22 December 2009


There are two traditional approaches to writing about chivalry. One is to start with a laundry list of virtues, perhaps with a caveat that no two writers agree on which virtues make the cut and which do not, and then to provide definitions for these virtues, varying from the banal to the highly idiosyncratic. The major objection I have to this is that it tends to be unbalanced. Whether consciously or not, these are ranked in importance, and differing emphasis is placed on each virtue. This leads to self-defeating arguments like the SCA's perennial 'how important is prowess?' debate--self-defeating because to take any one virtue and consider it alone is removing the context of these other virtues, and hence to loose sight of "chivalry" in favor of "courtesy" or "prowess" or whatever virtue is under discussion. Context, it seems to me, matters at least as much if not more than any one virtue. To take any virtue, no matter how noble, to an extreme, is mentally unhealthy. To discard or dismiss as "not really important" any virtue is to render the debate no longer about chivalry, but about a code of ethics that has chivalric elements.

The other is a historical overview, beginning, perhaps, with an etymology of the word "chivalry". The starting point of these arguments tends to be Raymond Llull or one of the other 13th or 14th century writers, or perhaps Le Morte d'Arthur, or whatever. Again, I feel this lacks context. To answer "what is chivalry", you have to start more than a bit further back.

So this, I propose, is the outline. The role of the warrior in society, pre-chivalric concepts, roots of chivalry, development after the fall from supremacy of aristocratic shock cavalry, and then and only then, the components thereof and modern objections to chivalry. There is little new here, and if I stop to acknowledge every single source for what I'm about to write, the essay would comprise mostly footnotes. Further, it is necessarily imprecise. There are exceptions to nearly every single statement I make. I generalize in order to make a point.

That any society requires a warrior class is more or less self-evident. Except for a handful of periods of technological development, the expense of military equipment and the requirement to devote a great deal of time to developing the skill necessary to use that equipment tended to argue in favor of professional warriors or at least a class that primarily thought of themselves as warriors first and perhaps farmers or land-owners second.

Another general requirement historically has been a code of conduct for these warriors. Viewed purely pragmatically, unrestrained warriors kill productive taxpayers and this is not good for any society. Viewed psychologically, the requirement for warriors to be effective in combat and then reintegrate back into society without going bugnuts requires a moral framework for their violent actions which places them in the context of the greater society's views. So -- any society which is not utterly isolated or extremely short-lived has warriors and a code of ethics for these warriors.

Many early societies managed their military class with a combination of divine sanction and the will of a semi-divine king. Other relied on personal loyalty to a leader, or coercion by other elements of a divided society. Each of these has weaknesses, but worked well enough.

Essentially, the approach that works best lies in a societal understanding of 'honor'. Defining 'honor' is a complex exercise, but let us say that in general, it is a societal understanding of the trustworthiness of a person based upon the consistency of their actions. The Greeks had an understanding of 'honor' that would be expressed as 'arete', best translated 'excellence'. Reverence for the gods, physical excellence, mastery of public speaking, courage in battle, all these concepts, and more importantly a balance among them, were elements of arete. I will return to this concept later.

What was interesting about the Roman view of honor was the central place held in it by legal institutions and the law. To be a Roman, to express virtus and honoris, was a complex thing, but centered around respect for the paterfamilias, or family head, for the res publica, the "public thing," and the laws created by the Senate and Assembly. This carries over into the behavior of generals and common Soldiers alike.

The scramentum sworn by the Republican legions was simple:

"to follow the consuls to whatever wars they may be called, and neither desert the colours nor do anything else contrary to law."

And to do anything less was punishable. The original legions of the early Republic were filled by an early form of conscription. Every able-bodied land-owning free man of Rome was a potential Soldier, required to maintain arms even if not under arms at a given moment. Fighting in defense of family and property, they stood against every opponent and if not always victorious, at least they didn't quit. Unfortunately, conscript armies are useless and unenthusiastic about distant wars for Empire, so under the seven-times Consul Gaius Marius, landless men and foreigners were permitted to be enrolled, and many of these became long-service professionals.

These new Legions were still free men, but now fighting for land and pay, and in the case of foreigners and men from recently conquered provinces, for the legal privileges that accrued to their families for enrollment as a citizen. Unfortunately, the Senate repeatedly attempted to avoid paying the retirement benefits--primarily expressed as a land distribution. Instead of giving it to otherwise penniless veterans, they preferred to give land to their supporters and followers. They forgot that at the end of the day, legal maneuvering only matters if the men with swords respect it. By the time of G. Julius Caesar, Legions were bound primarily by personal loyalty to their generals because the Senate had repeatedly betrayed the promises made to the Legions.

Chivalry never entered into the conduct of Roman wars any more than it did the wars of the Athenians. Slaughter, frightfulness for the sake of frightfulness, massacre, and enslavement were tactics of choice because they were effective. When fighting their fellow Romans in the civil wars that racked the Republic during the death-throes thereof, the only example of restraint was the prisoners were usually enlisted into the armies of the victor, as their only loyalty at this point was to the payroll. This is as obviously unhealthy and insupportable as possible.

What the Empire brought to the situation was a new source of honor. The Empire, and more specifically the Emperor, were considered to be as sources of both material honors and honor itself. Loyalty to the Emperor replaced loyalty to the "People and Senate". This meshed well with the influx of Germanic tribesmen who crossed the Rhine in small groups in order to take advantage of this source of honors.

And now a word on these German tribesmen whose concepts of honor were shortly to become terribly important to the development of our nascent chivalric concept.

When clever people talk about the opposition between a 'culture of honor' and a 'culture of law' they could be speaking directly to the difference between German and Roman culture. Roman culture refined their concept of honor to include a subordination of personal interest to the process of law--and by law, they meant the legislative acts of the Senate or the Emperor, depending on whether we speak of the Republic or the Empire. German culture had little legislative law, but a series of customs and traditions which served the purpose--and which did not supersede individual honor considerations.

What the Germans DID have was a concept of honor which was quite effective in producing warriors, if not at subordinating their personal honor to a group honor necessary to produce disciplined Soldiers. The basic elements of Germanic honor were courage, ferocity in battle, and loyalty to the chief. The chief was obligated to provide for his warriors in acknowledgment of their honor and worth, but most in material goods. Food, drink, gold, and silver were the payments to a warband. The Viking sagas show this in many ways, not least of which is the kenning 'ring-giver' as a commonplace for a chief or king. Also notable is the explicit statement that the gifts of mead and meat from the chief entitled him to the loyalty of the warband.

What is interesting is that neither Germanic honor culture nor Roman legal culture as applied to the Emperor was completely sufficient for the satisfaction of the Soldier. The first element to fill the spiritual gap was the cult of the Emperor and the cult of the genius of the Legion. The aquilla, the sacred Eagle of the Legion was originally simply a reinforcement of the state cult of Jupiter, as the bird was sacred to him as a Sky-god. Eventually it sort of transmigrated into a cult of its own, where the aquilla was considered the sacred center of the Legion. Alongside the veneration of the Emperor, this provided a spiritual focus for the loyalty of the Legions.

Eastern mystery religions began appearing in the first century AD among the Legions. The first to become widespread was the cult of Mithras. Whatever the nature of the cult among the Indo-Iranian peoples of his homeland, he was somewhat Hellenized and portrayed as a soldier god, slayer of demons and invincible in battle. His cult promised strength and victory, and an afterlife for his followers. The rituals of the cult were secret, but it included numerous officers and some rank and file Soldiers.

