Last time I wrote an essay that consists of mainly just rehashing old stuff (I know, how lazy of me) and then mixing it with something contemporary (yeah, we are all watching it unfold, but I’ll get to that, eventually). The format of this essay is the same, mixing something I’ve covered in the past with examples from what’s dubbed as the Ukraine-Russia war, which is simply a text book example of an empire invading what surrounds it because that’s what emperors do, as discussed in the previous essay.
I covered stuff that pertains to the emperor and the empire, how that all works (or doesn’t, really), so I won’t do that again (not that I’m not rehashing with this essay, I know, I know). To be honest, there’s no shortage of takes on this, so, instead of me doing just that, what you’d probably expect, copying people who know what’s what when it comes to the military, I’m going to do something what you probably don’t expect, mixing what I know from what I’ve read with my own experiences in the military, while contrasting that with what took place in the first weeks of the invasion.
Right, as I mentioned, this war is very real. It’s there and it gets recorded. It’s bloody and there’s plenty of evidence. People get killed and nothing about it is nice. You’re lucky if you die of small arms fire, like in what might happen in an armed robbery gone bad situation. If you know what kind of weaponry there is, what could get you killed, you aren’t that shocked by smart phone footage of people’s bodies scattered all over an intersection, having been blown to bits, bodies burnt to crisp by being exposed to temperatures that melt metal, recognizable only as broadly speaking having once been humans, or bodies lying face down on the asphalt, in a pool of water mixed with their and/or someone else’s own blood. There’s nothing funny, nor glorious about that. You are dumb to think otherwise. It’s just sad, really, to die a horrible death in some war that doesn’t even really make any sense to begin with.
Do we need to see such footage? Yes. Oh, yes. Should we be seeing such footage. Again, yes. For sure. And don’t get me wrong. That’s not to praise or glorify war or war efforts. No, no. When you realize how it is, gruesome, you won’t glorify it. You know you and others may end up paying a heavy price for such actions, so you’ll tread lightly. Sometimes it is a risk worth taking, yes, but you need to be aware how it is, likely very costly, so costly that an imperial regime like Russia does not want to show it to the people.
What I don’t want to see is tidied up footage, like what the Russian army PR troops publish. What they show is some convoy somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, embarking on some supposedly heroic journey, some tanks rolling in neat formation or helicopters or planes being armed at some remote airfield, followed by them flying in the sky, in an undisclosed location. It looks good, cinematic, color graded and what not, yeah, sure, but it is so contrived and glorified. It’s as if there was no war, as if there was no bloody invasion.
This sort of attitude has also crept to journalism as well (as a reader / viewer expectation). If you are a photographer covering war, you aren’t doing your job if you take photos of goods at a market stall, in some relatively safe area or soldiers petting cats in spotless uniforms, instead of taking photos of the mangled bodies of soldiers who’ve died gruesome deaths, local emergency services pulling people, alive and dead, from buildings leveled by artillery, air strikes or missile strikes, and showing it to the world.
I’m not a war photographer, nor do I want to be one, but as a photographer I could do that job and I’d have no issues covering the gruesome aspects of it. It comes with the territory. The closest that I’ve come to such is in sports photography, where people do get injured fairly regularly. I’ve had people send me angry feedback that I shouldn’t be taking and publishing photos of injured athletes, in agony, or the very moment that they get injured, in sports like hockey that have plenty of body on body contact, where that kind of stuff happens, regularly, it being part of it. Sorry, if it is violent, it should look violent. It’d be simply dishonest of me not to cover that aspect. I’d say that there’s probably something wrong with you if you can’t handle it, while claiming to be interested in it.
To be clear, I don’t think that violence should be glorified. No. There’s a limit to that. We don’t need to see every injured and/or dead person out there, from all the angles. But at the same time it should not be covered up or left out of the picture either. It should definitely be shown if it is something that comes with the territory. If you get offended by such footage, I’m sorry but you are probably out of touch with reality. Get a grip. It should be shocking. That’s the whole point, to push you, to shock you, to make you realize what it is like. Life is tough. No point sugar-coating it. Learn to handle it.
Anyway, to get back on track here, this is actually something that the Russian Feder… sorry, the Russian Empire, doesn’t understand or understands but is unable to turn into its favor right now. How so? Well, in the west it’s a free for all or nearly so anyway. You can express just about anything without consequences (there are, of course, some consequences, don’t get me wrong, but I think you get the point). For Russia this has meant that it can sow dissent abroad, which it has done, quite successfully. That said, it can’t do it now when it’s all too obvious. There’s just way too much footage of burning APCs, tanks, trucks, and planes, mixed with footage of dead soldiers that someone would go through the effort to make it up. War isn’t a picnic.
Back home the Russian strategy is the polar opposite: restrict media and access to it. To tie this with the previous essay, it’s not about what, but all about who gets to express what’s what. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari explain it in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, what’s considered the truth is dictated by the emperor, in this case Vladimir Putin, and controlled by the functionaries, in this case those close and loyal to him. The question is not whether this and/or that journalist or media outlet is right about something, for example that it is a war and not a ‘special military operation’ or that the air forces and the artillery are hammering residential areas, indiscriminately, instead of targeting military targets, with precision, but rather who is entitled to express such in the first place. In this kind of despotic or imperial regime it is the emperor and the functionaries who are entitled to such. No one else is allowed to express anything that contradicts what the emperor has said or done or the interpretations of those by the functionaries. Everyone else is therefore just riffraff who mustn’t be allowed to participate in the process. Their task is to do as they are told.
The emperor and the functionaries would love to do this abroad as well, because that’s the only way they can control the situation. But as it can’t do that, at least not everywhere, it undermines the open processes that are outside its control by sowing dissent. When it cannot claim the exclusive right to dictate what’s what, what is considered objective, it seeks to make everything outside its territory subjective. It’s a clever ruse.
But what’s the problem for the empire then? Well, people in the west aren’t buying into their narrative and that means that nearly everyone has turned against the empire and are keenly aware of those imperial ambitions. Simply put, everyone thinks that the emperor is an asshole.
To be fair, that’s common among emperors, so this should hardly come as a surprise. After all, assholes do tend to be full of shit. An imperial regime doesn’t give a damn about anyone who isn’t A) the emperor and B) one if the functionaries. That’s why reducing cities to rubble makes sense in that regime. It’s not like they care. It’s not like they have to rebuild any of those buildings or bury any of those bodies. Nah. It’s the people who have to do all that. Then again, if that does come as a surprise, or came to you as a surprise, that’s because it’s a system that builds on deception. Like I pointed out in the previous essay, it’s all smoke and mirrors.
But why does it resort to such an obviously poor strategy? It makes no sense to level cities unless it serves a strategic purpose. If they are filled with enemy military, then, yes, it makes sense. That happens all the time. Soldiers do use buildings as cover and the enemy soldiers do fire on them or their positions, sometimes calling for air support or artillery to take care of that for them. But if you are doing it for the sake of it, just reducing buildings into rubble, you seek to demoralize the enemy. Okay, that sort of makes sense if you seek to end it all, to get out of the war, but if you seek to grab the land, destroying it all comes with such a high price tag that it makes no sense, whatsoever. It’s just counterproductive. If your goal is to vassalize or annex, why the fuck would you destroy the infrastructure, blow up all the factories and kill many of your future taxpayers? That’s as stupid as keying the car you are about to steal.
