Politicized Armies

Kenneth Pollack’s Armies of Sand, and its thesis predecessor, “The Influence of Arab Culture on Arab Military Effectiveness”, is fascinating not just for its core claim, but also in how, culture aside, politicization and underdevelopment worked in theory and practice.

Pollack listed three main types of excessive politicization for militaries.

  • “Praetorianism”, where the military is more interested in politics and/or gaining power than preparing for serious combat.
  • “Commissarism” or ‘coup-proofing’, where the military is subject to measures designed to neutralize it as a political threat.
  • “Palace Guard” where the military is designed more for combating internal threats than for high-intensity combat.

The three can easily blend together. Praetorianism can be followed by commissarism as the winner of a power struggle consolidates, and commissarism and palace-guardism can be tied as the regime and country blur.

Palace-Guardism appears to be the least worst of the options, because in many cases an internal threat is far more urgent and far more credible than an external one, and because the common separate palace-guard forces (think the Republican Guard) are frequently benchmarked against the regular army and thus serve as the strongest conventional force.

Pollack’s description, which he backs up with evidence and case studies from several heavily politicized armies, is that politicization frequently leads to wildly uneven performance and affects the politically vulnerably upper ranks far more than it hits the lower, more obscure, or safe lower ones. Sometimes it can be downplayed, particularly in commissarist systems, if the regime lucks into a few high-ranking officers who are both militarily capable and politically friendly. And it often doesn’t need that many (For instance, a sample Light OPFOR Expeditionary Army needs only one army and three to five division commanders)

It’s an interesting study, as overly politicized armies will exist as long as politics and armies do, and it shows both the similarities and differences in every incarnation of it.

My Book Backlog is Done!

So, every book on my big backlog I’ve read or at least sampled and then put aside to read later. Some of them made it to Fuldapocalypse or are in the review ‘stack’, others did not and will not.

Perhaps the most famous entry is Heinlein’s original Starship Troopers. The most charitable things I can say about it are that it probably aged poorly and that I understand how it can scratch a “he gets it” itch for veterans because of its realistic depiction of boot camp drudgery. Otherwise, I didn’t like it. It has this overly “bouncy” and somewhat rambling writing style that I found to knock down both the boot-camp-coming-of-age main plot and the modest amount of actual action.

My military sci-fi itch is pretty much subsided-of the four remaining books, three were military sci-fi. I did find Jonathan Brazee’s works good for my current ‘cheap thriller’ tastes and will be checking out more of them, but I think it best to put the remaining “guy in armored space suit” books on the back burner until the genre fatigue wears off. Those made up the bulk of my holiday purchases, so returning to the delightfully technothrillery Thunder of Erebus was a good ‘grand finale’.

Going forward, I have two general priorities. One is slightly more highbrow works of fiction-I love cheap thrillers, but think going a little higher would be helpful. I definitely plan on reading and reviewing the classic Forever War, for one example. The other priority is tanks, because while some of the books had tanks in them, none were really in a starring role. So I’m planning on reading more tank books (and yes, that includes sci-fi tank books).

This whole experience was fun, and I hope to encounter more literary gems.

The Terror of Saltybet

You are someone. You may be a superhero, or a supervillain,  or a student, or a monster of some kind. Whoever you are, you are going about your daily business. Then suddenly, you are transported. You are thrown into a strange place, fighting someone who is usually a totally strange person/monster/road sign by your standards. And you have this insatiable urge to fight them, as they do to you.

Sometimes it’s just one fight-you either win and go back, or lose and go back. But sometimes it’s a big long tournament. You have to go the distance. And you see them-them. The people in the audience. To them it’s-a -game? A casino?

Ok, so I thought it would be fun to do a piece seeing what a Saltybet match is like from the character’s perspective, using the most disruptive method I could think of.

Saddam’s Ring of Doom: Corps Defense of a Large City

The “Ring defense of Baghdad” that was the ideal goal of Saddam in the 2003 Iraq War was illustrated by a later CIA illustration as this:

The “rings” were a British-influenced line system. Yellow is the initial deployment of forward screening forces, green the initial line of main forces, blue the first fallback line, and red the final one, where the survivors would switch to a positional defense after a fighting withdraw.

In practice, the shambolic 2003 army facing an overwhelming opponent was unable to implement it in any meaningful way. Even in theory, it uses the mobile heavy divisions as part of the ‘anvil’ rather than a separate Stalingrad-style “hammer”. Yet it remains an interesting example of a plan to have a large corps-sized unit defending a very large city.

The Fall of Gold Eagle

So, I found a Nader Elhefnawy blog post on the shuttering of Harlequin’s Gold Eagle imprint for “men’s adventure” cheap thrillers in 2015 (although Harlequin has continued to release new Mack Bolan ebooks since then). Besides the increasing diversity in media as a whole, the genre is mentioned in the post as being squeezed both from above (from bigger-market, less assembly line-ish cheap thrillers) and below (from independent/self-published ones).

Now the indies and the big-timers both have structural weaknesses and strengths. As for how the Gold Eagle Bolans (and similar professional assembly line fiction) held up, I’ll have to read them. Even Ahern’s Survivalist doesn’t really match up, as that was a giant serial made by one person, not 27 standalone books made by different ones.

Back to a Big Book Backlog

Ok, so now I’m back to a big backlog of books to read. It’s not a bad problem to have. Now, to be fair, almost all of them are cheap thrillers. But I like cheap thrillers, so it’s only fair that I read stuff in a style that I like.

Besides, the cheap thriller genre can be surprisingly diverse, I’ve found. It can encompass everything from throwaway potboilers to gritty and genuinely thought-provoking tales like Peters’ Red Army. And even the former can be incredibly fun.

And even I don’t read only cheap thrillers.