Dead is Dead, Right?

In his incomprehensibly celebrated book “The Lessons of Terror“, Caleb Carr makes the critical error in the first sentence of Chapter One:

Long before the deliberate military targeting of civilians as a method of affecting the political behavior of nations and leaders came to be called terrorism, the tactic had a host of other names. From the time of the Roman Republic to the late eighteenth century, for example, the phrase most often used was destructive war. The Romans themselves often used the phrase punitive war, although strictly speaking punitive expeditions and raids were only a part of destructive war.

Terrorism is not “…the deliberate military targeting of civilians as a method of affecting the political behavior of nations and leaders…” and has never been. The key error is the use of the word military, which implies some level of identifiable centralized control.Total war – the kind of war practiced in tribal societies, in which (as an example) the city is sacked and burnt, the men and boys killed, and the women and children taken as slaves – is not terrorism. Strategic war, as threatened through my childhood and young adulthood, in which the possibility that cities would be vaporized, or as practiced in Hamburg and Tokyo and Dresden in World War II – is not terrorism.

Those may be war crimes, as we define them today (although I will point out the unique character of Western society in which we are willing to find our own troops, as well as those of the defeated forces, guilty of war crimes), but they are not terrorism.

They are not terrorism for two simple reasons.

They are carried out by identifiable agents of a power (tribe, city, state) who bears the moral and physical hazard of having carried them out. They are carried out against people who are at least given the sad dignity of being the objects of violence, not bloody Post-It notes left behind to send a message to some abstract ‘other’.

Terrorists do neither.

And that matters, for both practical and moral reasons.

Dead is dead, you may say. What possible difference can it make?

But there is a difference. And the difference is both moral and practical.

Let’s address practicality first. The hardest part about winning wars is managing them – simply deciding that you won’t ‘kill everyone and let God take his own’, but to stop the violence at some point and let some people live. Wars that don’t have rules are called massacres. The notion of tit-for-tat is as old as recorded history. Going to Thucidydes (via Kagen’s great retelling):

On a cloudy night early in March 431 over three hundred Thebans sneaked into Platea guided by Nauclided, a leader of the Platean oligarchic faction who, with his traitorous supporters, wanted to destroy the democrats who were in power and turn the town over to Thebes. The Thebans expected the unprepared Plataeans to surrender peacefully and, threatening no reprisals, invited all the townspeople to join them.

[The Plateans fought back, defeating the Thebans]

…the Platean woman and the town’s slaves, screaming for blood, climbed to the rooftops and threw stones and tiles at the invaders. The disoriented Thebans fled for their lives, pursued by the natives who knew Platea’s every feature. Many were caught and killed, and before long the survivors were forced to surrender.

[The Theban relief couldn’t get to the town and withdrew.]

Although the forced withdrew, the Plateans executed 180 of their captives regardless. By the traditional standards of Greek warfare this was an atrocity, the first of many that only grew in horror as the years of war went by. But a sneak attack at night in peacetime was also outside the code of honor of the hoplite warrior and seemed therefore to warrant no protection for its perpetrators.
(emphasis added)

In tit-for-tat, whose who abide by the rules in turn can expect to have the rules upheld for them. Recent neurobiology has suggested that this impulse – to ‘fairness’ or if treated unfairly, to revenge – is one that is deeply rooted in the brain.

Brian Knutson, a Stanford University psychologist who studies the neural basis of emotion, says the Swiss report is the first to make the neurological link between fairness and the striatum.

“Instead of cold calculated reason, it is passion that may plant the seeds of revenge,” he notes in a accompanying commentary.

The study also reveals that revenge seekers are completely blinded by passion, Fehr points out. As volunteers considered whether to pay up to get payback, researchers noted that the medial prefontal cortex became active. In previous studies, this area of the brain has been linked to weighing the costs and benefits of taking action. Even as scientists gain a better understanding of the biological underpinnings of fairness, others are trying to understand its origins.

Sarah Brosnan, an Emory University anthropologist, says an important question is whether a sense of fairness is something people pick up in school, home or church, or whether it’s a concept that has been hardwired into the human brain over the eons.

