America, Race and the Great War

This extended article discusses the extent to which views on race affected the fighting capacity and effectiveness of the American Army during World War One. It argues somewhat controversially that the contemporary racist views of white Americans had little effect on the fighting ability of the army.

The Harlem Hellfighters - Black soldiers from World War One

The Harlem Hellfighters – Black soldiers from World War One

American experiences during the First World War were limited by their late entry in to the war; their contributions came on a weakened enemy that was on the back foot. Nonetheless views upon race played an important role in how the United States fought; it can be seen at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. The natural discourse for a western liberal would be to assume that this would have a profoundly negative impact on the effectiveness of an army. Yet when one looks at the combat effectiveness of the racially segregated troops there appears to be little difference. This poses the question as to how far did racist views impact on how well troops of different ethnicity fought?

Part of the reason why race is perceived as to have a significant view upon how the blacks fought and therefore how America as a whole fought is due to the obscuring of the truth. The successes of black soldiers were side-lined, whilst their failures were highlighted. This has led to a discourse that ascribes race as a significant factor in its impact upon fighting. This article will focus upon the relationship between white and black Americans both at home and abroad. It will consider how white views impacted upon the tactical, operational and strategic use of black troops.

W. E. B. Du bois

W. E. B Du Bois

David Kennedy asserts that the majority of white Americans were loathsome of blacks “The average white person…whether buck private or general, didn’t want Negro soldiers.”  The strength of this sentiment meant that the American army would remain rigidly segregated along racial lines. David Levering Lewis points to a quote by W.E.B Du Bois that articulates the problem this caused; “The racial distinctions… present a formidable barrier to the existence of that feeling of comradeship which is essential to mutual confidence and esprit de corps.”

At the tactical level this attitude hindered black troops because they were predominantly led by officers who were “disproportionately recruited from white southerners.”  The fighting effectiveness at the tactical level was further compounded by the poor training black troops were given. An example of this was the lack of arrangements to train the all-black Ninety-Second division together; rather they were trained at seven widely separated camps. Moreover, they were not trained how to use artillery or machine guns on the premise that they were beyond the mental capabilities of blacks. Mistakes like this demonstrate the incompetence American leadership showed in dealing with the ‘black problem’.

W.E.B Du Bois could not decide whether the leadership were simply racists, incompetent, or both. He points to how the Ninety-Second’s black officer numbers dropped from 82 to 58 per-cent as they were “battered by a hailstorm of arbitrary transfers and courts-marshal.”  This led him to the conclusion that American officers fought more valiantly against Negroes that they did against the Germans.”  This may sound extreme but there is some reasoning that some whites disliked blacks far more than they disliked German militarism. To put as much effort in to fighting their own establishment rather than the enemy would surely have had a detrimental effect.

American leadership’s issues with balancing the need for black troops whilst also having to placate white people’s issues with the raising of these troops impacted on American operational and strategic planning. A prime example of this can be seen with the case of the Fifteenth New York Infantry at Spartanburg. John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, JR have outlined the options and their consequences available to the War Department after conflict broke out between black soldiers and white civilians in the area:

It could keep the regiment at Camp Wadsworth and face a violent eruption; it could remove the regiment to another camp, thereby conveying the impression that any community that exerted sufficient pressure could force the War Department to remove undesirable soldiers from their midst; or it could order the regiment overseas.

The decision was taken to send them overseas. From this we can see how conflicts about race gave American leadership problems that could have strategic impacts at home and therefore also abroad. The decision to send the regiment overseas calmed white fears, but must have tempted many blacks to believe that “the penalty for insisting upon full equality in the United States was a sentence to face, for a full season, the onslaught of German armies”

Another way that views on race at home influenced American prosecution of the war can be seen in the issues surrounding lynching. Ernest Allen, Jr describes the how these attacks caused disaffection and outcry from Afro-American communities;

Black public outcry against lynching, bordering on what some authorities considered to be “unpatriotic” expression in a time of war… which might well hinder prosecution of U.S. war aims overseas… the Afro-American press was nevertheless quite given to providing front-page coverage to these almost daily atrocities committed against black such stories.

The consequence of this was that the leadership “recognized that a rapid deterioration of race relations could harm civilian and military morale and that special measures to avoid deterioration might be needed.”  In the end it forced President Wilson in to making a strong statement against Lynching and mob violence. The fact that it this reached the level of the president shows how important an issue it was becoming and how it could affect the prosecution of the war.

To accuse race of being the main determinant of American strategy is to fall in to the lure of cultural determinism. Race evidently played a role, however, to assert that its role was fundamental to how America fought ignores the elements of realism within American leadership. Several points will be discussed to counter the culturally determinist approach; the directing of resources to the best suited place, the involvement of blacks in nearly all aspects of the army, and their role on the home front. However, as will be shown despite these realist tendencies race influenced the American army even when it was trying to be somewhat ‘colour-blind’

White Southerners strongly opposed the presence of Black regiments training in their regions, this sometimes boiled over in to violence, as already seen with the Spartanburg incident. Yet whilst in that case the government appeared to bend to White Southerners pressure, there was an element of realism within the army that realised that it would be necessary to have black soldiers in the South. According to Franklin and Moss “blacks were being sent to the camp, North or South, that best served the interests of the prosecution of the war.”   Thus the notion that American leadership was blinded by their racial ideology is undercut by the pragmatism that can be seen in some of their decision making. Nonetheless, the very fact that issues like this had to be dealt with shows how the racialist views distracted the authorities from focusing on pure military matters in order to deal with politico-racial issues, Franklin and Moss agree,

Henry Johnson, the first African American to be awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French, in WW I. He has also been posthumously nominated for the Medal of Honor.

