Thursday, October 28, 2004

Tutorial Vouchers

Tutorial Vouchers

I really like the idea of a voucher based funded school system. I think that long term it offers the best chance of providing high quality education to an increasingly diverse population.

However, transitioning from the current governmental management to private management is a major hurdle. Voucher schools must be able to offer all the same opportunities as the currently established schools immediately even though they are new and untried institutions. This vastly increases the upfront cost and risk of financing such schools.

We need a transitional form of voucher schools that can function as an auxiliary to government schools while they build themselves up into to full fledged institutions.

The Japanese have an extensive system of private after hour tutoring schools called juku (for younger students) and yobiko (for high school students). These tutoring schools, often called "Cram Schools" in English, exist to prepare students for Japans rigorous entrance exams for high school and college.

Perhaps we could create a similar system here using vouchers to provide extra instruction after hours. We could start by targeting at-risk students in poor schools and then expand. Such a program would direct resources to motivated students who could really benefit from additional instruction. It could provide another source of income to teachers. The tutoring schools could start out small, perhaps with just one student and could use private homes, churches, public meeting places or after hour school buildings. If successful the tutoring schools could evolve overtime into full fledge standalone educational institutions.

Politically, tutor schools would be an easier sell. It would be easier to convince parents, teachers and education unions to support a minor change to the system which would cause more money to flow to student's education than a major structural change in the entire system.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Kerry's Model

Via Instapundit comes a link to a post on NRO's The Corner which ask whether Kerry's Cold War era policy stances really tell us anything about how he would fight terrorism. I think Kerry's Cold War era policy stances are fair game because they reveal his fundamental model of foreign relations so starkly.

People make decisions based not on the merits of individual cases but by running the facts of each particular case through their existing model. People with different models arrive at different conclusions even if they start with the same set of facts. Even though the War on Terror is substantially different from the Cold War, Kerry still thinks about fighting Terrorism using the same fundamental concepts that he used to think about the Cold War.

Kerry's model results from a synthesis of New England Puritanism which directs the individual to look their own sins before blaming others and the crypto-marxist conceit that all the problems of the world have their major genesis in the actions of the Western commercial class. Therefore, when confronted with an external threat, Kerry's first response is to ask, "What did we do to cause this?" His gut reaction to any attack will be to try to alter American behavior to placate the attacker.

Kerry's Cold War stances clearly reflect this model. In a 1970 Harvard Crimsom interview, he advocated placing most U.S. foreign policy operations under the control of the United Nations. Since at that time Breshnev's Soviet Union and Mao Tse-tung's China had vetos on the U.N. security council it says a lot about how much he trusted American decision making. For the then 25 year old Yale graduate running for the U.S. congress, the Communist regimes where better decision makers on the just use of force than American democracy.

In his 1971 Senate testimony on war crimes he describe his opposition to the Vietnam war as a mission, " pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and the fear that have driven this country these last 10 years and more..." For Kerry, Vietnam wasn't about fighting Communism or American strategic interest but was a war driven by our own internal evils. Kerry truly believed that if American abandoned the area to the Soviet Union and China that peace would reign because America caused most of the violence in region. No America equaled no violence. What actually happened after we abandoned the people there is to sad for the telling.

In the 1980's, he was a proponent of the Nuclear Freeze movement (though relatively moderate compared to the rest) and strongly opposed Reagan's military buildup, Star Wars and the many anti-communist insurgencies the U.S. supported. For Kerry, U.S. problems with the Soviet Union resulted from U.S. ignorance and belligerence. The Soviet Union acted aggressively only out of fear of the West. If we acted less aggressively they would calm down. The fact that the Soviet Union collapsed after the US pursued a policy diametrically opposite of that Kerry advocated does not seem to have made any impression on him.

In 1991 Kerry opposed using force in the first Gulf War and wanted to use sanctions instead. The subsequent history of the region suggest the most likely outcome of that would have been a nuclear armed Iraqi-Kuwati superstate perched atop a significant fraction of the world's petroleum supply. Here Kerry did not trust that America could wisely use force. He wanted to conjole a democide into surrendering the greatest treasure ever plundered by using economic incentives.

