The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Monday, January 06, 2003

Awhile back I mentioned that I regarded reading Little Green Footballs as a "painful duty," because the constant descriptions of Muslim misconduct are so depressing. I now feel the same way about Steven Den Beste's USS Clueless site, though for a different reason; Den Beste's articles are so damn long-winded and insubstantial that it's impossible to read them.

Let's take his antepenultimate post as an example. In an earlier post Den Beste had criticized "just war" theory; this post is a response to five people who emailed him criticism or questions. Here is the structure of the post:

  • Introduction: 2 paragraphs
  • Robert's response
  • 8 paras
  • Russell
  • 26 paras
  • Dennis
  • 6 paras
  • Shannon
  • 5 paras
  • Joseph
  • 17 paras

The total number of <P> tags killed to make this post was 64. Den Beste clearly needs an editor, because there isn't anywhere near enough content to mandate this much text.

One problem with Den Beste's writing is the mind-numbing restatement of the obvious. Maybe Den Beste thinks that he has double the IQ of his audience, and has to spoon-feed them. Or maybe a teacher gave him failing grades whenever he failed to show his work, and the lesson has really stuck with him. Check out these nuggets of genius:

So I can't reject any of torture, rape, mutilation or mass murder on the basis of cruelty. What I would have to say is that they would need to be evaluated on the basis of cost to us, cost to the enemy, and expected effectiveness. And on that basis they come up rather different.

Furrowing his brow and saying "I wouldn't want to reject any of our options out of hand" is how a computer software middle-manager with an oceanography degree gets through his day. But it's not a good technique if you want to be considered the Ur-genius of the blogosphere.

Torture is pretty straight forward. If you've captured a member of the enemy and he knows something important and you need to get it out of him fast, then you do what you need to. If terrorists have hidden a nuke in an American city and are threatening to detonate it if we don't give them something intolerable (e.g. revoke the Constitution and institute Sharia and convert the US into an Islamic Republic) and if you capture a member of that group and he knows where the nuke is, are you going to respect his human rights?

Hell, no. Of course you aren't. You're going to start shoving sharp pointy objects underneath his fingernails.

It's a good thing the fate of America is not in my hands, because I would challenge the terrorist to a Game of 99.

The argument against rape as a deliberate tactic of war is mainly that it's unlikely to be very effective. For reasons both cultural and ingrained, it's far more likely to enrage than to cow, and as such it's largely counterproductive. It's cruel, but everything in war is cruel; the main argument against it is that it's pretty much pointless. Anything you could conceivable achieve by the use of rape as a weapon can be achieved in other ways at least as effectively, but without the danger that it represents of causing breakdown of discipline among your own troops (as happened in China at Nanking, when for several weeks discipline in the Japanese army completely broke down).

I will note that no one who criticized the Catholic Church for its complicity in the priestly pedophilia scandal felt it necessary to waste four sentences deducing that kiddy-diddling was immoral.

I also note that Den Beste is occasionally detached from reality. The USS Clueless schtick is that a bright engineer can solve all the world's problems by analogy with what he learned working at his safe, air-conditioned desk. Maybe Den Beste should get out of the house more; then he wouldn't make alarming statements like

"If anyone ever nukes us even once, even in a small way, we will commit genocide in retaliation."

Thanks, but no thanks. It's not what most people want, and it's not what is likely to happen. After all, there was no civilian bombing in response to the World Trade Center attack. Of course, I realize that Den Beste can't reject genocide on the basis of cruelty, but ...

Or check out this confusion of the real world and board games:

In game theory, you can analyze a simple two-person game and actually figure out what your opponent's optimal move is, and then base your move on that. But if you do that, you become predictable and your opponent can in turn base his move on that analysis, to your detriment. Such an analysis can be carried out arbitrarily deeply, of course, but it turns out that the best strategy is to randomize. If you have two things you can do and one of them is far better than the other, then you slant the odds so that it's chosen more often. For example, you might decide that you want to use one choice with 2/3's odds, and the other 1/3. So you roll a dice and on 1-4 you do the one, and on 5-6 you do the other.

The United States attempted such a policy once, during the Kissinger era; Kissinger and Nixon deliberately considered the advantages of appearing unpredictable and arbitrary. This was during a period when the US was viewed as weak, and when the foreign policy of detente assisted America's enemies. Given that Den Beste was going to write a 64-paragraph post, don't you think he could spent a sentence or two examining the real-world consequences of random behavior?

Den Beste styles himself a "Jacksonian;" hardly a post goes by without several paragraphs spent on chest-puffing that invokes Jackson. I might note that if you really want to be random, sometimes the die roll has to mean "do nothing". Was Jackson unpredictable in any of his martial or foreign policies? Can you imagine a foe threatening America and Jackson doing nothing?



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