More Bombs, More Shells, More Napalm: Nation Building Through Foreign Intervention

Lambert here: Oh, so now we’re arguing about how to go to war. Whatever. This paragraph, on how the Air Force decided which Vietnamese villages to bomb, caught my eye:

A Bayesian algorithm combined data from 169 questions on security, political, and economic characteristics into a single hamlet security rating. The output ranged continuously from 1 to 5 (where 1 meant ‘very insecure’ and 5 meant ‘very secure’), but was rounded to the nearest whole number. Due to computational constraints, the continuous scores were not saved or printed from the mainframe computer, and Air Force planners only saw the rounded scores. … [T]he hamlets that just barely got rounded down were substantially more likely to be bombed than those just barely rounded up.

And we go to Happyville, instead of to Pain City…

By Melissa Dell, Assistant Professor of Economics, Harvard University, and Pablo Querubin, Assistant Professor of Politics and Economics, NYU. Originally published at VoxEU.

The nature of US military interventions has become relevant in the face of new growing threats, particularly from so-called Islamic State. While top-down strategies that rely on overwhelming firepower are sometimes favoured by politicians, longer-term strategies use a bottom-up approach, gaining citizens’ support through civic engagement. This column introduces evidence from US actions during the Vietnam War to show that bottom-up approaches are more successful in countering insurgencies than violent, top-down interventions.

Interventions in weakly institutionalised societies have been central to US foreign policy during the past half-century. Military strategies used during foreign interventions have ranged from the deployment of overwhelming firepower to bottom-up initiatives to win hearts and minds through development aid and civic engagement. Discussions about the form that such interventions should take – if they are pursued at all – remain central to US public discourse, most recently in the context of debates about how to best counter Islamic State.

A central goal in US interventions has been to create a state monopoly on violence that will persist after US withdrawal. Achieving this goal requires both a capable state and citizen compliance. “If it is relatively easy to disperse insurgent forces by purely military action… it is impossible to prevent the return… unless the population cooperates”, writes the military scholar David Galula (1964). Top-down approaches to foreign intervention emphasise gaining citizen compliance by making it costly for citizens to oppose the state, whereas bottom-up approaches aim to increase the benefits of supporting the state by providing public goods, economic aid, and political opportunities.

Top-Down versus Bottom-Up

The top-down overwhelming firepower approach is summed up by the Vietnam era adage, “get the people by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow” (Kodosky 2007). This view was famously advocated by Vietnam War General William DePuy, who argued that “the solution in Vietnam is more bombs, more shells, more napalm” (Sheehan 1988). It has also been advanced as an effective way to promote a monopoly on violence by prominent social scientists. Huntington (1968) wrote that air strikes could be used to establish social control and then modernisation would organically follow. Economist and National Security Adviser Walt Rostow argued that countering communism required “a ruthless projection to the peasantry that the central government intends to be the wave of the future”(Milne 2008).

This contrasts with an approach focused on building bottom-up support – “a positive programme of civil assistance must be conducted to eliminate the original cause of the resistance movement” (USMC 1962). James Scott (1985, 2009) cautions that a top-down approach that aims to gain citizens’ cooperation through force is likely to backfire, as citizens have many ways to undermine a state they do not genuinely support, even without going so far as to join an armed rebellion. Moreover, when states try to impose a simplified order from above, their failure to understand local realities and tendencies to disrupt them can lead the scheme to fail (Scott 1998).

These strategies are challenging to study empirically because randomised control trials – viewed as a gold standard of empirical evidence – are typically infeasible. For example, it would not be ethical to randomly assign drone strikes. Instead, we can better understand the impacts of these approaches by examining military strategies that, while not assigned using a random number generator, were deployed in some places but not others for reasons that are uncorrelated with the characteristics of the locations being studied. In such a situation, any differences between locations following the deployment of a military strategy can be attributed to the military actions themselves and not to other underlying distinctions.

The Vietnam War provides a particularly rich setting in which to apply this approach. During the war, quantitative metrics for resource allocation were used to an unprecedented extent, spurred by the systems analysis perspective that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara brought to the Department of Defense (DoD). McNamara pioneered the use of operations research in the private sector during his tenure in the 1950s as president of Ford Motor Company. Upon being named Secretary of Defense by John F Kennedy, McNamara surrounded himself with ‘Whiz Kid’ analysts from the Rand Corporation, aiming to bring economics and operations research into the DoD. This produced policies and data that offer unique opportunities for estimating causal impacts.