Henry Johnson, the first African American to be awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French, in WW I. He has also been posthumously nominated for the Medal of Honor.

“This arrangement worked such a hardship upon the administration of the army’s program…”

A related point that has suggested is that despite their segregation black soldiers served in almost every branch of the army, from cavalry to chaplains to labour battalions. In whatever branch they were placed they were effective. The most decorated of these were these were those who served under the French, who desperate for manpower pounced upon them. The 369th United States Infantry spent 191 days in the trenches and earned the name “Hell Fighters” by the Germans. In addition the entire regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre for their efforts at Maison-en-Champagne.

Heroic actions tended to be overlooked by the military establishment, who sought to praise white soldiers and highlight black failures. This was despite the many failings of American White troops, Kennedy describes how “American gunners were ill-trained to provide the close support of a creeping barrage, and hence tended to favour long-range fire of dubious effect. Loose discipline further hampered the American attack, as small bodies of troops scattered themselves about, under no apparent control.”

Two opposing hypothesis are possible; it could imply that the black troops fought better under the French because they were more accommodating and tolerant of them. It could alternatively demonstrate the superiority of French organization and leadership in ensuring that their troops fought more efficiently, due to their greater experience. Perhaps most probable is that it was a combination of both, improved morale and better leadership would likely cause any unit to fight better. By looking at how black troops fought when divorced from the main body of the American army it is possible to see how views on race combined with ineptitude affected how well the American army could fight.

Regardless of their views, the White leaders realised how important the black workforce were in providing the resources necessary for war. The mass migration of Afro-Americans from the south to industrial centres in the north meant that it was necessary for more conciliatory tones to be made by the leadership to ensure that the industrial effort did not falter. To help ensure this Emmett J. Scott was employed as a special assistant for Negro affairs. His employment demonstrates how the White authorities recognised that some concessions would be necessary in order to prevent mass dissent in black communities. This is further affirmed through the close liaising between W.E.B Du Bois and Joel Elias Spingarn, Mark Ellis has argued that it was the relationship between these two that led to one of Du Bois most famous pieces “Close Ranks” which calls for black people to support the war “Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy…”  A cynic might suggest that the closeness of their relationship and his progressive ideals were to lead to him “being stripped of domestic duties and assigned once again to the theatre of war.”  Evidently, the authorities would only let realism on a short leash; ideology played a significant role in conditioning their thinking.

In summary it appears that race shaped America’s prosecution of the war in ways that were detrimental at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. At the tactical and operational levels came issues of how and where to train black soldiers. At the strategic level was how to employ these troops, which was compounded by issues with where and what their training was. To argue that race was the main factor in determining American strategy is misguided, general  incompetence due to lack of training, experience and failure to listen to their allies lay at the core of the issue. The reason for this is that the history of the America’s actions during World War One is littered with examples of incompetence and failures, when discussing American success at Saint-Mihiel one French officer commented “[T]he most unfortunate part of an otherwise successful operation…was that it confirmed the American High Command in an exaggerated estimate of the efficiency of the American military machine—and of their ability to control it.”  White soldiers were no better than their black counterparts. Thus trying to discern how race effected the prosecution of the war becomes more difficult. If white officers were as incompetent with white troops as they were with the blacks they disliked, it suggests that it was not their views on their racial superiority that led to the Americans fighting the war as they did but rather other factors.

Some Further Reading

J. Franklin & A. Moss, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans.

D. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society.

D. Lewis, W.E.B Du Bois: A Biography of a Race: 1868 – 1919.

J. Ross, J. E. Springarn and the Rise of the NAACP, 1911-1939.

E. Allen, “Close Ranks”: Major Joel E. Spingarn and the Tow Soul of Dr W.E.B Du Bois,

M. Ellis, “Closing Ranks” and “Seeking Honors”: W. E. B. Du Bois in World War I.

W.E.B Du Bois, Close ranks, http://www.udel.edu/History/suisman/206_08-Fall/Online-readings/dubois.pdf

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell… Homosexuals and the military.

This week Charlotte Bignell looks at the relationship between homosexuals and the armed forces.

gays-in-the-military

The unique experience of war and gender-segregated military conditions have emerged in the studies of homosexuality as being some of the greatest opportunities for homosexuality to flourish, as researched by John D’Emilio and Allan Bérubé.  Militaries tend to have strong connections with their history, which may make them lean toward conservatism; this has led some critics to suggest that the US military’s views on homosexuality are archaic and backwards. This essay will focus mostly on the experiences of male homosexuals in the US military since the beginning of World War Two. In addition, the historiography on Britain by Emma Vickers and World War One by Margot Canaday will also be explored briefly to provide a wider picture and demonstrate the scope for future academia. Whilst the essay focus may just represent one aspect of gay military history, it raises interesting ideas about the leader of the Western World’s military being outdated and out of touch with mainstream society; homosexuality has been legalised in America for some time and is arguably widely accepted, yet the military ban on homosexuals was lifted only in 2011. The topic’s contemporary relevance makes the emerging history significant as earlier experiences may been seen to have shaped today’s society and the progression over recent times can be tracked to an extent, particularly with the interesting links between scholarship. The theory of World War Two as the trigger of modern homosexuality, the impacts of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ campaign, the importance of oral histories and the issues that arose because of the Vietnam War will all need further research to illustrate the ways in which it is significant that studies of homosexuality in the history of the military have emerged.