Kerry's history demonstrates that his model has four main components (1) American cannot be trusted to make decisions on the use of force by itself. Something is flawed in our culture, society and political systems that requires external actors to balance. (2) Our external problems results largely from our own corrupt actions. Had we behaved more noble in the past we would not have the problems we have now. Going forward, the solution to current problems is to be more virtuous now. (3) Actual military threats don't really exist. All apparent military threats can be managed with non-military means on our part. (4) Symbolic actions are just as effective as physical actions in preventing violence.

Nothing in Kerry's statements since 9/11 indicate that his model has evolved at all since that day. He still thinks as he did in 1970. He was wrong then and he is wrong now.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


A lot of people engage in ethnocentric projection by talking about "The Iraqi Insurgency." A lot the commentary makes it appear that the insurgents are all part of the same group with the same goals. That is not the case. Like most 3rd-world peoples, the people of Iraq identify weakly with the nation state in which they live. Their primary loyalties lay with family, clan, ethnic group and religion in that order. The vast majority of insurgent do not fight because they believe it is best for all the people of Iraq but because they believe it will benefit their own subset of the population. Thinking of the problem in terms of Western nationalism or patriotism is big mistake.

There isn't one insurgency in Iraq but rather four or five. Each insurgency is attached to a specific ethnic and religious group and each insurgency has it's own goals which contradict the goals of the other insurgencies. Only the superficial reporting of the media makes it seem like one big fight. In reality, we have multiple enemies which we can turn against one another.

The first insurgency is composed of foreign Sunni's come to Iraq to fight the Jihad. They are mainly Wahabist fanatics who are by far the most viscous and amoral. They are responsible for most of the bombings directed at civilians. They seek to recreate in Iraq another pre-9/11 Afghanistan; a failed state they can use as a base for their attacks on other countries. They seek domination of the nation by Sunni's but not the native Sunni's.

The second insurgency is composed of a minority of Shia following Al-Sadar. They come from the poorest of Iraqi's poor. Most come from the slums of Baghdad. It's as if someone assembled an American insurgency from the young men of the nations worst housing projects. They seek a Shia controlled theocracy like Iran. At present they have lost popular support among the Shia and are a mostly defeated force.

The third insurgency is composed of the Sunni clans who have dominated Iraq for centuries. The view themselves much as upper-class post-Civil War whites did. They seek to maintain their positions of power and privilege against the lesser Sunni clans and the Shia and the Kurds. Most were co-opted or bought off by Saddam but were never part of his trusted clan. They are struggling for a "Saddam lite" solution where the Coalition gives up and goes away leaving them in charge.

The forth insurgency is comprised of the former inner members of the Baathist regime and members of Saddam's extended clan. They seek a return their glory days. They too would like a "Saddam lite" solution but with a member of their clan in charge.

Apart from a small group of radical communist Kurds no other group even shows up on the radar. Each of the four insurgencies wants a different outcome. Both foreign and native Sunni hate and fear the Shia and will not cooperate with them. The native Sunni's want an orderly nation state with them in charge which puts them at odds with the foreign fighters. The Baathist and Saddamites must struggle against the more traditional Sunni clans.

It is likely that all but the foreign fighters would prefer to see a victory by the Coalition and the Provisional government than to see one of the other insurgencies secure overall power. Defeat at the hands of the Coalition means assuming a non-dominating role in a future Iraq. Defeat at the hands of the other insurgents means death and slavery. The various Sunni's had been cooperating somewhat until recently but cracks have begun to appear. The third insurgency seems to be tiring of having all the fighting happening in their backyard and they are fearful that they will be excluded from the up coming elections. The foreign fighters and the Baathist are also terrorizing the other Sunni almost as much as they terrorize other groups.

To secure Iraq, we don't need people to love us or trust us. We just need to convince them that we represent the best chance for their particular sub-group to have a good future. The fact that each group in Iraq has greater cause to fear each other than to fear us give an enormous advantage.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Hearts and Minds Accidentally

Via Instapundit come this story about the people of Fallujah and other people in the Sunni triangle beginning to turn on the foreigner fighters who are actually causing most of the bloodshed. This is a reoccurring pattern in Iraq and happened most recently in An-Najaf with Al-Sadar's "militia.'

