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Who will win a post-heroic war? Neither side is prepared to fight

A US soldier in Mosul in 2003, when America still believed in war (Scott Nelson/Getty Images)

A US soldier in Mosul in 2003, when America still believed in war (Scott Nelson/Getty Images)


June 19, 2024   5 mins

Neither the West not its enemies are prepared to fight. Some 30 years ago, I coined the phrase “post-heroic warfare” to acknowledge a new phenomenon: the very sharp reduction in the tolerance of war casualties. My starting point was President Clinton’s 1993 decision to abandon Somalia after 18 American soldiers were killed in a failed raid. But in truth, post-heroic attitudes had already emerged — and not just in affluent democracies. In 1989, the Soviet Union, whose generals could once lose 15,000 men before breakfast without batting an eyelid, abandoned Afghanistan after 14,453 of its soldiers were killed over almost a decade.

Nor was the post-heroic phenomenon strictly related to the merits, or lack thereof, of any particular act of war. Margaret Thatcher stayed up all night writing personal letters to the families of every one of Britain’s 255 dead in the Falklands. But it did not mollify her critics, who argued that Britain should never have used force, even if it meant that Argentina would be allowed to conquer the islands.

Four decades later, it is even more obvious that we are living in a post-heroic age, to the great benefit of the West — at least for now. In 2022, Ukraine found itself fighting an enemy that could have mobilised its regular army formations, each with its quota of 18-year-old conscripts, and also recalled two million reservists. But Putin did neither, fearing the fury of Russia’s mothers, who even under the restrictions of Soviet rule had successfully pressed for the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

But for Kyiv, the new post-heroic rules are only partly advantageous, and might even result in its final defeat: for while they have prevented an all-out Russian invasion, they also severely inhibit Nato’s capacity to help Ukraine.

On paper, Nato has some sizeable armies, but when French President Emmanuel Macron called for arms and troops to be sent to Ukraine in February, his plea fell on deaf ears. Indeed, the Italian defence and foreign ministers went out of their way to publicly declare that they wouldn’t send even one soldier to Ukraine, under any circumstances. In a similar vein, in spite of the severe economic damage that Houthi pirates in the Red Sea have inflicted upon European economies, only the US Navy and the Royal Navy have responded in earnest — while Italy’s navy was only allowed to send one ship, despite suffering the greatest damage from traffic being diverted from the Mediterranean. The same is true of Nato’s air forces: only the US and UK have bombed Houthi weapon stores in Yemen, while no European air force has taken any action, not even the French with their base in Djibouti next door.

The great question, of course, is why? Why is it that, with larger populations than ever before, our tolerance for casualties is increasingly low?

Back in 1994, I offered a simple theory: the wars of history were fought by “spare” male children. Even as late as the mid-20th century, the average European family had several children. In agricultural households, one male could inherit the family’s land, another might advantageously marry a land-owning wife, and one more might go into the Church — or off to war. If he failed to return, the survivors might miss him most intensely, but the family would not be extinguished. Today, however, with the average fertility of women across Europe less than two and still falling — the EU average was 1.46 in 2022 — there are no spare children.

The extreme case here is China, with its fertility rate of 1.1. President Xi is, by all accounts, a bellicose man who enjoys threatening war against Taiwan. And yet, curiously, in 2020 he took eight months to reveal that one PLA officer and three soldiers had died during the fighting on India’s Ladakh frontier. During that period of official silence, the families of the four were re-housed and provided with welfare payments or better jobs; the officer’s wife who taught piano in a village school was elevated to the Xi’an Conservatory of Music, with a new house to go with it. Each of the four also became the subject of dedicated media campaigns, which portrayed the youngest as cinematically good-looking and the officer as so conscientious that, up in cold Tibet, he would wake up before his soldiers to prepare hot-water bottles for them. Later, the names of the four were added to many highway bridges to remind all of their sacrifice.

Why the grand acts of remembrance? The answer is demographic. Thanks to China’s one-child policy, imposed in 1980 with the abundant use of forced abortions, the four deaths extinguished eight family lines.

The good news, then, is that because of China’s low birth rates, the post-heroic syndrome makes it unlikely that Beijing will act on its pugnacious threats. Given the regime’s most elaborate response to four combat deaths, how could it cope with the 4,000 that might be lost in one day in a war for Taiwan? Incidentally, Iran is also suffering a crisis in fertility; it was only 1.7 when last measured, way below the replacement rate, with many of the births among restive minority populations rather than Persians. But Tehran has found an effective remedy: it arms, trains and funds expendable Arab militias while being extremely careful with its Persian manpower

As for Israel, it is the only country in the world where even secular, university-educated, professionally employed, married women have two or more children on average, with more than three children on average for the religious. This high fertility rate is the fundamental reason why Israel is not post-heroic, and will not be forced to abandon its current military plans because of combat casualties. This is especially important because the war started so badly, and because urban combat becomes so deadly once tunnels are added to the usual perils of high-rise snipers and alley mortar crews.

