Why the fratricide may still have been unexpected

Patrick O’Hannigan, my friend the Paragraph Farmer, used as the jumping off point for a wonderful article in The American Spectator a post of mine that had, in turn, commented favorably on a Dennis Prager article. Dennis Prager’s point, which was one I applauded, was that no one could have foreseen that the war in Iraq, which started as a military victory, would be derailed by a new tactic — Iraqis slaughtering their own citizens as part of their resistance. Prager pointed out that no Western war has ever seen that type of thing before. Patrick’s point is that Prager and I are both looking at this issue through that same Western perspective and that, if he, I, President Bush or the War’s architects had taken into account the nature of our enemy — fanatic Islamists — we wouldn’t have been so surprised.

As is always the case when Patrick is the one writing, I think he has a very good point — I’m just not sure that I agree with it. I agree that fanatic Islamists have no problems with fratricide. The Sudan is a good example, where the northern light-skinned Muslims practicing genocide against the Southern dark-skinned Muslims. Patrick is also correct that the war between Iran and Iraq — a Muslim on Muslim conflict, although not an Arab on Arab conflict — was exceptionally ferocious. Muslims don’t have a problem killing Muslims. Of course, as the wars that waged through the West have shown, whites don’t have a problem killing whites (an example is the Germans versus everyone else in two world wars) and Christians haven’t historically had a problem killing Christians (the Thirty Years War is a good example of that fact). Indeed, Americans haven’t even baulked at killing Americans, as we can see from both our Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

What’s different here, and where I’m willing to stick to my guns despite Patrick’s lucid and intelligent argument, is that this is a war where the losing side has determined that the slaughter of its own citizens is a legitimate and potentially successful tactic in the war against the enemy (the enemy being America). Thus, the “insurgents” (I prefer to think of them as “murderous terrorists”) have decided that they can best win the War as its being played out in the Western media, by slaughter their own citizens en masse. In other words, unlike ordinary wars where the slaughter of ones own kind (Christian v. Christian, American v. American, Iranian Muslim v. Iraqi Muslim) occurred because the two sides, while sharing common denominators, had significant geographic, religious or economic differences, the slaughter here is for headlines.

The Islamists have figured out that, if America is to lose this war, it will be lost, not on the battlefields, but in the headlines. They’ve also figured out that Americans have no stomach for a war with high fatalities, whether those fatalities occur amongst coalition troops or the enemy. This concept goes far beyond using ones own soldiers as cannon fodder (something Stalin did to good effect in World War II when he had to fight off the better equipped and trained Germany Army). What we’re seeing here is an enemy that, unable to kill Americans troops in significant numbers, has ratcheted up the War’s mortality figures by turning on their own — and that, I think is an unprecedented tactical maneuver that no war has ever seen before.

UPDATE: Comments here haved educated me to the fact that the Vietnamese did try the tactic of internal slaughter, although although not on the heroic scale we’re seeing in Vietnam. I also thought that the Tet offensive really was a last ditch effort to win, with Walter Cronkite being the unexpected bonus when there was no battlelfield victory. I freely admit my ignorance here. The military, however, should not have been ignorant. Knowing that these tactics were out there, I’d tend now to sidle back over to Patrick’s viewpoint, which is that the military should have been anticipated this outcome and should have (maybe it did?) advised the President accordingly.

I still question, though, whether this tactic should have been anticipated simply because the combatants are Muslims. Regular readers of this blog know that I believe jihadists, who have been sucked dry of the milk of human kindness and infused with a black bile of hatred, are our most dangerous enemies, and that the media and “progressive” thinking aid and abet them by trying to blind us to the threat and tie our hands when it comes to defending ourselves. Nevertheless, I think it’s distinctly possible that the tactic’s appearance in this War has little to do with Islam, and everything to do with asymmetrical war in a media age.

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  1. Matt Simmons says

    I want to correct a mistake by both you and Mr Prager. Fratricide has been used as a tactic before. James R. McDounough in his book “Platoon Leader: A Memoir of Command in Combat” tells of his experience of pacifying a village in the heart of Viet Cong territory. After several failed attacks on McDounough firebase, the VC realized that the firebase would close down if the village was no longer there for it to pacify. They therefore attacked their own village which probably held some of their own families. Their logic proved impeccable, the villagers left and then the firebase closed.
    It was at this point that McDounough realized the US was not going to win in Vietnam, because the US wasn’t ready to be as ruthless as its enemies. Hopefully we have learned from our past and this time we are prepared to be as ruthless as the jihadist.

  2. JJ says

    It isn’t that much of a trick to figure out, either – which is going to forever be a problem for the serious people among us in dealing with enemies.

    The North Vietnamese were of course the first ones to see and experiment with this conundrum. When they launched the disaster of the Tet offensive in 1968, they knew they weren’t going to beat us in the field. It was a military diaster for them – but they accepted that, because the target of the offensive wasn’t the troops: it was Walter Cronkite.

    And though the Viet Cong and allies couldn’t beat the US military, or even come close to beating us, they sure could beat Walter Cronkite! He wasn’t a hardened target at all: in fact he was a snap.

    Their side-bet was that he wouldn’t have the wit to recognize how he was being used, either; and they won that one, too.

  3. says

    It was at this point that McDounough realized the US was not going to win in Vietnam, because the US wasn’t ready to be as ruthless as its enemies. Hopefully we have learned from our past and this time we are prepared to be as ruthless as the jihadist.

    Comment by Matt Simmons | November 16, 2006

    Hard to say Matt, hard to say. If Bush read and commented on blogs, such as Bookworm’s room, or got his daughters to do it. Then I would probably say yes, Bush would get more ruthless. But he seems to prefer listening to the Democrats and the traitors in his own Executive Branch, than the people that he is supposed to represent and lead. Nothing good will come from listening to Democrats, just as nothing good came from listening to Chirac.