In continuing work with capuchin monkeys, Brosnan and her colleague Frans de Waal of Emory have found compelling evidence of an evolutionary origin. The monkeys, it turns out, know a raw deal when they see one.

We humans are also literally unable to think clearly when blinded by the desire for revenge or to redress perceived unfairness.

Military discipline exists to overcome this monkey rage, both to improve the odds of an army’s success and to ensure that the commanders of that army can remain in command once the emotions of battle – rage, fear – revenge – take hold.

The strength of anonymous terrorist attacks – that the weaker target will not use it’s superior strength to simply massacre those it believes are at fault – is a brittle one when confronted with those emotions if they mount too far. Russia has been unstintingly brutal in repressing the Chechen guerillas – and may be far more brutal in repressing Chechen terrorists.

But I don’t reject terrorism only out of fear that it will make us do bad things – although I worry about that. I reject terrorism, and believe it must be rejected rather than seen as ‘diplomacy by another means’ because I believe that the states that it would birth would be horror shows.

The existence of discipline over force is itself a key, I believe, to the recognition of a power as a state and the key to the foundation of a state based on political power, rather than terror and tyranny. I talked about Max Weber and the PA, but let me requote him here:

‘Every state is founded on force,’ said Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk. That is indeed right. If no social institutions existed which knew the use of violence, then the concept of ‘state’ would be eliminated, and a condition would emerge that could be designated as ‘anarchy,’ in the specific sense of this word. Of course, force is certainly not the normal or the only means of the state–nobody says that–but force is a means specific to the state. Today the relation between the state and violence is an especially intimate one. In the past, the most varied institutions–beginning with the sib–have known the use of physical force as quite normal. Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Note that ‘territory’ is one of the characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the “right” to use violence. Hence, “politics” for us means striving to share power, either among states or among groups within a state.

Because political movements that subscribe to terrorist tactics (and again, I’ll make a clear and significant distinction between terrorism and guerilla warfare) explicitly reject the notion that they are the source of the terrorist’s right to use violence, the key element needed to support a political state (as opposed to a tyranny) is missing.

Israel was founded in part by terrorists. But when they blew up the Altalena, the government of Ben-Gurion reclaimed its monopoly on violence, and claimed the State of Israel as a political state. Can you imagine a Palestine in which Arafat sunk the Karine A? Or in which the PA officials who he ‘arrested’ afterward actually spent time in jail?

Terrorism, even if successful, is not a path to liberation. It is instead a path to the kind of tyranny and madness we see today in the West Bank and Gaza, that we saw in Afghanistan’s soccer stadiums as crowds gathered to watch the executions.

23 thoughts on “Dead is Dead, Right?”

  1. “In his incomprehensibly celebrated book “The Lessons of Terror”, Caleb Carr makes the critical error in the first sentence of Chapter One . . .”

    Well spotted that man! Caleb Carr made so many other mistakes I’d ignored that one – you spotted it, and that it is critical, and what we can from it. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

    There are nits I could pick with your post, but your key point is so right I think it’s best just to applaud.

  2. …(although I will point out the unique character of Western society in which we are willing to find our own troops, as well as those of the defeated forces, guilty of war crimes)…

    Its not really all that unique to Western societies; a few examples will suffice to disabuse you of this idea:

    * Sun Tzu discussed the notion of war crimes; and suggested that the practices of warfare should be limited in their savagery. This proved to be highly influential over time.

    * By at least 200 BCE (and perhaps as early as 500 BCE) the Code of Manu (its Indian in origin) described a code of warfare which protected civilian non-combatants against the vagaries of war.

    * These Chinese and Indian traditions, along with the Greek, played a major role in influencing Roman law on the rules of war.

    They are carried out by identifiable agents of a power (tribe, city, state) who bears the moral and physical hazard of having carried them out.

    Osama bin Laden is an identifiable agent of power; he may be stateless; but he is still an identifiable agent of power. Indeed, he and his organization also face the moral and physical hazards that you describe as well. Now, they may drag a lot of unwilling people along with them in the process, but that’s true of states, cities, tribes, etc. I think you are being underinclusive in your definition.

