Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Not the Western Way of War

Belmont club here discusses two ways of looking at the "War on Terror". One, comes from a Tech Central Station article by Lee Harris in which he suggests that what Al Qaeda is fighting is not a war, but a blood feud.

Now, these sort of got me thinking a bit.

See, if you think about it, war is rather odd. Some years back, I read a very good book by Victor Davis Hanson called The Western Way of War, which looks into the origins of war in ancient Greece. Much of it is about the development and workings of the Greek phalanx (one of the most powerful military tactics of the ancient world) but it also addresses the development of the practice of warfare in the West.

One of the things he points out, is that war was to an extent a ritual. An army would invade another city state and set about devastating the fields, while the population would fall back behind the defensive walls of a city. Then the army of the invaded city state would go out to confront the invaders. But as Hanson points out, grape vines and olive trees are pretty hard to damage. It's arguable that they could have just ignored the invaders and waited for them to go away, or harassed them from time to time until they gave up. Instead, for whatever reason, the Greeks felt it was necessary to go out and fight. The campaigning season usually lasted only a couple months. And then the war was over -- at least for the moment.

Modern warfare is infinitely more destructive in scope, but in one respect the Western Way of War has remained the same: we think of a war as something that you begin to achieve a specific objective, pour resources into, and then win or lose. Al Qaeda, however, is doing something wholly different. They talk about objectives such as establishing a new caliphate, but none of their actions are calculated to achieve this objective. Nor do they see any necessity of pouring all their resources into their 'war'. Rather, they seek to continue to exist as a threat to us, and to kill some of us every so often.

It is indeed much more like a blood feud than a war. And if bring up the interesting question: How do you fight an enemy like that, without taking the draconian approach of trying to wipe out every person who is a member of the group carrying on the feud? Trying to create stable democracies in the Middle East is certainly one approach, and we may be making some progress on it, but the problem is not that easily solved.

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