Then again, that’s your average emperor type of stuff alright. Someone else will have to do all that reconstruction and someone else will have to pay for it, so it’s like, whatever. Don’t expect that to make sense. Just deal with it.
You may also be tempted to point out that it makes no sense sending your own soldiers to death, by the thousands, which is what is happening in Ukraine. And you are right, that’s just stupid. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because you are decimating your own taxpayers. Then again, you need to keep in mind that the emperor and the functionaries don’t care about the soldiers. They are riffraff to them.
Deleuze and Guattari (424-425) expand on that, explaining how the emperor operates. In summary, it’s about capture. What they (424) mean by that is that they bind people to their will. Importantly, the soldiers are not the emperor’s own soldiers, as they (425-426) out. In other words, they are people who the emperor dupes to do his or her bidding. They are expendable for that very reason. They are not those close to the emperor, so it’s like fuck them.
The two (425-426) make a particularly interesting point about how it is the mutilated or, rather, the infirm that do such. They aren’t capable of mutilation, which is a product of war, as they (425) point out, because they themselves have been mutilated, which is why they need others to do all that nasty business for them, as they (425-426) point out. In their (426) words:
“The State apparatus needs, at its summit as at its base, predisabled people, preexisting amputees, the stillborn, the congenitally infirm, the one-eyed and one-armed.”
This is basically what Herbert Hoover said during his speech on June 27, 1944, titled as ‘Freedom in America and the World’:
“Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die. And it is youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow and the triumphs that are the aftermath of war.”
You can find this (254) in ‘Addresses upon the American Road: World War II 1941–1945’. Before saying that, he also said that:
“In every generation youth presses forward toward achievement. Each generation has the right to build its own world out of the materials of the past, cemented by the hopes of the future.”
I agree with this. This is how it ought to be. That said, it rarely is this way. It definitely isn’t this way in Russia. In fact, it has been that way over there, across the border, as I pointed out in the previous essay. It’s always old men making the decisions.
Anyway, back to Deleuze and Guattari. It’s worth pointing that I’m largely ignoring the other element here, the pact of jurists, which is opposed to the bond of the emperor. That’s because I’m focusing on all things imperial. Of course, it does play a role as it is not that empires don’t have laws and contracts. They are there in the mix, so that you can argue that a clever emperor not only makes others do his or her bidding, but also sends some of his or her functionaries to give those he or she dupes some security or, at least, some sense of security (which is probably false, as the whole regime is based on deception). In this case it would be lying to the soldiers that they will be rewarded after the ‘special military operation’. It’s still deception, so it’s not like this aspect plays a major role, which is why I opted to ignore it initially.
To summarize a couple things before I move on, for the emperor, in this case Putin, the problem with ignoring the western media, what the actions of the empire look to those outside the borders of the empire, is that the empire, in this case Russia, is already fucked. Nearly everyone is by now part of Team Ukraine and they’ll do anything to bankrupt the empire, as fast as possible. On top of that, the more there are Russian casualties and destroyed or lost military equipment, the more tempting it becomes for some to do exactly the same to the empire as what the empire did to its neighbor in hopes of vassalizing or annexing it. Some neighbors might just expand their borders at the expense of the empire once it cannot protect its imperial borders because there are no soldiers to do that, they are in the wrong place to do that, or they aren’t getting paid to do that. This might, of course, also happen from the inside, with some areas coming to the conclusion it might be time to do their own thing, seceding from the empire.
But why is imperial army so weak? Why isn’t it what people thought it was? Why can’t it handle what it considers its former province? Why is pesky Ukraine kicking its ass? Well, the thing with the imperial system is that it’s all for the emperor and the functionaries. The short answer is that everyone who matters in the empire is so busy lining their pockets, living the life of privilege, that money isn’t being spent on the military, or at least not to the extent people thought it was. It looks good on paper, there being this many armored vehicles, this many trucks, this many artillery pieces, this many aircraft, this many missiles, this many bombs, and this many soldiers with this many small arms, but it doesn’t do you any good if that’s only on paper. If most of that is mothballed somewhere, waiting to be repaired and/or upgraded, and if most of the soldiers aren’t trained as well as people were told they were, it’s all, once more, smoke and mirrors.
When everyone takes a cut, there isn’t a whole lot left of the original budget when everyone involved is taken into account. Imagine someone close to the top taking a 20 percent cut from the budget allotted to them by the one on the top. Then imagine someone else below that person also taking a 20 percent cut from what’s left following the first cut. The imagine someone below that person also taking a 20 percent cut from what’s left following the second cut and so on and so forth, until you reach the level of grunts. They get whatever they are allotted: boots, some camo uniform, underwear, a pair of socks and gloves, a vest and/or a chest rig, a helmet, an assault rifle (a light machine gun or a marksman rifle), a couple of magazines with 30 rounds each (belt boxes or a number of smaller magazines), a couple of grenades and possibly an anti-tank weapon of some sort. They might also have other stuff, like night vision goggles, but that’s all beside the point. They are also responsible for handling the vehicles, food, fuel, and the ammunition. There isn’t a whole lot to take a cut from, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Russian soldiers have sold some of their gear. The most expensive stuff like night vision goggles could simply be reported as having been lost and the fuel as having been used, even though they’ve actually been sold to civilians, who then profit from that once they sell them to someone else who wants a pair of those. The gist of that is that they can be sold because they are not their personal property. The military will give your unit more fuel and, perhaps, more gear to replace the gear that was reported as missing. Alternatively, those in charge may not necessarily supply more fuel, nor replace the gear, but indicate in some written report that they have done so.
Why are the logistics so, so shit? How can the vehicles run out of fuel? Well, firstly, if you don’t know it already, military vehicles weigh not just a ton but tons, and therefore require powerful engines that, simply put, consume fuel by the ton. For example, the Soviet era designed gas turbine engine in the costly tanks used by Russia in Ukraine, the T-80s, can, apparently, consume up to 750 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers. Even if that’s not accurate, even if that’s too high, that’s like 7,5 liters per kilometer, not per 100 kilometers (which would be pretty good for a car). It can do about 300 or so kilometers with its 1100-liter internal fuel tank, assuming that the tank stays on the road and the conditions are ideal, but that’s not a lot. On top of that, if it’s not re-fitted with an auxiliary power unit, that engine is going to keep consuming that fuel like crazy even when stationary. While western tanks also consume quite a bit of fuel per 100 kilometers and, to be clear, tend to weigh even more, those tanks are known to be hilariously fuel inefficient, even when the tanks have been modernized through upgrades. While the T-72s and the T-90s (they are really just a modernized T-72s) used by Russia in Ukraine do a bit better, they aren’t exactly fuel efficient either. Also, while the APCs and the trucks don’t consume such crazy amounts of fuel, they still consume a ton of it when compared to your modern fuel-efficient car.
