands. The first US Congress, the first Canadian Parliament, the first Australian Parliament — most of the members arriving had been members of one or another state or provincial assembly, and everyone pretty much knew what to do. SImilarly, the first Confederate government and congress put itself together in a matter of weeks. Most of the territories generated assemblies soon after settlement, including unauthorized ones like Vermont, Franklin, texas, and Deseret. You could pretty much take any corner of the Anglosphere and define it as a self-governing entity, and you would see a reasonably competent legislature and administration put itself together very quickly. This may be a very useful attribute in chaotc times ahead.

  7. Hi James,

    I have the Ikle book here at my elbow, I just started it today so I cannot comment on it extensively, but I think you are correct that the deep cultural and economic meta- perspectives represent to very different approaches to analyzing the geopolitical action/reaction of nation-states.

  8. I’m reading Kagan’s Dangerous Nation at the moment. It’s interesting — I hadn’t realized the quite remarkable extent of US-British naval cooperation during the Quasi-War with France.

    I hope to have comments over at Albion’s Seedlings before too long.

  9. Remember those flags after 9/11? Recount the 10 million illegals in the United States today. America is as much a ‘concept’ as a tangible entity. It is not the governing that makes America what it is, it is the governed as aptly referred to in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. That’s the philosophical and structural difference between the American view that governments exist upon the consent of the governed while the European version is that governments exist to rule the governed. Americans will muddle through.

    There was a story from the chase of Osama from Afghanistan when American soldiers were fighting the Taliban. When interrogated about their experience in fighting Americans compared to the Russians, one fighter said that with the Russians they just had to shoot the officers and the men would retreat. With Americans, the soldiers would still continue the attack and pursue. It echos from Omaha Beach and Tarawa over a half century before, when the situation was in chaos, natural leadership asserted itself and individuals without regard for rank began to step forward and lead others. It is a trait you’ll find time and again when other man made and natural chaos strike. When disasters strike, how long before the reports come in of volunteers and supplies streaming into the area without direction from government? Somewhere, deep down inside, still existing, is that frontier mentality that government is a distant and slow moving creature that in the end can’t be depended upon to deliver right now, right here. But first, let’s clean it up and get it sorted out. Later we’ll worry about the particulars of self important politicians and bureaucrats, they can fight it out in the media.

  10. The centralization/de-centralization dichotomy noted in the discussion above extends beyond government. In government, as has been noted, in most European countries all local governments are departments of the central government. But industry, education, and healthcare are highly centralized, too. Check the number and location of institutions of higher education in France and Germany some time.

  11. So what Don and Dave Schuler are saying is that Europe is a much more brittle target for terrorist WMD attack. Hopefully we won’t find out. But I believe they are right.

    I note that Don attributes the American spontaneous cooperation to frontier conditions, a/k/a the Frederick, Jackson Turner thesis. It is the other way around. The Americans were on the frontier because ot their background and willingness to go where government would not or could not, and form their own governments. In other words, these are Anglospheric characteristics that go way back before the American frontier.

  12. What Lex said. Look at the frontier experience of the Anglo-Americans versus the Dutch in South Africa. (Mostert’s Frontiers is a good discussion of the early Dutch experience.) Both the British Isles and the Dutch incomers ranged far ahead of official government structures. In North America (and elsewhere) the British Isles settlers quickly organized courts, legislatures, and churches by themselves, sometimes with, and sometimes without permission. The Dutch kept asking for the authorities in Cape Town to send courts, ministers, etc., but never did anything about it when they didn’t. It took over a centyr and a half after settlement to organize the first court outside of Cape Town.

    Much later, in the 19th century, the Boers did set up independent republics in the interior, when they were trying to elude British control. But that was not spontaneous.

  13. Zenpundit:

    RE: “deep cultural” and “economic meta-” perspectives.

