My Five Songs (Whatever That Means)

I’ve been trying lately to force myself to fill out a playlist that I titled simply “My Five Songs” and left empty, with the goal of creating it…and then seeing what I meant by that title. The songs that most define me? Probably not, no, but close. The songs most often on my running playlist? Perhaps, but that selection process is a bit different. The songs I like most? Maybe. But, limiting myself to one per artist, the Stones and Pearl Jam are grossly underrepresented by that standard; Heartbreaker and Not For You would be unjustifiably missing. So, maybe they’re just the five songs that, when pressed, I’d put on a mix CD as sure-fire representations of me, what I like, and just how rooted in derivatives of 70s AOR rock particular (?) my taste in music is. (I like that one. Let’s go with that.) So, without further ado, here they are:

  1. Corduroy by Pearl Jam (live, with a Pink Floyd intro – stick through it)
  2. Gimme Danger by Iggy & the Stooges
  3. Honky Tonk Women by The Rolling Stones
  4. Lookout Mountain by Drive-By Truckers
  5. Everlong by Foo Fighters

And there you have it. With two honorable mentions, only barely beaten out by Honky Tonk Women, in Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother (I saw Ray Wylie Hubbard at SXSW recently, btw, and he’s still got it—in spades—but I’m partial to Jerry Jeff’s version) and Too Drunk to Dream. (List should’ve been eight, clearly, to include those two and Fooled Around and Fell in Love, but we can’t have it all, can we?)

And, no. Those last three aren’t ironic. They almost made it. (As did Ain’t Goin’ Down Till the Sun Comes Up, but I can’t find an acceptable youtube version.)

The syllabus cometh (Teaching WWI in Real Time)

After a few, ah, frantic weeks of (agonizing unnecessarily about) course prep, I’m (finally) sufficiently pleased with my World War I in Real Time syllabus to share it (here). I’m pretty excited about the course, because it’s going to give me the chance to cover so much about politics—bargaining, communication, coordination, principal-agent problems, etc.—under a single, unifying event. Christopher Clark says that the War is the “most complex [event] of modern times, perhaps of any time so far,” and his (magisterial) work is only about the beginning of the war. I learned quickly, while choosing topics to cover for the early months of the war, that he’s not wrong. At all.

I’m looking forward to the challenge of teaching, because there’s always a limit to the sheer amount of new stuff you can cover in a given semester. My American Foreign Relations course, for example, really only wants the class to come away understanding (a) the modern theory of war and (b) the theory of comparative advantage. Causes of War…well, I suppose the goal there is obvious. But I don’t want this course itself to be too much of a metaphor for the war: big, complex, and oftentimes incomprehensible. (Sure, it would be hilarious if a student at the end pulled a Francis Ford Coppola and said the equivalent of “making this movie was war,” but nice doesn’t mean the poor sap would’ve learned anything.)

So, if you’re familiar with the war, you’re going to notice a lot of things that I don’t cover. But I also cover what I think is important, not just for understanding the world of 1914, but for understanding politics itself. Strategic interaction, equilibrium, learning, and communication will be our building blocks, but we’ll cover war, diplomacy, alliances, military strategy, international law (neutrality, POWs, and the treatment of noncombatants), and state-society relations (labor issues, gender (in)equality, and demands for reform). My hope is to find simple analytical models to frame each of these problems, allowing students to see that, however sui generis we might like to view big, important events, they’re still specific instances of something more general—just, perhaps, with extreme values of a few variables.

My blogging about the course will pick up in earnest once the semester begins (I do, after all, have some APSA papers to take care of in the meantime), but keep an eye on this space: just as it was 100 years ago today…

Most of the bridges and the railroads of Liège fall intact to German hands, but a few are successfully destroyed:
8/7/14, 3:25 AM
The first elements of the British Expeditionary force begins to arrive in France.
8/7/14, 9:30 AM

…things are about to get interesting up in here.

Leaping into the dark, Bethmann-style (Teaching WWI in Real Time)

As the realization of what I committed to with my World War I In Real Time fall course starts to dawn on me—centennials will do that to you, I suppose—I figured the anniversary of the Sarajevo assassinations would be an opportune time to share what I’ve been doing in preparation for the course, as well as what I’ve learned, not so much about the War but about prepping a new, and highly specific, course.