    They are carried out against people who are at least given the sad dignity of being the objects of violence, not bloody Post-It notes left behind to send a message to some abstract ‘other’.

    Americans should have been aware from at least the time of the African embassy bombings that they were targets of al-Qaeda (indeed, its not as if al-Qaeda hid its antipathy from us – they declared it openly and long before 9/11).

    In tit-for-tat, whose who abide by the rules in turn can expect to have the rules upheld for them.

    I don’t think that the human experience teaches us that the rules of war actually work out this way. When Curtis LeMay firebombed the shit out of Japan he went well beyond what any American had ever done in wartime, and certainly well beyond what the Japanese had done to the US (though not to China), even in light of the sneak attack. What changed was the very technology available to fight war with; indeed, no rules really existed for their usage, and it was only the Geneva Convention that followed that war which attempted to create some ground rules for such. Of course LeMay would have responded that it was better to have a bunch of dead Japanese than dead Americans.

    Terrorism, even if successful, is not a path to liberation. It is instead a path to the kind of tyranny and madness we see today in the West Bank and Gaza, that we saw in Afghanistan’s soccer stadiums as crowds gathered to watch the executions.

    Worked well enough for the Irish in the Anglo-Irish war. Of course you may state that they were guerillas, but you really didn’t tell us how you were distinguishing guerillas from terrorists. Though perhaps you did this in an earlier statement that I missed – if so, could you direct me to that earlier statement?

  3. Gary Gunnels:

    “Worked well enough for the Irish in the Anglo-Irish war. Of course you may state that they were guerillas, but you really didn’t tell us how you were distinguishing guerillas from terrorists.”

    Guerrilla warfare is pretty much any kind of unconventional or “assymetrical” approach to warfare, which can be accompanied by terrorist tactics – as it was in the Anglo-Irish war. But terrorism is not a necessary component of guerrilla warfare.

    But when you say it worked – worked for who? Both sides made liberal use of it, and more non-combatants were killed than combatants.

    And those Republicans who were most inclined to terrorism were not satisfied with the results. They continued to wage guerrilla warfare and terrorism against the Irish Free State, and they lost.

  4. Gary-

    Sorry, I’ve made the ‘guerrilla’/’terrorist’ distinction for so long in stuff I’ve written, i ass-u-med it was understood. From an “old post”:http://www.armedliberal.com/archives/000271.html -

    Terrorist tactics are a subset of guerilla tactics, but applied without the military discipline or tactical and strategic intent. Typically guerilla tactics will focus on the actual forces of the opponents…in this case, it would be Israeli military outposts, reservists staging areas, etc….while what we are seeing is attacks against photogenic targets of opportunity. In my mind, there’s a significant difference in the moral standing of the two, as noted in my post earlier.

    A.L.

  5. Gary,

    Very good points on the military traditions, thanks.

    A.L.’s point on the modern West’s unusually scurpulous adherence to those traditions and rules, which are inherited from various sources and incorporated into a uniquely accountable structure, still stands.

    Re: Osama et. al…

    If they’re identifiable agents, then I suppose we can assume that Atta et. al. were in uniforms when they pulled off 9/11? No? Hmmmm.

    Al-Qaeda are not a conventional military, nor do they correspond any specific geographic territory. Indeed, their actions risk dragging the people AND the rulers of other territories into conflicts against their will. So actually, they’re much more like the criminal gangs that dump pollutants from corporations illegally, in return for a fee. They do NOT bear the costs of their actions, but reap the benefits and shift the potential costs to others as the essence of their M.O. (and likewise, if you want to go after them, you have to stomp not only them but the people ‘paying’ them to do it). Missing that is a major mistake.

    Re: Tit-for-Tat…

    I think your understanding of it is mistaken. It does not mean perfect reciprocity. It means that if your opponent casts away the rules of fairness, you hold yourself entitled to do the same. Had the Germans used chemical weapons on the battlefield, for instance, FDR warned them that the USA would load chemical bombs into its B-17s and start dropping them on Berlin. That is not symetrical. It was not meant to be.

