Harvest of Mars seeks to uncover the essentials of war. Essentials that have been swept under the rug or forgotten by people and societies eager to rewrite history in a way that is intellectually pleasing. This podcast seeks to open your eyes to aspects of military history that, as Paul Fussell accurately noted, never got into the books because of what he called the Disneyfication of war. Here you will get authentic insights from someone who has a genuine love for the material.If you are curious and enjoy seeing things from a new perspective, this is the podcast for you! You do not even know a lot about military history. Perhaps you enjoy stories about the past but have never taken a history course and are just curious. It’s all good. I get students all the time who are new to history and they learn a ton because I nudge people toward new things they have not thought about rather than have them memorize facts. .
Russia-Ukraine War, November 2023: The Unrealistic Expectations of Ukraine's Summer Offensive
"All the ingredients of a successful counteroffensive have already been unfolding over the past weeks"
- Vox, June 12, 2023
In this episode we examine Ukraine's 2023 summer offensive, specifically why it has not achieved the lofty expectations that many Ukrainian backers were hoping for. I suspect future historians will look back at the offensive and cite it as a classic case of psychological incompetence. Too much was asked and expected of what was objectively a modest Ukrainian force. NATO trained 63,000 soldiers, less troops than Napoleon had at Austerlitz over two centuries ago, and "experts" assured publics that even though Ukraine lacked air superiority, the so-called counteroffensive could break through multiple defensive lines. Needless to say, those future historians will have ample sources and examples when telling the tales of how self-delusion dictated military policy.
"Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars."
“The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.”
– Henry Kissinger
In this episode we update a classic article written by Andrew Mack back in 1975. As I feel strongly enough that a 50-year-old article is worth re-investigating and much of this analysis is based on Mack’s original conclusions, I highly recommend you read the original which is easily available in digital format. Its full title is “Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars: The Politics of Asymmetric Conflict” and it appeared in the journal World Politics, Volume 27.
How do massively outnumbered, outgunned, out-trained, and out-supplied guerillas sustain themselves in the field indefinitely? What explains the paradox that even though the big nations win the key battles, such as the US with the Tet Offensive and the French in Algiers, they nevertheless find themselves in a weaker strategic position? Would the outcomes have been different if the civilian leaderships did not tie the hands of their militaries? These are rabbit holes that have some unsettling implications.
The Battle of Midway: Did the United States Win Because of Luck?
“There is a story, no doubt apocryphal, that gamers at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, have many times replayed the 1942 Battle of Midway - but have never been able to produce an American victory.”
– Taken from historian Robert Cowley’s book What If?
“Find better gamers.”
– My response.
In this episode, we look at the celebrated Battle of Midway, in which US naval forces decisively defeated the Imperial Japanese Navy. The prevailing narrative, as portrayed in two Hollywood films, was the plucky and outnumbered Americans were the beneficiaries of good fortune. A deeper analysis reveals that the two sides were almost dead equal in the most important weapons system, carrier aircraft, and the United States had numerous advantages stemming from its massive industrial base. Japan did not lose because it was unlucky or was the victim of an unfortunate confluence of events. The battle itself reveals many of the factors that the United States possessed over Japan in the capacity to wage total war.
Napoleon: The Historical Significance of Military Genius. Part 3
“I never was truly my own master but was always ruled by circumstances.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte
This is the last of a three-part series on the Emperor of the French inspired by historian Andrew Robert’s biography, Napoleon: A Life. The book is quite good at revealing the human being behind the controversial historical figure. Focusing primarily on the military sphere, this episode examines the significance of military genius, that is, why is it that sometimes brilliance seems to have a decisive impact on history and why sometimes it is bounded by larger historical forces. Parts 1 and 2 saw how increasing responsibilities and difficulties hindered Napoleon’s ability to turn his military victories into lasting achievements. This episode picks up with his invasion of Russia and argues that with the handwriting already on the wall, genius could not overcome the various obstacles arrayed against him. It was quite an achievement to terrify a continent in 1815 with just 700 of his personal guard. But even if had had won at Waterloo, eventual defeat was unavoidable.
Russia-Ukraine War, February 2023: War Reporting, Russia's Reforms, and NATO's Tanks for Ukraine
“Ukraine has achieved irreversible momentum.”
-- US General Ben Hodges, Retired, November 3, 2022
“From a military standpoint, I still maintain that for this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine.”
-- US General Mark Milley, January 20, 2023
In the episode, we look at the nature of wartime reporting and investigate how the circumstances of the Russia-Ukraine in February 2023 have changed so much that previous assumptions in 2022 are likely no longer true. Russia seems to have succeeded in its mobilization efforts in the Fall and are currently applying pressure on the Ukrainian front. Ukraine is due to receive modern NATO battle tanks and field a more capable army than the one which defeated the Russians last year at Kharkiv and Kherson last Autumn. How are these changes going to affect the battlefield going forward? What does each side need to attain their objectives? This episode looks at historical parallels into the past to help understand the current strategic position and what to look forward in May and June when both sides will likely launch offensives.
Napoleon: The Historical Significance of Military Genius. Part 2
“You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte
This is the second of a three-part series on the Emperor of the French inspired by historian Andrew Robert’s biography, Napoleon: A Life. The book is quite good at revealing the human being behind the controversial historical figure. Focusing primarily on the military sphere, this episode examines the significance of military genius, that, is why is it that sometimes brilliance seems to have a decisive impact on history and why sometimes it is bounded by larger historical forces. Part 1 looked at his campaigns to the end of 1805 and his masterstroke at Austerlitz. Part 2 picks up the story in with Napoleon’s campaign against Prussia. This episode argues that even though the Emperor waged a spectacular campaign that ended with the humiliation of what had been the finest army in Europe a generation earlier, a critical look reveals the handwriting on the wall that shows the historical circumstances weighing against Napoleon that were beyond his military genius.