August 31, 2006

The Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies

The decline of war: A reader points me toward Ohio State professor John Mueller, who occupies the manliest-sounding academic position I've ever heard of: the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies. (Woody was the famous Ohio St. football coach who got canned for punching too many people on the sidelines. One of my most cherished sports-watching memories is the live shot of Woody reacting, poorly, to his team's late turnover in the big game against Michigan. Woody noticed the cameraman recording his agony, turned, and, live on national TV, punched the cameraman in the face. The sight of Woody's fist heading for a point just next to the lens and then the TV camera woozily broadcasting a shot of the sky was totally great. I couldn't find the incident on YouTube, but I did find this later clip of Woody punching an opposing Clemson player, starting a riot, which is what finally got him fired.)

Anyway, Doc Mueller's presumably not some panzy-wanzy pacifist commie symp, at least by the standards of college professors. But, in these days of war fever (over Iran, is it now? Or Iraq? Irap? I can't keep straight which Ira_ country is supposed to be the next Nazi Germany this year...), he's a real spoil-sport. His 2004 book, The Remnants of War, argued:

"War is one of the great themes of human history and now, John Mueller believes, it is clearly declining. Developed nations have generally abandoned it as a way for conducting their relations with other countries, and most current warfare (though not all) is opportunistic predation waged by packs—often remarkably small ones—of criminals and bullies. Thus, argues Mueller, war has been substantially reduced to its remnants—or dregs—and thugs are the residual combatants."

Sailer's Dirt Theory of War: In the past, when thinking about whom to conquer, the key fact was that most of the value of the potential conquest was in the dirt acquired. You could use the ground to raise crops or mine for valuable minerals, which made up two large parts of the economy back in the good old days. War couldn't hurt dirt. Conquering California in the 1840s, for example, did almost zero damage to the place, which turned out, immediately afterwards, to have lots of gold in the ground.

Today, though, most of the asset value of a territory is in the buildings on top of the dirt, which are very easy to blow to smithereens during the course of modern war. And if you don't raze your enemy's cities, they provide formidable makeshift fortresses for conducting resistance to your invasion. So, you just can't win. The expected profit isn't worth your trouble. You might as well stay home.

(Slaves were also an incentive for war, but they aren't too fashionable these days. Who needs them? If you are rich enough to conquer some other country and enslave its people, you are also rich enough to pay the pittance more it would cost to get immigrant indentured servants from a place like Bangladesh. The radical increase in economic inequality in the world over the last couple of centuries has made slavery less profitable.)

Thus, most fighting around the world these days is conducted less like Grant vs. Lee and more like the Corleones rubbing out the rival families at the end of the The Godfather. It's less honorable, but less destructive and more profitable.

And in a new paper, Mueller puts forward:

Six Rather Unusual Propositions about Terrorism

1. Terrorism Generally Has Only Limited Direct Effects

2. The Costs of Terrorism Very Often Come Mostly from the Fear and Consequent Reaction (or Overreaction) It Characteristically Inspires

3. The Terrorism Industry Is a Major Part of the Terrorism Problem

4. Policies Designed to Deal With Terrorism Should Focus More on Reducing Fear and Anxiety as Inexpensively as Possible than on Objectively Reducing the Rather Limited Dangers Terrorism Is Likely Actually to Pose

5. Doing Nothing (or at Least Refraining from Overreacting) after a Terrorist Attack Is not Necessarily Unacceptable

6. Despite U.S. Overreaction, the Campaign against Terror Is Generally Going Rather Well

Now, I don't necessarily agree with everything Mueller says (I sound just like somebody writing about me!), but five years after 9/11, this sounds more and more worth considering.

There's a good reason, however, that people worry so much about violence. It's the same reason the New York Times has run so many more front page articles over the last decade about potential epidemics that haven't panned out -- Mad Cow disease, SARS, and avian flu -- than it has run about car crashes, which have killed lots more people. Unlike auto accidents, violence can be contagious.

We are right to worry about violence. One reason that warfare doesn't pay these days is because the U.S. maintains an amazingly vast military establishment (here's a picture of just part of the "Boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, where the U.S. mothballs 4,000 disused warplanes, which probably cost tens of billions to build -- in 2006 dollars). We can establish air supremacy just about anywhere on earth, which pretty much means that nobody can conquer anybody without our say-so. Similarly, the 19th Century after Waterloo was more peaceful than people expected because the Britannia ruled the waves.

Eventually, new kinds of weapons may negate our advantage, but in the meantime, it can pay to take a few deep breaths before charging off to the latest war.

Uh oh, I've now noticed that Dr. Mueller has one of those "Germanic surnames" that Dana Milbank warned us about in the Washington Post yesterday, and, judging from Mueller's picture, might possibly be "blue-eyed" too. So forget I ever mentioned him. You can't be too careful these days.

In case you were wondering, "Sailer" is an old, uh, Andaman Islander name and my eyes aren't blue, they're ... cerulean, which is not at all the same thing.

See the prequel to this posting: "War! What is it good for?"

Also, see "Exactly Whom Is Iran Supposed to Invade?"

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its "Hayes" not "Hays". Jeez you ramble on like some idiot and you can't even spell a mans name right.