Dilèm Aksyon Kolektif nan Matisan

Generatim discite cultus

(Learn the culture proper to each after its kind)

— Virgil, Georgics II

Stephen Biddle, Nonstate Warfare: the Military Methods of Guerrillas, Warlords, and Militias (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021)

one-to-many entity-relationship symbol superposed over map of Martissant, Haiti

By way of making this more than a merely armchair review, I will be discussing the developing situation of state failure in Haiti, which is providing a personally harrowing example of the phenomena theorized and studied in this book. NB: additional situation reports like the one I quote from below will appear at this OCHA webpage.

I. Increasingly Scale-Free Military Activity in the 21st Century

In this follow-up to 2004’s Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (also from Princeton), Stephen Biddle continues to elucidate the many ramifications of the one-to-many relationship which came to dominate the battlefield between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. Over that century and in the decades that followed, individual-service weapons increased in rate of fire from a (very) few rounds per minute to ~10 rounds per second, in effective range from ~100 to >300 meters, and in accuracy from (optimistically) 10 to 1.5 milliradians. Say 2½ orders of magnitude improvement in RoF, half an order of magnitude in range, and one order of magnitude in accuracy; multiplying these together to create a sort of index of effectiveness, I get an overall change of 4 orders of magnitude, with stark implications for battlefield environments.

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Tiananmen OSINT

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” — Benjamin Franklin

[Readers are directed to the end of this post for an explanation of my timing and motivation.

UPDATE 6/5, 11 AM CDT: videos embedded!]

I. Anniversary Reconnoiter

At around nine in the morning local time on the thirtieth anniversary of the “June Fourth Incident,” I began a reconnoiter of Tiananmen Square in central Beijing to observe security measures and, if possible, witness any attempt at commemorating the massacre. I accompanied Dr. Andrew R. Cline, professor of media, journalism, and film at Missouri State University in Springfield. We were part of group of eleven people—four students, two faculty, and five others including me—comprising a “Study Away” program from MSU which had spent the previous twelve days in China, flying into Beijing and taking high-speed trains to Xi’an and Xining, then on via the Qinghai–Tibet railway to Lhasa before flying back to Beijing. Of all days, Tuesday 4 June 2019 was designated a free day for the group: no itinerary—and no guide. The remaining nine group members, as it turned out, had other ideas about what to do that day.

Andy’s motivation was broadly journalistic, garnished with a specific interest in whether any actual Marxists would show up. I went along out of a feeling that I had something of a reputation to uphold, and quickly decided during our approach that I would evaluate the security measures and write up a more quantitative report, although I will also pass along some thoughts about the organizational behaviors involved.

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Back Stories and Suicides

Today, a friend complained of the death of a young man in Portland, of the heart rending interview of his father on Hannity. Some deaths are memorialized, mourned and others disappear from the headlines. Deaths in gang shootings in Chicago of toddlers are given less attention than those of victims of drug overdose in police custody. Not surprisingly, ceremonial ritual respect is given to a police officer killed in defense of the capitol, while the family of a young veteran, a woman whose business was destroyed by the covid lock down, is not. One an “insurrectionist”, the other a defender. Antigone might understand the distinction, if lamenting it. Creon certainly would. Another woman is trampled. Medical emergencies happen. Chaos.

Later, suicides. Of those we speak softly, negation of life hard for strangers and even harder for families. I knew a mother who spent years denying her son was dead – long after she had buried him.

For three suicides following the 6th, we ask, as we always do of these, why? We wonder about a back story? Would it help us understand the fences about the capitol, the vitriol of the impeachment?

One was a rioter, a middle aged man, an officer in a bank, who had been charged by the police. Given the “everyone is an insurrectionist” rhetoric, being charged would make life difficult and being convicted? The proportions of why and what he did – and why and what was said, was charged – were important to him and might well be to us.

Then, the two suicides of defenders, one of a Capitol policeman and the other in the Washington force. They had their reasons – but are they ones we need to understand as citizens or only as sympathizers? Policemen are often of an honor culture who feel keenly their responsibility to protect. A friend posited another reason: resignations and firings are likely (though responsibility for inadequate preparation does not appeared to be the fault of the police but rather of politicians – seldom members of an honor culture). My friend observed that when the airline for whom her husband had piloted for decades went into bankruptcy (along with their pension fund), several pilots committed suicide. Middle aged, they were unlikely to find work of the same kind and pay; they had (according to the financial planner who served the group) chosen to leave their families in a stronger financial place than the coming bankruptcy would. The planner’s responsibility was to ensure those wishes were fulfilled. (She clearly was glad her husband had not chosen that path although 15 years later they have not yet received the appropriate pension.) Protecting family, protecting reputation – those are motives. Most suicides are prompted (if partially) by clinical depression. Back stories can be sad, but need not be, really, our business. But, given the political machinations before and after that day, the back stories might be telling.

This isn’t much of a post – I hope the comments are more substantive than it is.

Some newsy discussions:
For one, such responsibility was inherited – see CNN for what it is worth.
And Politico gives both officer’s names.
NBC gives details.