“This high fertility rate is the fundamental reason why Israel is not post-heroic.”

In the immediate aftermath of the October 7 atrocities, most Israelis were very eager to fight, including all those reservists with families who flew back from their homes in Silicon Valley or New York to rejoin their old units. Now, however, that initial enthusiasm has waned: only the new recruits who have just finished their combat training are eager for action, while many are fed up with a war that in Gaza now only makes incremental advances. As for the Israelis who face Hezbollah in the north, almost daily attacks seem set to continue without end, leading to calls for more decisive action. But the total number of Israeli war casualties, tragic as each death is for family and friends, does not weigh on the nation as it would if it had fertility rates at Chinese or even Iranian levels.

For the rest of the West, meanwhile, these new post-heroic limits raise a question that nobody is willing to confront in earnest: why keep armies that will never be asked to fight?

The fact that so many European units have served in Afghanistan and Iraq does not prove anything at all, because in most cases their governments ensured that they would not be employed in raids or assaults, limited to cautious patrols close to their heavily fortified bases. (At least one Nato government sent intelligence agents to pay off the local Taliban to allow patrols to proceed unmolested.) As for the European troops serving in the United Nations peace-keeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) — established to ensure that Hezbollah stays well away from Israel’s border — they are considered war-experienced veterans when they return to their respective armies. But this overlooks the fact that UNIFIL has not even tried to keep Hezbollah from the border, for the simple reason that no UNIFIL battalion is willing to confront even the smallest Hezbollah infiltration.

The result is that, all across Europe, entire military institutions are colluding from top to bottom to sustain the illusion that they are capable of combat, which is now only true in rare cases, such as with Britain’s shrunken but still combative armed forces. But to some extent, the same can be said of their adversaries in Russia and China. In our current post-heroic age, everyone’s calculations of the true balance of power need to be revised.


Professor Edward Luttwak is a strategist and historian known for his works on grand strategy, geoeconomics, military history, and international relations.

ELuttwak

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Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago

Fascinating take from Mr. Luttwak. One can certainly hope he is correct about Chairman Xi’s reluctance to sustain casualties in an outright invasion of Taiwan. Whatever half measure alternative, be it a blockade, embargo, or political scheme, it will undoubtedly be far less costly for all concerned than a war that, as mentioned, neither side is well positioned to fight and would constitute a disaster regardless of who wins.

The bad news for Xi and Putin is that even given its present state of political dysfunction, the USA, with its not quite as anemic fertility rates and seemingly endless supply of immigrants and minorities who have always been disproportionately represented in the armed forces, is still in a better strategic position to sustain long term conflict. Even China’s vaunted manufacturing superiority is likely to have an expiration date directly related to these same demographic problems while America’s problems are less systemic and structural but rather more attributable to short sightedness, excessive greed, and poor leadership.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

My concern with Xi is he can see that if he leaves it too much longer he won’t have the ability to act.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
1 month ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

He probably has about 3-4 more years I am told.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago

An interesting observation. My grandfather was the eldest of five sons (plus three daughters). All the sons entered the army and helped sustain.the late Victorian Empire. None lost their life in combat although my grandfather was lucky to escape the destruction of much of his regiment at Maiwand. In contrast my father’s two step-brothers were killed in WW1 as was his wife’s only brother.

On enquiring of my youngest son of two whether he wished to follow his forebears into the army addicted as he is to video combat games the answer quickly came that he had no wish to be shot at in reality. I should certainly be reluctant to hazard him in the way that my great grandfather was willing to do with five sons.