Eventually, however, the limited appeal of the cult of Mithras doomed it to failure alongside the various other pagan cults, and by the early 4th century AD the Empire was largely Christian. Christianity always had a complex and somewhat conflicted relationship with the Empire and by extension, the Army. Some writers advocated pacifism, or proclaimed military service incompatible with faith.

This is not the place to lay out completely Christianity's occasionally contradictory stances on warfare. What is important is the synthesis that was reached by the late 4th century, by which time the Empire was solidly Christian and the majority of the Germanic tribes moving in contained large elements that had been converted, many of them not to Chalcedonian Christianity but to the Arian form thereof.

Essentially, Christianity transformed from a despised minority which engaged in passive resistance to state-sponsored pagan cults (occasionally not-so-passive, see St. Theodore the Recruit's statement on the cult of Cybele) to the state religion. Much as with a political party that goes from opposition to ruling party, that presents new issues and challenges which cannot be addressed solely from the standpoint of the desert ascetic or monastic pacifist, and Christianity had to answer the challenge of the Soldier.

Part of the answer came in veneration of military saints, and the elevation of the position of the Emperor to one not divine in and of himself, but anointed by God to shepherd the faithful and care for their temporal cares, almost counterpart of the Church which addressed the spiritual cares.

While Christianity was achieving this position and formulating this synthesis, the whole system was in the process of collapsing. Between the death of the Emperor Constantine Isoapostolis and the return of the Western regalia to Constantinople by the Odoacer, a mix of Germanic and steppe nomads came screaming across the Rhine and thorough the Balkans and tore up the western half of the Roman Empire. This is not the time or place for a complete history of the collapse of the western Empire, the survival of the eastern, nor the establishment of the Germanic kingdoms of the Franks, Visigoths, Saxons, Ostrogoths, Burgundii, et al.

However, the points that must be emphasized are these. First, the invasions were unmitigated disasters in terms of economic development, demographic decline, societal organization, and urbanization patterns. In short, the barbarians killed people, disrupted trade, burned cities, and destroyed a complex system of government. The second is that the Church was the only element of society organized above the local level that survived. Land owners, city leaders, and other elements of the Roman "powerful" did the best they could, but they had little impact beyond their immediate surroundings. The third element to emphasize is the overwhelming superiority of Roman culture, not least in terms of prestige.

Now, there is a lot written about what exactly happened over the next couple centuries, all of it speculative. It happened in different ways in different places, but here's the general overview.

The Germans discovered that once they overthrew the government, they inherited that government's problems. Collection of taxes, enforcement of laws, etc. The problems of defense of a piece of territory are very different from the problems of raiding into a territory. So these raiding tribes led by chiefs and war leaders relying on prestige and proven success in battle became kingdoms led by kings--hereditary kings who needed a source of legitimacy. The solution tied into the previous points about the surviving Roman 'powerful', the Church, and the superiority of Roman culture.

The Germans had to adopt and adapt those elements to create societies stable enough to survive. They had to co-opt the Roman aristocracy and their ways. They used the trappings and ceremonials associated with 'Romanitas', and most importantly, they relied on Church sanction to provide legitimacy.

Along the way, the Franks revived the idea of European unity under an Emperor annointed by God--but that unity was imposed at sword-point and within a few generations collapsed, reverting to a state of anarchy in France and Germany where few organized political units above the local existed. The Carolingians are primarily important to the history of chivalry for the legends produced about them, some of which have as much relation to reality as do the Arthurian legends.

At the same time, there was a military revolution underway, which ran from the early 9th century to the mid-11th. The rise to military supremacy of heavy shock cavalry is the single most important fact that created a need for something like "chivalry" to come into existence.

A heavy shock cavalryman, let us call him a "knight" since that is the label under which he survives in the modern imagination, is a complex weapon system. He must be equipped with heavy armor to survive arrow fire and to survive in close combat with his equals. His horse must be of a breed capable of carrying, with speed and dexterity, the weight of an armored man. Then the horse requires training to respond quickly and efficiently, and not to be frightened by things that horses have thousands of years of instinct to flee. The man also requires years of training to become proficient at handling various weapons while on the back of over half a ton of not terribly bright animal in a chaotic environment where people are trying their best to kill him. An ethos for a man like this must provide an impetus for him to strive to hone that skill, because without it, he's just a very expensive fool who will soon kill himself by falling off a horse.

What you should see when you see a picture of a knight is a weapon system which takes a small fortune to equip and years to hone to the point where it is a a net gain in battle. Economically speaking, you aren't going to ever see many of them, but the central fact of Western European warfare for centuries was that only highly skilled, highly-disciplined infantry could stand in front of them without crumbling. Another requirement for this ethos is some sort of mechanism to control his violent impulses because quite frankly, without it, nothing much but a group of his peers can stop him.

For centuries, there was little written upon such philosophical topics as a warrior's credo. But by the time of composition of the great chansons and the Arthurian tales, we have a nearly full-formed concept of knighthood. So what does that knight believe?

He has the Germanic regard for loyalty to a leader, but this is generally transferred not merely to his immediate warleader, but up the chain to the king, who has assumed the Roman Emperor's role as the font of honors and indeed of honor. From the crude role of one who hands out silver armbands and gold rings to warrior sitting around his mead-hall, the king has assumed the legal legitimacy of the Emperor and hands out offices, titles, lands, and accolades.

He is also a Christian, and believes that God has blessed the warrior who acts in accord with the precepts of this ethos. What is new about Christianity is that the Church now extends over the territory of a number of political entities, and provides an overarching framework in which to understand their relations. Previously, and for centuries more in the East, "Christian" and "Roman" were synonymous, and to be one implied the other. But in the West, this is replaced by the notion of "Christendom," the domain of Christianity wherein, though the various kings and nobles may squabble and war among themselves, there was a view that they were all members of a transnational community. This concept was most pronounced among the clergy and the new warrior class who defined their governing ideology in terms of Christianity.

Another new element in this chivalry regards the role of women. Women played little role in the warrior ethic of societies past, but somehow made it into the ideals of chivalry. In the Illiad, Helen is primarily a prize which provides an excuse for the Trojans and Greeks to display heroic prowess. In Tristan and Isolde, the men essentially almost reduced to foils for the women. Guinevere is as much a driving force of the Arthurian legend cycle as is Arthur.

Now, at this point, I should point out that when dealing with an abstract ideal like "chivalry," no two authors agreed entirely. There were differences of emphasis, and the various archetypes of knighthood presented in Arthurian and Carolingian legend cycles emphasized various aspects in themselves. Gawain, Galahad, and Lancelot were different presentations of this ideal of knighthood, but all recognizably part of that ideal.

The various treatises on chivalry written by authors both knightly and clerical had only a relatively stronger grip on reality than did the poetic cycles. Some knights gave only a passing mention of Christianity. Some clerics wanted to make knights into armed monks. Neither of those groups of authors put as much weight on the romantic side of things as did the troubadors. But the core values of chivalry were essentially unchanged, only the emphasis.

At the end of the period wherein the knight was a dominant element of the military landscape, there is a resurgence in interest in topics of chivalry. As with all social movements staring obsolescence in the face, it was idealized and romanticized, even as warfare came to be dominated by common men wielding pikes and firearms. The old aristocracy became military officers, landowners, and officeholders, and the institution of knighthood became just another prize to be dangled in front of courageous seamen, clever inventors, successful merchants, and faithful bureaucrats. All sorts of fatuous nonsense was written at this time, a practice which continued strong though the Victorian period and to an extent today. What was interesting was that the appeal of these Chivalric ideals continued undimmed even as the daily reality of the aristocratic class and the upcoming middle class diverged further and further from the issues and pressures that originated the concept.