Now, the good think for the Russian empire (to play the devil’s advocate here, for a moment) is that it has virtually endless supply of fuel. The thing is, however, that it’s one thing to have that and another thing to have that in the tank, in a tank, in a battlefield, across a border, in a territory that you do not control. To make more sense of this problem, the distance from the southern tip of the Belarus border, where a lot of Russian troops entered Ukraine, to Kyiv, the capital that the imperial army wants to take over, is only something like 150 kilometers if you stay on the main roads, so easily manageable even with a T-80, but that’s assuming that the convoy that doesn’t have mechanical issues and that it won’t have to stop every now and then to avoid being ambushed for cruising on the main roads. In short, that seems easy, on paper, even with such gas guzzlers, but as it turns out, it isn’t.
In addition to fuel, you also need to make sure that you have enough ammunition, food, and water, as well as mechanics who can fix vehicles if they break down. Ideally you have plenty of ammunition, no problem, and enough food and water for whatever the goal happens to be. That all makes sense. It all needs to be taken into consideration. The thing is, however, that it doesn’t appear to be taken into consideration, at least not properly. If it is a common practice to skim a bit, here and there, as it is in such a regime, it’s not at all hard to believe that vehicles haven’t been maintained properly, readied for war, that they been refueled before leaving the friendly territory, that the ammunition has been taken care of and/or that combat rations have expired years ago.
In summary, the problem is that the imperial military is run on a surprisingly low budget, which is then undercut by people who claim to be using that budget properly, while actually pocketing some of that money. While running things on a tight budget is bad, it’s even worse when the actual budget isn’t what it says on paper. Now imagine that tighter than tight budget mixed with wasteful practices, such as shooting weapons for purposes such as breaking into private property, to get some loot, and there you go, even the ammo starts to run out at some point. You may think that it’s a minor thing, what’s a couple of rounds gonna change, and you are right, but imagine it being a common practice, so that soldiers shoot at random things instead of enemies or their positions, just because, and you have yet another big problem. The logic behind that is that it doesn’t matter because you can always tell your superiors that you actually used them in a firefight, even though you didn’t.
Then there’s the sheer incompetence of it all. Basically everyone who has done military service in Finland has been taught that the Soviet or the Russian army is a great army that not only has much more equipment than we do, but also highly trained professional troops that our conscripts and reservists, mixed with a handful of pros simply cannot handle. I remember being told to keep my head down because they have some wizard level tech that fixes on our position once we are out of cover. Now, it turns out that apparently these guys can’t get anything right strategically, nor tactically, and they still run on some crummy cold war era tech that could never even do anything close to the kind of wizardry the officers warned us of. It’s mindboggling really. For example, their comms is utter shite. I mean come on. People are apparently trolling and jamming their comms, online, from the comfort of their homes, somewhere abroad. Also, they are supposed to have some new comms system, with all the latest bells and whistles, but they call their superiors, on some local cell phone, because their encrypted ones rely on existing 3G/4G network. What. The. Actual. Fuck. That’s one of the dumbest things that has come to my attention. Of course that system could be one of those highly touted things that never really worked in the first place, but that only makes it worse.
All of these issues undermine the imperial military. That said, I’ve yet to cover what’s most problematic: low morale of troops. Deleuze and Guattari (366) make note of this issue and further expand on it in the notes (555). The short story is that those who serve the empire tend to lack solidarity, because it’s all about establishing privileges and holding on to them, no matter what, as they (366) point out.
If you are more interested in this, I recommend having a look at what Ibn Khaldun has to say about this kind of situation in ‘The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History’. While you have to get used to the terms he uses and read it all in the context of his time, in the 14th century, he explains the importance of solidarity really well, with plenty of examples. I don’t think you have to be a scholar of Islam to appreciate his work.
Ibn Khaldun (257) notes how in such arrangement it’s all top-down. The rule has full control. He (258) reckons that there to be a society, there must be some sort of hierarchy and some rules and restrictions. You can’t do just whatever. That said, he (258-259) differentiates between just rule and oppressive rule.
He (296) comments on the oppressive rulers, noting that no matter how popular one’s leaders are, there is this temptation to “indulge in a life of ease and sink into luxury and plenty”, to “make servants of their fellows and contemporaries” and to “use them to further the various interests and enterprises” that they have set up. It will only a matter of time when these leaders fall as all that life of luxury will make them weak, as he (286-287, 297) points out. In his (287) words:
“The things that go with luxury and submergence in a life of ease break the vigor of the group feeling, which alone produces superiority.”
“They thus invite (their) own destruction. The greater their luxury and the easier the life they enjoy, the close they are to extinction[.]”
New leaders will emerge from the community, and they will step in to replace them or, alternatively, if there is no one to step in within the community, outsiders will swoop in, which will be the end of that community of people, as explained by him (297-299).
This is the case for Russia. Once Putin and his functionaries lose the last remnants of authority, they will get replaced. Either they are removed from within, and some others step in, or they fall prey to outside forces. Russia probably won’t fall and be swallowed by some other state, but I don’t think it would be out of the question that it splinters. A number of areas could secede to form their own states. Neighboring countries might also rush to take what they consider theirs. For example, there are number of minorities that may push for independence. Similarly, China might want some of the lands it used to control back in the day, despite having officially given up on those claims, and Japan might want Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.
Now, of course, the situation is not as simple as presented by Ibn Khaldun. There was no nuclear threat way back then. The Russian army lacks solidarity, but it has that trump card at its disposal. He (299-300) does, however, manage to explain why the Ukrainian army is as strong as it is, why it has that solidarity: for the Ukrainians, defeat means a final defeat, being wiped out and assimilated to Russia, becoming Russians. It’s also worth noting that they can’t accept a deal that will result them becoming led by some puppet, because, as explained by him (301), “[t]he group that has lost control of its own affairs thus continues to weaken and to disintegrate until it perishes.” If they will be defeated, they will be reduced to people who’d rather tolerate being oppressed, having to pay taxes and serve the empire, than be proud for who they are, willing to be killed and destroyed for the people, for one another, as explained by him (289).
Speaking from experience, a military has a number of hierarchies. Firstly, you have the great split between officers and non-officers. Secondly, the officers are split between the commissioned and the non-commissioned officers (NCOs). Thirdly, the commissioned officers are split to those you can find in the battlefield, among the non-officers, and those who serve in some kind of strategic role in the HQ. Fourthly, you have the professional soldiers and the conscripts.
The non-officers are the grunts who do most of the work and tend to have solidarity among them. Importantly, that solidarity rarely extends to the officers. The grunts may have some solidarity with the NCOs as they spend time together, as well as to the officers who are on the battlefield, as they are there where things go down. They may also have general respect for the officers, in recognition of their accomplishments. That said, I reckon that solidarity is typically only found among the non-officers.
