Sunday, February 24, 2008

How well prepared was the US military prior to Vietnam?

Colonel Summers’ anecdote about his exchange with Colonel Tu of the NVA is telling.  Summers reportedly said to the North Vietnamese: “You know you never defeated us on the battlefield.” Tu responded: “This may be so, but it is also irrelevant.” Even in the aftermath of the war, analysts from the two sides were looking at two different battlefields. The Americans did not seem to recognize what they were looking at when they entered the war, and they were not sure what they saw on the way out.

In broad terms, it seems that both France and the US got distracted and bogged down combating the “insurgency” as if that was the center of gravity in the war. Harry Summers has made the point in many places that the counter-insurgency fight was a distraction from the conventional war that was utterly winnable in 1965 but utterly lost in 1975. Nixon seems to have intuitively recognized that the conventional nature of the enemy, and unleashed a bombing campaign against the North’s infrastructure that looked like a light version of Curtis Lemay’s campaign against the Japanese. What made Linebacker and Linebacker II light versions of total war is that there was not contemporary effort by the infantry to fight its way towards Hanoi. Instead, there were gestures towards conducting a conventional war, but that was only after the US public and government had lost faith in prosecuting the counter-insurgency that some have called “slow motion defeat” for the Americans.

The longer an insurgency or guerrilla force can stay in the field against a conventional force, the more likely it is that public opinion on the side of the conventional force will prove decisive. Eight years of war in the Colonies was enough for the British public to demand an end to the Revolutionary War in 1783. So that pattern has continued. On the other hand, if a conventional force can be seen rolling up an enemy and continuing the offensive, public opinion will allow the battles to continue. The key is taking the fight to the enemy’s true center of gravity and destroying his ability to fight effectively.

This gets back to the question of whether the American forces were well prepared for Vietnam. Assume for a moment that American leaders had perceived that North Vietnam was conducting a conventional invasion of the South with the VC guerrillas forming a skirmishers line to harass and pin down the more capable American force. Suppose for a moment that the Americans had rushed North in a bid to capture Hanoi and end the war. I recognize that the US leadership was wary of provoking the Soviets or the Chinese into a costly war the US might lose. However, not recognizing and fighting the conventional war that Vietnam actually was actually coaxed America into fighting a war that it DID lose.

We are all in agreement that the doctrine and training of the US armed forces was adequate prior to Vietnam. The US military won the conventional battles it fought, and when it applied tried and true counter-insurgency doctrine, that worked as well. The problem is that the senior leadership did not adopt the right strategy until too late. As soon as US forces began taking casualties, the clock of public opinion in the United States began ticking. US forces only get so long to achieve victory before they will be forced to withdraw.

We saw a repeat of that dynamic following the quick conventional victory against Iraq in 2003. US public opinion began to sour on the American presence in Iraq as soon as it appeared that there was a guerrilla force that was killing Americans and the US forces did not appear to be willing to take the fight to the enemy. When President Bush ordered the escalation of forces and a re-commitment to counter-insurgency principles, an when that strategy began to work, the American public was satisfied. Gen Petraeus did not invent the strategy now being employed, but he recognized the fight he was in, and responded appropriately. Just as in the Vietnam War, American forces were prepared and trained to fight and win the type of war ordered by senior leadership. The difference between victory or defeat then as now was whether the senior leadership had enough tempo in their OODA loops to prevent US public opinion from declaring defeat and forcing a withdraw from the field.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mahayana Buddhism

The most fascinating aspect of Mahayana Buddhism is the idea offered by Paul Williams in Buddhist Thought that “Buddhism is thus an orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy.”(pg 99) Williams’ point here is that a Buddhist is free to believe anything that he wants, provided that he stays on the Eightfold Path. A Buddhist can believe that Buddha was a mortal who found the Path, taught others the way, then died. A Buddhist may also believe that Buddha was actually a deity, who still lives and may be experienced by the faithful Buddhist. For some, it is easier to follow the way of a mortal. For others, they find it easier to follow the way of a deity. Regardless of the individual Buddhist’s conception of the Buddha, both follow the way.

