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Nothing learned, nothing forgotten

November 19th, 2015

I haven’t posted on the recent terror attacks, or the various responses, because I have nothing new to say, and nothing old to repeat that hasn’t been said, or repeated, better by others. It appears that no one has learned anything in the decade or so since the Iraq war began. This 2003 post from the Onion just needs the dates changed to be applicable (or not, for those who support the side being satirised here) to the current debate.

Having said all this, have I learned anything myself? The Iraq war turned me from being a liberal interventionist (though opposed in the case of Iraq) to a strongly anti-war viewpoint.

By December 2005, I had this to say[^1]

It would be a salutory effort to look over the wars, revolutions and civil strife of the last sixty years and see how many of the participants got an outcome (taking account of war casualties and so on) better than the worst they could conceivably have obtained through negotiation and peaceful agitation. Given the massively negative-sum nature of war, I suspect the answer is “Few, if any”.

The ten years since 2005 have confirmed me in the rightness of my views[^2]. But since the same is true of nearly everyone on all sides, that’s not very helpful.

[^1]: It should go without saying, but this applies at least as much to terrorism as to political violence in general. The deliberate brutality of terrorism induces more brutality in response (as it is designed to do), and makes it even less likely that the outcome will be better than the starting point.

[^2]: I’ve wavered from time to time, but experience has proved that I was wrong to do so. The case for war, however compelling it might seem at the time, has always turned out to be untenable.

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  1. J-D
    November 19th, 2015 at 05:43 | #1

    What would you do if you were faced by the choice between fighting back (on the one hand) and the enslavement of yourself and everybody you had ever known — those who were not immediately killed and eaten?

    This is not a choice facing you or me — or anybody — today, but it’s also not an idle philosopher’s fantasy. It was the choice faced by the Moriori people in 1835. The Moriori chose not to fight back — for them it was an absolute moral imperative — and all the Moriori were enslaved, except for those who were immediately killed and eaten.

    If we can learn from experience, what can we learn from the experience of the Moriori?

  2. John Quiggin
    November 19th, 2015 at 06:28 | #2

    And, I’d say, a choice like that we faced during World War II. But not one that characterizes any of the wars and conflicts Australia has been involved in for the last 60 years. So, unlikely to be a helpful starting point. I’m going to request that commenters avoid responding to J-D on this, and start afresh.

  3. Ivor
    November 19th, 2015 at 06:56 | #3

    This is extremely complex. The Onion piece is partly right. This is known as blowback.

    But the motives of religious fundamentalists are in part their own original aspirations which become attached to underlying grievances over poverty and lack of economic opportunity.

    I see the antics of Boko Haram, ISIS/DASH, Taliban as a form of murdering fascism – a death of humanity and civilisation.

    Pacifism is not appropriate. We can only hope that the UN starts to mobilise the necessary force to defeat these extreme fundamentalists and provide economic opportunities and good governance for the Third World.

  4. BilB
    November 19th, 2015 at 07:02 | #4

    I think the thing to be observed here is the reality of relative impact and response. There is the scope to develop some quantitative relationships based on degree and duration of peace, relative population size/density/empathy structure, relative political structure, relative economic position, (it is tempting to suggest a human nature factor but no-one will agree on what that means), and the nature and degree of conflict.

    In other words I don’t believe that there is any position that can be judged to be “right” on matters of violence, but the course of inter-community exchanges can be calculated and predicted to some degree. It would be a complicated calculation but I believe delivering a degree of certainty greater than betting on the Melbourne cup.

  5. November 19th, 2015 at 07:04 | #5

    Ivor, a defition of pacifism is: The belief that war and violence are unjustifiable and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means.

    Currently what you have posted makes it appear that you think a belief that war and violence is unjustifiable and disputes should be settled by peaceful means is not appropriate.

  6. BilB
    November 19th, 2015 at 07:07 | #6

    Ivor, I am supportive of your comment, and I would go on to say that the economic impact of religious ideologies are predominately to blame for inter-community tensions, coupled of course with all of the other issues to do with inherited environment and resource access.

  7. J-D
    November 19th, 2015 at 07:08 | #7

    If Australia had decided not to fight in the Second World War, neither the Germans nor the Japanese would have invaded Australia and enslaved its population. The choice Australians faced in the Second World War was different from the choice faced by some others in the same war — the Poles, to take just one example, were faced during the war with a genuine threat of mass enslavement. The war was a war of choice for Australia in a way that it wasn’t for Poland. If Australia’s participation in the Second World War is to be justified at all, it’s not on the basis of an existential threat to Australia, it’s on the basis of an existential threat to others. Australia’s war was a defensive war, but it was a defence of others, not a war of self-defence.

    And there have been many wars since the Second World War in which genuine existential threats have been posed to others, although not to Australia. In 1994, to take just one example, the Tutsis of Rwanda faced a threat to their existence. Australia did not fight to defend them, but would it have been wrong if we had?

  8. BilB
  9. Ikonoclast
    November 19th, 2015 at 07:22 | #9

    On the pacifism issue, I think J.Q. has mentioned that fighting a defensive war on your own soil is acceptable. I agree. Of course, this raises issues. What is your own soil? How did it become your own soil? I think there are reasonable answers to those questions which hold in general but those answers are not perfect and do not cover absolutely all situations. In the interests of brevity, I won’t elaborate here.

    We all waver or make mistakes in assessment at times. I briefly supported the first gulf war of 1991 until I read up a bit. Then I better realised the double US role is supporting Saddam Hussein for many years and then attacking him and also the US duplicity and mixed signals, or incompetence, that led Saddam to think he had a green light to go into Kuwait.

    The Western interference in the Middle East, happening since well before the Sykes–Picot Agreement has to end. Complete disengagement is the best option. The Arab peoples and other peoples in the region have to hammer out their own issues. The interim results would be terrible and therein lies the temptation to intervene. But our actual intervention has proven at least an order of magnitude worse than anything the local regional peoples would do /have done.

    After oil disappears as a strategic rationale for intervention what is left? I guess there is support of Israel, being ready to knock on the southern door of Russia and arms sales. But arms sales to poor people without oil or anything else? I can’t see the business model there. Oh hang on there is one product, arms sales for opium. Do we want to further than trade? A land route into Russia from the Middle East? Please, have they looked at the geography? Plus, Russia has nukes. Supporting Israel? Bad idea, every bit of support just makes them act worse. They need to work with all the friends they have made in the Middle East. (That last was sarcasm.)

  10. Newtownian
    November 19th, 2015 at 07:24 | #10

    Regarding not learning lessons – too true. But you might add how far it goes back.

    – Iraq and Afghanistan learnt nothing from Vietnam and the mid 20th century ‘police actions’. Fortunately the Vietnamese appear to have been far more philosophical/forgiving than Middle East ‘nations’ or for that matter us after WWII.

    – Then there are the lessons from energy – the sooner we wean ourselves of fossil fuels to dispersed sustainable forms the sooner we will be able to better relate to our cousin cultures in the middle east and vice versa.