I’ll give you an example. I remember being in a forest, part of a larger military exercise. I went to get more firewood from our designated truck. The driver had brought some for us a while ago. It was snowy. I had to open up the back of the truck, climb aboard, move some of the firewood closer to the edge, get back down again, stack it on the ground (not ideal, because it picks up snow, but what can you do), close the back. That’s quite the ordeal, but, well, someone had to do it. So, I finally picked up the firewood, stacking it all in front of me, piece by piece. I could barely see in front of me because the stack of firewood blocked my vision. I started making my way back to our tent. Then I noticed an army car. Someone had popped for a visit. As I was alone, I was the one to investigate it. There was an officer in the car, some fancy pants colonel, who gave me shit for not introducing myself and my unit, as is customary (being specialists, set out to do a certain job, we did not guard our own posts, as others were supposed to do that for us, in case you wondered about that), while I was holding a tall stack of firewood in front of me, unable to even see him properly, inside the car, mind you, with the engine running, mind you. I was like okay, okay, I’ll have someone come over, no problem, and I did, no problem, while I was hauling all that firewood while I at it, never dropping it to the ground, while that fat fucking officer took his sweet fucking time, being a complete asshole about it. Oh, and if you think that was the end of it. Well, no. I believe that I ended up having to do all kinds of extra chores, stuff that just somehow landed on me, stuff that was, to be honest, way over my head, while looking like an idiot while at it. I was sent to some briefing, not even having the faintest clue where I was. I was told that we’d be moving from where we were at the time, not knowing where that was, mind you, to somewhere else, to wherever the fuck that was. That may seem like a standard practice, fair enough, but thing is that I didn’t have a map with me, for that important meeting that I was assigned to, not because I forgot to bring one, but because I wasn’t given one. So, long story short, fuck that colonel. Zero shits given about the grunts. No solidarity, whatsoever. All he cared about was his rank. Ooh, look at me, I’m a colonel. Had it been war time, I would have been fine, with my stack of firewood. It would have been easy for the enemy snipers to figure out his rank. It is not hard to spot an asshole. As I pointed out, an asshole tends to be full of shit and, to add something here, it tends to end up shitting all over the place.
Oh, and if you think that it’s inappropriate to exemplify such behavior with a defecating anus, you are wrong. It’s highly appropriate and you know it if you’ve ever lived the military life or, I guess, participated in any highly hierarchical system (you know, like how it is with the emperor and the functionaries). I’ve pointed this out in a previous essay, but, anyway, there is this expression in the Finnish military that “shit rolls down hill” or, to be more accurate to the Finnish original, “shit flows downwards”. The more you have stripes or chevrons (aka “shit plows”), i.e., the higher you are in that hierarchy, the less shit affects you, because it keeps flowing downward, largely settling at the bottom, covering the grunts.
Now, contrast that with another example. It was the same exercise. We had moved to the next place. Initially, we had trouble finding that place, because, well, I didn’t know where we had been and for sure didn’t know where we’d be going. I had been dropped off close by to our next position, during the daytime, with some others who showed me the way and later on brought me back. When we packed our stuff soon after, we moved to the next place in the dark. I was with the senior lieutenant, and I was supposed to tell him if we were there yet. It was pitch black and I had no idea where we were, because I didn’t even know where we were on the map. I couldn’t point to a map, because no one had given me a map (I felt like this was intentional, to teach me a lesson, because I had upset the colonel). Anyway, after the senior lieutenant did the sensible thing and asked someone who knew where we should have been, we got there. After that, everything was smooth sailing. I remember being out there, doing what were supposed to be doing. Once more, I was holding on to something, just waiting there for others to do their part. A car stopped near me. Oh no. Here we go again. Luckily it wasn’t colonel asshole this time, but general whoever it was, who was surprisingly keen to learn what it is that we were doing, in complete darkness, mind you. To be clear, that was pretty inconvenient, having to deal with a such a bigwig, having to answer his questions, while trying to do what I was supposed to do. The thing is, however, that he was keenly interested in it all, like oh, I see, interesting, interesting, keep up the good work young man and what not, not at all fussy about some formalities. I could respect the rank there. He had spotted us and had asked his driver to stop the car. He took initiative. He stepped outside, in the dark, in pitch black. He made his way to me, through all that snow, and asked how I was doing. Whereas colonel asshole was all about eminence, the general was a man of the people, all about solidarity. I think you should be able to get the point already, but I’ll elaborate on that soon enough.
Then there’s also that division between the professional soldiers and the conscripts. The former are typically academy trained career officers, but they can also be former non-academy trained conscripts, reservist officers, who are contracted, short-term, as NCOs. The thing to understand here is that they make their living in the military. While they don’t like to be called such and aren’t typically called such, they are, in my view, mercenaries as they are in for it for the money, no matter how they claim to serve their country. The conscripts aren’t motivated by the money. I mean there is hardly money there for them. It’s a matter of service, if not servitude. It’s possible, even likely that you get treated poorly as a conscript, by people who get a proper paycheck for it, which is why there is little solidarity between the conscripts and the pros. It’s kind of tough for the have nots to feel for the have lots. It’s that simple. Again, speaking from experience, it’s also why the conscripts try to avoid the pros as much as they can. They don’t care about you and neither do you about them. They can and do exercise power over you, but not vice versa and there’s very little that you can gain from them, so you’ll do your best to minimize any contact with them. Again, you do respect the rank, but not the person. It’s just eminence. No solidarity there.
To be clear, unlike most people, I have great respect for the pros, inasmuch as they acknowledge that they are mercenaries. Why? How could I? Aren’t mercenaries in just for the money, like I just pointed out, and thus serve anyone who is willing to pay them for that? Yes, that’s right, but no mercenary is dumb enough not to consider who they work for, a mercenary company, and the contracts between the company and a state. It will look bad in the mercenary CV if he or she has been contracted to work for some known dictator. That’ll make it difficult to get more work later on. It’s about the short-term gains vs. the long-term gains. That said, my respect for them is not really based on that but on the fact that they don’t claim to do what they do out of the kindness of their hearts or in fealty to some state. Some countries have their own mercenary companies that they’ve branded as foreign legions. They claim that they aren’t employing people who aren’t nationals of a conflict party because once they are contracted, they swear allegiance to the one of the conflict parties. Note how it is not necessary to be a national of one of the conflict parties, only to swear allegiance to that party. How is that not a just a contract that must be fulfilled? Haha! Ludicrous!
Then we have the private military companies or PMCs, which is just some clever branding by the mercenary companies and the states that contract these companies in order to avoid coming across as contracting mercenaries, which is exactly what the states are doing. I think it would be better to just acknowledge that all mercenaries that are contracted by a state do it legitimately, without any need to justify it through some nonsense about allegiance to the state. They are just like the career officers and the NCOs that get a paycheck from the state. I don’t see a difference there. They are all mercenaries contracted by the state. They have a job to do and they do it until their contract is no longer valid.
I think Carlos Ortiz puts it well in his on the matter ‘Private Armed Forces and Global Security: A Guide to the Issues’ when he (2) indicates that we’ve taught to take it for granted “that most forms of private violence are deemed illegitimate”, which is why the issue of mercenaries, i.e., private contractors, troubles us. He (4) expands on this:
“It is traditionally accepted that the exercise and overseeing of the legitimate uses of force are state prerogatives. The use and management of constabulary and military forces are their most recognizable articulations.”
He (4) then adds to this, noting that this is a Weberian take on it, how a state is a territorial entity that is based on the successfully monopolization of violence. So, the problem with mercenaries is that they don’t mesh with the conception of statehood, which is why they are typically deemed illegitimate, as he (4) points out.
