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Matt Taibbi gets the Burke treatment

It’s always puzzling to people who value ‘the revolution’ more than its alleged benefits to discover that a former comrade actually cares what is true, so chooses a different side if they see the truth is there. When people who value political correctness over actual correctness meet such a puzzle, their way of avoiding having to understand it is often to explain away the change as the result of bribery. Accusing Burke of:

“… praising the aristocratic hand that hath purloined him from himself …”

…helped Thomas Paine explain away Edmund Burke’s prescient criticism of the French revolutionaries. “This is at least an elegant formulation of that perennial hypothesis of venality”, remarks Connor Cruise O’Brien in his biography of Burke – before noting that Paine’s lesser prescience meant he was lucky to escape France before the revolutionaries did to him what they did to so many fellow travellers, as things developed the way Burke had predicted.

Nothing ever changes in these brave new worlds. When it came to curing poverty and suchlike, said Burke, the French revolutionaries were happy to let any quack try out the latest nostrums, but when it came to seizing power, they used historically tried and tested methods “because there they were in earnest”. Matt Taibbi – having reported information Elon Musk made visible about how Twitter helped censor the Hunter Biden laptop story – is getting the same treatment. Journolist has done its best – and it appears that its best is to agree that a bunch of people beholden to Soros, to Pritzker (to Bankman-Fried, till just now) and so on, and their supporters, should all tweet how shameful they think it is that Matt is having anything to do with Elon, because Elon is rich.



Ten years ago, I wrote the first of my (very few) instalanched posts. (It was put up for me by Natalie Solent – I was not a poster on samizdata back then.) It was about Edmund Burke. As its old instalink has succumbed to bitrot, I quote the meat of that old post below, in case anyone wants background on his role in my post above.

When I first started reading Edmund Burke, it was for the political wisdom his writings contained. Only many years later did I start to benefit from noticing that the Burke we know – the man proved a prophet by events and with an impressive legacy – differed from the Burke that the man himself knew: the man who was a lifelong target of slander; the one who, on each major issue of his life, gained only rare and partial victories after years or decades of seeing events tragically unfold as he had vainly foretold. Looking back, we see the man revered by both parties as the model of a statesman and thinker in the following century, the hero of Sir Winston Churchill in the century after. But Burke lived his life looking forwards:

– On America, an initial victory (repeal of the Stamp Act) was followed by over 15 years in the political wilderness and then by the second-best of US independence. (Burke was the very first member of parliament to say that Britain must recognise US independence, but his preferred solution when the crisis first arose in the mid-1760s was to preserve – by rarely using – a prerogative power of the British parliament that could one day be useful for such things as opposing slavery.)

– He vastly improved the lot of the inhabitants of India, but in Britain the first result of trying was massive electoral defeat, and his chosen means after that – the impeachment of Warren Hastings – took him 14 years of exhausting effort and ended in acquittal. Indians were much better off, but back in England the acquittal felt like failure.

– Three decades of seeking to improve the lot of Irish Catholics, latterly with successes, ended in the sudden disaster of Earl Fitzwilliam’s recall and the approach of the 1798 rebellion which he foresaw would fail (and had to hope would fail).

– The French revolutionaries’ conquest of England never looked so likely as at the time of his death in 1797. It was the equivalent of dying in September 1940 or November 1941.

It’s not surprising that late in his life he commented that the ill success of his efforts might seem to justify changing his opinions. But he added that, “Until I gain other lights than those I have”, he would have to go on being true to his understanding.

Burke was several times defeated politically – sometimes as a direct result of being honest – and later (usually much later) resurged simply because his opponents, through refusing to believe his warnings, walked into water over their heads and drowned, doing a lot of irreversible damage in the process. Even when this happened, he was not quickly respected. By the time it became really hard to avoid noticing that the French revolution was as unpleasant as Burke had predicted, all the enlightened people knew he was a longstanding prejudiced enemy of it, so “he loses credit for his foresight because he acted on it”, as Harvey Mansfield put it. (Similarly, whenever ugly effects of modern politics become impossible to ignore, people like us get no credit from those to whom their occurrence is unexpected because we were against them “anyway”.)

Lastly, I offer this Burke quote to guide you when people treat their success in stealing something from you (an election, for example) as evidence of their right to do so:

“The conduct of a losing party never appears right: at least, it never can possess the only infallible criterion of wisdom to vulgar judgments – success.”

29 comments to Matt Taibbi gets the Burke treatment

  • Fraser Orr

    Your historical depth is, as ever, impressive Niall.

    One of the things I have noticed is that revolutionaries throughout history seem utterly unfamiliar with history books. Their doe eyed certainty that their latest great theory of “how to save the world” seems to ignore the reality of what actually happens in real revolutions. French revolutions are far more common than American ones. And those who advocate revolutions, who fantasize themselves as Napoleon winning at Waterloo don’t realize that they, the leaders, are far more likely to be Robespierre than Washington. And their fantasies of a new Utopia seem to ignore the fact that most of the citizens of real “Utopias” all seem to end up drowning in each other’s blood.

  • Rev. Spooner

    Well, that’s the most illuminating thing I’ve read this year.

    Not blogpost; not newspaper article; not website comment: All of those.

    Reality bites, and this explains why very well.

    Regardless of what the bien pensants think at the time, Reality always has a vote.

