In which I debunk Martin van Creveld’s absurd views on women with Martin van Creveld’s absurd book on logistics

Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld has made immense contributions to the US military when one considers the legions of students at the various War Colleges who have written term papers specifically rebutting van Creveld’s crackpot theories. 

From the same theorist who brought us the assertion that Napoleon’s 1812 expedition against Russia “did not do too badly” (page 70), comes another winning article entitled “To Wreck an Army“.

In what is possibly Van Creveld’s most absurd reading of history to date, Van Creveld traces what he terms the “decline” of the US military, one which is inextricably linked to the admission of women in the 1970s.  Since admitting women, Van Creveld argues, the US military has been a haven for illiterates and foreign nationals. 

“So unattractive has military service become that the forces have been reduced to recruiting tens of thousands of non-citizens. In many cases so low is their quality that, once they have been recruited, the first thing they must learn is how to read”.

willy wonka van creveld

Those who remember the Armed Forces of the 1970s tend not to look back on it fondly. And for an institution which has been telling new recruits that it’s been getting softer since the winter at Valley Forge, that’s saying something.

The US military reached an absolute nadir in the 1970s.  One Marine regiment reported that only 38 percent of Marines had high school diplomas.  Race riots broke out on many military bases.  Some units were so plagued with AWOLs and brig-bound servicemembers that they could barely muster 50% combat strength.  In short, the US military had plenty of issues with readiness and discipline, none of which had anything to do with women in the ranks.

But had Van Creveld bothered to check the Army’s latest demographic data, he’d have realized that over 99% of today’s enlisted force has greater than a high school diploma or its equivalent.  One in six recruits in 2011 had some college.  Not to mention, US Army Recruiting Command reports that the US military is severely restricted from recruiting from those who score near the bottom on aptitude tests.  And let’s not forget that in 1999, the US Army increased the standards on its Physical Fitness Tests. 

Though standards dropped to grow the force necessary to fight two wars, the fact of the matter is that the US Army is comprised of men and women who are more intelligent, better educated, and more physically fit than their civilian counterparts. 

Of course, Martin Van Creveld won’t admit that, even though the much-touted Revolution in Military Affairs (which has provided him with volumes of material) wouldn’t have been possible without a well-educated professional force to operate its equipment.

But that’s just the beginning of the egregious disregard for academic rigor in van Creveld’s op-ed. 

By one count, almost one third of enlisted military women are single mothers. As a result, whatever the regulations may say, they are only deployable within limits.

family care plan

The Philosoraptor is right, of course. Van Creveld’s unsourced claim that one-third of female servicemembers are single parents is irrelevant. Every single parent, as well as every dual-military couple is required to have a family care plan. In essence, the military forces single parents to make a choice: either give your children to a family member so you can deploy, or get out.  No service member–regardless of gender–can be non-deployable based on their status as a single parent.

But perhaps most disturbing is Martin Van Creveld’s conclusion, in which he summarizes the traditional role of men and women in society–that men fight wars abroad, so they might protect the childbearers remaining at home.  Some might call it mysoginistic, others anachronistic.

I call it historically inaccurate.  For centuries, women accompanied armies on campaign, keeping up with the march, and performing many of the logistical functions within the camp.

My source?  Martin van Creveld’s sucky book about logistics:

creveld logistics

I’ve paid nearly $100 for Van Creveld’s books. Therefore, I’ve purchased the right to lampoon him.

Martin, we all liked “no girls allowed” clubs…when we were eight. But most of us grew up; would that you do the same.

About Crispin Burke

Major Crispin Burke is a US Army aviator qualified in the UH-60 and LUH-72 helicopters. Major Burke has served in the 82nd Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division, and Joint Task Force-Bravo in Honduras. In what is likely a sad statement on the state of humanity, Major Burke's writings, musings, and irreverent cartoons have been featured at Small Wars Journal, National Defense University, Foreign Policy Online, Wired Magazine, Egremont, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Great Satan's Girlfriend.
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8 Responses to In which I debunk Martin van Creveld’s absurd views on women with Martin van Creveld’s absurd book on logistics

  1. Fred Kiesche says:

    Ah, the 1970’s. My tank commander joined during that time. He told us about the barracks, the drugs, the officers who would only enter the barracks (and this was in Germany, not, say, Vietnam) with armed guards for fear of an “accident”.

    Oh yes, we all look to that period as the height of military readiness and standards.

  2. says:

    I think his point in his book was that camp followers slowed down armies and made them unwieldy. I dont think there is any suggestion in the extract you took to suggest that camp followers were essential in performing tasks of a logistical nature. In fact they were a logistical nightmare and slowed down armies. I could be wrong but I believe there was an instance during the russian campaign where Napoleon rather brutally left thousands of them behind to die so that the troops could actually get away? Not to say that MVC is correct in his assertion about women in the Army, I would agree that he comes out with mad stuff, especially when it comes to Israel.

    • Philip says:

      @ Joe Mulrean:

      Whether or not womens’ presence was a help or a hindrance is irrelevant, the fact is that they were there, not at home ‘taking care of the kids.’

    • Starbuck says:

      Also–what really slowed down 18th-century armies was the abundance of baggage and cumbersome logistical tail, not ovaries.

      • andtheseashalltell says:

        That and the fact the 18th-century armies were social entities as much as they were military machines. Or perhaps there’s still an army today where officers can buy their commissions, engage in duels of honor at dawn, and wear their richest and finest dress clothes on the battlefield, to remind the men that they’re being led by gentlemen? Maybe ‘officer’s wigmaker’ needs to be added to the list of possible MOSes?

  3. SJPONeill says:

    Spot on! Excellent article!

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  5. Alexander Grable says:

    I am wondering Starbuck, besides his stupid views on women, why do you think Van Creveld is otherwise only useful as fodder for debunking?

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