Doug Casey on the Military

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L: I’m sitting with Doug Casey in his apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Above me, on the wall behind the sofa I’m sitting on, is a mural depicting the brutality of war. Every time you write about the military, Doug, we lose a large swath of subscribers. But I know it’s something you’ve given a great deal of thought to, and you’ve never been shy about broaching taboo subjects, so we might as well cull the herd now. Let’s talk about the boys in green…

Doug: Sure. Like most young males who grew up on a diet of John Wayne movies, I used to think that the military was great and romantic. As you know, my attitude has changed very much over the years. I’m actually very glad I went to a four-year military boarding high school when they were pretty tough places. That’s because I’d wanted to go to West Point, and going to a military school helped cure me of having any desire for four more years of spit-shining shoes, marching in formation like an automaton, and saying "Yes, Sir!" to all kinds of unsavory people.

L: It’s a little-known fact that I once thought of doing Air Force ROTC. I wanted to fly F-18s and had pretty good qualifications for doing it. But I knew I’d have to hock my soul for the chance and just couldn’t make myself do it.

Doug: Well, at any point in life, a left turn instead of a right can result in an entirely different life.

L: That’s right. You could be a used-car salesman right now if you hadn’t crashed that Ferrari.

Doug: [Laughs] That’s true. And there was another point in my life when I was in Europe and was thinking that it might be fun to join the French Foreign Legion; I’d read Beau Geste. It was an idiotic idea that can only be entertained by someone who is 22 and at loose ends. Anyone could go to the recruiting depot in Marseille and sign up for all the military adventure they could want — I guess they still can. Although Americans have always been discouraged; they prefer people from desperate countries — people who won’t complain so much about a life, as Gibbon put it, characterized by violence and slavery.

But there is very little romance, and a lot of marching, discomfort, and minimum wage-type labor. I don’t think the Legion is much different from other militaries, except that conditions are tougher and the recruits are rougher. But they say the food is better. French influence.

L: And you get French citizenship if you do join.

Doug: Yes, you serve five years in the Foreign Legion and you gain French citizenship. That’s quite correct. I’ve met a number of legionaries over the years, and it seems that that organization draws individuals who tend to be either the roughest criminal types or rogue intellectuals. It’s a bit like the U.S. Army’s Special Forces… you don’t get your average Joe.

After WWII, they were all ex-Wehrmacht guys, then there was an influx of Eastern Europeans. It’s quite an interesting organization. But would it have been worth five years of my life? Not likely. I probably would have deserted or shot my officer long before then.

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L: So, you don’t hate the military, per se.

Doug: No. But over the years of writing the newsletter, I found that my remarks repeatedly culled the herd, as you said, of people with overly conventional, collectivist, or statist views of it. This type of "My country right or wrong!" "Support our troops!" (no matter how many villages they level), and "If you value your freedom, thank a soldier!" thinking is a sacred cow. It’s just one of many examples of what Will Rogers used to say: it’s not what people don’t know that’s the problem, but what they think they know thatu2014

Doug and L: u2014just ain’t so.

Doug: [Laughs] So, to begin with, you’ve got three kinds of armies: slave, mercenary, and militia.

For many years, from WWII forward, the U.S. had a slave army. If you were of the right (or wrong) age and didn’t have the political connections to get out of it, you were conscripted — forced into involuntary servitude — typically for two years.

L: Wasn’t it our saint, Abraham Lincoln, abolisher of slavery, who instituted the first conscription in the United States?

Doug: Yes, he was. Jeff Hummel pointed this out in his book, Emancipating Slaves and Enslaving Free Men.

L: So, the U.S. Civil War started with volunteers and ended with conscripts, at least on the Union side, and WWII was largely fought with conscripts, but what about WWI? I remember reading about big 15-year-olds lying about their age so they could sign up and go kick the Kaiser’s butt.

Doug: There was a "Conscription Act of 1917," enacted not long after the U.S. declared war. So, popular myths notwithstanding, it’s questionable how many young men really wanted to go off and kill or die in horrible conditions. But it’s interesting how war hysteria can build up in a society for absolutely no good reason at all. That was absolutely true of the War Between the States, the Spanish-American War, and WWI. There’s never been a good reason for Americans to go to war against anyone; the U.S. has never been invaded. And war has always been the biggest impetus for debasing the currency, raising taxes, taking on debt, vastly increasing the size of the state, and decreasing personal freedom.