Perhaps wars will increasingly be fought with the sons of high birth rate mercenary troops with the attendant risk that the mercenary troops become our rulers if we loose the taste for combat. Certainly the Russians seem to have relied on expendable mercenary criminals or high birth rate well paid minorities for much of the advances achieved with brutal combat losses and their mercenary force under Pregozhin briefly threatened Putin’s hold on power.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Your youngest son’s role in a future war might involve him piloting a drone from a RAF base in Britain, something for which he might find himself well equipped by his video game experience. He could go home and sleep in his own bed every night, in no danger of being shot.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago

All good points, but the fact is that the need for “boots on the ground” nowadays is far less than it was. A lot of damage on a modern battlefield can be inflicted by drones flown by someone in an air force base a long way from the action.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

The Russo/Ukraine proxy war proved that this is not the case. To take ground you need boots on that ground. And a lot of them. At the moment anyway. Maybe it’ll be robots in the not too distant future but for now it’s still young lads.

k. clark
k. clark
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

This is a common misunderstanding about modern warfare. The countries that have chosen to fight this way don’t have a lot of W’s in their records. Victories are still going to the organizations who are willing to put men into harms way. Air power has yet to win any war and the only one that it set conditions for winning ended in 1945.
Remote drone drivers did some damage but ultimately lost Afghanistan. They were used primarily for targeting of individuals in Iraq. But the drones that are being used effectively in today’s conflicts are up close and personal and their pilots are very close to the action (Israel, Ukraine, etc.) having your pilots commute from a base two continents away doesn’t provide the responsiveness that’s needed
if remote air power was truly effective, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other conflicts would have ended much differently. The “American Way of War” does a lot of damage, but hasn’t chalked up many victories

Arthur G
Arthur G
1 month ago
Reply to  k. clark

The “American Way of War” is great if you’re on the defensive, which is pretty much what it was designed for. Defend Western Europe from the Soviets, defend Korea from the Norks and PLA, defend the Gulf States from USSR/Iran/ Iraq, whomever. Those were our objective for 40 years, and in those Cold War conditions it works great. All the defender has to do is dish out punishment to stop the attackers, who in turn is forced to come out in the open to advance. The American military would have crushed the initial Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Where the American way fails is in 1) counter-insurgency, 2) heavy terrain (mountains, jungle, cities) where the enemy is on the defensive. In both cases the enemy need not show himself in the open, and shouldn’t, lest he gets pummeled by firepower. That kind of war requires numerous light infantry to get stuck in.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  k. clark

The only reason drones in Ukraine are up close and personal is that Ukraine doesn’t have many long range drones. If they did, they could range well into Russia, and hit target well behind the lines. Bear in mind that Ukraine is not trying to invade Russia, just to rid its own territory of Russians.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago

In a post-heroic world, religious fanatics will win.

k. clark
k. clark
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Well said

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Will win what, exactly? Which bunch of religious fanatics have ever “won”? The only group i can think of is Christian Europe, yet even here, divisions between groups due to schisms and in-fighting meant the most fanatical ones, Catholics, eventually lost out to less fanatical ones, Protestants.

No doubt many will balk at this characterisation of Christianity, but it’s all there, in the history books.

Of course, one could argue that the conditions of modern democracies create a “numbers game”. Have you seen what percentage of vote share would be required to form a government (“to win”) under either FPTP or PR? Winning a few seats in specific localities with a high percentage of “religious fanatics” does not constitute the reins of government.

That’s not an argument for complacency, however. We can all see how a ‘certain group’ in the UK for instance, is seeking to use demographics as a means to influence. When do you suppose they’ll acheive a majority in the House of Commons?

When, exactly will they “win”? Or will other eventualities flow from any remote proximity to actual power?

Greg Morrison
Greg Morrison
1 month ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

I think you make a good general point there, although you may need to revisit those history books if you think Protestants were ‘less fanatic’ about the wars of religion than the Catholics: personally I don’t think it had much to do with which creed was professed, but rather who was in power and who was out of it, and what they were willing to do to retain power or grasp it. (It’s not exactly a rule, but perhaps worth pointing out that revolutionaries are nearly always more fanatical than incumbents. I suspect this is true of religion as well as political power. And I don’t say that to excuse either side in the wars of religion).
The same (‘creed is irrelevant’) cannot be said of the religion of the ‘certain group’ you mention, which explicitly condones a particular type of holy war, and the murder of certain sub categories of non-submitting human. They will ‘win’, if at all, by the continued silence around this problem by those currently in power, which will necessarily guide the national conversation and the ‘Overton Window’, regardless of political representation: arguably UKIP brought about Brexit without very much parliamentary representation either. Imagine what they would have achieved if most people genuinely thought there was a chance, however slim, that they or their family members could be beheaded by a random UKIP voter, because it was actually condoned in their original party manifesto.
I suggest that not only would Brexit have happened sooner, but there probably wouldn’t even have been a referendum, and it might have become slowly more unacceptable – possibly illegal – to speak ill of Brexit or the original party manifesto.
Remember that very recently an important vote in the commons was delayed and parliamentary procedure ignored, due specifically to fear of a group that don’t have a single MP, or even a real political platform. The great problem of terrorism is that it does work, and it does win.
I hope it’s needless to add that I don’t condone political or religious violence AT ALL. But I very much fear that all of our futures will heavily feature it.

