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On War Against Terrorists, part 1

During the Revolutionary War, British General William Howe's men captured the American Nathan Hale spying on British fortifications. Hale is immortalized among Americans for his final words, "I only regret that I have but one life to give my country". Few people remember that Howe was originally inclined to let Hale live, being impressed with his manners and courage. However, some British officers contended that Hale had been involved, possibly a leader, in the burning of Manhattan in 1776 (while a member of Knowlton's Rangers) to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. While mulling this charge against Hale, Howe was also advised that Hale allegedly participated in sniper attacks as a member of Ethan Allen's "Green Mountain Boys". Howe chose to believe that Hale had been a sniper, which in his view was an illegal and cowardly act, and he forthwith ordered Hale's execution. This incident was representative of the time; Americans revered Hale, Allen, and Washington as heroes while the British regarded their style of warfare as cowardly and unacceptable behavior for civilized military officers.

Even the British, of course, nowadays consider Washington a legitimate hero, but context is essential in grasping the meaning of public debates. It was said that Alexander ordered the immediate execution of enemy archers captured in battle, as he considered it unmanly to kill only from a distance. Of course, this was also the general whose siege tactics included catapulting the corpses of animals killed by plague into cities they attacked. In ancient China, an archer was allowed to shoot at his opponent, but could not fire his second shot until his opponent, if able, returned fire himself. Custom varied in different places and times, but was firm where it was known.

The Aztecs had a strict rule against deliberately killing an enemy on the battlefield, which sounds magnanimous until you consider that they thought it wasteful, the deaths serving a much more useful purpose as human sacrifices in ceremony. And of course in more modern times, there are the distinctive combat styles of the Nazis and the Soviets - the Nazis would commonly accept surrender from a town's leaders only if they personally executed a number of 'undesirables' (partisans or Jews, for example), to show their loyalty to the Reich and by the way seal their own complicity in murder, while the Soviets often broke families apart in contentious zones, raising the children as parentless wards of the State in order to keep them "clean" of their heritage and any tendency to avenge dead parents.

All of this seems to apologize for the character of the terrorist. In fact, however, when examined more closely it reveals just how false the "culture" of the global jihad truly is. The Aztecs were brutal, yet controlled in their selection of victims and manner of killing. On the other hand, as mighty an empire as Britain was in its heyday, the British were extremely scrupulous about protecting innocents - not because the innocents had "rights", but because as they considered themselves a superior people the British restrained themselves. Yet culture after culture has learned that it cannot compel its enemies to abide by its protocols. The Aztecs could not force the Spaniards to fight as they did, nor could Rome make Hannibal fight by its rules. Ask the British about their war in Ireland, or the Soviets about the mujahadin. Or for that matter, why China is having so much trouble crushing Tibet? No plan to fight terrorism is going to be effective unless you understand your enemy's plan, boundaries, and limits.

- continued -

Boundaries and limits are two very different things. The short explanation is that boundaries are what you will not do, while limits set off what you cannot do. Nations and cultures which enjoy a sense of superiority are likely to establish ethical boundaries which subversive groups do not use. It is an unresolved debate whether such boundaries are helpful or a liability in the war, the decision must be considered case by case but for here it is important to recognize that this difference exists in most asymmetrical conflicts.

For the civilized world (for here, we may simply say those nations which generally cooperate with the United States in security matters and which generally work to prevent terrorist operations in their territory or using their resources), winning against terrorists includes the identification of their limits - determining then implementing what would cripple their operational ability. Essentially this means attacking the three legs of recruiting, logistics, and communication of terrorist groups. The chief focus of the Bush Administration war in the Middle East employed these objectives to good result. Regardless of policy, the Obama Administration has both the resources and personnel to continue this focus effectively in a number of different ways.

The greatest threat from any terrorist group is the wide range of targets, methods, and tools it may use. The first attempt against the World trade Center in 1993 used a truck bomb, but in 2001 very different tactics were used. We are soberly reminded of the IRA taunt after an attempt on the Royal Family that evil men 'only need to be lucky once'. No matter how Obama is seen by the world, it is certain that terrorists will attack the United States again as soon as they are able, and likely personally attack Obama as well.

Every President is a high-profile target, and the celebrity image of Barack Obama is certainly not masking his profile. This is not to say that things would be different for anyone else in the office, but that there is a clear and significant personal risk for Obama regardless of his policy or strategy choice. If by some chance that was not enough to lock his focus on the problem, President Obama should consider that his wife and daughters are also high-profile targets, especially to terrorists who consider Americans weak for valuing women as equal to men. The naïve idea that if we retreat that our enemies will leave us alone, is quickly dispelled by even a brief look at the history of terrorism, from the Black Hand in the 19th Century, to the various incarnations of Socialist radical groups in the 20th Century, to the Jihadist movements of the 21st Century.


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Comments (18)

I believe that Obama... (Below threshold)
dr lava:

I believe that Obama is in far greater danger from the racist far right fanatic encouraged by conservative radio than by any foreign terrorist.

I read stuff on this blog all the time that is absolutely astounding to me in its bigotry, hatred and stupidity.

I am not suggesting DJ is a part of this and I am referring to comments not authors.

