Will We Change War Or Will War Change Us??

When John Robb, of Global Guerillas, isn’t busy tooting his horn, he often comes up with insightful points about the situation we’re in – it’s a site worth bookmarking.

Which, I guess, entitles him to toot his own horn.

Today, he’s got a post up that crystallizes something I’ve been noodling with about the ambiguous relationship we in the West have with war.

He calls it “Playing With War

The western way of war in the 21st century is a pale shadow of the warfare it waged in the 20th. The reason is simple: for western societies war is no longer existential. Instead, it’s increasingly about smoothing market flows and tertiary moral concerns/threats. As a result of this diminishment of motivation, western warfare is now afflicted with the following:

…and he proceeds to list the ways that we are newly casual in our conduct of warfare.This is keeping with my last factslapping of Juan Cole – it’s cheap fun, but fun nonetheless – in which I point out what ‘wiping a city off the map’ really looks like.

Robb’s response to this artificial barrier is to suggest that we must conform our goals to our means.

Ultimately, western societies will need to learn to live within the limits of this new framework. It is not possible for us to reverse the clock on this trend. Any mass mobilization for war that lifts existing limitations will be severely punished by both global markets and opinion (both domestically and abroad) if it ever was attempted.

Right there is the $64 million question.

Will we conform our goals and policies to the social restraints we have placed on the conduct of warfare – or will we drop the restraints?

Robb doesn’t believe that we can drop the restraints (as above). I know that we can, and wonder if we will choose to. That’s a discussion well worth having.

38 thoughts on “Will We Change War Or Will War Change Us??”

  1. The future of warfare:

    Information, propaganda, and education. Networks, computation, and AI.

    Robotics, surveillance, decreasing cost for manufactured weapons.

    Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to small states and non-state groups.

    Biotech and brain science. Biowarfare. Lie detection and threat detection using drugs and/or brain scanning. Brainwashing and forced conversion using drugs and re-education programs.

    Continuation of present factors:

    Proxy wars between states. Economic, cultural, political, and bloody aspects.

    Transnational organizations. Religious, ethnic, racial, political.

    Immigration without assimilation. International social networks.

    New threats: Super AI, advanced biotech that alters human abilities and nature, nanotechnology.

    Future prospects:

    Interesting times ahead. Human society will change drastically.

  2. I know this is not directly related to this discussion, but I thought it was important to point out that there is a new draft movement developing up to get Professor Jeffrey Sachs to run for president. The website for the campaign is

    It is time for a new set of priorities in America. Today, our country is in great need of true leadership and vision. We believe that professor Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University is someone who can deliver. He is a man of great knowledge, experience and integrity. That is why we are working to convince him to run for president of the United States in 2008.

    Please check us out, and if you are interested, help.

    Also, his latest article is at this link below, he could win the war:

  3. I disagree on a number of issues.

    It’s true people are focused on terrorism because it’s a challenge no democracy has yet dealt with except France and the OAS (through sheer brutality). But the danger and face of warfare IMHO is changing.

    Modern mechanized warfare requires:

    A. Large sealift componenent and a blue water navy to protect and project that force. Meaning aircraft carriers and the billion dollar investments in men, material, aircraft, crews, and supporting ships that make up task forces.

    B. Tanks and artillery and fighting vehicles and large supply chains.

    C. Modern and efficient air forces.

    Most nations cannot field these arms nor can they challenge the US lead. What they can do is embrace “the magic sword” that bypasses all these strengths of the US:

    Ballistic missile technology. The idea being as the Imperial Japanese War Planners thought, devastate the US with a strike (this time nuclear) on several US cities and the “weak” US will collapse, allowing the Iranian or Pakistani or whatever forces to work their will regionally.

    Because it’s true we do not have a robust missile defense program (in it’s infancy) and most of the opposition party wants to kill it now.

    Should a US city or three vanish in nuclear haze, the very logic of nuclear weapons means the response will be of strategic level; i.e. wiping out of populations so as to make specific examples to deter further attacks. Unless the US when nuked has such an overwhelming response as to induce abject fear of the consequences being repeated; the US will nuked again and again.

    In such a case it’s a horrible bet to put the money on the US self-restraint after the fact.

    Before the fact, yes, because Western nations find war unpleasant and would prefer to go about their own business. But that’s only the surface.

