William Lind’s Way of War
In late July, Donald J. Trump completed his conquest of the Republican Party with a convention speech in which he called for closing the border, cracking down on crime, bringing back jobs from overseas, and an end to the “failed policy of nation-building.”
That same month, the left-wing website Salon ran not one but two interviews with progressive bloggers—Bruce Wilson and James Scaminaci III—claiming that beneath the candidate’s law-and-order legerdemain lay an extremist philosophy aimed at delegitimizing, and eventually overthrowing, the United States government. Both interviews made reference to a concept called “Fourth Generation War” and the man who coined it, William Sturgiss Lind.
In 2014 Lind published his first work of fiction—a novel, Victoria, which foretells the collapse of the United States in an orgy of violence, Fourth Generation and otherwise. Victoria, as I later found out, had been gathering dust for more than two decades. It dramatizes, in extreme form, many of the ideas that have marked his career.
Lind, familiar to readers of The American Conservative from his columns on military strategy, is a bundle of contradictions. He worked in the ’80s for both Democratic senator Gary Hart and religious-right leader Paul Weyrich, for several years simultaneously—a 1986 Washington Post profile said, “he may well be the nation’s capital’s only switch-hitting gadfly.” (Emphasis theirs.) He is a military strategist without a service record who thinks the military does too much, badly. He is a self-described monarchist who owes his allegiance to that most protestant and nationalist of monarchies, the House of Hohenzollern. He is purported to be a major influence on the alt-right but does not own a computer and does not use email. He is also, if we are to believe the critics, a very dangerous man.
A few days before Salon published its interviews, the subject of one of them, Bruce Wilson, wrote an article on the Daily Kos website claiming, “‘Trump’ is really shorthand for William S. Lind—and all Lind represents.” In subsequent weeks Wilson would weave a doozy of a conspiracy theory, linking Lind—and by the transitive property, Trump—to the murder of British MP Jo Cox; to Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof; to Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik; to the 9/11 hijackers; and to a recent neo-Nazi rally in Sacramento that ended in a bloody street fight. Wilson’s post referenced a photo taken in March that showed Lind standing next to Trump, who held a copy of a 2009 book Lind coauthored with Weyrich, The Next Conservatism.
Just before Trump’s convention speech, I met this unlikely svengali at his home outside Cleveland, where—apart from his college years at Dartmouth, then Princeton, and time in DC—Lind has lived since he was born in 1947. Over dinner in Strongsville, Ohio, he described how the book had ended up in Trump’s hands. After meeting an Ohio organizer working with the Trump campaign, “I sent this young fellow a copy of The Next Conservatism, and he called me a couple of days before Trump was to arrive in Cleveland for a rally and asked me, would I give a copy to Trump myself? So I said of course.”
“Does Trump read books? I don’t know,” Lind continued, “but I told him when I gave it to him, I’m giving you this at the request of your staff.” He noted, “there are at least half a dozen of those books circulating through his campaign.”
The Next Conservatism offers a comprehensive agenda of what Lind and Weyrich call “cultural conservatism.” While the book aims higher than mere policy, the specifics mentioned are Trumpian: reductions in legal and illegal immigration, an America First trade policy, and robust investments in domestic infrastructure, particularly streetcars and trains. In a less Trumpian vein, it also promotes homeschooling and incorporates some ideas from the New Urbanism as part of a broader program called “retroculture.” Of its connection with Trump, Lind says the book runs “parallel to what he has been saying,” but he doubts the billionaire’s familiarity with its more philosophical ideas.
The Salon bloggers’ conspiracy rests on a combination of two ideas Lind is credited with theorizing and popularizing: Fourth Generation War and Cultural Marxism. The first public statement of Fourth Generation War (4GW) came in a 1989 Marine Corps Gazette article coauthored by Lind along with two Army colonels (Keith Nightengale and Joseph Sutton) and two Marines—Capt. John Schmitt (USMC) and Lt. Col. Gary Wilson (USMCR).
Briefly, the first generation is the line-and-column infantry warfare of the age of muskets—think Lexington and Concord. The second is attritional warfare, essentially linear but with more powerful and accurate direct and indirect weapons. 1871 marks the supersession of the second generation by the third, with the essentially Napoleonic armies of France being beaten by the Germans’ superior tactics and command structure. Exemplary third-generation generals would be people like Rommel and Patton.
Fourth Generation War is the idea that the wars of tomorrow will be waged by non-state actors, fighting in a dispersed way in an environment “where the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point.” It also supposes that “psychological operations may become the dominant operational and strategic weapon” and that a “major target will be the enemy population’s support of its government and the war. Television news may become a more powerful operational weapon than armored divisions.”
When Lind left Princeton after finishing all but his dissertation for a Ph.D. in diplomatic history, America had yet to lose the Vietnam War, and the necessary rethinking in which Lind would play a part still lay ahead. But the way that conflict was going was clear to Lind, and he didn’t enlist. “By the time I got out of college,” Lind says, “it was obvious the Vietnam War had been lost, and only an idiot volunteers for a lost war.”