A potential death-knell for the ideas of chivalry came in the Enlightenment in the form of the idea, most famously expressed in the founding document of the United States, that all men were created equal. Chivalry is absolutely aristocratic. The loyalty required was expressed vertically up, horizontally, and vertically down. This requires a hierarchical society. Where you find chivalry surviving in an environment where all men are legally equal, you find a new idea, one that is true to the earliest forms of chivalry. Quite simply, it proclaims that instead of the hereditary aristocracy of birth, there is a natural aristocracy, one that is a meritocracy. This idea proclaims that in order to be a gentleman, all one has to do is to be a gentleman. Now, this has some roots in the origins of chivalry, wherein what one had to do to be a knight was to be a heavily armored shock cavalryman with the appropriate equipage, sufficient mounts and remounts, and a reputation for trustworthiness. In short, honor.

Now ends the historical maundering, and comes discussion of modern chivalry. I hereby change authorial voice and become, not the pedantic narrator of historical happenings, but the impassioned advocate of a modern chivalry--and a quite specific one at that.

Defining chivalry is not terribly easy. At it's core, chivalry is a code of ethics for a warrior. The chivalrous man need not be a professional of violence like your humble author, but must have the capability to engage in violence to protect his rights, the rights of those to whom his owes loyalty, and those who cannot defend their own rights for what ever reason.

There are a wide variety of lists floating around which purport to list "the chivalric virtues," between four and two dozen in number. This is a historical phenomenon. The four cardinal virtues, eight Beatitudes, the seven virtues which oppose the seven deadly sins, the other seven "Heavenly Virtues" from Psychomachia, the "seven plus one" which adds Justice to the list from Psychomachia, Leon Gautier's nine chivalric commandments, the Duke of Burgundy's 12 virtues for the Order of the Golden Fleece, the seventeen point code ascribed to Charlemagne, etc.

Part of the problem with the purely theological lists (Beatitudes, Seven Virtues, Seven Heavenly Virtues) is that they are not chivalric per se. They simply are Christian. Chivalry is rooted in Christianity, but it is specifically a warrior code. If what makes a moral man, a good carpenter or a good farmer, is adherence to the Seven Virtues, then so be it. A good knight should adhere to them as well, because they are the foundation of moral behavior. But where in the seven virtues of faith, hope, love, prudence, temperance, courage, and justice is the command to know which end of the sword to hold? Loyalty to one's leader unto the death? Defense of the weak? For that matter, where is the courtesy owed to a lady, from the courtly love tradition?

I propose to split the concept of chivalry into three mutually supportive categories which provide different lenses through which to look at defining chivalry. The warrior tradition, the pious tradition, and the courtly tradition all play into defining what is "chivalry". Each knight weights the various traditions differently, but all are knights. I'm not going to define in laborious detail the majority of these terms because, well, we all know what courage and the like are.

Viewed through the lens of a knight who is a warrior first, chivalry hearkens back to its roots as a Germanic code. His loyalty is to his liege, to his king, to his fellow warriors, and to those he is sworn to protect. Prowess and courage are the two virtues which make him effective on the battlefield. Honesty for him comes in giving frank advice to his leader, as well as eschewing those ruses of war judged illicit. He is generous with a defeated enemy as well as to his supporters and merciful to those most affected by combat--the civilians impacted by his army's march. Justice comes into play in his role as a leader, for no one can lead effectively who is suspected of favoritism or who fails to walk the tightrope between too harsh and too lenient. Finally, franchise to him means consistently display the noble bearing and other virtues expected of a leader of men.

The pious tradition approaches chivalry as does a monk his ascetic rule. His faith is the defining characteristic of this view of chivalry. He exercises those virtues common all men, but with more expected of him due to his position. The traditional virtues of faith, hope, love, temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence are valued simply because they are the right thing to do. This view defines loyalty slightly differently from the warrior, extending it not only to his lord, but to all those of his coreligionists--or even all people who are not actively transgressing against the law, temporal or divine. Most especially does this version of chivalry emphasize those unable to defend themselves regardless of whether they are those whom the knight has sworn to defend in particular. The prime chivalric weakness is pride, or vainglory, and this view actively encourages development of humility to guard against it.

The courtly tradition emphasizes the gentility of chivalry and behavior towards women. Courtesy is the largest element of this view. Patience plays into it as well, for relationships develop at their own pace. Prudence, temperance, and dare I say it, chastity are what keeps licit (though furtive) courtly relationships from developing into illicit adultery or sexual assault. Finally, prowess, courage, largesse, and the noble bearing of franchise all are directed towards being the sort of man worthy of the affection of a lady rather than ends in and of themselves.

I argue that no man can call his creed 'chivalry' unless it takes in account these three aspects, these three lenses and makes sense viewed through all three. Of course, each man weights the various virtues differently in his heart. Some may feel that these various virtues may be condensed, or repeat themselves with different terms. Others may have simply have different ways of expressing themselves on this subject. But for the term 'chivalry' to have meaning apart from simple 'morality' or 'courtesy' or other words, all these elements must be present.

The only virtue I will address in detail is franchise, because it is commonly misunderstood and the common dictionary definition helps us but little. A definition of "enfranchisement" as "freedom from political subjugation or servitude" pushes us in the right direction. The OED is quoted in another places as listing "Freedom, immunity, privilege and as an attribute of character or action; Nobility of mind; liberality, generosity, magnanimity or Freedom or license of speech or manners." among its definitions.

Freedom, and nobility of mind. The word is derived from Frankish roots, and could be parsed then as "the frank-rights" or those rights expected to be exercised by a free man of the tribe. The meaning obviously evolved over the years and became associated not merely with freedom, but with nobility. Some writers engage in what I consider to be a cop-out definition, which is to list a series of virtues and then say, "franchise is exercising all of these virtues consistently." No, that's chivalry. You cannot define chivalry as exercising the chivalric virtues, including franchise, and then define franchise as exercising the chivalric virtues. It's circular.

Nobility of heart, to me, includes several aspects. First, almost a prerequisite for the later aspects, is to internalize chivalry. Chivalry should be something you are, not merely something you do. This brings forth what could be called nobility in bearing. Part of this is refusal to be degraded from one's estate. Historically, this was understood in terms of a knight not engaging in manual labor or other things 'beneath his estate'. In American culture, manual labor, especially skilled manual labor, is not seen as particularly degrading but other things are. Part of it is in how you carry yourself. It's difficult to explain, but we all know it when we see it. Confidence and nobility, without overdoing it and crossing into strutting swagger. Forthright frankness without arrogance. It is terribly easy for this attitude to slide right over into vainglory and pride, and I should repeat that this is not the same thing either. Franchise is not something you can assume or learn, but something grown into.

There seem to be a few prevalent modern reactions to the notion of chivalry. One is to proclaim it "undemocratic", a tool historically used by the upper class to repress their economic and social inferiors. This view does not have to take a Marxian bent, and may be held by people sincerely devoted to equality. It is "outdated", "reactionary", and not politically correct. One school of critics berates it for an outmoded view of women, another for its unashamed cult of violence. To all these, I concede the point. Indeed, I go further. Chivalry is, by its nature, firmly rooted in the past. While acknowledging the realities of present, an adherent to chivalry answers that human nature does not change, so new challenges are really old ones in new clothing. Chivalry is still the answer for many of these challenges. Further, as chivalry enshrines the notions of justice and obedience to king and law, it is rooted in the same impulses which inspire seekers of "equality". Chivalry challenges the notion of equality because it implies that some are chosen for a higher purpose--but a chivalry which admits the aristocrat of deeds rather than the aristocrat of birth is egalitarian in its call. It is humanity which is not equal to the challenge.