  4. “Any mass mobilization for war that lifts existing limitations will be severely punished by both global markets and opinion”…I think it was pretty much the conventional wisdom, prior to 1914, that no large-scale war could occur because the countries of Europe were so economically interdependent.

  5. Perhaps this is a false choice, A.L.

    When we moved from positional warfare in the 19th century to movement warfare in the 20th century, did war change us?

    Perhaps there is a new way of looking at war that emcompasses the old ways and the new ways. Perhaps instead of asking “what changes”, the better question is “what remains the same?”

  6. I’m a fairly calm and mostly easy-going guy. Put up with a lot and don’t get riled. Even so, if I catch somebody trying to rape my wife or harm my grand-daughters … the rules will change _fast._

    I’ll probably be the one in court because the perp will have a tag on his toe.

    Take that up to the national scale for America and you have your answer.

  7. War has already changed us and will, no doubt, continue to do so. The U. S. has become more militarized in the course of my lifetime (despite or, maybe, because of, the lower participation in the military). I see no reason that this will stop.

    One of my continuing concerns is that the longer we have a substantial level of conflict the more inured to it we will become.

  8. Tom, I’ve probably written more about Mead’s works than anyone else in the blogosphere. There are more influences at work than the Jacksonian i.e. we are not Jacksonians. We are Jacksonians, Hamiltonians, Jeffersonians, and Wilsonians. And some transnational progressivists.

    I’ve corresponded a little with Mead and it might interest you that he doesn’t consider himself a Jacksonian.

  9. Dave,

    Few people are all one thing or the other. Of Mead’s categories, some Americans are mostly Jacksonian. Most Americans are a blend of Mead’s categories plus a few others he didn’t cover, no one of which is dominant.

    But war brings out the inner Jacksonian in most of us at some point, and then it will remain dominant until the enemy is destroyed or gives up. I made that point in my Strategy Page columns.

  10. I think that the issue is more one of detants, like in a throttle. You push the stick so far, and it hits a sticking point. Then you push it hard to get past that sticking point, and it goes forward to the next sticking point. And so on. The idea is that you can easily find positions like idle, full military power, and so on.

    The way that the West approaches war at the moment is similar. There was a time when war was easily delineated from peace, because making war involved a massive mobilization of resources (whether all the young nobles, or all the young men) that were simply impossible to get by without missing. But now, we can fight a major war, such as Iraq, with such low losses and such low impact on both our economy and our population that most of us would not even notice we were at war if it weren’t on the nightly news. We have no draft, no tax increases (in fact tax rate cuts!), no mobilization of civilian production to war materials — yet we are effectively fighting one small and one moderate-sized campaign on the other side of the world.

    We are, in other words, stunningly rich as a society. Inconceivably rich, in fact.

    I think that as long as we don’t feel that we are at war, the way we felt in the months after 9/11, we are perfectly willing to fight in a desultory fashion: the war doesn’t really affect us, in the popular perception, and so the outcome must not be particularly problematic either way. It’s a political issue, and all four of Mead’s groupings (which, as noted above, are present in different degree in each American) have their shot at policy.

    I think that the Jeffersonians drop out of the debate once we realize that we have to fight and have no option of retreat. That is the first detant. If we go that far and no farther, we still need not institute a draft or otherwise mobilize; in essence, it is more like we were in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 than like we are now. This is where we were in WWI and the War of 1812, for example. (Note that there was still significant anti-war sentiment, openly expressed, in the US during WWI and the War of 1812, largely from the Hamiltonians.)

    The next detant, I think, is when the Hamiltonians drop away. At that point, we are not looking to avoid sacrifices or to stop the war, and we are not looking for an accommodation that allows us to go on with business as usual: we are looking to win and are willing to put into it a significant effort. Defeating the enemy becomes what we care about by this point.

    Once the Wilsonians drop away, we have reached the end of the detants. At that point, the entire country becomes an instrument of war. The only thing we care about is utterly destroying the enemy. Note the US approach to the Civil War, or to WWII, and you get a feel for what it would be like with just the enraged Jacksonians given a voice. Frankly, at this point in our history, if we reach this level of threat (say, if a US city were attacked with nuclear weapons), I think that the result would be deaths on a scale never yet seen in world history.