Bombing Civilian Population Centres in Vietnam

The Air Force received over half of Vietnam wartime appropriations and twice as many tons of explosives were dropped during the war as during WWII, making bombing particularly central to the conflict (Thayer 1975). Our recent paper exploits a newly discovered algorithm component of US bombing strategy in Vietnam that includes discontinuities useful for identifying causal effects (Dell and Querubin 2016). The US used quantitative scoring of the security of Vietnamese population centres to decide which ones to bomb. A Bayesian algorithm combined data from 169 questions on security, political, and economic characteristics into a single hamlet security rating. The output ranged continuously from 1 to 5 (where 1 meant ‘very insecure’ and 5 meant ‘very secure’), but was rounded to the nearest whole number. Due to computational constraints, the continuous scores were not saved or printed from the mainframe computer, and Air Force planners only saw the rounded scores.

Our study identifies the causal impacts of bombing by comparing places just below and above the rounding thresholds. They were similar in all ways prior to bombing, but the hamlets that just barely got rounded down were substantially more likely to be bombed than those just barely rounded up.

Estimates document that the bombing of South Vietnamese population centres backfired, leading more Vietnamese to participate in Viet Cong (VC) military and political activities and increasing VC attacks on troops and civilians. The initial deterioration in security entered the next quarter’s security score, increasing the probability of future bombing and hence leading to sustained increases in VC activity. Moreover, while US intervention aimed to build a strong state and engaged civic society that would provide a bulwark against communism after US withdrawal, bombing instead reduced the probability that the local government collected taxes, decreased access to primary schools, and reduced participation in civic organisations. To the extent that spillover effects of bombing on other locations exist, the impacts tend to go in the same direction as the effects on the locations that were bombed.

Interviews of VC prisoners and defectors provide a potential explanation for why bombing increased VC activity. Grievances against the government – particularly in cases where a civilian family member was killed in US or South Vietnamese attacks – were strong motivators for joining the VC (Denton 1968). Civilian casualties and property damage are plausibly particularly harmful to the trust between government and citizens that underlies an effective social contract.

Comparing Strategies of the Army and Marines

Our study also sheds light on how the top-down approach compares to a more bottom-up strategy. The study exploits the boundary between Military Region I – commanded by the US Marine Corps (USMC) – and Military Region II – commanded by the US Army. The Marines emphasised providing security by embedding soldiers in communities and winning hearts and minds through development programmes (USMC 2009). Their approach was motivated by the view that “in small wars the goal is to gain decisive results with the least application of force… the end aim is the social, economic, and political development of the people” (USMC 1940). In contrast, the Army relied on overwhelming firepower deployed through search and destroy raids (Krepinevich 1986, Long 2016). Evidence points to this difference in counterinsurgency strategies as a central distinction between the Army and Marines.

Figure 1 Corps Region boundary


Note: Figure plots hamlets near the Corps I-II boundary.

Hamlets just to the USMC side of the boundary were less likely to have a VC presence than those just to the Army side, and public opinion data document that citizens in the USMC region reported less anti-Americanism and more positive attitudes towards all levels of South Vietnamese government than did citizens in the Army region. Pre-period VC attacks, pre-characteristics, and soldier characteristics – including Armed Forces Qualifying Test scores – are all relatively balanced across the boundary, suggesting that the effects are driven by differences in military strategy and not by omitted factors.

These estimates, while highlighting the merits of hearts and minds oriented approaches relative to a more exclusive reliance on overwhelming firepower, do not reveal whether a bottom-up approach is more effective at achieving US objectives than refraining from intervention, a question for which empirical evidence remains sparse.

These Issues Remain Relevant

Understanding whether heavily top-down counterinsurgency strategies are likely to achieve their desired objectives remains policy-relevant. The culture of the US Armed Forces has changed only slowly since Vietnam (Long 2016). Moreover, while targeting has improved significantly, insurgents have responded by embedding themselves more tightly amongst civilians, and it is widely accepted that heavy reliance on air power will lead to civilian casualties. Additionally, politicians continue to advocate a top-down approach. Speaking in Fort Dodge earlier this year, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said, “I would bomb the [expletive] out of them [ISIS]. I would just bomb those suckers … I would blow up every single inch”. According to the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, speaking in New York  in 2015, “[i]t is time to begin a new phase and intensify our efforts [air strikes] to smash the would-be caliphate”. Lessons drawn from the Vietnam War underscore how intensively focusing on top-down strategies could pose challenges to achieving US objectives, particularly when insurgents are tightly embedded amongst civilians as they are in the Middle East.