L: "War is the health of the state." But back to the types of armies. The U.S. had volunteer armies — militias — until Lincoln instituted the first conscription in the Civil War, then again during WWI and WWII. But Viet Nam changed American attitudes, and the draft ended in 1973.

Doug: Yes. Although a case can be made that it wasn’t necessary for America to enter WWII, it was different from WWI and other military adventures, like the Spanish-American war or Korea, because it wasn’t a "sport" war. I don’t believe conscription was necessary, since many people felt a need to defend the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor sucked America into the war. Anyway, if the common citizen doesn’t see a need to defend a country, perhaps it shouldn’t be defended. Peer pressure and social opprobrium are what really hold societies together, not execution squads chasing those who don’t believe in a war.

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The best example of what happens when you have a slave army, however, is Viet Nam. Young men were forced into it, they hated being there, and it’s no surprise that it became a complete disaster. There were widespread drug problems, problems with soldiers fragging officers and NCOs — the effort was just falling apart at the seams.

L: Fragging meaning killing. The classic example of military slaves getting back at their masters that comes to mind is that of Viet Nam soldiers on gunboats setting off up-river, only to loose thousands of rounds into the jungle as soon as they were out of sight. That way, they didn’t have to confront enemies who would actually shoot back, and they could return and report a successful pacification of imaginary swaths of jungle.

Doug: Right. Running out of ammo was a good excuse for having to run back to base. And a lot of soldiers didn’t have anything against the VC or the NVA, other than the fact they were designated the enemy. Don’t forget what Muhammed Ali said: "I ain’t got no beef with any VC. No VC ever called me nigger." In today’s world, slave armies are completely ineffective anyway. Cannon fodder armies are, at a minimum, technologically obsolete.

Mercenary armies make more sense. You have people serving who actually want to be there, for whatever reasons of their own. The American army now is a mercenary army, in which the soldiers are actually pretty well paid, not just while they are in, during which time they get meaningful bonuses and promotions, but also because of the huge benefits they get when they get out. Those benefits include preferred hiring within the U.S. government, which creates another whole problem.

Historically, I think the military has drawn two types of people: those who were interested in the adventure and experience, and those who were on the bottom rungs of society and wanted to elevate themselves.

Today, the U.S. Army is apotheosized: it’s PC to say they are our "best" and "brightest" young heroes, but they are largely refugees from the barrios, ghettos, and trailer parks. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just an accident of birth. But people from the same social strata and with similar motivations, all being trained to be blindly loyal and learning to kill on command — people forget that’s what armies do — can become problematical in a civil society.

L: Wait a minute. Is that still true post-9/11? A lot of people felt called to "serve and defend."

Doug: Well, there’s been a lot of jingoism since then. Maybe there are a lot of people who want you to believe that that’s why they have joined, because they think that’s what they’re supposed to believe. I doubt they really think about it. I don’t believe that the average sailor or soldier has ever really enlisted for such seemingly high purposes. Generally, the degree to which they perform their jobs well and act courageously is basically because of peer pressure. They don’t want to fail in the eyes of the people around them, as opposed to fighting for any high ideals.

Anyway, 9/11 was no excuse to join the military and fight a war. The attacks were a large-scale criminal action that should have been pursued on that basis. Attacking Iraq because of suspected weapons of mass destruction, which is a misleading term, and Al Qaida links was ridiculous — Iraq was a secular state and no friend of Muslim extremists, and there were no atomic weapons — it was clearly grandstanding by the U.S. government, which had to appear to "do something."

Attacking the Taliban in Afghanistan had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. The 15 Saudi guys who were hanging out in Afghanistan at that time could have been hanging out anywhere, including the U.S. 9/11 was a police matter, not a military matter.

L: Okay, but that’s logic. I can imagine an ordinary twenty-year-old buying the "defend the homeland" spin on TV and being encouraged by the "Support our troops" mentality to enlist to "protect America."

