Thoughts While Christmas Shopping

This is not one of those things about Christmas being too busy and bustling and commercialized. It is not one of those about little moments of joy that “made my day.” It is more of a follow-up to some other things I’ve observed recently.


Someone on my Christmas list has an interest in military history. And so I found myself browsing online for “best books of military history.” Google returned a long list of results, and there at #1 on the list of relevant sites was “The 14 best non-fiction military books of all time” from I was not impressed. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert about military history, but just off the top of my head I could name several important books that were missing and could see other problems with the list.

There was only one book by a non-English speaking writer (“The Art of War” by Sun Tzu) and only three about military experiences occurring before living experience (Sun Tzu, “1776” by David McCullough, and Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August.” Four of the 14 were published since 2000. Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is to military literature what macaroni and cheese is to food. It is what Cancun is to world travel. The person behind the list clearly hadn’t made a very serious survey of the subject, but he had no hesitation to publish world-wide a list of very recent, very predictable, very America-centric books and call them the “best non-fiction military books of all time.” Of. All. Time.

This dilettante-ism reminded me of an article I read a couple of years ago in The American Conservative. You can read the whole article if you follow the link, but the essence is seen in this excerpt about the level of scholarship currently observed in America’s military leadership:

They have learned what they do on a monkey-see, monkey-do basis and know no more. What defines a professional—historically there were only three professions, law, medicine, and theology—is that he has read, studied, and knows the literature of his field. The vast majority of our officers read no serious military history or theory. A friend who teaches at a Marine Corps school told me the most he can now get majors to read is two pages. Another friend, teaching at an Army school, says, “We are back to drawing on the cave wall.”


I don’t mean to single out the military for being unprofessional or un-serious. I recently wrote that America is generally a Half-Fast Nation with un-serious people in many fields of endeavor. The idea is relevant to the military, too, though I’m sure there are many (including the person on my Christmas list) who want to take the subject seriously. I vouch only for the not-seriousness of the list of 14 books. I accept William S. Lind‘s word that the problem goes deeper.

And to be fair, several of Google’s other listings were better. I think my favorite was from the site called The Art of Manliness. Their list of 43 books about war every man should read started well with Xenophon’s “Persian Expedition,” also called “The Anabasis” and “The March of the Ten Thousand.”

“In 400 BC, 10,000 Greeks are hired as mercenaries by Cyrus the Younger in his attempt to steal the Persian throne. They won the battle but Cyrus is killed in the fighting, stranding the entire Greek force thousands of miles and dozens of hostile countries from home. Xenophon is elected to be a leader of the troops and encourages them to fight their way home. All sorts of wonderful tactical thoughts and stories of leadership and bravery are shown in their journey home. Xenophon was a student of Socrates and philosophy so this book is a chance to see those teachings in action.”

I don’t want you to think the datasaur has some snobby, affected inclination toward ancient affairs. No. What’s wonderful about “The Anabasis” is that, at many points in the narrative, when the situation seems desperate, someone jumps up onto a wagon or onto a horse and shouts, “Greeks! Listen to me!” and then delivers a compelling speech about how honor and reason and duty obliges them to take a certain course of action, and they all shout, “OK! Let’s do that!” How great would it be to live in a society where honor and reason are compelling arguments, and where people agree on what they mean?


Someone else on my shopping list has a penchant for social activism. So I did a google search for relevant items. I found several sites offnosjwering t-shirts and other gear adorned with slogans relating to “Social Justice Warrior.” And it turns out that most of them ridicule the idea of social justice in one or the other of two ways. One way is simply to declare animosity to social justice by making fun of it or cursing it or calling  people who are concerned with it bad names. The second is by encouraging the people who are nominally concerned with social justice warriors to trivialize themselves.

I think what’s going on here is complicated. There probably aren’t that many people who honestly oppose the idea of “justice” or “social justice.” I won’t say there are none, because the news this very morning reveals a juror in South Carolina who declared in a letter to a judge that his conscience would not allow him to convict a man who shot another man who was no threat to him and had done nothing to offend him. (Did I mention the killer is a white police officer and the victim a black man named Walter Scott?) We don’t know what was going on in the juror’s mind — whether it was a perverted sense of white privilege or a perverted sense of cop privilege. But there wasn’t anything close to “justice” for Walter Scott.

But anyway, I think the term “social justice warrior” reflects badly on two groups of people and pretty much ignores the principle of social justice. On the one hand are the critics who make fun and criticize. On the other hand are the silly and self-important types who talk about social justice and immediate turn it into self-privilege. A recent example of this is the writer to the forum Quora who seeks to proscribe use the words “Train Wreck” because his or her grandfather was injured on a train and now the words “trigger” some unhappy visceral reaction. To their credit, most of the responders on Quora reasonably suggested that the words “train wreck” should remain in use and the questioner ought to grow some thicker skin and practice discernment.


So. We’re in a state where a very vital concept (social justice) is made ridiculous by people who claim to care about it. I probably won’t be ordering any t-shirts for the people on my Christmas list. But I will continue to think about this and other issues. I will continue to try and learn all that I can, and to share my thoughts in ways that might be useful to others.

Peace on Earth, and Good Will to Men!




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