    Fundamentally, what I’m saying is that the restraints Jon Robb notes are Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian restraints. Once we pass the point that we don’t care about those restraints, we will see in the rear view mirror that they were diaphanous restraints at best. The world won’t get a hearing at that point.

  11. I do, though.

    Through, and through.

    his description of Jacksonianism basically described my mother, father and relatives with an eerie accuracy.

  12. As long as the enemy does not miscalculate and kill to many of us at one time this article is plausible. The entire equation changes radically if one of those freaks gets a Nuclear weapon and detonates it in NYC. After that point I would suggest that the will better be present in Washington to go full scale or those in Washington will be either voted our or force out.

  13. Armed Liberal: “Today, he’s got a post up that crystallizes something I’ve been noodling with about the ambiguous relationship we in the West have with war.”

    I think I can identify the central ambiguity.

    John Robb: “The western way of war in the 21st century is a pale shadow of the warfare it waged in the 20th.”

    Not here; that’s straightforward and correct.

    John Robb: “The reason is simple: for western societies war is no longer existential. Instead, it’s increasingly about smoothing market flows and tertiary moral concerns/threats.”

    Here, in this word “societies”, that’s the ambiguity. Who are these “societies”?

    For people in Beslan, Muslims certainly were an existential threat. For Vladimir Putin, they were not, and Russia continues to identify its interest with helping the Islamic Republic of Iran get the bomb. There has since been (apparently – it was pre-empted) another attempted Beslan in Russia. Nothing changed … with Putin. I was about to write “in Moscow,” but even in Moscow there have been terror attacks, with no result.

    The French ruling elite also sees its interest in “smoothing market flows [that is, in becoming a ruling elite in Eurabia] and tertiary moral concerns/threats [such as diminishing the power and pride of the hyperpuissance].” It appears not to care when entire parts of France are cleansed of the French and replaced by hostile Muslim populations. What matters is that the rulers stay on top of the pyramid, not what human material makes up the bulk of it.

    Therefore, existential threats can appear, and overwhelm our “societies” in a hoi-polloi sense, and in the most fundamental long term sense, without being existential threats to “societies” in the sense of elites with a monopoly on all the means of fighting such threats, including and not limited to war.

    If Natasha gets her throat cut at school, and if the next generation of the village is to a substantial extent wiped out, but the elected Tsar still doesn’t see jihad as a problem, did anybody (important) really die? (And what about that “tree in a forest” thing?)

    Also, we should consider what is happening beyond our borders. Islam, which is waging an aggressive war on us, is active and at its most deadly in areas without the protection of the strongest Western states. Religious cleansing is common where the dread shadow of Muhammad (pbuh) falls. Christians and other religious people are being ground out of existence in a global jihad that reaches into homes and families, tribes and cities, upon the least offensive and on the most harmless and defenseless. In Iraq, in Pakistan, in Somalia, in Nigeria, increasingly in Indonesia, all those that resist assimilation into the religion of jihad are being driven out of the land or out of existence.

    Again, the elected Tsar doesn’t care, and the elected King of France doesn’t care, and it seems no elite considers this a threat to its own position.

    Even in the foremost Christian power, America, the strategy chosen to restore normality and security while sustaining oil supplies relies on wooing moderate Muslims, that is those who don’t practice terrorist acts in person. (That’s the vast majority of course. Muslims are like anyone else, they want peace and long lives for themselves and their own families.) Alas for the victims of global jihad, aiding them would be offensive to moderate Muslims. (After all, even the most moderate Muslim is still Muslim, and you can’t protect sheep without angering wolves.) And that implies that the government not take too much note of what is happening to Christians under the knife, let alone anyone else.

    What would it take to alter this? A strong, shared conviction by cocooned elites that their interests were no longer served in the short and medium term by permitting the liquidation and replacement of their subject populations and those kin to them.

    What would it take to bring that about? I don’t know. But I don’t think that any good can come from terror.

    You’d think that hitting the jet set, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a theatre in Moscow, and Paris (burning), would be enough to make them understand that Islam does not mean to bring the sword and subjugation to their inferiors and continued deference to themselves. But it wasn’t enough, not even close.

    And when there is a jihad strike too big to ignore, immediate collapse is a likely response. Spain fell to appeasement in days. I think the United Kingdom would have too, only the Bojinka II plot was foiled.