In the Christian tradition, there is much concern about the corrosive effects of orthopraxy divorced from orthodoxy. Many Christians worry that following the Ten Commandments, (which, as previously mentioned in another context, bear some resemblance to the Eightfold Path) or following the example of Christ without actually believing, will result in hypocrisy. In other words, people whose outward acts do not match their inner convictions will eventually stop acting in the correct way because they cannot see a point to continuing. At that moment, such a person will have neither orthodoxy nor orthopraxy, and will instead be cast adrift, likely to pursue ever more damaging behaviors. Since Christian salvation occurs after death, there is nothing concrete on this side of death that can be used as incentive.

Many Christians will argue that even the most disciplined follower of “correct actions” will eventually falter because the cravings of the flesh, or as it is expressed in the Christian tradition: “sin” will win out. There are many instances in the Epistles of Paul where he cautions followers that they must have faith even as they follow the laws. Paul, and many subsequent Christian commentators had a pessimistic view of the ability of men and women to continue living a wholesome life, doing wholesome things, without the under-girding of faith. Rules and punishment are no substitute for faith because there is nothing of value to be gained in this life so there is no reason, absent faith, to do good works.

Buddhists have a different conception. Although the Buddha taught in the Four Noble Truths that “Life is suffering,” he also taught that the cessation of suffering is possible. Followers of Buddha argue that it is possible to stay on the Path indefinitely through self-control and the application of rules that punish and correct deviance from the path. Further, in this life, Buddhism offers a culmination to staying the right path. That culmination point is nirvana. Christianity does not offer anything comparable in this life. Faith in Christ and doing good works allows a Christian to develop a temporary sense of well being, but since sin prowls this world like a hungry lion at all times, Christians are never free.

That being said, Buddhism does at least offer to me the solid example that orthopraxy is a viable alternative. Since Mahayana Buddhists can continue on the same path as those who believe something different within their own tradition, then perhaps a Christian can use the example of a Buddhist to maintain his own self control. The value of such an approach is clear. Self-control is a good thing to have, regardless of belief. Since self control is good, it is appropriate to find guidance in the maintenance of self control wherever one can. I know that I intend to try.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I didn't write this, but I wish that I had

Clemens: You want answers?

Congressman: I think I'm entitled to them.

Clemens: You want answers?

Congressman: I want the truth!

Clemens: You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has
baseballs. And those balls have to be hit by men with bats. Who's
gonna do it? You? You,Congressman? I have a greater responsibility
than you can possibly fathom. You weep for steroids and you curse
HGH. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I
know: that HGH, while illegal, probably sells tickets. And my
existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, sells
tickets...You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you
don't talk about at parties, you want me on that mound. You need me
on that mound. We use words like fastball, slider, splitfinger...we
use these words as the backbone to a life spent playing a sport. You
use 'em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination
to explain myself to a man who rises and falls asleep to the
Sportscenter clips I provide,! then questions the manner in which I
provide it! I'd rather you just said thank you and went on your way.
Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a bat and dig in. Either way, I
don't give a damn what you think you're entitled to!

Congressman: Did you order the HGH?

Clemens: (quietly) I did the job you sent me to do.

Congressman: Did you order the HGH?

Clemens: You're goddamn right I did!!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Why the Philippines is the example of counter-insurgency done right

Both the Philippine counter-insurgencies proved to be successful. Given the results attained, it would appear that the counter-insurgency efforts were more similar than dissimilar. It is illuminating to examine how the counter-insurgencies were different. The counterinsurgencies were different in ways that proved to be largely irrelevant to the success of the effort. The counter-insurgency at the turn of the century was lead by United States forces who recruited locals to the effort, mostly to serve in civil positions and the local constabulary. The later counter-insurgency was an effort manned exclusively by Filipinos with minor US logistical and intelligence support, fighting an indigenous communist front made up of other Filipinos. The insurgency following the Spanish American War was a collection of loosely linked nodes operating independently, without coordination and with only nominal allegiance to the titular head, Aguinaldo. The Communists in the later insurgency were hyper-organized and controlled although there is the possibility this organization was more apparent on paper at NPA headquarters than on the ground.