  1. This is going to be a lot of work. (Shocking, right?) I suppose this dawning realization is also apropos, at least with respect to the war itself; committing to this course was a leap in the dark, so to speak, one taken with no small amount of blind enthusiasm, but I don’t think I’ll be quite so regretful as Bethmann Hollweg was after his. <fingers crossed>
  2. I’m almost relieved that, on the first day of class (28 August), we’ll be past the July Crisis. Sure, the immediate sparks of the war can be found there, and I won’t be able to make proper use of “Take me Out” by Franz Ferdinand (h/t YL), but I have a sense that I’d be as impatient as Germany waiting for Austria to get off the blocks—and spending too much lecture time on pre-war crises than I really want.
  3. It’s too bad that the Battle of the Frontiers will have just ended, but the day of the 28th is fraught with contingency, choice, and uncertainty—-the perfect stuff, I think, of a first lecture. German armies have crashed through neutral Belgium, hoping to achieve a modern-day Cannae on a massive scale, only to be lured into turning south too soon, foregoing the envelopment of Paris while chasing the possibility of eliminating the French now in the field. General Joffre, on the other hand, has come to the conclusion that attrition might be the only way to win the war, and his famous General Instruction No. 2 will have just gone out, precipitating a massive retreat and repositioning Allied forces so as to set up what would become known as the Battle of the Marne—the moment(s) when Moltke’s version of the Schlieffen plan would be dashed for good, and when the Western Front would begin to settle into what we all know it, now, to look like. 28 August also sees Joffre meeting with Sir John French, trying to keep the British Expeditionary Force in the line, setting the stage for years of (what I, at least, think are) fascinating intra-coalitional politics. With plans wrecked, opponents adjusting, and the strategic picture in remarkable flux, what will the generals, the soldiers, the statesmen, and the home fronts do in response? Forgive me if that’s a goosebump moment for me; I can’t wait to give this lecture.
  4. Lengthy geek-out aside, I’m assigning Max Hastings’ Catastrophe,  which pretty much covers the war from August to the end of the semester—and which I hope my undergrads find to be sufficiently readable. (Well, those that read enough to judge readability, I should say.) As for the other readings…well, up in the air at this point, apart from this (which, if you’ve not read it, is excellent). Had thought about Herwig’s book on The Marne, which I’m finishing now, but the timing is all off. At any rate, you’ll hear more about this decision shortly.
  5. And, finally, I think I’ll be able to sketch out some simple game-theoretic models for many of the topics we’ll consider, from the high politics of diplomacy, statecraft, and intrawar bargaining, to military strategy, to labor-management tensions at home, and to the dynamics of resistance and reprisals behind the front, etc., which should lend some unity to the whole thing. Let’s hope so, at least. Again, fingers crossed.

Broadly, I think that we can learn a lot from the war—sure, maybe not much about some things on which it’s an outlier—but specific instances of general trends can be awfully illuminating when we place them in theoretical context, and my hope is that the anniversary fever for the seminal tragedy in modern history can be put to good use (translation: my students are going to get ambushed with more science than they expect). Keep an eye on this space in the coming weeks and months as I try to figure out how to do just that.


When class meets current events, Causes of War edition

With the university closed Tuesday morning due to weather (which is becoming something like a routine around here), I was granted a couple of more days to think about just how I’d address the crisis in Ukraine in my Causes of War class. In the intervening time, I was fortunate enough to see Jay Ulfelder’s post, “This Is Not a Drill,” and to have some lengthy discussions with colleagues about what, if anything, to say responsibly during a highly fluid—and potentially high-stakes—situation that bears pretty directly on the topic of my class. (And not only the class, as I’ll mention below: the very unit we’re in the middle of.)

One option in situations like this is, of course, to say nothing. “Folks, the schedule says we’re going to talk about Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941, so, by damn, that’s what we’re going to do.” There’s a lot to be said for that approach, to be frank: this early in any crisis, we know so very little about what’s actually happening on the ground, much less why these things are happening. Speculation is always in tremendous supply, and, entertainingly, often preceded by “I don’t want to speculate, but…”

However, I decided today while crafting a response to an email from a student asking about the crisis that, even in a tide of speculation, there’s still something to be said for analysis, or at least rigorous thinking, in light of the few things we do know. If nothing else, it gives us a guide for understanding subsequent events and a few things to look for.

So I’ve decided to talk about Ukraine. The next question, of course, is what to say. As it happens, the class is currently deep into thinking about the use of military force in response to commitment problems (e.g., here and here). We’ve been analyzing when countries will attack, invade, or occupy one another as a way to arrest or prevent a process of declining bargaining leverage that would invalidate deals that are otherwise perfectly acceptable in the present. The use of force may be costly up front, but states may nonetheless opt for it when those costs are are preferable to watching today’s bargain (the status quo) wither away in the future.