    The creation of a “society” with elite perceptions of self-interest sufficiently aligned with the life and death interests of the hoi-polloi to make a sustained (and to be effective necessarily global) counter-jihad possible would have to be created in some other way. How I have no idea.

  14. I think it’s worth chewing away at this topic considerably, and never mind if it looks pretty, just try out new ideas, or try to get new ideas.

    It seems we never win, in the new kind of war.

    Usually we lose because we don’t fight. We will not even try. Which is natural if you fight only for stability (that is for short and medium term elite profits) and you regard fighting as instability. (And I just realised I don’t really object to this. Just wading into more wars always on losing terms would be a bad idea. We need some winning ideas, then we can hasten to apply them.)

    But even when we do fight, we never win, in the sense of ending the war and being able to send the troops home or on to the next problem. We were (Israel was) defeated in Lebanon. Islam, acting through states such as Iran and Syria and non-state agencies such as Hamas and Hizb’Allah, was too great for the Jews. We did not win in Afghanistan; it remains a hive of unappeasable Islamic malice, plus drugs. We did not win in Iraq, and it’s hard to see how we can win, because our deadly enemies include Moqtada Al-Sadr and his militia, and he is off limits to us, because his jihad violence against us makes him popular with Muslims. (There is something wrong with that logic, but it is central to our new way of war. The U.S. Army seems to consider it better to have no credible word of honor – having promised to put Al-Sadr in jail or under ground – than to finish someone who has done what it takes to be beloved of Muslims.) We were thrashed in Somalia of course. Our internal fronts do not stop being a problem; instead, flying becomes a more humiliating ritual without thereby becoming safe, our politics remains largely what it was, but with more weary bitterness and gridlock, and our vital or fatal demographic trends seem to be steady. (With the welcome exception of some possible hopeful news in France.)

    “Burnout” – a human response to an activity that consistently fails to deliver the desired or hoped for reward.

    I don’t think we are going to just keep doing what we are doing. We may shift to more or less disguised capitulation on a greater scale, or we may find more effective ways of fighting (note that I do not say more efficient ways of fighting – I think total effectiveness and not cost-efficiency has to become our central concern in the global jihad war), or we can find equally ineffective ways to fight or even less effective ways to fight, but we won’t – can’t – just continue indefinitely to add wars to our list of problems while not doing anything different to finish at least some of them. People will burn out, and we do not have the troops to continue on a course of accumulating wars but not victories.

  15. Armed Liberal: “Robb’s response to this artificial barrier is to suggest that we must conform our goals to our means.”

    John Robb: “Ultimately, western societies will need to learn to live within the limits of this new framework.”

    Armed Liberal: “Right there is the $64 million question.

    Will we conform our goals and policies to the social restraints we have placed on the conduct of warfare – or will we drop the restraints?”

    I don’t think this is an important question. Or to put it more precisely, I don’t think this is well-framed question.

    An implacable, civilization-ending enemy is coming straight at us. It is not Islam’s aim that we “live within the limits of this new framework” or that we live at all. After Beslan, Islam’s intentions towards us are as clear as they could be, and it’s not like there’s any lack of other public demonstrations and explanations – with music and pictures if you like – of what the enemy intends for us. I’m not going to bother quoting the formal authoritative statements, the lyrics, the locations of ghastly images and the grim demonstrations of the seriousness of the enemy, because they’re all established fact. I do not think a perspective that hides its eyes from that deserves to be taken seriously.

    Our fighting method doesn’t work sufficiently effectively on this pitiless and unappeasable enemy.

    So, what we are doing will change.

    It may change for the better, and we may win and survive. (That’s the reward for winning in this case.)

    Or under pressure we may change for the worse. We may reach the final stage of growth, as so many victims of jihad have before us.

    Stasis is not an option.

    John Robb: “It is not possible for us to reverse the clock on this trend.”

    If so, to quote Pris the replicant: “Then we’re stupid, and we’ll die.”

  16. Some specifics:

    John Robb sees these as characteristic of our new way of war:
    * Operations of low lethality.
    * Marginal placement within national priorities.
    * Muddled objectives.

    I agree, and I will add a moral assumption: “You broke it, you own it.” This forces us to pay, and pay dearly in what is in effect tribute to anyone who has fought us (for examples Iraq and Lebanon) or who is sufficiently hostile to us (for example Egypt), but without the normal corollaries of payment and “ownership”, such as authority and control. Hostile populations have power to harm us – and they use it – but are not responsible. We are responsible to them but do not have legitimate power.

