VERY ROUGH DRAFT:
In my Defense of the Death Penalty, one of the key points is that the value of life is set in a market, not as an absloute. It may be an absolute to you that every life is precious, and frankly, I appreciate your upward contribution to the aggregate value, but there are people who do not hold so refreshing a view as yours. To some, the value of your life is to be measured against, say, the value of that wristwatch of yours, as modified by your ability to deny its possession. In this way, perhaps the Buddhists are correct, in that the value of your worldly wealth is subtracted from the value of your life (this is a gross simplification, and I hope any Buddhist reader would offer a beter phrasing).
This marketplace for the value of life has many implications, and we turn now from the microeconomics of mugging and self-defense to the macroeconomics of war and collective defense. Of course there is a middle ground which is approached from the micro- side through the effecvt of laws such as capital punishment and its upward contribution to the value of each individual life through by modifying downward the potential value of any goods gained through taking that life–the threat of payment in kind. This sort of middle ground, the interplay between large and small scale effects in questions of life and death of individuals and groups, can also be approached from the macroeconomic side by looking at war, rules of war, and conduct of individuals in wartime. An esential feture of markets is that they offer differing products, so we will let the valuse of lives adjust to local market conditions and prevailing sector values–think of a black man’s life in Mississippi in 1820, a Baptist minister’s in Saudi Arabia today, or an outspoken student journalist in Tiananmen Square, China in 1989. Some factors are global, some are local, some are categorical, and some are due to individual action. It is not racist, classist, or anything-else-ist for us to point out thse functions of a market.
Suicide atacks are generally frowned upon, and typically seen to be less effective than conventional attacks, except in rare circumstances. This is the key to understanding how war has changed, and why the Long War will be, well, long, and why it won’t look liie any progress is being made, when in fact your continued existence should be taken as proof positive that we are winning–that is what it means to be playing defense–get used to it.
What has changed is that the sxtenuatuing circumstances whoch would justify suicie attacks were hostorically lilmited to short-term situations. Japan near the end of World War II was hopelessly overmatched, yet for complex reasons would not syurrender. Part of it was simple stubborn/honor-based notions of the meaning of surrender, some of it was realist fear of retribtib not rom the victor, bt from the victor’s associstes (China, Korea, the rest of Aisa–one could argue the America’s presence in Japan over the last 60 years jas been as much to protectr japan from asian retributuon as much as to support operations against COmmunism. I just may argue that later), and some of it was due to the agonizing sloth of bureaucrqatic politics the likes of which are rarely seen in the West.
This put Japan in the position of fighting a conventional war that they could not win, and they could not stop fighting. This desperation led to eserate tactics, the real result of which was to increase the cost of each attack the Japanese attempted. There were successful aspects of the widespread adoption of the tactic, functioning as a portable minefield–it won’t wipe out the American attacker (since Japan was by this time now on the defense), but it would make the advance so painful and dangerous that the Americans were foced to slow down and consolidate before each step forward, and hunker down while consolidating.
But the increased cost of each suicide attack, whereby it used to take a bomb for each attack and the risk of a pilot and plane, but now it takes a pilot and plane, and don’t even count the cost of the bomb, meant that the suicide attack, as a tactic employed by a state fighting a conventioal war was limited in time–it was only an end-game tactic, to somehow have an upward influence on the potential outcome–perhaps the Americans can be persuaded not to invade–perhaps they can be sued for peace (incongruous with the refusal to surrender, but not unthinkable given rapidly changing circumstances)–perhaps we can hurt them eough that they back off and we ratake the offensive. Whatever the hoped-for effect, it was a temporary tactic. As a nation, japan expected Victory or Death, and was guaranteed one or the other if they refused to surrender.
There as been much talk recently about the effectiveness of suicide tactics, and te motivation of people at an individual level. I will be quick to point tout that any fghting man, or any threatened mother, for that matter, can be persuaded to engage in a suicide attack. In the market of human lives, sometime’s even one’s own highest price is met by the bidder–be it an enemy soldier with a grenade in your tent, or a bear menacing wither you or your children. So for the rest of this discussion, I will not address suicide attacks as a pathology of the individual, but as a rational choice made by individuals. The pathology comes in when suicide attacks are embraced as a society, or a force.
In April 2006, three bombs went off at a crowded Mosque in Najaf. Two, and perhaps all three were attached to suicide atackers. The tactics were impressive. This particular mosque was heavily guarded, so the first bomb was blown close to but well outside of the compound. In the ensuing panic, the protion of the corwd closest to the mosque ran into the compund and into the mosque, and thw more suicide bombers infiltrated by simply mixing with that crowd.
The bombers did not need to overwhelm mosque security–they let the panicked crowd do that for them. Cost, one suicide bomber, and don’t worry about the cost of the bomb. It would likely have cost more attacking lives to overwhelm the security forces in a conventional fight, say a gun battle, than the suicide attack did. The difference is that the single suicide attacker was guaranteed to die, whereas each individual in a squad has only a risk of dying. No matter how hopeless the attack, each given attacker could potentially survive a conventional attack. This is of course not the case when you blow your own vest.
The rest is fairly straightforward; the remaining attackers rushed in and blew their vests at different locations. The attackers took down an entire mosque, killed 79 innocents and wounded presumably twice that number, and all on the third aniversary of the fall of the famous statue of Saddam. You know, that one.
In cost/benefit terms, this operation was a success. For that matter, so have most of these suicide attacks. One reason is that they are targeting soft targets. Another is that their opponent has not yet begin fighting as if this were a war of survival. America is still fighting this war as a side job.