What’s interesting about Ortiz’s (4-5) take is that these days states do, in fact, rely heavily on the private sector. Like he (4) points out, militaries are not, no longer large standing armies with large reserve forces, but lean and agile organizations, to use some IT-lingo here. So, in a way, they themselves operate a lot like mercenary companies. I guess we could even go as far as saying that the military is expected to work like a company, in the sense that it is to be held accountable for using its budget wisely. I’m no expert in this, but if we trust Ortiz (5), most of what we think as being handled by the military is actually handled by private companies that compete with one another for those contracts. This is why he (5) notes that a Weberian take cannot be reduced to state having a monopoly on violence. Instead, the state has the monopoly on deciding who has the right to use violence, be it a public or a private entity, as he (5) points out. That’s why he (5) summarizes that:
“Therefore, while remaining the ultimate arbiter of the legitimate uses of force, the state increasingly assigns defense and security functions to private commercial firms.”
He (5) also makes an important distinction that nonetheless holds. On one hand, you have the mercenary companies, the PMCs, that are deemed legitimate by states, internationally, and, on the other hand, you have the mercenary companies, the PMCs, that challenge the existing order of things, internationally, working against states. What I find particularly interesting here is that while I agree with this distinction, that it is what it is, it nonetheless falls apart when you take something as rare as two legitimate and well-established states engaged in a war with one another.
For example, take Russia and Ukraine. Both have mercenary companies working for them. We can call them PMCs, if that’s what you want. We can also call them volunteers, if that makes you feel better. We can go back and forth, arguing about the nomenclature, but they for sure aren’t conscripts. Both states likely view the mercenaries they contract to be legitimate and the mercenaries the enemy contracts as being illegitimate. How do we know which side has legitimate contractors and which side has illegitimate contractors? Well, in the present, when the war is ongoing, they are, arguably, equally legitimate, as contracted by the states. However, in the future, it is likely that we’ll view those who served the winning side as legitimate and the losing as illegitimate because, generally speaking, the victors get to decide what’s what. I mean, you can’t hold the victors accountable for their actions, unless you are willing press the issue, which could then lead to having to settle that on the battlefield. So, in short, there are no legitimate or illegitimate mercenaries, as such, only winners and losers.
Ortiz (7-8) comments the terminology, noting that, on one hand, there is this tendency to conflate military with security, to soften the perceptions, viewing them as companies that provide valuable security services to the state, and, on the other hand, to view them as led by self-serving moneygrubbers that couldn’t care less how many civilians the people who work for them kill. He (7) argues that neither is correct and that we are naïve to think that the private-public partnerships in violence are a trend that will go away if we subject it to criticism in order to reject it. In other words, he (7) is against presupposing that what he prefers to refer to as PMCs and what I prefer to call as mercenary companies are inherently evil and therefore cannot be part of the order of things.
He (7-8) exemplifies this with how in some cases the restoration of the state, what people considered to be the legitimate state, would not have been possible had it not been for these companies. To be more specific, he (7-8) notes that Sub-Saharan Africa had many pervasive low-intensity conflicts that would have been impossible to handle without them, in order to “allow public, private, and humanitarian organizations to operate.” He (8) doesn’t buy into a one-sided narrative where there is only one side or a faction that does something and is therefore to blame for all of it:
“It is like imagining war and conflict with only one belligerent side in mind, often PMCs.”
To make sure that you get the point, he (8) puts that in other words:
“To put it bluntly, we rarely reflect that PMCs are contracted out to help reengineer a regime of security lost to the pillage and predatory advances of all sorts of armed factions.”
To be fair, he (8) does acknowledge that this is not always how it is, nor that there are any guarantees that things will work out great, so that order is swiftly and successfully restored. He (8) lists a number of things that may well happen when a state is dealing with these companies. Firstly, the higher the risks, the less likely that it is that the companies can fulfil their contract. There are just too many contingencies to take into account. Secondly, some companies may not necessarily fulfil their contract, ask for more than that was agreed upon and/or use excessive force. Thirdly, people may well get killed.
If you ask me, there is nothing surprising about any of those things. Mercenaries are expensive for those reasons. Firstly, they take the high-risk gigs, knowing that things can go wrong, really horribly wrong, and expect to be paid well for doing that. It is not a charity. As it is contract based, I assume that they get paid for achieving goals, not for loitering. If that’s not the case, well that’s on the party that contracted them. Secondly, not all mercenaries are equally professional about what they do. Something tells me that the more expensive ones take a lot of things into consideration, not only to fulfil their contract, to achieve the set goals, but also to get more contracts in the future, whereas the cheaper ones may not be as reliable, nor honor the contract. Thirdly, mercenaries know that people can and probably will get killed in the process. There’s nothing cute about it and I’m sure they are well aware of that.
He (8) also acknowledges that his stance, which is also my stance, is likely controversial, but that’s only because people tend to presuppose that all the state monopoly of violence is limited to public entities, which, by all logic, it is not the case as the state is, in fact, in position to delegate that as it sees fit, even to private entities, such as PMCs, as he calls them, or mercenary companies, as I like to call them (as all that is for profit, what we might just call work, because work is for profit, encapsulates the idea of being a mercenary, which is why I don’t take issue with mercenaries). Using private entities is just one way of doing things, which is not inherently better or worse than using public entities, i.e., institutions, to get the job done, as he (8) points out. I know it’s an unpopular view, but I’d say that it all depends on the outcomes.
To be clear, I don’t recommend anyone becoming a mercenary, nor endorse joining a foreign army as a so called ‘volunteer’. That’s not because I’m against mercenaries, no, for the aforementioned reasons, but because some may think it’s all fun and games. I know there’s a lot of foreign fighters in Ukraine, as requested by the state, and it’s probably tempting for many, knowing how poorly trained and equipped the Russians are, but the chances are that you and/or others are going to get killed, possibly because you happen to be there. If you don’t have combat experience, long military career (training others) and/or recent military training that is relevant to how the Ukrainians operate (namely anti-tank, anti-air, pioneer/engineering, sniper), you are unlikely to be of help (because even with specialist training your skillset might not match what they require or they use different equipment). Also, even if you do have a relevant background, but you don’t speak Ukrainian and/or Russian, you probably won’t be of much use. With excellent English, you might be of use, even of great use, but that really depends on a lot of other factors, including your physical fitness. I know for sure that while I’d be of great use here, if this had happened here, I wouldn’t be of much use in Ukraine. With my training and my language skills, I’d be just responsible for getting other people killed. It’s that simple.
Solidarity might also be what one might call camaraderie. When the grunts have to salute someone, to show an officer respect, for something that the grunts think that the officer hasn’t earned, which is their respect, not merely rank, there won’t be any solidarity between them and the officer. So, for example, if an NCO, such as a sergeant, has led a group of soldiers successfully, perhaps saving their asses a couple of times, and, perhaps, vice versa, there will be that solidarity among them, regardless of the rank. Notice how that’s dynamic, based on the interactions between the soldiers. The problem with rank is that it is a fixed notion, which isn’t conducive of solidarity. It has eminence, sure, but it doesn’t have much to do with solidarity.
