Martin van Creveld: Pussycats. Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West—and What Can Be Done About It

Martin van Creveld is with good reasons deeply worried that the West has let its ability to defend itself against land aggression deteriorate into deep rot.


In this new book he brings together arguments from his extended academic production. The main focus is on the U.S. armed forces and especially the U.S. Army. From the 1982 Fighting Power: German and US Army performance, 1939-1945’ observation that he the number of combat stress syndrome cases depends on both the organisational culture and training and personnel administration system of the service and the attitudes and norms of the surrounding society. He both repeats and add nuances to his 2001 conclusions in Men, Women, and War, that an uncritical, formalistic-fundamentalist and ideologically driven gender equality policy in the organisation and manning of land combat forces will undermine the units’ ability to fight. Creveld also describes the effects of modern Western societies’ pampering the youth and protecting them from gaining protecting young people from learning. The toughness and quality of military forces is undermined due to incomprehension and rejection of their special character, which will make them ever less attractive to the most suitable young men. Finally he notes that “European and American societies, each in its own way, have come to give rights near-absolute priority over duty”. The combined result of all these choices, trends and time spirit elements is to change what used to be teams of “Wildcats” into loose groups of “Pussycats” that were without claws because of lack of funds.

What worries the reviewer is that Creveld’s analysis matches and may reinforce that of the current Russian leadership that has deliberately taken steps to reverse any similar, liberal development in the Russian society and armed forces and the view that NATO’s forces are Potemkin Villages populated by undertrained Pussycats without claws creates a fundamentally unstable situation in Europe.

What Creveld describes was to be expected. It happens every time a country and its army can believe that it does not have to defend the existence of its state.

This may be the case when somebody else promises to do the job, as was the case during the first decades of the Cold War, when we were told that air power plus nuclear deterrence would do the job without armies having to fight seriously.

It may also be the case if the army is allowed to believe that it is obvious common sense that historical experience has become irrelevant because peace in our time has broken out in our part of the world. This has been the case since the 1990s and has created the freedom to let the rot spread freely.
We could not count on the professional leaders to contain the development. Human beings are opportunistic, arrogant, ambitions plus intellectually superficial and lazy. Organizations are self-serving and conservative by nature.

During the Cold War army leaders quickly learnt the lingo from McNamara’s Whizz-boys that enhanced promotion chances, and in Vietnam success was measured in bodies. In our time we learnt the New Management Newspeak and removed professional substance from business plans.

Never happy with their profession because it is so unimpressively practical with little predictive theory, army leaders quickly change to any new fashion of the Emperor. This happened repeated in the always engineer, scientific-minded U.S. Army.

We only had three short period of intellectual dynamism in that service. Firstly then 1950s when the airborne generals James Gavin and Maxwell Taylor developed the air mobility and limited war options to become relevant under existential threat from the USAF. Gavin’s option was later revived by Robert Scales and Eric Shinseki in the 1990s when the USAF arrogance in the post-Gulf War decade a similar existential threat situation. Secondly around 1976-82 in the post-Vietnam War Revival when the army had to prepare for large scale intensive, non-nuclear battle for the first time since the Korean War. Finally under the threat of a humiliating defeat in 2005 in Iraq another airborne general, David Petraeus, developed Taylor’s late 1950s option.

Otherwise the U.S. Army has been opportunistic appeasement to fashions and buzzword-shitting. As Creveld notes, the USMC is always better. It is always under siege from the army.

With no risk of real land warfare, the service leadership become totally opportunistic, adopt the lingo of the time and of civilian academics, develop privileges, and let the army swim opportunistically in the fast shifting the domestic political fashion swamp, no matter the consequences for combat readiness.
In spite of the short time available, something similar even happened to the great Interwar Period French Army, and in 1939 the French and British Armies only had a few months to prepare for continental war, with the predictable results.

Creveld and the reviewer are military historians and therefore irrelevant until too late. The Western armies and their political masters will only learn in serious defeat that the armies should not be a disciplined testbeds for gender development of society, for lawyer power seeking, management fads or for political-science nonsense.

We can only be happy that this does not stop Martin van Creveld’s politically incorrect provocations.

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