Oakes

The "blowback" theory

58 posts in this topic

Sorry for the long wait in replying. I finished moving and just got a couple hours to reply. One of the issues I've noticed with internet conversations is that we start arguing points on a quote-by-quote basis, which tends to make discussions disintegrated and endless. I'm going to try re-integrating the points together to make things easier for ourselves. So this post is directed towards everyone.

I'm going to again try to summarize your views in my own words. Anyone is free to comment on mistakes I make in doing so.

The overall motivation for jihadists is not a positive aim but rather a nihilistic desire to destroy the good because it is good. They will create more immediate excuses such as foreign intervention (à la al Qaeda), and they may use jihad for petty aims like extortion (à la Abu Sayyaf), but attempts to quell these motivations are concrete-bound and ineffective because they fail to address to root cause of evil. People initiate force when they observe weakness in their enemy, so addressing that root cause means convincing them that we are not weak. As such, attacking Iran or Saudi Arabia is not an attempt to destroy any particular money trail, which are world-wide and often impossible to track down, but rather to convince jihadists around the world of this fact.

The first thing I look at to validate any political viewpoint is history. Kurt provided some very interesting examples where non-governmental guerillas were beat through total war, so I will have to look into them. When I suggested guerilla warfare has been successful, I was thinking along the lines of the Revolutionary War, the Russian insurgency against the Nazis, Lawrence of Arabia, Mao's rebellion in China, the Mujahideen against the Russians, Vietnam, and present-day Iraq. I suspect some will argue that the final two involved a superpower reluctant to wage total war, but I'm not sure about the others.

On the other hand, I found an example that greatly backs up Kurt's argument, which in honesty I must point out: the Philippine-American war, in which we fought Filipino guerillas in 1899-1902. Take, for example, the following passage on pg. 214-215 of The Philippine War by Brian McAllister Linn (my bold):

Despite [Major General Arthur] MacArthur's injunctions to avoid unnecessary hardship, he tolerated, even encouraged, campaigns that can only be described as punitive. Crop and property destruction, euphemistically called "burning," became far more common; and there was less effort to ensure that only property clearly in use by the insurgents was torched. Marinduque, Abra, parts of Panay, and other areas were systematically devastated to deprive the guerillas of food and punish their supporters. In some places, the army imposed, or local residents suggested, "concentration," the separation of civilians into towns or "protected zones," outside of which everyone was regarded as an enemy. MacArthur also removed many of the restrictions on the courts, which now proceeded with far more dispatch and sent prisoners to the gallows with far more regularity. Harsh as these methods were, they worked. By September, MacArthur's successor, Maj. Gen. Adna A. Chaffee, considered only three areas--southwestern Luzon, Samar, and Cebu--still actively hostile.

I should also note that pages 220-221 has a very interesting collection of quotes from American generals in the conflict, such as Samuel B. M. Young who said "the judicious application of the torch is the most humane way of waging such a war." Even Col. Arthur Murray, who upon arrival stated he was opposed to burning towns and villages, changed his mind a few years later when he said "If I had my work out there to do over again, I would do possibly a little more killing and considerably more burning than I did, though I was accused by Gen. Otis in his report of doing possibly more burning and killing than was necessary." With this in mind, it's pretty clear that total war can beat guerillas, so I will concede that point for now.

The next step is to take these examples, which show how total war can squash local insurgencies, and conclude that an equally total war can demoralize individuals on a large scale (like the world-wide terrorist groups). Betsy made the point that they are motivated not by our perceived evil, but by our perceived weakness. I'm interning in a police department right now and that certainly rings true for domestic crime - the whole basis of deterrence theory is that we stop crimes by convincing the criminals that they will not get away with it.

Historical analogies and cross-field analogies are good tools for making integrations. I'll need more time to ponder them more but if anyone would like to comment on anything I've said, please do so.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In relation to your example - one of my grandfathers was a guerilla fighter in the Philippines in WW2 - except that he was fighting the terrible Japanese occupation (he'd left the U.S. to wander various parts of Asia and ended up settling down in the Philippines).

They never did get him... though the Japanese were plenty brutal against various villages.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oakes, you mention "deterrence theory" near the end of your recent post. I think the best deterrence is justice, swift and implacable. After 9/11 if we had dropped an atomic bomb on Tehran, I seriously doubt that we would have a terrorist problem now. (Just as, if here in America convicted murderers were executed within two weeks of their conviction, the murder rate would, I believe, plunge. Of course, the common objection to this is that there would be many wrongly convicted men killed. The point always missed is that when the murder rate is very low there is going to be even that much less of a chance of wrongful conviction in the first place.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Oakes, you mention "deterrence theory" near the end of your recent post. I think the best deterrence is justice, swift and implacable. After 9/11 if we had dropped an atomic bomb on Tehran, I seriously doubt that we would have a terrorist problem now. (Just as, if here in America convicted murderers were executed within two weeks of their conviction, the murder rate would, I believe, plunge. Of course, the common objection to this is that there would be many wrongly convicted men killed. The point always missed is that when the murder rate is very low there is going to be even that much less of a chance of wrongful conviction in the first place.)