Dell, M. and P. Querubin (2016), “Nation Building Through Foreign Intervention: Evidence from Discontinuities in Military Strategies”, NBER Working Paper No. 22395.

Denton, F (1968), “Volunteers for the Viet Cong”, Technical Report, RAND

Galula, D (1964), Counterinsurgency warfare: theory and practice, Greenwood Publishing Group

Huntington, S P (1968), Political Order in Changing Societies, Yale University Press

Kodosky, R J (2007), Psychological Operations American Style: The Joint United States Public Affairs Office, Reference, Information and Interdisciplinary Subjects Series, Lexington Books

Krepinevich, A F (1986), The army and Vietnam, JHU Press

Long, A (2016), The Soul of Armies: Counterinsurgency Doctrine and Military Culture in the US and UK. Cornell University Press

Milne, D (2008), America’s Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War, Macmillan

Scott, J C (1985), Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, Yale University Press

Scott J C (1998), Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed,Yale University Press

Scott, J C (2009), The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, Yale University Press

Sheehan, N (1988), A bright shining lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, Vintage

Thayer, T C (1975), A Systems Analysis View of the Vietnam War: 1965-1972, 12 Volumes, Defense Technical Information Center

United States Marine Corps (1940), Marine Corps Manual.

United States Marine Corps (1962), “Operations against Guerrilla Forces, FMFM-21”

United States Marine Corps (2009), Vietnam War: U.S. Marine Corps Official History Volumes, United States Marine Corps’ History and Museums Division.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Synoia

    Dear Bombers

    Please name one instance where air power has defeated an insurgent population.

    Please list 10 instances where an outside power have maintained control of an invaded country (They exist, but listing them is interesting).

    Please name one instance of a popularly civilian government which did or does not support US policies being made welcome to pursue its own policies.

    Please explain how killing innocents, deterrent by assignation, does not increase the number of people, and number of generations, willing to kill us in revenge.

    1. washunate

      Please name one instance where air power has defeated an insurgent population.

      Ah, Synoia, you have accepted the framing of the interventionist intellectuals with this construction. The question is not naming an insurgency defeated by air power. That question presupposes that the USFG opposes the insurgents :)

      Rather, the question is why do Dell and Querubin frame the policy choice in such a manner as to manipulate the reader into assuming as true the very lie at the heart of the debate: namely, the notion that American foreign policy is countering the insurgencies rather than the governments? It could be that the authors are ignorant of the history of US meddling in foreign nations, and that indeed would be quite an indictment of Harvard and NYU (or some of us might say, simply serve as yet more corroborative evidence of the widespread failure of higher education).

      However, I would posit that it is much more likely they are deliberately participating in justifying the establishment mindset. The top-down vs. bottom-up argument is one of a number of faux dichotomies employed in intellectual circles to divert discussion from what is actually happening.

      1. Fiver

        Sounds too much like Obama’s ‘smarter’ wars are ‘better’ wars for my liking given the actual level of horrors unleashed with expanded Executive powers broken completely free of moral or legal constraints and the stated intention to carry on in this mad fashion or worse for the rest of the century – which will be notably shorter than those prior, a lot shorter.

    2. Nelson Lowhim

      Laos is one. I wouldn’t call it successful, but the powers that be got what they wanted.

    1. paul

      Not the 99% that have no say.
      I favour top slicing, give the davos crowd the escape from new york option, and start the clock.

      1. Praedor

        Yes, the 99% “with no say” because everyone has a say. Passive acceptance or passive resignation IS a choice. It is a choice for the status quo. Doing nothing, saying nothing, is the easy path, the path of least resistance, but it does make you culpable of what doing nothing brings about. It IS accurate to say “a people get the government they deserve”. This general idea applies across the board.

        1. JTMcPhee

          People get the government that the few who know how to accumulate and use power and wealth let them have. Barring one of those revolution things, which all seem to simply swap in the new sneaker or more violent ruling bunch.

          That tired notion that “people get what they deserve” is nonsense. Given the realities of the malleability of enough mopes to “legitimize” the bosses out of fear or impotence.