War has been described as a unique experience; one reason for this is because of the sense of detachment from reality. For example, individuals were only surrounded by members of the same-sex for long periods of time and had to confront death daily. Such circumstances make it is possible to see why homosexual opportunities are seized and bonds are formed which are unlikely to be possible in ‘normal life’. The intimacy, closeness and comradeship are felt by both gay and straight men which obviously poses difficulties with defining homosexuals in the military. Homosexual activity may not necessarily equate to the participant being gay; the prevalence of intimate contact and affection when threatened with death is not an uncommon practice. Leon Podles notes that “in our society, men aren’t supposed to show that kind of affection except under such stress as this.”  It is important for history to look at this unique topic as it has such a precise focus, perhaps unlike previous gay histories, but also because it holds a wide range of consequences and outcomes in the military and the greater society too.

The work of Bérubé has focused on the significance of World War Two as a nationwide ‘coming out’ experience for gay Americans and for many, their military experiences during this time became “the foundation upon which they built a post-war life.”  This counteracts the thoughts of many scholars who have placed emphasis on the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969 as the trigger of the modern gay identity. The construction of urban gay communities in the 1940s owes much to the experiences of World War Two; homosexuals had had a taste of freedom and did not want to return to normal life or succumb to the post-war pressure of practising heterosexual and conventional family norms.  The urban gay centres of the US we know today, such as San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles all have strong links to the experiences of gay men in the war, who were consciously realising their own identity and searching for a like-minded community.

 

To address the theory of D’Emilio and look at why the US experience of World War Two led to the acknowledgement of gay identity and the formation of homosexual communities, the policy of homosexual screening at the draft boards needs to be explored. Bérubé developed on from D’Emilio’s earlier work on homosexuality in the history of the military by using oral histories, this demonstrates the significance of this topic as there is area for scope and the ability to expand on the scholarship. Bérubé’s oral methodology has gained considerable praise and has proved to be of huge significance to the subject because of the value of first-hand accounts which belong to a generation soon to die out; its aim is for the history not to be lost. With the increasing authority of psychiatrists in the armed forces, the homosexual screening process became mandatory for those wishing to enter the US army. By simply asking blunt questions about one’s sexual orientation, it was necessary for men to face their own sexual status which they may have not done previously in their lives.  Looking at World War Two as a time where conscious homosexual identity emerged is significant to the history of the military as it represents a turning point in the lives of many Americans and thus in post-war life, where urban gay communities increased dramatically.

The use of psychiatry in identifying homosexuals in the US military supported the notion of homosexuality as some form of mental illness. This had been a long-standing view of psychoanalysts, such as Sigmund Freud and sexologists, such as Magnus Hirschfield, but its application in military draft policy raises serious morality issues about one’s patriotism and not being accepted or wanted to represent and fight for one’s country. This will be discussed later when focusing on Vietnam and the work of Justin David Suran.

It is important to observe that the US military did address homosexuality in World War One, but did not have the resources to implement the sophisticated screening and surveillance as they did in World War Two.   Margot Canaday focuses on the dramatic change from the traditional law of sodomy as a punishable offence in the military to World War Two where the homosexual status became punishable and a reason for discharge or not recruiting in the first place.   This demonstrates significance in the emergence of studies of homosexuality in the military as it has the ability to track the transformation of the U.S over time into a more sexually conscious and sexually aware society. The change in punishment in the law from acts to status illustrates the wider society’s progression to ideas about acknowledging what you are with names and labels. The historiography suggests that to be a homosexual in World War One would have been easier than in World War Two because of the ability to go undetected and avoid trouble with the officers, compared to World War Two were homosexuals were actively sought out.

Relating back to the significance of oral histories in the study of homosexuality in the military, Vickers, who was researching homosexuality in the British Armed Forces in World War One, appeared to cause great insult to some veterans she wished to discuss the subject with. John Clarke was outraged with the claim that any of his fellow soldiers in the war may have been homosexual, as it was illegal and “un-British” . She was accused of disrespecting the sacredness of war and those who died for their country. With the abundance of research and evidence that many homosexuals did serve in the British Armed Forces in World War One and elsewhere, these accusations are likely to represent the continuance of heterosexual tradition and sexual stigma within the military. The apparent dishonour of claiming homosexuals served in the military relates back to the morality issues surrounding one’s patriotism and right to die for one’s country. The outdated beliefs of some military officials have significance to current debate, particularly relating to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT) policy. The continuance of social stigma toward homosexuals in the military is demonstrated by a retired Army chaplain, Ron Crews’ notion that DADT is a radical sexual experiment threatening the US military.

