Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The perfect war, the perfect peace

Dr. Sanity has written here about our current desire for a perfect, error-free war. No, not our desire; our demand.

It often does seem as though the prosecution of this war is being held to an impossible standard, quite unlike any before in history. In some ways this is related to the progress we've made in technology; we've effectively reduced civilian casualties as compared to the bluntly massive killing instruments of WWII and even Vietnam, which caused a huge number of civilian deaths whether that was the aim or not.

The "smart bomb" saw its debut during the 1991 Gulf War, and bombs have only gotten smarter since. Now they're really, really smart; in some cases, they can actually vaporize a single person and leave those not too far away from him/her (but it's usually a "him") unharmed.

But the smart bombs of that Gulf War also gave us the vision of a future in which wars would be surgical and relatively "clean"--at least, as far as civilian casualties go, and even (or perhaps especially) for casualties in our armed forces--as compared to previous wars of the 20th century.

It's interesting that, as our desire and our ability to minimize civilian casualties increases, the enemy has become more and more wedded to exactly the opposite tactic: the deliberate murder, with malice aforethought, of civilians. And this is contemplated and executed not as unavoidable "collateral damage" in the pursuit of other targets, but as a purposeful strategy to strike terror into the heart of what they perceive to be our softened and excessively tender Western sensibilities. They realize that that is a very good way to reach us, perhaps the most economical and parsimonious of all.

What a paradox: our own desire to wage war that is more humane, and our incredible advances in war technology, have resulted in an enemy strategy aimed to counterbalance our advantages with exactly the opposite modus operandi. And in the meantime, our military planners are criticized for conducting a war that has any casualties at all, one which features the usual errors attendant in any war.

This demand for an unreasonable standard--the near-perfect execution of an inherently imperfect endeavor, war--seems to me to be linked to a similar desire for perfection in our everyday lives. It's easier than ever (although never quite easy) to leave a marriage if it doesn't fulfill our every need. We expect perfect health and extreme longevity as our birthright. And we try to arrange it so that our children never know want or fear (or that horror of horrors, a blow to their sacred self-esteem).

This is all part of an understandable impulse to better our lives. But alas; perfection is unattainable, in war or in peace. And its pursuit, although a worthy goal, can lead to unexpected consequences: a war that may end up bloodier than the one it aims to prevent, for example; or a child lacking the emotional strength to face the ordinary disappointments of life.

It's a conundrum. We don't want to go back to the days of more generalized suffering, when unhappy couples were yoked together, when people died in droves of diseases that are now easily prevented or cured, and when there were massive civilian bombings in wartime. But the law of unintended consequences sometimes seems determined to extract its full measure of payment nevertheless.

32 Comments:

At 11:44 AM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

Two things.

First, the Iraq war is over. The problems we have there now are not really war problems or military problems. They have arisen because, after decapitating the regime, we had no one to take over. That's a problem we created, it's something we should have anticipated, but just because we have 100 K people there, it's not a war.

Let me put it this way. In 1898, we fought a war with Spain. We spent the next 15 years suppressing guerillas in the Philippines. Does anyone say the Spanish American War lasted until 1913? Not many, if any.

As far as the Iraq war goes, we had a definite opponent: Saddam, his sons, and his army. They are all destroyed. We weren't even at war with the nation of Iraq, as you recall, we were liberating them. So that's over and done. The "messiness" argument doesn't fit. We are left with a messy post-war, precisely because we didn't have any realistic post war plans.

Victor Davis Hanson is always going the "messy" route. He argues that there were screwups in all major wars, so how is this one different. Well, maybe the major difference is that we are not fighting a war anymore, we are trying to maintain civil order and prevent civil war between Iraqi groups. Whether it's a good idea for our highly trained combat troops to be put in the position of brokering civil strife, and getting picked off at a rate of 2-3 a day is something we can talk about another time.

The other thing has to do with perfect war. It's true terrorists target civilians. Having watched 9/11, I am convinced that killing civilians is a cowardly act. I realize people thought differently during the heat of World War Two. But on 9/11, I saw, from the right bank of the Hudson, a couple thousand civilians murdered. That cannot be right. It was cowardly, it was murder, it was mass murder.

If we then turn around and visit that kind of destruction on someone else, what are we saying? "When my neighbor murders my civilians it is bad, but when I murder my neighbor's civilians it is good"? Please think about it.

I am willing to entertain the argument that sometimes, in war, it might be necessary to do something that will cause some civilian deaths. But to the extent we rationalize the killing of civilians, it seems to me that we are rationalizing the mass murder on 9/11. And that is something I will not do.