    Nobody has ever won wars on such terms, and I will wait to see it before believing that anybody ever will win wars against a fearless and blood-thirsty religion of hatred while adhering to such a framework of moral self-abasement.

    John Robb: “The upshot of this diminishment of warfare is that wars will become increasingly difficult to win.”
    * Asymmetric motivation. In almost all instances, the opposition will approach the conflict as an existential war. This motivation both allows them to fight harder and longer than those western forces sent against it.
    * New methods of warfare will emerge to level (flatten) the playing field.
    * Proliferation of opposition.

    All agreed. I do not agree with John Robb on the reasons opposition proliferates, but the important point is that it does.

    I already covered my difference of opinion on “learning to live within limits” and I wouldn’t repeat myself again.

    So, finally, John Robb says to avoid these alleged mistakes:
    * Nation-building as a global social policy.
    * Collapsing rogue states.
    * Escalation of tension.

    We already have nation-building projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think we should see them through to the finish, in case they work. I am a big fan of Lord Bertrand Russell’s advice on what to do when logic says (not his phrasing): “You have no chance to survive. Make your time.” The philosopher’s response to fate is: Keep trying. You might be wrong.

    Still, I agree we should not take on any more such projects. The ones we have have not worked out well enough to justify continuing to gamble on this weak approach.

    Also, a state is among other things a weapon, and why should we build weapons for the enemy to use against us? (Such as a Palestinian state would be.) “Nation-building as a global social policy” is indeed a big mistake to avoid.

    “Collapsing rogue states” before they become nuclear armed rogue states is self-preservation.

    I think we are in a lot of trouble because we keep putting our enemies off limits. One of the labels we put on our enemies is “rogue”. If we say “rogue states are off limits” then in effect we are making it formal doctrine that whoever pursues hostilities against us thereby qualifies for immunity from our arms. I think this is a spectacularly unwise idea.

    To forbid the escalation of tension against a foe like that which we are up against is a requirement that we surrender. Islam always has another demand. Endless demands are based on flat out lies, grievances simply invented as a basis for insolent demands, and conspiracy theories rendered plausible only by fathomless and deductive hatred for infidels. (Such as the 11 September, 2001 jihad attacks being a Jewish and/or CIA plot.) We cannot make real concessions indefinitely in payment for malicious and endless lies. We cannot appease people who think it reasonable to riot, to kill priests and to burn embassies over a bunch of cartoons. We cannot deal with negotiating partners like the Islamic Republic of Iran without tension except by conceding demands such as that we convert to Islam. We’ve already been served notice on that. Escalations in tension can only be avoided even very temporarily by conceding the enemy things like nuclear weapons programs.

    It is the expressed view of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran that if what it does makes us angry, good, because they hope we get so angry we get sick and die. There are no words that I know for how asinine it is to forswear “escalation of tension” against an enemy such as this.

    We are at war. We will learn (again) how to fight war as war demands, and not as our soft and self-deceptive preferences would dictate. Or we’re stupid, and we’ll die.

  17. The day a major Western city goes up in a flash of light all that goes out the window. Its probably just a matter of time due to all of the reasons listed above.

  18. I agree with Blue’s description of an elite that does not care about it’s people under depradations from Islam and Muslims … but that is not sustainable in the long run.

    1. Ambitious political figures see an opportunity in positioning themselves as the tribune/protector of the average man since the need is great; and …

    2. The people themselves want neither to be killed, nor forced into Islam, and will naturally turn to another Czar or King who promises to protect them by killing the enemy without mercy and quarter because …

    3. The rules of Islam are that there are no civilians, mercy, quarter, or any measure that cannot be done. Thus, the dynamic is that when the West begins to fully fight as it will due to the demand of it’s people to survive, the fight will be conducted without quarter.

    When the National Front or whatever group/leader seizes power in various European nations and acts against domestic Muslims, the results will be ugly. Putin is extremely vulnerable to a coup by a man playing nationalist cards and promising to take action against Muslims in a Russian not neo-Soviet manner. We’ve already seen the revolt against Elitist PC by Brits with their families lives on the line in planes, and that will likely continue.