DJ, I'm sure Howe thought h... (Below threshold)

DJ, I'm sure Howe thought he was doing Hale a favor. Snipers caught on the battlefield were so despised by British soldiers that they were put to death by bayonet. Surrender for a sniper was not a option.

Dr. L: "I read stuff on this blog all the time that is absolutely astounding to me in its bigotry, hatred and stupidity."

I think you'll find some of that on any blog. Liberal or conservative. If you want extreme examples go to Huffpo or Daily Koz.

I don't think that Obama is... (Below threshold)

I don't think that Obama is more valuable as a target than any other president has been. Besides, Obama may be lukewarm on the importance of national defense, but I sure he understands the importance of a well-equipped and robust secret service program.

Sure there is stup... (Below threshold)
dr lava:

Sure there is stupidity everywhere but racism is definitely NOT a trait of liberal bloggers.

As far as terrorist targets I think President Zardari is way higher in priority and terrifyingly a much more achievable goal.

If you want to spend a few sleepless nights a MUST READ is David Sangers book, "The Inheritance"


Remember that President Oba... (Below threshold)

Remember that President Obama ceased to be Barack H. Obama the day he was inaugurated. For those that violently oppose the Western way of life he is now the ultimate symbol of the United States.

That is what will make him a target. Not the (D) or the (R), or whether he's liberal, centrist, or conservative. Nobody outside the U.S. really cares about that anyhow.

Dr. Lava: I am very well aware that you disagree with all things conservative or republican. Such is your right. However, that does not make one racist or bigoted, and to suggest such a thing is small-minded, to say the least.

And as for stupid, well, that's your opinion. 48% of the people that voted think your ideology is ridiculous too. There was only 4 percentage points difference between the two.

Can't tell if that's scoria... (Below threshold)

Can't tell if that's scoria or coprophytes up there in 1 and 4.

It doent really matter any ... (Below threshold)

It doent really matter any more. Now that Obamas in charge, we are going to love the enemy into submission.

"Terrorists" is too nebulou... (Below threshold)

"Terrorists" is too nebulous of a term to use in a survey of warfare and therefore hinders learning. It would take too much space to expound on the futility of branding forces as diverse as the Timurids, Chetniks, Ustachi, and Irgun "terrorists", and sure enough, has been found inadequate by history as a descriptor for these terroristic forces.
Put another way: in a debate or a discussion you may spend most of your time clarifying your terminology, to the detriment of your thesis.

Ref #7. To put it bluntly, ... (Below threshold)

Ref #7. To put it bluntly, get your head out of your butt. Nobody knows what our President is going to/not going to do. Please explain in detail how you know what you just spouted off about!

In other words, prove it or shut up.

Terrorism is only useful in... (Below threshold)

Terrorism is only useful in a debate/discussion on warfare if both sides agree on the definition. Which both sides almost never do...

"Terrorists is too nebulous... (Below threshold)

"Terrorists is too nebulous of a term"

Yeah, that's a real hard one. So instead we'll spend all our time contemplating our navels.

Here's a somewhat simplified definition:

The use of force or violence upon a civilian population in order to impose some particular groups ideology on the nation without it's consent.

The use of force or violenc... (Below threshold)

The use of force or violence upon a civilian population in order to impose some particular groups ideology on the nation without it's consent.
11. Posted by GarandFan

The shelling of Gaza City?

Obama is in more danger tha... (Below threshold)

Obama is in more danger than any recent President because he's wildly popular and controversial in some ideas he has. That makes him a target of the fringe and terrorists are fringe groups by definition. That includes racist bigots who, by the way, are not confined to the right.

Nutcases have ideologies as crutches, not causes.

bryanD-Ref #12: Th... (Below threshold)
24usmcr Author Profile Page:


Ref #12: The shelling of Gaza City is called "counter-battery fire" and "self-defense" against the rocket-fire directed by Hamas into the cities and towns of Israel.

Seems to me that Hamas is trying to impose their ideology upon Israel who obviously has not given their consent. You need to get the sequence of events correct before you can determine who is the terrorist.

Shalom, Good Buddy!!

24usmc, The entire Gaza ope... (Below threshold)

24usmc, The entire Gaza operation is a psy-ops attempt to make the Palestinians "sorry" that they ELECTED Hamas as a government. Need you be reminded that Israeli drones have been used to assassinate Hamas politicians since the outcome of a free election? Classic terroristic methodology wrapped in field tactics. Strategy: punishment.

"The entire Gaza operation ... (Below threshold)

"The entire Gaza operation is a psy-ops attempt to make the Palestinians "sorry" that they ELECTED Hamas as a government."

Yeah, like over 3000 rockets and mortars fired into CIVILIAN areas in Israel shouldn't provoke a military response.

How about I drive by your house every couple days and open fire just for shits and grins? I would hope that you wouldn't be offended and do something radical, like call the police. Or, heaven forbid!, start shooting back.

Perhaps the only thing more... (Below threshold)
steve m:

Perhaps the only thing more dangerous than a terrorist, is a terrorist apologizer.

That's apologist, no... (Below threshold)

That's apologist, not apologizer, smrrrt guy.






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