          1. anon

            But the fear is justified. Masses of people don’t take to the streets in peaceful protedt because there is a high probability that they will be injured or killed by the police. It is the willingness of police and security services to weigh in on the spot to punish citizens for exercising their free speech rights that is the problem, not people’s unwillingness to face them.

    2. EoinW

      Deserve may be too harsh a word. Though a species which creates a means to destroy itself, and the planet, is pretty much courting extinction. How much the 99% deserve to be wiped out is open to debate. One certainty is the 99% know how to fall into the Innocent Victim role and will do so when necessary. But does the 99% have any say in who runs their societies? I think a better question might be: how many of the 99% fully support those governments, in spite of all the crimes such governments continue to commit? I suspect standard of living plays a significant role in motivating such support. If those in power provide people with a comfortable life then they earn the right to do whatever they like to other people. That sort of selfish thinking. The moment discontent sets in, watch out for Trump! After all, no number of Iraqi dead could turn Americans against supporting the Iraq War. It was American dead and, more importantly, the embarrassing perception that America was losing the war which changed public opinion.

      After America and it’s allies have attacked Yugoslavia, occupied Afghanistan and destroyed Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen can western societies have any complaint when our own countries fall into ruin? Isn’t that karma or poetic justice? Britain, France, Germany and Japan went the route of imperial warmongering and by 1945 each country lay in ruins. Yet a half century later such folly was forgotten. I suspect our actions create an inevitable conclusion. Just a question of how bad and when. For the sake of other species I hope it’s not a nuclear holocaust. For the sake of non-westerners, I hope the Anglo-American world is finally brought to an end, while others are spared.

      As for deserving: What did Clint Eastwood say to Gene Hackman in Unforgiven? “deservin’ got nothing to do with it.”

      1. paul Tioxon

        Deserve being harsh: at least someone points out directly with the response to the slaughter of war with the punishment of earned complete genocide maybe a bit too much. Thank you for that bit of sanity.

  2. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    “Algorithm components that include discontinuities useful for identifying causal effects”.
    My response to language like that? F*ck you, you despicable bloodthirsty heartless and utterly immoral beings. You and the people who acquiesce in your institutional murder-state have a special place in hottest hell reserved for them.
    America the Alpha World Bully and Bloodthirsty Global Tyrant. How it pains to write that line. Silence is complicity.

    1. Nelson Lowhim

      That which they apply on others’ skins would never be all right on their own. That’s the marked hypocrisy.

  3. Nelson Lowhim

    I suppose leaving out the morality of bombing is part of the game of looking serious [1]. The Republicans only seem to be taking that to its logical end and saying let’s kill everyone so that no one turns against us for bombing [2]. I’m being unfair and a little caustic. All right, let’s look at how civilians tend to react to bombing campaigns that destroy their neighborhoods and friends and family (how would you feel?). What are the reactions to drones? Oh, no one under their wings particularly likes them. I’m guessing the top people (all for a top down approach) know this, they’re not dumb. So why, then? Why such a knee jerk reaction every time? Why not the bottom up approach [3] which would mostly likely be less costly? I really want to know what people think? Surely they aren’t just looking for more small scale wars to show and tell the newest system and also spend some cash? Is it the inherent weakness of our institutions that think a bomb, no matter the cost/consequences, is worth more than a well, no matter its cost/consequences?

    [1] Though even serious people, me included, need to take into account the reactions of the people and how they morally react to bombs and if they feel justified in carrying out acts of revenge. Perhaps he context of the international world’s view of the morality of it matters as well… I’m not sure I agree with that, but it might play a part.

    [2] Also, being stuck in WWII mode—which includes a Hitler de jour around every corner—they forever think that bombing cities are why Germany and Japan are so great today and also our allies. There’s no sarcasm there.

    [3] Or if we are truly appalled with Syria and what happened there, why not set up some huge fund for current and future droughts that look at bottom up approaches?

  4. PlutoniumKun

    What is (sort of) interesting is that I don’t think there is anything new in the notion that ‘top down’ intervention is – apart from being immoral – less successful than ‘bottom up’ approaches. Every successful Empire, from the Romans onward, recognised that it was cheaper and better to make sure the majority of the subjugated people needed to feel some benefits from the occupiers, even if it was just a case of them being a little less brutal than the indigenous rulers. Every thoughtful military person I’ve ever met agrees with this. Yet repeatedly, the US (not just the US of course) gets drawn into brutal arms length military approaches, especially using the air force.