    – And finally there are the contradictions we are not dealing with around our models of how the world works which revolve around bronze age thinking which was fine at their inception but science has shown to be if not exactly a croc (the promotion of humane ethics by many religionists being a baby not to be chucked) then very poorly grounded or at least grounded in muddy thinking we are culturally attached to at the hip. Those who have analysed the issues have been enlightened but this knowledge has not been able to overcome the resilience of the faith meme.

  11. Ikonoclast
    November 19th, 2015 at 07:45 | #11


    “If Australia had decided not to fight in the Second World War, neither the Germans nor the Japanese would have invaded Australia and enslaved its population.”

    I think that’s a judgement you can only make with the benefit of hindsight. The entire dynamic of WW2 was national invasions executed by Germany and Japan mainly. Germany rapidly overran Western Europe and in the east advanced to within sight of the lights of Moscow. Japan rapidly overran parts of China, the entirety of South-East Asia and parts of New Guinea. At the height of Axis fortunes, the proposition that Japan would never invade Australia would have had to made by a very brave or perspicacious prognosticator. In fact, it would have had to made by someone with a crystal ball.

    An astute strategist of the times might well have realised the following. The productive power of Germany and Japan plus their conquered territories (at a lower factor of effective production) will never match the production of the rest of the world, never come close in fact. So eventual defeat of the Axis is fundamentally inevitable. However, prediction of the “high water” mark of their conquests in all regions is also fundamentally unpredictable. Hence, local and regional efforts like the battles in New Guinea and the adding of all small nations’ efforts to the major Allied nations’ efforts is still advisable even if only out of the enlightened self-interest of said small nations.

  12. Michael
    November 19th, 2015 at 08:07 | #12

    Last night I read my 8 year old a book that was an illustration of the song – “I was only nineteen”. He borrowed it because it had soldiers in it. He wasn’t that keen on the idea of conscription after the book was finished. This and reading the idiotic comments under an opinion piece in The Age calling for reduced dependence on Middle Eastern oil I realised that people – and unfortunately mostly middle aged men – don’t like the idea of taking responsibility for their own involvement in the middle east. It’s time for those calling for military intervention to grow a back bone and lead from the front putting themselves in harms way before they send other people off to war – funded of course with other peoples money.

  13. Troy Prideaux
    November 19th, 2015 at 08:10 | #13

    However… my ears pricked up listing to Jordan’s deputy PM and minister for foreign affairs being interviewed on Lateline last night when he answered:

    TONY JONES: Can I just ask a broader question: what lessons have been learnt from the US regime change doctrine in Iraq where the dismantling of the entire Baathist regime created a power vacuum and led to long-term conflict and extremism?

    NASSER JUDEH: Syria and Iraq are inversely connected or related, if you will. It was the dismantling of the state structure in Iraq post-2003 that led, in my opinion, to ethnic and sectarian strife and violence and also the rise and spread of terrorism. In Syria, it’s the other way round, but perhaps with the same chaotic outcome. You have an ethnic and sectarian war that is ongoing, the spread and rise of terrorism, which – both of which will eventually lead to the destruction of the state structure and end up with chaos and anarchy. I think we’ve got to try to prevent that. Chaotic as the situation in Syria is today, we don’t need to have a completely failed state where terrorists are roaming and spilling their horrors across Syria’s borders. So it is incumbent on all of us. I think the attacks in Paris were not only horrific, but I think it was yet another wake-up call for all of us to be doing more. We’ve been leading this fight against terrorism and extremism and we want to do it with the rest of the world.

  14. Uncle Milton
    November 19th, 2015 at 08:22 | #14


    No one gets conscripted anymore, at least not in Australia. We have an all-volunteer army, and have had for over 40 years. No one is forced to become a soldier, but if they do, there’s a chance they will get killed in battle. It comes with the territory.

  15. November 19th, 2015 at 08:51 | #15

    J-D, if Australia could act to stop innocent people from being slaughtered, I think we should do so. For example, if I could foil bank robberies by shooting the gun or knife out of bank robbers’ hands, then perhaps I should do so. However, if in practice I usually end up shooting six or seven bank tellers and customers before I manage to even hit the bank robber, let alone harmlessly shoot their weapon out of their hand, then maybe we’d be better off if I didn’t attempt to foil bank robberies at all, even if there were one or two times I totally managed to shoot the gun out of someone’s hand on the first try.

    So if I was certain we could (1) save more children from being killed than we would accidently kill by intervening militarily, and (2) I was certain we would save more lives than we would by spending the resources in a non-military way, such as vacinating people or reducing rates of diarrhea, then I would be in favour of Australian military intervention.

    However, we are very bad at (1). In fact, instead of protecting Iraqi children, we actually helped occupy Iraq and contributed to the deaths of an unknown, but very large number of kids.

    And the extremely high cost of military action means that there is never really any hope of (2) being satisfied. For the foreseeable future, we’re always going to be able to save more children by reducing the rates of diarrhea than by spending the same amount of money on shooty bomby type intervention, even if we could be certain we’d end up saving more children by using bombs and bullets than we’d accidently kill.

    So I’m all for acting to save innocent lives. I’m just against our habit of killing innocents in the process. And I’m against saving less innocents than we would if we acted to save lives in a non-military manner.

  16. Michael
    November 19th, 2015 at 09:23 | #16

    @Uncle Milton
    Yes, I know that. That doesn’t alter the gist of my comment. Do you object to the idea of leaders leading from the front? If so why?
    People sign up to the defence force – presumably with defence in mind and that is a noble ideal. The Gulf wars aren’t taken to defend Australia and the troops who get sent, like most of the country aren’t necessarily aware of exactly what they are getting themselves into, the longterm consequences to themselves or the local inhabitants and are frequently either lied to or misinformed by incompetent or mischievous pundits who are safely away from the action.
    The military action has so far failed in the longterm goals as stated by those who proposed them. So with a proven record of failure it’s time to try something else and stop being mislead by these chicken hawks and their hidden and convoluted agendas.

  17. Uncle Milton
    November 19th, 2015 at 10:04 | #17


    What do you suggest? That Malcolm Turnbull himself lead the charge out of the trenches?

  18. Ikonoclast
    November 19th, 2015 at 10:24 | #18

    @Ronald Brak

    Precisely. Well put.

    Ninety-nine times out of a hundred we cannot kill (or even shoot) to save lives.

    However, ninety-nine times out of a hundred (at least) we can medicate and provide (non-military) aid to save lives.

    The ideas are a complete no-contest. The statistical or probable difference in outcomes is vast. Probably of the order of 10,000 to 1 or better for medication and non-military aid over war. Given that the sensible option is probably also 100 times cheaper then war, then we into the zone of it being literally about a million times better than war.

  19. Michael
    November 19th, 2015 at 10:34 | #19

    @Uncle Milton
    Would he be any less eager to take action if he did?

  20. Uncle Milton
    November 19th, 2015 at 10:56 | #20


    The premise is ridiculous. It’s true that the President of the United States, an ex fighter pilot, did go into battle against the invading aliens in the 1996 film Independence Day, but that was fiction.

  21. Michael
    November 19th, 2015 at 12:02 | #21

    Speaking of fiction – much of the premise of the Iraq war was equally ridiculous and fictional but a lot of “very serious” people where eagerly sucked in.

  22. Ikonoclast
    November 19th, 2015 at 12:05 | #22


    So true m8.