It may be just an accidental strategy on our part but allowing this or that group of insurgents to control an area for a period of time seems to have long term benefits. The locals might image that they hate the Coalition and the Provisional government but a few days or weeks of living under the rule of the insurgents seems to provide a stark reality check. The insurgents are thugs and religious extremist who terrorize and extort the local population and eventually they draw down retaliation from the Coalition. The insurgents lose the struggle for hearts and minds through their own brutality.

Iraq isn't a war about firepower. It is a war about information. The bad guys are a relatively small number of individuals hiding within a large population. Finding them requires that enough of the locals turn on them and reveal their locations. The loss of moral support in the general population, caused by their own behavior when they control an area, drives the collection of the information we need to neutralize them.

The actions of the insurgents cause the locals to view the Coalition as the lesser of two evils. We win the battle for hearts-and-minds by default.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

American Superman

(While googling to research this essay, I learned that Christopher Reeves had died so perhaps it was somehow fated to be written this day.)

I went to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow this weekend. It's a great romp if you're the kind of person who like retro golden-era style science fiction pulp adventures that features amphibious P-40's Warhawks. Before the movie, the theater showed "The Mechanical Monters" one of the great Dave and Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from 1941.

The cartoon got me to thinking about what it says about America that Superman is our archetypical hero.

Some have theorized that comic books serve the modern function of the epical myth. Instead of Hercules son of Zeus, we get Superman, Batman, Spiderman and host of other super-powered characters. As modern myths, superhero stories embody our core moral precepts. Comic books are a medium that we use to instruct children in our idealistic values. (Which is why comics were so often targets of censors.) For example, American superheros are individualistic like cowboys and often people isolated from their fellows by the moral responsibilities their powers bring them. They seldom work for or even with the government or any greater authority. This reflects the American idea that conscience and moral choice lay with the individual not the collective. Though comics, we teach our children that every person must decide for themselves what is right and wrong and accept personal responsibility for those decisions.

Superman is the American superhero. World wide he is recognized as an American archtype. He fights for "Truth, Justice and the American Way!" The superman character has been a part of the childhood of every American since the 1930's. Obviously, culturally, we as a people are very comfortable with the example that Superman sets for our children.

So, here is the weird part: Superman isn't a native-born American. He isn't even a human being. Superman is a space-alien from the planet Krypton! This fact is not some modern invention but is explained right there in the very first Superman story.

Generations of Americans have never had a problem thinking of an member of an alien species as the ultimate American. What does it say about American's conception of ourselves that our archtypical superhero is the ultimate outsider? Europeans never developed a superhero genre but if they had it is difficult to image the Germans, French or even the British of the 1930's anointing a complete alien as the archetype for their people.

I think the phenomenon of Superman teaches us that for Americans, our collective identity is about values and ideology, not race, culture or religion. Superman is ultimately an American because he is really Clark Kent, a person raised in Smallville with middle-American values. His origins don't matter, only his values do. Culturally, we don't have trouble accepting Superman as a full fledged American because we don't really have a problem accepting anybody as an American. If you believe in American ideals, you are an American. The fact that you are a space-alien who is given near godlike powers by the rays of the Earth's yellow sun does not really enter in to it.

Conversely, one ceases to be be an American when one rejects those values. When we describe someone as un-American, either seriously or in jest, we are accusing them of betraying those values. One can conceptually cease to be an American overnight even if ones roots in the physical nation extend back generations.

No other people of the world conceive of themselves in such a way. For Europeans, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese and the handful of other peoples for whom integral nation states exist, nationality is very much about "blood and soil." It is tied to race, culture, religion and geography. Saying an individual is French, German, Japanese etc tells one nothing about that individuals core values. If you re of French decent in France, you're French and that is all there is to it. A French communist is just as French as French monarchist who is just as French as a French fascist.

One reason that American so discomforts Europeans is that they project their own cultural concepts of nationalism and patriotism onto America. For the European in particular, nationalism and patriotism are inherently xenophobic to a significant degree. For a European, love of a nation state mean love of one ethnic group above others but for an American, love of nation means love of an idea. As in many areas, we use the same words and phrases, patriotism, nationalism, love of county, to describe fundamentally different concepts.

Long before the Superman story arrived to reveal it, Americans had moved beyond the tribalism of the old world. If he found out the Earth would soon explode, an American Jor-El could place his child in a rocket ship, toss in a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and shoot the child off to an alien world confident that as long as the child grew into those ideals that the struggle for truth, justice and American Way would survive regardless of what world that struggle occurred on.

So the ultimate moral of Superman is that America isn't a place, it's an idea. As long as the idea lives so does America. Wherever the ideal lives, that is where America is. Whomever believes in American ideals is an American even if they have tentacles and breath methane.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The McGuffin-Delusion

The McGuffin-Delusion arises when someone argues that an instance of technology represents the source of a problem and not the individual who controls the technology. I think it shows up in a lot of technology related political discussions.

I named it after Alfred Hitchock's description of his plot device, a McGuffin, that every character in the story searches for believing it will solve their problem. In Hitchock's movies, however, the real issues are the relationships between people not the physical objects they seek.

A good example of the McGuffin-Delusion can be found in the "Mad Bomber" movie. The intrepid hero spends 90% of the movie running around finding and disarming the increasingly clever bombs created by the villain. Superficially the movie is about the bombs but the resolution of the plot only occurs when the bomb-maker is caught.

The McGuffin-Delusion is at the heart of the "gun control" movement. Advocates of "gun control" speak as if the guns, the technology, are the problem and more importantly, what is being "controlled." In actuality, the problem is not the weapons themselves but the people who misuse them. Whether an individual has a felony conviction is a far more powerful predictor of whether they will either shoot someone or get shot themselves than whether they have immediate access to a firearm or not. By placing the focus on the guns, the gun-control movement obscures the fact that thing that gets "controlled" is people.

The Cold War era debate over nuclear weapons also exhibited the McGuffin-Delusion. The nukes themselves were portrayed as being the basic problem. We had "nuclear freeze" and "ban the bomb" movements. Yet the problem of extinction level nuclear warfare disappeared not because the weapons themselves went away but because a particular group of people with a particular ideology lost political power. The world lived under Damocles' sword for forty years because of communism. When communism disappeared, so did the threat of massive nuclear annihilation. Yet most of the debate revolved around the weapons and what to do about them.

The "Drug War" is also expressed as a problem with a McGuffin. We expend enormous resources and sacrificing many lives trying to control access to certain chemicals when the real problem of drug addiction lays with each individual addict. All drug addiction is driven by the psychological needs of individuals, not the presence of any particular drug. Addicts are on a near continuous pursuit of an altered mental state. If they are deigned access to their favored drug, they will substitute another. Most addicts use a mix of drugs continuously. Yet we have designed a huge body of law around the idea that if we could just control the physical drugs themselves the problem of individuals intense desire to escape themselves would somehow disappear.

I think we adopt the McGuffin-Delusion for political debates as form of political euphemism to keep us from having to baldly address the rude truth that problems are caused by human beings and that a political solution means coercing and dominating those human beings. Gun-control advocates don't want to say what they really believe: that the vast majority of ordinary citizens are to immoral and irresponsible to be trusted with firearms. Leftist in the Cold War did not want to address the fundamental problem of communist. Drug warriors don't want to have to admit that drug addicts destroy themselves and that drug addiction stops when the addict decides to stop it and not before.

Everybody finds it hard to sell the political idea of directing state power against real human beings. The McGuffin-Delusion lets us all pretend that the state power falls upon lifeless objects. Like all self-delusions it trades a realistic description of the problem for an emotionally comforting one. Like all self-delusions, it can lead people to someday collide suddenly with a brutal reality.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Choice of Cheney

I didn't watch the vice presidential debate. I have taken to reading such things online by preference but in thinking about the two men involved I am struck by what an odd choice Cheney was for vice president. I think this says something about the way that Bush views the Presidency.

Historically, VPs are chosen primarily for political reasons. Usually, they balance the ticket regionally or are a sop to one wing of party. The VP is there largely because the constitution requires it. The VP is a an outsider to the Presidents inner circle. He has a role and is consulted and kept apprised but he is not core.

Cheney is rather unique among VPs in that he was selected not as a constitutionally mandated spare president or to placate some faction of the Republican party. Cheney is Bush's right hand man. He is a member of Bush's inner circle and a core team player.

I think Bush constructed his administration the way he set up a business team. A vice president of a corporation has definite responsibilities and power devolves though them from the President. Bush seems to view Cheney in this role of a manager or administrator, not in the role of a political associate. Cheney is probably the first VP to have the full trust and confidence of his President and vice versa. He is directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the administration.