After arriving in Washington, Lind went to work for Sen. Robert Taft Jr., a Republican from his home state of Ohio, in 1973. His first foray into military reform—a cause with which Lind’s career would be linked to this day—involved convincing Senator Taft to oppose the Navy’s request for a new class of nuclear-powered cruisers, on the grounds that they would be ineffective against a submarine-based Soviet navy.
Lind crossed the aisle in 1977 to work on military reform in the office of Sen. Gary Hart from Colorado, on more or less the same issues. In his 2006 book The Shield and the Cloak, Hart credits Lind for introducing him to what became the core group of military reformers: “Through my staff assistant William Lind, I discovered a retired air force colonel named John Boyd and a handful of reformers, including Chuck Spinney and others. They let me sit in on some of their regular meetings, and I discovered an entirely new approach to thinking about the military.”
This group would become the intellectual force behind the Congressional Military Reform Caucus, founded in 1981, which at its peak included more than 130 House and Senate members from both parties. In addition to Lind and Boyd—an idiosyncratic Air Force colonel who taught maneuver warfare to Marines at Quantico for years—the core group also included Steven Canby, Norman Polmar, and Pierre Sprey. Their message was that the United States had lost in Vietnam because it had become too bureaucratic and too top-heavy, with the defense-contracting system invested more in keeping the palms of the procurement and contracting system properly greased than in winning wars.
In 1986, close to the high point of the military-reform movement, Lind coauthored the reformers’ comprehensive case with Hart, entitled America Can Win. Around the same time, Lind wrote the Maneuver Warfare Handbook, which would influence the strategic thinking of the Marines.
The fall of the Berlin Wall removed an element of urgency from military reform, the widespread assumption being that spending reductions would come naturally in the absence of America’s once great ideological foe. That has proved incorrect. By the time the first Gulf War rolled around, cable-news viewers got a taste of what it feels like to look down a neon-green bombing sight for the first time, watching precision-guided missiles go down chimneys on CNN. Since then technology rather than doctrine has guided the defense conversation, and Americans have not seriously questioned military spending.
By then Lind had begun to write about Fourth Generation War, which called into question many assumptions of the defense establishment. In 1994, an article appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette by Lind and two of the authors of the 1989 piece. It ended on a dire note: “The point is not merely that America’s Armed Forces will find themselves facing non-nation-state conflicts and forces overseas. The point is that the same conflicts are coming here. … The next real war we fight is likely to be on American soil.”
Fourth Generation War theory gained credence among military scholars in part due to prominent endorsements in two books, Martin Van Creveld’s The Transformation of War in 1991 and The Sling and the Stone, by Col. Thomas Hammes (USMC), in 2004. Since then, 4GW’s fans have cropped up in unlikely places. Lind claims that copies of the 1989 article were found in al-Qaeda’s caves in Tora Bora.
The current head of state in Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is apparently a devotee—he has been known to talk about Fourth Generation War in speeches. According to the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, Sisi’s regime understands much NGO work to be Fourth Generation warfare waged by the West. A columnist in the pro-regime Daily News Egypt wrote in January, “Most civil society organisations work to demolish the state through fourth generation warfare for a few dollars. They broadcast their ideas to create chaos by funding youth to monitor elections or work on media research, and so on.”
The phrase “create chaos” smacks of third-world authoritarian propaganda. But if you’re an Egyptian with reservations about your own U.S.-backed color revolution, it’s certainly an understandable point of view.
After Hart’s failed presidential campaign in 1984, Lind went to work full-time with Paul Weyrich at the Free Congress Foundation in 1986, as director of the Institute for Cultural Conservatism. With the change in job came a change in subject matter, from military to culture. Though at times Lind and Weyrich would focus on infrastructure, transportation, and even New Urbanism—the pair coauthored a paper in 2006 with Congress for the New Urbanism founder Andres Duany—the bulk of his efforts would be dedicated to recovering the culture from Cultural Marxists and milquetoast conservatives alike.
Lind’s work on Cultural Marxism provided an explanation as to why and how conservatives lost the culture. A video he produced at Free Congress about political correctness as a form of Cultural Marxism has gone on to become a cult hit, influencing the late right-wing media impresario Andrew Breitbart and spawning remixes across the internet.
What is “Cultural Marxism”? In a column he wrote at the Free Congress Foundation, Lind explained it as follows:
Following World War I, European Marxists faced a difficult question: why did the proletariat throughout Europe not rise in revolution and establish a new, Marxist order, as their ideology said it would? Two prominent Marxist thinkers, Antonio Gramsci in Italy and Georg Lukács in Hungary, came up with an answer: Western culture. Western culture so blinded the workers to their true, ‘class’ interests that they could not act on them. So before socialism could come to power, Western culture had to be destroyed. Lukacs in 1919 posed the question, ‘Who will save us from Western civilization?’ …
In 1923, Lukacs and a group of German Marxist intellectuals founded a ‘think tank’ intended to translate Marxism from economic into cultural terms, the Institute for Social Research at Frankfurt University. The Institute quickly became known as the Frankfurt School. In 1933, when the National Socialists came to power in Germany, the Frankfurt School moved to New York City.