Doug: I suppose a few might, but I’d question their thinking. I mean, what if it had been 20 Italians who had hijacked the planes and crashed them into those buildings. Would they have joined to go fight Mafiosi in Italy? How well would that have worked?

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L: Good point. I rather doubt it. Okay, so let’s finish up the army types. If a mercenary army is better than a slave army because those involved actually want to be there…

Doug: A militia is the best of all, because it’s one that really does come together to defend a society — the places where the people live and work. They are highly motivated by hearth and home. Militias are strictly defensive, which is good, because their very nature precludes the possibility of an aggressive overseas war. In a way, a militia is a kind of guerilla army, which is almost impossible to defeat, short of genocide.

L: You have to sterilize the area.

Doug: Exactly. And now, our mercenary armies are in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting guerilla armies. If you’re fighting guerilla armies, you’ve got to ask yourself why you’re there, attacking their hearth and home. I mean, how would the average American react if a large army of young Muslims were on American soil, kicking doors in, shooting resisters, and so forth? There would be no end to the number of Americans willing to take up arms and fight back, with or without training, with or without leadership — which is exactly what American forces face over there.

L: You know I strongly favor the idea of volunteers fighting in self-defense. I like the way the nature of a militia, which is drawn up in times of need, means there would be no standing army that could be sent overseas on some politician’s meddlesome errand. But because militias are composed of ordinary people with non-military jobs who volunteer to defend hearth and home, there would be no professional soldiers among them, and no one standing guard in case of surprise attack. Some people would argue that for these reasons, relying on militias is archaic and leaves a people vulnerable to attack.

Doug: Well, I think it makes sense to have a cadre of professional soldiers, a skeleton that can be fleshed out should the need occur. They can themselves respond quickly, and be the trainers of the new forces drawn up for legitimate defense.

In today’s world, the entire nature of warfare is changing — again. Before WWI, the military consensus was that cavalry was a useful tool and that marching into battle in straight lines was a good idea. Trenches and machine guns changed that, although it took the generals millions of casualties to figure it out.

Before WWII, battleships were the cat’s pajamas, but they turned out to be sitting ducks for planes launched from carriers. Today, they’re spending $2 billion apiece for B2 bombers designed to fight a Cold War that no longer exists. And, of course, aircraft carriers are now just gigantic sitting ducks, especially hanging out in places like the Persian Gulf.

L: Okay, but wait, before we get into discussing hardware and modern warfare, let’s finish up with the three types and your preferred type of army. I understand your skeleton crew answer to the concern about a lack of professional soldiers, but what about surprise attacks? If there’s a sudden offensive, do you have to lose half your ground before your skeleton crew can train raw recruits to begin fighting back?

Doug: I think it was Yamamoto who said that the Japanese could never conquer America, because behind every rock, there’d be an American with a rifle. I’ve always believed that if America were a free society and the Chinese invaded and overcame our first line of defense, the surfers, the Chinese general would have someone dragged up and say, "Take me to your leader!" And the guy would take him home to his wife. After a few months, half the Chinese army would desert to open McDonald’s franchises, and the other half would be treated as common criminals; they’d disappear at night.

L: A free society would be an armed society.

Doug: Absolutely. In today’s world of very powerful individual weapons, I don’t think that invasion of a place like America makes any sense. Some people say that enemies might launch nuclear weapons at the cities, but that makes neither military nor economic sense. In the first place, you don’t attack a society that doesn’t threaten you. And if conquest and loot were your goal, you wouldn’t vaporize everything of value. That’s why it would have served no purpose for the Russians to overrun Western Europe in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, which many people were worried about.

It’s not like in the Roman days, when you could conquer a country and cart off all the gold, women, and cattle to fund yet more conquest. That’s not the way wealth works today; if you tried to do what the Romans did today, you would destroy the basis of wealth itself. There’s nothing to milk afterwards, and the conquered land becomes nothing but a cost to you — just as Afghanistan and Iraq are to the U.S. today. Conquest simply makes no sense in today’s world.

L: Hmmm. So. In spite of what people have said about your "anti-military" remarks, you’re not actually anti-military. You’re anti-slave-army. Not so keen on mercenary armies. And you’re pro-militia.