2/8 – Adding links
Another on him
The Financial Planner gives more information about Georgia’s employment; apparently he’d spent decades in finance and the order was because he had not “dispersed” when asked to by police. The difference between these arrests and those 4 years ago that protested Trump’s inauguration are telling and are not so much apples and oranges as some contend.

Smashing the State

There won’t be any surprises in this one for anyone who knows me at all well, but I’ll try to at least make it entertaining.

My very first lasting memory of a news event with political content took place on the afternoon of Sunday 21 January 1968. A B-52 with four hydrogen bombs aboard took off from Thule AFB and crashed somewhere in the Arctic, location unknown.
Ten days later, the Tet Offensive began.
Nine weeks and one day after that, Dr King was assassinated.
Nine weeks less one day after that, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
Twelve weeks to the day after that, I first saw real human blood shed live on television via cameras above the intersection of Michigan and Balbo as the Chicago police attacked demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention.

I was eight years old.

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The Multi-Front Attack on Free Speech (rerun)

(I don’t usually rerun posts that are less than a year old, but in this case…)

Free speech…free expression generally…is under attack in America and throughout the Western world to a degree not seen in a long time. I think there are some specific phenomena and (partially-overlapping) categories of people which are largely driving this attack–I’ve written about this subject previously, here, but the situation has gotten even more serious since that post, and some of the important factors were underemphasized.  Here are the current fronts, as I see it, in the war (not too strong a word, I’m afraid) on free speech.

The Thugs. As I pointed out in my post The United States of Weimar?, illegal actions against political opponents, ranging from theft of newspapers to direct assault and battery, have in recent decades become increasingly common on university campuses, and now are well on track to being normalized as aspects of American politics. Incidents of political thuggery are reported almost daily: just the other day, pro-Trump women at an upscale DC hotel were verbally attacked and apparently physically assaulted by members of a wedding party that was heavy on Democrat attendees; including, reportedly, some top officials from the DNC. A pro-free-speech film was reportedly interrupted by two men wearing masks. Interruption of movies they didn’t like was a tactic used by the Nazis prior to their obtaining official censorship powers. The film “All Quiet on the Western Front” was plagued by Nazi disruptions when released in Germany in 1930. And attempts to shut down dissident speakers on college campuses, such as this, have become so common as to now be almost the default expectation.

The Assassins. These individuals go beyond the level of violence practiced by the Thugs, and make credible death threats they attempt to carry out against those whose actions or believe they view as unacceptable. The majority of threats and attacks falling in this category have certainly been the doing of radical Muslims; however, some of the more extreme ‘environmentalist’ and ‘animal rights’ groups have also demonstrated Assassin tendencies. At present, however, it is those Assassins who are radical Muslims who have been most successful in inhibiting free expression. Four years in hiding for an American cartoonist. But see also Ecofascism: The Climate Debate Turns Violent, how long until this justification and practice of violence reaches the level of justifying and carrying out actual murders?

The Enclosure of the Speech Commons. Whereas the Internet and especially the blogosphere offered the prospect of political expression and discussion unfiltered by the traditional media, the primary social-media providers have taken various levels of controlling attitudes toward free speech; Twitter, in my opinion, is especially bad. Partly this is ideological; partly, it probably reflects their ideas about protecting their brands. Yes, there are plenty of ways to communicate online outside of the social media platforms, but their growth has been so rapid that a large proportion of the potential audience is not easily reached outside their domains. Note also that conversations that one would have been private friends talking at home, or over the telephone are now semi-public and sometimes made fully public. Plus, they become part of an individual’s Permanent Record, to use the phrase with which school officials once threatened students.

The Online Mobs. The concerns of the social media providers about providing online “safe spaces” does not seem to have in the least inhibited the formation of online mobs which can quickly make life unpleasant for their targeted individuals, and even destroy the careers of those individuals. Decades ago, Marshall McLuhan referred to the technology-enabled Global Village; unfortunately, it turns out that this virtual village, especially as mediated through the social media platforms, has some of the most toxic characteristics of the real, traditional village. See my post Freedom, the Village, and the Internet.

And the mobs do not limit themselves to attacks on the target individual: they frequently attack other individuals who fail to participate in the shunning of that target person. As an example:

A few weeks ago, shortly after I left my magazine gig, I had breakfast with a well-known Toronto man of letters. He told me his week had been rough, in part because it had been discovered that he was still connected on social media with a colleague who’d fallen into disfavour with Stupid Twitter-Land. “You know that we all can see that you are still friends with him,” read one of the emails my friend had received. “So. What are you going to do about that?”

“So I folded,” he told me with a sad, defeated air. “I know I’m supposed to stick to my principles. That’s what we tell ourselves. Free association and all that. It’s part of the romance of our profession. But I can’t afford to actually do that. These people control who gets jobs. I’m broke. So now I just go numb and say whatever they need me to say.”

Increasingly, it’s not just a matter of limiting what a person can say, it’s also a matter of edicting what they must say.

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