    I think that oddly enough, much of the blame for this comes from the absolute refusal of the western elite to acknowledge that the US is an Imperial power and has been since the occupation of the Philippines in the late 19th Century (funny how even liberals never acknowledge that it was a colony). If the US elite were honest about its status, then maybe it could put in place the long term structures that allowed relatively puny powers such as Britain and France to control so much of the world in the 19th Century (and surprisingly peacefully, considering the massive scale of their empires). Instead, the US tries to stand off, then in a panic lashes out with air power when things go wrong. Instead, everyone has the worst of all worlds – huge areas of the planet being de facto protectorates/economic colonies of the US, but without the focused attention required to keep them stable and prosperous, as with the best of empires in the past.

    1. MikeNY

      But we’re the Empire of Light. Exceptional. Didn’t they teach you that in school? Didn’t you see any Star Wars movies?

    2. Carolinian

      Because the US was a colony itself and pretends to be a beacon of Democracy and self determination it has been hard for the elites to explicitly embrace empire although the Bushies gave it a shot. Also imperialism was in very bad odor after the horrors of the first half of the 20th cent. Thus we have the “soft power” stratagem of controlling the world through our advanced technology and–these days–through our dominance of the organs of propaganda. It’s crackpot stuff but allows the graduates of our own “playing fields of Eton”–the Ivies– to avoid having to clap on the pith helmets and hike off to tropical climes.

      At any rate here’s a story from the mad McNamara period where the US created a plan for a nuclear first strike against the USSR to take place in 1963 when the missile gap (in our favor) was expected to be greatest. When the Soviets claimed those nukes in Cuba were “defensive” they may have meant it.

          1. washunate

            And this particular chain of events has direct ties to today. The underlying cause kicking off what we call the Cuban missile crisis was an agreement the US reached to deploy nuclear missiles in a country bordering the USSR.

            That country was Turkey.

    3. ChrisPacific

      I would apply Occam’s Razor and put it down to a couple of points:
      1. The MIC needs more expensive interventions for continued growth, not less expensive ones (and is not shy about deploying lobbyists and campaign dollars in support of that)
      2. Simple narratives like revenge sell better than complex ones, even if they are wrong and the complex narratives are right. Hence the Trump and Clinton quotes.

      Better education of voters and reducing the level of corruption in politics would both help.

  5. Jen

    “Moreover, when states try to impose a simplified order from above, their failure to understand local realities and tendencies to disrupt them can lead the scheme to fail”

    TTP/TTIP/TISA….simplified order from above.

    And on a more visceral note: jaysus wept. We have learned nothing.

  6. clarky90

    Governments are waging war on the environment in the process of attacking “enemies”. War and the environment are a single issue. One can never suggest a war without first doing a complete environmental impact report. A nuclear War would be the ultimate environmental disaster.

    Obama lecturing us about “climate change”, while ordering and funding “accelerated climate change” via high explosives……………hypocritical bastard

  7. pretzelattack

    These estimates, while highlighting the merits of hearts and minds oriented approaches relative to a more exclusive reliance on overwhelming firepower, do not reveal whether a bottom-up approach is more effective at achieving US objectives than refraining from intervention, a question for which empirical evidence remains sparse

    russian propaganda! usa!

  8. visitor

    Here is what somebody who was deeply knowledgeable about the topic stated:

    Every time one of our officers is forced to act against a village because of war incidents, he must not lose sight of his first concern, which, after the submission of the inhabitants, is to rebuild the village, to create a market, to establish a school. It is the joint action of policy and force that must result in the pacification of the country and in its later organization.

    These were the “fundamental directives” for a “bottom-up” approach given in…1898 by general Gallieni, in his campaign against the insurrection in Madagascar.

    For the past 120 years (at least), imperial powers have known that “hearts-and-mind”/”bottom-up”/”nation-building” was the approach of choice to subdue insurrections in far-away places. Suspiciously enough, genuine successes are hard to pinpoint. For that matter, by 1947 Madagascar, which Gallieni had worked hard to develop through large-scale infrastructure construction, schooling and abolition of slavery, was again in full revolt.

    So either “bottom-up” is practically inapplicable, or it actually does not work — and the aphorism by Robespierre keeps its value:

    No one likes armed missionaries; and the first advice given by nature and prudence is to repel them as enemies.