Bush seems to have a ruthlessly practical approach to problem solving. I don't think theory interest him much. He set up his administration to get things done managerially, not to accomplish some short term political goal. Cheney gets things done so Bush put him him the VP slot while ignoring the traditional political wisdom.

In the process he may have permanently altered the office of the Vice Presidency.

Hunting with Cripples

Such strange things you encounter while surfing.

So, there's blogger who has dubbed Kerry "Senator von Munchausen" due to Kerry's Christmas-in-Cambodia story and now he his trying to fact check a story Kerry told Field and Stream about hunting deer on Cape Cod. Kerry claims to have come-this-close to bagging a 16-point buck out on the cape. The blogger is dubious so he's turning the distributed intelligence of the internet lose on Kerry's hunting story.

That's not the strange part.

Another blogger mentioned in same post is trying to confirm if Kerry ever ran in the Boston Marathon.

That's not the strange part either.

The strange part is in a table of deer hunted in the state of Massachusetts that the first blogger links to. It really has nothing to do with Kerry other than to prove that people do actually hunt deer on the cape. The strange thing is the headings for the table. The columns are headed: shotguns, muzzleloaders, archery, unknown and ...


That's the strange part.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Saddam's McGuffin of Power

[For a more updated take see "Sarin, Sarout" on ChicagoBoyz]

In Lord of Rings, the plot revolves around an attempt by all parties to control Sauron's ring of power. The ring is an item unique in all the world. Whomever controls that one item rules the world.

This plot device of unique item is fairly common in literature and movies. Hitchcock called it a McGuffin. Every character has to be looking for that unique item.

It's not just fantasy items like magic rings and swords that get that treatment. Technology does to. Most James Bond movies feature some piece of technology so unique that control of it will lead to world domination.

All this would just be of interest to students of fictions except that for a large section of the population their gut feel for how technology actually works comes from works of fiction. Most people in the contemporary world have no direct experience with researching, creating or manufacturing actual technology. They may use it but they don't understand how it comes to be. It is very easy for people to think of technological items like nuclear reactors or computers in the same way they see them portrayed in the movies.

It's very clear from reading the ongoing debate about the extent of Saddam's WMD's that most people have absolutely no idea of the technological issues involved. Most people, even major politicians and media figures talk about WMDs as if they were McGuffins. They act as if we expected to find a giant throbbing orb in an underground base under Baghdad that had WMD written on it. They think that WMD's were discrete objects or things that could be located and controlled.

Technology doesn't work like that.

Technology isn't about things, it is about people and the knowledge they have. Once a person has solved a technological problem, once they have built something once, recreating it is a relatively trivial exercise. Trying to treat real-world technology like a McGuffin leads to situations were you would seize every item in a warehouse, declare the problem solved then ride off into the sunset leaving the factory next door running at full production. Even destroying the factory would be only a temporary solution if you left the scientist, engineers and technicians that built the factory in place.

That is why everyone who claimed to be a technical expert that ever said that the U.N. inspections were "working" was lying. The inspection never could have permanently prevented Saddam from creating WMD's. The inspectors could have stripped out every piece of technology even vaguely related to WMD's and all it would have bought us was time. The original inspection regimes was only intended to verify that Saddam had voluntarily stopped pursuing WMD programs. Once it became clear in the '94-'96 time frame that he had no intention of stopping his WMD programs the inspections were a dead letter.

As long a Saddam had his technological cadre it was only a matter of time before the recreated the weapons he made in the past. Finding a cache of nerve gas shells, some containers of weaponized anthrax spores or something else would have been icing on the cake but was completely irrelevant to the long term threat poised by Saddam's regime.

This is just one issue where the popular conception of how technology works in the real-world seriously skews a political debate.

[Cross Posted to ChicagoBoyz]

Terrorist South of the Border

Last month Time magazine did an article suddenly discovering that the U.S./Mexico boarder is a sieve that lets millions of people and tons of drugs pass across it every year. In an age of terrorism, this looks like a disaster waiting to happen. If migrant workers and drug runners can cross the border then obviously terrorist can do so just as easily.