    I’ll add that Tokyo is a bad example. The only reason Japan did not bomb American cities is that they didn’t have the means to reach the USA. Contrast this with the conduct of the Axis in Europe, where they did have such means. As did the Allies. So what happened to Japan had plenty of precedent, and bombing cities was just an inextricable component of the modern Total War framework.

  6. A few rejoinders, and it has to do with differences between criminal violence — that is what we are labeling as “terrorism” isn’t it? AQ counts as _hostis humani generis_, an enemy of all mankind, does it not? — and military violence.

    Joe — the 20th Air Force’s switch to mass fire raids, at least by some explanations, had to do with the nature of Japanese industry, much of the subcontracting apparently in home workshops dispersed through the urban areas. And the four cities targeted for nuclear weapons — Niigata, Kokura, Nagasaki and Hiroshima — had industrial or military targets. If an operation was deliberately intended as a terror mission — and Operation Thunderclap or Operation Gomorrah may be examples — then that is a different issue. The fire raids at least had a military rationalization.

    Glen Wishard — good points on the Anglo-Irish conflict. I wonder, however, if the “non-combatants” total included police personnel. In an urban guerrilla war a Scotland Yard detective is a high-interest combatant and, given that the IRB men he caught could face torture or the gallows, a highly deadly combatant.

    “Bloody Sunday”:http://pearsecom.com/Ireland/anniversaries/November%2021st%2C%201920%2C%20Bloody%20Sunday%2C%20Dublin.htm (Nov. 20, 1920, not 1/30/72) is one example, where Michael Collins targeted “The Cairo Gang” — a handpicked group of British detectives who were vital to the anti-rebel effort. The British reprisal involved 3 summary executions and a spray of bullets into a crowd at a soccer match. Which, then, was terrorism?

    A.L.’s distinction is as good a distinction between criminal (terrorist) and military violence as I’ve seen, although it’s worth noting that terrorism sometimes does wear a military uniform, i.e., as tried at “Nuremberg and Tokyo”:http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/genocide/trials.htm in 1945.

  7. Bob,

    Useful points, thanks. Though I wouldn’t call the Jaspanese or Nazis terrorists, and I don’t recall the prosecutors calling them that either.

    Terrorism can be part of a Genocidal War strategy, but the 2 are separate things. And the rest of A.L.’s points re: identifiable combatants belonging to a responsible power also apply here.

  8. Joe, to clarify, the prosecutors didn’t exactly term the Nazi or Japanese defendants as terrorists, though the use of terror tactics was noted, e.g., Field-Marshal “Keitel’s”:http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/genocide/Keitel1.htm implementation of “Night and Fog” and other terrorizing policies, policies meant to inspire terror.

    I _am_ saying that what we call “terrorism” is, to be precise, a criminality in concept and in conduct. This difference is worth bearing in mind in light of any temptations we may feel to do likewise, and, in odd places like Dresden, did so.

    (Mention of Dresden is what starts this thread. I suggest that Dresden was meant to inspire terror, since the capital of Saxony hardly counted as a military target and Operation Thunderclap was aimed at civilian morale. Our fire raids on Japan weren’t so single-minded. See Martin Caidin’s “The Night Hamburg Died”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0553287842/qid=1095982271/sr=1-5/ref=sr_1_5/102-8326483-1944165?v=glance&s=books and “A Torch to the Enemy”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0553299263/qid=1095982291/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_2/102-8326483-1944165?v=glance&s=books for examples of how the fire raids were conceived).

    I repeat: we will have temptations to terror. Our task with AQ simply to find and destroy them. To try to terrify a fanatic, or a lunatic, would waste time in that endeavor and maybe dirty ourselves in the process.

    It also would complicate our case against them if we ever catch them. One charge against Adm. Doenitz at Nuremberg — unrestricted submarine warfare — lost its sting when his counsel produced a statement from Adm. Nimitz that the US had done the same thing. Better that the terrorists be unique in their criminality. Or simply dead.

  9. Would carpet bombing Falujah ’til there is nothing left but dust be tit-for-tat or a massacre? Of course, the one we would hope to hit might not be there at the time. Always a downside.