  9. JTMcPhee

    And what are “US objectives?”

    This little book lays out the politics and sociology and economics (sic) of where the Imperium is and where it’s going:

    “How Everything Became War And The Military Became Everything”

    Millions of people with “good paying middle or higher class jobs” getting to drive “policy” to grow their resumes and pay days. Playing on fear, and Tech fascination with killing, and blank checks drawn on your future and mine.

    And the fix for all this is…?

    1. fresno dan

      August 16, 2016 at 8:37 am

      “At its finest, “How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything” is a dynamic work of reportage, punctuated by savory details like this one. But Ms. Brooks has a larger ambition: She wants to explore exactly what happens to a society when the customary distinctions between war and peace melt away. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has been fighting shapeless, stateless enemies, all with no discernible end in sight. How, Ms. Brooks would like to know, do our institutions and legal systems adapt?”

      I enjoyed the article, but it occurs to me that this is not the first time that “customary distinctions between war and peace melt away.” Whether it is the cold war, or perhaps Teddy Roosevelt sending the great white fleet overseas, it seems to me we have been in a state of all intervention all the time. It really seems to me that about 20 minutes after George Washingtion’s admonition to avoid foreign entanglements, we started getting involved in….foreign entanglements.

      1. JTMcPhee

        If you spend some time immersing yourself in the War Department’s own documents, the contracting and procurement trade press, and various blogs and such, I at least come away with the conviction that what is happening now is a category change and an increase in the scope of militarization that’s orders of magnitude more intrusive and that swallows and displaces huge swathes of what us mopes think of as civil society and governance. The civil institutions follow the money that feeds the beast, to where we are ever more like the aliens in “Independence Day.” Don’t even see it happening, don’t even miss how it used to be. Just in to the next planet to loot.

    2. Steve H.

      Interesting. ‘Sm*dl*y Butl*r’ ( ‘*’ = ‘e’) as a phrase is enough to vape a post.

      1935: War is a Rack*t.

  10. EndOfTheWorld

    Something I heard Caspar Weinberger say on a radio talk years ago show stuck in my mind. He said it’s always hard to go to war with a democratic country, because the people are always against war. The dude was admitting that the people’s will was just something one had to circumvent.

    1. fresno dan

      August 16, 2016 at 8:38 am
      Göring: Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

      Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

      Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

      Even though I have posted the above a zillion times, I find it more illustrative of how governments act than all the classes I have taken in school….

      1. shinola

        Jingoism has its uses.

        Caught a bit of a Joe Biden speech on the news the other day – US is “exceptional”, the “indispensable country” blah, blah… (USA! USA!)

        Kinda reminded me of those old news reels of a Hitler speech.

        1. optimader

          Caught a bit of a Joe Biden speech on the news the other day – US is “exceptional”,

          mmm… I’m going with 3b. for Joe Biden.

          (ɪkˈsɛp ʃə nl)

          1. forming an exception or rare instance; unusual; extraordinary.

          2. unusually excellent; superior.

          3. (of a schoolchild)
          a. intellectually gifted.

          b. physically or esp. mentally handicapped to an extent that special schooling is required.

  11. fresno dan

    I saw Charlie Rose yesterday, and he had as a guest Scott Anderson

    And of course, the question comes up about what we should do.
    I submit the presupposition that “we” “should” “do” “something” is the core of the problem. The article pretty much shows that as bad as the mideast under Saddam and assorted depots was, it is now worse. There is no evidence what so ever, that we are in any way making it better. And to the extent that there has been some slight amelioration of the devastation that the US has brought since the Iraqi war, it has been due to lessor involvement by the US. Yet, like a young boy with a stick, poking the hornets nest has an irresistible appeal….

    1. tegnost

      Well, us oil majors, security contractors, and financial firms are getting to remake the ME in a public/private shell game, so it’s not completely without benefits /s

  12. furious anger

    Harvard: The crème de la crème of educational institutions for really dumb people with a high IQ. Adherence to elite ideology non-negotiable.

      1. pretzelattack

        from wiki article on assassins
        “In pursuit of their religious and political goals, the Ismailis adopted various military strategies popular in the Middle Ages. One such method was that of assassination, the selective elimination of prominent rival figures. The murders of political adversaries were usually carried out in public spaces, creating resounding intimidation for other possible enemies.[Daftary 7] Throughout history, many groups have resorted to assassination as a means of achieving political ends”.

        they were given the name by crusaders, who, coincidentally, invaded the middle east. so while terrorism precedes bombs, it does not apparently precede using assassination as a military tactic to oppose invasion, the tactic having been copied from others in any case.