Given the differences in who was leading the counter-insurgency, the US in one case, the Philippine Army in the other and the gap in time between the conflicts, it is striking how similar the efforts actually were. Both counter-insurgencies saw the greatest success when it came to rely on dispersed, independently operated units. Both counter-insurgency efforts made a priority of establishing local political control that had a chance to flourish under the protection of arms. Both sought to destroy those elements of the insurgency that were not willing to come under control of the government. The similarities in the two strategies separated by more than seventy years would make it seem that that commanders were operating out the same OPLAN or at least from the same doctrine. However, the counter-insurgency leaders did not adhere to any OPLAN and they had no access to doctrine. The counter-insurgencies in both cases made a virtue of necessity, and by doing so, independently arrived at the most effective strategy at fighting insurgents.

Regarding the issue of doctrine, the Philippine Army commanders engaged in the fight expressly denied that they were conducting the fight in adherence to US Army doctrine. Victor Corpus, a Philippine Army officer who defected to the Communists then returned to fight the insurgency, denied that he had learned anything from US Army doctrine. Instead, he adapted to the situation and what they learned from fighting the war. In the words of Corpus: "we drew mostly upon my experience. We didn't refer to any books. We had read the US manuals on low intensity conflicts, but we blamed those manuals for introducing COIN doctrines that only aggravated the situation. They apply conventional efforts to an unconventional situation. In particular, traditional civic action is a mere palliative. It does not go to the root causes of the problem, to the lack of democracy.”1

To Corpus, the crucial difference in successful vice un-successful counter-insurgency strategy was the sincerity and permanence of efforts to institutionalize democracy and address the legitimate concerns of the "grievance guerrillas."2  The strategy that Corpus advocated resulted in a "feeling among the populace that nonviolent avenues were available for interest articulation and realization." With Corpus and others in the Philippine Army pushing for sincere democratic reforms, people in the countryside were convinced to give up the insurgency. "They had given up precisely because the hardline approach.3

Was the fact that the Philippine Army counter-insurgency strategy so closely mirrored that of US Army counter-insurgency efforts prior to the Vietnam War-vintage COIN doctrine dismissed by Corpus, merely a coincidence? Did the winning strategy transcend the Philippine theater, or is there something unique in Filipino psychology or terrain that channeled strategy in one particular way? These appear to be unexamined questions. There does not seem to be any literature that would support or deny the theory that there is something in Filipino psychology that would result in one particular type of effective counter-insurgency strategy. Rather, it appears that the fact that the same strategy arose some eighty years apart, albeit in the same geographic location, is evidence that the counter-insurgency doctrine hit upon independently decades apart, is the appropriate way to counter “grievance guerrillas.”

The strategies of the successful counterinsurgency that arose independently find support in the US Marine Corps Small Wars Manual. The Marines who wrote that document noticed the imperative to contest insurgents with all available means with an emphasis on the moral and psychological. “The motive in small wars is not material destruction. It. is usually a project dealing with the social, economic, and political development of the people. It is of primary importance that the fullest benefit be derived from the psychological aspects of the situation. That implies a serious study of the people, their racial, political, religious, and mental development.”4  Serious study of foreign people takes time for a foreign counter-insurgency force, such as the United States Army in the Philippines. As for the Philippine Army, they had a head-start since they were of the same culture and psychology of the insurgents they were battling. Since the Philippine Army battalions were also living in the same environment as the insurgency they fought, those soldiers became all the more attuned to the culture and therefore, all the more effective.