  23. John Quiggin
    November 19th, 2015 at 12:25 | #23

    @Uncle Milton

    George Bush certainly appeared to think that this was the appropriate role for the Commander in Chief.

  24. Ikonoclast
    November 19th, 2015 at 12:50 | #24

    An interesting reflection is that the generation of statesmen and intellectuals who managed the epoch up until and including WW1 were incompetent.

    Then the statesmen and intellectuals who managed the epoch of the late Great Depression (specifically from the New Deal era on) through WW2 and into the “Keynesian or Golden Age” were remarkably competent on the whole (though expressly excluding Axis statesmen and leaders).

    Then the statesmen and intellectuals who managed the post-Golden Age era up until now have once again been spectacularly stupid and incompetent.

    That’s the way the last 120 or so years look to me.

  25. Uncle Milton
    November 19th, 2015 at 12:51 | #25

    @John Quiggin

    He didn’t represent the highest of bars, as these things go.

  26. Ikonoclast
    November 19th, 2015 at 16:21 | #26

    @John Quiggin

    To be pedantic, the US President is Commander in Chief among other things. This is not to defend Bush II. The man was a fool in every sense. He still is I guess.

    His whole strategy (and geostrategy) was wrong. His whole comportment was wrong including the Mission Accomplished event. The Mission Accomplished speech was wrong. It wasn’t and still isn’t accomplished to this day. Indeed, what the mission was is still entirely unclear. About the only hint I can get is the the cringe-worthy first title of the operation; “Operation Infinite Justice”. Short critique: Don’t be presuming to dispense infinite justice if you aren’t God. Further critique: “Given the real doubts about this question: Don’t be presuming God (exists).”

  27. J-D
    November 20th, 2015 at 09:35 | #27


    Japan did not have sufficient logistical capability for an invasion of Australia during the Second World War. It’s not correct to describe that as a conclusion reachable only in hindsight, since the Japanese themselves concluded at the time (during the war) that an invasion of Australia was not logistically feasible.

  28. Ikonoclast
    November 20th, 2015 at 11:42 | #28


    Fair enough, that is a counter-argument. I don’t disbelieve you but sources would be appreciated, thanks. Certainly, logistics appeared to be getting difficult for Japan by the time they invaded Papua New Guinea. By definition or by empirical outcome (not sure which phrase to use) their logistics were sufficient to reach their actual high-water mark of expansion. The Battle of the Coral Sea was decisive too (I believe) in influencing Japanese High Command decisions about matters like an Australian invasion. One could clearly argue that their loss of this battle directly affected their logistic position and deliberations.

    Where I differ I think is I would argue that Australia could not have logically, honorably or strategically sat out WW2 after the fall of Singapore at the very latest. I doubt the allies had enough military intelligence to be privy to the entire picture of the Japanese war capability and logistic situation. There is such a thing as the fog of war in the middle of a war.

    Realistically, we had to fight in New Guinea and we could scarcely have sat out the Battle of the Coral Sea. Our general cooperation with MacArthur and the Americans in the Pacific Theater was also strategically necessary.

    Also, don’t forget Darwin.

    “The Bombing of Darwin, also known as the Battle of Darwin,[5] on 19 February 1942 was both the first and the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia. On this day, 242 Japanese aircraft attacked ships in Darwin’s harbour and the town’s two airfields in an attempt to prevent the Allies from using them as bases to contest the invasions of Timor and Java. The town was only lightly defended and the Japanese inflicted heavy losses upon the Allied forces at little cost to themselves. The urban areas of Darwin also suffered some damage from the raids and there were a number of civilian casualties.

    The raids were the first and largest of almost 100 air raids against Australia during 1942–43.” – Wikipedia.

    Once a nation is being bombed (ostensibly as a prelude to invasion), it must be committed to at least defending a perimeter buffer zone if it has any military capability.

  29. J-D
    November 20th, 2015 at 14:54 | #29


    In the Kimberley I visited a small local museum which had an exhibit describing how Japanese commandos landed in the Kimberley on a reconaissance mission during the Second World War, and concluded that a (larger-scale) landing was not feasible. I’ve just checked, and there’s information available about this online if you search for it. (One way is to search for the name of the commanding officer, Susuhiko Mizuno.)

    What I am arguing is not that it is impossible to justify Australia’s decision to join in the Second World War. What I am arguing is that it is impossible to justify Australia’s decision to join in the Second World War on the basis that Australia was defending itself against aggression. Any justification of Australia’s decision to join in the Second World War has to be on the basis that Australia was defending others against aggression.

    There’s no valid argument that Australia’s decision to join in the war was justified by attacks on Australia (or Australians) that occurred after Australia’s decision to join in the war. It would have made no sense if the Prime Minister had said in in 1939 ‘Australia is going to war because three years from now the Japanese will bomb Darwin’.

    Moreover, in 1939 Australia decided not to join a war against Japan but rather to join a war against Germany, and as a result sent troops to the Mediterranean theatre of war, making them practically useless for defending Australia. That’s why, when war with Japan broke out, the troops were recalled: but that was after two and a half years of war.

  30. BilB
    November 20th, 2015 at 16:56 | #30


    Japan’s population in 1940 was 73 million. Occupying Australia with 10 million people would have been an attractive and feasible possibility. And if only they new about the iron ore they might have tried harder.

  31. BilB
    November 20th, 2015 at 17:00 | #31

    Australia’s population in 1940 was just 7 million.

  32. Ikonoclast
    November 20th, 2015 at 17:32 | #32


    I pretty much knew all that history except for the Japanese Kimberley reconnaissance mission I admit.

    Australia’s declaration of war in 1939 was to support major allies and an existential threat to most of the nations of Europe and European democracy (such as it was then). That’s IMO. Taken in historical context it was reasonable decision. Deploying heavily to Europe and having less defence for our north was unwise in retrospect. But again perhaps they would have needed a crystal ball in 1939 to know that Japan would attack Pearl Harbour and Singapore in 1941. You have to put yourself back in 1939 and figure out what was known then. You seem to be using facts that only eventuated later (than 1939) to aid your evaluation. It’s easy to second guess historical decisions with 20/20 hindsight.

  33. J-D
    November 21st, 2015 at 08:10 | #33


    As a general proposition, the idea that it is logistically feasible for any country with a large enough population to launch a successful invasion of any country with a sufficiently smaller population is not valid.

    If that kind of reasoning were valid, we could say: Indonesia has a population of about 250 million; Burundi has a population of about 10 million; therefore Indonesia could successfully invade Burundi. But that’s ridiculous. That kind of reasoning is not valid.

    To establish that it is (or was) logistically feasible for one country to launch a successful invasion of another, you need to do more than cite population ratios.

  34. BilB
    November 21st, 2015 at 08:24 | #34

    J D,

    The countries that you mention have no will to invade and dominate their neighbours. We are talking about the second world war here aren’t we?? Japan did have that will during the war, and the exercised that will in a number of countries. What I am saying is that had Japan rationalised their ambitions they may very well have taken Australia and been allowed to keep it, as Indonesia achieved in Western Papua.

  35. BilB
    November 21st, 2015 at 08:32 | #35

    ……and we would now be greeting each as….. “herro mate!”