In many cases you have squads. They consist of small groups of grunts commanded by an NCO, who is, in turn, commanded by an officer. In this arrangement an officer commands multiple NCOs who each command a squad. The grunts in one squad may have solidarity with the commander of their squad, let’s say a sergeant, because they work well as a unit. There’s that respect, if you will, and, importantly, it’s earned, specific to the dynamics of that group of soldiers and their commander. That said, the grunts in that squad may have no solidarity with the commander of another squad, who, in turn, may or may not have solidarity with the group of soldiers he or she commands. Why? Well, there could be a number of reasons. I’m going to go through a couple of them.
Firstly, and most obviously, the soldiers might not deal or have dealt with a certain NCO that much. Remember that rank doesn’t result in solidarity. It’s just eminence. The soldiers are expected to do as they are told, sure, as that NCO outranks them, but they might not obey the commands of that NCO out of respect for that specific NCO. Instead, they only obey those commands because that’s how rank works in the military. It’s fixed. You have to obey your superiors. That’s the default configuration. It’s that simple. This means that the soldiers do what they are told, but they may do so somewhat reluctantly and even have contempt for that specific NCO. They might go as far as doing the bare minimum, just what they are expected, and even be glad if that NCO dies in combat, because their relationship is based on rank and not solidarity.
Secondly, an NCO may have acted in ways that show little consideration of the soldiers. Yelling at them, telling them what to do, perhaps even belittling them, with recourse to rank, won’t result in solidarity among the soldiers and the NCO. It’s more of the opposite. Those soldiers will look forward to having that NCO replaced with someone else, preferably with someone who doesn’t do that as then there’s a greater chance of having solidarity among them.
In my own experience, you typically have solidarity among the grunts, largely because, as a grunt, you can’t exercise power over other grunts, but not even that’s a given. It really depends on who you are dealing with. It’s not uncommon that some in the squad get along well, have each other’s backs and do most of the work, while there are also others who lack solidarity with them, probably because they aren’t willing to pull their weight or to have someone else’s back. I’d say it’s the same with the NCOs, albeit that only applies to a lesser degree. I remember some of them being great, so everything tended to go smoothly. The squad did good, which made the NCO look good in the eyes of their commanding officers, and the NCO did good, making sure the squad members were treated well. It was kind of the same when it came to the officers, albeit to even lesser degree than with the NCO. The grunts pulled their weight if they felt that they were treated fairly and what they had to do made sense to them. Conversely, if they felt like the officer treated them poorly and/or arbitrarily, there’d be that schism. They’d still do as they were told, but only doing the bare minimum. It was like doing things by the book, for the sake of the book, but without showing any interest to it. Some might opt to do things very meticulously, showing great care for what they were doing, not because they cared, but because it would take longer that way, which would, of course, irritate the officer, but in a way that they could do nothing about, kind of like following the letter of the law, but not its spirit. For example, some might carefully pack their belongings, taking his or her time to do a proper inventory of what it is that he or she was commanded to pack, which would grossly exceed the time the one in charge had allotted to it. That person would command the soldier to be faster, who, in turn, would refer to being obliged to take care of anything that has been allotted to him or her as it is not his or her personal property but the property of the state that he or she is personally responsible of keeping track of and maintaining, as anything that goes missing must be reported as such as soon as possible so that the chance of recovering it is maximized, as the soldier may have to reimburse the state for anything that goes missing if it was deemed to have been caused by his or her negligence. That is, of course, a total dick move, but that’s what you get when you lack solidarity, when you treat the soldiers poorly, unfairly or arbitrarily. They will respect the rank, but they will not respect you.
Oh, and if you want to have that solidarity, the troops need to be treated fairly, across the board. Doing seemingly pointless exercises (there might a point to them, but if your troops don’t get it, they appear to them as pointless, and the superiors are to blame for that) and looking like you get off from yelling at them won’t give you that. In reality, they are probably thinking of ways to fuck over their officers who behave in such ways. Some of that is about instilling discipline, you know, like all that marching in formation (as if such rows and columns have been relevant in the last couple of hundred years!), folding bedcovers, carrying heavy boxes from place A to place B, from B to place C and from C to A, basically any pointless task, which kind of makes sense, to a degree that is. That said, in my experience, instead of instilling discipline, it ended up sowing dissent. Okay, people wouldn’t go against their superiors, because you can’t do that, but they’d do their best to do put in the minimal effort or, at times, even intentionally fuck up, followed by asking a permission to redo what it is that where doing (in monotonous, almost robotic voice), as if it was a mere accident that they themselves noticed. Why fuck up intentionally? Well, because it makes the superior look bad in the eyes of their superiors. The superior might respond to that by treating the soldiers harshly, by making them do all kinds of pointless things, for the sake of it, which the soldiers would do, seemingly happily, while putting in the minimal effort. This is because they already feel like they are treated unfairly and it doesn’t make a difference if you keep treating them unfairly. What’s a bit more shit going to do to them? Well, nothing, really. They are alredy covered in it, and the commanding officer also gets a bit of that on him or her as well, which he or she wouldn’t otherwise get, so, yeah, there’s that.
The larger problem, from the point of view of the military, is that while discipline is required, so that people know that they can’t do just whatever, as you are there not just for yourself, but for those around you, just as they are there for you, it’s like a poor version of solidarity. In other words, if you have solidarity, you already are disciplined, but having discipline does not result in solidarity. To be clear, solidarity is way better than discipline. The former is active. The latter is passive. When you have solidarity, it’s not about you and you just know that, intuitively. It’s there and you’ll be a tight knit unit where everyone is looking after one another. If you have discipline, you are conditioned not to be selfish, to act in a certain way. That does, of course, have its benefits. The soldiers know what their role is in relation to others and the roles of others in relation to them, but they lack that motivation for it as everyone is replaceable. It’s robotic, if you will.
I already provided some examples, but to further comment on that, my knees took a beating in the military, not in anything that matters in warfare, but in all that pointless parading. They got much better once that over the top, fussy, exaggerated, marching stopped or didn’t happen that frequently and we focused on things that make a difference, in the battlefield. They got better and, to be clear, they are much better these days, because some stupid officer isn’t making me do pointless shit like parade marching. This is something that really irked me about the whole thing. Instead of focusing on the knowhow, going through each drill, first in parts, explaining what the point is each time, then again as a whole, followed by a further discussion of what the point of it is we just did stuff and were told that this is the way and that you don’t need to know why we do what we do, the way we do them. Like how are you supposed to adapt to changing situations when you are expected to do something mindlessly, without any consideration as to why it’s done that way? Yes, the one in charge is in charge and gets to make those decisions, but how will that work efficiently, yielding the best outcome if you keep relying on doing what that person tells you to do (hide behind that tree, yes Sir!), at all times (shoot, yes Sir!), without taking any initiative (reload, yes Sir!)? Why not teach the people to take initiative, no, not wildly, guns blazing, but in a way that’s cohesive? You’d think that you’d want that, so that the one in charge can trust those in his or her group, that they not only do as they are told, but do it on their own, without someone having to micromanage it all, because in actual situations you don’t have such luxury.