  10. Bob Harmon: “I am saying that what we call “terrorism” is, to be precise, a criminality in concept and in conduct.”

    I don’t feel that defining “terrorism” as “criminality” is helpful. It misses the point that terrorism is a form of war. And it takes us straight into the fog of modern international law and allegedly emerging international law, or highly aggressive “lawfare”.

    Here’s an example of “lawfare”: attacking Israel with martyrdom operations, then when Israel tries to stop the bombers with a fence, the attacking coalition tries to stop the fence and knock down what has been built – with courts, with international law. In this case, the bombers are like World War Two bombers, the fence is like interceptor fighters, and the courts and lawyers are serving the same function as escort fighters, to make sure that the bombers get through.

    There is no accepted definition of terrorism, and there isn’t going to be one, because too many people want their terrorists not to be called terrorists, and their enemies’ actions, terrorist or not, to be defined as terrorism. This too is an aspect of lawfare.

    I think Armed Liberal’s approach, focusing on what this form of warfare does, how it works and what it implies is the right one.

  11. Bob Harmon:

    “Glen Wishard — good points on the Anglo-Irish conflict. I wonder, however, if the “non-combatants” total included police personnel.”

    The Chief Secretary for Ireland estimated British Army losses (including the Royal Irish Constabulary) at 566, up to the official end of the conflict in 1921. General Neville MacReady estimated 750 rebels killed. Guess-timates of civilians killed average around 2000.

    Most of these civilians were surely true non-combatants, targeted not for military reasons but because of their identity (or supposed identity) as a Unionist or Republican, or because they lived in a particular area, or just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, like those soccer fans.

    For every terror attack there would be a reprisal, then a reprisal for the reprisal, with less selective targeting each time. And every day there would be a new “martyr” to avenge.

    Historian J.C. Beckett had an interesting comment about the terror-and-reprisal cycle of violence in Ireland; with the execution of the Easter rebels in 1916, “Ireland was quickly passing under the most dangerous of all tyrannies – the Tyranny of the Dead.”

    The self-imposed “Tyranny of the Dead” seems like an apt metaphor for the Palestinian cult of martyrdom.

  12. David Blue: true enough, though my point is meant to follow A.L.’s “Terrorism, even if successful, is not a path to liberation. It is instead a path to the kind of tyranny and madness we see today …” in that we would not want to pursue it. A few of our military operations — the Operation Thunderclap missions of February 1945 — seemed to have terror as an objective.

    That screwball ruling on the Israel fence — I’ve read it — is not going to faze the Israelis, nor should it. The legal part comes in when we (1) try some of the terrorists and (2) figure out what to do with our people who cross the line from war into breaches of U.S. law.

    Defining terrorism as criminality isn’t a war-winner but it will help us (1) hang the surviving terrorists and (2) make it plain to our own people that we’re not suspending U.S. law. Nobody repealed the UCMJ. Rule of law _is_ what distinguishes us from our enemy.

    Jim Martin: bombing Fallujah would — should — neither be tit-for-tat nor massacre, if what we’re trying to do is eliminate enemy resistance. Yes, we might have to leave it looking like Tokyo after the fire raids. That would be a pity but not a crime if the objective is simply to destroy an enemy. That they hide among innocent civilians is a breach of law and what follows would be their fault.

    Glen Wishard: you’re right; I wonder how much of the reprisals accelerated when the British were gone and it was Free Stater and Republican forces going at each other. During the civil war the Free Staters officially executed (with little due process) more Republicans, by some accounts, than the British did.

  13. >>Rule of law is what distinguishes us from our enemy.

    That’s pretty funny. For the Nth time, where are the Congressional DoWs and Letters of Marque regarding the current conflicts?

    Right.

    What distinguishes “us” from our enemy is that “we” are the mightiest nation in the history of our species, and our enemies are a few insane religious zealots.

    >>That would be a pity but not a crime if the objective is simply to destroy an enemy. That they hide among innocent civilians is a breach of law and what follows would be their fault.

    Let’s talk about The Butcher of Prague for a moment. In 1941 the Czech government in exile sent some assassins to Prague to “hit” Heydrich. These assassins hid among the innocent civilians of Prague both before and after the (successful) assassination.