Other successful counter-insurgencies share many of the characteristics of the Philippine campaigns. The Malay Emergency and the current US campaign in Iraq both resemble, in broad terms, the traits apparent in the Philippine counter-insurgency. Richard Clutterbuck, in his book The Long, Long War, identified the keys to the successful counter-insurgency in Malaysia: "Protection of the people and the government structure is essential. An extensive police force at the village level is also required."5   Clutterbuck’s description of the successful counter-insurgency are similar to those in the Philippines and those currently in effect by the US Army in Iraq.

There is little doubt that the Philippine Army, however fortuitously, went about their counter-insurgency in the right way. The key, which went un-remarked by Marks is that the Philippine Army had time to make sure their counter-insurgency worked. In the words of General in the current counter-insurgency fight in Iraq, “Counterinsurgency is a long-term proposition. The ability to fight counterinsurgency requires time and building-block approach for learning…”6  The reason the Philippine Army had the time to make their strategy worked is self evident; the government and the insurgents had no where else to go. Both sides would fight until the war ended one way or the other. Time is a luxury that foreign counter-insurgency forces do not always have, whereas indigenous counter-insurgencies can fight until resolution. However, so long as the counter-insurgency has the time to prosecute the strategy, the doctrine will be validated. If for some reason, the counter-insurgency must leave the field, the strategy will fail.

Ultimately, the Philippine Army had the time to grind down the Philippine Insurgency with a home-grown strategy that focused on the psychology of the insurgency and addressed the concerns of “grievance guerrillas.” Indigenous forces addressed the psychological needs of the grievance guerrillas and had the time to grind down and destroy recalcitrant revolutionaries. This is the essence of a counter-insurgency done right.

1.  Marks, Thomas. Maoist Insurgency Since Vietnam (London: Frank Cass) 2003. Pg 136.

2.  Ibid. Pg 133.

3.  Ibid.

4.  United States Marine Corps Publications Small Wars Manual (Washington: United States Government) 1940. Pg 18.

5.  Clutterbuck, Richard. From The Long Long War, Quoted in "Insurgency and Counter-insurgency: Lessons from Malaya" in Ohio University E history at accessed 7 February 2008.

6.  Gaskin, Maj.Gen. Walter. “ DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Gaskin from Iraq July 20, 2007” US Department of Defense News Transcript at accessed 7 February 2008.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I check out this site every Sunday night

You should too.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Who is the real TO?

I took a personality test and here are the results: "You are relatively open to new experiences. You are well-organized, and are reliable. You are relatively social and enjoy the company of others. You are good-natured, courteous, and supportive. You probably remain calm, even in tense situations."

According to the food test, I am Mexican Food: Spicy yet dependable. I pull punches, but people still love me

My animal personality? The crow. (What the heck?) "You love to talk and am very persuasive. You are curious, but careful not to poke your beak where it doesn’t belong. You love to travel, and people have a hard time keeping track of you."

According to face recognition software, I resemble Tom Cruise (67% similar), Matt Dillon (66%) or Rachel Bilson (64%). Augusto Pinochet (60%) made the list as well, but I don’t talk about that.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Is counter-insurgency the flip-side of insurgency?

Sam Sarkesian, in his book, Revolutionary Guerrilla Warfare lamented the confusion and lack of agreement about basic terminology in the study of “revolutionary guerrilla warfare. “Revolutionary war, civil war, internal war, insurgency, resistance movements, guerrilla war, wars of national liberation, stability operations, internal defense, counter-insurgency - these are but a few examples of the proliferating terminology.”1  Sarkesian went on to point out that in studying the topic, scholars must remain conscious of the differences among the terms “definitions, concepts, model building and theories.”2  Given that the topic is large and confusing, it can nonetheless be approached as one might eat an elephant, one bite at a time. Therefore, let us examine the concept of insurgency and counter-insurgency, and examine their relative attributes in order to compare their characteristics.

