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July 29, 2005

A Different Point Of View 

This thread on LGF began commenting the assertion of a moonbat professor of English literature (at UCLA):

Few have noticed that suicide bombing is merely a tactic used by those who lack other means of delivering explosives.
The rest of his/her article is just an anti-western rant punctuated by a number of hystorical imprecisions and distortions, and utterly marred by ideological blindness.

But I think that this assertion alone is not so wrong as many think.

It takes quite a while to explain my position, however.

The first point to notice is that many readers on LGF take on this issue from a strictly moral standpoint. What they do is to consider terrorism evil in a moral sense. Also, for the most part they use faulty definitions of terrorism, ones that focus on the targetting of civilians.

One problem with this is that in the age of industrial, and also of information-age war, the distinction between civilians and military makes little sense.

Another is that if you consider the whole problem of war in strictly moral terms, you risk falling into traps of your own making: deliberately targeting civilians is wrong (and terrorist), right? So, how do you classify certain past actions of the US and UK ?

Yes, I'm talking about the strategic bombings of WW2. There is a lot to be said about the technological limitations of the age, and the fact that many bombing raids were aimed at military targets, sure. But this is not enough to explain everything: at least some bombig run explicitely targeted civilians (you can't honestly tell me that the firebombing of Tokyo was aimed only at military targets and the rest was regrettable collateral damage) and in general the Allied forces dropped millions of bombs without caring whether civilians would be harmed or not. And, to go deeper, what about those factories that produced dual-use goods, and were bombed to rubble often killing lots of workers who surely were not soldiers? What about the cargo ships (a lot of Italian ones, too) that were sunk in those years together with their civilian crews? Even the Nazis - who were utterly evil in many ways - with their Blitz and submarine warfare did nothing more than apply the doctrine of total war. Later, massive bombings regardless of civilian presence were employed in the Vietnam war - and the whole MAD doctrine was about exterminating the other side, not just destroying its armed forces (can you honestly argue that multimegaton nuclear warheads are meant to be used only against military targets?).

Nowadays, most Western armies do not fight with he doctrine of Total War, but that's mainly because today's enemies are not nation states (at least not as Germany, Japan and Italy were), and the weapons technology allows for much more accurate targeting. But if China and the USA would actually come to the point of violent war, you will probably see strategic bombing and thus carnage on a scale never witnessed before. To cite only one case.

Applying a definition of terrorism that focuses on the civilian casualties would require to define all of the above actions as terrorism, in the best case with attenuating circumstances.

If you take a strictly moral stance, the only way to legitimate the acts I described is to state that those civilians were evil, because they either supported the dictatorial regimes, or did not oppose them strongly enough (and the latter already is a pretty weird definition of evil).

So, on LGF often you end up with people who, literally, in one sentence state that "Only those murderous scum of terrorists deliberately target innocent civilians; we are the Good Guys and we never do that!" and in the next one say "Well, except when it is necessary or unavoidable, and please Nuke Mecca now!".
Hard to tell how nuking Mecca would not end up with massive civilian casualties, I say. And anyway the whole thing is rather contradictory. Someone tried to contend that Mecca is a military target: show me the soldiers, the weapons and hardware then (not a couple of crates of assault rifles). I suspect that their definition of "military target" is different from mine, and I learnt there is little to do in these cases.

Instead, I see war and conflicts in general from an utilitarian perspective: there are two or more sides each one with certain objectives, which are in conflict with the objectives of the other(s). If it is not possible to reach a peaceful agreement, shooting war will erupt. And in this kind of war your strategies and tactics will be tailored to the objectives to accomplish; one can clearly see that in this way the trappings I described above can be avoided. Yes, there is a risk of becoming completely amoral going too straight down this may. But amoral I am not; in the end it's an individual matter.
We surely are the "good guys" compared to the Islamists, however.

At LGF, there also seems to be some confusion about the distinction between tacticts and strategy on one side and motivations on the other: motivations are why you fight, while the rest is how you fight (the two fields are not completely indipendent, tho).

How you fight depends mainly from your resources and technological and industrial capabilities, when the objectives are set. If your objective is, say, the assassination of a hostile foreign leader, you won't use tanks or ballistic missiles; rather, a small team of Special Forces soldiers with light weapons.

It is a central tenet of all the historical theories of Marxist derivation that people will fight because they are impoverished, exploited and oppressed. While this can be occasionally true, these are not the motivations of the jihadis; they fight because their ideology is hateful and violent (and some of them are hungry for power), in short.

So, let's finally come to the core of the issue, the suicide bombings.

To the dismay of some, I have to say that is actually is a tactic. If we examine it from a strictly technical standpoint, we'll see that a suicide bomber is a tiny anti-personnel warhead with the ultimate guidance and fuzing systems, and this allows for the most efficient use of small amounts of explosive.

And who has only small amounts of explosive? Those entities that have little resources, no significant industrial capability and/or poor logistics. In other words, those that already use terrorism and guerrilla in order to reduce the gap between them and regular armies backed and mantained by nation-states.

So it is true that sucide bombing is a tactic used by those who have no better weapons.
It is also true that particularly brutal and cruel tactics generally are the result of evil intentions, but not always.

Let's be frank here: the Palestinians receive millions in aid (and it's way past time to close those taps) and have a few tons of explosives and maybe thousands of individual weapons. But compared to modern armies such as their direct antagonist the IDF, that is pretty ridiculous. One single 250 kg bomb contains enough explosive for dozens of explosive vests, and the IAF has probably several thousands of bombs in stock, and can easily acquire more. I'm not sure of the annual budget of the Israeli armed forces, but I would estimate it in the order of billions of dollars - that is, much bigger of what the Palestinians can muster.