        1. JTMcPhee

          And whatever happened to that guy Julius Caesar? I recall he died of long knives in a very public places…

      2. cnchal

        A passionate devotee of Isma’ili beliefs, Hassan-i Sabbah was well-liked throughout Cairo, Syria and most of the Middle East by other Isma’ili, which led to a number of people becoming his followers. Using his fame and popularity, Sabbah founded the Order of the Assassins. While his motives for founding this order are ultimately unknown, it was said to be all for his own political and personal gain and to also exact vengeance on his enemies. Because of the unrest in the Holy Land caused by the Crusades, Hassan-i Sabbah found himself not only fighting for power with other Muslims, but also with the invading Christian forces.
        Another one of Hassan’s recorded methods includes causing the hashashin to be vilified by their contemporaries. One story goes that Hassan al-Sabah set up a trick to make it appear as if he had decapitated one of his hashashin and the “dead” hashashin’s head lay at the foot of his throne. It was actually one of his men buried up to his neck covered with blood. He invited his hashashin to speak to it. He said that he used special powers to allow it to communicate. The supposed talking head would tell the hashashin about paradise after death if they gave all their hearts to the cause. After the trick was played, Hassan had the man killed and his head placed on a stake in order to cement the deception.

        Psychopaths have a long history of depravity.

    1. philnc

      The overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government on Eisenhower’s orders: to save British Petroleum’s investment in the oil fields.

  13. cyclist

    Far too much of our national wealth and human capital Is tied up in militaristic activities. I can never understand why our ‘Whiz Kids’ are so easily seduced to participate in the sort of amoral strategic planning described above. As someone with a background in the physical sciences, I’m sure my life could have been easier and my personal wealth greater if I had sent more resumes to places where I would wind up in the MIC. I’m sure there are very cool engineering challenges optimizing a tiny metal shard to do the maximum amount of flesh ripping in a cluster bomb, but leave me out. And as for joining the military: has there been a war in the last several decades that really protected the ‘homeland’, where, sad to say, soldiers have not died in vain? Economic pressures make it hard, but I do wish more people could make those difficult but principled choices.

  14. tegnost

    basically the top 10% plus a smattering of others has been sold globalism as a way to bring peace to the world, and the tech wizards all picture a world of people hooked up to occulus rifts and staying out of their way. That sounds good, and pays extremely well so they can easily avoid the reality that basically all tech started as military intelligence, and all the fancy lightweight and corrosion resistant alloys were and are designed to make a robotic, heavily armed dog that can’t be resisted.
    kinda clunky right now but they’re working on it
    good luck folks…got a kick out of this line FTA…
    “emphasise gaining citizen compliance by making it costly for citizens to oppose the state, whereas bottom-up approaches aim to increase the benefits of supporting the state by providing public goods, economic aid, and political opportunities.”

  15. Chauncey Gardiner

    “Top-down” military action clearly remains the default policy option in DC these days, along with an evident desire to expand it to other theaters.

    WRT to the first sentence by the authors and their subsequent comments about the American “public discourse”, which is by design very limited: a former neighbor, who was a young physician during the blitz in London in WWII, posed the question during casual conversation before the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, “Are those being targeted a threat to the United States?”

    Of course, behind the fog of obfuscation and propaganda, the answer his question is that they were not and are not.

    So how are these metastasizing military interventions with their related loss and impairment of lives, squandering of our national wealth, massive flow of refugees into the EU and elsewhere, and environmental damage, being sold to the American people? (although as the authors acknowledge, there is little effort being made to “sell military solutions” to the American public at all anymore):

    1.) Our “allies” are threatened. (Regardless of whether the behavior of those who are labeled “our allies” has led to the civil unrest or war.)

    2.) The military actions are undertaken to protect threatened constituencies for humanitarian reasons.

    Are these reasons valid? Do they provide the moral imperative necessary to justify war in accordance with the work of Sun Tzu taught at the War College? Is a “military solution” really a solution after all, or is this all just a racket, as General Butler said; and just a game for those who craft policy but have no other involvement and certainly nothing that places them at personal or professional risk?