In order to identify ways in which the emergence of homosexuality in the history of the military has been significant, the contemporary relevance of the DADT policy and Bérubé’s scholarly influence cannot be ignored. DADT, implemented under President Bill Clinton in 1993 as a compromise with traditional military leaders, barred openly homosexual men and women from military service. To some, this may have appeared to be a success for the homosexual community; they were being allowed to serve in the military, as long as they didn’t discuss their sexual orientation or engage in any homosexual activity. Yet, DADT raised many issues and, it could be argued, was an even greater hindrance to the gay movement than previous policies. The experiences of gay servicemen were not improved and by essentially being forced to remain in the closet, there would have been great “costs to the individual’s identity and sense of human value.”  Joseph Rocha, who served in the US Navy from 2004 to 2007, spoke of the daily fear and anxiety of being discovered but also the grave unhappiness of lying about one’s true identity; “in order to be protected by DADT, it would require such a level of deceit and deception and such a removal of everything that is beautiful in your life – of relationships, of meaning, of friendships…that’s not human.”  Derek Burks finds that DADT serves only to highlight homosexuality undesirably in the military environment which is already characterised by heterosexuality and conservative gender norms.  This augments homosexual victimisation and diminishes the feeling of safety and confidence in one’s troop, resulting in an absence of victim reports and help seeking.  The general consensus of Steve Estes’ interviewees was that DADT “changing nothing or even made matters worse.”  The repeal of the policy and the emergence of these histories allowed gay servicemen the long-awaited feeling of acceptance and the ability to be open about one’s sexual identity without fear of discharge and the end of their military career.

By bringing homosexuality into the political sphere, DADT highlighted the outdated tradition of military law. The US military were backwards compared to US society. The implementation of this policy saw a resurgence of gay political activity, similar to the 1970s gay liberation movements. It is significant that the history of homosexuality in the military has emerged because, as seen here, it ties in with other aspects of social life, such as political protest. Another important aspect to consider is the credibility of the scholarship of homosexuality on this topic, highlighted by Bérubé’s work becoming part of contemporary debate in the 1990s. Being considered an expert on the topic, he himself was caught up in the political storm of DADT and was consulted on the issues of it.

Gay anti-Vietnam War protest and the conflicting pro-war stance of the Mattachine Society in the 1960s and 1970s is another area which highlights the significance of political links with homosexuality and the military. Suran studies the Vietnam War’s considerable impact on the lives of homosexual men and women, and criticises the other historiography of this subject for missing the conflict’s unique relevance to homosexuals and the gay rights movement of the era.  The Vietnam draft, like World War Two, forced many men to come to terms with their sexual identity because of the US Army’s screening process. Yet, times had moved on since World War Two with homosexual issues discussed more openly in the wider public and with the emergence of the gay liberation movement, homosexuality’s political connections were amplified. The US military’s controversial involvement in Vietnam spurred a split in the gay movement between gay veterans and gay activists. The Mattachine Society, which emerged post-World War Two, was a homophile organisation which sought to improve the rights of homosexuals. They were keen to assert their ability to conform to the conventional norms of society and exist as loyal, hard-working citizens. This led to pro-war attitudes among homophiles as it may have been a perfect opportunity to fit in with society and essentially prove their honour and devotion to their country. At the opposite end of the spectrum were younger, radical gay activists who were entirely opposed to conforming to the heterosexual, capitalist means behind fighting in Vietnam; they wanted no part in the masculine dominance and oppression of war.

Suran criticises D’Emilio for focusing on New York and Stonewall in the history of homosexuality, where he believes greater attention is needed in San Francisco where the anti-war protest and gay rights movements were at their height. Vietnam illustrates the significance of the study of homosexuality within military history as it highlights the individuality of homosexuals and their political views resulting in a division in the gay movement. It continues to track the changes in political views and what their implications were in the military and in wider society. Suran sees the Vietnam War as an unavoidable topic when tracing the history of homosexuality because of its formative influence of gay solidarity and urban, social protest.

In conclusion, it is of considerable significance that studies of homosexuality in the history of the military have emerged because it ties in with other areas and aspects of society, such as politics, protest, medical understanding, employment law and urban life. It provides a new perspective on how to understand the importance of war. The development of military history with new areas of relevance being explored provides historians with a richer understanding of the dynamics and experience of war. The abundance of sources in the form of draft boards, legal documents, letters, oral histories and the high standing of scholarship on the topic serve to promote and exemplify why homosexuality should be included in the history of the military. Bérubé concludes that World War Two was of great significance to the history of sexuality, as well as US and world history.  The experience of the military draft boards, and later with the political gay movements of the 1960s and 1970s, homosexuality was finally gaining public acknowledgement. Whilst, this may have excelled effeminate stereotypes as associated with the screening processes, some would argue that any public representation of homosexuality was better than none at all. A final point that should be made is that armies can be used to impose their country’s will on others, in America’s case this would be liberal democracy.  Since the majority of American civilians would consider themselves liberal and with the legalisation of homosexuality in America, it could be argued that the US army should have put American values into practice earlier than 2011 in order to be fully representative of US society. Nonetheless it is significant that homosexuality has become legalised within the US military as it represents a marked progress from their archaic laws that existed prior to this.