The root of the English word insurgency is the Latin “insurgo”, a verb meaning “to rise up.” The Elementary Latin Dictionary quotes a line from Ovid: “Caesar paulatim insurgere” or Caesar rose to power.”3  The quotation highlights the neutral connotation in the Latin root of a political action in contrast with the current English usage that implies violence.4  Interestingly, the fourth principle part of the verb is “insurrectus,” from which it is clear that the English word “insurrection” arises.

A current United States military doctrinal publication defines insurgency as “an organized, protracted politico-military struggle designed to weaken the control and legitimacy of an established government, occupying power, or other political authority while increasing insurgent control.”5  Thomas Marks fit this definition within the framework of the levels of military operations. "Insurgency is violence in support, strategically, of a political goal, operationally, of a political infrastructure, tactically, of local political domination.”6  Wray Johnson made the point that by the 1930’s, theorists in the Marine Corps had noted that insurrectionists seem to have a political goal the pursuit of which must be countered in novel ways. “This is a remarkable statement for an American military organization, with its emphasis on non-military solutions, to what had hitherto been viewed as exclusively a military problem.”7  Thus, we see a clear lineage of the term “insurgency” from its roots as a political term in the Latin to its consensus usage as a primarily political struggle between an authority and a challenger that features violence as one of the tools in the struggle.

Insurgencies contain a trap for leaders attempting to create a counter-insurgency strategy. Since the most visible features of insurgencies, especially the current generation insurgencies in the Middle East, Africa and Thailand, are brutal, nihilistic attacks on soft civilian targets, the natural reaction of authorities to such atrocities is to send troops to find and exact vengeance on the perpetrators. It is tempting for a government to respond with force against force, not only because the government views such a response as an effective counter-measure, but also because internal politics among the government’s supporters demands such a response. Although not exactly analogous, one calls to mind President Bush standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center rallying the workers there to rousing cheers by assuring them that the ones responsible for this would be hearing from America. The trouble with reprisal as the primary response to atrocity is that it is counter-productive. History has shown that unless the government is willing to exterminate everyone associated with an insurgency, including innocents, an insurgency is not diminished, but in fact grows. Insurgents convince their supporters that their shared grievances are political, economic or religious, and that their grievances are being ignored or actively thwarted by the government. Hence, reprisals serve to reinforce the idea implanted by the insurgents in the minds of the people that the government wants to attack rather than help.

To counter an insurgency, policy makers must adopt a multi-pronged response. The perpetrators of violence against civilians must be hunted down and destroyed but to the extent possible, with measured application of force. In general terms, armed insurgents must be countered with the minimum effective force of arms with the key being “effective. Not to respond is to encourage more attacks that will grow in severity in an effort to provoke a disproportionate response that the insurgency can exploit for propaganda purposes. In the words of the Small Wars Manual: “Delay in the use of force, and hesitation to accept responsibility for its employment when the situation clearly demands it, will always be interpreted as a weakness.”8

Additionally, the insurgent’s political claims must be countered with all other means. Counter-insurgency must provide peaceful political opportunities, bountiful economic opportunities, and display respect for indigenous cultures. The Small Wars Manual said it best: “Every means should be employed to convince such people of the altruistic intention of our Government.”9  An observer of the current situation in Iraq echoed the prescription offered in the Small Wars Manual: “Sustaining a commitment to allocating sufficient economic and political resources to get the job done will not be easy. It will require the indefinite presence of American advisers, political pressure, and persistence.”10  LtGen Odierno detailed the concrete economic steps that US forces have taken to show the Iraqis that the US has learned the lessons of the Small Wars Manual and is prepared to sustain the economic commitment: [Effective counterinsurgency] also requires the delivery of essential services, economic development and improved governance. It is what the Iraqi people want and what they deserve. In this regard, we are vigorously pursuing several programs to sustain our momentum, like establishment of a civil service corps, awarding microgrants and developing vocational technical courses.”11  While the ultimate success of the counter-insurgency in Iraq is still in question, it is clear that the counter-insurgency strategists are enacting policies first identified in the 1940’s.