 
At 12:02 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger ELC said...

I honestly think that one aspect of the oh-so-easy-to-make criticism of the war's (and afterwar's) conduct is that it comes from so many writers.

Don't like that word? Press delete a few times. Don't like that paragraph where it is? Cut/paste. Don't like how the story turned at all? Don't run with it.

Mistakes, misjudgements, inaccurate perceptions, wrong choices, are so much more difficult to correct in the real world. Especially if you're not one who has to make them and deal with the consequences.

 
At 12:09 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Goesh said...

-I'd love to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony......hug a thug and teach a terrorist, and not how to fly airplanes...la la la la. We always worry about losing our humanity if we revel in the deaths of our enemies, well maybe we don't really have that much humanity to lose to begin with.

 
At 12:26 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

The evolution of humanity is not without its price. If we want to become demi-Gods, we must also bear the responsibility for such a power.

If we want to live for 500 years as our Elvish fantasies have described, then do we not gain the detriments as well as the advantages?

The Iraq Guerrila War is not over.

There's Gulf War I, Gulf War II (OIF), and Gulf War III. This is III.

and getting picked off at a rate of 2-3 a day is something we can talk about another time.

Not really, because the only reason you're dissatisfied and want better solutions, which you won't accept, is because of those 2-3 being picked off.

If we then turn around and visit that kind of destruction on someone else, what are we saying?

As talkin already guessed, we're saying that you can kill us but we won't kill you. A nice set of odds for the terroists.

"When my neighbor murders my civilians it is bad, but when I murder my neighbor's civilians it is good"? Please think about it.

The Marine Corps already did think about it and resolved it. Why didn't you accept the Corps' tenets?

And that is something I will not do.

Nobody's asking you to do it. There are plenty of Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, and civilians like me who will do it.

Elc brings up an interesting point, because the propaganda apparati of the enemy in the form of Western media and Jihad literature, are able to change their reality while combat soldiers can't change theirs.

The propagandist can change the story concerning who did what to whom and by what means. But the combat soldier can't make a person who died, alive again, nor can he undamage a mosque that he already blew up to save his own buddies.

Thus this is the Rock facing the Tidal Surge, and the unmoving rock shall be eroded in time by the infinite flexibility but also great power of the water surge.

As Sun Tzu said, be like water yet attack as ice. Okay, those probably aren't his words, but it's pretty consistent with Eastern philosophy, especially Eastern combat philosophy.

 
At 12:38 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Hillary For President said...

Sad part is neocons just want high price for oil. Just want make fat cats rich.

That is all Bush think about. How rich can we make fat cat?

that is all.

Why else we go around attack Iraq without the support of our friends France avec les amis ?

I mean we just say to our good friend "no heck with you, we do we want"

And now look.

Iran want nuclear power so they can have lights in their house and air conditioning for their elderly. We say no! let the elderly die. we dont care. No Oil! No Coal! No Nuclear Energy! burn sand suckas!!!!

That is Bush say anyway.

With Hillary Clinton for President, we would have clean air, reduce oil dependent, give Iran windmill some other green energy, i dont kow that why Hillary president. Anyway, we solve Iran eneergy problem so they no need nuclear power so neocon dont worry about bomb.

ROFL.

Islam religion peace. I mean, what they worry about?

 
At 12:40 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Hillary For President said...

i rite extenseively about this at my blog. please stop by for eduyewcation.

Hillary-for-President.blogspot.com

 
At 12:50 PM, April 18, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"i rite extenseively about this at my blog. please stop by for eduyewcation."

Maybe you should get an "eduyewcation" before you start offering one. It's hard to convince people that you know something they don't, when you can't even form a complete sentence half the time.

 
At 12:51 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger maryatexitzero said...

What a paradox: our own desire to wage war that is more humane, and our incredible advances in war technology, have resulted in an enemy strategy aimed to counterbalance our advantages with exactly the opposite modus operandi.

Well, our desires didn't really cause the enemy to adopt certain strategies. They've always fought this way. It's their tradition.

The Wahhabi's believed that visiting the graves and the shrines of the Prophets, the Imams, or the saints was a form of idolatry and totally un-Islamic. Those who did not conform to their belief were killed and their property was confiscated. Since their first invasion of Iraq, and till nowadays, in fact, the Wahhabi's, as well as other rulers of the Gulf States, having been carrying out massacres from which no Muslim who disagreed with them was spared.

Wahhabism and Gulf Arab money influence most of the Middle East and Northern Africa now. It even influences Persia/Iran, where some Iranians call the fundamentalists 'Arabs'.