    The two may seem very different however the Anglosphere discussion has often focused on the economic impacts of social behaviour. It’s not random chance that we still quote an 18th century lowland Scot (Adam Smith) on so many economic issues. Nor that he was first out of the gate. Nor that his good buddy Hume and inspiration Locke provided so much of the foundation for political science. And economic historians like Joel Mokyr and the duo that described the economic and social impact of Newton’s Principia specifically addressed why the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions (or in Mokyr’s view, an “Industrial Englightenment”) were so dependent on the unique social structure of England, and Scotland. Indeed, the work of Crosby on the momentous intellectual and economic changes of northern Italy directly sets the stage for trading republics in Holland and England. When we turn to economic historians like David Landes, or naval historians like N.A.M. Rodger, they help us put our finger directly on the nexus of culture and economics (or political “evolution”). Jim Bennett’s point is that the Anglosphere nation-state is manufactured out of non-zero sum deals — Burkean communities and Lockean contracts. The social habits to do this (and to slowly transform their political partners into thinking it a very good approach) run very deep. And take a long time to acquire. And surely deserve some reference when prognosticating on how America should deal with a turbulent and dangerous world.

    The bone I pick with Iklé and Barnett is that many of their assumptions about political and economic structure (which underpin their geopolitical hypothesizing) depend on a one-size-fits-all model of development that is supported by neither cultural historians nor economists. In fact, they bear no resemblance to any America, current or past (cf. David Hackett-Fisher’s “Albion’s Seed” and Samuel Huntington’s “Who are We?”). When I, as a Canadian, read geopolitical recommendations that require large numbers of Americans of a kind I’ve never met (after 40 years of living, studying, and working amongst them) — my first question is always “how many suns in the sky over *your* planet?” Both authors have something very important to offer. And both suffer from end-state “think-tanqueray.” IMHO. Fortunately, as with so much else, near-term history is going to be dictated by the politically possible rather than the academically plausible. Many thanks for your comments.


  14. I’d like to offer, as a counterexample to a lot of the examples listed above, the response by the state and the parish/city officials to Katrina. I don’t think we’re doing as good a job of this as people think.

  15. Phil, your counter-example doesn’t work because Louisiana is and always has been unique. It is not a common law jurisdiction. New Orleans is more like Haiti than Houston. Louisiana has always been corrupt and backward. New Orleans is not a good sample of the rest of the USA.

  16. Phil,

    You’re right that the reponse to Katrina was problematic, but perhaps as an exercise for the reader, you might work on some reasons why that response was poorer than recently-previous responses in other Gulf states.

  17. Although in further response to both Phil and Lex, I can say based on working visits from some of my immediate family members to LA, there are plenty of truly wonderful, generous, hardworking people there; and most of them think of New Orleans as the height of dissolute excess.

  18. OK, for background:

    I’m in Lafayette. I grew up (a little) in New Orleans; my brother lives in Mississippi, and was in the path of the storm on the coast.

    I’m unsure of what would happen in the event of further or larger scale magnitude, natural or unnatural events like 9/11 or Katrina, especially with the “work” being done on the US population by the “media.”

    I have doubts that the problems in New Orleans were caused by the Napoleonic Code. The area affected by Rita didn’t see the sorts of problems that New Orleans did, even though Lake Charles and the vicinity also suffer under the Napoleonic Code.

    We’ve created political/cultural enclaves in lots of our major cities/transportation nexii where we don’t educate people and we tell them a lot of their problems are because The Man is out to get them. (Or that the levees failed not because they were built wrong, but because they were blown up at the height of the storm).

    I lost a lot of the energy I had left to devote to blogging after the storms, when I became depressed from the fact that the people pushing conspiracy theories (like outlined here) were always going to have more resources/financial backing than anyone pushing the truth.

    (And also because I was wrong about how strong the storm would turn out to be. Every single hurricane over the last twenty years has been the Global Warming-engendered End Of The World…)

    And I think I’m drifting off topic. (And I forgot to write a final comment in the other thread, that had drifted to talking about mercenaries).

    Anyway, good night guys, and sleep well.

  19. And I just realized… I’m halfway cited in the wikipedia article referenced above, but they think I’m a “New Orleans-area blogger.”

    I’m only a 2 1/2 hour drive from there, I suppose to some people that’s a suburb.

  20. Phil,

    I too thought the Napoleanic Code reference was a bit overstated, but as for the rest–is there anywhere else outside Chicago or DC with as many issues, corruption-wise, as New Orleans? And here’s the sort of thing I was hinting at with my post:


    Note in particular the second paragraph:

    Crist took office Jan. 2, replacing Gov. Jeb Bush, who was universally praised in Florida for the way he guided the state through eight hurricanes in two years.

  21. Louisiana has the weakest civil society in the US by most metrics. It’s nearer to, well, France’s rankings. In weak civil societies, decentralism merely increases the opportunities for local corruption. So local control of the levee boards resulted in more corrupt and incompetent management thereof, leading to their failure when the crunch came.

    Ironically, Louisiana’s mixed Franco-American system seems to have delivered the worst of both worlds — the highly centralized French state is pretty good at big civil engineering projects. It was, after all, evolved to produce massive fortification works; levees aren’t much different from a Vauban-style fort. Of course you can’t compare French Louisiana to France, it was a colonial, not a metropolitan system. More like Haiti. I guess compared to Haiti, Louisiana is pretty competently run.

  22. Phil,
    I too thought the Napoleanic Code reference was a bit overstated, but as for the rest–is there anywhere else outside Chicago or DC with as many issues, corruption-wise, as New Orleans?

    Based on anecdotal reports from residents, and general news reports… Philadelphia, Baltimore, East St. Louis, and Milwaukee.

    I was also going to include as a possible problem spot Los Angeles, at least based on the riots there in the 90’s, and the drop out rate, but doing a quick google search all I could find was people arguing about what the dropout rate really was.

    (Which doesn’t say a whole lot about their transparency, IMHO.)

    I’m not pointing this out in any attempt at a “Tu Quoque” (or however it’s spelled) argument; the situation in Old Louisiana and any of the “New Louisiana” ink spots out there both bother me considerably.

  23. Louisiana has the weakest civil society in the US by most metrics. It’s nearer to, well, France’s rankings. In weak civil societies, decentralism merely increases the opportunities for local corruption. So local control of the levee boards resulted in more corrupt and incompetent management thereof, leading to their failure when the crunch came.

    You can blame both the federal government and the local government for the failure of the levee system, IMHO; the design the Corps of Engineers came up with was probably insufficient, but the local oversight saw to it that even that wasn’t implemented properly.

  24. I’m about to go for the rest of the afternoon, but some parting words until later:

    Kirk, we need to be more, as a society, than just “The United States, Except For New Orleans, and Chicago, and D.C., oh, and parts of…” because the ink spots will get larger.

    In its recent history Los Angeles has handled earthquakes better than riots because to date there haven’t been ways of blaming earthquakes on anybody.

    Then again, there are people working out there to change that.

    Between the global warming explanation for hurricanes and the whole FEMA blame game re: Katrina, they’re halfway there.

    The more extreme conspiracy theories, even if only a minority believe them, also have a function of “defining deviancy downward” and rearranging the terms of the debate.

    Just as an example, consider what would happen if the 1938 “Long Island Express” happened, say, this August. Exact same strength (Category 3), exact same path (across Long Island). How many people would it kill this time and how much property damage would it do?

    And how would that be reported, especially with the current state of the global warming debate?

  25. well… ChicagoBoyz readers will remember my bad opinion of how New Orleans responded to Katrina, and my opinion hasn’t changed since they RE-ELECTED the man who was mayor when they SHOULD have tarred and feathered him for allowing so many in New Orleans to suffer (and die) due to his poor leadership and use of City transport. You all will no doubt remember that I was very hard on New Orleans for blaming FEMA and the USACE rather than their own sleezy politicians and lawyers, as each electorate gets the Politicians it deserves.

    Now I’m from Metro-Detroit, which is why I feel comfortable throwing stones at the Big Easy’s glass house. Because all of MY States glass house’s windows have already been shattered, and we haven’t had a Katerina to blame for our troubles. Michigan ranks only behind LA. and MS, both of which suffered from Katrina, in terms of a ruined economy. We have an “appointed” mayor in Detroit, rather than the actual electoral victor, and we have a “Canadian” Governor who refuses to condemn Ottawa or Ontario for violating every environmental standard known to man in dumping toxic waste in Michigan… We’ve lost our manufacturing base. and etc. Yet for some mystereous reason, unlike the Big Sleezy, Detroiters and Michiganders aren’t whining about the big bad President or blaming the Corps of Engineers for the killer winter we’re having (two dozen dead of cold in the last couple of days)… We aren’t pretty, we aren’t that smart, we elect rotten politicians for the most part, and actually kill MORE of our fellows than even TEXANS do… which is quite remarkable for any American State and only overlooked because in Michigan we are more honest than Texans, so we have a lot of “justifiable Homicides” rather than “murders”. Y

    Yet still, we manage to govern ourselves without needing Washington D.C. In fact, we could probably use LESS from D.C., as the beltway GOP almost certainly lost the Michigan GOP an election due to violation Republican Party Rules and meddling in our State Election. The State collects (some) of the Feds taxes, and overlooks collecting taxes from Militia types who’ve decided to stop paying Federal Taxes, as there’d be a blood-bath if the Feds tried to arrest a Tax-objector as they just did in New Hampshire… In addition, if the beltway was merely allow the citizens of Michigan to protect our OWN State from Canadian dumping, it’s doubtful the entire Canadian Armed Forces would amount to more armed volunteers than Michigan alone would muster to Force Ontario to honor it’s Treaty with the US. If Washington D.C. were to go up in smoke, Michigan would lose a lot of very good Republican leaders in Congress, but otherwise would be MUCH better off. The State could protect itself with it’s OWN citizens and it’s OWN arms, and this is why the Clintons and FBI/ATF were so keen to target Michigan (Timmy McVeigh didn’t justify labelling 1/3 of the adult men in the State “potential” Terrorists!).

    As far as “nukes” go…. who in their right mind would nuke Detroit? Metro-Detroit has the highest proportion of muslim citizens in the entire United States, so it’s very unlikely that so-called Islamo-fascists would nuke us. Canada already dumps enough toxic waste illegally to qualify as a “dirty bomb”, and the rest of America doesn’t give a hoot. So why should we Detroiters care if L.A. or Chicago or Washington D.C. experiences the same thing we’ve been experiencing for years? Should we cry for New Orleans when they suffer due to their OWN governments sloth and hypocrisy? No way! We’re very sorry people were hurt by the Storm, but if Kwami Kilpatrick did what New Orleans mayor did, he wouldn’t outlive the crises he’d get shot so quickly. Should Detroit fear N. Korea or China nukes? No. Because Metro-Detroit also has such a large Chinese population that Mandarin is one of the three languages flights are announced in at our airport (the other languages are American and Japanese). (I’m biased because the CFO & senior partner at my firm is Chinese, and an Associate partner is a Bangladeshi muslim, and another associate partner is Ethiopian… and we don’t have many partners).

    This was a topic of conversation in my office when someone brought up the television show “24” (which few of us saw). The general consensus was the same attitude several other posters have written, we’d feel sorry for the victims and avenge them, but otherwise didn’t thing our lives would suffer. And in fact, several including myself noted that if a nuke in L.A. closed the port and Southern border, Michigan, which has empty factories galore, would enjoy a decade boom while California rebuilt itself (as China trade and Mexican factories are too cheap to allow us to compete and survive on the same pay). We already have the Battle Creek Depot, which is where the US military divides up it’s second generation surplus hardware… meaning there’s plenty of servicable tanks and Bradleys and WartHog A-10’s AND ammunition sitting idle. We also have a huge number of biological labs (as Phizor hasn’t closed it’s plant YET), so the “threat” of biological attack isn’t very scary… we’re one of the locations where the medicine and vaccines are MADE. We also have a rail system that’s actually PROFITABLE (aside from passenger service), so much so that a NEW RAILROAD was formed to service the freight between SE Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania.

    So although Michigan isn’t in very good shape as a State, we’re not so low as Louisiana that we can’t govern ourselves without the aid of outsiders. In fact, we could use FEWER American outsiders because other Americans are what’s standing in the way of us protecting ourselves from Ontario scumbags.