Bibliography

Bérubé, Coming Out Under Fire (North Carolina, 1990)

Bérubé, ‘Marching to a Different Drummer: Lesbian and Gay GIs in World War II’, in Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, George Chauncey (eds) Hidden from History: reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (London, 1990)

D. J. Burks, ‘Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Victimisation in the Military: An Unintended Consequence of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”?’, American Psychologist, Vol. 66, No. 7 (2011), pp.604-613

M. Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, 2009), ch 2, 5

G, Chauncey, ‘Christian Brotherhood or Sexual Perversion? Homosexual Identities and the Construction of Sexual Boundaries in the World War I Era’, Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, George Chauncey (eds) Hidden from History: reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (London, 1990)

J. D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities (University of Chicago Press, 1983), ch 1, 2

S. Estes, ‘Ask and Tell: Gay Veterans, Identity and Oral History on a Civil Rights Frontier’, The Oral History Review, Vol. 32, No. 2 (2005), pp. 21-47

R. Jennings, A Lesbian History of Britain (Oxford, 2007), ch 6

L. Meyer, ‘Creating GI Jane: The Regulation of Sexuality and Sexual Behaviour in the Women’s Army Corps During WWII’, Feminist Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3 (1992), pp. 581-601

J. D. Suran, ‘Coming out against the War: Antimilitarism and the Politicization of Homosexuality in the Era of Vietnam’, American Quarterly, vol. 53 (2001), pp. 452-488

E. Vickers, ‘The Good Fellow: Negotiation, Remembrance and Recollection – Homosexuality in the British Armed Forces, 1939-1945’, in D. Herzog, (ed.) Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe’s Twentieth Century (Basingstoke, 2008), pp. 109-134

L. J. Podles, review of J. Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (New York, 1994) <Online> http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=08-02-034-b

[accessed on 24/11/2012]

C. Heath, ‘Tell: An Intimate History of Gay Men in the Military’ <Online> http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/201109/dont-ask-dont-tell-gay-soldiers-military [accessed on 23/11/2012]

R. Crews, ‘Homosexuals in the Military Demand Special Privileges’ <Online> http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/sep/25/homosexuals-in-the-military-demand-special-privile/ [accessed on 23/11/2012]

K. Webley, ‘Brief History of Gays in the Military’ <Online> http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1960257,00.html [accessed on 24/11/2012]

Mali, Historical Precedents and France

Giles Longley-Cook looks at the situation in Mali and French involvement in the region.

Once again a rich Western power is involving itself militarily in the affairs of a third world nation, supplying aid and armed force to the side it deems friendly to its national interests. Time for protests, calls of corruption, anger, condemnation…

Oh wait; it’s not America intervening. OK cancel all that. No, the gung-ho power on this occasion is France. ‘What?’ you ask ‘The country we praised for not bowing to American pressure and invading Iraq with us?’

French Supporter

Yes France, not a country we consider too much militarily these days, has now involved itself, with the UK in close pursuit, in the military conflict in Mali. While not in large numbers, its troops are occupying frontline positions in the battle to eradicate Islamist rebels in the North.

With such similarities to the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan (the fight against Islamism, defence of dodgy allies, technological advantages and history of interference with the countries involved) it’s hard to see why one should be accepted as a necessary intervention while the others continue to attract revulsion as imperialist ventures. A certain level of snobbery can be detected in the opinions given of either. Europe, the old money, likes its international relations to remain small-scale, tasteful, unhindered by any vulgar overt displays of action or principle. America on the other hand is the Nouveau Riche power; brash, flashy, confidant, in-your-face. And like the quiet struggle between any elite and rising group, European disdain for the uncouth ways of our transatlantic cousins comes with a barely veiled hint of jealousy and fear.

The truth is that whatever the motivations behind and the methods used in American foreign policy, and boy can they be terrible in both, any imperialism or self-interest has come in varying degrees. If you want a record of foreign policy that bears an almost unbroken stream of both those two motivations, look no further than that of post ww2 France. Obvious early examples include the terror campaigns waged in their colonies in Algeria and Indochina in the 50’s, campaigns of a similar nature to the ones this country was waging simultaneously in our own holdings. Those wars were well-publicised and assignable to a forgotten/reviled colonial age. But with overt intervention off the table a new era has arisen in ex-French West Africa, one of covert financing, deals, non-committal support and, if putting troops on the ground is necessary, plausible deniability.

Earlier examples of such behaviour, and the worst, include the ‘friendly and fraternal’ cooperation with Jean-Bedel Bokassa, ruthless dictator of the Central African Republic, first putting him in power with a bloody coup, then propping up his vile regime, aiding his overthrow once he’d become too much of an embarrassment and finally giving him sanctuary on the French Riviera, avoiding cannibalism charges alongside other spat out despots. Since then the butcher’s bill has included French military and financial aid used to overthrow the progressive Sankara regime in Burkina Faso, reducing the nation to backward servitude, full on involvement in conflicts in Ivory Coast and Chad, and, while the rest of the world remained shamefully silent, involvement in the Rwandan genocide to save Europeans and sabotage the anti-genocide rebels.

Very rarely has the UN ever been consulted over these decisions and bare-faced self-interest, financial and political, from national levels to the personal business of presidents, has commonly been the deciding factor behind them. The recent Mali intervention is almost unique in that it is against evil totalitarian forces, but then so was the invasion of Afghanistan. The fact that one is seen as a crime and the other as reasonable has yet to be rectified.

We’re back!

After a long time off, the War Studies blog is up and running again.

In the coming weeks we will have articles discussing a variety of different topics, including; Mali, homosexuality in the military, and race issues in the American Army in World War Two.