And then there were the Barbary Pirates.

We've already figured out how to deal with terrorists and their tactics - if this was the 18th century, Moussaoui and Sami Al-Arian would be hung up and left to rot in Times Square. We would have invaded the countries that sponsor terrorism, we wouldn't ally with them.

But at this point in time, we don't have the heart to be too unkind to our enemy.

They've always used these tactics, but our desire to wage war without being mean makes us much more vulnerable to them. Whether we like it or not, war is a zero-sum kind of thing. If we don't win the war, then we lose. When you're fighting an implacable enemy, both sides can't win.

9/11 was proof that we're fighting an implacable enemy.

 
At 1:03 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Huan said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 1:04 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Huan said...

the biggest problem about a perfect war is not that it cannot be achieved but that it would be too easy to start when war has so little consequence to the innocent.

 
At 1:05 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Just want make fat cats rich.

yes, like George Soros.

Theresa.

John Kerry.

Ted Kennedy.

Chomsky

Frank

And All Those Hollywood billion and millionares...

Fat cats indeed.

That. Is. All.

Our friends the feckless avec les amis... Okay. One person's friend is another person's cannon fodder.

We say no! let the elderly die. we dont care.

yes, we like the French, don't care if thousands die because they didn't have air conditioning in summer... Hardy har har? (France let thousands of elderly lie in the heat wave, btw)

I was wondering whether H f P was doing a contextual and consistent satire... but then I decided that any person who goes to the length of using a blogger id for satire is... out of his mind. And anyone who actually wrote some stuff on the blog to support his satire is... way too good to be wasted in the civilian sector.

Well, our desires didn't really cause the enemy to adopt certain strategies. They've always fought this way. It's their tradition.

That is true to a certain extent, but Japan used to fight in the same way as well. Suicide, torture captives, etc. Why don't they do it now? Cause we showed that violence and crime don't pay, sucka.

America's and namely Bush's casualty sensitive and multilateral policies are promoting terrorism, not stopping it. It's been long enough into this war that I can make this judgement.

They've always used these tactics, but our desire to wage war without being mean makes us much more vulnerable to them.

Indeed I would agree. As would most of America. The reason why Bush's polls is so low is not because he isn't emulating Democratic policies, but because Bush is more and more appearing as weak as Democrats. The American people, specifically the Jacksonians, don't like that at all.

 
At 1:54 PM, April 18, 2006, Anonymous Terry A. Hoover said...

I've got to agree with Ymarsakar on this one (to a degree). I was asked a year or so ago by some liberal friends (and very nice people by the way) why things weren't "settling down" in Iraq. The answer I gave them was "Because the Iraqis don't feel like they've been beat". This is simply the truth. The army was beaten, Saddam was beaten, but the Iraqis were mostly untouched. Naturally they feel quite unbeaten and so don't have any true motivation to cooperate with the new kid on the block - America.

Ymarskar makes the point that we dealt with the Japanese appropriately. If the enemy kills their prisoners, suicide bombs your ships, and generally behaves like a marauding lunatic, the answer about how to deal with your enemy is to flatten them in their entirety. I don't like civilian casualties any more than the next person, but we're talking war, not Peace Corps missions.

Yes Ms. Neo-neocon, our aversion to casulaties - the pursuit of perfection - both the enemies' and our own, has made us vulnerable to the tactics being used against us. Sad but true.

As for Steve, I don't know what it would take to make him genuinely angry enough to get serious about killing the bad guys, but I suspect nothing short or the torture and murder of his immediate family would do the trick. I'm surprised that someone who witnessed 9/11 personally is still stuck in a 9/10 frame of mind.

As for Hillary for President, will someone find her meds and make sure she takes them?

 
At 1:56 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Brad said...

Neo,
I believe that the desire for perfection in the arena of war is intimately tied to the desire for perfection in our social/economic system (social justice), our demography, our balance between the past and present, our moral equivalency, etc. It is both an illusion masking a desire for an authoritarian system that is exactly what (fill in the blank) wants, and a desire for the perfect self esteem.

 
At 2:42 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) said...

That is Bush say anyway.

With Hillary Clinton for President, we would have clean air, reduce oil dependent, give Iran windmill some other green energy, i dont kow that why Hillary president. Anyway, we solve Iran eneergy problem so they no need nuclear power so neocon dont worry about bomb.

ROFL.

Islam religion peace. I mean, what they worry about?