There, its key figures—Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm and Wilhelm Reich—developed ‘critical theory,’ a crossing of Marx with Freud that labeled the key components of Western culture ‘prejudice,’ i.e., a psychological disease. The ‘critical theorist’ argues that to eliminate ‘prejudice,’ Christianity, capitalism and the traditional ‘patriarchal’ family all had to be destroyed.
The idea of Cultural Marxism is not without its critics on the right, some of whom see liberalism—or human nature—rather than Marxism as the root of the cultural changes that Lind laments. Cultural Marxism appeals to much of the right, however, as a convenient theory for anyone who needs an explanation of why he is suddenly forced to care about transgender bathrooms.
At some point in the early 1990s, Lind completed the first iteration of what would become Victoria, along with a full version of its nonfiction companion, a book on retroculture that remains unpublished. The Free Congress Foundation’s 1993 annual report alluded to plans for both works: “During the year, the Center’s director completed a short story, Victoria, which is designed to serve as the basis for a novel. Both Retroculture and Victoria have the potential to be turned into television programs on NET.” (That’s National Empowerment Television, an early conservative cable TV network created by Paul Weyrich.)
The term “trolling”—meaning baiting one’s opponents—had yet to be coined in the early 1990s, but Lind’s apocalyptic novel is in some ways a masterful example of the genre. The book insouciantly opens with the line, “The triumph of the Recovery was marked most clearly by the burning of the Episcopal bishop of Maine.”
Or, as Lind has it, a lady who thinks she’s a bishop. He is a member of the Anglican Catholic Church, a small body of Anglo-Catholics who broke away from the Episcopal Church in the 1970s over women’s ordination and changes to the prayer book. Bishopesses are especially inconvenient to them, because they undermine the claims of Anglo-Catholics to apostolicity. A bishopess, therefore, is severely dealt with in Victoria.
As the novel begins, Capt. John Rumford is being discharged from the Marines for defying its politically correct regime. He moves home to Maine, which, in the waning days of America, is not untouched by the regulations and affirmative-action policies that leave him, a healthy Marine veteran, unable to find work. Over the next several years, through a series of outrages that render the federal government illegitimate—authorizing the confiscation of smokers’ property to compensate for second-hand smoke, busing convicted felons into Bangor, banning discrimination against carriers of a hellish new super-plague—the country splits up into a series of regional powers. Fans of stories with Red Dawn-style partisan warfare will find much to enjoy.
Each fragment of the former United States is governed by one of the ideologies Lind has taken aim at in the past. The Northwest is controlled by environmentalists, whose leaders are eaten alive in the end by the animals they are unable to kill. California is a feminist utopia where sexual reproduction is banned. And the South’s great flaw is that of being too much like the former United States, fatally multicultural.
Each region is ruled by a different Cultural Marxist boogeyman, and they are all punished by nature and nature’s god. As for the Cultural Marxists themselves, after the independent Northeastern state finds its feet, they move to reestablish the universities. The professors get together for—what else?—a Cultural Marxism conference, and the governor of Maine, a Prussophilic practitioner of “retroculture” who considers himself a subject of the Kaiser, bars the doors. The leafy Dartmouth campus is drenched in blood as the hapless scholars are bayonetted while monks chant Dies Irae.
The scene stands out, and Lind defends Governor Kraft’s actions on the grounds that “it’s a gathering of self-identified Cultural Marxists. They know who they are and they know what this stuff is and what its objectives are.”
To the cultural conservative, the left runs up a tab against reality, one that comes due in Victoria. Most of the vast suffering in the story is this essentially Newtonian kind. The incident with the professors, though, hints at a less becoming sensibility.
In The Wind and the Trees, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “It is lawful to hope to hear the wind of Heaven in the trees. It is lawful to pray ‘Thine anger come on earth as it is in Heaven.’” Maybe so. There’s still a fine line between good yet bloody satire and revenge fantasy. Readers may decide for themselves whether that balance is struck well.
The final battle comes after the Northern Confederation has been renamed Victoria, the people have enthusiastically taken a pledge to never own televisions, and trains once again crisscross the former New England. The Great Schism is mended and the restored Czar helps lead a new crusade against the forces of Islam. All’s well that ends well.
“Victoria is intentionally optimistic,” Lind says. “Because our side has been losing for 200 years. And somebody needs to tell them, ‘You know what? You could win.’”
J. Arthur Bloom writes from Lawrence, Kansas.
Editor’s note: The name of John Schmitt, a co-author of Lind’s 1989 essay, has been corrected.