First Article will be out tomorrow.

Enjoy

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 9,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 17 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

The problem with Assad’s aerial strategy…

Assad this week.

 

With attack helicopters and Russian fighter jets plummeting to the ground around Syria, it could be suggested that President Assad’s air campaign is faltering. In June, Defence IQ published an article called ‘What do Russian attack helicopters say about Syrian strategy?’ Three months on we ask: what has changed – and why?…

Three months ago Syria was denied a shipment of Russian MI-35 attack helicopters, which was a significant blow to the regime.

As suggested in the original article:

If the attack helicopters had arrived, it would have significantly increased the Syrian Arab Army’s capacity to conduct successful counter-insurgency operations, enabling it to root out rebels embedded deep within cities and providing aggressive cover to its own authorities on the ground.

The failure to obtain new hardware has meant that Assad has been relying on an increasingly decrepit armoury. A tweet from FSA leader, Riad al Assad, said:

Reports coming in saying 50% of Assad’s hind attack helicopters may be grounded due to lack of spare parts loyal pilots and poor maintenance.

This will be of concern to President Assad. His strategy has only occasionally launched air strikes from fixed-wing jets, but instead tends to rely on helicopters for air strikes in urban areas.

The most recent images of a helicopter being shot down will do nothing to inspire confidence in his strategy.

When fighting in COIN operations, losing control of the skies has historically marked the beginning of the end for many governments against insurgent forces, from Afghanistan to Libya. Whilst it would be bold to suggest that President Assad no longer has an aerial advantage, it is becoming apparent that he is losing his monopoly in aerial supremacy.

There are several explanations for why this could be, they are as follows::

The kit

The equipment that the Syrian army has is poorly maintained and out of date, thus making them prone to malfunction. For example, the MiG Jet that the regime claims crashed due to a technical fault rather than the skill or will of the enemy. Speaking of which…

The will of the enemy

The capabilities that the FSA have may be underestimated. As with any force that has employed guerrilla methods, the insurgent will find a weakness and then exploit it with any and all available resources. There is an obvious corollary between the growth and variety of the insurgent’s resources, and the vulnerabilities the enemy faces.

For the FSA, a significant boost to their armoury has been the introduction of (admittedly, crude but nonetheless dangerous) SA-7 anti-aircraft systems. These are handheld, heat-seeking SAMs developed during the cold war and are a genesis of the Stinger launchers used by American forces.

Social media

How can social media impact upon COIN aerial strategy? The answer is not obvious – Facebook can not shoot down a jet (…yet). However, what social media does provide is a platform to influence, convince and indoctrinate on a level previously impossible.

The FSA have learnt from other insurgent campaigns around the world and are using social media to shape the battlefield. Take Hezbollah for example; its media campaign has seen them even producing their own TV channel. In a similar way, the FSA are using platforms such as YouTube to broadcast anything that may be of strategic advantage, which is then amplified as it spreads to a global audience.

Therefore, regardless of whether or not you are cynical of the videos of jets and helicopters being ‘shot down’, their presence on global media platforms gives the impression that the Assad regime is weakening, whilst the FSA is becoming stronger and more capable. The impact that this has is not restricted to our living rooms, but has a direct impact on the battlefield, causing fear and doubt to spread. Logic would dictate that if a regime cannot maintain its instruments of control it will inevitably crumble. This is why presenting these instruments as inadequate is of such importance.

Cynicism

An alternative reason for why President Assad’s air force looks vulnerable may be because he is attempting to conserve the most valuable air warfare assets in case of a foreign intervention. If true, this decision resides in the grey space between the bold and the foolhardy. If operations in Libya are anything to go by then it is unlikely that trying to preserve some of his better, yet still old kit, will make much of a difference in preventing no-fly zones being implemented.  More than half of the planes are understood to be 30-year-old MiG-21s and MiG-23s; only 40 or so MiG-29s can be described as modern. More valuable is his ground-to-air assets that overshadow those of Gaddafi and have since caused hesitation among NATO forces where intervention is concerned. But how long can these be preserved from the rebel mob – or indeed kept in operation by a dwindling ground force?

What seems apparent from these points is that President Assad lacks the resources and the nous to implement an effective aerial COIN strategy; he and his leaders have B-grade equipment and are not using it to optimal capability. This equipment and those operating it are bending under the pressure, leading inevitably to mistakes and defections. There are certainly smarter ways to use airpower for COIN.

Many commentators agree that the Assad regime will fall eventually, with the dissection of the state now beyond the point of no return. That prediction should be taken with a degree of pessimism; with the removal of President Assad, he will of course leave behind a power vacuum. And those who fill that gap may not be as opposed to using chemical weapons as Assad has so far been.

In a recent Defence IQ article, James Farwell discusses this issue in more depth:

Potential loss of control over WMDs may pose a threat, considering the terror groups that would like to get their hands on them. Col. Riad al-As’ad, head of the opposition Free Syrian Army, says al-Qaeda is not operating in Syria. But al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has reportedly ordered followers to infiltrate the Syrian opposition. Sunni radicals associated with the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group that includes al-Qaeda, have urged fighters to go to Syria. And one should not doubt al-Qaeda’s determination to acquire WMDs – Osama bin Laden once professed that acquiring chemical or nuclear weapons is “a religious duty.”