What I’ve explained so far has largely been about how things are during peacetime. While there’s probably not a lot of love between the grunts, the NCO and the officers during peace, things can change considerably during wartime. Why? Well, that’s basically because the mundane squabbles that you are used to no longer appear to be relevant. It’s you and me, and bunch of others, against some other people. Your background doesn’t matter unless it’s relevant to warfare. The arrangements are just very different. All the suddent it’s an us vs. them situation.
Now, of course, just because there’s a war doesn’t mean that you’ll have a lot of solidarity. To use the contemporary example, it’s clear that Russian troops have very little solidarity among themselves. In stark contrast, the Ukrainians have a lot of solidarity. It’s not hard to understand why. The former are part of an invading imperial army. They are not fighting for one another, for all the Russians, but for a new province or a vassal for the emperor. That’s not a very compelling reason to risk your life, if you ask me. The latter are fighting for themselves, for Ukrainians, and defending what they consider to be theirs, against an imperial army sent there by an emperor. In fact, they’ve got so much solidarity that they feel sorry for those who have ended up serving in the imperial army, because it sucks to serve an emperor.
So far I’ve been referring to solidarity because it’s probably much easier to grasp what this is all about by calling it that instead of calling it asabiyyah (عصبيّة). It’s not exactly the same as esprit de corps, as noted by Deleuze and Guattari (366, 555), but it is close to it. In common parlance, sure, it’s the same and you should be able to get the point that way, but they (366) don’t conflate the two because the spirit, in this Ukraine context fighting spirit, also requires a body, not just the spirit. Oh, and the spirit is totally not a soul, as they (366) point out.
They (366) further elaborate the importance of the body and the spirit, not just one or the other, and their interplay by noting that this all has a nomadic origin. They (366) state that they build on Ibn Khaldun’s work, noting that what they call the war machine, i.e., the nomad way of life, combines families or lineages and esprit de corps. They (366) then clarify that what is meant by family or lineage in the nomad context is not to be confused with our conceptions of them as, what I guess, what we’d call nuclear family. Like I pointed out in the essay dedicated to this topic, because we are used to thinking of kinship in the way we do contemporarily, at least in western societies, it can be difficult to comprehend what they are after here. I mean the way they (555) characterize the nomad way of life as marked by pure lineages makes it seem a bit, how to put it nicely, obsessed by genetics, which can fool you to think it’s like that, like eugenics or something. Don’t be fooled by that, that’s not it. The nomad definitions of family and lineage is pretty much the exact opposite of that.
To make more sense of that, how the nomads handle kinship, one should check out Ibn Khaldun’s ‘The Muqaddimah’, as I’ve done in a previous essay (it’s generally speaking very good reading and way, way ahead of its time). In summary, if you don’t want the long story, according to Deleuze and Guattari (555), there are three main points that he makes in his book. I’ll go through these.
Firstly, unlike for sedentary peoples (those who hold ground, have territories), for nomadic peoples (those who do not hold ground, do not have territories, but rather stay on the move) eminence, i.e., authority or superiority, what Ibn Khaldun calls royal authority, is subordinated to solidarity. For sedentary peoples it’s all about explicit (known) eminence, like how you have these fixed positions from which power is to be exercised, hierarchically, as I’ve already pointed out. Know your place, if you will. For the nomadic peoples, it’s all about implicit (secret) solidarity between people. To tie this with my own examples drawn from my own experience in the military, the former is how it is all about having to respect the rank as authority or superiority, that eminence, in a fairly rigid way. The latter doesn’t lack eminence, but it subordinated to solidarity, as already noted. As Deleuze and Guattari (555) point out, the leader of a group does not have a fixed position of power over the others. Instead, it is the group that gives the leader power over them, as noted by them (555), inasmuch as they do and as long as they do, as leaders can always be changed as the eminence is always tied to solidarity. That’s why I pointed out earlier on how those who do have solidarity can and do find ways of getting rid of superiors that they think treats them poorly, unfairly or arbitrarily.
Secondly, sedentary peoples tend to be socially immobile, and their lineages tend to be impure, whereas nomadic peoples tend to be socially mobile and their lineages tend to be pure. What is meant by all this is that those who stay put tend to have very rigid or fixed social systems, with distinct fields (horizontal segmenting) and clear hierarchies (vertical segmenting). Moving up the social ladder is difficult. Not only are there a limited number of positions higher up, that those already occupying them take for granted, as theirs, but also the fields have fairly fixed boundaries, so that you can’t just expand it in order to have more positions. Well, I guess you can expand the boundaries, but then those on the other side of the boundary may object to it, thinking that you are encroaching on their territory. This happens all the time. You are expected to know your place, to stay on a certain field and respect those who are in higher positions. That’s exactly how it is in the military. That’s also exactly how it is academics, believe me or not. While nomads have hierarchies, that’s not contested here, and they occupy a ground, that’s for sure, their hierarchies are contestable, from within, and they never stay put for too long, holding ground. So, if a leader starts to serve his or her own interests, it’s only a matter of time until that leader is replaced by someone who serves the interest of people. Again, there’s that solidarity.
What about the purity aspect then? Well, summarizing Ibn Khaldun (252-253), people who are sedentary (or become sedentary, as this is a more of a tendency of settling down and subsequently staying put) are in the habit of taking prioritizing convenience and improving their own position, whereas people who are nomadic are in the habit of prioritizing what works for them. In other words, sedentarism is all about wanting to live the good life, which often happens at the expense of others. Okay, it doesn’t have to happen at the expense of others, but it often does, as once you get more, you want more, and it no longer matters how you get more. At the same time, you are making sure that you’ve solidified your own position, so that others won’t take anything from you. It all becomes very self-serving or self-indulgent, which is the exact opposite of solidarity. Nomadism seeks to ward off this kind of behavior, knowing that it tends to lead to decadence and to the decline of solidarity among the people.
When it comes to the purity of the lineages, it’s about that, what I just covered, but expanded to the social units that we are all familiar with. In short, it’s about how tightly knit you are as a people, whether you have or don’t have solidarity. To combine that with social mobility, when it’s mobile, the notion of a family, and by extension, a people, is much more expansive than it is when it’s immobile. As explained by Ibn Khaldun (267, 276-277), one can, in fact, change switch between families. In other words, kinship is not about genetics, but about solidarity.
To be clear, the purity aspect is not about the purity of a blood line. This is not some sketchy racial superiority thing, like white supremacy or Aryan race theory. Ibn Khaldun has some fairly sketchy stuff about race in ‘The Muqaddimah’, which is based on mere speculation, probably having never even lived in African (hot tempered people) or European societies (cold hearted people), only in Arab societies (not too hot, not too cold, just right, temperate), let’s be clear about that (to be fair, not too surprising for his time though), but, in my view, solidarity overcomes all that prejudice that he seems to have for others.