  36. Donald Oats
    November 21st, 2015 at 15:30 | #36

    A successful invasion of another country simply (i.e. “simply”) requires enough force to overthrow the existing government, and to convince the population that resistance is not in their interest. If a government is on the nose, and the invaders offer a path towards a better future, the invaders may well pull it off.

    On the other hand, if the invaders have an entirely different culture (and language) to the country being invaded, heavy resistance could well be encountered. In that case, an overwhelming force is required, which for ground troops would mean about one invader for every 15 to 30 civilians.

    On the third hand, if the invaders are invading a country with geographically dispersed population, they might succeed if they take the capital city of the country, and capture or destroy any military infrastructure which is distant from the capital city. The difficulty of mounting a significant resistance is the sheer distance that resistance fighter troops must travel, undetected, to take the fight to the invading force. Supply lines have the same problem. However, as Iraq demonstrated in textbook terms, enemy invaders are exposed if the resistance fighters use guerilla tactics.

    In WWII, Australian cities were under threat of attack, and Darwin was bombed. Submarines were encountered off the Australian coast, and at least one mini-sub was sunk in Sydney Harbour. So, while Australia would have been extremely difficult to subdue, that didn’t mean the enemy wasn’t thinking of us as they pushed through Asian countries of the Pacific.

    The current issue with ISIS is different again. They can organise terrorist attacks here and there, but they don’t have the means for actually engaging in war against coalition forces, except in the disputed territories they have captured in Syria, Iraq, etc. We can choose whether to deploy ground forces or not; it probably won’t make one jot of difference to the extent of ISIS’s terrorist actions against us in the short to medium term. I hope we wake up and simply return our defence personnel to Australia, and stop intervening in fights with no clearly achievable outcome. I also hope we start restoring to Australians some of the civil liberties that have been removed. I believe that we should treat terrorism as a criminal matter rather than a military matter as the rule, not the exception.

    Today’s local paper has a headline story of how a young lady was radicalised in the space of months, a 180 degree change to her attitudes to life; she became one of the suicide bombers which the French forces encountered during their manhunt for the perpetrators. We really need to examine how such dramatic changes take place, and find better ways of thwarting such indoctrination attempts.

    I can well imagine that the Muslim minority in western nations are aghast at how their children can become radicalised right under their noses, in such a short space of time. They don’t need the white majority to be demanding they repeatedly swear allegiance to the nation, or repeatedly denouncing the terrorists who have emerged from their ranks—they know there is something very wrong going on. Furthermore, there are a number of white majority citizens being radicalised too, so it isn’t just a minority population’s problem, it is a national problem in each western country.

    The more raids the French forces carry out (in muslim neighbourhoods), the more they reinforce the perception among minority groups that they are seen as “the problem”, which just becomes another justification—in their view—for considering themselves as outsiders in French society. If people feel that way, they then act that way, which perpetuates the us-and-them attitudes on both sides of the fence. The same is true of other western nations.

    The best defence of liberty in the long term is to avoid restraining it as a knee-jerk reaction to terrorist attacks, as atrocious as these attacks are, for placing limits on people’s freedoms does the work of the terrorists for them. No police force and no military force is going to prevent every atrocity from occurring; however, the very presence of military or para-military forces in the neighbourhoods of minority groups is going to create resentment among those who feel oppressed, who view the extra scrutiny of the state as proof they are being picked on by the (para-)military and security forces.

    If terrorist actions are treated as purely criminal matters, that actually undermines the objectives of the terrorists: they typically want to see a crazy, revenge-driven, large scale military reaction to their atrocities. The more the iron boot comes down on citizens’ skulls, the more of the terrorists’ dirty work we do for them. We should try as much as possible to seek justice and not engage in punitive revenge attacks (or what is easily framed that way).

    It took literally centuries of hard slog by many individuals, in many countries, before modern democracies had the civil liberties which we have (until recently) enjoyed. A few terrorists and we could easily throw those civil liberties away. If history teaches us anything, it is that civil liberty is a fragile thing, bloody difficult to obtain yet so easy to dismantle.

    Just my thoughts in an idle moment…

  37. Greg McKenzie
    November 21st, 2015 at 16:50 | #37

    I am a moral philosopher and believe that everything has a hidden purpose! Sometimes that hidden purpose is immoral. Terrorism has such a hidden immoral purpose. Hiding behind calls to seek revenge for the Crusades, or claims of support from any religious tracts (including the Koran AND the Bible), are mere smokescreens. Morally violence begets violence! Acts of war are only moral when in defense of one’s own land. Yet Australia’s indigenous peoples chose not to go to war against the white Anglo-Celtic settlers, until they actually started their colonial and post-colonial ethnic cleansing. The ethnic cleansing going on in Syria, and parts of Iraq, has to be stopped. Millions of Syrian refugees have voted with their feet, put their bodies on the line and appealed for help from fellow humans. If we fail them we fail all of humanity. Their is a moral obligation to do something.
    If that means fighting Islamic State/ Isil/Dash for the hearts and minds of Sunnis then that is what we should attempt. If we fail then we must try another way to break down the evils of terrorism, perpetuated by this immoral group of individuals.
    Let us not get too high and mighty, it was only thirty years ago that the terrorism fight was against the IRA. And state terrorism still exists today in Africa. So let us walk humbly but firmly and denounce all forms of terrorism, no matter who plans it and no matter what the excuse is from these mass murderers. Human morality cannot be compromised by demands for higher national security. Sometimes we must pay the ultimate price to protect our human sisters and brothers.

  38. Ikonoclast
    November 21st, 2015 at 16:59 | #38

    The Kurds are an interesting case. They are a distinct and robust culture. Religiously, they are more diverse and syncretist and less fundamentalist than most in the M.E. Ideologically, they are more grass-roots-up democratic than any other grouping the Middle East. Militarily, they are one of the most robust non-state actors in the region. Compared to the fanatical non-state and state actors in the region, they seem relatively reasonable.

    This journo, after poking harmless fun at them, has begun to reappraise them.


    I happen to think the Kurds deserve their own country. When one looks at what it would have to be carved out of (S.E. Turkey N.E Iraq, NW Iran, more or less, and a slice of Syria), one realises how unlikely that seems given current offical national boundaries.

  39. Ikonoclast
    November 21st, 2015 at 17:12 | #39

    @Greg McKenzie

    I sometimes explicitly or implicitly bill myself variously as a “moral philosopher”, a “political economist” or a “complex systems thinker”. In the interests of full disclosure, I have on several occasions on this blog noted that I am an amateur in all these fields with no Ph.D in any of them nor in any other fields. I have an old and unused B.A. in Media and Literature studies. My general reading is wide, not particularly deep and generally dilettantish. General question: Should we all be careful how we bill ourselves?

  40. November 21st, 2015 at 20:49 | #40

    A few notes pertaining to Australia and Japan in the early 1940s:

    In 1940, despite having one tenth Japan’s population, Australia’s nominal GDP was probably more than half that of Japan’s. (If someone has a link to some solid figures, I’ll be glad to see them.)

    In 1940 about 4% of Japan’s population was in China, killing people, enslaving people, raiding for rice, and freeing China from imperialism.