WMDs could be smuggled into Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank or elsewhere. In the past, Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have all attempted to acquire chemical or biological weapons. In a sign of precisely how destabilizing some view this threat, Israeli officials have warned that Syria transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah would constitute a declaration of war.

The introduction of rogue chemical weapons would indeed be a game changer, and would have a huge impact on the likelihood of a quick resolution.

The use of such weapons will not bring the war to an abrupt end, but will instead expand into a far more lethal and long-term conflict. If we take Iraq as an example; the consequences of Saddam Hussein using chemical weapons against the Kurds during the Iran-Iraq War 1980 to August 1988 are still being felt today. In fact, lest we forget, the fear that Saddam possessed WMDs was premise for invasion by US and allied forces in 2003. Arguably, the lack of evidence post-invasion of these assets has in itself limited the strategic options now available in the Syria scenario.

While Assad may be slipping from power, he is still holding cards tightly to his chest. Whether he tips his hand or the rebels call his bluff remains a waiting game

The ‘Alternative’ Olympic Games 2012

With Olympics over and the Paralympics round the corner I came up with the idea of comparing some of London 2012’s greatest athletes and events to their military counterparts.

Thoughts?

100m sprint

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive and technologically advanced aircraft in the world and as the years roll on, the aviation-loving public continue to wait with bated breath as to whether this modern maverick lives up to expectations.

Akin to…

No event captures an Olympic audience imagination like the 100 metres final and, like the field of air combat, the event can put on a decisive and explosive spectacle. Headlining this year is “fastest man who has ever lived” Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, who is hoping to defend his crown. Both Bolt and the F-35 programme are commanding a huge amount of money and both have been criticised recently by some that would say they are not taking their development seriously enough, while others have questioned their ability to take off. As of 2012, doubts have surfaced about their performance capabilities, but the truth will remain a mystery until the Big Day.

Weightlifting

The powerhouse strategic airlift jet is the Ukrainian Antov A124, which can carry a massive payload of 150,000 kg. Built during the Cold War years, this soviet craft need not worry of any doping controversies that plagued Olympic athletes from the eastern bloc; it’s a mechanical brute.

Akin to…

Nicknamed “The Iranian Hercules”, Hossein Rezazadeh is an incredibly strong Olympic specimen. With the world record in the Clean and Jerk, he can lift 263.5 kg (580.9 lbs). Both man and machine hail from the East, are unusually big in size among their peers, and you wouldn’t want to see either one of them barrelling towards you down a dark alley.

Swimming

The Soviet Alfa (Lira) Class was a class of nuclear powered hunter/killer submarines. With a top speed of 41 knots (47 mph, 76 km/h) was a pure speedster – and in fact, that was all it was designed for despite being an “attack sub” with the Northern Fleet from 1977 to 1996.

Akin to…

Despite the urge to mention Michael Phelps, defending aquatic champion and winner of the most Olympic medals ever, we’re taking the low-brow road and making the very obvious reference to Ian “Thorpedo” Thorpe.  Like the Alfa-class, both athlete and boat are now permanently retired, and neither used their skills for anything more practical than sheer exhibition of power. Innovative and energy-efficient for its time, the Alfa has since lost its spotlight to sleeker US models.

Rowing

Above the surface, it’s the battle of the warship, with the fastest being the US-built Iowa Class, clocking in a maximum speed of 31 knots (36 mph; 57 km/h).

Akin to…

Rowing world records are broken regularly; in 1936 the single sculls gold medal winner Dan Barratt of the USA rowed a time of 7:30.5 minutes but today the record stands at just under a minute quicker. It’s held by New Zealander Mahé Drysdale who, like the Iowa Class, cut his teeth in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Whilst newer and more powerful ships and boats have been developed, so has their weight, meaning speed has remained relative.

Javelin

With an effective range of 2,500m, the FGM-148 Javelin anti-armour missile commands a fire and forget tandem warhead which is a High explosive anti-tank (HEAT) type model. With a cost of $40,000 (£25,500) for the missile alone, the weapon represents an expensive but effective weapon capable of destroying enemy targets worth significantly more value.

Akin to…

Erm…the javelin..? In fact, it’s a closer comparison than we perhaps care to remember. Though a sophisticated Olympic sport event, the javelin was first employed as a devastating weapon thousands of years ago by the Greeks and Romans, effectively making it the earliest form of long-range offensive projectile.

Pentathlon

The weapons a soldier use are his and her tools, and only ever as good as the person carrying them. With the Olympics being held in London the versatility of the British Armed Forces has also been on display, taking soldiers from the mud tracks in Afghanistan to the streets of the capital in security roles at venues across the UK.

Akin to…

Quick history lesson: the modern pentathlon was inspired by the pentathlon event in the Ancient Olympic Games, which was itself modelled after the skills of the ideal soldier at the time. The modern variant seeks to replicate this with testing the skills required of a 19th century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: he/she must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight with pistol and sword, swim, and run. Britain’s Mhairi Spence contends at this year’s Games following European and World titles.

Marathon

The popular P-8 Poseidon, the manned Maritime Patrol Aircraft from Boeing, is being teamed with an unmanned Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) system for the U.S. Navy, which will see 40 UAVs working in conjunction with the P-8 to circle the skies without rest. Even without that team support, each UAV has an individual endurance of 30 hours.

