Tuesday, June 20, 2006

And soon we are all blind and toothless....

The Ethical Vacuum of the Warblogger.

Pirates! Man Your Women! » Derision: "Anyone who says anything about Geneva conventions and the terrorists, and close Guantamano because its cruel, well, they can go fuck themselves with something large and spikey.
Why? This is why.

An Iraqi military official said the bodies showed signs of torture and of being killed in “a barbaric way.”

Can anyone give me any reason at all why we should not bring back the time-honored practice of burying Islamic terrorists in pig skins? Notice I didn’t say dead Islamic terrorists…"
There is a reason why I talk about ethics a lot more than I do morals. "Morals" allow this sort of thing, because in practice, "morals" do not apply to any "out group."

I have a very solid reason why we should not act as he suggests: Civilized human beings have the duty to be better than that. Anyone that would do as he suggests is undeserving of the fruits of civilization or the company of civilized human beings, and should be confined or expelled, as may seem convenient, on pain of death.

Civilized societies cannot permit such behavior and remain civilized. That’s an historical truth there; great heaping piles of examples are just a google away; prove it to yourself if you do not find it intuitively obvious.

A system of justice, with defense lawyers and juries for even war criminals is not just a benefit of civilization, it's one of the things that defines it. Treating the undeserving in a civilized manner - even in the manner of their judicial execution is what separates us from barbarians like the Taliban and the sleeker but no less vicious ones in Saudi Arabia and the West Wing.

Oh, and among the ranks of the 101'st Fighting Keyboardists, of course.

Civilizations have rules, which are followed even when it interferes with our lust for blood and vengeance.

Here's the Dread Pirate Procedure for dealing with a mixed group of captured insurgents who may have valuable intelligence:

Walk into that room, and shoot one of the leaders right in the head. The one the rest looked to. Sure, he might have been the most “valuable” prisoner because he knew the most, but I guarantee one of the newbies will break. If not, take out #2.

I want you to think what you would honestly do in the newbie’s position. You’re just some 19 year old kid who wasn’t expecting anything like this when you joined up with Al Qaeda or “the resistance”. You just wanted to prove you’re a man. But that doesn’t include what’s happening now. I guarantee that if you know anything, you’ll talk at this point.

Ah, the words of a man unfamiliar with both history and Robert A. Heinlein.

Insurgencies run by competent folks are compartmentalized. Death and torture are presumed upon capture, and certain if you talk and are released. Such tactics may well work, and that is why their use is presumed.

Or in other words, son, if it were that easy, a fool like you could do it. But insurgencies hope that fools like you operate in such a manner. It makes their success possible.

Saddam's entire, extremely ruthless and quite professional intelligence apparatus evaporated as the morning dew, even as our troops were racing for Baghdad. And now, we face some truly professional insurgency. 1+1=?

You may presume that anyone you capture will be operating in a manner to limit the potential gains from interrogation by any means. Go read "The moon is a Harsh Mistress" for an exact outline of what a properly redundant insurgency looks like, and how the direct consequence of any compromised cell could be limited to one member of three other cells.

On the other hand, consider the impact on the morale of the enemy. Such behavior simply reinforces the spine of a resistance. Consider the battle for the Warsaw Ghetto.

This was a truly desperate fight, between mostly untrained and very lightly equipped Jews who preferred to die fighting, pitted against a truly professional force that embodied the fighting spirit so well illustrated by our Dread Pirate.

On Monday, April 19, 1943, the Jewish feast of Passover, over 2000 Waffen SS soldiers under the command of SS General Jürgen Stroop attacked with tanks, artillery and flame throwers. A fierce battle erupted between the heavily armed Germans and 1200 Jews armed with smuggled in pistols, rifles, a few machine guns, grenades and Molotov cocktails.
This was a final battle after months of urban warfare, warfare of a nature unrivaled until the current situation in Iraq.