    Charges of “racism” and the like fail when children are being beheaded and your family faces the prospect of being blown apart at the office, subway, bus, airplane, etc. If nothing else vigilante violence will take place and governments will not be able to stop it for fear of the mob (shades of “let them eat cake.”)

    For over thirty years Muslims have been screaming “Death to America” and burning the Flag. Iran has tested a submarine launched missile and has openly started it’s nuke program with zero consequences. Captured newsmen are forced at gunpoint to convert to Islam.

  19. I’m sorry, but let’s put things in perpective. How many Americans have died due to terrorism in the 2001? Compare this to deaths due to domestic crime. (Roughly 5 times more Americans died in crimes than were killed by terrorists in 2001.)

    When the former figure is significantly larger than the latter, we’ll see a population willing to accept more draconian measures. But given a reasonably vigiliant defence, I doubt we’ll see the massive terrorist successes necessary to make us throw away our moral values.

  20. Tom W.,

    Read the link in my No. 11. The duration of a conflict is a factor here. If a war drags on too long, it leads Jacksonians to either genocidal violence or isolationism.

    Given that the enemy will attack us at home over and over if we try isolationism, genocidal violence will happen. We won’t lose.

    The only question about America’s victory in the war on terror is how many Arabs survive the experience.

  21. Tom W.
    The numbers simply don’t compare. People view organized and directed violence differently from the random albeit larger criminal violence. The former is not more tolerated than latter simply because of a numerical ratio. In fact, the converse is true.

    Otherwise, the American people would have ignored the Japanese empire during the ’40’s.

  22. Tom W — your arguments echo John Kerry’s and the advocacy of treating terrorism like prostitution.

    Unfortuantely Terrorism by Muslims is both of different kind and scope than crime.

    You can avoid most crime by: avoiding people likely to be criminals, mostly poor people. Don’t live in bad areas, frequent them, and your chances of being violently killed are fairly low.

    Hence the growth of the suburbs and private autos; they give people control particularly over their personal safety.

    the whole point of terrorism is that you can’t avoid it; you lose control; and the authorities lose legitimacy since they cannot provide their primary purpose which is protection of the commonwealth. Hence Beslan, Sbarro’s, 9/11 etc.

    Secondly terrorism is INCREASING in scope of people killed and frequency. In 1993 the aim was to topple one tower into another and kill 20,000 people. In 2001 the aim was to bring both towers down and kill the same. The difference was the first attack killed 7 and the second 3,000.

    It is absolutely inevitable that Muslim terrorists will kill an American city or two and thus all arguments for “values” will end. When you’re in a knife fight with a maniac intent on killing you and your family the only thought is to kill him as quickly as possible. At that point ANYTHING that allows you to kill your opponent and yourself to survive is taken without thought.

    I have many differences with GWB but to his credit he seems to have sensed this and tried to avoid it.

    [Ultimately, someone on the political scene will tap into the vein that has existed over the last thirty years with Muslims screaming “Death to America” and committing ever escalating terrorist attacks on America, and the results will be terrible and awful to behold.]

    I will submit to you the arc of terrorism:

    Late 1960’s — hijackings of aircraft with few deaths mostly aimed at Israel.
    Early 70’s — Munich and airport attacks with casualties in the hundreds mostly aimed at Israel.
    Early 80’s — Three hundred Marines killed in Beirut, increasing abductions of Americans.
    Nineties — failed/foiled plots to kill thousands of Americans at home, terrorism against America abroad killing hundreds and destroying two embassies, nearly sinking the Cole.
    2000’s — 9/11, Madrid, London, Bali, plus dozens of plots to out do each.

    I wish Kerry were actually right. The answer would be simple. Instead the rate and aims of terrorism are increasing since each new outrage that does not destroy the enemy (that’s ordinary Americans in case you’ve forgotten) another bigger mass-murder has to happen.

  23. Comments on the first ten posts (of thirty so far):

    #1 from Fly on August 26, 2006 08:19 PM

    Good post, still one of the best in this thread.

    #2 from Tom Holsinger on August 26, 2006 08:40 PM


    #5 from Jim Rockford on August 26, 2006 10:24 PM

    One thing I think will remain stable is that the Americans will continue to push to be so “out there” technologically that prospective rivals won’t even bother getting in an arms race with them. I think that’s a good, desirable strategy, and so it does not bother me that it’s bolstered by a lot of people making a lot of money out of over-the-top military technology.

    This means unfriendly people will keep focusing on ways to make an end run around American technology. The quest for the “magic sword” to negate American technical strengths is stable too.

    #6 from david foster on August 26, 2006 10:53 PM

    We have far more of a trans-nationalist progressive elite than anybody had in 1914, and international trade flows are much bigger. Which is not a guarantee that the theory that didn’t work in 1914 would work now, but there is a rational basis for saying it may.

    #7 from Daniel Markham on August 26, 2006 10:54 PM

    What stays the same? The Greeks had not one god of war but two: Athena, mistress of all the useful arts including the immensely useful skills of winning at war, and Ares, god of battle-madness and sudden panics, of war as a catastrophe like a raging storm. Bloody lunacy remains constant in war. Tolstoi said that in war, victory can go simply to the first side to shout “Huzzah!” It remains as true as when he said it, and we are up against people now who effectively claim victories just by shouting “Allah hu Akhbar!”

    #10 from Dave Schuler on August 27, 2006 12:46 AM

    What do you mean by this? “One of my continuing concerns is that the longer we have a substantial level of conflict the more inured to it we will become.” More ready to accept the requirements of war, or more apathetic, pointing in the opposite direction?

  24. David Blue,

    Chipping = Radio Frequency Identification chips. Go here:


    Something like a pet ID chip, but for humans.

    A microchip which is surgically implanted, or even injected, into a living body for identification purposes. The chip produces a signal detectable by a special instrument at a short distance. Some are passive and respond only to a specific external radio query signal. Others are active aka self-powered and produce a signal which can be read by an identification device at a distance.

    The concept as used in population control would be to implant large numbers of people – released prisoners or whole populations, with the things, each having its own unique identification code.

    Sensor devices capable of reading these signals, or sending query signals to be responded to by chips, would be located throughout urban areas.

    The social networking software already exists to make use of the masses of data produced by population control chips.

  25. Comments on the posts eleven to twenty:

    #12 from Dave Schuler on August 27, 2006 02:28 AM

    (Off-topic.) It did interest me that Mead doesn’t consider himself a Jacksonian.

    #14 from Jeff Medcalf on August 27, 2006 04:38 AM

    Your idea of “detants” or sticking points seems intuitively plausible.

    I’m not sure where they are, and they may have more to do with instinct than reason. For example, if somebody pulls off a Beslan in Wisconsin, that would be bad, though of course not nearly as bad as a nuke. People are wired by nature to take it amiss when you start killing off their kids in a serious, large-scale way.

    #17 from Pierre Legrand on August 27, 2006 06:55 AM

    My guess is that directly after a second nuke goes off in an American city (whether it’s two different cities or let’s say New York twice) a lot of stubborn hold-outs in America would decide that yes, after all this is a trend and not just a calamity, and then it will be better to be an ally of America (preferably one with the sense to shut up and stay low till the hurricane passes) than to be an openly declared enemy. (Though the Saudis of course are allies, and Pakistan is both a treasured ally and nuclear-armed, so I don’t know how that might work out.)

    But nobody knows what the effect of lesser strikes, like say a radiological weapon in Tel Aviv or Toronto or Melbourne or Memphis Tennessee or Manchester – might be. I think in terms of a radiological weapon (or radiological dispersion device, RDD) rather than a nuke because I think it’s a likely, practical jihad attack, and it would probably be very effective, psychologically and financially while not lifting the scales from people’s eyes the way a nuke or two may.

  26. #32 from Tom Holsinger on August 28, 2006 04:18 AM

    Ah – pet ID chips, but for humans. Thanks! I have been in favor of that for medical patients, but I didn’t think of it in this context. And that is an interesting Wikipedia article.

  27. Comments on the posts twenty-one to thirty:

    #25 from Mark Buehner on August 27, 2006 06:44 PM

    I don’t think that’s the first thing that will happen. The enemy likes to pick a plot or a target and hit it over and over.

    “World Trade Center bombing, 1993″:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Trade_Center_Bombing
    “World Trade Center plane attacks, 11 September, 2001″:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11%2C_2001%2C_attacks

    “Oplan Bojinka, 1995″:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bojinka
    “Bojinka II: the transatlantic aircraft plot, 2006″:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_transatlantic_aircraft_plot

    “Jose Padilla’s radiological weapon plot, 2002″:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Padilla_%28alleged_terrorist%29
    … ?