Doug: That’s a good summary. And it’s relevant to the future, because I think the whole concept of a national military is going to change radically in the near future. Why do I say that? First, because the nation-state as we know it, which has only been around since about 1600 or so, is on its way out.

There’s an evolution here. The idea used to be that you were loyal to your tribe, which at least had some survival value. Then, as kings took over the world, you were loyal to your king, for some reason — it looks like it was pretty much blackmail, a double-negative sort of survival value. And then the nation-state took over, and you were loyal to your government. That looks like a losing proposition to me, with negative survival value. It doesn’t make any sense.

In the future, facilitated by things like the Internet, people are going to be loyal to whatever groups they choose, bound together by the things the individuals think are important, not by simple accident of location of birth. These emerging voluntary societies are what speculative fiction writer Neal Stephenson called "phyles."

L: A concept many of our readers have taken to. There are now Casey Phyles in many major cities around the world.

Doug: When your first loyalty is to people you have chosen to give it to, whether they live in Cambodia or Chile, because of the things you yourself think are important and that you share in common, you’re much more likely to stand by them than you are for types in America whose goal in life seems to be leaching off producers. I’m sure there are many phyles of different types coming together all over the world whose members feel more loyalty to each other than to whatever neighbors random chance has put next to them. Why should the fact some nation-state considers you both subjects automatically command your loyalty?

L: And the military implication is that it’s very unlikely that such distributed societies like this would mount physical, military invasions on one another. It’d be very difficult to do, and what would be the point?

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Doug: Right. I think the world is evolving differently. And let me re-emphasize that military technology is changing too. All these aircraft carriers, B2s, M1 tanks, and so forth are basically junk. They serve no useful purpose in the kind of battle that’s likely to happen in the future. If someone wants to attack the U.S., they’re not going to use an ICBM; they’re extremely expensive, clunky, and you can see where they come from, guaranteeing retaliation. It’s total idiocy that even a maniac wouldn’t bother with. Not when you can deliver a backpack nuke by FedEx, cheap and on time. Or you could use any commercial aircraft, container ship, or truck.

But the real handwriting on the wall is the sort of thing we saw in Mumbai last year in November. There it was a matter of two-dozen people with ordinary guns turning the whole city totally on its head for days. That was an extremely cheap and easy thing to do — and warfare has always been a matter of economics.

L: It’s not a question of what’s possible, but what you can pay for.

Doug: Yes. And that Mumbai attack was just one variation on a very large theme. An even more effective one, cheap and easy for a handful of individuals to pull off, would be to destroy a city’s or country’s critical infrastructure: electric power plants, or transmission lines, water treatment facilities, gas pipelines…

L: That would do much more harm.

Doug: Much more harm.

L: They are soft targets that are too numerous to protect adequately.

Doug: But that won’t stop governments from doing as they always do, fighting the last war. It’s like with all these zombies at the TSA pretending to prevent another 9/11 — which no one is going to try again because it can never be a surprise again. It’s completely insane to make all travelers suffer at the hands of these nitwits for no useful purpose whatsoever.

L: But wait a minute, what you’re saying is that all three types of armies, even the militia, are going to be useless. An army can’t defend a population against pinpointed terror attacks. So, the army of the future may be no army. The nature of conflict is evolving to where you’ll have to hire highly specialized field agents to seek out and neutralize particular threats.

Doug: Quite possibly. If for some reason you wanted to go on the offensive against a particular group of people somewhere in the world, you might hire a group of specialists to go after the soft targets and paralyze the place. It’s almost undetectable, low cost, and effective. Even a militia wouldn’t be able to stop them.

L: On the other hand, only a militia would stand any chance of stopping such attacks, because everyone would be part of the defense force, and all people would have the need for eternal vigilance on their minds at some level — instead of assuming the professionals will protect them — and they’d have some training and weapons. It’d be part of the culture, as in a place like Alaska, where everyone has guns and knows how to use them.

Doug: Sure — a militia isn’t a perfect answer, but it’s the best one we’ve got. It’s interesting that that soldier who went berserk in Fort Hood a couple weeks ago was able to kill so many people. It was on a military base, of all places, where people are supposed to be trained to fight…

L: That was my first thought: why didn’t anyone shoot back?

