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Edward Luttwak

Edward Luttwak’s latest book is The Rise of China v. the Logic of Strategy.

Abe’s Japan

Edward Luttwak, 4 April 2019

One can fly​ to Japan from anywhere, but from Japan one can only fly to the Third World, and it hardly matters whether one lands in Kinshasa, London, New York or Zurich: they are all places where one must be constantly watchful and distrustful, where one cannot leave a suitcase unattended even for ten minutes, where women strolling home through town at 3 a.m. are deemed imprudent, where the...

Darpa

Edward Luttwak, 1 December 2016

The development​ of a nuclear explosive device and two air-deliverable fission bombs by the Manhattan Engineering District of the US Army Corps of Engineers cost $1.845 billion, equivalent to the cost of a mere nine days of war. A much happier, and infinitely cheaper piece of research that also turned out to have world-historical impact was the development of a digital network between...

The Armenian Genocide

Edward Luttwak, 3 June 2015

Turkey is a country small in neither size nor population, yet its rulers have the privilege of being ignored most of the time, no doubt because its language is remarkably little known, considering that for all its Arabic and Persian accretions it’s a most useful entry to the Oghuz Turkic tongues spoken from Moldova to China. This privilege was in evidence when Pope Francis chose in April to define the Armenian deportations, kidnappings, rapes and massacres that started in 1915 as a genocide. The Turkish government prefers fine terminological distinctions.

Britain v. Napoleon

Edward Luttwak, 18 December 2014

I can recall few heated arguments with my father, but I remember very well our Napoleon quarrel. After two years at a British boarding school, I had learned a fair amount of English and just about enough history to mention Wellington and Waterloo as we were approaching Brussels on a drive from Milan. To my great surprise, my father burst out with a vehement attack on ‘the English’ for having selfishly destroyed Napoleon’s empire. Wherever it had advanced in Europe, modernity had advanced with it.

‘The Bombing War’

Edward Luttwak, 21 November 2013

The scenes of terror which took place in the firestorm area are indescribable. Children were torn away from their parents’ hands by the force of the hurricane and whirled into the fire. People who thought they had escaped fell down, overcome by the devouring force of the heat and died in an instant … The sick and infirm had to be left behind by the rescuers as they themselves...

The Honoured Society

Edward Luttwak, 9 October 2013

I was infuriated by the title before I started the book. The problem is not with ‘republic’, though ‘oligarchies’ would be more accurate, but with ‘mafia’: an ugly word used only by ignorant continentali. As a child in Palermo, living in the via Villareale, a few steps from the stylish Piazza Politeama, twenty minutes by car from the splendid beach of...

Homer Inc

Edward Luttwak, 23 February 2012

At the beginning of January, in the bookshop of Terminal 2 at San Francisco airport, I looked for a translation of the Iliad not that I really expected to find one. But there were ten: one succinct W.H.D. Rouse prose translation and one Robert Graves, in prose and song, both in paperback; two blank verse Robert Fagles in solid covers; one rhythmic Richmond Lattimore with a lengthy new introduction; and three hardback copies of the new Stephen Mitchell translation, with refulgent golden shields on the cover and several endorsements on the back.

Ancient combat

Edward Luttwak, 17 November 2005

The extraordinarily long, extraordinarily bloody world wars of the 20th century were fought very largely by unwilling conscripts, and that too was extraordinary, as was the consequence that many came home as worn-out veterans less attractive to women than slick, stay-at-home spivs. The two wars that still loom so large in Euro-American collective memory therefore obscure the twin verities...

Pablo Escobar

Edward Luttwak, 4 October 2001

Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (1949-93), the most talented and richest of Colombian drug bosses, lived his contradictions. A gold-framed portrait of the Virgin Mary hung over the bed in which he slept with teenage prostitutes, but he was devoted to his wife and family in the properly unconditional Latino manner. ‘Whether his concern for his parents or his children would overcome his...

Brownouts

Edward Luttwak, 7 June 2001

The United States could produce energy far in excess of its needs, yet President Bush promotes his energy policy with dramatic urgency. The Bush White House opposes any government interventions in the economy, yet a ‘national energy policy’ – by definition – flatly contradicts all its free market principles. This paradox is easily explained: the United States is now...

Sane Cows, or BSE isn’t the worst of it

Edward Luttwak, 8 February 2001

At the Wye plantation on the eastern shore of Maryland, the department of agriculture of the University of Maryland raises beautiful Black Angus cattle with all the latest equipment and best techniques. It produces bullocks and breeding heifers, but serves as a model for Maryland’s ‘cow-calf operations’ that produce beef for the table rather than milk. Corrals, chutes,...

Put up the price of oil

Edward Luttwak, 5 October 2000

High oil prices are bad for the world for any number of reasons. They cause inflation, which enriches the wealthy before indirectly causing unemployment once interest rates are increased by central bankers. They directly redistribute wealth to the wealthiest, because the average oil consumer – a blend of countless Third World village women cooking on primus stoves, thousands of tycoons...

After Monica

Edward Luttwak, 1 October 1998

At the beginning of 1997, when Bill Clinton had just defeated Bob Dole, and his pursuer Kenneth Starr was visibly failing to pierce the Arkansas omertà – two of the Clintons’ companions in sordid deals sat silently in prison rather than testify – the annual State of the Union speech offered the perfect opportunity to reassert the full authority of a twice-elected President.’

The financial crisis in Russia, September 1998

Edward Luttwak, 17 September 1998

One explanation for Russia’s catastrophic financial crisis would begin by evoking the Byzantine Empire and its influence on the ancient Russians to demonstrate that their economic culture was always statist, even under the Tsars. That is why they do not know how to run a stable and successful free-market economy, in spite of all the good advice and all the billions of dollars of loans they have received from the West. Another would merely note that ‘Arabian light’, the petroleum that sets the base price of all forms of energy throughout the world, is selling for $10.11 cents a barrel, the lowest it has been since the Great Depression of the Thirties, taking inflation into account. Prices of other commodities exported by Russia are just as low, beginning with gold at $283.15 an ounce. The advice the Russians have received since the fall of Communism has, in any case, often been dubious and always contradictory. As for the billions of dollars, South Korea’s 1997 emergency loan package was more than twice as large as Russia’s earlier this year.‘

The Road to Paraguay

Edward Luttwak, 31 July 1997

Our highly unreliable map of Bolivia puts the distance from Trinidad to Santa Cruz de la Sierra at roughly 500 km, none of it paved. But after driving through floods and deep mud all the way from the mountains through the Beni lowlands to Trinidad, the hard-packed earth of the road to Santa Cruz was an easy ride. My son, Joseph, his college friend, Benjamin, and I had become used to mere tracks, the accumulated residue of all previous transits modified by the effects of tropical downpours, but now we were driving on what was literally a highway, built up over the swampy plain with upcast from drainage channels dug on either side. The road crews who camped on each tract for weeks on end had not been idle. With nothing to do in their spare time except hunt for the pot, or for the sheer fun of shooting at live targets, they had made a thorough job of that, too. We had seen a vast number of birds, large, medium and small, on our way to Trinidad, but beyond it we saw only a handful of vultures. And instead of an abundance of animals, we saw only big Amazonian lizards, three or four feet long, attempting to cross the highway – and a solitary snake. So it is not true that it takes an asphalt road with all the World Bank trimmings to wipe out the Amazon’s exuberant wildlife along its centre route – an unpaved road can do the job, too, if properly constructed.’

Diary: Just across the Water

Edward Luttwak, 24 April 1997

My son Joseph, his college room-mate Benjamin and I had come to the lowlands of the Beni in Bolivia to see the animal life. But the rains had caused plenty of problems for our 4x4 on the journey from the edge of the Andes towards Trinidad, the capital of the Beni. We had been marooned in flood water and beeen forced to negotiate a tow from a pair of surly cocaine-handlers at a remote estancia, but we had also acquired a local travelling companion and saviour, Oscar, who was with us now, as we took to the road again in our jeep.

