Americans have never really understood ideological warfare. Our gut-level assumption is that everybody in the world really wants the same comfortable material success we have. We use “extremist” as a negative epithet. Even the few fanatics and revolutionary idealists we have, whatever their political flavor, expect everybody else to behave like a bourgeois.
We don’t expect ideas to matter — or, when they do, we expect them to matter only because people have been flipped into a vulnerable mode by repression or poverty. Thus all our divagation about the “root causes” of Islamic terrorism, as if the terrorists’ very clear and very ideological account of their own theory and motivations is somehow not to be believed.
By contrast, ideological and memetic warfare has been a favored tactic for all of America’s three great adversaries of the last hundred years — Nazis, Communists, and Islamists. All three put substantial effort into cultivating American proxies to influence U.S. domestic policy and foreign policy in favorable directions. Yes, the Nazis did this, through organizations like the “German-American Bund” that was outlawed when World War II went hot. Today, the Islamists are having some success at manipulating our politics through fairly transparent front organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
But it was the Soviet Union, in its day, that was the master of this game. They made dezinformatsiya (disinformation) a central weapon of their war against “the main adversary”, the U.S. They conducted memetic subversion against the U.S. on many levels at a scale that is only now becoming clear as historians burrow through their archives and ex-KGB officers sell their memoirs.
The Soviets had an entire “active measures” department devoted to churning out anti-American dezinformatsiya. A classic example is the rumor that AIDS was the result of research aimed at building a ‘race bomb’ that would selectively kill black people.
On a different level, in the 1930s members of CPUSA (the Communist Party of the USA) got instructions from Moscow to promote non-representational art so that the US’s public spaces would become arid and ugly.
Americans hearing that last one tend to laugh. But the Soviets, following the lead of Marxist theoreticians like Antonio Gramsci, took very seriously the idea that by blighting the U.S.’s intellectual and esthetic life, they could sap Americans’ will to resist Communist ideology and an eventual Communist takeover. The explicit goal was to erode the confidence of America’s ruling class and create an ideological vacuum to be filled by Marxism-Leninism.
Accordingly, the Soviet espionage apparat actually ran two different kinds of network: one of spies, and one of agents of influence. The agents of influence had the minor function of recruiting spies (as, for example, when Kim Philby was brought in by one of his tutors at Cambridge), but their major function was to spread dezinformatsiya, to launch memetic weapons that would damage and weaken the West.
Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.
April 22, 2016
April 7, 2016
Published on 28 Mar 2016
German divisions had not expected the level of resistance they met from the Soviets, and their planned advance was behind schedule. At the same time, the Soviets were concerned by the breaches in their first level of defense and by the Tiger tanks which so decisively outgunned their T-34. Fighting on the north side of the Kursk salient came to focus on the small Russian town of Ponyri, where the Germans saw an opportunity to break through and encircle the Soviet defenders. But every time they took control, the Soviets countered and took it back, until finally it became clear that they would never hold Ponyri and could only hope to divert troops from reinforcing the Soviet line elsewhere. But in the south, General Vatutin of the USSR had come up with a clever strategy: he literally buried his T-34 tanks up to the turrets, making them fortified anti-tank guns whose small profile negated the range advantage of the Tiger. His methods were extremely effective, but the Germans continued to fight forward inch by bloody inch. The Soviets needed to hold until reinforcements arrived. An attempted counterattack failed, but managed to slow the Germans, as did the sudden arrival of rainy weather that bogged down their materiel. In the midst of this, the brutal war criminals in the SS Division fought on with a ferocity best exemplified by Joachim Krüger, who once ripped off his pants to escape a smoke grenade and charged bare-assed at a Russian tank. But this wild back and forth could not continue. On July 12, 1943, the Germans sought a decisive outcome through a hard push at Prokhorovka. They did not get it, and the tides quickly turned against them. The Allies invaded Sicily, pressuring Hitler. He gave the command to withdraw the troops at Kursk, over his commanders’ objections. His general, Erich von Manstein, attempted one final assault just as Stalin’s long-planned counterattack rolled out in full force. The Soviets routed the Germans and collapsed their Eastern Front. Over the course of the war, they continued to push the German forces back – all the way to Berlin in 1945.