Doug: Apparently, you’re not supposed to go around armed on a military base — just goes to show you what disarming people makes possible. It’s completely insane.

L: So… how does this apply to a current conflict like Afghanistan? A militia wouldn’t work, because a militia wouldn’t go there, but the other two types of armies can and have been sent there, and they haven’t done so well.

Doug: The only way to win is not to play. You simply can’t win against a guerilla. And the worst thing about this is that the main conflict in the coming years is likely to be the West’s unadmitted war against Islam. Since there are over a billion Muslims in the world, and since as a general rule, Muslims take their religion much more seriously than most other people around the world, and since it says in the Koran, which is supposed to be the direct word of Allah, that they must spread their religion around the world, the conflict is not going to go away. Especially since there is also a small but quite virulent minority of Christians in the U.S. that have similar views, and a rather disproportionate number of them are in the military.

It’s become a redux of the Crusades, at this point. Actually, the Crusades never really ended; they’ve just waxed and waned since the Middle Ages. Using the distributed warfare tactics we’ve just discussed, the Muslims are going to win on a cost-benefit basis. The new crusaders will attack their countries with expensive junk, and the Muslims will counter with unstoppable, low-cost violence. Even though they are largely primitive societies, they are going to win both on the attack and on the defense, creating huge chaos in the process.

You can’t conquer a primitive society. There’s nothing to destroy or hold hostage. The only way to win is to commit genocide.

Everything Western governments, and the United States especially, are doing politically and militarily is counterproductive.

L: You could defeat Germany, for example, in the past world wars, and Germany would surrender. But in these places, if you kill ten percent of the people, the other 90 will still fight you, and if you kill 90 percent of the people, the other ten will still fight you.

Doug: That’s a real problem when you’re fighting what amounts to a religious, or tribal, or race war. And just destroying materiel serves no useful purpose. If you live in a desert, a threat to blow up nearby sand dunes doesn’t deter you much.

It’s very interesting to me that during the Viet Nam War, a large part of U.S. society completely disrespected and hated the U.S. military in all its forms. Soldiers would come home and people would throw garbage at them and spit on them. They became ashamed to be U.S. soldiers. Today, things are completely different. Soldiering is an honored profession these days — and people act as though that’s the way it’s always been and always should be.

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But it isn’t. And as I said: the current institution of the military, the way it’s constituted, organized, run — everything — is an anachronism. It’s a dead duck.

L: So… You’re not anti-military — not in the way people were back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when they spat on soldiers. You’re anti-stupidity, in things military. You would favor morally constituted and effective military tools and structures.

Doug: Yes. And I feel very badly for these poor teenagers who are joining the military. Once they’re in, they learn a few good habits, like working hard and shooting straight, but once they go to a war zone, the chances are excellent that they’ll pick up some really bad habits… like shooting first and asking questions later. It’s not just the things that might happen to them, like having their brains scrambled when a high explosive goes off nearby, but the things they’ll end up doing, perhaps unthinkingly, that will weigh on them for the rest of their lives.

L: Shooting a child you mistook for an enemy soldier…

Doug: It could be an honest mistake, but you still have to live with it. The U.S.’s current military setting, with bases in 100 foreign countries, is very bad, from top to bottom. And most of the bad habits those kids learn will stick with them when they come home, because most will go to work for government agencies, especially the armed ones. Police, like soldiers, tend to be loyal first and above all to each other. Their secondary loyalty is to their employers, and only as a distant third are they loyal to the people they supposedly serve and protect. This is a very, very bad trend, these soldiers are picking up bad habits and then coming home to work in government jobs where they have power over others.

L: Heavy stuff… Not to sound coldhearted, but are there any investment implications?

Doug: Well, you could try to bet on companies that sell military hardware, but politics often takes priority over superior performance in military procurement, making it harder to predict winners. The safest and most obvious bet is to place long-term chips on higher energy prices. The war on Islam is most likely to get ugly in the Middle East, with obvious implications for oil supply. This is the sort of thing we monitor in our energy letters, Casey’s Energy Opportunities and Casey’s Energy Report. And it augurs very poorly for the U.S. economy in general and the dollar in particular.

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