    In 1941 Japan attacked a large number of countries, including the United States which had a population nearly twice that of Japan and an economy 16 times larger.

    So, during World War II, invading Australia was not a realistic possibility for Japan. With luck they could have landed an invasion force, but they would not have been able to supply it, as they were unable to adequately supply themselves anywhere, including in Japan, and they would have been defeated.

    If one wants to play make believe and imagine a situation where Japan had no other enemies or military commitments in 1941 and Australia had no allies, then Australia would find itself in quite a difficult situation if Japan decided to invade. But that bears no relation to actual history.

  41. November 21st, 2015 at 21:20 | #41

    Silly me. I forgot that I can’t just mention facts without some people concluding that I am making some sort of recommendation on what people should do or should have done, instead of just trying to help people arrive at their own conclusions. So for the benefit of anyone who suffers from recommendation pareidolia, I will mention that just because I pointed out that Imperial Japan could not have realistically invaded Australia during World War II, does not mean I neccessarily think Australia should have declared neutrality after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

    But I must admit I do find the idea of Australia declaring itself neutral after Pearl Harbour to be quite hilarious. This probably indicates that I am a horrible person.

  42. Donald Oats
    November 22nd, 2015 at 12:53 | #42

    I never really understood what it was that the Japanese government thought they were doing when they attacked Pearl Harbour. If they didn’t think they could conquer the United States of America, what other motive was there for the attack? Drawing the USA into the war was never going to be a good thing for Japan. Perhaps the thinking was that if the USA had to fight two fronts, the Japs on the one hand, and the Germans on the other, they would be vulnerable? It doesn’t seem likely.

    I’d be interested if anyone does know of coherent reasons for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

  43. November 22nd, 2015 at 22:29 | #43

    Donald, there are no coherent reasons, but Japan wanted a Pacific Empire. Basically they wanted their own version of the British Empire. They thought that Britain was strong because it had an empire, rather than it actually being the other way around. And to get their empire, the various European colonial powers would have to go. The Japanese nationalists thought it was terribly unfair that Europeans were oppressing Asian people and thought the only just and right course of action was for Asian people to oppress Asian people.

    Just how large an empire they wanted they weren’t clear on, but at the minimum it would include China, Siberia, and all of Southeast Asia. Towards the larger end of things one nationalist writer suggested that anything their ocean touched belong to them, and since they regarded the Pacific as being their ocean this included North and South America and Australia. And India. While India itself does not touch the Pacific Ocean, it does touch other things that touch the Pacific.

    The doctrine of Quae Oceanum Lambit Fateor, was based on natural law, which you can often see children engaging in when they lick something to establish their ownership of it.

    At the time, Japan was bogged down in China. They were able to control the coast, and raid into the interior to capture food during the rice harvest so they would have the resources to raid into the interior and capture food during the next rice harvest, but despite sending 4% of the entire Japanese population there, they could not control the countryside. It was a giant Vietnam, which in 1941 they expanded to also include Vietnam. And all this commitment didn’t stop them from attacking Russia at random times without even bothering to ask anyone in command in Japan if that was a good idea first.

    Now as we all know from recent history, the cure for being bogged down in a land war in Asia is more war. Japan needed to conquer more territories, so they would have the resources they needed to control and extract resources from the territories they had already conquered. I call this “war to fix war” thinking the Abbott doctrine after the great Australian leader who, when told that burning coal was destroying the world, decided the solution was to burn more coal.

    Japan’s leadership knew the United States would oppose their taking over more territories, so they divided into two groups. The early war camp, which wanted to attack the United States soon, and the later war camp that wanted to attack the United States after Japan had built up more military strength. Anyone who might have formed the, “What the hell are you thinking, guys?” camp had either been assassinated long ago, or didn’t want to be assassinated.

    With the European powers distracted and weakened by war in Europe, in 1941 Japan decided it was time to strike and prepared to take over Asia, and as a first step occupied Vietnam. Cordell Hull, the US Secretary of State at the time, sent them a firmly worded letter telling them to remove their troops from both Vietnam and China. Japan looked at this note and said, “Ah-ha! Now we are fully justified in doing what we were going to do anyway!” Bizarrely enough, in the future both Japan and the United States would produce historians who would claim this note magically pulled out a magnum .44, put the gun to Tojo’s head, and forced him to bomb Pearl Harbour using the aircraft carriers that they just by sheer chance happened to have ready to do so, and the aviators who through pure blind luck just happened to have been trained to attack Pearl Harbour.

    Twelve days after the note arrived, Japan attacked Southeast Asia and Pearl Harbour. And then the United States turned green, grew 10 feet tall, and destroyed Imperial Japan.

    So why attack the United States, a much larger and much more powerful nation, when they had no chance of victory? Well, they knew the United States wouldn’t idly stand by and let them take over more territory in Asia, so they saw their only choice as being to either attack the US or not take over more territory. And the latter option was rejected on the grounds that they really really really wanted more territory. However, they did convince themselves they could win on the basis that they really really really wanted to win. Their thinking was no deeper than that. They had dreams of glory, reality interfered, and so they denied reality. They convinced themselves that the United States was “weak” and had no stomach for war and so if they made an effective surprise attack, the United States would come to the negotiating table and basically give Japan free rein in Asia to do as it wished.

    In other words their thinking was no different from modern day ISIS who wants the “crusader” nations to invade them so they can initiate their dream plan of defeating them and then live with Jesus on the moon, or whatever it is religious people are into these days. Except that ISIS is even more detached from reality, as at least Japan had the ability to actually go out and invade other countries and didn’t have to just sit around shooting up rock concerts and waiting to be invaded.

  44. Ikonoclast
    November 23rd, 2015 at 07:40 | #44

    Pearl Harbour for Japan was that phenomenon which is surprisingly common in war: a major tactical victory which leads to a total strategic defeat. The US had two major tactical victories in Gulf Wars 1 and 2 and another initially against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yet the whole Middle East thing has become one long strategic defeat for the USA. China on the other hand has had a major strategic victory (more properly geostrategic) without firing a shot in anger. It has simply payed attention to economic matters and let those foolish enough to fight overseas adventures do so.

    The story I have read on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was that the Japanese High Command led by Tojo and dominated by the Army ordered the attack and Admiral Yamamoto always believed it was a mistake. Yamamoto seemed to understand the disparity in productive power between the US and Japan. His “sleeping giant” quote is fictional. What he really said occurred as follows.

    “Yamamoto, when once asked his opinion on the war, pessimistically said that the only way for Japan to win the war was to dictate terms in the White House. Yamamoto’s meaning was that military victory, in a protracted war against an opponent with as much of a population and industrial advantage as the United States possessed, was completely impossible—a rebuff to those who thought that winning a major battle against the US Navy would end the war. However, in the US, his words were recast as a jingoistic boast that he would literally dictate peace terms at the White House. This deliberate mistranslation became famous when read by narrator Walter Huston over stock footage of Yamamoto and his men on parade, in Frank Capra’s “Why We Fight” propaganda films, and spread by word of mouth all over the nation.” – Wikipedia.

    I don’t know if the Japanese High Command did not understand what Yamamoto did. It seems they simply miscalculated.