Worse for chivalry, or any other form of virtue, is the modern form of false egalitarianism wherein the fool is equal to the wise man, the incompetent equal to the master of his craft, the coward to the brave, the unjust to the just, the thief to the honest man, the lazy to the industrious. This is neither chivalrous, nor just, nor is it an attitude conducive to the discouragement of vice nor the promotion of virtuous conduct. A society which acts in this manner will soon find its brightest lights dimmed--and eventually all the lights will go out. Unfortunately, this does seem to be the guiding ideology of large parts of American society, most perniciously the educational system. It is the guiding creed of these institutions that the bully and the bullied pupil who sticks up for himself are on a level, and are both punished for "fighting".

Another response is to embrace "chivalry" but then to redefine the word so that it means something else entirely. One person will say that chivalry consists of doing this one thing, or that another "isn't as important". Another will introduce modern tap-dancing like "each person defines it for themselves".

To water down chivalry, to remove any of the three strains that comprise the chivalric tradition is leave yourself with a code of conduct which may be "based on" or "inspired by" chivalry. It may even be a highly moral code of conduct in keeping with the highest ideals of Christian piety--but if it can be practiced by a pig-farming serf or a monk in his cell, it is not chivalry.

Another crippling error in the modern understanding of chivalry is an extreme reluctance to judge. Chivalry requires justice. Justice, as a virtue, requires judgment, determination of what is just and what is unjust. The modern American desire not to condemn or criticize even that which is blatantly evil is an enemy of chivalry.

Another final modern enemy of chivalry is the credo of the American Whiner, "I'm doing the best I can". Closely allied is the "I'm good enough" meme.

To answer that I return to the very beginning of the essay and answer with the Greek notion of arete--excellence. Both these fallacies presumes that a man knows his own limits and can never exceed some mystical boundary upon his prowess. By striving for arete, a man may exceed what he thought was 'the best he could do'. And it is never satisfied because perfect excellence is an ideal, hence unobtainable in this life, and so provides a guidepost for striving until death. The man who stops striving, growing, learning, and furthering his pursuit of arete is dead and his soul has left him, regardless of whether or not he happens to still be walking around on his feet.

Finally, one could note that many modern Americans are not Christian and so some of the discussion of the religious roots above does not apply. I answer that it matters not. A non-Christian can be chivalrous--but chivalry cannot be divorced from its roots. Christian ideals can be practiced and held as personal ideals without necessarily adopting a Trinitarian theology. In some cases, chivalry almost provides a sufficient replacement for religion--and that's not unlike the actual historical practice either. But the ideals of chivalry don't change with the wind.

Chivalry is a difficult ideal, and no man living or dead has achieved perfection in its path. But nobility and glory are in the path, not the destination. I leave this with one final thought from the author of a 14th century treatise on the subject.

"He who does more is most worthy" -- Sir Geoffroi de Charnay

20 December 2009

Killing, Just War, and Chivalry

I have a lengthy post percolating on the topic of chivalry. Unusual content for this blog, but that's my prerogative.

Unfortunately, the state of society is such that a discussion of chivalry actually requires a previous discussion on violence. I presume my audience is familiar with the metaphor of sheep, sheepdog, and wolf presented by David Grossman. If not, read it first.

You see, the common, ordinary decent American (never mind the even more 'civilized' European or Canadian) has such an overwhelming aversion to violence that he cannot be chivalrous. Further, he cannot appreciate the existence of chivalry in its entirety. The culture of the victim shows in every place. Soldiers, we professionals of bloodshed, are described as heros for our sacrifices and casualties, not for our prowess at arms and victories. Passive resistance is hailed as morally superior to armed revolt regardless of the tyrant. Self defense against criminals is legally prosecuted and socially disapproved as 'vigilantism'.

I understand the ability to coolly shoot down a man or cut him down in the heat of battle is a minority attitude. Only certain people can engage in violence when not personally so enraged that they can be killed out of hand by anyone with a head on their shoulders. This is not laudable in and of itself--nor is the lack of this ability morally superior or inferior to its presence. This ability can be trained, but not easily. Situations can make it easier to find this ability. It simply is, and like any other attribute, its use makes it morally licit or illicit.

"In the various occurrences of life we find differences which exist according to different situations, for example: it is not lawful to murder, but in war [it is] both lawful and worthy of approval to destroy the adversaries. Thus at any rate, those who are bravest in war are also deemed worthy of great honors, and monuments of them are raised proclaiming their successes; that the same thing, on the one hand is not lawful according to some circumstances and at some times, but, on the other hand, according to some other circumstances and opportunely it is permitted and possible." -- St. Athanasios the Great

Now, a person who cannot exercise violence cannot be chivalrous. This is simple logic--chivalry is a code regulating violence, determining where it can be used, against what targets, on what grounds, for what reasons, and when the violence must be halted. A person who cannot bring themselves to strike another human being with lethal intent may be courageous, morally correct, virtuous by any other measure, but he may not be chivalrous. A priest or monk may be a holy man, well qualified to advise a warrior on chivalry, but he cannot live that code himself, Alexander Peresvet aside.

"It behooves you, lord, to have a care for the lives of the flock committed to you by God. Go forth against the heathens; and upheld by the strong arm of God, conquer; and return to your country sound in health, and glorify God with loud praise." -- St. Sergius of Radonezh

But a true enemy of chivalry and virtue in general is the person whose aversion to violence is such that in order to cover his own insecurities, he attacks (in writing, speech, or actions) those who can and will use violence to protect him. This insidious breed of vermin is not only a serf, kept free by the exertions of his betters, but wishes to drag all around him down to his own level. He is devoid of those moral qualities which keep a free peoples free, and cannot even choose the lesser path of security. He must, necessarily, be a sheep and submit meekly to the wolf, moralizing and complaining the whole way, but crippling the flock by disallowing the sheepdog to kill in his defense. Understand, the difference between a wolf and a sheepdog is a code of honor, of professional ethics, of chivalry. Without that system of values, whether encoded in the UCMJ or picked up as a subtext of the epic of Beowulf, there is no distinction in behavior. That code is the only protection for those incapable of violence from the wolves and sheepdogs alike. A wolf who absorbs that code and makes it his own transforms into a sheepdog, albeit one a little rough around the edges. Conversely, there is no worse wolf than a sheepdog who has lost the faith.

"Duty, Honor, Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.

"The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule." -- General Douglas MacArthur

So where is a man to stand on this question of violence? The shortest and most to-the-point answer comes from the Catholic Catechism, I think. "The use of force to obtain justice is morally licit in itself."

So we have established that violence is 'morally licit' in certain circumstances. What are those circumstances. Setting aside obvious cases of self-defense, and also setting aside the individual criminal corralled by the police or concerned citizens, we head directly down the path to considering warfare--the proper province of warriors. When, then is warfare justified? When is it moral to destroy the works of man and the lives of your fellow human beings in cold blood, deliberately, and where ever they are found?

This discourse actually began in my mind when reading President Obama's speech in Oslo to the Nobel Prize committee. What a shock to his more foolish supporters and to his European slavering faithful!

"But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."

Now, I give that speech about a B-, because he loses points for the flaw within it. I noticed it, but did not give the issue a great deal of thought until I read this article which points out the error in the first assumption, the presupposition of war as something which is the last resort. I was immediately reminded of a quote from a Science Fiction author.

"Only the incompetent wait until the last extremity to use force, and by then, it is usually too late to use anything, even prayer." -- H. Beam Piper

Let us back up and begin from the beginning in regards to Just War. Only by showing what Just War is can we address the error introduced by misstatements such as, "war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence."

