‘Stronger than all the armies in the world': Ideas and the fights they cause

It was Victor Hugo who said:

There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come. 

That may be true, and if it is, I can tell you one thing: armies like to fight. And that is what we have seen lately–fights– surrounding a couple of ideas in particular.

Ferguson v Mishra

The Ivory Tower Soap Opera Award must go to the ongoing spat between Niall Ferguson and Pankaj Mishra.  It started in the London Review of Books with Mishra’s review ‘Watch This Man’. (I won’t summarise it; it is well worth the read: involves allegations of racism, of Leftist conspiracy, and much more…and lawyers might be involved soon.)  The battle then raged in the LRB’s Letters sections here and here.  The latest news is that it may move from writing to writs, as Ferguson has threatened legal action.  Goodness only knows where it will lead.

Gentile v Ucko

A much smaller, but somewhat more interesting spat (given that one of the protagonists is a KOW contributor), is one that is brewing between David Ucko and Gian Gentile over an idea: counterinsurgency.

Ucko published an article in PRISM which assesses the idea of counterinsurgency after Afghanistan.  Frank Hoffman blogged about it over at Small Wars Journal and then a nasty little scrap ensued in the comments section.  (Again, check them out for yourself.  Quite worth a read…no lawyers yet marshalled, though). 

In this fight, it isn’t just two armies, there are more.  Gentile throws a punch at his old sparring partner, John Nagl, while he is mixing it up with Ucko.  And then they are the bystanders.  Check out what commentator ‘carl’ had to say about Gentile’s reactions to the Ucko piece:

Sometimes you seem mostly upset because as a historian you think the wrong interpretation of events has been made. Other times you seem mostly upset because Big Army has been dissed. Other times you are upset that anybody out there can think that small wars can be won. Most times you seem upset about all of it.

Mee-ow.  And who says intellectuals are boring?

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4 thoughts on “‘Stronger than all the armies in the world': Ideas and the fights they cause

  1. Pingback: Bacevich v Kagan: Kettles, Pots, and all that. | Kings of War

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