    Quite naturally, as part of “eliminating enemy resistance”, Heydrich’s successors launched a massive CI campaign to find the assassins and their collaborators. Some leads pointed to the nearby town of Lidice. Naturally, the adult male population of Lidice was liquidated, thus neutralizing further threats to legitimate authority.

    I assume that you would consider this CI incident “a pity but not a crime”, that the assassins’ attempts to evade capture constituted “a breach of law” and that the resulting reprisals were their fault.

    I’m always amused when people use “the law” to justify killing civilians.

  14. To T.J. Madison, if “What distinguishes “us” from our enemy is that “we” are the mightiest nation in the history of our species, and our enemies are a few insane religious zealots.” [end quote] then I take it that the difference between our side and AQ is one of size. Not of quality or moral right.

    That suggests either a very nasty view of the United States or, more likely, the suggestion that we need not bother with any scruples in dealing with anybody. Not just AQ.

    Your history is a bit off. (1) the hit on Heydrich was in 1942, (2) he had just chaired the Wannsee conference on systematizing the Shoah, so he was already an enemy of mankind, and outlaw, so killing him was just, (3) the method the Allies had to use was unconventional warfare, and (4) the Lidice atrocity was meant as a reprisal, terrorism pure and simple.

    I wonder, if you see our role as superior power as being comparable to the Third Reich’s hegemony then it is rather a dark view of the United States. Is this what neoconservatism is about? Because frankly I thought this war was about defending the West, not re-creating the berserker ethos.

  15. T.J.,

    That’s pretty funny. For the Nth time, where are the Congressional DoWs and Letters of Marque regarding the current conflicts?

    I thought that Congress authorized action in Afghanistan and Iraq. Are we now arguing about what the particular legislation should be called?

  16. Congress never authorized war against Iraq. What they did was _delegate the decision_ on whether or not there was to be war to the President. If this is kosher then any Congressional delegation of authority is kosher. Would we find it reasonable for Congress to delegate the rest of its authority to the President, thereby establishing a dictatorship?

    Ron Paul attempted to amend the act delegating Congressional war-making authority to the Executive by adding a clause formally declaring war on Iraq. The amendment was _rejected_, and it’s easy to see why. If things went well, Congress could claim credit for the victory. If things went poorly, Congress could say, “well, we delegated the decision to the President, and he made the _wrong_ decision. It’s his fault.”

    I think Representative Lincoln from Illinois put it best:

    “Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after you have given him so much as you propose. If, to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, ‘I see no probability of the British invading us’ but he will say to you ‘be silent; I see it, if you don’t.’

    “The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood. ”

  17. >>then I take it that the difference between our side and AQ is one of size. Not of quality or moral right.

    The size difference greatly overshadows most other differences. Let’s take the willingness to murder civilians, for example. Al Qaeda is considered to be despicable, and rightly so, for murdering roughly 3000 US civilians in the US, plus maybe a few thousand civilians elsewhere. The USG has wasted >10,000 civilians in Iraq alone in recent years (and don’t even get me started on the body count from the idiotic blockade). Now, most of the people in the USG are much nicer and much saner than Bin Laden & Co. However, the USG is _so much stronger_ that the consequences of malice and stupidity are greatly magnified.

    The scale factor also makes it more difficult to judge the actions of great powers like the USG. When a terrorist blows up a few innocent people, we easily recognize it as murderous and horrible. When the USG kills 10K civilians as part of an invasion, we can make reasonable justifications like, “Saddam would have killed 25K civilians that year, just like he did every previous year. The USG saved 15,000 people!” This analysis ignores other courses of action that might have resulted in even fewer casualties (like assassination, for example.)

    >>That suggests either a very nasty view of the United States or, more likely, the suggestion that we need not bother with any scruples in dealing with anybody. Not just AQ.

    I’m quite convinced that the latter is true. Were the USG to declare a war of annihilation on the rest of the world tomorrow, the US would survive largely intact, and 90% of the remaining human population would be dead. _The world is at the mercy of our political leadership._

    As Americans we don’t really see this. But when foreigners see the US acting in ways they perceive (rightly or wrongly) as untrustworthy, they get very concerned and frustrated, because there’s nothing they can really do about it. They can’t vote in our elections. Their militaries are pathetic.

