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An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Seven

Finally, after three “On V Updates to Old Ideas”, we’ve finally gotten to current events and recent-ish articles. Enjoy.

Update to War: It’s Still Unfair

After an Afghan soldier killed two Air Force officers in a secure building in Kabul, General John Allen labeled the perpetrator a “coward”. It reminded us of an excerpt from The Battle for Algiers we posted in “All’s Fair in War: Guerrillas, Justice and Counter-Insurgency”,

"When I watched 'The Battle For Algiers', I was amazed how succinctly the film summarized the western perspective of counter-insurgency warfare. A reporter asks Ben M’hidi, a captured terrorist leader, 'Isn’t it cowardly to use your women’s baskets to carry bombs, which have taken so many innocent lives?'

"Ben M’hidi responds, 'Isn’t it even more cowardly to attack defenseless villages with napalm bombs that kill many thousands of times more? Obviously, planes would make things easier for us. Give us your bombers, sir, and you can have our baskets.'"

If the Eric C/Left Hand of Darkness definition of war--”War is the opposite of civilization”--is true, than civilized norms like honor, valor and cowardice don’t exist in war. “All’s fair in love and war” is another way of saying that nothing in war is.

Update to Cultural (Un)Awarness

Michael C has long written that the U.S. military should improve its cultural awareness. Say what you will about the U.S. burning Korans in Afghanistan, it demonstrates a massive lack of cultural awareness; a blind spot so big we could drive an AT-AT through it. This quote by Nancy Youssef on Washington Week sums up my thoughts:

"You know, Yochi, I was talking to some of my Afghan friends this week and one of the things they said was they couldn’t believe that 11 years into the war, that the United States through all its training and exposure to Muslims, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, were making these basic mistakes of not respecting the Islamic holy book, which is a basic tenet of Islam. What are you hearing in the Pentagon about this? How are they explaining this kind of mistake this late into the war?"

Afghans are not over-reacting. Cultural awareness is putting oneself in another’s shoes. So the Americans who say they don’t get what the big deal is should just imagine a situation where Barack Obama lit an American flag on fire, which was surrounding a bible and pocket Constitution. Would Sean Hannity’s head would explode?

In seriousness, many Americans so value the flag they want to pass a Constitutional amendment forbidding flag burning. The same motivation that inspires Americans to want that amendment motivates Afghans to protest against a burned Koran.

The Debate about Social Media and Revolutions
Consider this another “discovery” where we link to articles that aren’t new temporally, but just a series of good links we have never shared here at On V. In “On Violence's Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2009”, Eric C and I discounted the role Twitter and other social media played in fomenting revolution. Since that post in 2009, the debate around new social media and revolutions has only gotten more complicated:

- First, Malcolm Gladwell in September of 2010 wrote a skeptical New Yorker article about the use of social media in future revolutions.

- Then, Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic wrote an article which disagreed with a few of Gladwell’s core points.

- In February of last year, Gladwell responded in two paragraphs on the Arab Spring, again saying he doesn’t believe social media inherently caused the revolutions.

- Finally, he and Fareed Zakaria debated this point on GPS 360, with Zakaria arguing that social media had some impact while Gladwell points out that a million people got together in East Germany to overthrow the Soviet Union, and they didn’t need Facebook.

- Finally, in December, The Economist wrote that social media helped cause the reformation in the 16th century, well before the Arab Spring.

In the end, we’ll have to wait, probably years from now, to see if studies--subtracting other factors--prove that social media helped cause the Arab Spring, more than they have from time immemorial.

On Killing the Right People...

A recent Small Wars Journal article--“We Own the Night” by Jonathan Smith--debunks a lot of the perceived effectiveness of kill/capture missions, especially when they kill civilians. “Carl”, commenting on my post “Fixing Intelligence is Evidence in Counter-Insurgencies”, argued that instead of saying “don’t kill civilians”, I should write, “Kill the Right People.” I think this article shows how even “killing the right people” can counter-intuitively hurt the long term mission.

More Bad News for Pessimists

But more good news for those few of us who believe the world is, indeed, getting better. Two academics, Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen, argue that the U.S. national security establishment has severely inflated the dangers facing America in an article called, “Clear and Present Safety” in Foreign Affairs. I still haven’t read a a coherent debunking of “the world is getting better” theories.

Update to Whistleblowing

David Carr excellently points out the gulf between the Obama administration praising reporters who seek to uncover wrong doing overseas, and die in the process like Marie Colvin and Anthony Shadid, while harshly prosecuting legitimate whistle-blowers uncovering legitimate waste, fraud, abuse and illegal actions under the espionage act.

two comments

Except for the “clear and Present Peace” idea, this has been a pretty dour little update.

I think that stems from the Koran burning. And we didn’t even touch the events of last weekend.