    “The attack had several major aims. First, it intended to destroy important American fleet units, thereby preventing the Pacific Fleet from interfering with Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies and Malaya. Second, it was hoped to buy time for Japan to consolidate its position and increase its naval strength before shipbuilding authorized by the 1940 Vinson-Walsh Act erased any chance of victory. Finally, it was meant to deliver a severe blow to American morale, one which would discourage Americans from committing to a war extending into the western Pacific Ocean and Dutch East Indies. To maximize the effect on morale, battleships were chosen as the main targets, since they were the prestige ships of any navy at the time. The overall intention was to enable Japan to conquer Southeast Asia without interference.

    Striking the Pacific Fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor carried two distinct disadvantages: the targeted ships would be in very shallow water, so it would be relatively easy to salvage and possibly repair them; and most of the crews would survive the attack, since many would be on shore leave or would be rescued from the harbor. A further important disadvantage—this of timing, and known to the Japanese—was the absence from Pearl Harbor of all three of the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carriers (Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga). IJN top command was so imbued with Admiral Mahan’s “decisive battle” doctrine—especially that of destroying the maximum number of battleships—that, despite these concerns, Yamamoto decided to press ahead.

    Japanese confidence in their ability to achieve a short, victorious war also meant other targets in the harbor, especially the navy yard, oil tank farms, and submarine base, were ignored, since—by their thinking—the war would be over before the influence of these facilities would be felt.” – Wikipedia.

    That sounds familiar doesn’t it? We are going to have a short victorious war, achieve all our objectives and the boys (and girls) will be home for Christmas.

    I wonder if work has been done in the economic sphere on the optimism bias. Does the theory of rational agents factor in the optimism bias?

  45. Donald Oats
    November 23rd, 2015 at 17:59 | #45

    Thanks for the responses about Japan and their reasoning with respect to taking on the USA in WWII.

    While there are probably several opinions (e.g. from those in the Japanese command structure) as to why they should have attacked the USA, or not, as the case may be, one lesson does come out of it: it is terribly easy to vastly inflate the capacity of your military strengths, even as—especially as—the objective evidence is for a much lower capacity. And to do the obverse with respect to the enemy’s military capacity. Ours are better than theirs is a ruinous line of thought.

    I guess they figured the USA would exert its will at some point, and the US navy was considered as the principal means of that will being wielded, which would have given the Pacific rim war a turn for the worse, from Japan’s perspective. They pre-empted the inevitable, presumably hoping that if they could rob the US of their naval force, the subsequent damage it could do would be very much diminished. Trouble is, a manufacturing behemoth of the calibre of the USA in 1940’s was such that it could simply build more ships…and more ships…and more ships. As well as subs.

    Meanwhile, the sabre-rattlers are a-sabre-rattlin’.

  46. November 23rd, 2015 at 18:54 | #46

    Japan had many reasons for invading Southeast Asia. Wars that are unnecessary always do. Nazi Germany’s multiple reasons for invading Russia is a good example, as is the United States decision to invade and occupy Iraq. In the case of Iraq the US had to invade because they were behind terrorism, or because they had weapons of mass destruction, or to free the Iraqi people, or to intimidate anyone that might attack America, or spark democracy in the Middle East, or because of oil. Oil is an interesting one, because I think it is possible American oil producers were of the correct opinion that invading Iraq would increase oil prices and their profits.

    Anyway, unnecessary wars have kitchen sink reasons as war mongers attempt to gather support for their desired mass murder as widely as possible. Conversely, wars that are necessary, generally only have one reason, such as, “Hey! Germany is invading us!” or, “Are those Japanese bombs falling on our heads?”

    And as an example of US industrial might, towards the end of World War II the United States was producing about one aircraft carrier a week. I believe Japan completed no new aircraft carriers during the war and only managed a few conversions of existing hulls.

    Japan did complete the world’s most powerful battleship, which they had already started on before the war, and which was perhaps 10% powered by peanut oil due to their lack of fuel. It was promptly sunk because by that point battleships were useless. The battleship then went on to play a starring role in a Japanese science fiction series where it was converted into a spaceship and used to defeat an evil alien race with blue skin that was turning the earth into a radioactive desert with a massive bombing campaign.

  47. John Quiggin
    November 23rd, 2015 at 22:39 | #47

    unnecessary wars have kitchen sink reasons as war mongers attempt to gather support for their desired mass murder as widely as possible. Conversely, wars that are necessary, generally only have one reason,

    This is a very neat formulation.

    What follows is that victory in an unnecessary war sows the seeds of conflict among the victors, as they seek to pursue the incompatible goals with which they went to war. After the fall of Baghdad, the US wanted a democratic society which would be pro-capitalist and pro-Israel, even though the majority of Iraqis were neither. The desired polity would be unitary (even though the Kurds wanted their own country), punitive of anyone associated with the Saddam regime (that is, the majority of Sunnis), and a base from which to threaten Iran (with which the Shia majority had close ties). Oil prices would both go up and go down, depending on which interest group was being addressed. And so on.

  48. Ikonoclast
    November 24th, 2015 at 06:51 | #48

    In a post above, I wondered “if work has been done in the economic sphere on the optimism bias. Does the theory of rational agents factor in the optimism bias?”

    It seems that sort of thing has been looked at in at least some contexts;


  49. November 24th, 2015 at 10:52 | #49

    @John Quiggin
    And even when the instigators of an unnecessary war don’t achieve victory, we can often see the lack of focus in their kitchen sink approach contributing to defeat. After initial victories the more aggressive and expansionistic of the war supporters will clamour for their wider ranging and inevitably risky aims be fulfilled. And the more cautious and moderate supporters of war may find there are no brakes on this thing, even if they wish to stop as their goals have already been achieved. This is sometimes referred to as victory disease.

  50. J-D
    November 24th, 2015 at 11:51 | #50


    That’s impressive. What you’ve done there is adopt the same position that I already enunciated, allege that I have done the thing that was actually what you yourself did, and completely failed to realise the 180 degree revolution you have performed. A virtuoso performance: I salute you. Rather than try to disentangle your Gordian knot, I shall cut through to a general statement of my own position in a separate comment.

  51. J-D
    November 24th, 2015 at 11:53 | #51

    Sometimes fighting a defensive war is justifiable; sometimes for self-defence, sometimes for the defence of others. But the harm of war is so great that even when confronting an unambiguous aggressor the decision to fight can only justifiably be taken after careful weighing of the harm that may be done and of alternative courses of action and their possible results. Unfortunately, governments are far too prone to go to war without this kind of caution and to offer inadequate justifications for doing so; even aggressors argue that their aggressive wars are for self-defence; therefore government arguments that war is justified because of the enemy’s aggression (or for any other reason) should not be accepted at face value without intense scrutiny.

    However, to say without qualification that we should never fight wars because wars are so terrible and governments always lie about the reasons for them is likely to lose support from people who perceive that despite government lies there are cases where defensive wars are justified; therefore it is better to make the case against bellicosity in a different way.

