A group of Palestinian children were sent towards the Gaza Strip border fence holding toy guns on Thursday in order to test the vigilance of the soldiers on duty.
From a distance, troops noticed four apparently armed Palestinians approaching the border north of the Kissufim crossing.
When the four were some 400 meters from the fence, the soldiers realized that they were children, who looked to be about 13 years of age, and that their guns were toys.
-- News story, Jerusalem Post, June 1, 2006
Crossan: We used to go out on patrols and have the little kids count the patrols and all that stuff and we couldn't really do anything except grab them and throw them inside their houses...
KING 5 TV interviewer: Why would you do that? Because you were afraid that the kids were scouting for the insurgents or you thought they were in danger?
Crossan: There are little kids that scout for 'em. 'Cuz later that day we, along the main road there, we cut behind a few buildings and the next patrol that went out got hit. And that little kid that was just there and there was people all around. But the day that I got hit they were planning a major attack and it got spoiled, so, and there was like 20 some people, insurgents, that were gonna attack the cop that day.
Then we got hit by an IED and the cops sent out a squad of Marines, and the insurgents just started attacking then, just right off the bat and we just foiled it. We were just driving back from the cop. I remember taking a left and then a right, and then remember waking up from the ground for a split second. And then waking up in the helicopter and then finally knew what happened in the hospital.
-- Excerpt, Seattle TV station interview with Marine Lance Cpl. James Crossan, who was wounded in the IED attack that killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, setting off an alleged incident involving U.S. Marines purposely killing civilians in Haditha, Iraq.Back before I took my month-long hiatus from blogging, we here were engaged in a very good debate about the Iraq War, the President's arguments in favor of a larger War on Terror and how those of us who subscribe to the Jacksonian school of war fighting as defined by the great Walter Russell Mead regard the War.
Mead described this tendency (which is a generalization of course, not every "Jacksonian" will agree with the list of points presented here but overall the picture is, I think, valid and broadly descriptive of the view on war held by a large swathe of the American lower middle class and working class) as follows:
For the first Jacksonian rule of war is that wars must be fought with all available force. The use of limited force is deeply repugnant. Jacksonians see war as a switch that is either "on" or "off." They do not like the idea of violence on a dimmer switch. Either the stakes are important enough to fight for--in which case you should fight with everything you have--or they are not, in which case you should mind your own business and stay home. To engage in a limited war is one of the costliest political decisions an American president can make--neither Truman nor Johnson survived it.
The second key concept in Jacksonian thought about war is that the strategic and tactical objective of American forces is to impose our will on the enemy with as few American casualties as possible. The Jacksonian code of military honor does not turn war into sport. It is a deadly and earnest business. This is not the chivalry of a medieval joust, or of the orderly battlefields of eighteenth-century Europe. One does not take risks with soldiers' lives to give a "fair fight." Some sectors of opinion in the United States and abroad were both shocked and appalled during the Gulf and Kosovo wars over the way in which American forces attacked the enemy from the air without engaging in much ground combat. The "turkey shoot" quality of the closing moments of the war against Iraq created a particularly painful impression. Jacksonians dismiss such thoughts out of hand. It is the obvious duty of American leaders to crush the forces arrayed against us as quickly, thoroughly and professionally as possible.
Jacksonian opinion takes a broad view of the permissible targets in war. Again reflecting a very old cultural heritage, Jacksonians believe that the enemy's will to fight is a legitimate target of war, even if this involves American forces in attacks on civilian lives, establishments and property. The colonial wars, the Revolution and the Indian wars all give ample evidence of this view, and General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea showed the degree to which the targeting of civilian morale through systematic violence and destruction could, to widespread popular applause, become an acknowledged warfighting strategy, even when fighting one's own rebellious kindred.
Probably as a result of frontier warfare, Jacksonian opinion came to believe that it was breaking the spirit of the enemy nation, rather than the fighting power of the enemy's armies, that was the chief object of warfare. It was not enough to defeat a tribe in battle; one had to "pacify" the tribe, to convince it utterly that resistance was and always would be futile and destructive. For this to happen, the war had to go to the enemy's home. The villages had to be burned, food supplies destroyed, civilians had to be killed. From the tiniest child to the most revered of the elderly sages, everyone in the enemy nation had to understand that further armed resistance to the will of the American people--whatever that might be--was simply not an option.
For my part, there is not a sentence in this description that does not ring true to me. To my mind, this is what warfare, stripped of the evasions we string around it, is. In my understanding, history makes it clear that only this approach to war brings victory through force of arms. We won the Civil War when we crushed the traitors with men like Grant and Sherman, men who used violence to such a degree that by the time they were finished the good rebels of Alabama were begging the Union to go vent its wrath on South Carolina because "they started it."
We fought WWI as a limited war, imposing nothing other than a military defeat on Imperial Germany, and bought ourselves a worse future and a larger war for our trouble. We defeated the German nation's army but left its spirit intact. Worse, we left that spirit wounded and thirsting for revenge, finding as its agent the popular ideology of National Socialism.
Learning our lesson, and stung by a direct attack, we then fought a Jacksonian war in WWII.Band of Brothers
, Saving Private Ryan
, noble-sounding, swelling strings accompanying slow motion pans across the beaches of France interspersed with pictures of elderly vets in their American Legion caps. Flag raising at Iwo Jima, the Marine Memorial, landing craft opening in a shallow tide on a sand beach backed with palm trees, Gen. MacArthur with his pipe. These are the images of WWII we hold now as the Good War recedes.
Those images are not exactly untrue, but they do, I would argue, obscure to some degree what was an exceptionally brutal war. Which is to say, in the Jacksonian tradition, what some Americans mean when they talk of a "real war."
Let's not sugar coat. Let us speak honestly about WWII for a moment.
With regard to the Japanese we killed them wherever we found them, we firebombed their major cities, we sunk every ship we could find, we poured thousands of tons of bombs on their heads and then, faced with the prospect of having to invade their home islands, we dropped two nuclear bombs on them. One to get their attention; the second to demonstrate to them our capacity to completely annihilate them. Then, we occupied their country, hung their leaders and-now, listen up, because this is the important part-we took their most revered religious leader and forced him on the threat of death of more of his people to go on national radio and renounce one of the most central tenants of the Japanese people's religion
. We then followed that up by ruling Japan directly for a number of years and imposing a new form of government on them, one that did not include the former state religion. There was no Japanese insurgency: every Japanese knew by then what resistance meant and that it was not to be desired by anyone who wished the Japanese people's survival.
In case you've been to college lately and think that the Japanese were treated thusly only because they have different color skin and look different, consider our similar treatment of the European, white, blond-haired, blue-eyed, Christian Germans: we firebombed their cities and killed them where ever we could find them, if they fought from bunkers or pillboxes we burned them alive inside with flamethrowers, we bombed their cities into rubble as a matter of strategy, and-again, listen up because this is important-when they hid snipers, troops or supplies in Christian churches we utterly destroyed them, even when they were ancient and culturally priceless cathedrals
. And when we were done, we divided the country into four zones, occupied our portion of it, ruled it directly, hung their former leaders, determined on our own who would be allowed to take part in German public life from that point forward and warned the public that more death and destruction would be forthcoming if they dared heed the calls of the last Nazi holdouts to fight a guerrilla war. There was a small German insurgency even so; it was ruthlessly suppressed within two years.
The end of WWII found the U.S. in a new position and facing a new ideological enemy. The result were two more limited wars, Korea and Vietnam, neither of which ended in victory and both of which bitterly divided the American people and their government.
The Gulf War followed, yet another limited war that left us having to deal with the same root problem a mere decade later with the results you see around you today.
Which brings us to the War on Terror and its main battles in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
There are two circumstances when a power uses limited war: when it chooses limited war for its own purposes and when it has the choice forced upon it by circumstance. This distinction is vital because it necessarily sets the boundary of strategy. After all, if one is fighting a limited war because one has chosen to do so one is free to un-choose or, to use the Jacksonian terminology, toss out the dimmer switch and turn the switch to the "on" position.
However, if one is not fighting a limited war due to choice but necessity, the initiative of war-fighting decision making has been largely taken out of one's hands.
WWI would be an example of the first. The Allies chose to fight a limited war because, in their judgment, that was sufficient to bring an end to the matter, which all sides had found enormously ruinous. But there was nothing really external or internal to the battle itself that compelled the Allies to act thusly. It is not entirely unthinkable that a meeting of the British, French and American leadership in 1918 could have resulted--had the will to do so been present, which is an entirely different question--in the kind of "unconditional surrender" demand a later generation was to impose on Germany.
Examples of limited wars forced on us are, of course, both Korea and Vietnam. In both those cases, an external power of great might and potential hostility--China and the Soviet Union--kept the U.S. from unleashing its full might on its enemy. In fact, those who argued for just such an unleashing were even dismissed from positions of authority to direct the conduct of the war. For geo-political reasons, touching upon the most basic elements of national security, political control had to be exerted over the American war fighting machine. Thus, ground that was taken at great cost was yielded for no good military reason, bombing campaigns were undertaken not to destroy the enemy but to make a point at the negotiating table and North Vietnam itself was never massively invaded. A purely "military" analysis on how to win either war wasn't worth the paper it was printed on; in a very real way, our actions were constrained by the presence of certain weapons in both the Chinese and the Soviet arsenals.
So, we have seen cases in American history when very unsettling (to Jacksonians) limited warfare has been imposed both by choice and by necessity. In neither case was America able to claim total victory (though all three resulted in very real victories of a sort that is harder to understand or explain). In both cases, "realists" in power sought to advance the case for limited war while "hawks" outside of power screamed at the uselessness of the concept and the loss of control over strategy that goes with it.
This debate continues today in conservative circles over the proper conduct of the Iraq and the Afghanistan War. Bush advocates argue that both wars are directed at extremists in the midst of people yearning to breathe free who will, given time, establish a uniquely Islamic form of democracy and liberty which will serve to upset the authoritarian order typical of the Islamic world, thereby indirectly relieving the condition that gives rise to Islamism and Islamist terrorism. (And they say Bush won't address the root causes!).
Anti-war conservatives, on the other hand, argue that we are in fact at war with a great current in the Islamic world that will not be defeated by limited warfare or a counter-insurgency, both of which will only serve to further recruit and radicalize Muslims world wide. Instead, we must give that portion of the world a wide berth, but, if attacked, we should unleash the full force of the U.S. on it until the Muslims themselves find it unacceptable that any of their comrades would consider an attack on the United States. To this group, arguing that "9.11 had no return address" is a colossal dodge: it is more reason, not less, to wage a real war on a people if they choose to advance attacks at us from a non-state actor. Let those responsible for Islamism--from the mullahs in Tehran, to the Ba'athists in Baghdad to the comfortable princes in Jeddah who fund them--pay the price for what they and they alone have sown.
But what if both sides are wrong?
What if we are not, in fact, fighting a limited war by choice, as both Bush advocates and their critics allege? What if we are fighting a limited war by necessity, one imposed not--as before--by the presence of a powerful outsider or third party but by the unique features of the Islamic Civilization?
Anyone who has seen Black Hawk Down
or followed news reports from the Islamic world knows that with regard to battle with the West, the Islamic world operates under a very different conception of what is considered honorable warfare. As the examples quoted above prove (and if that doesn't satisfy you I invite you to research the matter yourself, an activity which will only reinforce in your mind that, if nothing else, I am correct on this point), Muslims are more than willing to use non-combatants, even if children, to advance their aims.
Faced with the prospect of children scouting for terrorists or advancing on a Marine patrol in order to spy, we are forced by necessity to take the route of limited war. For to unleash a real war on such an enemy would, again by necessity, require us to make the conscious and open decision to kill children.
Some may say, well, to decide not to kill children or reduce Tikrit to a smoking ruin like Tokyo or Dresden before it is a choice. I strongly disagree. It is not choice to ask a people to do what they cannot bring themselves to do.
As I have written about before, therein lies the war-fighting power of the Muslim world: it exerts a power born of revulsion. From children with guns to internet beheadings, to parading around the blown-apart bits of human flesh after the latest car swarm, to the suicide bomber, the Muslim world exults these as tactics we are unable--because of who we are--to properly deter. Not for nothing did the smiling women of Somalia sit on top of their prone fighters as they aimed their AK-47s at U.S. Army soldiers. They know as well as we do that we will not adopt their methods nor lower ourselves to that level. They know we will not level the mosques nor simply round up and shoot those who are supporters.
What is the practical effect of such a state of affairs? Unable to turn the switch to "on" we are forced to fight a limited war which, given the firm and fanatic level of Arab rejectionism, cannot achieve victory in any real sense. Our forbearance is (wrongly) seen as a weakness that can be used, and the completely different mindset that directs the Islamic offensive is not shy from using revulsion to its fullest. After months of seeing dead children, beheaded journalists, executed school teachers, pointless, senseless killing, they know as well as we do that at some point we will decide that we simply want nothing to do with them anymore.
This tactic runs risks, though not ones anyone in the Islamic world is taking near seriously enough, as any elderly Japanese person would be happy to explain to them. Right now, at this low level, such atrocities are merely taken as more evidence of the Muslim's depravity, another piece of fragmentary anecdote that, depending on your political persuasion, deepens your depression about the war for various reasons.
Should they push the power of revulsion too far, however, they are likely to scour the reticence of the West away, and, in fact, there are signs that such reticence is slowly being eroded as each news report trickles in. Vastly greater numbers of Westerners have actively hostile and negative views of Islam and Muslims now than they did in the immediate aftermath of 9.11.
The resulting limited war, imposed by very real constraints that have to do with the kind of people we are, means that we have lost the ability to direct the conduct of the war. Unable to go on the offensive in any real sense, we have to hope that the internal decision to wage war on us taken by the Islamists will simply cease to be if we maintain our own resolve to fight in a defensive posture, daily taking casualties and cleaning up the bodies of the latest atrocity.
Therein lies yet another paradox: unable to unleash total war and the resulting breaking of the Islamic world's fighting spirit, those who believe in the concept of total war have largely turned against this one. A huge majority of Americans now firmly oppose the war, and continued Muslim rejectionism in Afghanistan is beginning to turn the numbers south on that front as well.
Or, in the words of Mead: "either the stakes are important enough to fight for--in which case you should fight with everything you have--or they are not, in which case you should mind your own business and stay home."
Such is the power of revulsion.