    >>I wonder, if you see our role as superior power as being comparable to the Third Reich’s hegemony then it is rather a dark view of the United States. Is this what neoconservatism is about? Because frankly I thought this war was about defending the West, not re-creating the berserker ethos.

    Bush is not Hitler, but if he’s ever replaced by somebody like him, the resulting horror would make the Third Reich seem like a good idea, because US power is so overwhelming. When neoconservatives start using openly fascist phrases like “national greatness” it’s understandable some people get very worried.

    As for this war being about “defending the West” please forgive me if I remain skeptical. The West is pretty durable and isn’t going to be eliminated by a few Al-Q nutballs. If Bush started using Dan Darling’s lists of key nutjobs to kill in his press conferences, I’d be much more sanguine about the utility of the whole effort.

  18. >>(1) the hit on Heydrich was in 1942

    You are quite correct. I apologize for the error.

    >>(2) he had just chaired the Wannsee conference on systematizing the Shoah, so he was already an enemy of mankind, and outlaw, so killing him was just,

    Several issues here. First, the Czechs had no knowledge of the conference when they planned their hit. Second, how was he an outlaw? He had the full sanction of his government to carry out his assigned objectives. (We are in full agreement that Heydrich was a very bad man, and needed killing.)

    >>(3) the method the Allies had to use was unconventional warfare, and

    Even more so with the enemies of the US. Any who choose to face the US directly, regardless of the justness of their cause (or lack thereof) will be crushed utterly. So our adversaries fight from the shadows, and blend in with the population.

    >>(4) the Lidice atrocity was meant as a reprisal, terrorism pure and simple.

    Indeed. The goal of this reprisal, as with all reprisals, was to terrorise the enemy into submission, thus assuring the continuation of lawful authority. Leveling Fallujah would have the same objectives, namely terrorising civilians in other towns into actively assisting the USG in eliminating opposition to its rule. Were this to occur, many Iraqis would consider the USG to be on the same moral plane as Heydrich, and I would agree with them. Many of the same Iraqis would consider attacks on US civilians to be a reasonable response, and I would disagree with them.

  19. Glen Wishard,

    Do not make the perfect the enemy of the good; Ireland (or much of it) gained independence from English tyranny.

    A.L.,

    Sorry, I’ve made the ‘guerrilla’/’terrorist’ distinction for so long in stuff I’ve written, i ass-u-med it was understood.

    I am not a particularly regular contributor here, so its more my “fault” than anything. I appreciate the response. I understand your differentiation, however, it does seem to me that terrorism is commonly used by guerilla groups that we might even view with some nostalgia; for example, Francis Marion in the American Revolutionary War.

    Joe Katzman,

    A.L.’s point on the modern West’s unusually scurpulous adherence to those traditions and rules, which are inherited from various sources and incorporated into a uniquely accountable structure, still stands.

    Have you studied Western history? It is riddled with the violation of codes of warfare. German atrocities against the Belgians and Northern French communities in WWI; British atrocities against the Boers; American atrocities against the First Americans; French atrocities against the Algerians (in the 19th and 20th centuries); Italian atrocities against the Ethiopians; etc. And this is just in the last two centuries and does included horrors of the various wars of religion. I do not find Western culture’s actions in warfare to be exceptional in this regard. Indeed, all this trumpet blowing about the matter seems to be a form of historical revisionism that is common here at Winds of Change.

    If they’re identifiable agents, then I suppose we can assume that Atta et. al. were in uniforms when they pulled off 9/11? No? Hmmmm.

    No more identifiable than sabotuers from a nation or city-state who try to infiltrate a enemy nation.

    Al-Qaeda are not a conventional military, nor do they correspond any specific geographic territory.

    Yet they are still identifiable; we still know who to attack in this instance.

    Indeed, their actions risk dragging the people AND the rulers of other territories into conflicts against their will.

    As do the actions of nation and city-states when they commit themselves to warfare. During WWII, the actions of Germany drug its nominal ally Hungary into WWII.