    And Reality is ALWAYS the casting vote.

  • Kirk

    The prophet is always, always without honor in his own land and time. Cassandra will always be the archetype for such folk.

    Having been in that position all too many times over the course of my professional and personal life, I’ll simply say this: The real problem isn’t with the prophet, but with the purblind foolish majority that refuses to pay attention to what the supposed “prophet” is seeing and talking about. Caeser believed that all of Rome was on his side, and that the discontented ones in the Senate would never act against him. Spurinna could have (and, did…) told him differently, but he would not listen to him, arrogant in his certainty. Like as not, Spurinna and Calpurnia (Caeser’s wife, who also warned him against going out on that day…) were at least somewhat aware of Senatorial sentiments, with a better “read” on things than Caeser himself.

    It’s the same with all such things, there are always people who see the piano teetering above everyone’s collective heads, who say “Look! Up there!! Piano ready to fall!!!” while everyone else is standing around, certain that since it hasn’t ever fallen before, it won’t fall now, and who wants to have to do the work of securing it from falling? Besides, it’s someone’s bit of “installation art”, and everyone loves it where it is…

    It’s human psychology. If you go look at any major event where something has gone seriously wrong, you’re almost always going to find that there were people who were pointing at the oncoming light, and predicting “TRAIN!!!”, while everyone else was saying it was merely someone walking towards them with a flashlight. Sometimes, the nay-sayers are right. Statistically, I don’t know how you’d go about evaluating all that, but I do know that there are hardly ever any occasions where everyone concerned drank deeply enough of the Kool-Aid that they were all entirely on-board with the decision-making process. Hell, there were people involved in the Challenger launch who went on record saying “Yeah, this is a bad idea…”, but who were over-ruled by their peers and supervisors.

    End of the day, the person to be looking at ain’t the prophet in question. They usually turn out to be the rational ones, the people who saw things most clearly. The rest of the mob is who you need to be looking at, the ones who heard the prophecies, read the auguries, and went ahead with their plans nonetheless.

    These people broadly fall into two major categories: Those who are too stupid or ignorant to know any better, and those who are smart and knowledgeable enough to be able to understand what the prophet was warning about, yet ignored them anyway. Of the two, I find the second category the most significant and the most interesting, because they’re generally the most destructive, in that once they commit to a course of action, they’ll keep doubling-down on it until they bury themselves and everyone else beyond all help. The first category, those who blunder in because they’re stupid and ignorant will generally stop as soon as it is recognizable that things aren’t proceeding optimally, and usually they’ll also seek help.

    Vladimir Putin seems to be in the second cohort, here. There’s an element of delusional denial in the Russian approach to Ukraine, and I don’t think that the end-state of all this will be at all in favor of Russia. Indeed, I’m somewhat in awe of the powers of denial on display… This is Hitler-in-the-bunker levels of delusional grandeur, maneuvering non-existent German formations to come to the rescue of his cause there in Berlin. I suspect it will likely end about the same way, for Putin.

    It’s been my experience in life that there are always voices of clarity, whenever folly is underway. The problem is in finding those voices and recognizing them for what they are, then stopping what you’re doing, taking them into account, and adapting the situation to effectuate a more successful outcome. In order to do that, however, you need people in charge who aren’t invested in the folly, who have the humility to recognize that they’re not all-powerful omniscient beings of utter and implicit virtue, who can’t possibly be making a mistake or be wrong in any way, shape, or form.

    Finding those people, and then putting them in charge of things? That’s the trick, and the thing which we rarely manage. Instead, it’s always Cassandra who winds up like Laocoon, screwed over by events as they play out. Rare is the correct prophet who is looked at in their own time and place as having been right, or who receives the slightest credit for that within their own lifetime.

  • bobby b

    I’ve been paying Taibbi for quite some time. He’s still a confirmed lefty, but “lefty” is no longer really what it used to be.

    He did great work on Rolling Stone, and has done even better work as an independent. Some of what he writes is jarring – his liberalism shines through – but he remains accurate and intelligent and truthful, which is all I can ask.

    Try him out, at

    https://taibbi.substack.com/subscribe?simple=true&utm_source=post&utm_medium=email&utm_content=88465450&next=https%3A%2F%2Ftaibbi.substack.com%2Fp%2Ftranscript-from-the-munk-debates&coupon=2591ceaa .

    Although I suspect that, in the weeks to come, he’s not going to go hungry for subscribers.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    For a start, the American ‘Revolution’ is misnamed. Revolutions imply overturning of society= but British society was not overturned. And the Americans didn’t change much to the government system- you still have Governors, for instance. The American Rebellion would be more apt.
    And when will being called a ‘Burke’ be a praise, instead of an insult? Or are people from Burkeshire still less sharp than others?

  • TomJ

    Berk the insult is a shortened form of the rhyming slang Berkley Hunt.

  • […] Samizdata, Niall Kilmartin republishes part of a much older post out as background on Edmund Burke (who I haven’t yet […]

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Nicholas UJG …

    the American ‘Revolution’ is misnamed

    Which is why we call it “The War of Independence” in the UK.

  • rhoda klapp

    And then there are the various things which are prophesied which just are not going to happen but the majority of people believe or pay lip service to them. Most obviously climate catastrophe. We are all punished every day for living the life we wish to because of an unproven hypothesis. I suspect demographic disaster (by excess OR dearth) is in the same category, Malthusianism which keeps getting modified so the broken theory can survive a little longer.