Analysts of the type of conflicts known as “small wars” or “revolutionary guerrilla warfare” or “insurgencies” concur that the conflicts share a defining and common characteristic. This common characteristic is the political contest that underpins the conflict. Effective counter insurgency engages the insurgency where the insurgents are, in the economic and political realm, only replying to violence in a measured way. Ineffective counterinsurgency focuses on the secondary battlefield where the kinetic fight is and ignores or downplays the political and economic dimension. Therefore, the question must be answered, in terms of insurgency and counter-insurgency, is one the flip side of the other? In the strict definitions of the terms, the answer is yes. Anything the government does to resist the insurgency is a “counter-insurgency” until all areas are “white,” in Malay Emergency terms, or until the insurgency triumphs. The more pertinent question is, given the primacy of the political and economic components of an insurgency, what constitutes an effective counter-insurgency? The real contest is one of ideas about governance and about whom can best provide opportunities for the people. Effective counterinsurgency offers better ideas and opportunities under difficult and dangerous conditions.


1.  Sarkesian, Sam Charles. Revolutionary Guerrilla Warfare (Chicago: Precedent Publishing) 1975. Pg 4.
2.  Ibid. Pg 19.
3.  Lewis, Thomas Charlton and Hugh McMaster Kingery. An Elementary Latin Dictionary (New York: American Book Company) 1918. Pg 429.
4.  Webster’s Online Dictionary. “Insurgency” at accessed 16 January 2008.
5.  Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-33.5 Counterinsurgency (Washington: United States Marine Corps) 15 December 2006. Paragraph 1-2.
6.  Marks, Thomas. Maoist Insurgency Since Vietnam (London: Frank Cass) 2003. Pg 4.
7.  Johnson, Wray. Vietnam and the American Doctrine for Small Wars (Bangkok: White Lotus Press) 2001. Pg 21.
8.  United States Marine Corps Publications Small Wars Manual (Washington: United States Government) 1940. Pg 27.
9.  Ibid. Pg 23.
10.  Siperco, Ian. “Subversive Markets: The Economic Roots of the Iraq Insurgency” Royal United Services Institute Defence and Security Studies Website at accessed 18 January 2008. Pg 8.
11.  Odierno, LtGen Raymond T. “DoD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Odierno from Iraq” US Department of Defense News Transcript at accessed 17 January 2008.


Johnson, Wray. Vietnam and the American Doctrine for Small Wars (Bangkok: White Lotus
Press) 2001

Lewis, Thomas Charlton and Hugh McMaster Kingery. An Elementary Latin Dictionary (New
York: American Book Company) 1918

Marine Corps Publication.Small Wars Manual (Washington: United States Government) 1940.

Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-33.5 Counterinsurgency (Washington: United States
Marine Corps) 15 December 2006

Marks, Thomas. Maoist Insurgency Since Vietnam (London: Frank Cass) 2003

Odierno, LtGen Raymond T. “DoD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Odierno from Iraq” US
Department of Defense News Transcript at

Sarkesian, Sam Charles. Revolutionary Guerrilla Warfare (Chicago: Precedent Publishing) 1975.

Siperco, Ian. “Subversive Markets: The Economic Roots of the Iraq Insurgency” Royal United
Services Institute Defence and Security Studies Website, 2007 at accessed 18 January 2008

Webster’s Online Dictionary. “Insurgency” at http://www.websters-dictionary- accessed 16 January 2008.