Note on sources and methods: Though an Orthodox Christian, I find the West has done more and more precise delineation upon the subject, so I borrow freely from Catholic tradition on the subject.

"Glorious and Just Lord, Great and Powerful God, God Eternal, who created heaven and earth, and who determined the boundaries of the peoples; Thou commandest people to live without oppressing other countries. O Lord, judge those who offended me. Smite those who set themselves against me and come to my aid with arms and shields." -- attributed to St. Alexander Nevsky

First, let us demonstrate the necessity for a theory of just warfare. As warfare is a necessary fact of human existence (a cursory reading of history will demonstrate the point, exercise is left to the student), it follows that a means to determine the moral way to fight it is necessary. Without moral guidelines, there is no curb on the means or methods--and the natural tendency is to descend to depths of murder, terror, and indiscriminate destruction in order to overawe the enemy with ferocity. This is a seductive temptation even for the most moral and chivalrous of men who are faced with the damage inflicted by enemies. Yet this is not justice, but bloody rage and immoderate passion--enemies of virtue and fountains of vice. Without guidelines for moral conduct of war and differentiation between moral and immoral war, men who fight these wars become monsters, threats to others and threats to their own souls. To argue that war is evil on the face of it is to suggest that as any combat is evil, one may as well descend immediately to the depths of hell. To argue that as victory is a good thing any act taken towards victory is justified by the ends is to introduce the fallacy that the ends justify the means. Because of the horrific nature of the means available to the warrior, because of the passions aroused by combat, and because of the mental damage inflicted by combat, this is both tempting and as dangerous a notion as could be introduced. Violence scars the soul. Illicit, immoral violence scars the soul to a greater degree. Enough damage and the warrior becomes wolf, freed of the constraints of the code that holds him tighter than any leash and which he must accept in order to protect those around him who cannot defend themselves any other way.

Just War theory frequently is divided into jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Justice in starting a war and justice in conducting a war. A Soldier is most concerned with how to fight, a statesman with when to fight. President Obama spoke largely to jus ad bellum, speaking of the traditional tests to determine whether or not to resort to force of arms.

The Catholics lay it out thus:

"1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

3. there must be serious prospects of success;

4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition"

A fifth criteria is frequently included in this discussion, which is that war must be fought on behalf of an a legitimate authority. That becomes complicated when speaking of a rebellion--I will address it below.

These conditions are excellent criteria. The first criteria speaks for itself. Someone who is merely annoying is not a legitimate target for war. Hugo Chavez is a pompous twit, but he lacks the ability to inflict lasting grave harm upon the community of nations.

The third is illustrated by the example of St. Alexander Nevsky. He was faced with a Mongol horde capable of wiping out the Russian people, and having demonstrated both ability and willingness to engage in genocide in previous campaigns in central Asia. He determined to his satisfaction that that the Russian states could not withstand this invasion, but that the Mongol would be satisfied with payment of tribute and would leave the Orthodox Church in Russia in peace. At this time the Mongols were heathens who worshipped the Blue Mighty Heaven and had a reputation for toleration of religion. He applied this test, and the mighty warrior who had humbled the Germans and Swedes--coming with fire and sword to destroy the Russian people and Church--went to the Mongols, declared his submission, and delivered tribute.

Later resistance to the Mongol was catalyzed by the conversion of the Golden Horde to Islam and the subsequent persecution of the Church and demands of conversion, as well as the increased strength and unity of the Russian people. But I digress.

Now, this test is not, in my opinion, absolute. Some things are insufferable and must be resisted even if resistance is utterly hopeless. The prime example is the resistance of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto against the entire armed might of the German regime. They planned as best they could. They stockpiled what weapons they could. They took every step the could have been reasonably taken to maximize their chances of success. But every one in the Ghetto knew that there was only one hopeless foregone conclusion barring a breakthrough of the Red Army to the Ghetto. But the situation had become hopeless, so to go down fighting was the determination of those inside.

These two criteria are easily understood and rarely confused. The second and fourth are easily confused.

The requirement that other means have been shown to be impractical or ineffective does not mean that violence is indeed a 'last resort'. This is determined by the ground truth of any given situation. Negotiations need not be dragged out once your opponent has shown bad faith. Other measures do not need to be tried and exhausted, if careful consideration of the relevant facts leads the leadership of a nation to the conclusion that they would not work, and especially if extended periods of preparation would allow to aggressor to work further evil or solidify his preparations for war or otherwise impair the chances of an acceptable final resolution. Too often do the 'lovers of peace' cry for more time, more negotiations, more sanctions and embargoes and committees and conferences and discussions. They ignore the reality that the sooner an evil is ended, the less chance it has to work mischief. Sometimes a firm stance and willingness to use violence can prevent more harm than it causes. Indeed, the presumption of just war is that use of force is preferable to permitting injustice to continue.

The fourth precept, commonly known as proportionality, is also frequently misunderstood. In the common imagination, it is rather a 'tit for tat' sort of thing. If Nation A conducts a raid, Nation B conducts a reprisal raid. This is ludicrous. In this popular idea, the response to a terrorist attack is not to topple two nations and spend a decade fighting, but to shoot a few missiles at terrorist training camps in distant lands. If one "escalates" the fighting, then the other "escalates" in response.

That's nonsense.

Remember the precept that there must be serious prospect of success? Using the force necessary to achieve success (victory, or a state of peace) is a necessary precondition to adhering to this Just War concept. So that's not what it means. What is means is that the mess made by invading a nation, the deaths and destruction, must be less problematic than permitting the situation to continue. For instance, Cuba was a pesthole during the Cold War and had a heinous little despotic government that exported chaos for decades, supporting terrorist movements world-wide. Yet invading Cuba would have lead to thousands of deaths, a perennial pestilent guerrilla movement, and the risk of nuclear war with the USSR. So the United States decided not to invade Cuba with its own forces, though it could have been done had we been willing to do so. Some idiots decided to attempt a proxy invasion, but that didn't go too well because you can't half-ass this sort of thing. So it failed. Another example was the use of nuclear weapons on Japan. Harry Truman determined that the disorder of blowing two cities out of existence was considerably less than the disorder of invading Japan or blockading it in perpetuity. So he made that decision. This concept becomes complicated because some people place an artificially high regard on the lives of evil-doers, saying that to take a life or many lives is too high a price to pay. Obviously, I disagree and disagree most strongly. It is, however, highly subjective when it comes to determining how much new disorder one is willing to accept in order to reestablish a just order.

"That all war is physically frightful is obvious; but if that were a moral verdict, there would be no difference between a torturer and a surgeon." -- GK Chesterton

Now, this bears upon Mr. Obama's error in thinking. The classic Just War theorist starts with the principle that the state (king or republic, it matters not) is obligated to provide security, peace, order, and justice to its citizens. Indeed, without these benefits there is no reason to accept the limits on personal liberty embodied by the state. The question then becomes 'when and how may the state permissably use force in order to bring these benefits'? War is not an evil in and of itself, but a means which can be used for ill or good. It brings with it a host of evils, and creates an environment wherein the temptation to indulge in evil can be very strong. But war, the use of force directed against an enemy in order to force him to do our will, is a means to an end. It is not a lesser evil, but a positive good when entered into correctly and fought correctly.

The question of how much evil one will tolerate before engaging in violence to overthrow that evil is subjective, but if approached from that direction, is more likely to lead one towards a just peace than approaching the question from the other direction.

The final point which is to hand in comprehending Just War theory is the concept of Right Authority. What is that right authority?