  52. J-D
    November 24th, 2015 at 11:55 | #52


    It is not correct to say that any country that has the will to launch a successful invasion can do so if only the population of the target is small enough in comparison. If this were true, then Indonesia would be able to launch a successful invasion of Burundi if only it had the will. But that is not the case. Even if it had the will do so, it would not be logistically feasible for Indonesia to launch a successful invasion of Burundi. Indeed, although it is possible that Indonesia has no will for territorial expansion now, it clearly did in the past, as the examples of West Papua and East Timor demonstrate. Even when Indonesia did have the will for territorial expansion, however, it would not have been logistically feasible for Indonesia to launch a successful invasion of Burundi.

    To show that it is logistically feasible for a country to launch a successful invasion of a less populous one, it is not enough to cite the population ratio and the larger country’s demonstrated will for territorial expansion. In particular, to demonstrate that it would have been logistically feasible for Japan to launch a successful invasion of Australia during the Second World War, it is not enough to cite the population ratio and Japan’s demonstrated will for territorial expansion. The assessment made at the time by the Japanese themselves, that it was not logistically feasible, was correct.

  53. Tim Macknay
    November 24th, 2015 at 14:18 | #53

    @Ronald Brak

    The battleship then went on to play a starring role in a Japanese science fiction series where it was converted into a spaceship and used to defeat an evil alien race with blue skin that was turning the earth into a radioactive desert with a massive bombing campaign.

    I remember that show. It used to screen on the ABC, as I recall. I’m a little surprised that Akerman, Bolt et al haven’t wheeled it out as part of their campaign to highlight the feckless, quisling-like, surrender-monkey etc nature of the ABC.

  54. November 24th, 2015 at 18:57 | #54

    Tim, I don’t see why Bolt et al would be against Space Battleship Yamato. It shows foreigners – literal aliens, attacking the earth with bombs. It then goes on to show the “good guys” resolving the problem with violence. It’s probably among their favorites shows, right up there with Triumph Des Willens.

  55. BilB
    November 25th, 2015 at 04:24 | #55

    J-D, your example is ridiculous. Burundi is an overpopulated country verging on collapse where the population has a per person land share of .27 hectares. Any other nation wanting to overwhelm the Burundi population by flooding in a greater number of people would push that land share to .13 hectares or less certainly causing a total economic collapse.

    If you are going to attempt to ridicule the argument at least pick a scenario that makes sense, such as China’s highly probable eventual acquisition of Siberia.

  56. BilB
    November 25th, 2015 at 05:50 | #56

    Here is a clip from Wikipaedia on the Sino-Russian situation.

    “Additionally, the expanding Chinese presence in the area began to lead to yellow peril-style fears of Chinese irredentism by the Russians.[7] Russian newspapers began to publish speculation that between two and five million Chinese migrants actually resided in the Russian Far East, and predicted that half of the population of Russia would be Chinese by 2050.[29][36] Russians typically believe that Chinese come to Russia with the aim of permanent settlement, and even president Vladimir Putin was quoted as saying “If we do not take practical steps to advance the Far East soon, after a few decades, the Russian population will be speaking Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.”[37]

    Some Russians perceive hostile intent in the Chinese practise of using different names for local cities, such as H?ish?nw?i for Vladivostok, and a widespread folk belief states that the Chinese migrants remember the exact locations of their ancestors’ ginseng patches, and seek to reclaim them.[7] The identitarian concern against the Chinese influx is described as less prevalent in the east, where most of the Chinese shuttle trade is actually occurring, than in European Russia.”

    Impractical? Seriously? As global population increases and Global Warming advances I say absolutely certain.

  57. November 25th, 2015 at 06:57 | #57

    By the way Tim, there is a 2010 live action movie of Space Battleship Yamato, which one Australian reviewer described as, “It punched a hand into my childhood nostalgia and pulled out a fist full of awesomeness.”

  58. J-D
    November 25th, 2015 at 09:17 | #58


    What is your argument?

    Is it ‘it’s always logistically feasible for a larger country to launch a successful invasion of a smaller country if the population ratio is higher enough’?

    If it’s not that, what is it?

    If you won’t state it clearly, you can’t blame me for not being clear about it.

  59. BilB
    November 25th, 2015 at 10:13 | #59

    I thought that the proposition was blatantly clear. If Japan had not wasted their resources attacking every country in their region and concentrated their efforts on occupying Australia, they would have achieved a stable base from which it would have been so difficult to dislodge that the world, I believe, would have conceded their victory. So if instead of invading China in 1937 Japan had invaded Australia, they may have held a real prize at the dnd of the war rather than what they ultimately acquired, absolutely nothing.

    The distance ftom Tokyo to Syxney is nearly twice the distance Tokyo to Hawaii, but n invasion fleet wo uh ld nof hve bedn planning a return trip so distance not a real issue. A three city attack on Australia would have been an achievable strategy snd coupled with Japanese military brutality, Australua would havd buckled quickly.

    An exercise in rethinking history.

  60. BilB
    November 25th, 2015 at 10:15 | #60

    …would not have been planning a return trip…..

  61. Tim Macknay
    November 25th, 2015 at 11:55 | #61

    @Ronald Brak
    I was thinking they might interpret it as disguised Japanese ressentiment/an assertion of Japanese victimhood. That would enable them to use it in their campaign to mark the ABC as “unAustralian”.

  62. Tim Macknay
    November 25th, 2015 at 11:57 | #62

    @Ronald Brak

    By the way Tim, there is a 2010 live action movie of Space Battleship Yamato, which one Australian reviewer described as, “It punched a hand into my childhood nostalgia and pulled out a fist full of awesomeness.”


  63. J-D
    November 25th, 2015 at 12:52 | #63


    If you think it would have been logistically feasible for Japan to launch a successful invasion of Australia in the 1940s, is the population ratio the sole basis on which you are drawing that conclusion, or is it the population ratio plus additional evidence, or is it something else entirely? is there any reason why your judgement that it would have been logistically feasible should be taken more seriously than the judgement of the Japanese themselves at the time that it wasn’t?

  64. BilB
    November 25th, 2015 at 15:20 | #64

    Yes, JD the relative population size is important were a population is to be dominated by another, and that is evidenced from thousands of years of history, as much from the economic base required to mount an invasion as it is fom the need to have a sufficient people to maintain the occupation over time. As to Japan’s judgement of the time being optimal for the circumstances, I say that the outcome of the war suggests not, by a long shot.

  65. J-D
    November 25th, 2015 at 15:53 | #65


    I notice that you haven’t answered my question: is your judgement, that it would have been logistically feasible for Japan to launch a successful invasion of Australia, based solely on the population ratio, or is it based on the population ratio plus other factors? putting it another way, are you saying that a successful invasion is always possible when the population ratio is sufficient, or are you saying that a successful invasion is possible when the population ratio is sufficient and, in addition, other conditions are met?

  66. BilB
    November 25th, 2015 at 18:06 | #66

    It all depends, J-D. Population pressure alone can be sufficient for one group to dominate others over time. Indonesia and East Timor for instance, or China and Tibet. Africa into Europe, Mexico into the US, India into Fiji. There are Invasions and there are invasions. The most effective invasions are the slow ones. Russia’s claims over the Ukraine are the product of a slow invasion culminating in an attempted rapid military action. Population ratios are a vital part of that conflict.