Diary: In Deep Water in Bolivia

Edward Luttwak, 3 April 1997

Trinidad, Bolivia, in the tropical lowlands of the Beni below the Amazon, was not even our destination. We were only driving to Trinidad to leave it again, by way of the road to Santa Cruz de la Sierra – a real road, not paved of course because tropical Bolivia does not run to paved roads, but literally a highway, raised over the swamps with upcast from the drainage ditches on either side to stay dry enough for travel even during the rainy season. That was the glorious prospect before us, if we ever made it to Trinidad, except that we were not normal human beings going from A to B but venturing travellers, who had come specifically to see the animal wonders of the flooded plain. So for us the Trinidad-Santa Cruz highway should have been no promise at all, for it would mean the end of our adventure. But that was before we ran into trouble. And so it was that having flown from Washington to Miami and from Miami to La Paz, to drive down from the Andes along the precipices of the Yungas road – voted the world’s ‘most terrifying’ by the Lonely Planet editors – we finally reached the plain only to discover that we were very eager to leave it again.’

Cold War Postscript

Edward Luttwak, 28 November 1996

The Liberal Democratic Party’s unexpected victory in last month’s general elections in Japan, after a soporific campaign conducted in the face of complete electoral indifference, gives Europe something to think about – the Italians in particular, for whom the Japanese analogy points up the grim possibility of a Christian Democrat (DC) revival, with its fake piety (and authentic bossism). An extraordinary, indeed absurd similarity between Italian and Japanese politics has persisted for more than forty years and still persists today. In both countries, a dominant anti-Communist party, the Christian Democrats in Italy, the Liberal Democrats in Japan, governed without interruption throughout the Cold War, because anti-American neutralists and Communists never received enough votes to form a government, but always got too many to leave room for a competing centrist party.’

Central Bankism

Edward Luttwak, 14 November 1996

Communism is dead, socialism has been repudiated by the socialists themselves, fewer and fewer Europeans are believing Christians but it seems that a fanatical new religion – also practised in America – has replaced all of them: Central Bankism. Like all religions, it has both a supreme god – hard money and a devil, inflation. Common sense suffices to oppose high inflation, and to fear hyper-inflation as the deadly disease of the currencies. But it takes the absolute faith of religion to refuse even very moderate inflation at the cost of immoderate unemployment and stagnation, as the Europeans have been doing, or to accept slow economic growth for years on end, as in the United States.

The Mother of All Conventions

Edward Luttwak, 19 September 1996

Iraq’s three Republican Guard divisions had just reached the 36th parallel when Clinton was told that the architect of his ‘family values’ election campaign, Richard Morris, was about to be exposed in the press as the assiduous client of a call-girl, with whom he had shared White House secrets. It was the worst possible kind of scandal for Clinton, given the past stories of his own extra-marital affairs, now more relevant than ever because of his decidedly puritanical electoral stance. And the scandal came at the very worst time for Clinton: on that Thursday, 29 August, he was preparing to make the big acceptance speech that would close the Chicago Convention, before thousands of Democratic Party delegates, and the tens of millions who would watch it in their homes. Clinton’s media experts were offering ‘pre-speech’ briefings to set the right tone, but all day long TV and radio news throughout the United States was preoccupied with stories about Morris, his call-girl, and Clinton’s unique dependence on his fallen adviser, with whom, apparently, he communicated more often than anyone else, including Hillary. White House claims that Morris was only one of many ‘temporary, part-time, consultants’ were ignored by the media, or simply ridiculed.

Buchanan has it right

Edward Luttwak, 9 May 1996

Pat Buchanan’s season of success was brief, but respectable opinion in America and beyond is still shell-shocked by the appeal of his heretical economic ideas (protectionism to lift wages!). For nowadays there is only one economic orthodoxy, taught and proclaimed by almost all academic economists, happily celebrated by Wall Street and corporate chiefs, and fully accepted by Democrats, by Republicans and by most European political parties.

One-thing-at-a-time pragmatism is the hall-mark of good old Anglo-Saxon common sense: systemic connections between diverse spheres of human life are the teutonic vice of the likes of Sombart and Schumpeter. But sometimes vice must prevail. Consider three sets of numbers.

It is now conventional wisdom that mafyia extortion and official corruption of every sort are inflicting much damage on the Russian economy. In a widely cited estimate, crooked officials and plain gangsters are said to have sent as much as $100 billion into their foreign bank accounts since 1990, depriving the Russian economy of much more hard currency than the sum total of post-1990 Western aid. Countless newspaper articles have profiled the unappealing beneficiaries of the new economic order, from violent thugs with platinum-blonde molls and BMWs who do their showing off in restaurants, to sleek ex-officials in Armani suits with Vienna bank accounts, Manhattan apartments and good friends in the Kremlin, who show off in New York Times interviews.