The end result: the SS units sustained at least 50% casualties; accounts vary, but a remnant of approximately 1700 half-starved, poorly equipped fighters killed roughly 300 and wounded 1000 - and this does not account for casualties sustained earlier. The units involved were destroyed as effective units, and sustained huge equipment losses as well.

All of this was the direct result of policies that are nearly word for word and action for action what our dear pirate suggests as being "most effective."

And granted, they were effective. The Warsaw ghetto was wiped out. Of course, it inspired a later, more general Warsaw uprising, which had to be suppressed at an even higher cost and while both battles were "victories" for the Germans, it was at a price German forces could not afford, nor sustain.

The ethics of warfare are incredibly important, for ethics define the why of any war, especially in the breach. They also circumscribe the range of action one may take, lest the consequence overwhelm the potential gain.

Von Clauswitz (the Prussian military genius) is noted for a statement as profound as it is seemingly obvious; "war is fought by human beings."

Asymmetrical warfare is no different in that regard and while war is a dehumanizing business, anyone who bases their actions and beliefs on the delusion that the other side does not share a common humanity will ultimately lose. Indeed, they will probably lose rather quickly.

Von Clauzwitz was no fuzzy-minded Liberal squeamish about dropping hellfire upon his foes. He was instructing the reader to understand that that humanity was to be used to direct the fire. He was speaking about breaking the will of the enemy to fight, and no part of that involves underestimating their capability in any sense.

Likewise, look to Sun Tsu, who advised in the Art of War to always leave the enemy a path of retreat, and ideally, an option which made it attractive to them to not fight at all.

A cornered enemy with high motivation and the sure knowledge that they will face death or worse at your hands if they surrender to you is the most dangerous foe imaginable. Worse than that, they have the ethical, and indeed, the moral high ground - for you could choose to permit their escape as a disorganized and demoralized force.

If Hitler had understood this, all of Europe would be speaking German today.

When you choose to utterly crush an enemy, wipe them out to the last man, woman and child it will be at a high price in blood and the loss of your own troop's morale and discipline - and you will communicate something to everyone else you may face: "No mercy, no quarter, no forgiveness and no prisoners."

There is a Biblical proverb that boils this down to its essentials: "What profitith a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

Some call this "war on terror" a "clash of civilizations." History records many such clashes and the ultimate victor is not always the one who triumphed on the battlefield. War is not a civilized business; it's the antithesis of civilized behavior and tends to destroy everything that makes civilization possible both in terms of physical things, like libraries and plumbing and in terms of the human ability to be civilized after being exposed to the potential inhumanity of mankind.

We call it "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," and by some estimates, more than half of our active-duty combat forces have levels of PTSD severe enough that they should be hospitalized, instead of running around with weapons. For every soldier of ours this is true of, it's likely true of a hundred Iraqis.

It is unethical to do this sort of thing to people. Things that are unethical are also starkly unwise. People with PTSD tend to do sudden and violent things. They have a peculiar sort of mindset, characterized by being almost binary, black and white in nature. They loose empathy towards other people, and the ability to function within a multi-valued society. Left untreated, they tend to end up in prison or dead, and short of that, make the lives of those that love them a misery.

Now, all of this is inevitable in war to some degree. "War is Hell." It's a truism. It's a reality that every sane defense planner allows for. Therefore, it is advisable to be fighting for something that justifies such a price, and ideally extracts that price from the "other side."

That makes it desirable to have identifiable "sides."

Formless rhetorical ideas are not the proper target of a war. They cannot be defeated, nor can they be killed. But that stress must be vented, and as the guilty do not exist, by definition, the innocent will pay. This includes, as the very first and worst victim, the solder himself.

I have studied war and warfare for nearly as long as I could read. It's a fascinating subject, and a horrifying one. There is no record of a good war but there are many cases where the alternative was inarguably worse. In cases like that, there can be no sane argument against a resort to force.

But when ethics, ideals, common sense, sound military advice and the inherent value of the lives of the people directly involved are simply dismissed as trivial irrelevancies there can be no victory, save for barbarism in general.

I'm not anti-war. I'm anti-barbarian.

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