If suicide attacks are so sucessful, why are they not used more often? The attacks are successful on the microeconomic scale, ut on the macro- scale, something else happens. The average value of all lives on the suicide bomber’s side goes down. If Americans manning checkpoints feel ever more threatened by jihadi bombers, then the Americans have ever less resistance to shooting suspect pedestrians and speeding cars when too close to the checkpoint. Again, in this arena with a lowered value on the life of people behaving oddly near checkpoints, an individual lowers the value of his wn life considr=erably by speeding toward a checkpoint, or by walking across the road several times on the approach.
There is a restoring function, however. When the value of lives is lowered, people are by definition exposed to more risk. On a macro-scale, people will tend to resist this, but only if the market is allowed to functiuon. If oqdinary Iraqi begin to fear the Americans in their neighborhoods because thy know the jihadis, who are indistinguishable from ordinary Iraqis unitl it is potentially too late, are making the AMericns nervous, then the ordinary Iraqis do not want the jihadis around. The actual mechanism here is arguable however–perhaps the ordinary Iraqis can more easily persuade the Americans to leave than persuade the jihadis to stop. Tye key to this one, then, is community syupport. If the jihadis have no community suport, then they will be easier to convice to stop or leave, but uif they are supported, it is easier to get the Americans to leave. Likewise American support. This is what is meant by “hearts and minds”. Americans distributing chocolate is not short-sighted appeasement any more than restoring the power grid, or on that metter overthrowing Saddam was. Everything is designed to show the raqi people that tey are better off with American influence and friendship than without it–that we, and the welcoming community of nations have more to offer than the dead hand of jihad.
One reason the market has functioned less well thatn we would like is that we have hobnbled the restoring function, and for two reasons–one good and one bad. The good reason for hobbling the restoring function is that it depends upon ordinary Iraqis being afrad iof the consequences of AMericans feeling threatened in the neighborhoods of Iraq. This means allowing American forces’ own fear to dictate that they shoot first and ask questions later, wiping out Iraqis as they see fit. Clearly, this is wrong, and we’re not going to do it. It is therefore a good reason not to allow the market to run free.
On the other hand, if Americans were more serious about this war, we would be standing up in other arenas where we are currently, well, lying down. Abdul Rahman. Danish Cartoons. CAIR. Border security. These are all literlally life-and-0death issues where the official, and popular American position has been a big shrug. If we fought in these areas as if our lives depended upon it, we would see fewer suicide bombings, including those like the 9/11, 3/11 and 7/7 attacks, in the long run. Unfortunately, in the Long War, the long run is a hard sell in the short term, and it is the here and now where the jihdis are winning the battles for the long term.
America does not yet feel threatened enough to behave in a market-dictated fashion. It is as if the cost of raw materials started to soar, but one manufacturer stubbornly refused to adjust prices or output. It won’t matter how much market share he captures if all he can do with it is sell at a loss–it looks like a short term winner, but it is death in the long term.
There is an argument that America is responsible for creating the suicide bombers. Technicallym this is correct, but not in the way “people” like disgraced former professor Ward Churchill think.
The Japanese kamikaze atacks were our creation as well. We were winning that war so undeniably, so completely, that they gave up on the conventional war–that is, after all, the only way to get people to kill themselves for a goal–leave them no other hope. As several observers on both sides of the war said before it even began, American production, as brought to the Pacific by the heroism of the American military, overwhelmed Japan so staggeringly that for the first time in two thousand years, they wondered in a very real and short-term sense if their nation would survive. That does things to people. The individual perception of self-worth in the long term goes to zero if the short-term is a disaster, and this person is now willing to die for an ideal. Note that this statement also applies to the grenade in the tent scenario, the bear between you and your children scenarion, and it also applies to people living in a society which offers as little to its own as political Islam does.
The world of Islam is a billion people who during the twentieth century slid into eligibility for “martyrdom operations”. The West went from horses to Segways, and from kites to Lunar landings in the same period of time that political Islam went from camels to camels, except where oil and the money of the West was involved. That billion people have accomplished absolutely nothing in the last hundred years, except in their sole area of success, where they have been sucessfully prostituted by their own ruling class to people who don’t even pray five times a day, and this is *still* not how America has created the suicide bombers–this is just the precondition.
Duruing the same hundred years, America and the West have developd more and more sophisticated methods of warfare, enabling on the micro- scale, one person to kill many more than before. When stated this way, it sounds like insanity. But on a macroeconomic scale, this causes fewer casualties total, because killing people was never the point; control is the point, and if a small force can sucessfully threaten a larger one, then they need not be killed if they can be controlled. Tis is crucial–the increase in the lethality of modern weapons in the twentieht century has resulted in fewer and fewer deathcs and cansualties.
The problem is that the West and the Communist bloc and all of their client states were playing the same game–conventioanl war, sometimes with the strategic deterrents to conventional war thrown in. The big problme now is that the forces of jihad are not state-based, cannot fight a conventioal war, and cannot even move from their hut to a car outside without being seen by airborn thermal imaging. Tey can only aproack by blending into crowds, and they can only attack by suicide. If America were fighting this war with the weapons of World War II, the jihadis would be figthing in armies, because it would pffer some hope of at least affecting our position. Perhpas they would never win a war by squads, but they could accomplsh their goals of influencing our policy. Against the awesome technology we now employ, there is no hope of even getting our attention without blowing themselves up to do it, and there are a limited number of ways that this will change.
One is the Iranian bomb. [discuss]
One is America fighting this as if it mattered. [discuss]