Let me add to what Mr. Anonymous said: your writing makes my eyes bleed

 
At 2:50 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Allow me. She/He means, (I bet she, writing style seems like it) that Hillary will give Iran contracts to build green energy like windmills so that Iran won't need nuclear plants. Therefore this solves the problem, and Hillary gets the credit.

Islam means the religion of peace, so what does anyone have to worry about.

You got to cosmopolitan about this Justin. Didn't you ever take a Code Breaking course?

 
At 4:20 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Tom Grey said...

You knew I'd be smiling to read about perfect stuff -- since I've so long been complaining that the Left is implicitly advocating Unreal Perfection.

The critical thinking (that was a nice post, too) way to see if a critic is indulging in this is to check the offered alternative. Everything real has good and bad points; if no bad points are mentioned about the implied alternative (no "unnecessary war" -- is support for what?), it's likely to be an unreal alternative.

It remains a race to see if Iraq, and Lebanon, and perhaps other countries (Kuwait?) can become functioning democracies before a crazy Islamofascist nukes Tel Aviv.

I think it likely, but anywhere from 50-90% democracy "wins", depending on my mood that day. Still, 10-50% that nukes "win". Yechh.

 
At 4:28 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Joshua said...

This demand for an unreasonable standard--the near-perfect execution of an inherently imperfect endeavor, war--seems to me to be linked to a similar desire for perfection in our everyday lives.

It seems to me more like being linked to a latent absolute-pacifist mentality (by which I mean the genuine article, not merely anti-Americanism disguised as pacifism). True pacifists detest war precisely because of all the indiscriminate killing and destruction associated with it. In that light, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are no better than, say, WWII because the amount of death and suffering, while it may be less, is still not zero.

 
At 7:59 PM, April 18, 2006, Anonymous grackle said...

When my neighbor murders my civilians it is bad, but when I murder my neighbor's civilians it is good"? Please think about it.

No, Steve. Allow me to paraphrase with the correct elements:

When a fanatical religious group murders my civilians, that’s terrorism; when civilians die in attempts to stop a fanatical religious group, that’s a sometimes unfortunate by-product of self-defense.

It’s like saying to not defend yourself from an attacker on the street because some nearby onlookers, usually rooting for the attacker, will probably get hurt.

Let’s take the banquet in Pakistan honoring some al Qaeda big shots that was recently bombed: Perhaps there were some there who secretly hated al Qaeda but the fact is that it was a banquet to honor al Qaeda potentates & most who attended were no doubt supporters of al Qaeda & wanted to show their support. I can’t say I’m too sorry about their deaths.

I am willing to entertain the argument that sometimes, in war, it might be necessary to do something that will cause some civilian deaths. But to the extent we rationalize the killing of civilians, it seems to me that we are rationalizing the mass murder on 9/11. And that is something I will not do.

Steve, no matter how I paraphrase the above it always comes out nonsensical:

Sometimes it is necessary to cause civilian deaths but when that necessity occurs the resultant deaths are as reprehensible as the deaths on 9/11.

Surely, if you’ll think about it, you will see the problem with the moral equivalency in your statement, which equates accidental death with murder.

Furthermore, since war can’t be waged without civilian deaths(or other error), such a stance precludes war altogether. Are you sure you’re not a pacifist & just haven’t realized it yet?

 
At 7:59 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Brad said...

Ya know Neo, one of the things that bothers me about this blog is that you focus on trivial things, like the war in Iraq, while totally ignoring the fact that Katie and Tom had a baby. I think this is one of the techniques that you Neocons have developed to avoid addressing reality.

 
At 8:20 PM, April 18, 2006, Anonymous TalkinKamel said...

Ymarsakar

What are we saying? "You can kill us, but we won't kill you."

And, just as you predicted, I'd already guessed that. (Sigh). So it goes.

And, of course, the bit about accepting civilian casualties in war is the same as accepting 9/11 makes no sense. And I am getting tired of the constant moral equivalence of the Left; i.e., "If we do this, then we are as bad as they are!"

It's tying our hands, and keeping us from fighting this war.

By the way, Mary, good point about the Barbary Pirates; treating the terrorists the way we did them would be a good idea. But, I'm afraid we've gotten too nice at this point. . . .

 
At 8:42 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Huan said...

the enemy of Good is Perfect.

 
At 8:48 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Bezuhov said...

And now for something completely different:

http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/04/angrynegative_p.html

Neo, you deserve better commenters, or perhaps fewer poor ones (I can think of several quite good, just wish for a better singal/noise ratio).

 
At 9:21 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

But, I'm afraid we've gotten too nice at this point. . . .