A legitimate ruler is one definition historically. A sovereign prince had the legal right to make war, provided he was ruling justly and had a valid casus belli.

Another is the will of a sovereign people as expressed through legitimately elected representatives and authorities. While this exercise may have baffled or horrified Augustine or St. Ambrose of Milan, since the Enlightenment it has been accepted as an article of faith that free citizens of a Republic have collectively as much sovereignty and hence as much right to make war as any king.

But, asks the clever man, did not the United States begin in armed rebellion, as lawful subjects of the English crown? How then can they have had legitimate authority to do so? Certainly they did not achieve sovereignty until they had won it upon the battlefield. Does this retroactively excuse treason and revolt?

This is a digression from the original topic, but I believe a fruitful one. As an American, I have to have an answer which justifies support for the rebellion of the United States against England, and justifies suppression of the rebellion of the Southern states.

Anyone has the right to rebel against tyranny. Define tyranny? Each man must do so in the privacy of his own soul. Is it tyranny to draft a man and send him to war? To tax his tea or stamp his paper? Is it tyranny to impose tarrifs that favor one segment of the nation over another? Is it tyranny to tell him that a black man is his equal and not his slave?

Ultimately, when we enshrine the sovereignty of the Common Man as a whole, we must enshrine the sovereignty of each member of the body politic and recognize his right to hoist the flag of rebellion and defy his former fellows to the bloody end.

Does this mean rebellion should not be resisted? Absolutely not. For while each man has the right to rebel, he does not have the right to victory. Each State has the right to self-defense. He must wager his life, fortune, and sacred honor that he is right, and that he shall be able to convince enough of his fellows that he is right that together on the field of battle, they can defeat those of the opposite party.

"Here is an ultra-democratic doctrine: it holds that any man may overthrow the state, and be right to do it. But it does not believe that any man is good enough to do it." -- Grim

Now, I personally dislike civil war and believe that it weakens a state badly enough that it should only be entered into in the most extreme cases. But defining tyranny is not an easy exercise, nor one that lends itself to generalization easily.

Having disposed of jus ad bellum, let us turn to jus in bello.

The right conduct of war is a simple set of prescriptions which serve to protect the non-combatant and combatant alike.

Distinction - military operations should, where possible, be conducted so as to minimize non-combatant death. Obviously the death of civilians is an unavoidable consequence of combat, and has been since time immemorial. Wars are generally fought over population centers and hence often inside population centers. Modern warfare is more dangerous because modern Soldiers are often fighting against a fleeting enemy and using high explosives which run the risk of injuring or killing people who are not involved. The idea is that all measures practical, without needlessly endangering the troops or impairing operations, must be taken to avoid killing non-combatants. Brutalizing civilians is immoral, and that is really all there is to it. Soldiers signed up to wager their lives on the field of battle. Civilians did not. It is a particularly disturbing feature of modern warfare that frequently one side poses as civilians, operates among civilians, and deliberately exposes them to danger in a variety of ways, for propaganda purposes. This is the fault of that side, not the Soldier who pulls the trigger in the honest belief that he is killing a terrorist. Dishonest tactics and illegitimate ruses of war fall upon the dishonorable combatant, not upon the honorable combatant who makes a legitimate mistake. Likewise, cowardly forces which use human shields or place military weapons among civilian buildings assume the moral burden of any deaths inflicted in the destruction of these targets.

An attack must be intended to further a military objective. This should be obvious, but it needs to be stated. Inflicting damage upon a nation for the purpose of inflicting damage on a nation is foolish. Attacks on civilians do not further a military objective, nor does mindless destruction of a nation's infrastructure. Ideally, the unavoidable damage done should not outweigh the military advantage gained. One could argue that the bombing of much of Germany and Japan was in pursuit of no rational military objective and did not further the war one iota. This would be, I think, overstating the case. But certainly area bombing of cities was a strategy calculated to inflict frightful casualties on the civilian population of those two belligerents. One could argue that German and Japan both engaged in such atrocities, to include terror bombing, that these strikes could be justified as reprisals. Such a diversion would be interesting, but it is a rabbit hole that would unnecessarily lengthen what is already a terrifically long essay.

One interesting customary and legal requirement is the affixing of distinguishing devices and the carrying of arms openly. In order to be considered a legitimate combatant, a combatant must not hide his status. He can hide his person, through camouflage, evasion, retreat, or hiding. But there should never be a question in his opponent's mind whether or not he faces a fellow warrior who may be legally and morally slain. It is a relatively new legal requirement, but has long been a customary requirement. Combatants who hide their status endanger all civilians around them, because they make their opponents justifiably suspicious of people whom they should be trying their best to protect. There is a reason that for centuries, a man found in civilian clothes was liable to hung as a spy, saboteur, or bandit. A uniformed scout using stealth to do the same job who was caught was far more likely to be taken as a prisoner of war.

Other prohibitions apply to prisoners and the wounded. A man whose ability to resist is gone is not a threat, and hence cannot morally be slain. He becomes a non-combatant. He is subject to the same protections as any other.

And now we begin to touch on Chivalry. . .

Eclectic Political Posting

And the beat goes on in regard to Climategate -- now the Russians are saying that their data--that is to say, the data from the largest land area on the Earth--was selectively edited to pick and choose only those weather stations that showed a warming effect.

The Environmental Movement is acting more and more like a shake-down artist, and the true costs of high-flown pledges is becoming more and more evident...

Some fundamental questions have not been asked. If we are trying to 'adjust' the world's climate deliberately, by cutting carbon emissions (that I doubt have a statistically noticeable impact), then we must have a goal in mind. What carbon levels and global temperatures are we believing to be ideal? Little Ice Age temperatures? 1850 temps? Medieval Warming Period temperatures? I've yet to get an coherent answer.

An amusing spin on "eco-ninnies" provides half an answer about the roots of this environmental nonsense, almost tongue in cheek though the paper is real enough..

More immediately interesting is this article discussing Mike Yon's story on Kandahar Province. Next month this becoming personally relevant. I cannot add much to Mike's analysis, but here's another commentary piece at Small Wars Journal. Meanwhile, it seems the Special Forces are getting busy on the Taliban's leadership. Another SWJ piece discusses a more radical solution to the apparent lesson of history that Afghanistan is neither a functional state nor a nation.

Why China can't give up Tibet. It's a year old, but the facts of geography don't change much, and demographics don't really change quickly either.

Not much more crossing my horizon of interest that really need written about. Got a post brewing on chivalry and such, will have to write that eventually.

16 December 2009

Lifted Whole Cloth from Blackfive - cut and paste

FOR TODAY, Wednesday 16 December 2009, many if not most, fellow milblogs -- including This Ain't Hell, From My Position, Miss Ladybug, Boston Maggie, Grim's Hall, and those participating in the Wednesday Hero program -- are going silent for the day. Some are choosing to go silent for a longer period of time.

The reason for this is two-fold. First, milblogs are facing an increasingly hostile environment from within the military. While senior leadership has embraced blogging and social media, many field grade officers and senior NCOs do not embrace the concept. From general apathy in not wanting to deal with the issue to outright hostility to it, many commands are not only failing to support such activities, but are aggressively acting against active duty milbloggers, milspouses, and others. The number of such incidents appears to be growing, with milbloggers receiving reprimands, verbal and written, not only for their activities but those of spouses and supporters.