    I think your understanding of it is mistaken.

    No it isn’t.

    The notion that there are ultimate limits to warfare is silly; Clauswitz recognized this long ago, and it remains true today.

    Had the Germans used chemical weapons on the battlefield, for instance, FDR warned them that the USA would load chemical bombs into its B-17s and start dropping them on Berlin. That is not symetrical. It was not meant to be.

    And this is beside the point of course. If it had taken chemical weapons to defeat the Germans, whether they used them or not, we would have used them; just as we used nuclear weapons on the Japanese.

    So what happened to Japan had plenty of precedent, and bombing cities was just an inextricable component of the modern Total War framework.

    Total war admits no limitations; so you prove my point.

  20. Gary Gunnels:

    Do not make the perfect the enemy of the good; Ireland (or much of it) gained independence from English tyranny.

    Anglophile that I normally am, I’ll admit that I have a grain of sympathy for your characterization. But that’s beside the point. The question was the use of terrorism, and I think an Irish Republic could have been achieved without the riot of murder and indiscriminate cruelty that accompanied the struggle.

    Have you studied Western history? It is riddled with the violation of codes of warfare … I do not find Western culture’s actions in warfare to be exceptional in this regard.

    If codes are violated, it’s because such codes exist in the first place, and they are central to the Western tradition of rule of law, which extends to military practice as well. To discount them as you do is just willful cynicism.

    The notion that there are ultimate limits to warfare is silly; Clauswitz recognized this long ago, and it remains true today.

    No, the notion that there are no ultimate limits to warfare is silly. Of course there are limits – even in the “total war” concept of WWII the actions of our troops were limited by military law, political necessity, and simple humane restraint.

    You can argue that such limits may be incompletely conceived, or inconsistently applied, or flouted by Western nations at one time or another. You won’t be telling us anything we don’t know. But you can’t argue that they don’t exist – that’s just nonsense.

  21. Terror and terrorism are two different things.

    Terror is going to be state sponsored and aimed at some minority within the state’s boundaries. Terror begins with dehumanization. Statistics dehumanize by replacing people with numbers. Prejudice dehumanizes by replacing people with generalizations.

    Terrorism is conflict carried out below that of the guerilla, the guerilla below that of conventional warfare. Another aspect of guerilla war is the need for support by the populous. The guerilla sets out to force the goverment into regressive measures aimed at generating support in the populous.

    The U.S. has never demonstrated that it can win a war against guerillas. We go out and generate that support in the populous on behalf of the guerilla. In Iraq, we have been doing that.

    As for Bin Laden, he is a follower of a known Islamic cleric that objected to U.S forces being on the ground after Iraq I. That cleric has apostles. We are fighting an idea when we fight Islamic terrorism. The idea goes back to the Crusades.

    The Iraqi querillas are fighting an invading army just as we armed liberals would if we had been invaded. We would be guerillas unless we manged to get organized.

  22. In making the distinction between terrorism as a criminal activity and terrorism as a form of war, which one works? It turns out that terrorism has historically been treated as a crime, because that works. Military actions have not worked. The police can prosecute terrorist where the military simply makes more terrorists.

    When fighting an idea, you have to diminish the idea. That cannot be done by force. It is done with other ideas.

    The Soviet Union disolved itself over the idea of SDI. That’s Reagan’s and Gorbechov’s claim. But, it was also the bright and shining example that the U.S. made of capitalism, the capitalism that the foreign-posted KGB agents saw not as the enemy, but as a desire, a goal for their own country. That capitalism has been replaced by another capitalism of late.

    The petro-dollars effects on the social and economic order of local Moslem communities gave rise to the terrorism. It won’t be the insertion of democracy that changes the affected social and economic order. It won’t be the West, or the ideas of the West that fixes things. The wealthy, ruling class Moslems have to fix this. And, as long as they follow the example of the American neocons, it can’t be fixed, because we are doing to our country, what our money did to theirs. When all things societal or social become socialism, or worse, the tired label of “communist,” we will follow the example of the contemporary Moslem. Everyone important will be off in Switzerland having a grand time.

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