The Marine Corps are just as much crazy sons of warrior bees now as they were before. Just unleash the dogs of war. The Marine Corps is leashed, very tightly. Very dangerous people, you got to keep them on hand otherwise they go ballistic on the civilian sheep population. It can happen with those jarheads full of secret medical combat drugs ;)

The military will and can win, just have to find some way to convince the "politicians" that we'll happily have blood on our hands, so long as we get Victory.

If Bush cared more about polls and reelection, he'd be perfect as a war President. I don't want him to revert to a Clinton of course, but if he paid more attention to what Americans wanted, well, let's just say the UN would get one up the arse and so would Iran.

 
At 10:44 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Pancho said...

The "smart bomb" saw its debut during the 1991 Gulf War

Just to lighten up the conversation and add a historical perspective. The first "smart bombs" were actually used in Vietnam. They had TV guidance systems.

 
At 3:52 AM, April 19, 2006, Anonymous douglas said...

Critics of the war, paricularly when bringing up casualty rates must be asked 'what is your metric for success?' They can't answer that truthfully because they don't have one.
Steve, let me see if I got this right: 'I cant condone civilian casualties', and 'I can't accept 2-3 losse/day'. Well, you have a problem. We could eliminate the 2-3 losses/day if we just retaliated to attacks with artillery and aircraft, but that would be stupid, and would obviously create civilian casualties. We could keep the civilian casualties microscopically low (in historical comparison) but it'll cost us 2-3/day. You are the perfect example of what neo is talking about... the impossibly perfect or nothing.
Of course, the problem is you are full of it, you have said in the past you'd be fine with letting the Iraqis kill each other en masse, just save our troops... Real concern for civilian safety there...

 
At 10:02 AM, April 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OH FOR PETE'S SAKE... there is a categorical difference between soldiers shooting armed masked men and those masked men blowing up a crowd of obviously unarmed children.

Just as there's a categorical (moral) difference between the USA dropping a bomb on a bridge, factory, munitions' dump or commandpost filled with armed military personnel who were given the chance to surrender....and some self-justified Jihadis setting off a carbomb among civilians going about their daily shopping.

The Left wants to pretend play that anyone killed in war is a civilian so that whatever we do is exactly the same thing as what 'they' do. Not so. Not so at all.

The USA rarely kills civilians in war, by far the lion's share of people killed by our guns, bombs, etc. are young men of military age who have guns in their hands. Not women and children targeted BECAUSE they're women and children!

But the terrorists DO specifically go out of their way to kill unarmed civilians as their MO. In complete immoral contradistinction from the care we take with noncombatants.

 
At 11:04 AM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

The dichotomy anon listed, is the exact reason why the fake liberals support Islamic terror and suicide bombings.

They believe that it is the only means available to them. Easy to see, given their ignorance of military expediency and affairs.

This gives you the solution. Stop using bombs. Take a trick from the enemy's book. Remove their justification, by showing them how Terror Should and Can be utilized, in a legal and moral manner. No bombs, no Apaches, no nukes blowing up civilians in a city. Don't use your technology. Use psychological warfare to beat psychological warfare, terror to beat terror, fire to beat fire. Make asymmetrical warfare into symmetrical warfare, and End It if not for all time, at least for This Time.

 
At 11:37 AM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Bezuhov said...

Ymar:

No.

 
At 12:24 PM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Yes, no is false.

 
At 1:10 PM, April 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The war went pretty well.

The problem with the occupation part is that technology went both ways... wireless technology for cell phone spotting / targeting and triggering remote control bombs is available to everyone... cheaply.

I imagine we would have had a lot more casualties occupying Germany if cell phones had been around... As it was, a few hold outs did try a few low tech attacks but they rarely worked...

 
At 6:52 PM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Melannie has good information about the General Officer in iraq who said Saddam send his WMDs to Iraq. Must read for those interested in a true multicultural and cosmopolitan outlook on humanity.

Link

 
At 5:17 AM, April 21, 2006, Blogger blert said...

At 11:44 PM, April 18, 2006, Pancho said...

The "smart bomb" saw its debut during the 1991 Gulf War

Just to lighten up the conversation and add a historical perspective. The first "smart bombs" were actually used in Vietnam. They had TV guidance systems.


THE first smart bombs, as compared to Walleye missiles, never had TV guidance. Texas Instruments pioneered the laser designator/ laser seeker tandem. The first generation smart bombs used two aircraft: one F-4 with the designator and the other the bombs.

The first combat use was against the Long Bien (Paul Dormier) Bridge in 1972. Smart bombs achieved in one strike what had been impossible with hundreds of sorties.

 

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