How appropriate is Buddhism in the West

The Buddhist monastic and lay community life is based on the directions contained in the vinaya. The vinaya contains the framework for the “Sangha” or monastic community. The vinaya contains the rules for the monastics, their interrelationships and for their relationships with their lay supporters.(jtb) Since the monastic community is necessary for the existence of Buddhism in the society, the monastery must be run in such a way as to serve the spiritual requirements of the society. Thus, the monks must follow the vinaya for the mutual benefit of the monastery and the society in which it resides. The vinaya ensures that while the monks renounce living in society, they are nonetheless dependent on that society in a reciprocal arrangement that Rupert Gethin calls “genius.” (Gethin, pg93) Buddha created the vinaya in the context of his society that was used to supporting aesthetics and monks who were on spiritual quests. Buddha adapted this existing relationship to make it more than just one of householders supporting and monks being supported. Instead, he created a system that represented a much closer relationship. “Buddhism is sometimes presented in the West as if the religion of the laity on one hand and of the clergy on the other are discontinuous, completely separate. That is wrong.” (Heine, pg48)

The Buddha was not inflexible in the rules he provided in the vinaya, and even during his life, amended the rules. Buddha distinguished between the truths that could not change and the concessions to living in society that monks had to make. “It is only the convention established and accepted for the smooth and orderly conduct of a particular community. As such, it is bound to be changed and modified in different places at different times according to need. Thus, the Buddha himself amended and modified some of the vinaya rules several times.” (Rahula, pg48)
Since the Buddha had set the precedent during his own life that the rules of the vinaya were not among the inviolate truths he established, monks who spread into communities outside India began to vary from traditionally accepted vinaya. The first monasteries outside India were located in Sri Lanka, a culture somewhat similar to the one at the roots of Buddhism. Changes in the vinaya for Sri Lankan monasteries were relatively minor. However, as Buddhism spread further afield from India, more dramatic changes were needed in the vinaya. Since the West possesses a culture very different from that in Asia, drastic changes would be needed for Buddhism to thrive in the West.

The lack of a monastic infrastructure in the West has stunted the growth of Buddhism in the West. One commentator has likened the attempt to spread Buddhism in the West as sowing seeds on rocks. Western culture is fundamentally different from that in Indian and Asia. He went on to note the primary difference in the cultures: “Here in the West we live in a profoundly non-monastic and non-contemplative society. And so to adopt these profound and esoteric contemplative practices and the monastic way of life without sufficient context is highly problematic.” (Hodel, pg 2) To respond to those changes, many Buddhist teachers have attempted to accelerate the training to connect with the shortened attention spans of their Western student, in order to get the seeds of the truth to germinate, even if there is little long-term hope that the lessons will persist in the students. Acceleration has proven largely ineffective. The commentator observed that Buddhism in the West is analogous to pouring water into sand, an effort that produces no effect. He concluded by saying that “recent trends in Tibetan Buddhism in the West suggest that it’s rapidly degenerating. One such trend is the commercialization of Buddhism, and another is the loss of much of its extraordinary intellectual and contemplative.” (Hodel, pg 9)

Even though the Buddhist vinaya is flexible, and worked well to facilitate the spread of Buddhism into regions in Asia that bore some similarities to India, it has not proved flexible enough to gain acceptance in the West. Westerners are too individualistic and too impatient to subordinate themselves to the culture and take the time necessary to achieve nirvana. Interestingly, the affluence of the Western culture appears capable of corrupting of Buddhist teachers, who come to teach, but find themselves drawn to the material goods that students can offer in exchange for teaching. Given the vast differences in Western culture and the requirements of the Buddhist life, it would appear that Buddhism is not appropriate in the Western context

Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 1998.

Heine, Steven, Charles S. Prebish, Buddhism in the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University
Press) 2003.

Hodel, Bryan. “Tibetan Buddhism in the West: Is it working here? An Interview with Alan
Wallace” Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Summer 2001

Jtb. “Vinaya Pitaka: The Basket of the Discipline” Access to Insight Website at accessed 31 January 2008.

