Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Mad" and "Mindless" Terrorism

            The most important thing I learned my freshman year in college was in American Military History. Artillery officers during World War I, the MilSci 101 textbook said, were given charts for rolling barrages that told them the rates at which to elevate the tubes of their weapons to shoot ordnance to advancing coordinates in a manner that would maximize enemy casualties and — by killing the enemy and suppressing enemy fire — minimize casualties among one's own troops. Built into the tables was a percentage of one's own who would be killed (wounded, maimed) by "friendly fire": one's own shells.
            The tables were clearly the products of rational behavior: "rational," from the Latin ratio, meaning "reckoning, calculation"; and they epitomized for me the scary recognition that the "MilSci" label for the discipline was meaningful; "Military Science and Tactics," and the "science" part was serious.
            War, the intentional killing, wounding, and maiming of people in large numbers; the intentional destruction of property, the product of human toil and often ingenious or brilliant labor — war was rational.
            In the first hour, "perhaps the first minutes" of the Battle of the Somme, 21,000 British soldiers were killed, mostly by massed musketry as they would have said in earlier wars, and machine guns, and artillery. The Battle of the Somme on the British side was stupid and a crime against humanity and against the British Expeditionary Force — and it was carefully planned and had a theory behind it and was by-Heaven rational: reckoned, calculated, just calculated wrong.
            I've been thinking about this after hearing some respectable leaders and more politicians and pundits talking about the attacks on Brussels, Belgium, on 22 March 2016 using clichés about "mad and mindless terrorism."
            Terrorism is always and necessarily vicious and criminal and evil; it is rarely mindless, or mad outside of fanatical devotion to a goal (an "end") that justifies killing and maiming people as a means.
            Terrorism is "propaganda by the deed," and it's obviously effective when, for a while, the murders in Brussels got more coverage than President Obama's diplomacy — or even Donald Trump.
            Terrorism shows that people with minimal military capacity can effectively attack at least "soft" targets in well-established and well-armed States and alliances, undermining confidence in those States and causing them to devote significant resources to preventing further attacks.
            "Evil" is a dangerous concept, but one we need. It is evil to kill, wound, maim, and/or terrorize people to impose one's will on them. It may sometimes be the least of several evils: they're rare, but there can be just wars. The evil of terrorism is almost always merely evil and beyond any justification; it can still be a sane and rational evil choice as a tactic, and God knows it's been around for over two millennia.

1 comment:

  1. What think you, Rich: can we kill our way out of ISIS attacks ? ----Thom Dunn