Thursday, April 27, 2006

Suicide Bombers and the Achillies Heel - Part II

As I talked about yesterday in my last post, there is not a whole lot to understanding the mind of the suicide bomber. We grow up with it in our literature and entertainment.

The only difference is the means to the end and a different view of how a battle is fought.

The notion of a warrior martyr has been parallel in both of our cultures for the majority of history. Today, in the west, we less emphasis on the glory of dying for your country/religion/cause than we have done over most of our history. Muslims today still value that trait as much as our forefathers did.

The differences between a Muslim suicide bomber and our western culture history appear to be wide and glaring. While there are differences, they are found in the minutia, and not in the grand scope of things.

First, who is the enemy? For us, the enemy is an opposing army. Non-combatants are only the enemy in relevance to the effect of damage they can also inflict upon our soldiers. This includes harboring or giving aid to our enemy.

The Muslim suicide bomber sees us all as the enemy, men women and children. In essence, we are all a giant army that they are fighting against.

While the two sides may view the players differently, this is not to say that one side, through the course of history, has given the "innocent" non-combatants more value as human beings. Throughout western history, the glory of battle only came with the killing of other soldiers. Killing non-combatants did not bring you glory. But, non-combatants were also not considered to be of value other than as booty for the victor. The notion of "innocent" non-combatants has had little role in our history. There was no such thing as an "innocent" non-combatant. Most often, the defeated population of non-combatants were either slaughtered wholesale, or sold into slavery to boost the booty the victors collected. While the military objective was to destroy the army, the peripheral objective was also to destroy the non-combatants society. This tool, as used in military means of achieving a goal has even been employed by us throughout our US history. We burned Atlanta and much of the south during the civil war. We fire bombed Dresden and other civilian populations of Germany during WWII. Similarly, we firebombed Japan and dropped two atomic bombs on mainly civilian populations. Since there is no non-combatants to the suicide bomber, we are all the enemy army, glory comes in killing all, not just those in uniform.

The only difference between us and the suicide bomber was that our killing of civilians was not out of malice, but out of military necessity. Killing of civilians was a way of bring about the ends we desired. But, as distasteful as we may have found it, we did it none the less because we found the benefit of such measures outweighed the costs. In the end, we could have brought an end to WWII without attacking civilian populations. This would been at the cost of more American lives, but at the cost of far, far few deaths in total. We traded the lives of 10, 20, 100 civilians for the life of each one of our soldiers. I will not sit here and say it was a wrong or immoral decision. If I were in charge, I would have done the same thing. But it is just further proof that we value the lives of their non-combatants far less than we value the life of our own citizens. The suicide bomber asts out of both malice and necessity.

And while we no longer "enslave" populations, this practice was constructively done through colonialization. "Lesser" concurred people became commodities for the victor. Similarly, after WWI, we did much the same with the Germans. We (the allies) occupied the region close to France on the German side of the border and the people were stripped of all autonomy while Germany paid reparations to the allies.

An additional difference between us and them, is the notion of the army. We see the army as being a cohesive unit in uniform. Our guys were uniforms and there guys wear uniforms. We see the suicide bomber as being an individual actor, and not part of an army structure. The Muslim extremist, on the other hand do see themselves as being part of a larger military structure. They see themselves as being either part of a nationalistic or religious army where no uniform is needed because blending in is part of the means. Just because they do not have a regularized uniform, it is only minutia to them.

lastly, the difference between western culture and the suicide bomber is the notion of a battlefield. We view it as two opposing armies meeting to do battle. The suicide bomber, on the other hand, sees the battle field as shops, restaurants and buses. Since the enemy is everyone, the battle field is everywhere.

Simply put, we have developed a law of war that differs from the Muslim extremist. While the means are different, the goal is the same - to defeat the enemy by force. Needless to say, if the Muslim extremist had a traditional army with armaments, air forces and navies, they would use this over the use of suicide missions. Thoughout Islamic history, the traditional army model has been employed. This was even the case for the Afghanistan's fighting the Russians in the 80's. It is only when the option for such battle is impossible that we have seen the emergence of the suicide attack. The Japanese employed this tactic when they could not confront our forces head on in WWII. The Tamil Tigers of Shri Lanka employed this when they attempts at conventional war failed. And, we see it with the Islamic extremist who cannot compete with our far greater advanced military. Ironically, it is the inability of the Muslim extremist to match our military might that brings out the suicide attacks.

The suicide bomber is something that we will not see an end of any time in the near or distant future. Unfortunately, the tactic works. Terror is a tactic that has been employed by armies, east and west for millennia. It has been part of the arsenal because it works and there is little or no way to change that. While we can disagree with the tactic and find it (rightfully) morally repugnant, separating ourselves wholly from their mentality is an exercise in moral relativism.

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