I might add that the essence of our "perceived weakness" (and also our actual, real weakness) consists in not dispensing justice.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...

When I suggested guerilla warfare has been successful, I was thinking along the lines of the Revolutionary War, the Russian insurgency against the Nazis,...

Just a minor argument here - I don't think either of these should be regarded as a successful guerilla war, because what guerilla war there was, was just a part of the fighting that took place. In both cases, the victors also had a large conventional army.

In the American Revolution, there were some American guerillas (in the southern states mostly, I think?) but major battles were fought and won by the American armies commanded by Washington and others.

In WWII, I'm not exactly sure what you're referring to. I'm sure there were some Russians who fought the Nazis behind the lines, and did things like attack Nazi supply lines and other infrastructure, but it took the Red Army to finally beat the Germans on the Eastern front. That war was fought as large-scale battles with tanks and infantry of regular armies on both sides.*

My point here is that, whatever guerilla activity there was, each of these wars was finally won through the efforts of the conventional, non-guerilla forces of the winning side.

----

*I believe that in Yugoslavia, the anti-Nazi guerillas were very active and effective; the Germans had to station a large number of troops there in response - men who could otherwise have been fighting the Russians or Western Allies. Here again, though, this is an example of guerilla fighting that aided a victory by conventional armies, but it was not successful by itself in bringing victory.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
In relation to your example - one of my grandfathers was a guerilla fighter in the Philippines in WW2 - except that he was fighting the terrible Japanese occupation (he'd left the U.S. to wander various parts of Asia and ended up settling down in the Philippines).

They never did get him... though the Japanese were plenty brutal against various villages.

The Philippines has been a surprisingly good test-case for guerilla warfare. I already mentioned Arthur MacArthur in the Philippine-American war, but as you alluded to there was also a guerilla war they fought against the Japanese and then against the Filipino government itself after WWII (Huk Rebellion), which Arthur's better-known son Douglas played a role in. It's weird how some things work.

Anyway, I'm not sure that second counter-guerilla campaign was quite as successful since communist forces continued fighting the Filipino government for many decades. I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but my parents were both stationed there in the '80s and I lived there for about 3 years. Even then, there were some serious problems with communist groups. I don't remember hearing about Islamic groups from my parents but then again we were in the now-abandoned Subic Bay which was near Manila, not the south.

Oakes, you mention "deterrence theory" near the end of your recent post. I think the best deterrence is justice, swift and implacable. After 9/11 if we had dropped an atomic bomb on Tehran, I seriously doubt that we would have a terrorist problem now. (Just as, if here in America convicted murderers were executed within two weeks of their conviction, the murder rate would, I believe, plunge. Of course, the common objection to this is that there would be many wrongly convicted men killed. The point always missed is that when the murder rate is very low there is going to be even that much less of a chance of wrongful conviction in the first place.)

Actually, wittingly or not you named pretty much the principles of deterrence layed out by 18th century criminologist Cesare Beccaria: the law must be swift, certain, and just. This article puts it well:

But, according to 18th-century thought on punishment, for deterrence to work, four factors must come into play, Gerber said. Punishment must be certain, swift, proportionate in pain to the original crime and done in public.

Do these factors exist in the modern philosophy of the death penalty? Gerber said absolutely not.

When only 2 percent of first-degree murder cases in Arizona have prosecutors seeking the death penalty, and only 1 in 100 of those ending in a death sentence and only 1 in 10 of those ending in execution, the punishment is arguably not certain.

And when it takes more than 17 years after sentencing for a convicted murderer to be put to death, the process is definitely not swift.

And to put people to death, they are given a humane lethal injection. No longer are people hanged, or electrocuted or gassed. So the punishment is no longer proportionate in pain to the original crime.

As an aside, I always thought Ayn Rand opposed the death penalty because of the risk that we are wrong. You make an intriguing counter-argument to that. I may be completely wrong about her views so if anyone would like to chime in (although admittedly it's a bit off-topic) that would be fine.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...

When I suggested guerilla warfare has been successful, I was thinking along the lines of the Revolutionary War, the Russian insurgency against the Nazis,...

Just a minor argument here - I don't think either of these should be regarded as a successful guerilla war, because what guerilla war there was, was just a part of the fighting that took place. In both cases, the victors also had a large conventional army.

Yeah this is a good point, and you could actually make the same argument about Vietnam. Regarding the Russians, I actually have a boxed DVD set made by the War Department which explained that the Russians were most successful when they led the Nazis into their cities and fought block-by-block warfare. I'm sure the Red Army played a major role, not to mention the grueling Russian winter which defeated many invaders before then (like Napoleon). It's interesting how many times the Russians have followed the same strategy: burn down the crops and wait for the winter to come.

Come to think of it, I wish I brought that boxed set to my new apartment. I figure it's public domain so I might put some clips online the next time I come home.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I figure it's public domain so I might put some clips online the next time I come home.

Publications of the U.S. federal government are automatically public domain (I think per the Constitution.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites