How Did We Get Here?

To be American is to forget…

Or, having exhausting every other opportunity to forget, to remember poorly.

In the course of a series of posts on how the United States of America has implemented selected clauses from its constitution…

well-regulated militia (traditional)
a well-regulated militia
  • “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions”
  • “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress”
  • “The President shall be Commander in Chief…of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States”
  • “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress…keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.
  • “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

…Dmitri Rotov has unearthed some forgotten yet particularly shiny pebbles:

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Terminology Proliferation is the Escape Hatch of Politics

Adam Elkus has an important post over at Rethinking SecurityAmerica Needs Sound Policy, Not Grand Strategy:

Every few months since 1991, there is a new op-ed calling for a new grand strategy or bemoaning the fact that the US doesn’t have one. I’ve written a few blogs/articles to this tune myself. But it’s time to realize that the problem lies with the very conception of grand strategy itself.

In Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks argues that the US needs a grand strategy:

Though different scholars and statesmen define “grand strategy” somewhat differently, at its heart, the concept is straightforward: Grand strategy is “the big idea” of foreign and national security policy — the overarching concept that links ends, ways and means, the organizing principle that allows states to purposively plan and prioritize the use of “all instruments of national power,” diplomatic, economic, cultural, and military. A grand strategy can’t be a list of aspirations, wishes, or even a country’s top 10 foreign-policy “priorities.” (When you have 10 priorities, you really have no priorities at all.) Grand strategy is the big idea that guides the tough decisions, helping policymakers figure out which of those top 10 priorities should drop off the list, which aspirations are unrealistic and impossible, and which may seem like good ideas on their own, but actually undermine the nation’s broader goals.

After this definition, Brooks then criticizes the Obama administration for not formulating one, But with such an expansive definition of strategy, is it ever possible to create one? The problem is that Brooks and other grand strategy writers searching for a “big idea” conjoin policy and strategy together.

To recap, policy (a condition or behavior) generates a strategy (an instrumental device) that executes it through operations and tactics. Policy, in turn, is the product of a political process. In my post on victory, I gave a Chinese food-flavored explanation of this in practical terms. Strategy is not supposed to be an “idea”—it is an practical method of getting things done, a purpose-built bridge between politics and raw violence. I will concede that sometimes a policy will require a global strategy to accomplish it—which is what Basil-Liddell Hart originally meant when he used the term “grand strategy” to refer to World War II.

The idea of grand strategy as both policy and strategy is by definition unachievable, and the source of much confusion.  By infusing normative policy elements into strategy, this fusion turns strategy into a manifestation of ideology rather than a technical device for getting things done.  Think, for example, of how debates about regional strategy and even the tactics and operations of COIN, drones, and counterterrorism have become proxies for domestic ideological political battles. This happens, in larger part, because the policy-strategy distinction in American national security circles is extremely weak, as strategy is taken to be politics and politics becomes strategy.

One sure way to detect politics is signs of desperate efforts to call politics something other politics. Though politics is the most elemental of human endeavors, disgust with overt political machinations is one of the most elemental of human emotions:

Who likes a brown noser?

Who likes a squealer?

Who likes the kid who gathers up his toys and goes home when he doesn’t get his way?

Who likes the guy who obviously looks out for number one?

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First State of Union, January 8, 1790: George Washington

I’ve long believed that the U.S. Constitution of 1817 is more important than the U.S. Constitution of 1787. The Constitution of 1787 was only a specification: it had to be implemented to become more than just another piece of parchment. With trial and error, over the thirty years between 1787 and 1817, a constitution founded on hope became a constitution rooted in practice.

Many of those who did the crucial leg work that transformed the hope of 1787 into the reality of 1817 either helped draft the 1787 original or influenced those who drafted it. In 1787, we see them crossing their fingers. In 1817, we see many of the same men only now they are tempered by thirty years of troubled neutrality during the largest war in human history, a brief, disastrous, yet ultimately triumphant second round of war with the British Empire, partisan strife more vicious than any seen thereafter, a serious secession attempt by a disaffected region of the country, and the monumental effort it took to make that whole government of the people and by the people thing work.