A look at the empirical evidence, however, suggest just the opposite. Comparing Mexico to our other border with Canada we find that while several dozen suspected and actual terrorist have been caught crossing over from Canada none have been caught trying to cross over from Mexico. Moreover, none have been found in the U.S. after having passed through Mexico. If the Mexican border is such a security sieve why do the terrorist not flock there in droves?

The answer is easy. Mexico isn't the place most Americans imagine it is.

The first answer to the riddle is that the U.S./Mexican border is a apparent sieve because the vast majority of Mexicans want it to be. Mexico exerts no internal pressure to control its own border. Nobody in Mexico, from the richest to the poorest, from the most honest to the most corrupt has any motive to stop the flow of current flow of people and goods over the border.

Both the poor and the oligarchs alike need the flow of illegal migrant workers into the U.S. The poor desperately need the work and the oligarchs desperately need the social safety valve it provides. Remittences are second only to oil in Mexico's sources of foreign currency. Without the remittences from U.S. based working Mexicans, the nations economy would collapse.

Drugs flow across the border for the same reason. Mexico makes a lot of money off the drug trade. Even the vast majority of Mexicans who oppose the drug trade on moral grounds are not going to stick their necks out to save some rich gringo kid from OD'ing. They've got their own problems. It's easier just to let the Drug Lords do their business.

The great myth about Mexico is that it is a disorganized society where nothing gets done efficiently. The truth is that Mexico is a highly organized and strictly ordered society. The problem is that it is organized on a medieval system of family and patronage. The goal of Mexican organization is statis and it does that job very well.

For example, a guild system still functions for most small businesses in Mexico. All the tailors work on the same street and charge the same prices. Nobody gets anything done with buying into a patronage network. Even Drug Lords must buy into this system. Formal institutions like courts and regulatory agencies don't function like people in the developed world expect them to but that does not mean that their are no rules it just means the rules are cultural and strongly tied to specific individuals.

For example, Mexican police can be highly efficient when it comes to providing security around major tourist hotspots. For one thing, they aren't hampered by such legal niceties as a presumption of innocence for subjects. When it is in the communities collective interest that tourist feel safe around the major hotels well then suddenly Mexico is a model of efficiency.

The U.S./Mexico border is therefore largely safe from terrorist infiltration. A successful terrorist attack originating from Mexico would lead to a militarization of the border which would be a disaster for everybody from migrant workers to Drug Lords. You can bet that everybody is on the look out for any terrorist who might spoil the sweet deal the Mexicans have now. If the Mexicans suspected that somebody might be a terrorist every power in the country, formal and informal, legal and illegal would be gunning for them.

I suspect that some terrorist have tried to travel through Mexico into the U.S. I also suspect they now inhabit anonymous graves somewhere.

Terrorist need an environment of a limited state in order to operate. Mexico does not have that. Its structures are largely informal and cultural but they are no less omnipresent for that. It is far easier for terrorist to operate in Canada than Mexico.

I think the Mexican border, guarded by the organic self-interest of tens of millions of Mexicans, is far safer than the law-bound border with Canada.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Another Vietnam Lesson

During the Vietnam war, one the most emotional wrenching parts of military service was watching the vilification of service people by the anti-war movement back home. It really seemed to effect the service people of that era profoundly that some segments of the population back home questioned their collective and individual morality.

In looking at the postings and emails from service people in Afghanistan and Iraq, I don't think this generation of service people gives a damn what the protesters or even anyone moderately associated with them think about the war and the people who fight. I think the Left burned any moral credibility it had with that segment of the U.S. population that volunteers for military service by its actions during Vietnam.

I think this is good, especially for mental health of the service people. The psychic toll on the Vietnam era service people seemed quite severe. People of that era expected moral support from the general populace, even from those who opposed the wisdom of the war. When they got condemnation instead it really had impact.

I can't help but worry though, that this represents a further divide in our culture. The military no longer cares about the opinions of a large section of the political spectrum. That can't be healthy long term but the Left has only itself to blame.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Wars of Generations

Gen-X'ers complain that we can't get away from Vietnam. A war that ended 30 years ago still dogs us shaping our debates about fighting an entirely different war. But that is how every war is fought. The ghost of the wars that a generation of leaders fought in as youths still haunt them when become the nation's elders. Vietnam still haunts us because it was the war of the youth of the baby-boomers currently directing national policy.