Akin to…

Frequently the favourites in the marathon, the Kenyan team is this year fielding Wilson Kipsang, who won the London Marathon in April in just 2:04:44. Like the BAE Nimrod MRA4, Britain’s number one marathon runner Paula Radcliffe has limped out of the competition before the chance to properly prove herself on the world stage, while world record holder Patrick Makau didn’t even make the squad.

Gymnastics

The Apache helicopter has the sort of firepower, precision, and armour that can disperse most insurgents simply by appearing over the horizon. It has become a staple of military air power and recently proved effective during the Libya campaign, not to mention Afghanistan and other irregular warfare environments.

Akin to…

Olympic gymnasts have to be agile, strong and flexible; ready to compete in any environment and prepared to tackle a number of obstacles. Just like facing-off against the Apache, when Japan’s Kohei Uchimura turns up in his leotard to the arena of conflict, the opposing forces take a deep breath and wish they’d stayed at home.

Beach volleyball

The increasing cyber threat is becoming more prevalent for government, the military and industry everyday as thousands of cyber attackers attempt to breach security barriers and firewalls. The recent announcement of another super-virus, called the Flame, has reignited fears that our national and military secrets are vulnerable to digital assailants. This summer, all eyes will be on the cyber domain.

Akin to…

In beach volleyball there’s a huge net (firewall) that each side needs to overcome if it is to break down the defences of the opposition. Both are growing activities and ones that are getting a great deal of media attention of late. And finally, the terms ‘cyber security’ and ‘beach volleyball’ are also both very, well, dare we say ‘sexy’, to their respective parties (that is in their own, very different ways).

An interview about robotic snake arms

An interview with Bristol based OC Robotics who produce robotic snake arms. Conducted at Farnborough Air Show.

Hi Tim, would you mind telling our readers about who your company is and what you do?

OC Robotics small company Bristol and we make snake arm robots, that is our core business. Robots for confined spaces, spaces where it’s difficult or dangerous for a human to get in to. You can use a snake arm robot, which is a very flexible robot to get inside, and take tools to do whatever process you need doing.

You have been around for ten years now, so you are still relatively new.  What do you think have been the biggest challenges your company has faced in that time?

The biggest challenge is money as ever.

Our first 5 years were R&D, working out how to best make and control these snake arms. Whilst in the last 5 years we have been taking these snake arms and working out how other sectors would use them and their best uses.

And the challenge is money, it is getting money to do projects with the big companies, it is challenging for a small company to get in with big companies and do some useful work.

What industries have shown the most interest in Snake Arms?

It was the aerospace industry but then the recession hit and the industry locked down its R&D budgets.

Since then, it has been in the nuclear industry, not the UK abroad, but actually it has been from abroad. Abroad they seem to take more risks in buying this equipment!

Companies have bought them and they are being used at the moment during power outages in nuclear power plants

What do you find particularly interesting/exciting about the program?

It is a unique technology, we are only company in world, and no one else does this.

We are still a small company and its fun to work in a small company with very clever people who are making this work.

What developments do you think will happen to the program over the next 10-20 years?

We see there being more nuclear applications and working closer with aerospace as well. We want to get the Snake Arm used on assembly floors on the legacy aircraft and the new design and build aircraft.

Are there any military applications for the Snake Arm?

Absolutely! We have worked with MOD and DOD on large and small Snake Arms, which is on-going

The main application is surveillance; you can use the Snake Arm to look inside suspect things.  For the MOD we made quite a large snake arm that went on to long cress vehicle sort of a small tank. The tank was used to drive up to vehicles and the snake was used to snake in through windows and under the car to search it.

What has the feedback been like?

It has been very good; we are still in contact and still talking to them on different projects

Could you provide some statistics on what the Snake Arm is capable of doing?

The Snake Arms you see here are for aerospace and have capacity of 5 kg they can carry.  The ones made for the mod were designed to pull a car! Once it suspected the car if it found it didn’t like it could hook onto the car and pull it away!

Other arms we are making are 4 half meters long with a capacity of 20 kg. But it is important to remember that the design depends on where you are using the arms, such as if using them under water or in the air.

What is the biggest arm you have made?

The largest is 4 and half meters long, 150 ml diameter, with a 20 kilo payload; it is a bit of a monster!

How can you control the arm?

There are 3 ways using it. The first is manually. You control the tip and direction, which draws a path 3D space. The rest of the arm will follow where the snake has been. So if you avoid an obstacle with a tip the rest will follow.

The middle method is teach and repeat. So you teach it manually and it will repeat that manoeuvre.

The third way is completely script driven. So you write a script in your virtual environment upload it into the snake arm program and it can move based on that.

Which way would you say is the best?

Certainly for the military it is definitely manual; as every environment is different. There is no way you could script for all eventualities.

Like the design for controlling UAV’s you use a Games controller to work the arm, why is this?

We use an Xbox controller if I am allowed to talk about brands! The reason is they cost £20 from Argos! If we were to develop our own controller it would cost us tens of thousands of pounds for something Microsoft have already done for us, they have done the ergonomics they’ve stress tested these things. Gamers throw these things around their rooms when they get frustrated! So they are very good pieces of kit and they work.

For more information please check their website out.

http://www.ocrobotics.com/