    According to Reuters, an air strike on another Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) hospital occurred on Monday that killed at least 11.

    Also can’t help but think about the spillover effects domestically from these “Get the people by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow” policies, which as Lambert noted in his preface now span decades.

  16. Patrick

    Holy crap! What a clever methodology.

    “These strategies are challenging to study empirically because randomised control trials – viewed as a gold standard of empirical evidence – are typically infeasible…Our study identifies the causal impacts of bombing by comparing places just below and above the rounding thresholds. They were similar in all ways prior to bombing, but the hamlets that just barely got rounded down were substantially more likely to be bombed than those just barely rounded up.”

    Military accidentally ran a controlled bombing study.
    QED: bombing destroys nations, it doesn’t build them. (duh)

  17. Cat Burglar

    I wonder if the authors considered the quality of the data used to score the the security ratings of the villages. Lots of information coming in from the field in Vietnam was often skewed by poor ability to collect, making stuff up, trying to give the boss what he wanted, and screening out at upper levels, if a number of histories are to be believed (Gabriel Kolko’s, for example). What they ended up with spurious precision and defeat. I bet some veterans have good stories about it.

    1. JTMcPhee

      At least in the artillery, in ’67-68, my buddies (I was in an aviation unit billeted next to a battery of 155 mm self-propelled howitzers) said they were subject to “zero-based budgeting:” they got an allotment of shells each month, and if they used less than all of them, the allotment got cut for the following month. So the Brass had designated large parts of South Vietnam as “free-fire zones,” anything within them was iPad facto “enemy.” This the last night of the month, sometimes two nights, the gunners would fire off the unused ammo at a convenient free-fire zone. Our tents were close enough that when they turned the barrels our way (a little joke they enjoyed) the muzzle blast would sometimes flatten a tent and we all had to roll into our dugouts with the occasional snakes, scorpions and spiders.

      A little battlefield humor, courtesy of McNamara and his Fokking spreadsheet management…

  18. Watt4Bob

    An article purporting to discuss strategic bombing, and Viet Nam and no mention of Robert McNamara?


    Memory hole much?

    “We were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why.” — McNamara, writing in his 1995 memoir, In Retrospect, on the management of the Vietnam War

    Incidentally, Robert was also on the team that planned the fire-bombing of Tokyo which killed over 100,000 people in one night.

    Well, I was part of a mechanism that in a sense recommended it. I analyzed bombing operations, and how to make them more efficient. i.e. Not more efficient in the sense of killing more, but more efficient in weakening the adversary.

    What he meant to admit was that they decided to sideline Japan’s factories by killing its workers.

    One of the vaunted “Best and Brightest”

  19. steelhead23

    Lessons drawn from the Vietnam War underscore how intensively focusing on top-down strategies could pose challenges to achieving US objectives, particularly when insurgents are tightly embedded amongst civilians as they are in the Middle East.

    Challenges? No. That’s all wrong. If the U.S. is to intervene (an act I would almost universally argue against), clearly the Marines’ approach of embedding with the populace and providing needed services is the best route to success. The top-down approach is clearly counterproductive. Some are saying that Trump’s buffoonery indicates that he wants Hillary to win. Similarly, by continuing to conduct counter-insurgencies in a top-down, blow them up approach, our leaders are more likely to generate insurgent success than the outcomes they desire. Our leaders should read Santayana – carefully.

  20. SmallHat

    I agree with the premise of the article, but the underlying references are flawed. Off the top of my head, and not taking time to look up the real numbers, the area in Southern I Corp was one of the most intensely communist sympathetic dating back to partition at the end of the Indochina War. 500,000 ? out of 3 ? provinces relocated to the north during the period when emigration was allowed under the terms of the cessation of hostilities between France and the VietMinh. (Reference Bernard Fall). Many of these people then reinfiltrated to their original home provinces after the US War began, and became part of the large resident VC population in that area. American troops in southern I Corp suffered the highest casualty rates inflicted by mines and booby traps in South Vietnam.
    Secondly, depending on the date, southern I Corp has occupied by the Army’s Americal Division of My Lai fame. Rightly or wrongly, one of the underlying causes of the 11th Brigade’s actions was the continuing losses due to mines and booby traps, which would have resulted in even more VC ….. and etc. etc… I do not remember any Americal units serving as village security… For that matter, I do not remember the Marines doing it either… ?

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