  • Steven R

    Nicholas (Ulicensed Joker) Gray wrote: For a start, the American ‘Revolution’ is misnamed. Revolutions imply overturning of society= but British society was not overturned. And the Americans didn’t change much to the government system- you still have Governors, for instance.

    Not to get too far off on a tangent, but I would disagree. Before the war, especially in the southern colonies, society was just as stratified as in England, where every man had his place and was expected to stay in it and show due deference to his betters. Things like bowing in the street and asking for leave were just the norm. Less so in the cities where mere merchants had money, but even in those places that stratification could be observed.

    Once Parliament started their taxes and the Intolerable Acts and the American people began boycotting British goods, suddenly the colonists, regardless of social class and distinction, knew they were in this together and were forced to work with each other. Once the shooting started, you had the gentry class and the working class standing shoulder to shoulder in battle lines and behind the scenes.

    Once the war was over, again especially in the south, some of that stratification came back, but much of it was lost forever. And in no small part because of the western edges of the colonies simply not needing those old roles and ignoring them.

    Yes, we still have governors and legislatures and the leading men were either men of breeding or men of money, but even then you ended up having men of the lowest stock being able to rise to greatness in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few years before. Who could have foreseen that a mere country lawyer from Boston would become president in 1796? Such a thing would have been beyond fanciful at the end of the French-Indian War in 1763.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    And all this happened instantly in 1776? I think it was still a gradual process, set off by the war, but the war should have a different label. As said above, the War of American Independence would be a good name for the events between 1776 to 1783. I think Revolution should be reserved for those internal struggles in a society, such as the French Revolution, or the Russian Revolution, where the upper classes are killed off, or exiled.

  • Graham

    “The prophet is always, always without honor in his own land and time.” Very true. And (to me, at least) it’s an interesting philological point that the original meaning of the Greek word prophetes was one who speaks out, in the sense of one who declares the truth that others cannot see – not one who claims to foretell the future. Such people are always needed.

  • Paul Marks

    The charge of Thomas Paine against Edmund Burke was a lie – the Earl Fitzwilliam, Burke’s patron by the time of the French Revolution (the Marquis of Rockingham having died) was moderately pro the French Revolution at first – indeed Edmund Burke REFUSED support from Fitzwilliam for that reason.

    What Mr Paine did not understand was that Mr Burke was concerned about INDIVIDUAL freedom – not the freedom of “the people” as a Collective Abstraction (as Mr Paine was).

    To Mr Paine high taxes, lots of regulations lack of security of private property, even paper money (it was then, rightly, understood that fiat money corrupts everything in society) did not matter – IF they were decided by the “representatives of the people” rather than a King.

    To Mr Burke such things were bad, to be opposed, regardless of whether they were imposed by a King of “democratically”.

    That was the difference between them.

    For further reference, see Mr Paine’s “Rights of Man” Part Two (most people only look at part one – and get bewitched by all the talk of freedom) – a whole series of proposed services and benefits from government which Mr Paine (dishonestly) pretends could be financed by getting rid of the King and those around him, and “Agrarian Justice” – where Mr Paine openly advocates taxes on land (going up to 100% on large estates) to finance government benefits and services for “the people”.

    There sort of tug-of-war in the United States over whether Mr Paine “belongs” to Republicans or Democrats – and the Democrats (yes the Democrats) are correct, he is (or was) a Big Government.

    “But Paul – Mr Paine says….” all Mr Paine’s anti Big Government statements, even his opposition to fiat money, is directed against monarchies. In relation to elected republics his opposition to the same policies drops away.

    In short “it is O.K. when we do it” was the unofficial motto of Mr Paine.

  • Paul Marks

    As for Mr Elon Musk – he voted Democrat all his adult like till 2022, he even voted for Mr Biden in 2020 (not all those 81 million votes were fake – some were real votes).

    Mr Musk opposes the censorship of nonviolent dissent – for example he has so far refused the demands of Katie Hobbs to censor news of the massive election fraud in Arzona – which I followed on Twitter from election day to the present.

    If people are not allowed to protest peacefully – then the only alternative is armed violence. This, as a man of the moderate left (and Mr Musk is a man of the moderate LEFT), Mr Musk wishes to avoid.

    In this he is wiser than the “conservatives” (i.e. establishmentarian RINOs) of the Wall Street Journal which recently published a provocation article telling people in Arizona, very many of whom had FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE of the antics on election day (even worse in 2022 than it was in 2020) that the election was straight.

    When people have first hand experience of the corruption of the election, when it was done in front of them (one third of the machines having “technical problems” – remember Republicans vote on election day, they are not mostly in the pile of fake-mail-in-ballots) then telling them that the election was straight is direct provocation.

    If you wish to avoid armed violence – then do NOT tell people who know they were cheated that they were not cheated.

    Offer the cheated people something – for example no more “election machines” and “mail in ballots” in FUTURE elections – go back to paper ballots, cast in secret (after showing proper I.D.) and then counted in public.

    If you offer cheated people nothing-at-all and sneer and lie to their faces – pretending that a blatantly rigged election was straight, then you are provoking armed violence. Either unintentionally provoking it – or deliberately provoking it, as an excuse for a “crack down”.

