Thomas Wictor

Transparency is a vainglorious notion that loses wars

Transparency is a vainglorious notion that loses wars

Last night I realized that the Arab League war-fighting doctrine is “counterinsurgent insurgency” (COIN-IN). In order for COIN-IN to succeed, it must be clandestine. That means that politicians and the military must junk the concept of transparency. President Obama’s words read like lines from a bad movie.


This has no bearing on reality. The ugly truth is that the public is too stupid and partisan to have any say in military operations. Furthermore, most nations can’t function effectively due to bureaucratic inertia, idées fixe, and reflexive opposition to anything that the US does.

Let’s be honest: The US faces “international suspicion” regardless of our actions. And terrorist propaganda appeals to people who already want to murder us.

Transparency is counterproductive

I agree that civilians should have control over the military. However, when the civilians abuse their powers, they must pay a heavy price. Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) is a perfect example of why transparency is dangerous.


Leahy has a history of publicly disclosing classified intelligence.


He’s still in office. Republicans never hold Democrats accountable, because they all go to the same clubs, brothels, and Pleasure Islands. They all have dirt on each other, which is how they keep each other in line.

Civilian oversight of the military brings with it massive responsibility. American politicians have shown themselves to be anything but responsible.

And that’s the fault of the voters.

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

—John Philpot Curran

If you are not vigilant, you will be enslaved. In a representative democratic republic, the voters get the government they deserve.

Why not transparency?

Because so few people can be bothered to understand the complexity of military operations. That’s why not.

Colin Powell is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. His career is amazing.

senior military assistant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger
National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan
Commander in Chief, Forces Command
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
four-star general
Secretary of State for George W. Bush


The Vietnam War shaped Powell’s view of geopolitics. What became known as the “Powell Doctrine” is summarized as follows: Before the US takes military action, politicians must answer eight questions.


As a result of his personal issues, Powell crafted an unbeatable recipe for failure. Since the Powell Doctrine also calls for the use of overwhelming force, minimizing American casualties, and ending combat quickly, the US no longer has the ability to win wars. We win battles, not major conflicts.

It’s easy for me to admit that I was wrong. I thought that short, violent wars were the answer. To my embarrassment, I supported “Shock and Awe.”

Don’t get me wrong: I knew that the precision-guided munitions (PGMs) were not killing large numbers of people. But the ultimatum given to Saddam Hussein and then the furious assault on Iraq were counterproductive. Our efforts in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East never had a chance of succeeding. Even the name “Shock and Awe” is tone deaf.

Transparency backfires

Another clarification: I don’t believe that Muslims in general and Arabs in particular are fragile children. However, cultures are different. What works in one place will never work in another.

And here’s a question: Did our approach ever really work?

We’re told that the Germans and Japanese are now our friends. Well, the Germans openly despise us, and I lived in Japan for five years. At the time, I fluently spoke Japanese.


The Japanese have a racist pejorative for white people. It means “hairy ones.” The term is exactly the same as the English “N-word” used for black people, in that it denotes contempt.

Almost everybody in Japan referred to me as an N-word, to my face. They didn’t know that I spoke Japanese.

Five years in Tokyo taught me that the Japanese despise Americans. I think that the main reason Germans and Japanese hate us is because we utterly defeated them and demanded their unconditional surrender.

Our actions have a historical context. In 1945, nobody on earth could’ve foreseen that victory would result in people hating us forever. I myself only changed my mind about warfare yesterday.

I mean that literally. On July 12, 2016, I decided that conventional warfare never works.

Transparency only when required

Soldiers should fight mostly in secret. There’s no need for corrupt politicians or screeching professional protestors to know about military operations. The overwhelming majority of Americans who demand transparency are doing so in bad faith. They simply want the US to be unable to wage war, under any circumstances.


When people act in bad faith, you write them off. You say, “You’re a stinking liar. Therefore I’m not telling you anything.”

Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman explained his goals to his generals. The generals then got together with their staffs and worked out how to achieve what the Defense Minister wanted. Brigadier generals and colonels went to Yemen, Syria, and Iraq to implement directives in ways that best fit the situation on the ground.

Majors, captains, and lieutenants on the battlefield adapt and improvise. They keep in contact with their superiors at joint operations centers (JOCs), which send the information back to the generals in Riyadh. These officers brief Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudi Defense Minister trusts his men. If someone betrays that trust, he’ll be punished. The Saudis say, “If you think we’re committing war crimes, prove it. We’ll see you at the International Criminal Court.” Until then, details of specific missions are not revealed.

This is the only way to win a COIN-IN. And all wars must be fought as COIN-IN. The Arab League doctrine is the only one that will guarantee long-term peace.

Still no transparency

In World War I, the Germans had a unit called the Pioneer Experimental Company (PVK). It tested new weapons and tactics in combat. More than 100 years later, the unit’s activities are still unknown. I was lucky enough to find a very rare postcard of the PVK.


The handwritten inscription on the back says, “In memory of the veterans of the gunpowder smoke at Roux, the men of the Pioneer Experimental Company.” Since they were the first unit to use flamethrowers, I know a little bit about them. They served in squads of eleven, all over the western and eastern fronts. I wrote to the grandson of a former member; the grandson told me that his late grandfather wouldn’t talk about his missions, except that they took place behind enemy lines.

Even though he lived to be 98, the grandfather steadfastly refused to disclose the details of his operations.

“I took an oath to never talk about it,” he said.

There’s no record of the PVK committing war crimes. Nobody even made the accusation. As a military historian, I’d love to know what they did.

But their operations will remain a secret forever. That’s fine with me.


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