Rahula, Walpola. “The Problem of the Sangha in the West” quoted in Heine, Buddhism in the
Modern World

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Gushing like a school-girl

Mark Levin sounds like a school-girl gushing over Zac Efron when he talks about Reagan. Reagan was a good president for the first 5 years or so, but, his last few years in office were an embarrassment. His press conferences were painful and he sounded more like an addled geriatric rather than an inspiring leader. It is bad when someone like George Bush I generated a sense of relief that there was finally someone who seemed competent in the office. From my vantage point, Reagan got rolled by the likes of Tip O’Neill, Jim Wright the Iranians, Hezbollah, and Sam Donaldson, and ended up making compromises on Supreme Court Justices, immigration and taxes that hurt this country.

But Levin assures us that Reagan was making compromises from the right. And that bad old Democrats flummoxed him on taxes and enforcing the border and what not. Hmmm, so that explains it. I have to tell you, these examples of Reagan’s bona fides as a great leader are not particularly compelling. And does it really matter where you are coming from if you end up wallowing in the pig pen with the Dems?

I put George W Bush up against Reagan, and W comes off looking pretty good. W has guts, never backs down when the Democrats challenge him, only compromises when other Republicans object to his policies, cut taxes and is smashing jihadis around the world. He always displays good humor, command of the issues and is a humble inspiration. He always wins. His administration has been an ethical breath of fresh air. I am an officer in the Marine Corps, and I see in George W Bush the same kind of guts that you see in the Marines walking point like the one Michael Ledeen highlighted in a post earlier today. The closest I have come to supporting Romney was when he mentioned that President Bush should be commended for his leadership. None of the rest have W’s strength of character in the political arena, and I would include McCain in that list. It has been a major disappointment to me that this crop of mediocrities running for president has run away from the current President, especially since Bush will eventually be lauded as the best since Lincoln.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Hillary for Prez!

Sorry about  the formating on the previous post, and I couldn't make it work so I left it.  Contrary to reports, I was not in my cups.

I am down on Giuliani for exactly the reason I wrote.  What a president believes about abortion is not that important to me. Giuliani said he would pick judges like Roberts and a court full of judges like Roberts will send abortion back to the states. Depending on how important access to abortion is to someone, that person could live where it is readily available and paid for by the state, like in Maine, or completely unavailable like South Dakota or Mississippi. Let the people have a choice.

If Hillary were smart, she would recognize that Obama is a force of nature among liberals, and not tangle with him. Instead, she should tack all the way to the right, farther right than McCain (not that that would be that hard) and become a ruthless hunter of Islamics and champion of Gunatanamo. She could pledge to appoint Patraeus as Sec Def. She should ask Lieberman to be her VP. She voted for the war, so it would not be hard to make the case that she is actually a conservative but she thought she had to hide it to get the Democrat vote. She could cast the race as a three way between her, a JFK-style "strong America" Democrat, Obama and McCain and give conservatives someone to vote for.

She is going to lose anyway if she doesn't do something drastic, this way she would have the chance to pick up despairing Republicans and maybe do a juijitsu on Obama. It would rock him like nothing he ever saw on the mean streets of Honolulu growing up.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Dean Barnett is boohooing because people hate the Patriots

People hate New England and their fans for two reasons:

1. They cheat.

2. Fans like him have become everything they hated about Yankees' fans.
Now, New England fans are hated just asYankees fans are.  Crowing about 
inevitability.  Indifference to their flaunting of the rules.   Weeping because
no one loves their team like they do.  That is what is sad.

PS.  Guiliani is out.  Good riddence.  I have never liked him since he laughed 
off the fan interference that resulted in a Yankee victory over the Orioles
in the 1996 playoffs.  A kid, Jeffrey Maier, reached into the field of play to 
catch a fly ball.   It was ruled a home run, but the mostit should have gone
for was a double.   It was a blown call, (see the picture for yourself)
but Guiliani crowed about it like it was God's will that the Yankees should have won.  He even gave the kid a key to the city.  I was not impressed then,
so I am happy to see him go.  NOTHING is more important on this earth 
than for the Yankees to lose so seeing their biggest fan, Giuliani, go down 
is almost as good.