Programmed to Fail

Edward Luttwak, 22 December 1994

What happened in the 1994 Congressional elections was much more than the defeat of President Clinton and his post-leftist policies, though that it certainly was. And the election was much more than the defeat of the Democrats as the party of all Americans (with the exception of heterosexual white males and non-feminist white females), though that too it certainly was. At a slightly deeper level the election results reflect the breakdown of the Cold War structure of US domestic politics – exactly the same kind of breakdown that has been manifest in a far more obvious form in both Europe and Japan.

Why Fascism is the Wave of the Future

Edward Luttwak, 7 April 1994

That capitalism unobstructed by public regulations, cartels, monopolies, oligopolies, effective trade unions, cultural inhibitions or kinship obligations is the ultimate engine of economic growth is an old-hat truth now disputed only by a few cryogenically-preserved Gosplan enthusiasts and a fair number of poorly-paid Anglo-Saxon academics. That the capitalist engine achieves growth as well as it does because its relentless competition destroys old structures and methods, thus allowing more efficient structures and methods to rise in their place, is the most famous bit of Schumpeteriana, even better-known than the amorous escapades of the former University of Czernowitz professor. And, finally, that structural change can inflict more disruption on working lives, firms, entire industries and their localities than individuals can absorb, or the connective tissue of friendships, families, clans, elective groupings, neighbourhoods, villages, towns, cities or even nations can withstand, is another old-hat truth more easily recognised than Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft can be spelled.

Screw you

Edward Luttwak, 19 August 1993

When Gianni de Michelis, then Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Italy, attended a semi-official Nato anniversary conference organised by Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and held with some formality at the Palais d’Enghien in Brussels, he was accompanied by a handsome blonde with unspecified duties on the state-owned ENI or possibly the...

World’s Greatest Statesman

Edward Luttwak, 11 March 1993

The highly practical Hellenistic solution to Britain’s insatiable Churchill/Finest Hour cravings would have been to establish a regular cult, with its own dedicated priests, rituals and sanctuaries. Facing a brazen engraving of the famously pugnacious 1941 Karsh photograph, surrounded by appropriate symbols or even original relics of Spitfires, Sten guns, Home Guard pikes and Montecristo cigars, listening to quadrophonic recordings of the major speeches in His own voice, peering into side-chapels dedicated to His companions (Beaverbrook, Birkenhead, Bracken), the average gent thrown into despair by the latest debacle of the British economy could swiftly revive his flagging spirits. Then on his way out of the shrine he could perhaps pause to purchase a Churchill amulet from one of the attending priests robed in 1940-style battle dress, with tin helmet and gas-mask satchel.

Taxphobia

Edward Luttwak, 19 November 1992

The extrovert author of numerous books, including the highly enjoyable Affluent Society and Great Crush of 1929, longtime Harvard professor (now emeritus), once New Delhi’s greatest celebrity (since Edwina) as Kennedy’s Ambassador to India, witty excoriator of the scholarly pretences of his fellow economists and of all manner of other balderdash, John Kenneth Galbraith’s only reticence hides a skilfully disguised but intense puritanism. He may not suffer the classic puritan’s agonies at the thought that somebody, somewhere is having a good time, but if contentment is a goal for the rest of us, it is clearly a goad for Galbraith, for whom it is only the tolerant companion of evils that a suitably restless discontent might abolish. After reading this far from unpersuasive essay inflated into a book by means of an uncrowded typeface and thick paper, one feels morally certain that his starting point was not the derived evils, but contentment itself. And in lieu of one chapter of conclusions he has two on the inevitable punishments to come (‘The Reckoning I’ and ‘The Reckoning II’, à la Stephen King) and a final mournful coda, ‘Requiem’ – for unlike redemptionists who denounce sin and threaten hellfire only to preach and promise salvation, Galbraith forecasts an inevitable downfall of relative economic decline, further tormented by underclass uprisings of the South-Central LA variety.’

Who won the Falklands War?

Edward Luttwak, 23 April 1992

If Galtieri’s junta had prepared for war in 1982, even to the minimal extent of equipping Argentinian fighter-bombers properly, Mrs Thatcher’s Enterprise of the Falklands would almost certainly have failed, thereby ensuring that Argentina would still today be ruled by a triumphalist military élite, inept mismanages of a decaying economy, impotent spectators of the country’s social disintegration, and of course both cruel and corrupt. As it is, defeated Argentina is undergoing a profound economic reconstruction and making unprecedented progress towards democratic governance, while Britain has paid a large penalty for a very small war.

Desolation Studies

Edward Luttwak, 12 September 1991

I still recall my acute disappointment with Michael Howard’s The Franco-Prussian War, published some thirty years ago. The subject was exciting – what with the desperate German infantry assaults at Gravelotte and the dramatic unveiling of the ultra-secret mitrailleuse – and the book was thick enough to promise much good fun to any schoolboy eager to read of battles with a threepenny bag of crisps at his side. Gravelotte was there all right, and the siege of Sedan too, but both only in miserably cursory fashion, with none of the stirring evocations of daring fights that filled the pages of the paperbacks that gave us the British version of the Second World War slice by heroic slice. Instead of leaving behind the dreary complexities of polities, society, economy and culture to march the reader straight into the dramatic simplicities of combat, Michael Howard’s prelude was interminable, and when he finally reached the battle-field he left it again almost immediately, to revert to his portrayal of two regimes and two societies at war.’

Letter

Masada

12 September 2019

Josephine Quinn writes: ‘In 1976 Edward Luttwak in The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire tried to explain [the huge Roman effort in Masada] as a lesson to others contemplating revolt: “The Romans would pursue rebellion even to mountain tops in remote deserts to destroy its last vestiges regardless of cost"’ (LRB, 12 September). ‘If so,’ Quinn continues, ‘other historians...
Letter
Marc Dubin’s Latin American specialist declared that his career had been compromised because of his principled refusal to draw up a feasibility study for a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union (Letters, 21 March). The notion that nuclear strike plans of any sort would be drawn up by a Latin America specialist or any number of them is fantastical in itself, and of course by the time Ronald...
Letter

I happen to disagree

15 December 2016

The LRB has by now published quite a lot about Donald Trump, none of it laudatory, much of it contemptuous, most recently by Jonathan Lethem (LRB, 15 December 2016). I happen to believe that Trump has three perfectly realistic ways of fulfilling his promises to his voters and ensuring his re-election. His first big idea is to build more than a trillion dollars’ worth of much needed infrastructure...
Letter

On ‘Charlie Hebdo’

5 February 2015

Tariq Ali’s explanation of the Charlie Hebdo affair will not do (LRB, 5 February). ‘The real problem is not a secret,’ he writes. ‘Western intelligence services regularly tell their leaders that the radicalisation of a tiny sliver of young Muslims … is a result of US foreign policy over the last decade and a half.’ How does US foreign policy over the last decade...
Letter

Fierce-Lookers

18 December 2014

I would like to add some footnotes to Patrick Cockburn’s reportage from the Middle East (LRB, 18 December 2014). If anyone else’s reports exceed his in value, I have missed them. On my last visit, pre-IS, I tried to persuade the Kurdistan Regional Government’s amiable president, Massoud Barzani, to fund a basic training programme (nothing fancy, just 12 weeks of fire and movement,...
Letter

Home on the Range

20 March 2014

Because I operate a cattle ranch, I read Bee Wilson’s piece about the meat industry with particular interest (LRB, 20 March). But I do not accept that beef sold in any British supermarket can be ‘free-range’ and ‘organic’, unless it is supplied by a wealthy hobbyist, because in order to be ‘organic’ cattle should eat only grass, for which several acres per...
Letter

Honoured Society

9 October 2013

John Dickie is unhappy with my review of his book, and as a sometime author myself, I understand his feelings (Letters, 24 October). But the fact remains that he is an industrious outsider wholly reliant on published literature about a phenomenon that remains almost entirely undocumented but for the deeply flawed documents that emerge from Italy’s system of justice – or, more accurately,...
Letter

White is west

27 September 2012

Jonathan Steele writes: ‘The few Belarusians who had tried to create a national consciousness towards the end of the 19th century called their movement “west-Russism" rather than “white Russism"’ (LRB, 27 September). Actually they are the same thing, in that ‘white’ means west under the Turco-Mongol colour system for the directions (blue is east, red south) that...
Letter

Loyal Soldier

3 February 2011

Morris Singer charges the Israeli novelist David Grossman with ‘indifference to the inner lives of the Palestinians’, which, he writes, reflects ‘the pinched sympathies’ of the Zionist consensus (Letters, 17 February). Perhaps Singer will calculate for us what percentage of war novels written anywhere in wartime engage with the ‘inner lives’ of the enemy? And how...
Letter
Nick Cheel (Letters, 4 August) is exuberant with his numbers, or else reproduces somebody else’s extravagance when he counts ‘more than four million’ Palestinian refugees and 3.5 million inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza in addition to the one million Arab citizens of Israel (still the only Arabs anywhere in the Middle East, with the partial exception of Lebanon, who freely and...
Letter

Virtue in Cowardice

18 March 2004

Jacqueline Rose finds in David Grossman’s writing a record of Israel as a ‘failed state’ (LRB, 18 March). That is an interesting way of describing a state that from 1948 till the present has advanced from poverty to a GDP per capita in the European range, even while its population increased tenfold. Very few states have done better (Ireland, Singapore) and for all their virtues, they...
Letter
Tariq Ali on Kashmir (LRB, 19 April) is, for this non-expert, very persuasive in every respect but one. His Indians and Pakistanis, and Kashmiris too, desire one thing and get another – the common fate of all who engage in politics and war. Their circumstances and personal proclivities combine with institutional shortcomings to ensure that aims and achievements remain widely separated. But his...
Letter

Buy Bolivian?

8 February 2001

Because I know so little of current British cattle-raising practices, I found the letters of Messrs Scott, O’Leary and Urquhart (Letters, 8 March) very interesting indeed. David Scott worries for my bull calves and their testicles, implying that castration is unnecessary as well as cruel (though we use supposedly painless plastic clips). We find that, unless castrated, the males fight each other...
Letter

The Great Lie

14 December 2000

Edward Said (LRB, 14 December 2000) failed to note two points not irrelevant to his contentions. First, the great quantity of new Palestinian housing that has greatly enlarged every village on the West Bank, turned many into sizable towns and some into veritable cities – Ramallah, for example, is now something of a metropolis. Much of this housing is spacious, even luxurious. This hardly fits...
Letter
Reviel Netz asks (LRB, 20 July) why a ranger would want to fence in his cattle. Incest is our reason. In some 200 square kilometres of Amazonic savannah, we are more rangers than ranchers, but we fence off 5000-acre pastures for our calves to keep parental bulls from mating with their two-year-old offspring, who get to have their own young bulls.Incidentally, three-strand fencing costs $450 a kilometre...
Letter

The Uninvited

3 February 2000

Without ever quite declaring it, Jeremy Harding (LRB, 3 February) persuasively differentiates sub-Saharan African refugees from all others. Kurds, Iraqis, Albanians, Sri Lankans, Romanians, Russians etc are fleeing the disruptions of war or the upheavals of post-Communism. Sub-Saharan Africans, on the other hand, are fleeing sub-Saharan Africa as such, or at least its governance. Sometimes there is...
Letter

Outgunned

14 November 1996

In complaining that my article on central bankism ignored the influence of the money-markets, Victor Smart argues that they ‘punish mercilessly’ any country which opts for a soft money policy (Letters, 28 November). Very true – but how is that punishment inflicted? By marking down a country’s currency of course. And what consequences ensue in these deflationary times of chronic...

The Byzantine Army

Glen Bowersock, 11 February 2010

A man of deep culture and reading in many languages, Edward Luttwak has at least three major personae – strategist, journalist and scholar. His practical experience of contemporary policy...

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Capitalism without Capital

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 26 May 1994

Even at the end of his new book, it’s not clear where Edward Luttwak is coming from, as they say in his country. He leaves no doubt, however, about where he dreads coming to. Instead of...

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