A generation does not become the decision makers in warfare and policy until their central cohort reaches their late 40's or early 50's. We usually associate a war with the generation who served as it's foot soldiers but to understand the policy decisions and direction of the war we must look to the prior experiences of the generation that directed it.

The "Greatest Generation" fought in WWII but it did not direct it. The political and military leadership of WWII all came from the generation that fought in WWI. It was their experiences in WWI and its aftermath that shaped their policy of total defeat of the Axis powers and reversed America's isolationism in the postwar era. The WWI generation directed US policy up until the early sixties when the first of the "Greatest Generation" reached political maturity.

We think of Vietnam as the baby boomer war but it was directed by the generation that fought in WWII. They launched the war in part because their WWII experiences stamped them with an optimistic view of Americas role and capabilities in the world. They lost the war in large part because psychologically, they kept trying to cram the conflict into the same mold as WWII. When Vietnam did not evolve like WWII they became confused, frustrated and defeatist. The "Greatest Generation" did recover from Vietnam and successfully steer the Cold War to its graceful end.

The baby-boomer came to power in the 90's and their pessimistic and hesitant view of American power that they learned in Vietnam became the template for use of American force. Clinton's tepid response to Al-Quada was in part due to his perception that, as in Vietnam, America could not successfully project force into 3rd world nations. Even Bush came to office extremely leery of the use of force in most situations. He was critical of "nation building" interventions. Some even described him as isolationist.

Part of the immense divide in political debate today occurs between those boomers for whom 9/11 radically shifted their generational world view and those boomers still stuck in the rice paddies. For far to many boomers, Vietnam became the platonic ideal for all wars. Every use of American power is just another road production of Vietnam with slight changes in costume. They seem incapable of viewing the current conflict through a separate lens.

The boomers will dominate American politics for at least the next decade. If we don't understand their perception of Vietnam we won't understand their perceptions of contemporary conflicts.

Kerry's Bunker Busted

Peoples political ideas spring from an underlying coherent model of reality. Understanding that model is key to predicting their future behavior. In last night's debate Kerry revealed a key component of his world-model.

From the Debate transcript:

And part of that leadership is sending the right message to places like North Korea.

Right now the president is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to research bunker-busting nuclear weapons. The United States is pursuing a new set of nuclear weapons. It doesn't make sense.

You talk about mixed messages. We're telling other people, "You can't have nuclear weapons," but we're pursuing a new nuclear weapon that we might even contemplate using.

Not this president. I'm going to shut that program down, and we're going to make it clear to the world we're serious about containing nuclear proliferation.

In Kerry's world model controlling nuclear proliferation is about moral suasion. He would contain the threat of rouge nuclear entities by making nuclear weapons a moral taboo. To create this taboo, we must lead by example and refuse develop new nuclear weapons. Our shining moral example will create a world in which it will be difficult for any national or sub-national political entity to justify creating, stealing and using nuclear weapons of their own.

At his heart Kerry is a talker. His core skill is political persuasion. He wants fiercely to believe in a world where any problem can be solved with enough articulation. He honestly believes that he can convince anybody to do anything. In his model, the US does not need nuclear weapons, especially new types of them, because they are superfluous when moral example and negotiation can easily contain the nuclear threat.

Sadly, Kerry doesn't understand that violence isn't about moral standing, it is about physics. Violence is the directing of matter and energy against the human body such that the body ceases organic functioning. If you have a great enough power to direct enough matter and energy against your fellow humans then you don't have to give a damn about your moral standing in the eyes of others.

The minds that created and celebrated the 9/11 attacks are not going to be swayed or deterred in the least because the U.S. self-righteously refuses to build new weapons. Instead, like all militaristic enemies we have faced, they will interpret it as a sign of our effete decadence and lack of martial virtue. North Korean will not be impressed by our refusal to create weapons that might destroy their underground facilities neither will the diffuse moral condemnation of the world community mean much to a regime will to let millions of own people starve to death.

Kerry's model of international relations and the means and methods of stopping violence is badly broken. He is wedged firmly up the highest spire of the the Ivory Tower. He will unilaterally surrender the physical tools we may need to prevent mass-casualty violence in exchange for a dubiously useful moral superiority. If that moral stance fails to forestall the violence he, or more likely his successors, won't have the tools to physically stop it.

(cross posted at Chicago Boyz)