    In terms of the “Anglo-Sphere”, let’s compare Michigan with England… England’s population is around nine times that of Michigan. Without Scotland and N. Ireland as dependent Countries, England would be finished. It wouldn’t have the offshore oil. It wouldn’t be able to muster enough volunteers to defend itself against Denmark, let alone any serious threat. England, like Michigan, is surrounded for the most part by water, yet Michigan controls the sea freight line to Chicago, and Britain today can’t even stop the Irish smugglers it has so few destroyers or patrol yachts. England would be completely dependent on Brussels and France and the US to protect it’s merchant fleets. And England alone would lose the justification for the “Special Relationship” with the United States that allows it’s banking system such a HUGE advantage over the rest of Europe that Britain has managed to keep it’s own currency afloat without ANY Specie or reserve to support it! The BoE has been very open about “Sterling”… it couldn’t maintain the currency without the good graces of the US Treasury. Moreover, without the “Special Relationship” London’s markets wouldn’t be able to maintain the communications links with Hong Kong, Dubai, Malaysia, & etc. which is how the UK manages to exploit other Europeans over EU trade (Note to Europeans: The boat that just floundered off the English coast WAS NOT DOUBLE HULLED, which every OTHER Nation in Europe spent billions of Euro’s doing in accordance with EU law…. why haven’t Europeans mentioned the likely case that OTHER British shipping is ALSO NOT in compliance with EU environmental codes?)

    Frankly, without the Scots or Irish, it’s doubtful England could even muster the military to fight the Michigan militia, let alone be a “world power”. And as soon as the Indians and Bangladeshi’s realize that they don’t need to send their judges to London for approval prior to sitting in judgement IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES, then the London bar will have a lot to answer for from all those angry former colonials who’ll want to know why their judicial systems are so corrupt. Whereas Michigan is an unattractive target for nuclear or biological attack, LONDON is a wonderful target. Could the UK survive ONE SINGLE nuke going off in London? No. The UK would dissolve and collapse.

    So before any English or Brits get too happy about the prospect of some US city getting nuked (which ChicagoBoyz posters, the London Establishment wishes upon the Republic in it’s nightly prayers to Prince Charles), Englishmen should consider that a dirty bomb in London that contained the SAME amount of toxic material dumped around Detroit in the last five years would not be very difficult for a terrorist to achieve. London has enough river access tonnage for a terrorist to barge the dirty bomb right up the Thames. Moreover if Iran or N. Korea or etc. nuked a US city, there’s no doubt that the US would destroy them in return. Yet if Iran or N. Korea nuked London… we’ll, the US would be obliged to honor the NATO Treaty and “declare war”, but not very seriously…. Not many Americans would volunteer to go to war with Iran over England, and the Bush Administration doesn’t control the US House or Senate: If the Democrats don’t want the US to help the Iraqi’s REBUILD because of the insurgency, what chance is there that the Democrats would want to go to war with Iran just because Iran nuked London?

    Furthermore, if Osama Bin Laden is as clever as everyone believes, he MUST see the wisdom of nuking London prior to nuking any US city. If an American city were nuked, it’s even LESS likely that the US military would abandon Iraq or Afghanistan. BUT LONDON… if London were nuked not only the UK, but the rest of Europe would disengage. Britain doesn’t even have the nerve to kill Robert Mugabe, and certainly wouldn’t be willing to LEAD a war against Iran or etc. to avenge London. Without London, the US would lose it’s European support WITHOUT being given any more of a reason to dig in around Bin Ladeen’s homeland… And it CAN’T be lost on Bin Ladeen that Aden USED to be controlled by the Godless English colonials (pretty sweet). Without London, there’d be no BBC anti-muslim propaganda broadcast in every Middle Eastern country… I’m sorry, I meant anti-terrorist propaganda. If Bin Laden is as clever as everyone says, he’d realize that the world DIAMOND cartel would collapse if London were nuked. He’d realize that the current leader of Ethiopia, an old school pal of Tony Blairs, would discover that Ethiopia might not want to risk rebuilding Somalia without British support. He’d realize that WAY more muslims in S. Asia who aren’t Arab would believe London deserved to be nuked than Los Angeles, and Bin Laden would show the world that the US could neither protect it’s “special” allies, nor avenge them… which would cause many world leaders to back off the US whilst not really caring about London (aside from their slush funds). Dublin and Paris and Europe would merely tsk tsk tsk over London getting nuked and tell each other that the British Poodles should have known better… whilst taking every advantage over British markets and firms and collapse possible, as they’d know that Americans weren’t remotely prepared to do all that the Brits do around the world (that make them a lot of money). So let’s hope Osama Bin Laden isn’t as clever as the BBC claims.

