Ph.D. in political science. Now working as a senior analyst in the technology industry.
HOW TO READ THIS BLOG
Arms and Influence has two types of posts, "official" and "incidental." I'm using this blog to outline at length the classic principles of military strategy, the preferred methods of guerrillas and terrorists, and the applicability of all this theoretical stuff to current events. You'll know an official post when you see the sub-headings THEORY and PRACTICE in the text. You can see the complete outline of the discussion so far in the left-hand column of the blog, under the heading CORE TOPIC.
Incidental posts, on the other hand, are things I write when I notice something interesting in the news. They're not as long as the official posts, and they always start with the heading, IN THE NEWS. On occasion, when I anticipate that I will cite the same incidental post frequently in later articles, I'll add a link to that "canonical" post to the EXPLODING MYTHS section.
I've included some essential reading links to the left, all of which give me a tiny remuneration if you buy the book from Amazon. As of this writing (January 2005), I've earned about one dollar of credit with Amazon.com.
I've spent my whole life thinking about the connection between violence and politics. When I was in grad school, I finally found the thing that most bothered me about this subject:
For all the attention paid to past conflicts (the American Civil War, World War II, the Napoleonic Wars, etc. etc.), for all the time spent on planning for the next war (a nuclear conflict with the USSR, another conventional war in Korea, etc.), very few people took seriously the wars we were already fighting. These were the "little wars," in which US interests weren't threatened by Soviet missiles or Korean armored divisions, but by as few as a dozen or as many as thousands of dedicated revolutionaries and their supporters. These were people equipped with small arms, organizational and tactical smarts, and a great deal of patience and cleverness. And they were causing us grief in practically every part of the world, from Vietnam to El Salvador, from Lebanon to Angola.
So, I focused my research in grad school on these little wars, and one major factor why we did so poorly in them: we were not trained, organized, or equipped for these conflicts. If the wars we were really fighting, against terrorists and guerrillas, really involved serious national security concerns, then we needed to do something more serious than we were at the time.
Unfortunately, when I finished grad school, my ambitions to be an academic, think tank researcher, or government worker of some stripe ran aground on two hard realities: (1) the recession around 1990 and 1991, and (2) the complete disinterest in this issue, from the university classroom to the Pentagon briefing rooms. With a wife and daughter dependent on me, and the life of noble poverty a very expensive luxury for all of us, I decided to look for a job in another industry.
(My last official publication as a post-doc was an opinion piece in the Chicago Sun-Times that argued we'd regret someday the way we abandoned Afghanistan as soon as the Soviets pulled out. My wife, among others, have pointed out my irritating need to be right, but in this case, I wish I hadn't been.)
Which led me into the software business. Like many other educated people looking for work, the ballooning software industry needed my services. I went from marketing to documentation to product management (whatever that is), but I never turned my back completely on my old interests. I still read books and even the odd academic journal, and of course, I was a voracious reader of international news.
9/11 was a great shock and disappointment. Like many Americans, I wanted to serve, sacrifice, contribute what I could. I felt a particular pang, having planned on applying my expertise in terrorism and guerrilla warfare (I was a talking head during the first Gulf War) to prevent catastrophes like 9/11 from happening. I struggled with my options, from letting the experts handle the post-9/11 crisis to looking for full-time work in academic or policy circles again. Nothing materialized in the world outside software development (or even inside it, since I had hoped perhaps to fuse my computer and national security skills to some good end). Rather than feeling as though I had made a decision, I felt that I was drifting through life.
I always wanted the United States to take the little wars and our opponents in them more seriously. However, what the United States has done since 9/11 is, in my opinion, not serious. It's a spastic reaction at best, and at worst, a cynical use of a national tragedy to pursue other agendas. What's obviously missing from the picture is expertise in government, and enlightened discussion outside of it. Paul Wolfowitz, for all his claims of being sufficiently informed about the issues swirling in the Iraq vortex, demonstrates very little facility in these areas. Public discussion has degenerated into shouting matches, with groups of well-intentioned citizens arguing about completely different things when they think they're debating the same thing. And few people are ever held to the standard, "Do we know what we're talking about? How do we know if we're doing the right things or not?"
I have a great deal of sympathy for my fellow citizens, and an abiding faith in them. I believe that people understand the limits of their knowledge, and to be good citizens, they need to make more informed choices. Democracy cannot function without a debate that leads somewhere. By tying what I know about military theory, revolutionary warfare, US national security, and other issues to current events, I hope to engender a better debate, whatever you believe about Iraq, George Bush, the PATRIOT Act, or Osama bin Laden.
In case you're interested, I got my Ph.D. from the University of California at Irvine. The title of my thesis was, "Little Wars, Big Problems: The United States and counterinsurgency in the postwar world." I now live in Northern California with my wife and daughter.
[In case you're wondering, the picture at the top of this blog was taken during the Battle of the Bulge. It's one of the most haunting war photographs I've ever seen.]
All content copyright © 2006 Tom Grant