I Built an African Army – By Sean McFate | Foreign Policy

Today the stage is Afghanistan — a near-failed state controlled by a weak central government, essentially devoid of basic infrastructure. The lessons of Liberia may help. Both countries are relatively underdeveloped and have a war-ravaged modern history. What's more, Afghans and Liberians both lack a sense of national identity as such and often identify first by ethnic group and second as Afghan or Liberian. These factors are challenges for creating a national army in a place where the majority of the population is illiterate, tribal or local loyalties trump patriotic allegiance, and ethnic blood feuds are ancient and deep.

Here, then, is an account of some of the decisions and obstacles we wrestled with in Liberia — an experience that taught me the challenges of creating soldiers and policemen whom children run toward for protection, rather than away from in fear.

Source: here

Two views of strategy

From the Seven Pillars of Wisdom:

“The public often gave credit to Generals because it had seen only the orders and the result: even Foch said (before he commanded troops) that Generals won battles: but no General ever truly thought so. The Syrian campaign of September 1918 was perhaps the most scientifically perfect in English history, one in which force did least and brain most. All the world, and especially those who served them, gave the credit of the victory to Allenby and Bartholomew: but those two would never see it in our light, knowing how their inchoate ideas were discovered in application, and how their men, often not knowing, wrought them.

T.E.Lawrence on Discipline

From Seven Pillars of Wisdom:

… it had seemed to me that discipline, or at least formal discipline, was a virtue of peace: a character or stamp by which to mark off soldiers from complete men, and obliterate the humanity of the individual. It resolved itself easiest into the restrictive, the making of men not do this or that: and so could be fostered by a rule severe enough to make them despair of disobedience. It was a process of the mass, an element of the impersonal crowd, inapplicable to one man, since it involved obedience, a duality of will. It was not to impress upon men that their will must actively second the officer’s, for then there would have been … that momentary pause for thought transmission, or digestion; for the nerves to resolve the relaying private will into active consequence. On the contrary, each regular Army sedulously rooted out this significant pause from its companies on parade. The drill instructors tried to make obedience an instinct, a mental reflex, following as instantly on the command as though the motor power of the individual wills had been invested together in the system.


This was well, so far as it increased quickness: but it made no provision for casualties, beyond the weak assumption that each subordinate had his will-motor not atrophied, but reserved in perfect order, ready at the instant to take over his late superior’s office; the efficiency of direction passing smoothly down the great hierarchy till vested in the senior of the two surviving privates.

It had the further weakness, seeing men’s jealousy, of putting power in the hands of arbitrary old age, with its petulant activity: additionally corrupted by long habit of control, an indulgence which ruined its victim, by causing the death of his subjunctive mood. Also, it was an idiosyncrasy with me to distrust instinct, which had its roots in our animality. Reason seemed to give men something deliberately more precious than fear or pain: and it made me discount the value of peace smartness as a war-education.

Anonymous, Religion and the Internet

This is disturbing for lots of reasons.

“A loose confederation of online troublemakers who call themselves Anonymous have declared war on the Church of Scientology by flooding its servers with fake data requests, describing the attacks as punishment for the Church’s alleged abuse of copyright laws and alleged brainwashing of its members.”

Lipstick and Individuals

This has left me speechless. From the diaries of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin, DSO. on the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 [via Banksy]:

I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen.

It took a little time to get used to seeing men women and children collapse as you walked by them and to restrain oneself from going to their assistance. One had to get used early to the idea that the individual just did not count. One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect.

It was, however, not easy to watch a child choking to death from diphtheria when you knew a tracheotomy and nursing would save it, one saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, and men eating worms as they clutched a half loaf of bread purely because they had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference. Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand propping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves of the dysentery which was scouring their bowels, a woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated.

It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick.

At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.


[Update: This from Nicholas]

I actually worked on Artsy’s new Banksy page and I think it would be a great resource for your readers. The newly designed page includes his bio, over 70 of his works, exclusive articles about Banksy, as well as his up-to-date exhibitions – it’s a unique Banksy resource.

Additionally, find out about one of the men behind Banksy’s rise to fame (https://www.artsy.net/post/francesca-gavin-steve-lazaridess-banksy-auction-tests-the-artists).

I’d like to suggest adding a link to Artsy’s Banksy page (www.artsy.net/artist/banksy), as I believe it would benefit your readers. I look forward to staying in touch with you about future opportunities.


Democratisation ain’t flawless

Not sure how I got there, but I’ve just finished reading “Democratic Institutions, Traditional African Institutions, And the Role of Liberian Youth In Conflict Resolution“, a speech by Charles Kwanulo Sunwabe, Jr. and found this little nugget in it.

“democratization is a tedious process, which has the potential to lead to war”

If anyone knows who the “Roberts” is that’s meant to have said this, I’d love to know.