Two of the first four presidents of the United States served at the convention: George Washington and James Madison. Two were serving abroad as ambassadors in mid-1787 but influenced the convention through their public and private influence: John Adams through his writings, most importantly his 1776 Thoughts on Government, Massachusetts’ state constitution of 1779, and 1787 A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States against some obnoxious Enlightenment-Era Eurotrash.

Thomas Jefferson helped by not being around to screw it all up.

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Christmas: A Parthian Shot

This post is an annual Committee of Public Safety Christmas tradition. From Wikipedia c. 2008:


The metamorphosis of Saint Nicholas into the more commercially lucrative Santa Claus, which took several centuries in Europe and America, has recently been re-enacted in the saint’s home town: the city of Demre. This modern Turkish town is built near the ruins of ancient Myra. As St. Nicholas is a very popular Orthodox saint, the city attracts many Russian tourists. A solemn bronze statue of the Saint by the Russian sculptor Gregory Pototsky, donated by the Russian government in 2000, was given a prominent place on the square in front of the medieval church of St. Nicholas. In 2005, mayor Suleyman Topcu had the statue replaced by a red-suited plastic Santa Claus statue, because he wanted the central statue to be more recognizable to visitors from all over the world. Protests from the Russian government against this action were successful only to the extent that the Russian statue was returned, without its original high pedestal, to a corner near the church.


Alas, poor Russia. So far from God, so close to the North Pole.

Legacy Pasts


Not by speeches and votes of the majority, are the great questions of the time decided — that was the error of 1848 and 1849 — but by iron and blood.


There are members of the National Association – of this association that has achieved a reputation owing to the justness of its demands – highly esteemed members who have stated that all standing armies are superfluous. Well, what if a public assembly had this view! Would not a government have to reject this?! – There was talk about the “sobriety” of the Prussian people. Yes, the great independence of the individual makes it difficult in Prussia to govern with the constitution (or to consolidate the constitution?); in France things are different, there this individual independence is lacking. A constitutional crisis would not be disgraceful, but honorable instead. – Furthermore, we are perhaps too “well-educated” to support a constitution; we are too critical; the ability to assess government measures and records of the public assembly is too common; in the country there are a lot of Catiline characters who have a great interest in upheavals. This may sound paradoxical, but everything proves how hard constitutional life is in Prussia. – Furthermore, one is too sensitive about the government’s mistakes; as if it were enough to say “this and that [cabinet] minister made mistakes,[“] as if one wasn’t adversely affected oneself. Public opinion changes, the press is not [the same as] public opinion; one knows how the press is written; members of parliament have a higher duty, to lead opinion, to stand above it. We are too hot-blooded, we have a preference for putting on armor that is too big for our small body; and now we’re actually supposed to utilize it. Germany is not looking to Prussia’s liberalism, but to its power; Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden may indulge liberalism, and yet no one will assign them Prussia’s role; Prussia has to coalesce and concentrate its power for the opportune moment, which has already been missed several times; Prussia’s borders according to the Vienna Treaties [of 1814-15] are not favorable for a healthy, vital state; it is not by speeches and majority resolutions that the great questions of the time are decided – that was the big mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood.

Pop history sees the trees of “blood and iron” but misses the forest surrounding it: loss aversion.  This mental bias intensifies man’s fear of loss, making it a stronger motivator for action than any hope for gain. Since the brain is a narrative computer that discovers truth by linking the most of vivid facts together through the most vivid of events, loss aversion often shows up in the form of negative fables. While positive fables link together facts with events to show how x + y + z = gain, negative fables gloomily argue that x + y + z = loss.

History, a game where the many try force square facts into round fables, often channels loss aversion as “no more” complexs.


  • No more Lehmans
  • No more Iraqs
  • No more Afghanistans
  • No more September 11ths
  • No more Srebrenicas
  • No more Rwandas
  • No more Vietnams

Is every stand that anyone takes in private or public life is only a thin veneer stretched over a no more complex? If so, history is little more than one no more after another. Otto von Bismarck’s own history, a history that let him to bait the (classical) liberals of the Prussian parliament with provocative talk of “blood and iron”, was strongly motivated by one “no more”: no more Olmützs.

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