A D Kent
A D Kent
1 month ago
Reply to  Greg Morrison

OK then, let’s assume your position is true – that there’s one particularly nasty group intent on dominance. Would it not then be a good policy to restrict those people to the lands from whence they came – and to reduce the pressure on them to leave them by allowing them to develop there without routinely smashing up and otherwise corrupting their states? Might it not be a good policy to not support a relatively small enclave of opposing fanatics in their distant region who are intent on not-playing nice with them and who routinely bomb their capitals and attack their shipping? Why would we not just cut that other group of fundamentalists loose if their eventual demise would bring more stability to a region where your dangerous, invasive group could otherwise live in relative peace.  

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

There’s a certain mindset that needs an endless list of enemies to sustain itself. And no, it’s never good policy to support terrorists who want to kill you no matter how weak and powerless they make themselves appear. This is known as being a cry-bully. When you play stupid games, expect to win stupid prizes.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Greg Morrison

Ralph Edwards

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Anyone seen Charles Stanhope of late?

A D Kent
A D Kent
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

What then, when the war is between two equally fanatic groups? There’s one of those going on right now.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

One group is killing for the sake of killing, the other is killing to stop future killings.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Religious fanatics may have less fear of death and indeed be able to see deaths as martyrdom, but they also make particularly crap fighters.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Was that true of Cromwell’s New Model Army?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

But make for great terrorists.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Correct, because the sorts of consideration described by the author don’t apply to ideologies whose ‘logic’ is rooted the ‘the next world’, so reality doesn’t feature. And when that logic includes the special reward of ‘paradise’ for those who seek death in its cause that is doubly so. As one fanatic put it; ‘we love death more than you love life’.

General Store
General Store
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Then we musty become religious fanatics

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

The most clear statement of importance is that Christianity according to the Bible and Mathew 5 is that it is a religion that strongly supports peace – ‘turn the other cheek’. This seems to be a weak response of a coward but it can also be taken as let’s talk about this issue before somebody gets hurt. The finish of all wars has to end in some form of negotiation so it seems logical to argue very strongly to do this as soon as possible and not give up trying.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago

Interesting theory for sure

Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
1 month ago

An interesting insight, but it is slightly more complex. What I see is a result of individualism. In countries that have strongly individualistic culture, every death in battle is a larger tragedy than in a culture of community or tribal allegiance. Israel is torn between the two. It is a very communal, family and tribal society (of which the anomolous birth rate is one corrolary) but also rooted in western individualism. The result is the eagerness yo serve the country and the willingness to go into battle, counterpointed by a very personal and sentimental culture of rememberance, and the societal weak-point where people are prepared to pay any price to return hostages.

A D Kent
A D Kent
1 month ago
Reply to  Rafi Stern

It is complicated indeed, but is the fact that the Israel’s birth-rate is kept high by a particular group not an issue here? Especially when that group generally refuses to join their armed forces?

El Uro
El Uro
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Secular Israelis also have a high birth rate. Three children per family is a common picture for them.
Although it seems to me that hostility towards a certain group of the Israeli population is the main motive for your comment.
The only thing that puzzles me is your reluctance to see the rapid growth of worshipers of the religion of peace in your own country. I think it’s a little smarter to worry about this

A D Kent
A D Kent
1 month ago
Reply to  El Uro

Who says I don’t worry about it? I worry about it quite a bit. What also I worry about though is how our reckless government(s) systematically wreck and/or corrupt the countries in East Asia where those people might find a culture more to their liking. I worry about the fact that our governments actively supported the extremists in Iraq, Libya and Syria against a secular government on the basis of a pack of lies. I worry about the fact that they did so in Afghanistan and Kosovo too. I worry about the fact that Israel clearly wants the extremists to win in Syria. I worry about the fact that Israel supported and moved Hamas towards extremism (see the murder of Ahmed Yassin & Netanyahu’s comments over the years). I worry about the fact that prior to the ‘War On Terror’ Islamist terrorists were very much on the fringes – hiding in caves and otherwise shunned – they’re now all over Asia and North Africa. I worry about all sorts of things, but what I don’t accept is that it’s nothing to do with us.