The catalyst has been the treatment of milblogger C.J. Grisham of A Soldier's Perspective (http://www.soldiersperspective.us/). C.J. has earned accolades and respect, from the White House on down for his honest, and sometimes blunt, discussion of issues -- particularly PTSD. In the last few months, C.J. has seen an issue with a local school taken to his command who failed to back him, and has even seen his effort to deal with PTSD, and lead his men in same by example, used against him as a part of this. Ultimately, C.J. has had to sell his blog to help raise funds for his defense in this matter.

An excellent story on the situation with C.J. can be found at Military Times:
While there have been new developments, the core problem remains, and C.J. is having to raise funds to cover legal expenses to protect both his good name and his career.

One need only look at the number of blogs by active duty military in combat zones and compare it to just a few years ago to see the chilling effect that is taking place.

Milblogs have been a vital link in getting accurate news and information about the military, and military operations, to the public. They have provided vital context and analysis on issues critical to operations and to the informed electorate critical to the Republic.

On Wednesday 16 December, readers will have the chance to imagine a world without milblogs, and to do something about it. Those participating are urging their readers to contact their elected representatives in Congress, and to let their opinions be known to them and to other leaders in Washington.

Some milblogs will remain silent for several days; some just for the day. All have agreed to keep the post about the silence and C.J. at the top of their blogs until Friday 18 December.
The issues go beyond C.J., and deserve careful consideration and discussion. We hope that you will cover this event, and explore the issues that lie at the heart of the matter. Contact the milbloggers in your area or that you know, and hear the story that lies within.

A Partial List of Participating Blogs:

Drunken Wisdom http://beerbrains.com/
CDR Salamander - http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com
LL - http://chromedcurses.com

If you wish to donate to CJ's defense fund, please use the following address, or click the link below. He's in a serious battle against a serious foe. Read the article to find out all about it.

Grisham Legal Fund
c/o Redstone Federal Credit Union
220 Wynn Drive
Huntsville, AL 35893

Please write "Grisham Legal Fund" in the memo line if you use this option.

Milblogs have been a vital link in getting accurate news and information about the military, and military operations, to you. Today, many milblogs are gone and others are under attack from within and without. Today, you have the chance to imagine a world without milblogs, and to do something about it. Make your voice heard by writing your congressional representatives and others, and by making donations as you see fit.

The battle for freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas is fought on many fronts and in many ways. Without your help, the battle may well be lost.


Now back to my opinion -- I doubt that milblogging will ever have the permissive environment that senior leadership believes it should. Most O5s and O6s tend to view their commands as their personal fiefs in which everything must be controlled by them, personally. It's the biggest problem with the United States Army today. Part of it is the 'no-fail' mentality of the OER process, part of it is that up to LTC, pretty much all promotions are automatic. Making major is absolutely guaranteed if you are not convicted at court-martial. COL and BG are the hardest promotions to get. So faced with actually having to compete for the next rank, these officers don't know how to deal with it and sort out what is or isn't important.

I've been accused of "OPSEC violations" for publishing less information than you can find in the picture captions of your average media story, including Army Times and Stars and Stripes picture captions. Slavish devotion to the unit or chain of command would be approved, but admitting anything less than perfect approval thereof is going to be punished as best those LTCs can manage. It might make them "look bad".

No, I got burnt pretty badly and will not make that mistake again.

12 December 2009

Global Warming, Man-made

Fourth post in a single day, although this one may not get finished today.

Global Climate Change is a reality. Yes indeedy, folks. The definition of the word "climate" is "the general or average weather conditions of a certain region, including temperature, rainfall, and wind." at least according to American Heritage® Science Dictionary. Being an average value, it is subject to change. We can prove that climate changes by the historical record. Grapes growing in places where they don't grow today, for instance, are a clue to warmer temperatures. In Greenland, the Vikings operated dairy farms. Dairy farms. The Inuit herded reindeer and even cattle in Greenland. There were grapevines growing in Newfoundland, a condition which does not occur today.

In general, growing seasons were longer throughout Europe and Asia, based on the evidence we have of these things. Why? Who knows. Have not yet heard a reasonable theory that could explain it in rational terms, though I personally think the big ball of gas at the center of the solar system has something to do with it. So does this guy, who has all the technical terms and fun cool tree ring data to explain it to people who like that sort of thing.

This is called by folks who care about these things, the Medieval Warm Period. Sometime in the 1300s, it got colder, wetter, and generally not as good for growing things. Ice floes disrupted the Vikings SLOC, leading to isolation of Iceland and abandonment of Greenland. This continued for some centuries, with the most famous illustrations being the winters in the Colonial period in America where trees literally froze solid and exploded, and General Washington's intrepid artillerymen routinely dragged artillery across frozen rivers that have not frozen in a long, long time, such as the Hudson.

So climate changes. It's cyclic, it's caused by the sun, and it's very difficult to predict. The weatherman can't tell me with a reasonable degree of accuracy whether it is going to snow tomorrow or not at Fort Leonard Wood, he can throw out a best guess.

But the Global Warming crowd is trying to sell three interrelated propositions.

A: The average temperature of the Earth is rising
B: It is caused by human beings - specifically, our "carbon"
C: If the trend is not reversed, it will be catastrophic in its consequence

And they are using those three propositions to push for a very wide variety of governmental and international regulation of everything that "produces carbon" (translation: everything that runs on internal combustion or electricity).

Only A is provable scientifically speaking. You could theoretically take enough temperature readings, analyze them, derive averages, and demonstrate a warming trend. This is possible. Of course, AWG advocates will tell you this has been done, most famously algore's hockey stick (now thoroughly debunked). More on that later.

B cannot be proven scientifically. Scientific proof requires repeatable experimentation. No matter how many times you run the same computer model, if the algorithm is buggered or the data is bad, it's not valid. And computer models are not experiments. For experiments, you would need a dozen planets, some with people and some without. You can guess about what is causing a warming trend, but you cannot EXPERIMENT. Without experiments, you aren't using the scientific method, you're guessing. Correlation does not imply causation.

C is predicting the future. That's not science, that's prophecy. And I don't buy it because these folks don't understand what causes changes in solar output, and if you don't understand that, you can't accurately predict climate. The sun is the largest influence on our planet's climate, not human beings.

So back to Proposition A, that the Earth's climate is warming. Lots and lots of data is collected and analyzed by people with quite lucrative contracts to do so. You would think that there would be an answer to this question. There isn't--and now it seems that the folks who are being paid to figure it out are "adjusting" their data. New Zealand's data is entirely faked and when you look at the raw data, it is nothing like the "adjusted" data.

Scientists don't "adjust" data. Data is data. You don't get to fiddle it until you like it.

Then things get truly entertaining.

"Here are some speculations on correcting SSTs to partly explain the 1940s warming blip. If you look at the attached plot you will see that the land also shows the 1940s blip (as I’m sure you know). So, if we could reduce the ocean blip by, say, 0.15 degC, then this would be significant for the global mean — but we’d still have to explain the land blip. I’ve chosen 0.15 here deliberately. This still leaves an ocean blip, and i think one needs to have some form of ocean blip to explain the land blip (via either some common forcing, or ocean forcing land, or vice versa, or all of these). When you look at other blips, the land blips are 1.5 to 2 times (roughly) the ocean blips — higher sensitivity plus thermal inertia effects. My 0.15 adjustment leaves things consistent with this, so you can see where I am coming from."

With the hacking and release of internal email files at a major climate research organization, a whole of other dead fish floated to the top. It seems that there was a lot going on the climate change circles. Seems the Global Warming crowd was running around plotting to blackmail folks, subvert the peer-review process, and otherwise engage in hijinks designed to ensure that opposing viewpoints are discredited.

There's an excellent summary of the major points available here, where someone who actually sounds like he knows what he's talking about goes on at length about understanding the issues involved.