Thirdly, combining the two, implicit (secret) solidarity that’s just there among people so that it goes without saying, and high social mobility, you have this what Ibn Khaldun calls asabiyyah (عصبيّة) or group feeling. To be clear, if you have it, you have it. You don’t even have to speak about it among people. You see this with people who are willing to stand up for others, in their defense, getting into the thick of it, at their own risk, because that’s what having someone’s back is all about. If you have to ask others whether they’ll have our back or not, chances are that they don’t have your back. Conversely, if you don’t have it, you don’t have it, no matter how much you talk about having it. If you appeal to authority, indicating that it is up to this and/or that authority to intervene, you know, later on, whenever that is, you don’t have it. To be fair, this may work, no problem, but it does indicate that there’s no solidarity, only eminence.
To tie this with Ukraine again, the Ukrainians have solidarity. They do have a military chain of command, a clear hierarchy, what Deleuze and Guattari (555) call eminence, but it is supported by solidarity. In stark contrast, the Russian lack solidarity. All they have is eminence. In other words, not only do the Ukrainian soldiers have each other’s backs, but they also believe in the commanding officers, regardless of their rank, from the corporal to the general. The Russians don’t have each other’s backs and they don’t believe in their commanding officers. That’s why their higher-ranking officers have to step in, to tell everyone what it is exactly that they are expected to do, at each step of the way, and enforce discipline through the threat of punishment.
To me, there’s a massive difference between the two sides. While the Russians have certain advantages, simply having more soldiers and equipment, their strategy is terrible and it appears to be based on mere eminence, i.e., authority or superiority. Regardless of their rank, the commanding officers appear to be unable to get the best out of their troops. Why is that? Well, if it’s all about eminence, the soldiers can’t be sure that their commanding officers know what they are doing. Again, there’s a lack of solidarity among the Russian troops.
But why wouldn’t the Russian commanding officers know what they are doing? Surely the rank itself indicates worthiness, that the person is qualified for that position! Well, no. The best people for the job don’t always get the job, nor does the person most respected by others. Anyone who has ever applied for a job knows that. Now imagine a system that has that one guy (yes, chances are that it’s a man), the emperor, surrounded by a bunch of functionaries who excel at getting the best out of the arrangement, in order to live a life of privilege, as already discussed. Do you really think that the military isn’t full of these functionaries? I mean it’s only likely to be the case.
To get the point across, for the emperor, the problem with competent and well-respected people is that they indeed know what they are doing and they indeed have the support of the people. The emperor wants them when he or she needs to get the job done, but not as fixtures as they may pose a threat to the throne, you know, for actually being competent and respected by the people, i.e., for having the solidarity that the emperor clearly doesn’t have.
I think it’s worth pointing out that I’m well aware that technology matters as well, as does the strategic arrangement itself. The Russian empire is accustomed to fighting wars that it can win, for sure, having the superiority, having way more troops and equipment than the enemy. That’s bulldozing for you. What it isn’t accustomed to is fighting wars where it can’t do that. It has some 140 million inhabitants, whereas Ukraine has some 40 million inhabitants in a sizable country. Georgia was a piece of cake in 2008 because it only had fewer than 4 million inhabitants living in a fairly small country and it lacked the popular support of western countries. It was simply a numbers game. With Ukraine, Russia ran into the issue that it is fighting a comparable army that not only has the defensive advantage (it comes with major strategic and tactical advantages, demanding a lot more troops from the attacker … which they it doesn’t have, at least not without mobilizing reserves), but also many technological advantages. Ukraine basically has an unlimited supply of easily portable anti-tank and anti-air weapons that are perfect for guerilla warfare. This why Russian soldiers have been more than happy to abandon their vehicles. Those things are death traps.
Now combine that with rasputitsa, the muddy conditions that you get in fall (rain) and spring (melting snow), and you can only used paved roads, which means that vehicles are the last thing you want to be in as an attacker as there is nowhere to hide, nor to flee, when you are engaged with the enemy. You are an easy target, just waiting to be fried by the enemy. It’s that simple.
For the west, from their perspective, this is a proxy war, in which they can supply all the weapons that Ukraine wants (let’s be honest about this, everyone in the arms industry wants the Ukrainians to test their weapons in an actual war, not in some testing grounds, because that’ll lead to more sales!), whereas for Russia this is a genuine war where their soldiers get killed and their equipment gets destroyed. Now, to be clear, a lot of Ukrainians have died and will die, there is that cost, but Ukraine still has the advantage.
So, yes, technology and strategy, as well as the numbers, do matter, but that’s only part of it. Those things are nothing without that solidarity and, to be clear, Ukraine has a lot of it, whereas, it appears, in comparison, that Russia has none of it. Moreover, the more Russia resorts to underhanded tactics on the battlefield, i.e., targeting civilians and reducing the infrastructure to rubble, the more Ukraine will have solidarity. On top of that solidarity, they have solidarity with western countries that fund them and supply them very generously, while also crippling the Russian economy to the point that it is only a matter of time that before the empire collapses due to a lack of solidarity, which is how empires fall, if we are to trust Ibn Khaldun.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine, when it acknowledged Donbass and Luhansk as independent, I expected Russia to take to take one to two weeks to roll over Ukraine, to occupy key locations, which would then be followed by guerilla warfare that makes it impossible for the Russian military to occupy Ukraine. Was I wrong? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that Ukraine did way better than I expected, because Russia went in half-cocked, getting its troops decimated time and time again, in ways that I was told wouldn’t happen (when I did my military service). No, in the sense that Ukraine is doing exactly what I expected them to do, using their defensive position to their advantage, dragging Russia into a war that it simply cannot win, exhausting its resources and bringing it to the brink of economic collapse.
Oh, and then there’s that thing, that thing about the Ukrainian military being engaged in warfare since, what, 2014. How did Russia think that it could just roll in and Ukraine would be fine with it? I mean, Russia effectively trained its opponent to fight against itself, in an actual conflict, for eight years. Again, this is some of the dumbest stuff that has come to my attention.
What do I think about the situation then? Well, to summarize it all, it’s so out of date thing to do, so old school despotic and imperialist that it’d be laughable if it didn’t cost so many lives. It made zero sense to invade. It’s a lose-lose situation for Russia. If they win the war, somehow, they still lose. Why would you want a chunk of land that has all those people who don’t want you there? How on earth are you going to be able to handle all those people, to curb their enthusiasm for insurgency? There’s that solidarity that you simply can’t buy for your Russian troops. Where do you find enough soldiers to keep 40 million people in check? Plus, where do you think you’ll find enough food, water, fuel, guns and ammo to supply the required number of soldiers? Where do you find the vehicles for all that? And even if the locals did want you there, or, to be more accurate, even if some of them wanted you there, why are you destroying all that infrastructure that you can’t afford to rebuild? I don’t think Russia has enough roubles to fix all that rubble. Like I pointed out earlier on, it’s like keying a car you are about to steal, you dumbass! Ukraine, on the other hand, has one option, to fight and keep fighting. So, yeah, in short, what can I say, expect Slava Ukraini!
- Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ( 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
- Hoover, H. ( 1946). Freedom in America and the World. In H. Hoover, Addresses upon the American Road: World War II 1941–1945 (pp. 242–256). New York, NY: D. Van Nostrand Company.
- Ibn Khaldun ( 1958). The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, Vol. I. (F. Rosenthal, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
- Ortiz, C. (2010). Private Armed Forces and Global Security: A Guide to the Issues. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger / ABC-CLIO.