    I repeat – offer the cheated people something, either justice over the 2022 election (no more “lack of standing – so we refuse to see or hear the evidence” tricks by the corrupt courts) or, at least, concrete action to prevent FUTURE elections being rigged.

    No more mass “mail in ballots” and no more “election machines” – paper ballots, cast in private (after showing proper I.D.) and counted in public. Otherwise, you are telling people that the only way to get justice is via armed force – and that should be avoided.

    I think even Mr Thomas Paine would agree with that – after all his problem with Robespierre (which nearly got Mr Paine executed – he was in prison and waiting for death when Robespierre himself was overthrown) was that Robespierre only claimed to be the representative pf the people – he had not really been elected.

    Again – the difference with Mr Burke, is that Edmund Burke would have opposed the stealing and regulations (such as price controls) of Robespierre – even if Robespierre had been elected.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – even a real (as opposed to a fake) mail-in-ballot violates the principle of a secret ballot – as there is no proof the ballot was filled in secretly.

    For example, even college students (as brainwashed as they may be) may vote quite differently if they know that no one will know how they voted – if they vote as INDIVIDUALS.

    If voting is a “community exercise” (if the college students are voting as a group) then, of course, they will all vote for the left – their life in the university would be horrible if they did not.

    In the United Kingdom in some places, such as Tower Hamlets in London, voting has become a “community exercise” – with the community deciding how people will vote. This is not a good thing.

  • Kirk (it’s a bit off-topic, but so is my long post-post on Burke , and so is this reply) – you suggest two categories (too stupid to grasp warnings and too uncaring to heed them). Power and the fear of it make two others (or two sides of one other).

    Consider the Challenger disaster, where the stupidest kind of bureaucratic politics collided with the cowardly kind of commercial / careerist fear in commercial managers working for them.

    – NASA was already embarrassed because what was meant to be a big PR space shuttle launch with teacher Christa McAuliffe on board had been delayed for half a year, then delayed for days more by petty accidents/incompetences. The press, who had originally been in a ‘wow, first teacher in space’, etc., mood were getting tetchy and the bureaucrats wanted their good PR back.

    – The two NASA bureaucrats on the call with the O-ring engineers and their managers the evening before launch were therefore very aggressive: yet another last-minuted delay would be bad PR for NASA. They made it angrily plain they did not accept the company’s refusal to authorise launch in temperatures in 11 degrees or under (not usually a problem at Cape Canaveral but the weather on the morning of the dalayed to end-January launch day was unusually cold).

    However the rules said that if a supplier said their component was ‘not safe for launch’ in [circumstances], NASA had to abort – so they saw their task as getting company sign-off on their form to avoid yet another publicly-embarrassing delay to this exceptionally high-public-profile mission.

    As they made it plain they would ‘remember’ that supplier sticking to their 12 degrees recommendation, the company managers and engineers went offline and had a screaming match. When the company came back on call, the most senior manager was ready to sign off the OK-to-launch for the predicted temperature early next day, which the bureaucrats grabbed and ran with. One of the engineers went home and told his wife, “They’ve decided to kill those astronauts.” And so it proved they had.

    Long after, I saw one of those ass-covering bureaucrats being questioned: “I suppose we should have asked them why they went off-voice”, was the closest I heard him come to betraying the least self-knowledge of what he did. (He will have been helped in this by write-ups in wikipedia and suchlike which focus on the commercial engineers and managers and minimise-or-disappear the role of the bureaucrats.)

    So, studying the incident,

    – I don’t think the Morton Thiokol managers and engineers were ignorant or indifferent. They were concerned about danger to the astronauts before being subjected to strong political pressure, after which the top two managers, and the third after the top two shouted at him, saw that danger, and the unpleasantness of their engineers screaming at them, as lesser than the dangers of incurring the wrath of their sole customer.

    – I’d say the NASA bureaucrats were ignorant of O-ring issues but very knowledgable about how bureaucratic pressure works. I ridicule the idea that they did not know that the the company going off-voice and then returning with a radically-changed safety assessment was their achievement. If they thought about it at all, they could maybe have double-thought that they’d made the company change its statement but the company would not have done that if the danger were great. But I suspect it was more an example of Burke’s assessment of George Grenville (author of the 1760’s stamp act for taxing American colonies): experienced exclusively in running offices, Grenville thought the substance of the business handled by those offices not to be much more important than the forms in which it was conducted. Those two bureaucrats may not have distinguished clearly in their minds between the actual safety of the shuttle and the sign-off of the safety form.

  • And all this happened instantly in 1776? (Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray, December 5, 2022 at 10:25 am)

    No indeed (nor, I think, is Steven R asserting that); that was the whole point of the second half of my other-thread comment here (the Benjamin-Franklin-to-Burke bit).

  • Fraser Orr

    Regarding the Challenger and prophecies of doom in general, hindsight is 20/20. It is easy to look back after the disaster and lament that we should have listened to Casandra, but what about the whole rest of the chorus? There are always more false prophets than true and distinguishing between them is often hard, and is usually made even harder when politics muddies the water, as it almost always does.

    How many other times did a NASA subcontractor go home and say “we decided to kill those astronauts” before a perfectly safe launch? We don’t know.