El Uro
El Uro
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Israel supported and moved Hamas towards extremism
US moved Russia towards the war with Ukraine and moved Ukrainians toward the fight with Russians
US moved North Korea towards its nuclear program
Israel moved Iran towards its nuclear program
US moved Osama bin Laden towards attack 9/11
You can expand this list

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Rafi Stern

I think Jews are unusual in that they have never needed to look back very far into their history to find yet another reminder of why if they do not stand up for themselves vigorously the outcome for them will be so much worse.
I think Luttwak is basically right that when you do not have the “spare” sons you don’t waste those you have on “good causes”. However when there is an genuine existential threat then you fight with all you have. Hamas make existential threats against Israel but are not capable of carrying them out – Oct 7th was their best effort after 16 years of preparation and whilst they say they would do the same every day they can’t. Putin makes a lot of noise about existential threats to Russia, but they are just noise. Putin does represent an existential threat to Ukraine, which is why the Ukrainians are fighting the way they are, but to European countries that don’t share a border with Russia it is just a “good cause”. Those that could be similarly threatened by Putin nervously tread a fine line but are not prepared to send their “spare” sons in defence of another country.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 month ago
Reply to  Rafi Stern

In Britain there are families which have a tradition of serving in the military usually from the tough blue collar background and landowning/ military/naval backgrounds. One of the reason Johnson Beharry VC was furious with Prime Minister Gordon Brown was he sent a scrawl of a letter to the family of a Guardsman killed in combat who was the fifth generation of his family to serve in the Guards.
The contempt for patriotism, physical courage and British culture has spread from the intellectual left wing middle class of the 1930s to the white collar urban/suburban middle class office workers and wealthy. Two examples of people who have served in the SAS are Christian Craighead, former WO2 and General Sir Roland Walker. To serve in the Special Forces one has to be an individual as demonstrated by the actions of CC in Nirobi who said ” The motto of the SAS who dares wins, not whi asks permission wins, “. Walker went to Harrow which has strong military tradition.
Roland Walker – Wikipedia
Christian Craighead – SAS Operator | SRS #92 (youtube.com)
Major General John Glubb MC described what we see today in his Fate of Empires.
Fate of Empires (uncw.edu)

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
1 month ago

I had similar thoughts reading an account of the battle of Monte Cassino some years ago: that no modern troops would have been prepared to put up with the combat conditions endured by the Polish soldiers for the weeks of the engagement.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
1 month ago

The Ukraine proxy war is the very definition of anti-heroism. It is throwing crazed nationalists into a meat-grinder in the name of Big Business, be that Western arms corporations, North American shale gas exporters and ultimately the reconstruction companies. Putin does the same with Russia’s youth because he has been given the identical moral licence by Biden and the US State Department.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago

Today, however, with the average fertility of women across Europe less than two and still falling — the EU average was 1.46 in 2022 — there are no spare children.

There are not fewer “spare children” than there were 70 years ago, average family sizes are unchanged.
The number of children per family has been pretty stable at 2.3 – 2.4 children per family in the UK since the 1950s. However the total fertility rate (number of children per woman) has dropped dramatically to 1.56 kids per woman. This is not due to smaller families but because the number of women who reach 45 years of age without ever having children has grown. It is now about 20% and rising fast – 50% of British women who turned 30 last year were childless.
The reality is that family lines are being extinguished at a phenomenal rate without a single bullet being fired. The reasons for this rate of involuntary childlessness is a question worth asking.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

And we wonder why ancient society was patriarchal?

Mark epperson
Mark epperson
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

The reasons are called “Money and uber-Nazi feminists”. The millennials and Z’ers have been screwed by the boomers and the early Xer’s resulting in gig jobs, working more jobs, and just plain tired. The feminist movement was wonderful for women in the beginning but like all good movements, they are susceptible to zealots of increasing psychopathic intensity and that is what has occurred. However, there is hope as the younger millennials and Zer’s aren’t buying the techno, media, nazi feminist BS any longer and are beginning to act to stop being patsies and move the needle to the middle. If this happens the birth rate will increase, and jobs could reflect more stability. Of course, according to the author, we can now have more war casualties and we start the cycle all over again.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

I wonder how it pans out then? Not at family level, by the looks of it. But at national levels there would be political angst, not so much at ‘spare’ children but just less children overall.

In China, it’s certainly not a question of ‘spare’ children either. Attempts to encourage parents to have 2 or 3 don’t seem to have worked. China is destined to get old fast.

I’m a bit disappointed with Luttwak here. He has missed out on a fundamental bit of his ‘spare sons’ hypothesis.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Yes I almost wrote “there are not fewer ‘spare children’ but too few children overall.” If your country’s 20-year old cohort is smaller than your 70-year old cohort, you can’t afford to lose too many in war.