  26. Scott, you’ve completely missed what I was trying to say.

    You would tar all Louisianians with the “New Orleans incompetents” brush, without stopping to think that New Orleans isn’t just in Louisiana, it’s in the US too.

    I have not attempted to defend Nagin or this state’s corrupt political establishment. I dislike them severely, and would appreciate it if you wouldn’t argue as if I didn’t.

    I could go into particulars about the construction of the levee systems, or Michigan’s dependence on offshore oil from the Gulf of Mexico (in fact I just deleted a couple paragraphs on those subjects from this post), but it would distract from the point I was trying to make then and will try to reiterate now.

    You seemed to grossly misunderstand what I was trying to say.

    Noone else brought up Katrina; I brought up Katrina. I did not mention problems elsewhere in the country to insult Michigan or engage in any sort of Tu Quoque argment; I listed those examples to warn the rest of you that:

    “We Americans have some very serious problems.”

    Going on about “Well, that’s a problem with those blankety-blanks down in New Orleans, it doesn’t really affect people up here” is simply being delusional. There is no level of corruption that will magically hurt you less than it hurts us because we had more French settlers back in the 18th century.

  27. Phil,

    Somehow you got the impression that I think LA (or at least NO) should be run out of the union; I certainly don’t think that. I started by just objecting a bit to your citing what is clearly an outlier in terms of distaster response, as if it were normative, or said something particularly meaningful of the country as a whole.

  28. “…citing what is clearly an outlier in terms of distaster response, as if it were normative…”

    What Kirk said. New Orleans and Louisiana are not typical. Katrina struck a rotted-out part of our society, and it crumbled. Katrina actually went ashore in Mississippi, if I recall correctly. Mississippi is not exactly the greatest exemplar of social capital in the USA, yet it held up well.

    Ghetto-type communities exist and will deal poorly with emergencies both because they are decrepit physically, poor, under-insured and most importantly lack the social capital that provides resilience. So, a system-wide disaster would hurt those areas worse, and in turn those areas would, by responding with violence and looting instead of cooperation and mutual aid and self-help, be a drag on the rest of the community. This is not that much different from what is happening anyway, though less acutely in non-disaster times.

    New Orleans and Louisiana should not be run out of the union. The USA without the French Quarter, without Jazz and Zydeco, without beignets, without the Ramos Gin Fizz? Forget it.

    (Since the Ramos Gin Fizz has egg white in it, it is appropriate to drink it with brunch or even breakfast. Make it in a blender by the batch, AFTER the food is prepared, and be plastered by noon.)

  29. While everything everyone says is correct, many (in the media, in academia, etc.) encourage infantilization. Yesterday, NPR was doing a bit on this poor woman that had not yet received “her money” to build a house (she would be satisfied with a shotgun one, but had already decided on the peach colored walls). Sure hurricanes don’t hit us, but tornados do. If our house were carried away, we’d pick up the pieces, move in with relatives and friends, file an insurance claim and go on. I see absolutely no reason why the government should help me if for some reason I’d not bought insurance. If I lived on the side of a hill that was likely to cave in or in a city below sea level, I’d figure I’d made my choice.

    If I was renting, I wouldn’t expect someone to give me a house. Sure, habitat for humanity is basically a good idea – encouraging home ownership leads to all the virtues this thread has put up. But that is because home ownership comes with responsibilities.

  30. * I don’t blame FEMA for what happened. IF there is any responsibility to be ascribed to the federal level for what happens, it’s regarding the redesign of the levee system. The design was _probably_ bad.

    * On the other hand, we’ll never know, because the local contractors didn’t even bother following those directions.

    * I most specifically don’t blame the city’s flooding problems on the existance of the MRGO, which is currently the subject of several lawsuits. (We weren’t talking about that, but since the lawsuit has been in the news lately, I thought I’
    d mention it).

    * New Orleans _used to be_ a much more functional city in the past than it was in the recent era when Katrina hit it. It used to have real industries, back before the local politicians thought all it really needed was tourism and casinos.

    * Look up the history of the Higgins Boats, or the Wood Screw Pump. Could you imagine the former being built in the New Orleans of the past decade, or the latter being invented there?

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