Military History

A Spanish-Italian allied fleet defeated a numerically superior Ottoman Fleet at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7th, 1571.

The battle itself was not geopolitically consequential. Yet it represented a revolution in military affairs. It was the first naval battle that demonstrated the superiority of gunships over the classical galley. The Europeans learned this lesson and constructed a whole new line of naval warships, whereas the Ottoman Fleets consisted of antiquated galleys.

The battle was won because of the rise of European science, technology and markets which outperformed the Ottoman Empire.

Ex-Confederates formed the KKK in December of 1865, soon after the Civil War ended. General Nathan Forrest was the first Grand Wizard, but in reality, he had little control over the nation-wide organization. The Klan was a network of autonomous cells acting on their own initiative.

Between 1865 and 1871, the KKK waged a terrorist campaign to supress Republican votes and prevent blacks from establishing independent farms. A military campaign destroyed the KKK through harsh measures and a temporary suspension of civil rights.

The Zulu rise in the early 19th century was due to a paradigmatic shift in military tactics. The Nguni tribes were pastoralists who settled there disputes in small scale wars, mostly using skirmisher tactics.

The Zulus, mostly under the leadership of Shaka, transformed their military. The principle change was the adoption of shock tactics. Zulu infantry used the assegai stabbing spear instead of javelins.

The Assassin Order used a network of assassins and spies to expand their political influence during medieval times in Syria and Iran. They used a form of unconventional warfare to intimidate foreign leaders to submit and political appease them.

The Mongolians destroyed the Assassins through military force.

General John Pershing commanded the US forces in the final assault on the Bud Bagsak fortress in 1913.

During the occupation of the Philippines, the Americans owned the “Moro Province” in the South – Mindanao and the Sulu Islands. Individual Datus (or Dattos) – tribal leaders – occassionally rebelled against US forces. When one tribe rebelled, others remained allied to the US. It was easy enough to put down the occasional rebellion.

1913 presented a different problem. At Jolo City, in the Sulu archipelago, there was a large revolt led by the Datto Amil. They were better trained, armed and led than previous insurgents.

There was a legal difference between Pirates and Privateers. States granted letters of Marque and Reprisal to ship captains to engage in piracy against the state’s enemies. The state provided safe harbors to the Privateer.

Piracy was a difficult problem, but legalized privateering could severly damage internatioanl trade. State Sponsorship amplifies the power of non-state actors.

John Mueller studied the mechanics of the wars in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in The “Banality of Ethnic War”. Who did the killing, how did they operate, how did they organize?  So-called ethnic wars operate exactly like regular wars. Neighbors do not spontaneously rise up in civil war. The combatants were typically gangs and militias acting in self-interest.

The conventional beliefs were completely wrong. Recent studies show the death toll was only around 100,000 in Yugoslavia, not the fantastically high figures offered at the time. More importantly, politicians confused the issue and would not identify the actual threat. Instead they pushed an ethnic war narrative so to prevent an intervention.

US/UK armor dominates battlefields due to advanced technology. When they engage other AFV classes, the result is a turkey shoot. The Soviet T-72 became a parade ground tank.


This is interesting recreation of Hoplite combat using agent-based modeling.  An important rule to remember is that the individual is the supreme decision maker, yet this does not rule out complex patterns of behavior.

Hoplites fought in massed formation, but the formation does not act like a unitary mind – even with a great general. It displays results that stem from a large number of individuals.

This is a brief look at Greek combat formations and their evolution over time.


Attrition does not just kill men. It destroys skills.  Military organizations can regenerate losses in terms of manpower but they have far greater difficulty in regenerating skill.

Managing and using skills poses a series of tradeoffs that have long-term effects.  In World War II, the Japanese believed the best way to use aces was to kill American pilots. Americans believed the best way to use aces was to train more American pilots. The result was the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.

To get straight to the point, attrition has an impact in the current war. Bluntly, moron terrorists replace elite terrorists.

On September 12, 1864, Gen. Sherman answered the pleas of the Atlanta government with his famous admonition that war is a cruelty that cannot be refined.

But, saying war is a cruelty misses the full message of Sherman’s letter. This letter contains the core message of the “tit for tat” strategy. Once attacked, you ruthlessly fight back until the enemy surrenders. Then you are magnanimous in victory and not one moment beforehand. Sherman’s March to the Sea devastated the South, including Atlanta, but it helped break the Confederacy. In all, the South lost 5% of its population and almost 2/3rds of its property from the war. The South could have ended the suffering at any point by saying “enough.”

Here is the letter in full:

I’m building a database of American Small Wars. I’m interesting in disproving widespread myths. For instance, the myth that United States was an isolationist nation.
There are also many myths about America’s Counterinsurgency history and capabilities. Namely, that Americans are inexperienced in guerilla warfare and that the guerrillas always win. These are the same people who bitterly note that Americans destroyed the native Indians. How? By winning guerrilla wars.

This is a common myth about Vietnam: ‘The US never fought a guerrilla war in a jungle before’ True, if you don’t count the half-dozen jungle wars fought before Vietnam where the US won.

I put together a list of 101 “Small Wars” of various types that required military intervention. Some of these insurgencies were stopped before they could do much harm. I excluded humanitarian and peacekeeping interventions.

The US waged war against a variety of enemies – criminals, privateers and pirates, insurgents, popular uprisings, tribes, and slave revolts.

As you can see, I’m not judging the morality of any of these actions. The fact that the US was better at putting down slave revolts than the French in Haiti or the Portuguese in Brazil does not mean much beyond merely judging military actions.


The Battle of Grozny in 1995 lasted over three months resulting in heavy casualties. It was a Russian Pyrrhic victory. This is case study of network tactics in an individual battle. Timothy Thomas wrote a good history of the battle here. As Thomas points out, cities will become primary battlefields for 21st century insurgencies.


John Lewis Gaddis in Surprise, Security, and the American Experience argues major attacks like the capture of Washington DC in 1814, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 revealed fundamental weaknesses in the contemporary defensive strategy. The American solution was not strict retaliation against the offending state, but a massive and comprehensive expansion of the US’s sphere of security.

This is even more radical than it sounds.  Expansion of spheres of security resulted in a vast number of wars. The United States was never an isolationist nation.

« Previous Page