A D Kent
A D Kent
1 month ago

 Another gallop of guff from Professor Luttwak – it’s turning into quite a series now. Let’s deal with just some of the piffle…..

Is it just the Israeli’s birth-rate that gives them the impetus to fight their ‘heroic war’? Could it not be more to do with their national-myth or relentless indoctrination regarding the complete superiority of their armed forces and super-duper tech? More than once on these very pages Luttwak himself extolled the virtues of their high-tech Trophy armour on their tanks – armour that has shown itself to be rather ineffective in the close-quarters combat in the rubble of Gaza. A more direct influence on a nation’s willingness to fight might be their understanding that wars are fought with weapons and not their brochures. This is just one of many factors I could list ahead of their perceptions of their fertility rates.

It is, according to the Professor, a problem for Iran that their birth-rate is buoyed by high rates restricted to various minorities. Why then is it not a problem for Israel (or his silly theory) that their birth-rate is being kept high (as demonstrated in figures Luttwak provides in this very article) by a group who conspicuously refuse to join the Israeli armed forces!? Forgive me, that seems quite a biggie to me.

Yes it has only been the US & UK who have bombed Yemen in response to their targeting of, initially only Israel-linked, shipping in the Red Sea, but there are other ‘big questions’ beyond Luttwak’s ‘why just them?’. There’s also ‘What made these cretins think it would have any effect?’, ‘Hadn’t they paid any attention to the ineffectiveness of the Saudi campaigns there?’ and the dirty great big elephant in the battle-space question: ‘How’s all that Prosperity Guardianship actually going Professor?’.

And as for his ‘analysis’ of the Ukraine war, it’s rather amusingly, I’m assuming inadvertently, off-message. Doesn’t he realise that Russians have been wasting the cream of their youth by hurling waves of ‘meat assaults’ at the plucky Ukrainians? Wasn’t he aware that Putin’s complete indifference to their staggering losses was bound to see his regime collapse? That’s been the narrative throughout this war – it remains so if you only read the UK’s Military ‘Intelligence’ assessments of the RF losses which they still maintain are many multiples of the Ukrainian losses, despite the RF’s massive fire-power advantages. But no, the Russians aren’t fighting one of his ‘heroic wars’ here. No, not at all.

George Venning
George Venning
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Nicely put.
But the answer to all your questions is to be found in the palpable sense of regret, that you can see in every para: Whatever will we do when we cannot send our young men to die in large numbers?
Turns out that if you want the flower of your youth to lay down their lives in some glorious cause, then you’ll need to do a bit better than any of the absolute horse manure they’ve been selling in the last 20 years.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Yes you’ve got that absolutely right.

From the start I was entertained by Prosperity Guardian…a surefire loser about which we now hear little.

Didn’t the US Navy move some of its major ships some way from the “combat zone” in case they became casualties? Of course, casualties to an adversary it treated with contempt because they didn’t have the advanced weaponry the USA has.. and would be easily defeated or intimidated…

Regrettably the US rulers have never learned from Vietnam…the latest iteration was Afghanistan…

John Tyler
John Tyler
1 month ago

Interesting article! I guess the decline in birth rates also helps explain the self-importance of youngsters and their parents’ over-indulgence.

RA Znayder
RA Znayder
1 month ago

Interesting theory. And a theory you can actually put to the test with some statistics! To some degree at least.
I like to posit that the author may need to reconsider causality. Are people unwilling to fight because they have fewer children or do people have fewer children because they do not feel threatened while also not believing in anything ‘heroic’? The biggest threat many in the West feel is their unstable position in the middle class, a problem which only gets worse if one gets children. However, if we take the example of Israel, people there do feel threatened and involved in an existential battle on a military level. Also the myth of nationalism is still very strong as it is based on a deep sense of ethnicity.
After the second world war the West abandoned the myth of nationalism and most ethnocentric believes were considered taboo. In fact, grand narratives and ideological visions “to fight for” were all abandoned in our postmodern mass-consumerist society. If leaders want war, however, they need narratives because wars are rarely actually in the interest of the people fighting them. Unless the threat is obvious. Iran seems to be an outlier but consider that a large part of the population isn’t actually buying the religious and war narratives the regime tries to sell. Birth rates increased a bit after the revolution, remained high during the Iran-Iraq war (an actual threat) and then fell.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 month ago

An interesting enough article from Luttwak; toned down I notice from his earlier bellicose advocating to take on Teheran. But when it comes to Isreal he turns myopic; a country that can do no wrong, no matter what it does.