    We have had to listen to the angry prophets of doom about many subjects, people who too think they are Casandra. Most of them are wrong. A certain young severely disturbed Swedish teenager springs to mind. Perhaps “Greta” should now mean the opposite of “Casandra”.

  • Steven R

    And all this happened instantly in 1776? I think it was still a gradual process, set off by the war, but the war should have a different label. As said above, the War of American Independence would be a good name for the events between 1776 to 1783. I think Revolution should be reserved for those internal struggles in a society, such as the French Revolution, or the Russian Revolution, where the upper classes are killed off, or exiled.

    No, it did not happen overnight. But no revolution does. It was a series of gradual steps that took a generation, but in the end the society that existed in 1783 was completely different than the one that existed in 1763. It was just one that outside of the battlefield was remarkably free of internal violence. Yes, especially in the Carolinas and Georgia, some men used the war to settle old scores, but at the end of the day there was an entirely new paradigm both politically and socially and it was all uncharted waters.

    I wish I could remember the source, but one of the upper crust in Richmond complained in a letter that in the immediate aftermath of the war, lower class men no longer even had the common decency to remove their hats when people such as he passed by in the street, but c’est la guerre.

    As an aside to our aside, as far as the US government is concerned, it’s technically known as the War for Independence, much as the Civil War is known as the War of the Rebellion.

  • Kirk

    Like I said… The most interesting players in these situations are the ones who get the warnings… And, then ignore them.

    Laocoon told the Trojans that there was something suspicious about the great big horsey the Greeks left them. They didn’t listen. The question “why” is the most interesting thing, to my eye.

    I know from personal knowledge what it’s like, telling people that something was coming and then being ignored. I was one of the many voices telling the US Army back during the early 1990s that something like the IED campaign we faced in Iraq was coming. I was told “Nope; not going to happen. We’ll never let ourselves get into a war like that; we’re ever so much more smart than those foolish South Africans and Rhodesians…”

    Hell, I’d have to argue that the US Army is considerably dumber than the South Africans and Rhodesians were. Faced with a situation in South Vietnam that was effectively indistinguishable from the one in Africa, supported by the same trainers with the same source doctrine, our solution was to have draftee soldiers with mine detectors walking on foot ahead of trucks with improvised sandbag “armor”. South Africans and Rhodesians, under sanction, produced multiple generations of purpose-built armored vehicles to do route clearance with, perfecting the MRAP well before 2000. The US Army effectively did not even have a workable counter-IED program in place, despite the clear warning signs from the Bosnia and Kosovo campaigns, as well as Somalia.

    I could go on for a few hours about the “why” of all that, but it boils down to bureaucratic dysfunction and a failure of imagination. The idiots in charge merely hand-waved the entire issue away, saying “We’ll never get into a conflict like that, we’ll just decide not to…”

    I’m really not too sure why they thought they had a vote in the matter, but they sure thought they did. What was really mind-boggling was watching the same identical set of assholes who’d told me in the early 1990s that my concerns were baseless somehow morph themselves into these brilliant responsive geniuses that enabled our fight against the IED, after they spent over a decade preventing any sort of rational preventative measures being taken.

    Case studies in stupidity, I’d term the whole thing. They claim it was all unforeseeable, but the reality was? It was entirely visible, totally in keeping with Soviet doctrine and insurgency operations.

    What did crack me up, however, was the Russian researcher I spoke with a few years ago, who told me a few things I already knew, but hadn’t really connected. He said I was right to identify that rear-area battle and communications denial (in terms of “road communications”) were absolutely Soviet doctrinal ideas that they’d taught all through the various post-colonial world’s Communist-supported insurgencies. However, he also pointed out that those ideas and doctrines were not precisely creations of the Soviet military, but more of the Soviet military intelligence community, and that they’d totally missed the likelihood that such techniques and strategies were very likely to be deployed against their own forces in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Which they were, and by some of the same people they’d trained in the old days…

    I guess it’s a good thing (?) that we’re not the only set of idiots out there who’re vulnerable to this sort of stupidity and short-sightedness. I’d still prefer a more pro-active and more thoughtful approach to these things.

  • Steven R

    I was watching a roundtable on CSPAN a few years back that had a couple talking heads in uniforms as part of the panel and the issue of HMMWV losses in Iraq and Afghanistan came up. One of the generals simply said “well, they weren’t designed to be on the front lines” and moved on to the next topic.

    Even the jeeps in WW2, Korea, Vietnam were used in front line roles, especially by lighter units and suffered proportional losses. But somehow the brain trust at the Puzzle Palace just figured if/when we got into a shooting match with the Soviets Hummers would just be in rear roles and the war would only involve tanks and APCs on the front lines.

    It astounds me how the men who actually fought in Korea and Vietnam completely forgot their experiences once they got a star or two on their shoulders and designed the next generation of equipment needs. Almost as much as it astounds me that at no point was there a voice in the room saying “yeah, but what if they are pressed into a front line role. What then?”

  • Snorri Godhi

    As for Mr Elon Musk – he voted Democrat all his adult like till 2022, he even voted for Mr Biden in 2020 (not all those 81 million votes were fake – some were real votes).


    In fairness to Elon, it must be said that he did not have much time to think about politics. He voted Democrat out of rational ignorance. Now he seems to have realized that what he doesn’t know CAN hurt him.

  • Kirk

    @Steven R,

    Weeeeellll… They’re kinda right. The HMMWV was never designed for direct combat roles, in any way, shape, or form. It was strictly an admin/support roled vehicle, from conception to design to execution.

    That was a conceptual flaw in the whole of Army doctrine; they saw war as this thing of lines and categories, which has manifestly not been true since about the middle of 1942 when the Soviets finally got off their asses and started actively doing effective rear-area battle inside the German’s communications zones on the Eastern Front.

    They see war as having definite defined lines; here is a combat zone, there is a non-combat zone. This is a delusion; there are no such things as clearly delineated combat areas. If the enemy can reach you, it’s a combat zone. Period.

    The US military does not like this; they want to keep living in their fantasy world wherein there are such things, and they can safely believe in things like “safe rear areas”. Which don’t actually exist, even in the continental US. The day is going to come when the enemy looks at all the UAV assets controlled out of Nellis AFB near Las Vegas, and they’re then going to target as many of the pilots and support crews that they can identify living out on the economy. The dislocation resulting from that is going to be epic, and potentially war-winning. My guess is that they’ve already got the plans in place, along with the intel assets to identify targets off of social media and so forth.

    We tried telling them that they needed to have uparmor packages ready to go for all of the new logistic vehicles they procured back during the 1990s. We told them that the cab-forward design that they were going with was abysmally stupid, in that choosing that design meant putting the lead axle of the vehicle directly under the crew compartment. The response we got? “Oh, these aren’t combat vehicles… They’ll never come under fire…” Suuuuuuure they won’t; that’s why they had to develop a crash program to come up with armor for them in the immediate aftermath of OIF’s opening phase.

    Do a search for the SAMIL range of military vehicles, which is the abbreviation for “South African MILitary vehicle”. You’ll note a serious dearth of cab-forwardness, and a completely conventional design, which puts the lead axle well away from the heavily-armored crew capsule. Along with a bunch of other neat features, like axle stations that can be swapped in 15 minutes after taking a 10kg mine strike…

    You’ll also note a bunch of other maladaptive behaviors on the part of the US military, in that there are vanishingly few lessons that they’ve learned from Iraq and Afghanistan. One of those would be the likely permanent need for commanders to have their own personal security detachments, in order to ensure they can get from point “A” to point “B” on the battlefield to do their jobs. We had to establish ad-hoc PSD elements in nearly every unit, taking the manpower and equipment out of already-stretched line units to do so. Upon return to home station, was there any attempt to make those PSD elements permanently established parts of the units? Nope; they disbanded them as soon as they could. They’ll be needed the next time we go to war, but we’ll have to do exactly what we did the last time, and strip line units of personnel and equipment to form them.

    There is no element of the US military that could even remotely be described as a “learning organization”. They don’t learn; they just talk, talk, talk, and never actually analyze the things they did that didn’t work out. They won’t even admit that things aren’t working, in all too many cases.

    There really should have been Congressional hearings about the lack of readiness and preparation for the IED campaigns we found ourselves involved in. There were no such things convened, because the services blew off accountability by claiming that there was no way to foresee the IED issue. Reality? We were warning the people in charge about the potential for such a thing as early as 1990.

    Another area where there is identifiably zero learning going on is the way that they’ve again destroyed the brown-water riverine forces. We should have had Navy or Marine assets afloat in all the rivers of Iraq from day one; we did not. The Army wound up burning out its bridge boat fleet trying to do patrols and so forth, but because there were very limited assets of that sort, we wound up ceding the rivers to the enemy. Why was that? Well, it was mostly because the Navy and Marine Corps do not see rivers as their job, so they won’t allocate resources or maintain forces to do that sort of work, even though it is identifiably necessary.

    Go look at the European theater inside NATO; how much of the logistics traffic in Europe is river- and canal-based? Lots and lots of it, and yet there’s just about nothing in the way of dedicated security forces devoted to maintaining those canals, rivers, or the fleets of barges that use them. If someone were to have to go to war along the Danube, the Volga, or anywhere else, there’s jack and squat available to do it with; nobody has the expertise or the equipment to run riverine patrols or conduct security operations on those rivers. It’s a huge blind spot that’s going to bite us in the ass, one day.

    Yet, just like the security for the people living off-base down at Nellis, there’s nobody doing anything at all about it. Nellis really ought to be shut down, or seriously downsized, due to its proximity to Las Vegas and the huge international traffic that city gets. There’s virtually no way to really secure the place; too many different people visiting. If they were to move operations for the UAV fleet to a more securable location, like Mountain Home AFB in Idaho, where you could see “strange foreigners” coming from fifty miles away, they’d find it a lot easier to secure. But, nobody wants to be the guy or girl who demands that action, because that would highlight some very unpleasant truths.

    Mark my words, though… One of these days, Nellis and its operations will be targeted, and the people doing the targeting will have used Las Vegas and all the international traffic to that city as a major source of cover and concealment.

  • Steven R

    I guess if there is any consolation, it’s that all those company grade officers who actually fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are now field grade officers hoping to pin stars on their shoulders and will immediately forget the lessons they learned on the battlefield (and all common sense along the way) as soon as they do.

    Cue Elton John’s “Circle of Life”.