  67. J-D
    November 26th, 2015 at 09:39 | #67


    I notice you’re still not answering my question; but if you are not interested in making your meaning clear, there’s no point in my repeating myself.

  68. BilB
    November 26th, 2015 at 10:18 | #68

    I have answered your question, J-D, in various ways, but you are attempting to establish some kind of “gotcha condition” where there is none to be had. It is fundamental to the nature of life in total to establish, grow, and spread. Humans are no different other than for the motives, timing, and deterents to “spreading”. You can intellectualise for all you are worth, but the underlying drivers are common to all life.

  69. J-D
    November 26th, 2015 at 11:16 | #69


    You have answered more general questions than mine, but you haven’t answered the specific question I asked you, not in a way that makes your meaning clear.

  70. BilB
    November 26th, 2015 at 23:11 | #70

    You’ve obviously got something in mind, J-D, or not, so let it out. What troubles you about the dynamics of human interaction?

  71. Collin Street
    November 27th, 2015 at 06:06 | #71

    You have answered more general questions than mine, but you haven’t answered the specific question I asked you, not in a way that makes your meaning clear.

    “Clear” is problematic. I cannot guarantee that my meaning is clear to you, because how you understand me is:
    a: up to you
    b: subject to error.

    Plus… sometimes people ask the “wrong question”. If a person thinks that answer A means situation Gamma and answer B means situation theta, but they’re in error about this, neither answer A nor answer B convey the correct situation, even if on their own terms and limited to their strict constraints one or the other of them is “correct”. Is it a good idea to give someone a nominally “correct” answer in the knowledge that this will form or strengthen a false impression? I think not, I think the correct action here is to back off and try and clear up the confused linkage between A and gamma.

    Which to you looks like dodging the question. Which it is, because the question isn’t one that under the circumstances existing it helps people if it’s answered.

    Plus some more, last night you went and told us “I cannot possibly stop responding to you! I am a machine without agency; if you want me to stop you must take the actions that make this happen, for I cannot”.

    I mean, I’m just putting the pieces out here: how people put them together is up to them.

  72. BilB
    November 27th, 2015 at 09:14 | #72

    Changing tack a little and getting back to “Nothing Learned”, I am going to throw out a theory on the real underlying causes of all of the middle east conflicts. In my 1990’s formula of everything economic based on the complex of [what we get from nature/human energy and imagination/opportunities], identifies religious zeal as an economic suppressor. I think that it is only stating the obvious that Islam as practised in the middle east has the sum effect of suppressing economic performance in those countries, and it is this one factor that is the principle driver of resentment with the West. There are of course many other historical grievances but I don’t think that these cause discontent in the present life experience of people, they are merely an excuse used by those who choose to “lash out” against others.

  73. J-D
    November 27th, 2015 at 11:42 | #73


    You affirm, while I deny, that it would have been logistically feasible for Japan to launch a successful invasion of Australia at the time of the Second World War.

    Given that you affirm the statement and I deny it, can the discussion go anywhere from there? Is there anything we could do that would have a reasonable prospect of resolving our disagreement, or at least clarifying its basis? Or, once we’ve expressed our disagreement, is further discussion futile?

  74. J-D
    November 27th, 2015 at 11:59 | #74

    @Collin Street

    I did not affirm that I cannot possibly stop responding to you.

    What I wrote was to the effect that if you want the exchange between us to stop you should stop responding to my comments.

    If I want an exchange to which I am party to stop, I judge the strategy of stopping myself to be more effective and efficient than the strategy of telling (or asking) the other party to stop. If I tell (or ask) somebody else to stop, the other person may stop or may not; but if I stop, I stop.

    Therefore, if you want an exchange to which you are party to stop, I advise you that the strategy of stopping yourself is likely to be more effective and efficient than the strategy of telling (or asking) the other party to stop. If you tell (or ask) somebody else to stop, the other person may stop or may not; but if you stop, you stop.

    It’s just my advice. What you make of it is up to you.

  75. BilB
    November 27th, 2015 at 13:27 | #75


    The basis of your denial is simply “that is what Japan decided at the time”. But they decided that after attacking every country in the region including the US.

    My argument, which is entirely hypothetical, is that had Japan proceeded with full resources directly to Australia, by-passing all of the other small territories with large populations and limited resources, they would most likely have won a huge resources prize at very little cost, and had a higher probability of retaining that prize in the long term. It is as simple as that.

    And, yes, further discussion is futile, unless discussion and analysis leads to better decision making in the future, or a better understanding of the role of egotistical leadership in the failings of national interactions (Bashar al-Asad and Putin come to mind here).

  76. J-D
    November 27th, 2015 at 15:17 | #76


    The basis of my denial is not only ‘That’s what Japan decided at the time’, and I’m more than happy to explain the basis for my denial at greater length if anybody’s interested.

    But even if the only basis for my denial were ‘That’s what Japan decided at the time’, it’s still more basis for my position than your stating that you think it’s true because you think it’s true.

  77. BilB
    November 27th, 2015 at 16:34 | #77


  78. Collin Street
    November 28th, 2015 at 06:14 | #78

    > I did not affirm that I cannot possibly stop responding to you.

    Wasn’t me.

    Not normal behaviour, that, forgetting who you’re talking to and treating them all interchangeably. I mean, I didn’t explicitly point it out that I’m not a person you’ve been engaging with recently, but… well, I don’t exactly have a bland written style [or at least I don’t use one here], and there’s that handle tag under the head profile to the left.

    Like I said, not normal. Plus, y’know, all that stuff I wrote in the first post: each individual element points to the one conclusion, that you don’t realise — appreciate would be a better word — that different people are different: different knowledge, different preferences, different conclusions. Different from each other, and also different from you.

    This is a Problem.

  79. J-D
    November 30th, 2015 at 09:21 | #79

    @Collin Street

    Yes, I know it wasn’t you.

    I did not affirm that I could not possibly stop responding to the person who was my interlocutor.

    What I wrote was to the effect that if my interlocutor wanted the exchange between us to stop, the interlocutor should stop responding to my comments.

    What I wrote was applicable generically, to any interlocutor in any exchange, including the specific individual was my interlocutor in the specific exchange under discussion.

    I am well aware that other people are different, with different knowledge, different preferences, and different conclusions; different from each other, and different from me.

    For example, I understand that some people, when they find an exchange (for example, an exchange with me) to be unsatisfactory, prefer to adopt approaches that are different from the approaches I prefer.

    In some cases, people prefer to adopt approaches that don’t work — and by ‘don’t work’, I mean ‘are ineffective or inefficient in achieving the goals of the person adopting them’.

    Maybe it is sometimes the case that the strategy you have a preference for is a strategy that is not going to achieve what you want it to achieve. Maybe when you are in that situation you prefer not to be told that what you are doing is not going to work (even though that’s true). Some people have preferences like that. You may be one of them. I don’t know.

  80. J-D
    November 30th, 2015 at 09:23 | #80


    Well, what?

    When you ask ‘Well?’, do you mean ‘Yes, please, I am interested in understanding the basis of your judgement that it was not logistically feasible for Japan to launch a successful invasion of Australia during the Second World War, do please continue’?

  81. BilB
    November 30th, 2015 at 10:40 | #81

    Yes, J-D.

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