Nothing learned, nothing forgotten

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.

81 thoughts on “Nothing learned, nothing forgotten

  1. 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.

  2. @BilB

    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.

  3. @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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.”

  8. @BilB

    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.

  9. 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.

  10. @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”.

  11. @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.”

    Heh!

  12. @BilB

    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?

  13. 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.

  14. @BilB

    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?

  15. 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.

  16. @BilB

    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.

  17. 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.

  18. @BilB

    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.

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

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. @BilB

    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?

  23. @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.

  24. J-D,

    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).

  25. @BilB

    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.

  26. > 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.

  27. @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.

  28. @BilB

    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’?

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