What about the Kassam rockets and mortars, you may ask. Those systems are much less efficient, that is the point. Their accuracy is lousy, and their warheads have little power. I'm too lazy to look it up, but I'd estimate that rockets and mortars have caused only a fraction of the casualties produced by suicide bombers. Also, rockets and mortars require metal and other components, that must be manufactured and assembled, and used by trained personnel. It's a much less efficient use of resources.

I am not making the trite argument that the Palestinians have only rocks and sticks while the Israelis are fully armed, and thus the Palestinians obtain some kind of moral superiority: that stuff is for the cultists of victimhood. I am stating the facts.

Of course it does not all end with rational analysis of the military issues. The Palestinians use suicide bombers also because their culture is poisoned with hatred and the cult of martyrdom. "Martyrs" are respected, praised and idolized (much like sportsmen or pop stars in the West), and many of the Palestinians are convinced that dying for Allah will cleanse any previous sin and dishonour, and send you straight to heaven.

If the reality about suicide bombing is distasteful, that's not enough to mean that the reality must be different.

Comments:


re: "What they do is to consider terrorism evil in a moral sense. Also, for the most part they use faulty definitions of terrorism, ones that focus on the targetting of civilians."

That's the definition of terrorism... targeting civilians.

re: "One problem with this is that in the age of industrial, and also of information-age war, the distinction between civilians and military makes little sense."

The distinction makes more sense than ever today, actually. Today's military consists of volunteers, unlike the conscripts of the past, and those who have gone to fight have done so voluntarily.

re: "Another is that if you consider the whole problem of war in strictly moral terms, you risk falling into traps of your own making: deliberately targeting civilians is wrong (and terrorist), right? So, how do you classify certain past actions of the US and UK ?

"Yes, I'm talking about the strategic bombings of WW2."

Here's the scoop:

The deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Germany and Japan during bombing raids stopped a was that was killing people by the millions.

War is not a good thing by anyone's estimation. And sometimes the choices you have to make are between a "bad choice" and a "worse choice".

After WWII was over, it was found that the Japanese civilians had been so terrorized by Imperial propaganda, they had been prepared to fight a ground invasion down to the last man, woman, and child. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs saved millions of Japanese lives.

 

mamapajamas,

I wrote this post and others in the past exactly to dispute the notion that "targeting civilians" is a definition of terrorism useful in practice. If you want to use that one, go ahead, but we must agree to disagree in this case.

The fact that most modern armies are volunteer (but, for example, the IDF is not) is not relevant. What I am talking about is logistics - or, where the materiel and ammunition and supplies for these armies come from. The answer is that all comes from the industrial and economic strength of a country, and all citizens that go about doing their work and paying taxes contribute to it.
It is much more comforting to think that it is always possible to mark a clear separation between civilians and military, but I'm afraid it is not the case.

I know that strategic bombing etc during WWII was the less worse choice, and that is exactly my point. It is an utilitarian decision, not a strictly moral one to take the bad choice against the worse one.

The main issue is that the Islamist want to destroy us, and are attacking us. How exactly they're doing it is of secondary importance; it would be almost equally bad also if they handed a formal declaration of war and were fighting with uniformed armies that respect the Geneva Convention.

 

Yes, the Israeli army has more ordnance than the PLO and its various subsidiaries, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, etc. But that does not prove the justice of the PLO's cause. First of all, during World War 2, the Americans had more bombs than Nazi Germany, but did that justify the Germans? During World War I, the Ottoman Empire had less artillery, I assume, than did the British, or than Italy did for that matter. But the Ottoman empire was carrying out mass murder against the Armenians [by the way, several Palestinian Arabs of prominent families held high positions in the Ottoman state]. Did being weaker than the British justify the Ottoman Empire?
Secondly, the PLO has advantages that Israel does not have. 1) the huge Arab hinterland with its huge populations. Since much of this territory has strategic importance, various major powers want to curry favor with the Arabs; 2) the huge Arab money supply, which is to be sure, concentrated in Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states, and other oil-exporting states. But Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other rich oil states have gladly shared their immense wealth with Fatah, Hamas, etc. over the years.3) Because there are so many Arab states in the UN [21 or 22 counting Mauritania, which in fact is not Arab, but belongs to the Arab League], any state or group of states that wants voting support in the UN general assembly or other UN bodies will cater to the Arabs. So the PLO/PA can always get a majority to support it at the UN and other international bodies. The EU has noticed that there are more Arabs than Jews and that the Arabs have more oil. So portraying the PLO/PA as weak and helpless is ridiculous. Anyhow, how does the jackass professor in California explain why the suicide bombers in Iraq are murdering so many fellow Arabs? Or maybe his mind is so narrow that he doesn't know what's going in Iraq. Or in Algeria where Islamic fanatics have slaughtered over 100,000 fellow Arab Muslims since 1990. How does he explain that? For further pro-Zionist opinions, my blog site is http://ziontruth.blogspot.com

 

Forgot to mention that in most Arab-Israeli wars, including 1948, the Arabs had more weapons than Israel. Likewise in 1956 when Egypt had a huge arsenal provided by the Soviet Union. So who was right in those wars?
 

I think I stated clearly that being the underdog does not make one side automatically right or good. Sometimes the underdogs are good, sometimes are hateful murderous thugs.

The Palestinians can continue almost indefinitely - if they will not turn against each other, something that is very possible - with this low-intensity conflict. But in an all-out war, they would be crushed.

There is a truism here, that in war you fight with whatever you can get. Some tactics or actions are rejected for moral and ethical reasons, but the whole situation is pretty fluid.

I think the author of the article wrote loads of crap, but that single sentence is valid nonetheless.

I do not attach a moral value to the word "terrorism". As I said more than once, terrorism is a military doctrine.

 
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