April 2, 2016
In retrospect the fight against Napoleon seems to have engendered a new strategic method, later employed against Germany in two world wars and against the Soviet Union thereafter. The French might call it the Anglo-Saxon encirclement strategy. Its essential aim was to avoid direct combat with a formidable enemy, or at least to limit engagement to a minimum. Instead of confronting one vast army with another – at Waterloo there were only 25,000 British troops – the Anglo-Saxon approach was to take on the big beast by assembling as many neighbourhood dogs and cats as possible, with a few squirrels and mice thrown in. With the obvious exception of the Western Front in the First World War, that is how the two world wars were fought, with an ever longer list of allies large, small and trivial (e.g. Guatemala, whose rulers could thereby expropriate the coffee plantations of German settlers), and that is how the Soviet Union was resisted after 1945, with what eventually became the North Atlantic Alliance. Like the anti-Napoleon coalition, Nato was – and remains – a ragbag of member states large and small, of vastly different capacity for war or deterrence, not all of them loyal all the time, though loyal and strong enough. Like the challenge to British diplomacy in the struggle against Napoleon, the great challenge to which American diplomacy successfully rose was to keep the alliance going by tending to the various political needs of its member governments, even those of countries as small as Luxembourg, whose rulers sat on all committees as equals, even though they could never field more than a single battalion of troops.
Now it is the turn of the Chinese, whose strength is still modest yet growing too rapidly for comfort, and who are inevitably provoking the emergence of a coalition against them; the members range in magnitude from India and Japan down to the Sultanate of Brunei, in addition of course to the US. Should they become powerful enough, the Chinese will force even the Russian Federation into the coalition regardless of the innate preferences of its rulers, for strategy is always stronger than politics, as it was for the anti-communist Nixon and the anti-American Mao in 1972. China cannot therefore overcome its inferiority to the American-led coalition by converting its economic strength into aircraft carriers and such, any more than Napoleon could have overcome strategic encirclement by winning one more battle. The exact repetition of Napoleon’s fatal error by imperial and Nazi Germany is easily explained: history teaches no lesson except that there is a persistent failure to learn its lessons. It remains to be seen whether the Chinese will do any better.
Edward Luttwak, “A Damned Nice Thing”, London Review of Books, 2014-12-18.
March 31, 2016
Published on 21 Mar 2016
The Germans planned their assault for July 5, 1943 but a defector warned the Soviets and denied them the element of surprise. Even without the warning, General Zhukov had found plenty of time to fortify Kursk with layer upon layer of pillboxes, minefields, and more. He planned to bloody the Germans with this staunch defense and weaken them for later. The new German tanks, such as the Tiger, arrived only to find themselves outnumbered by numerous Soviet T-34s and ill-supported by maintenance crews who were stretched too thin by the number and variety of new tanks being deployed. General Manstein ordered his strongest tank unit to push through, targeting the small town of Oboyan, but although he made the most progress along the line of the assault, even he had not expected resistance on this scale. By the next day, the Germans had barely reached the second line of Soviet defenses, and while they hadn’t been forced to retreat anywhere, they were distinctly behind schedule. Hitler needed them to win. It wouldn’t win the war, but he hoped that it would force the Soviets to withdraw, leaving him free to concentrate on the Western front and the threats from the United Kingdom and the United States.
March 23, 2016
Published on 29 Feb 2016
Richard “the Challenger” Cutland, ex British tankie and military specialist at Wargaming, stops by to talk about the types of tanks involved in the Battle of Kursk! Early in Operation Barbarossa, the Germans didn’t expect much from their opponents. They did not know about the T-34 and KV-1 tanks, which turned out to be superior designs. The Germans deployed a special commission to study Soviet tank designs and soon introduced the Tiger, Panther, and Ferdinand tanks which Hitler believed were key to victory. The Panther in particular was now outclassing Soviet tanks, but it had giant mechanical issues and broke down frequently. The Soviets had produced a new T-43 model tank, but it was designed to tackle the old German Panzer IV and didn’t measure up well to the new German tanks. So they preferred to focus on the trusty T-34 tanks, which made up in speed and numbers what they lacked in range and firepower. The Kursk region also played to the Soviets’ advantage in Russia: the dust storms and mudfields hindered air support from the Luftwaffe and the advance of the Wermacht. Erich von Manstein, the German commander, decided not to advance. Instead he yielded ground to the Soviets in an attempt to lure them into overextending. He successfully caught them out at the First Battle of Kharkov, but even though the Soviets suffered heavy casualties there, it wasn’t enough to make a dent in their huge army. Manstein needed to do something more drastic. Both he and the Soviets recognized that the Soviet line had a weakness where it bulged out to defend the city of Kursk, making it an obvious target for the next stage of operations.
March 21, 2016
Published on 15 Feb 2016
In June 1941, Nazi Germany launched an attack upon the Soviet Union. The German Reich had been building up forces along the Eastern Front for a long time, but the sudden aggression caught Soviet forces unprepared. Many troops were captured and the Germans quickly conquered territory from the Soviet states. But the Soviets reorganized, improved their communication structure, and pulled together a defense at Smolensk. Although they lost again, they critically slowed the German advance and halted their race towards Moscow. Instead, the Germans tried to lay siege at Leningrad, only to be struck themselves by insufficient supply lines and a brutal winter that claimed the lives of many soldiers. With that, the Wehrmacht withdrew and redirected its efforts towards Stalingrad. Josef Stalin refused to let them take any land “further than the Volga” in Russia, and mounted a stiff defense. Even when the Luftwaffe, the German air force, reduced the city to rubble, Soviet soldiers continued to wage war from the debris. Meanwhile, the Germans were so focused on their offensive that they let their defensive lines collapse, and in October 1942 the Soviets managed to surround and pin down the German 6th Army. Their commander refused surrender terms because he didn’t want to displease Adolf Hitler, but the 6th Army’s resistance inevitably collapsed in February 1943.
January 6, 2016
Look, part of the whole problem with the deinstitutionalisation of the mentally ill, which goes all the way back to the early seventies at least, and as far as theory is concerned probably a lot further, is that health professionals started, DELIBERATELY blurring the lines between mental illness and mental health.
Part of this was – I think – a genuine effort to make it possible for some people classified as “mentally ill” to be able to make a go of it in the community. A lot of new psychiatric drugs had been discovered which, while they didn’t heal, masked the symptoms of mental illness and therefore made it possible for these people to integrate in normal society – provided they would take their meds (more on that later.)
The other part – I know, my SIL took the mental-health portion of her MD in the late seventies – was the insane “equivalence brigade” which tried very hard to convince themselves that the US too did EXACTLY the same things the USSR did. Since the USSR put political dissenters in mental hospitals, then the people in US hospitals MUST be also political dissenters. This was hard to prove, since the Soviet system provided ideological support for mental treatment of dissenters: i.e. the Marxist system was perfect, so anyone disagreeing must be mad, while the American system mostly tried to get people off the streets who would do harm to themselves and/or others. However the medical profession found their justification in an upside-down of the Marxist system. Since Capitalism was bad for humans and other living things, then everyone who went mad under capitalism were, ipso facto, political dissenters. So, if you happened to be a woman who liked to throw rocks at strangers and go into bizarre monologues on the subject of cabbage, you weren’t mad, you were a feminist protesting male aggression.
Now I have no proof this was intentional or a coordinated AGITPROP operation. It’s entirely possible it was (merely) the predictable mix of ill-intentioned agents and well-intentioned idiot fellow travelers.
However the end result was making people too crazy to live alone into political victims and incidentally to give the USSR room to claim the capitalist system created homelessness.
Sarah A. Hoyt, “I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just A Little Unwell – A blast from the past post 10/12”, According to Hoyt, 2015-10-12.
November 24, 2015
Mark Galeotti on what happened when you combine the legendary appetite for alcohol of soldiers with the ramshackle repression of the Soviet system:
Soldiers love to drink. Russians love to drink. No wonder that Russian soldiers can be amongst the hardest-core boozers around. If anything, this was even more the case in Soviet times when the very difficulties of getting hold of booze acted as a spur to the ingenuity for which Russians are also rightly known. The same guys who could fix a tank engine with sticky tape or make the world’s toughest rifle were formidable and innovative in their quest for a drink.
Being assigned to the ground crew on a MiG-25 interceptor, for example, was a good gig. The supersonic fighter was nicknamed gastronom — delicatessen — because its nose-mounted radar and generator were cooled by more than 200 liters of water/methanol mix, which is a ghastly brew, but as a base not much more ghastly than the murderous samogon homebrew many Soviets turned to, especially during Mikhail Gorbachev’s well-meant but ill-thought-through anti-alcohol campaign. The usual rule of thumb was a single shot a day. Any more, and your chances of going blind were good.
As it should now be clear to you, dear reader, Soviet soldiers were not that discriminating when sourcing their sauce. When I was interviewing veterans of the Soviet–Afghan War for my doctorate, many and horrifying were the accounts of parties fueled by aftershave, rosewater, and rubbing alcohol. The military hierarchy denied the enlisted men legal access to drink, yet fighting a high-stress and — in the early years, at least — officially unacknowledged war, they were nothing if not committed to the quest.
October 20, 2015
John Turner sent me this link on a remarkably adept (and technologically sophisticated) hack the Soviets slipped over the US government at their Moscow embassy:
A National Security Agency memo that recently resurfaced a few years after it was first published contains a detailed analysis of what very possibly was the world’s first keylogger — a 1970s bug that Soviet spies implanted in US diplomats’ IBM Selectric typewriters to monitor classified letters and memos.
The electromechanical implants were nothing short of an engineering marvel. The highly miniaturized series of circuits were stuffed into a metal bar that ran the length of the typewriter, making them invisible to the naked eye. The implant, which could only be seen using X-ray equipment, recorded the precise location of the little ball Selectric typewriters used to imprint a character on paper. With the exception of spaces, tabs, hyphens, and backspaces, the tiny devices had the ability to record every key press and transmit it back to Soviet spies in real time.
The Soviet implants were discovered through the painstaking analysis of more than 10 tons’ worth of equipment seized from US embassies and consulates and shipped back to the US. The implants were ultimately found inside 16 typewriters used from 1976 to 1984 at the US embassy in Moscow and the US consulate in Leningrad. The bugs went undetected for the entire eight-year span and only came to light following a tip from a US ally whose own embassy was the target of a similar eavesdropping operation.
“Despite the ambiguities in knowing what characters were typed, the typewriter attack against the US was a lucrative source of information for the Soviets,” an NSA document, which was declassified several years ago, concluded. “It was difficult to quantify the damage to the US from this exploitation because it went on for such a long time.” The NSA document was published here in 2012. Ars is reporting the document because it doesn’t appear to have been widely covered before and generated a lively conversation Monday on the blog of encryption and security expert Bruce Schneier.
September 21, 2015
I have never forgotten these visitors, or ceased to marvel at them, at how they have gone on from strength to strength, continuing to lighten our darkness, and to guide, counsel and instruct us. They are unquestionably one of the wonders of the age, and I shall treasure till I die as a blessed memory the spectacle of them travelling with radiant optimism through a famished countryside, wandering in happy bands about squalid, over-crowded towns, listening with unshakeable faith to the fatuous patter of carefully trained and indoctrinated guides, repeating like schoolchildren a multiplication table, the bogus statistics and mindless slogans endlessly intoned on them. There, I would think, an earnest office-holder in some local branch of the League of Nations Union, there a godly Quaker who had once had tea with Gandhi, there an inveigher against the Means Test and the Blasphemy Laws, there a staunch upholder of free speech and human rights, there an indomitable preventer of cruelty to animals, there scarred and worthy veterans of a hundred battles for truth, freedom, and justice – all, all chanting the praises of Stalin and his Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It was as though a vegetarian society had come outwith a passionate plea for cannibalism, or Hitler had been nominated posthumously for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time, 2006.
August 10, 2015
Published on 25 Feb 2015
What happens when the prices of all goods are controlled? Under communism, or a command economy, this is exactly what occurs. As a result, all of the effects of price controls become amplified: there are even more shortages or surpluses of goods, lower product quality, longer lines and more search costs, more losses in gains from trade, and more misallocation of resources. As we have seen, universal price controls destroy market coordination and create a system of planned chaos in which it becomes more difficult for consumers to get the goods and services they want and need.
August 1, 2015
July 10, 2015
I don’t know whether Goldwater can be elected or not — or whether he can change things if elected. But I would like to see the United States make a radical change away from its present course. I’m sick of bailing out Kremlin murderers with wheat sold to them on credit and at tax-subsidized prices, I’m sick of giving F-86’s and Sherman tanks and money to communists, I’m sick of undeclared wars rigged out not to be won — I’m sick of conscripting American boys to die in such wars — I’m sick of having American servicemen rotting in communist prisons for eleven long years and of presidents (including that slimy faker Eisenhower!) who smilingly ignore the fact and do nothing. I’m sick of confiscatory taxes for the benefit of socialist countries and of inflation that makes saving a mockery, I’m sick of signing treaties with scoundrels who boast of their own dishonesty and who have never been known to keep a treaty, I’m sick of laws that make loafing more attractive than honest work.
But most of all I am sick of going abroad and finding that any citizen of any two-bit, county-sized country in the world doesn’t hesitate to insult the United States loudly and publicly while demanding still more “aid” and of course “with no strings attached” from the pockets of you and me. I don’t give a hoot whether the United States is “loved” and I care nothing for “World Opinion” as represented by the yaps of “uncommitted nations” made up of illiterate savages — but I would like to see the United States respected once again (or even feared!) … [sic] and I think and hope that the Senator from Arizona is the sort of tough hombre who can bring it about.
I hope —
But it’s a forlorn hope at best! I’m much afraid that this country has gone too far down the road of bread and circuses to change its domestic course (who “shoots Santa Claus”?) and is too far committed to peace-at-any-price to reverse its foreign policy.
Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Larry and Caryl Heinlein 1964-07-19 (quoted in William H. Patterson Jr’s Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).
June 20, 2015
Mark Stout looks at what a global nuclear war might have looked like merely ten years after the first nuclear weapons were used to end the Second World War:
Those of us who came of age in the late Cold War imagined that if a nuclear war came it would be The End of Everything. By contrast, those who came of age after the Cold War never thought there’d be a nuclear war at all. With Putin’s military forces on the loose in Ukraine and all around Europe, the chance of war by miscalculation, even a nuclear war is rising. What would such a war look like? With the world situation vastly different from the late Cold War and with nuclear arsenals much smaller, it would probably not be a brief nuclear exchange but something more limited, albeit still horrific.
Perhaps such a war would be like one that the U.S. government imagined in 1955. In June of that year, the government conducted a massive relocation exercise called Operation Alert in cities across the country. A British Pathé newsreel tells the story in breathless shorthand. As part of the exercise, the State Department moved key personnel to an above-ground location at the foot of the Shenandoah Mountains in Front Royal, Virginia that now belongs to the Smithsonian Institution. There, according to records held at the National Archives, they practiced how they would continue to conduct the business of the department in case of World War III.
Among other documents, the Archives holds “Situation Report #1,” issued by the State Department’s intelligence arm on D+1 of the war game. It is an interesting artifact of the time. In 1955 nuclear arsenals on both sides of the Iron Curtain were much smaller than they became later and intercontinental ballistic missiles did not exist. Thus, the Soviet ability to strike the U.S. homeland was also much more limited and the “war” unfolded much more slowly than it would have even ten years later. As a result, the imaginary war of June 1955 combined attributes of World War II as well as the World War III that haunted us in the 1980s.
June 15, 2015
B.K. Marcus explains how ice cream was the secret weapon that won the Cold War:
Richard Nixon stood by a lemon-yellow refrigerator in Moscow and bragged to the Soviet leader: “The American system,” he told Nikita Khrushchev over frosted cupcakes and chocolate layer cake, “is designed to take advantage of new inventions.”
It was the opening day of the American National Exhibition at Sokol’niki Park, and Nixon was representing not just the US government but also the latest products from General Mills, Whirlpool, and General Electric. Assisting him in what would come to be known as the “Kitchen Debates” were attractive American spokesmodels who demonstrated for the Russian crowd the best that capitalism in 1959 had to offer.
“Don’t you have a machine,” he asked Nixon, “that puts food in the mouth and presses it down? Many things you’ve shown us are interesting but they are not needed in life. They have no useful purpose. They are merely gadgets.”
Khrushchev was displaying the behavior Ludwig von Mises described in The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality. “They castigate the luxury, the stupidity and the moral corruption of the exploiting classes,” Mises wrote of the socialists. “In their eyes everything that is bad and ridiculous is bourgeois, and everything that is good and sublime is proletarian.”
On display that summer in Moscow was American consumer tech at its most bourgeois. The problem with “castigating the luxury,” as Mises pointed out, is that all “innovation is first a luxury of only a few people, until by degrees it comes into the reach of the many.”
It is appropriate that the Kitchen Debate over luxury versus necessity took place among high-end American refrigerators. Refrigeration, as a luxury, is ancient. “There were ice harvests in China before the first millennium BC,” writes Wilson. “Snow was sold in Athens beginning in the fifth century BC. Aristocrats of the seventeenth century spooned desserts from ice bowls, drank wine chilled with snow, and even ate iced creams and water ices. Yet it was only in the nineteenth century in the United States that ice became an industrial commodity.” Only with modern capitalism, in other words, does the luxury reach so rapidly beyond a tiny elite.
“Capitalism,” Mises wrote in Economic Freedom and Interventionism, “is essentially mass production for the satisfaction of the wants of the masses.”