  • Interesting info, Kirk (December 6, 2022 at 4:24 am). Some 15 and more years ago (in an arguably crazy moment), I got briefly involved in UK efforts to apply tech to the Afghanistan IED problem. At one point, I competed for a major tech-management position related to developing solutions to it. I was afterwards more worried for the west than elated for myself to be told I’d come just second behind the guy they appointed – not because I doubted the winner was a better choice but because that meant someone as ill-prepared as myself was second best of the talent they had.

    Mind you, at the time, I was helping his parents (my next-door neighbours) buy such simple things as knee-pads for their paratrooper son, his unit supplies lacking them. The UK, in military matters, has something of a tradition (in supplies – and also in pay 🙂 ) of “with courage, on a shoestring”. But I also saw something of what you did – that the IED problem looked unforeseen and late in starting to be addressed.

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri – what I fear is that the establishment will punish Mr Musk for his defection, and they have many ways to do so.

    As to why he has become alienated from the left – what they did to his son (what his son has become) may be a factor. But, yes, it was also just watching what the left did generally.

    The banning of the Babylon Bee (a satire and parody site) from Titter seems to have been the last straw – Mr Musk has always thought of the left as rebels (they present themselves as a noble “resistance”) – their true nature, their totalitarianism, came a shock to him.

    Such a big shock that he bought Titter for over 40 Billion Dollars.

    I still think he paid an absurd price – but it was his money to spend.

  • Kirk


    I would vehemently disagree with the idea that the IED “problem” was in any way unforeseen, in either the US military or the UK.

    I know this because I was one of the ones raising the issue, and I spoke extensively with the UK side of the house on that very issue. At one point, I was talking to the Warrant Officer in the Royal Engineers who was in charge of rewriting the Route Clearance pamphlet. We were all in agreement that the threat was out there, that we’d have to deal with it, and that the South Africans were the preeminent counter-IED experts. Everyone who bothered to educate themselves knew the facts; the problems stemmed from the “Not my problem” careerists in all the forces. The British Army followed along with the US mentality, that what was going on in Southern Africa was a “Bush War” backwater, inhabited by sub-par individuals and of limited application outside that theater.

    Which was insane, on the face of it all. The IRA was applying some of the same lessons the Soviets taught the Germans on the Eastern Front all across rural Northern Ireland, and if anyone had bothered to do the requisite research, that would have been readily apparent. There were even hints of it all in the Malaysian campaign, but nobody wanted to do the hard work of noticing and then doing something about it all.

    There really was no excuse, for anyone. The blind spot has been there since WWII, and if anyone had bothered to really read the post-WWII debriefings of German officers for comprehension, they’d have seen how what they were dealing with in their Eastern Front rear areas was doctrinally identical to what the West had to deal with in the post-Colonial era.

    It was almost willful “Can’t see that; not my problem…” all across the board. Much like the Navy’s approach to minesweeping, or the Air Force’s mentality about close air support: It ain’t sexy, so nobody wants to pay for it or deal with it.

    To a large degree, I blame much of it on the tendency all military forces have to stovepipe things. The tankers do their thing; the infantry theirs, the artillery still another. The root of the issue is whenever something falls in between the stovepipes, there you are: Someone else’s problem. Which means that nobody is there to take ownership of it and actually do something about it until it becomes a massive, undeniable crisis. Which usually carries along with it the corollary that a bunch of soldiers have been killed, ‘cos not much else gets the politicians exercised in the modern world we live in.

    Observably, in cases like Vietnam’s mine warfare campaigns? Not even that gets anyone to do much, really. I could go on for a couple of hours about the variegated stupidities and massive demonstrations of arrant incompetence and uncaring ineffective leadership on display in that aspect of the Vietnam War…

    Suffice to say this: The US Army was still doing route clearance in the same manner during the early 2000s that it was doing the identical job during the latter phases of WWII in Europe. The “most technologically advanced army in the world” was still walking individual soldiers ahead of sandbagged 5-ton trucks in Vietnam to look for mines and IEDs, while the Rhodesians were building mine detectors into re-purposed VW bugs with fully armored and survivable crew capsules that could run the roads at speeds of up to 35 miles an hour.

    Contemplate that, for a moment. Then, consider that neither the US nor the UK bothered to buy armored route clearance suites (available from the South Africans from the mid-1970s onwards…) until midway through about 2004-05. They’d bought one set for evaluation, here in the US, which was languishing at the Humanitarian Demining Center there at Fort Leonard Wood, but there were no plans to deploy it to the Iraqi theater of operations until a Major I knew committed career suicide by informing his congressional delegation about it all…

    Inexcusable. Utterly, manifestly inexcusable. There should have been Congressional and Parliamentary investigations convened, and bodies dangling from gibbets, as salutary lessons to the rest of the idiots in the DOD and MOD.

  • Kirk (December 6, 2022 at 11:14 pm), I wholly agree the IED problem was not unforeseen by, for example, Warrant Officers in the Royal Engineers. But as regards the kind of people who can unlock serious budgets – or simply apply trivial budgets specifically to that area as opposed to ‘sexier’ ones, my (very side-on and partial – and so very possibly inadequate/wrong) experience was that the budget and the admin focus was recent.

    Whether this means we’re agreeing, or that your relevant experience covers a much broader area than mine (which I feel sure is true anyway), I’ll let you say.

    FWIW, your example date of midway through 2004-5 is two years earlier than my experience of the state of play.

  • Kirk

    Niall said:

    But as regards the kind of people who can unlock serious budgets – or simply apply trivial budgets specifically to that area as opposed to ‘sexier’ ones, my (very side-on and partial – and so very possibly inadequate/wrong) experience was that the budget and the admin focus was recent.

    The real question here is just how, exactly, did “the kind of people” wind up in charge, and why do the rest of us tolerate their manifest incompetence?

    Root of the issue is the organizational habit, itself. We set up these vast ossified reef structures of bureaucracy in the belief that they’ll solve problems, but the sad fact is, they’re rather more often the very source of the problem. Or, at least, vastly complicate and exacerbate the issues involved.

    Once upon a time, I was a humble platoon sergeant in an Engineer battalion. We went on exercise, and found that we were working in and around a bunch of Canadian Forces soldiers come down to use our training facilities. As such things happen, I made some friends with them, and because some of them were also Engineers, we made professional contacts. One of the things that came out was that they had connections with the Canadian Humanitarian Demining program, and could finagle me some slots at that course, and were more than happy to take care of feeding and housing anyone we sent up there to Kelowna, BC. Which, at the time, was the home of the Canadian Engineer School.

    I naturally jumped on that, and tried to make that informal offer a reality; my unit agreed with me that we’d eventually get tasked with something like that, and that since we were the last general-purpose Engineer battalion left on the active duty rolls, we’d likely be a part of it. So, they gave me the green light to proceed–None of us thought it would be that big a deal, because we were used to the bridge company where we were going north into BC to train fast-water bridging all the damn time. It wasn’t a huge deal… Or, so we thought.

    Turns out, you had to get a cross-border approval from the State Department. Which I tried doing, and then when it got directed at the US Army Engineer school, the whole thing blew up. They’d had no idea about what I was doing, and were incensed that a mere lowly platoon sergeant at some backwater assignment was trying to do something like this. The entire idea was shot down, I got my ass chewed off for “not being in my lane”, and I was told, emphatically, that “…we do not want to develop this capability, because if we have it, then someone will expect us to do it…”

    A week or two after that rather unpleasant session with my commanders, I had three Special Forces NCOs and an officer walk into my office, asking what I knew about Humanitarian Demining. Why? Because, they’d just been tasked with joining the SEATO mission in Cambodia to do Humanitarian Demining by the then somewhat-new Clinton administration…

    Why’d they come to me, you might ask? Well, it was simple: The 1st SF Group had inherited the Soviet training mine set that I’d been around the periphery of purchasing from a UK source when I was in the 9th ID years earlier. Said set of mines (very good replications, with electronics that worked if you didn’t defuse it properly…) had languished in the SF warehouses since the 9th ID went bye-bye, and I knew where they were. I was the only guy who ever drew them, to use, and the SF guys had gotten word of that, and from that, extrapolated that I might know a thing or two about demining. I really didn’t know much more than the basics, but I did know we needed to get guys trained up on it…

    After having my ass reamed from on high, I then passed on my contact info up at the Canadian Engineer School, and wished the SF guys the best of luck. No idea how they proceeded from there.

    I will never forget that line, however: “…we do not want to develop this capability, because if we have it, then someone will expect us to do it…”

    That attitude perfectly encapsulates the mentality “the kind of people” we’re talking about possess. It also tells you precisely what is wrong with them, and perfectly indicates why they shouldn’t be put in charge of anything. They’re utter morons that can’t get their eyes up off the ground far enough to see the situation as it really is, around them. I was a mere platoon sergeant on a backwater installation, and I could see clearly that the Clinton administration was aching to get us “engaged”, and from that, that we’d have to do something like the humanitarian demining mission that the “authorities” in my field didn’t want.

    It’s not a matter of “what they want”, either: It’s a matter of what the world is going to face you with, and you don’t get a f*cking vote on that. It is what it is, and your desires are both meaningless and utterly irrelevant. They didn’t want to believe in the IED, but the IED didn’t care: It believed in them, and through their inaction, the rest of us.

    I remain convinced that if the Army had not presented that particular metaphorical flank to the enemy, then the IED campaign would never have even gotten past the initial stages. Once the enemy found that we were immediately prepared to deal with it, they’d have abandoned it as a bad job, and tried something else. Because we were unprepared, and because it took years to ramp up the response, they had a space of time and a flank to attack. Entirely thanks to the idiots in charge, who were more than adequately warned about what was coming. They just hit the metaphoric “snooze” button, rolled over, and went back to sleep.

    I’d laugh, but there are a bunch of dead and maimed young men and women out there who are the way they are as a direct result of “th(os)e kind of people(‘s)” incompetence and sloth. Had they done the job that the taxpayers of the US and Great Britain pay them for, then we’d have gone into Iraq fully prepared to deal with the sort of war we found, rather than having to pull it all out of our asses as we suffered from it.

    I will point out, yet again, that there have never been either Congressional nor Parliamentary investigations convened to go over the whys and wherefores of the utter lack of preparation we had for the IED campaigns in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Nor has there been a single step taken to ensure that something similar doesn’t occur in the future.

    We all might like to ask ourselves why that might be, and whether or not the people who’re “in charge” really ought to be there.