Questions are "why?"

First, there's a huge pile of money involved. Hundreds of millions of dollars -- which would dry up and go away if they said, "we aren't sure what's happening, we don't know what causes it or how to predict it, and we aren't even sure if there is anything happening in the first place."

I'm not the only one to be reminded of Eisenhower's speech regarding science and the Federal government. He was referring to military research, but the same applies.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

Politicians give money to the scientists who use that money to ensure that they get results which require the politicians to continue giving them money. And the politicians win because they are after more power, and the 'climate crisis' gives them more power. It's a self-supporting cycle, and because of the amount of money involved, tends to run over people who aren't actually conspirators--even people who "want" to do real science end up forced to give answers that agree with the prevailing wisdom.

Presidential Speechifying, Part Deux

In which I discuss a speech His Presidentialness gave nearly two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago I was frantically busy and totally focused on the school I'm attending, so I more or less ignored the West Point speech on the grounds that:

a) I already know my Afghanistan deployment date, and

b) The information I was learning in class would allow me to accomplish my mission more effectively and save my life and the lives of my Soldiers, and

c) The class I'm in has a 20% failure rate, so I actually was studying.

Having passed the hard tests and having nothing on my plate for the weekend, I can throw my two cents into the fire. It's not the best write up ever, but I've got entirely too much vested in the issue at this point, roughly 30 days out from deployment, to do a truly good job.

Now, in the spirit of common sense and fairness, I would like you all to reread the speech, because honestly, who sat through the whole thing at the time?

Money quotes, not in the order that he made them and with commentary interspersed.

"And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan. "

Deja vu. Sounds a lot like George's plan to end Iraq.

"We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future."

Counter-Insurgency defined. Yup. Three goals that were achievable in Iraq, were achieved in Iraq, and more or less define victory from out perspective. Keep in mind that victory for the US is different than victory for Afghanistan. Victory for the US is to turn it over to the ANA and ANP to finish this war. Victory for them is peace and security in a functional country. But it has to be their win, not ours.

"Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort."

Your Presidentialness -- You, and the folks who created you, packaged you, supported you, and elected you are the ones who did this. Just sayin' This is why you are worried about the national will of your own country.

"I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region."

He's not talking to West Point cadets like this. They know who the enemy is and why. Here he's talking directly to those morons on the Left who thought ChangeyHope was going to translate out into '30 days into my Presidency, every deployment will be concluded and all troops will be home and we'll start disbanding our military.'

"But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We'll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to the Afghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country. "

In other words, he's giving the folks on the ground what they want to do their job. I'm glad that he is listening. But he is also providing a stick to beat the Karzai government over the head with. One of the cornerstones of counterinsurgency is good governance. If the United States makes an open-ended commitment to prop up the Karzai government no matter what, they have no motive to fix their problems. If we tell them that if they don't get their act in gear, they are going to left to be shot by the Taliban, then maybe they'll get the message. (h/t Blog Them Out of the Stone Age)

Now, a couple further points.

Venue, selection of. Soon-to-be-LT hits it on the head. Excellent place for a major policy speech that effectively sets new operational guidance for a war. A place where, unlike practically anywhere else in America that isn't a military installation, everyone sitting in the audience will be directly affected by what he had to say. The Army and Marine Corps are at war, America is at the mall.

Support of mission vs. support of troops. Under Bush, I argued over and over that support of the troops necessarily entails supporting the mission. Guess what? Under Obama, support of troops necessarily entails supporting the mission. Conservatives, by and large, supported the Bush administration, the mission, and the troops. Liberals did not. But that support does not entitle Conservatives to begin acting as did the average liberal during the Bush years because they don't like the sitting President. Turn about is fair play. If failing to support Bush's warfighting because you dislike his ideology was seditious, near-treason, and liable to piss me off, failing to support me because you dislike my current boss's ideology is no different. You do NOT get a free pass because I happen to agree with your fiscal policy or your general foreign policy stances. Especially if you are attacking the mission and the troops with an eye to midterm elections or the 2012 Presidential race. (h/t Foreign and Domestic, who said it again here.)

VDH is a smart, smart man. Occasionally, I want to tase him. He bitched at the Prez with some legit criticisms, but he also said that it was a "cerebral but flat speech". Victor is a very smart man with massive creds in the military history category, but you don't talk to professional officers the way that Herodotus records commanders talking to hoplites. Different psychology. You don't need folks hyped up to fight a counterinsurgency, you need calm and cool professionals.

While some people have criticized his discussion of the economic costs of this war, it has a place. It is hypocritical coming from a President who has pushed numerous massive spending bills and is fighting to spend billions more on health care, but it is a real. Endless money forms the sinews of war, as Cicero put it.

Finally, deadlines, discussion of. Some commentators, afflicted by Obama Derangement Syndrome (the mirror image of Bush Derangement Syndrome, which causes the sufferer to believe that a man who flew fighter jets is actually stupid and to criticize him for mutually contradictory reasons simultaneously), seem to believe that there is a magic switch which will shut down our commitment to Afghanistan in 18 months and that we will all pack up and go home in a 30 days window. Not happening, and not what the Prez was talking about. He was talking about beginning the transition in 18 months to an Afghan-led security situation. That process can and will take years, just like it did in Iraq. Just ask Gates.

Other commentary, some of which addresses similar issues, and some of which disagrees.
John Chappell quoting MG (ret) Sachnow

Blogroll Updates

Threw out some broken links, updated some others. Dead blogs, those without a post in the past year, got dropped. Added a couple. Acute Politics and Badger Six were both Army Reserve Engineers doing route clearance in Ramadi when I was there in 2006. Couple other general interest sort of blogs.

Speechification, Presidential

His Presidentialness gave a hell of a speech out at Oslo--and not the kind you normally hear from Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

He acknowledged the absurdity of a president accepting a peace prize for which he was chosen 10 days after inauguration.

"In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who've received this prize -- Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela -- my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women -- some known, some obscure to all but those they help -- to be far more deserving of this honor than I."

He then spent the rest of the speech talking about war. Not the speech I would have given, but as a theoretical exercise in Just War theory, it's not half bad. I quibble with some elements of it, but there were some good points.

"But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 42 other countries -- including Norway -- in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

"Still, we are at war, and I'm responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict -- filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other."

Well, not bad at all. I get a nod in a Nobel Peace Prize speech. Along with the rest of the US Armed Forces, but still. . .

"I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

"But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

"I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.

"But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions -- not just treaties and declarations -- that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity."

Go His Presidentialness! What ever you think of the man's politics, he has some outstanding speechwriters and can deliver a phrase like few on the world stage today.

I find it interesting that he spends much of the rest of the speech talking about conditions for just war, and the ends he believes military force should be used for, to a bunch of Euro-weenies who have none. But it's the kind of speech that should be made more often. I really don't think this speech was aimed at a room full of a Norwegians or whatever, and it wasn't aimed at folks like me. I know Just War theory. On the political right, there is an understanding that bad folks are out there, and shooting them is not only necessary but morally right. It's his nominal supporters, the idealistic idiots of the American Left, who are the targets of his speech. For years we've been telling them that an aversion to military force does nothing to promote peace, and in fact emboldens people who threaten peace. Perhaps they will listen when one of their own says the same thing. I disagree with some of the speech, and it has many of the hallmarks of Speech, Obama, Annoying (34 uses of I or me, for instance), but it wasn't bad one and it was a necessary one. I disagree, of course, with his characterization of Iraq, but as that one is being put to bed, it's irrelevant what he thinks of it. It's still a chalk mark in the W column.