Part of our exercise will be to identify these motives in Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941, when it calculated that its naval power would be as close to that of the United States’ as it ever would be. Then, the question will be whether Russia might be intervening in Ukraine’s messy domestic situation to arrest its own potentially declining bargaining leverage. If we look at the current situation, it’s possible (though, of course, not yet definitive) that we see another species of commitment problem (and, of course, not one producing an attack on another great power, as we saw in 1941). Here’s how:

  1. Ukraine’s domestic upheaval might herald a prolonged shift to the West.
  2. Russia has secured basing rights in the Crimea (which it ceded to Ukraine in 1954), most notably at the port of Sevastopol—rights it would like to protect. These rights aren’t under direct threat now, but…
  3. If a Westward tilt in Ukrainian politics would erode Ukraine’s commitment to honoring leasing agreements, then the current deal might be ever more difficult to keep in place.
  4. Alternatively, if a descent into deeper political chaos were to occur, the current deal might be ever more difficult to keep in place.
  5. If either or both of (3) and (4) would lead to an abrogation of Russian rights in Crimea, and if the consequences of losing of those rights would be greater than the costs of using force (roughly), then Russia’ decision to occupy the region could plausibly be read as a response to a basic commitment problem.

Does that mean Russian actions have derived entirely from the desire to prevent the loss of military privileges in Ukraine? Maybe not, but this is a plausible story consistent with the facts as we (think we) know them. At a minimum, thinking in these terms can tell us where to look if, indeed, this is a response Russia’s expected “loss” of Crimea; if we’re looking at a commitment problem, Russian actions would be designed to secure access to Sevastopol, etc., in the event of further domestic change in Ukraine. How might that be achieved? More autonomy for Crimea? Reversal of the current process of domestic change? A renegotiated treaty? It’s difficult to say at this point, but putting a little structure on otherwise confusing events can’t hurt—as long, of course, as we’re willing to adjust that little bit of structure as required by the emergence of new facts.

And I’m sure my students will make sure that I keep an eye out for just such an eventuality.

The Laws of Neutrality in War – Redux

I’m currently on the way to UC Merced to present the same paper I gave at Maryland last week, so I won’t belabor this, because I haven’t gotten around to incorporating last week’s (excellent) feedback yet. However, I’m pretty excited at the prospect of getting feedback on such an early project twice in such quick succession. Just to make sure this isn’t just so much airport-terminal-boredom-blogging, I’ll keep it short.

That said, it’s worth noting that, when it comes to my WWI course next fall, the German decision to violate Belgian neutrality will certainly play a large part, not because it’s a notable violation of neutrality but because my theory doesn’t see it as a failure of the laws of neutrality per se (even if it is a failure, so to speak, of legal deterrence). Rather, the law might’ve done a very important job by making British intervention easier than it would’ve been otherwise.

Yep. The laws of neutrality might be successful even when they’re violated, and even when the countries ostensibly “punishing” violations care very little about the principle of neutrality.

For the details, I’ll just point you to the paper (generally updated) on this page.

In the meantime, I’ve got some local Minnesotan beer to sample…

Teaching WWI in real time (a hundred years later)

I’m developing a new undergraduate course for the fall, one that, in a very real way, can only be taught in the fall of 2014: The First World War in Real Time (A Hundred Years Later). I came to this idea a few months ago after spending, as anyone aware of my social media presence knows, a lot of time reading about the war over the last year or two. The plan is, after starting with The July Crisis and the outbreak of the war, the topics of the course will be dictated by what, exactly, had been happening that same week (roughly) one hundred years before: from Tannenberg and the Battle of the Frontiers to First Marne, from the strains of coalition warfare to the setting of war aims, and from the link between war and diplomacy to the domestic politics of mobilization and popular support. And that’s not even getting into all the alliance politics, logics of preventive war, decisions about war expansion, and the politics of the laws of neutrality, etc. that the course just begins with.

Can you tell I’m excited about this?

You might also notice that I’m posting about it well in advance. Part of the motivation here is to blog about my progress in preparing the course, to share ideas about the war, to work out possible paper topics that come out of it (War and Peace in East Asia, after all, did lead to my latest stuff on the laws of neutrality), and to get used to blogging regularly enough that I can maintain the commitment throughout the semester. So I’m hoping that these posts will be about teaching, research, the link between the two, prepping and developing courses, and, as well, a way to do something useful with my fascination for The Great War. If it works, there are certainly follow-on courses—1915 and the stabilization of the Western Front, 1916 and the Battles of Verdun and the Somme, 1917 with Russian implosion and American intervention, 1918 and war termination…you get the picture.


So I’m embarking on this project a little publicly, and hopefully it won’t just be me promoting a class about a war that most of my friends are probably (and rightly) tired of hearing me go on and on about. Should be fun.

A theory of neutrality rights in war – paper and slides

I’m giving a talk today at Maryland on a topic that’s pretty new to me—the laws of neutrality in war—though I guess I did hint about the genesis of this project several months ago. It’s a project that’s in its early stages, but it’s one I’m sufficiently excited about to publicize a bit, so here are links to a draft of the paper and the slides I’ll be using to confuse the audience today.

As I’m also hesitant to give said talk unshowered and in a *very* rumpled shirt, I’m cutting this short. Hopefully, though, there’ll be more to report in the days ahead.