    It is true as Matt says, about Vietnam. Because if you recall, the Viet Cong would wait until afte rAmerican medic forces had entered a village and vaccinated the children, and then come in after we left and shop off the arm that had the vaccination, of the people who were helped by Americans. Good for morale, as they say. The morale of evil that is.

    I looked at their tactics. Pretty crude, in my view. I could do better, with more efficiency. They were too indiscriminate. It worked, yes, but only because they had brute power and control of the situation, and were up against a rather weak enemy, the US media and US administration.

    Good tactics are decided by the objective standard. Which is, on an equal basis, of force correlations, who would win via what tactics? If America matched the Vietcong ruthlessness, their tactics would be chaff before the wind, because it is simply inefficient. Just as inefficient as the German and Russian indiscriminate purges and executions of entire villages as an example. They seem to work, but onyl when you have overwhelming force. If you ever “lose” this force, then it is bye bye to you.

    Asymmetrical warfare attempts to exercise maximum force against an opponent’s greatest weakness. Therefore a rag tag group of idiots and murderers might not be able to match the US Marine Corps on a 1 to 1 fair fight, but they could match the US Marine Corps if they took all the family and dependents of the US Marine Corps hostage in order to prevent the Marine Corps from fighting. That is asymmetrical warfare. Find your opponent’s weakness, and then strike it with all your might. Then it doesn’t matter if they have nukes, now does it? Without the mental preparation and willingness to use force, there is no danger.

    So the Vietcong couldn’t out fight the US Army in Vietnam, but they could chop off a few arms off of children. Good killing, as they say. Where you just start the slaughtering, no effort to, no “battle”. As grim said, the more weak you are, the more atrocities you allow to be committed, and the more incentive you give to the other side to committ these atrocities. Because these atrocities only work because they are crude, because you won’t hit back, because you will not match their tactics and increase their effectiveness. You just fold, you leave, game over for you. And the other guy wins, regardless of whether he holds the royals or simply a runt hand.

    Call them on it, to use a poker reference. Call their bluff, demonstrate that you are not spineness, and too weak to protect the undefended as they taunt the undefended about “where are your US occupiers now”. If you don’t force them to show you his hands, how will you ever know whether his tactics were better than yours?

    Surprise is in the mind of the commander, Bookworm. Meaning, it is a state of mind. It is a human condition. You cannot remove this condition from people, anyone can be surprised. You can train to suppress it, you can use experience to dull it, but that is it. America had little training in guerrila warfare, and even less experience in it when we went into Iraq. Whenever a green army faces a more ruthless and blooded army, the green army will take some licks before it learns. But it isn’t the army the terroists are killing, so the US Army has learned about as much as they can concerning counter-insurgency doctrine. All that remains is the political solution, public executions, and Executive shoot on sight targeting orders. But our politicians have not learned, and Bush cannot get this “wisdom” from the military because the military doesn’t set civilian policy. In fact, the military wants to run away from being the occupier and reconstruction teams. They don’t LIKE making policy and civilian decisions, but they are a shat load better at it than the State Department and the CIA.

    If Bush wants the political ‘wisdom’ on guerrila warfare, then he has to give Generals and the military political power in Iraq. Meaning, so and so unit has this and this town, to care for, as loyal protectors of the faith. This General is responsible for all civilian and military operations in this province, and so forth. Was Bush in favor of the Pentagon taking over both the Governorship of Iraq as well as the military management of Iraq? No, Bush is a big believer in civilian control, i.e. Bremer. I have nothing against Bremer, he took up a tankless job for his country and deserves respect for that. But it tells. Bush liked the “political wisdom” from the politicians and diplomads, not the military. Those in the military loyal to Bush, isn’t going to get up in Bush’s face and yell at him for doing stupid things. And if the military doesn’t do that, WHO DOES? The media? Ha, very funny.

    You are in right, Bookworm. in expecting that the Joint Chiefs are there to advise the President. Why wasn’t the President advised of guerrila warfare and told to expect Vietnam era stuff? Well, maybe because the Joint Chiefs have fossilized into a High Brass Vietnam Era club of good old boys, more interested in their career retirements than telling the President what he needed to hear. Even if you don’t accept that reasoning, then how about this. Meyers was a missile specialist and Air Force guy. What did he know that he didn’t tell Bush about, concerning guerrila infantry warfare? Does Peter Pace seem the guy to you that would jump rank and go directly to the President to tell him what the President should or should do, should or should not listen to? No. So who is there to tell the President that he is wrong? Nobody. Nobody worth their salt, anyways. Sure you have the idiots in the media and the crazy political generals. But so what. Bush goes farther left the more he listens to the media, if you had not noticed. Media ain’t doing anyone any favors, except their own careers.

  4. JJ says

    Your update is precisely on target.

    The increasingly disgusting pre-election level of violence was aimed, just as the Tet offensive, at the American media, not the American armed forces. The enemy in this case is not dumber than the enemy in Vietnam, and they are fully aware of the same reality.

    They can’t defeat the US amrmed forces – but they are fully aware they don’t have to. All they have to do is defeat the NY Times, the Washington Post, Katie Couric, and a few others; and they will win.

    Their aim was to produce exactly what they produced: an electorate disgusted with the bloodshed, leading to a change in Washington, leading to a withdrawal of troops. Once the democrats announce a date for withdrawal, they’ll simply rest up, rearm, and await that day. Shortly thereafter Iraq will look just like Iran.

    You don’t have to win on the battlefield anymore, you just have to beat Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich. That’s easy!


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