P.S. Are others having Unherd issues recently?:
I have had issues with the android app for sometime now – it won’t allow me to login. I get an ‘About: Blank’ message and it hangs.
Mostly the website works but yesterday an issue developed whereby I could write a reply but it would just hang when I tried to post it.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
1 month ago

Yes, but the problems have been resolved. Mention me to the Techs, if you want to fix it.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 month ago

The US is offering citizenship to illegal aliens the current administration is importing in exchange for service in the military. These illegals have no cultural or family ties to the US and would likely have no qualms visiting violence on the citizenry at the command of the government.
This, for those confused about American gun laws, is why we have the Second Amendment.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
29 days ago

Along with the refusal of law enforcement officials to, you know, enforce the law. And the celebration of nihilistic violence by the culture, including its cheerleaders in the media, as some kind of racial prerogative.

Steve White
Steve White
1 month ago

Having read him in the past, I have a hard time desiring to read this neocon Boomer’s thoughts.

Geoffrey Kolbe
Geoffrey Kolbe
1 month ago

Then along came Putin…
Good article though.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 month ago

But it did not mollify her critics, who argued that Britain should never have used force, even if it meant that Argentina would be allowed to conquer the islands.
I would suggest that the true motive of Thatcher’s critics was to denigrate the country which they loath and bring her Government which they loathed even more.
The same characters can now be found chanting “From the river to the sea” with all that entails

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago

US Senator Lindsay Graham said the quiet part out loud a couple of weeks ago – what’s happening in Ukraine is not about ‘democracy’ or anything like that. It’s about Ukraine’s vast resources and his desire to see their consumption limited to America, as Kiyv is to be allowed no business partner beyond us.
Tell what American mother or anyone else’s mother is willing to see her son go off to fight for the sake of the defense industry and its investors. Or any other business interest, for that matter. Graham’s statement came on the program “Face the Nation” and lives on YouTube where anyone can listen to the craven musings of a senior senator.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Ahh… LIndsay Graham, the reptile who never saw a war he didn’t like.

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
1 month ago

Visit Worthing for an ice cream and an afternoon on the beach, and while walking though the town that shows little sign of the multi-million pound rejuvenation scheme launched years ago stop at the fabulous Great War memorial.
Standing outside the grand 1930s town hall, a statement of civic pride, confidence in the past and hope for the future, it bears the names of over 650 men.
Their only embodiment is now in the life-size bronze statue of a soldier atop the column. Waving his helmet in his right hand, he gaily salutes with a jaunty air as if perpetually expressing the dedication below: Duty nobly done.
Is there a sense of duty and nobility today?

George Venning
George Venning
1 month ago

I read somewhere of Nixon bewailing his terrible misfortune that the kids he was so keen to send to Vietnam weren’t all that excited to go. Effing hippies. Why do they have to appear on my watch?
You really have to be a Luttwak-grade ghoul to fret about the lack of bellicosity not only in our own populations but on the part of our ostensible political rivals in Russia and China.
What a problem to have! “O tempora, o mores”
If only we had more “spare sons” that we could hurl into the ravening maw of our foes’ artillery in order to… what exactly? Defend pride month in Putin’s Russia?

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 month ago
Reply to  George Venning

I think your confusing Johnson, who got us into that war , with Nixon, who campaigned on and did get us out of it.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 month ago

It depends upon back ground of family. Tough working class and those from landowning/military/naval traditions will join up. Those from affluent Quaker/Non Conformist/ Liberal /Labour backgrounds do not join up. Just look at those who have served in SAS ; Christian Craighead and General Sir Roland Walker
Christian Craighead – SAS Operator | SRS #92 (youtube.com)
Ex SAS soldier who was gagged from releasing book on how he defeated Islamic terrorists during Nairobi hotel siege releases childrens novel instead | Daily Mail Online
Roland Walker – Wikipedia
Labour Leaders such as Gaitskill, Wilson and Foot did not take part in combat.
As Orwell states in his essays written in late 1930s early 1940s, The Middle Class Left Wing Intellectual has contempt for patriotism, physical toughness, British Culture and buccaneering spirit which includes military and naval victories. This ethos has spread to much of the urban office working middle class.
The way responsible makes people responsible , tough working and living conditions make people tough- just listen to C Craighead’s upbringing. The less toughness people need in their live, the less they develop an so the more daunting is serving in the Armed Forces.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