    I think a string of radiological weapon plots, strung out over time and getting better with practice, would be very unsurprising.

    #26 from Jim Rockford on August 27, 2006 08:19 PM

    Good points, particularly point three. “Civilian” is a Western concept. The Koran does not have it. Muhammed (pbuh) did not have it. It is not Islamic at all. This is important.

    #30 from Jim Rockford on August 28, 2006 01:46 AM

    Late 1960’s — hijackings of aircraft with few deaths mostly aimed at Israel.
    Early 70’s — Munich and airport attacks with casualties in the hundreds mostly aimed at Israel.
    Early 80’s — Three hundred Marines killed in Beirut, increasing abductions of Americans.
    Nineties — failed/foiled plots to kill thousands of Americans at home, terrorism against America abroad killing hundreds and destroying two embassies, nearly sinking the Cole.
    2000’s — 9/11, Madrid, London, Bali, plus dozens of plots to out do each.

    This is right to the point and ties in well with your previous post. I don’t think we can stand still whether we want to or not. It’s a fact that the enemy is not standing still.

    Among many other points that might be made: if you respond to a series of progressively greater attacks more or less the same way you responded to the early ones (that is, at a level that was apparently inadequate in the first place), your response is not really staying the same, it is becoming progressively more predictable and weaker in the changing context.

    There are exceptions to that, for instance if your constant response is running the enemy out of some critical resource that will hit “empty”, stopping the enemy’s war effort. But given the demographics and the vast transfers of oil wealth that are going on, we are not running the enemy out of anything but patience with our failure to convert to Islam. And they’ve thought of a solution for that – their usual solution, both theologically and historically.

    We should also remember that while the enemy is provoking us, we are also provoking them, not only by our stubbornness (as displayed by American President George W. Bush in ignoring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s letter inviting him to embrace the path of justice as indicated by Muhammed (pbuh)) but by our lack of honor as seen in repeated instances where Westerners have said whatever their Muslims hosts have asked them to (with knives at their necks or guns at their heads), including converting to Islam when required, but unsaid it all when they were generously released. I can’t remember all the names, but this is a trend.

    In Islam, you are not supposed to convert under the threat of death and then unconvert. There is even a penalty for it, and there has been since the days of Muhammed (pbuh).

  28. David B.,

    We can only hope that terrorists try to use radiological devices rather than something dangerous like high explosives.

    The only advantage of radiological devices is the self-inflicted emotional effects they on the EEK-A-NUKE! crowd.

  29. To which I have this to say, Tom Holsinger:


    Terrorism aims to terrorize. If it works, it works.

    Besides, it’s not like they’re going to stop there. Does Allah deserve the very best and brightest kind of big bang? You know he does.

    And once they move on to that one, they’ll keep repeating it too.

  30. I’m in the “war will change us” camp, and I’ll use an admittedly extreme illustration to explain why.

    In a war of this nature, the weapon that could end the war in America’s favor the way the atomic bomb ended WWII isn’t even close to existing yet. What I have in mind is a means of passively detecting certain memes, motivations and intentions, such as a plan to commit an act of terrorism, merely by scanning people’s brains as they walk past. A system of such devices – I’ll call them “soul scanners” – would, at least in theory, ensure that no would-be terrorist could pass within their range without being identified as a would-be terrorist. More precise ID could then be determined via existing technology such as video surveillance or RFID chipping.

    If the idea of a “soul scanner” seems far-fetched to you, remember that (perceived) necessity is the mother of invention. This is a war in which the enemy blends in with civilian populations, and in which individual minds are the ultimate battleground, thus making the difficulty in identifying the enemy and ascertaining his intentions the ultimate “fog of war”. Hence, there’s already a demand for a way to quickly cut through that fog, and I submit that it’s but a matter of time before someone figures out how to meet that demand.

    I trust that you can deduce the myriad ramifications of “soul scanner” technology that go far beyond counter-terrorism and even beyond more mundane crimefighting, so I won’t go into them here. Suffice it to say that the advent of such technology would require a rethinking of virtually every principle upon which our nation was founded.

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