Great essay. Brought to mind a chapter by Richard Weaver who detected the loss of heroism already in WWII. He traced the problem as far back as Toqueville commenting on democracies’ love of peace and prosperity, no love of military spending and discipline. May also follow from attempt to deny the existence of organized evil and our need to defend ourselves. Also the absence of self-sacrifice in our culture. Israelis and Ukraine are experiencing Reality’s correction to that type of thinking. Could add the people of countries like Iran, Vietnam, N. Korea and China who live like slaves because the world was not willing to sacrifice to save their freedom. No one dares say “the End of History” anymore due to its patent absurdity, but many people still live and vote like its a viable and even the best option to pretend aggression will just wither away when people are fat and happy enough.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

There is a specific strain. In the UK the Quakers and Non Conformists were anti military. The the development of the Industrial Revolution mostly created by Quakers/NC meant they became wealthy and influential. The fact that the UK is an island and had the World’s largest navy meant by 1870s there was a large wealthy influential class of Liberals who were antii- liberal. There was a large anti military streak within the Labour Party and this dominated the left wing intellectuals . The left wing intellectuals were anti British military but pro- USSR.

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
1 month ago

It probably has more to do with the series of failed conflicts since WW2 and the futility of military intervention, with Afghanistan being the latest fiasco as well as the Ukraine stalemate, enough people are not willing to die for lost causes and for the complex , and the justified lack of trust in political leadership. The fact that the major powers have hundreds of nuclear weapons pointed at each other is another major factor, if one side starts to lose, the other side launches. It’s called MAD, the result modern warfare is futile and pointless unless you are seeking collective suicide. Israel is different because they are dealing with important threats on their borders and they know they have military supremacy

G M
G M
1 month ago

With China’s one child policy many more males were born than females so there a lot of ‘spare’ males available.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 month ago

The Canadian Prime Minister has spent the last 10 years calling Canada a genocide state, spitting on its history and maligning white men. Our universities are staffed with faculty who literally hate western society and transmit that to their students. Statues are torn down and street names changed due to largely made up allegations of wrong think from hundreds of years ago. Why would anyone raised on this diet of self-hatred be prepared fight and die for their country? Isn’t fighting a form of toxic masculinity? Of course this has real world impacts. The complete denigration of rural southern white men in the US by the cultural establishment means US army recruitment is down 45%. With the possible exception of the UK that is the only army that really matters to western democracies.

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Hopefully next year Justin will enter the dustbin of history, just like alot of loser elite leaders. Although the next government will have huge challenges, I already pity them to try to deal with the mess Canada has become. When they tore down the statue of John A McDonald in Montreal it was a shameful act, being one of the founders of Canada, he was far from perfect but he was still brilliant. And the neglected state of our military and minimal commitment to Nato is another shame on Canada, Trudeau is a self loving babbler and master spin artist , he doesn’t speak for me.

John Murray
John Murray
1 month ago

I started out highly sceptical, but I have to say as I read more I found that was a very thought-provoking article with a highly original thesis.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
1 month ago

I find it deeply offensive to refer to the wars of the 20th century as “heroic”. I understand Mr. Luttwak’s point about the changed demographics, though I do not take it, but to use “heroic” for the carnage of WW I, WW II, and the various other wars downright glorifies war.
To my mind, the situation right now can be explained by an observation made during “Covid” years: The sectors of the population who rejected the governments’ “Covid” propaganda and “measures” clustered at the most highly educated and the least educated. The moderately well educated were most enthusiastically on board.
The explanation is straightforward: The most highly educated had enough knowledge to understand – correctly – that the governments’ narrative made no sense and could not possibly be correct or work. The least educated may not have had the tools to understand that the “science” was gobbledegook, but they were well attuned to the subtext of the governments’ propaganda, which can be summed up with “many of you will die – that is a risk I am willing to accept.”
That is where we now stand regarding the jingoistic warmongering against Russia. There are enough young people – enough young men – in our societies who see no future, no perspective, and would be receptive to a “meaningful,” “heroic” venture; our levels of drug use, suicide, and risk-taking are ample testimony. But they’re not willing to do it for “the man”.

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
1 month ago

Maybe the youth of today are not interested in laying down their lives for a state that is hostile to them.
The fact that yesterdays enemies are today’s friends and yesterday’s allies are now the enemy might also give a pause.
The belligerent politicians of the US revealed their bravery when they had the chance to serve their nation in war and almost to a man, squibbed, so what sane person throw their lot in with that bunch of hypocrites.
I think this is a good thing as the world would be a much better place with fewer violent people.