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I Like It When Slate Gets Bloody-Minded:

William Saletan writes:

Bin Laden's whole game plan is to turn the people of the democratic world against their governments. He thinks democracies are weak because their people, who are more easily frightened than their governments, can bring those governments down. He doesn't understand that this flexibility -- and this trust -- are why democracies will live, while he will die. Many of us didn't vote for Bush's government or Blair's. But we're loyal to them, in part because we were given a voice in choosing them. And if we don't like our governments, we can vote them out. We can't vote out terrorists. We can only kill them.

Can, should, and will. As they say, except for defeating the Nazis and the Japanese, killing the rapists or murderers who are attacking you, stopping North Korea from overrunning South Korea, and a few other things, violence never solved anything. (And, yes, I realize that violence alone rarely solves everything, and that some violence causes more problems than it solves -- but sometimes it's an important part of a well-balanced defense diet.)

Eh Nonymous (mail) (www):
Nice pointer, thanks.

I like it when Slate gets bloody-minded too... but I wouldn't criticize Ian McEwan's op-ed in the NYT either.

So let us then, with clear-eyed anger, proceed with righteous fury and measured violence (and maybe some intelligent and calculating diplomacy?) against the barbarian.
7.8.2005 2:49pm
Cheburashka (mail):
Don't forget freeing the slaves in North America.

Is there any way of calculating, on the whole, whether violence has been good or bad for society? How would we measure it?
7.8.2005 3:03pm
Windypundit (www):

Is there any way of calculating, on the whole, whether violence has been good or bad for society


Actual violence is always bad, but it's not always the worst thing that could happen. And even when it is, it's often not unilaterally avoidable. If someone attacks you with murder in mind, your only choices may be to kill or be killed. Society would be better off if no one was killed, but if you're the victim, that option is not available to you.
7.8.2005 3:26pm
Justin (mail):
Us constantly ignoring Bin Ladin's more narrow goals and understimating his understanding of democratic politics is getting alot of people killed. It feels good to feel superior to our enemies (and from a moral perspective, its an easy call), but constantly saying that "al queda doesn't get it" would sound a whole lot more convincing if every action we take didn't help their cause.
7.8.2005 3:31pm
heldmyw (mail):
Let me postulate that violence (properly and judiciously applied to preserve life, liberty and the right to pursue happiness, let's say), is much like surgery.

No doctor worth the title will ever tell you that an invasive procedure involving sharp and pointy items slashing away at your tender bits is "a good thing".

That said, for the sorts of things that demand our medical practitioners whet their blades,like, oh, a ruptured appendix on the fast track to sepsis, or an arrowhead festering in a ragged hole in your chest, surgery is a pretty darn fine option. It hurts, It's messy, it takes some recovery and it isn't always successful, but it beats just laying there and dyin'.

Applies pretty well to violence and society.
7.8.2005 3:31pm
The Couch Flying Ace:
I think Col. Cooper has the best view on this.

"One bleeding-heart type asked me in a recent interview if I did not agree that "violence begets violence." I told him that it is my earnest endeavor to see that it does. I would like very much to ensure--and in some cases I have--that any man who offers violence to his fellow citizen begets a whole lot more in return than he can enjoy."
7.8.2005 3:37pm
DVRS (mail):
We can't vote out terrorists. We can only kill them.

This is not true. There are many ways of dealing with terrorists. We can kill them. We can lock them up. We can give them enough of what they want so that they stop committing terrorism or reduce it to (practically, not of course morally) acceptable levels. We can try to change the conditions of the world, or our own actions, in ways that will tend to produce fewer terrorists in the future. We can try to shunt as many of them as possible into political processes.

It's frustrating that anyone who thinks "We can only kill them" is simplistic and misleading runs the risk of being perceived as weak-willed, soft, and appeasing.
7.8.2005 3:59pm
DVRS (mail):
As I read my comment above, I'm not sure I made it sufficiently clear that there are large downsides to many of the options I listed for dealing with terrorism. Some of them would be mistaken in specific cases, and perhaps some would be mistaken in virtually all cases. But it's silly to exclude them from discussion, as if all we need to do is kill more and more terrorists until, finally, none are left.
7.8.2005 4:02pm
SteveMG (mail):
One question - once raised by Rumsfeld in a memo to his staff - is whether we're creating more terrorists than we are killing. Obviously, we can do little with the current crop of Jihadists except kill them or lock them up until they're very old (perhaps until they're dead, since the older elements are encouraging the younger ones to violence).

Obviously Islam has to be saved from within. Even if the Middle East is turned into Jeffersonian democracies, unless non-violent Muslims are able to change the "heart and minds" of the irreconciliable elements, this battle will continue.

How we help that occur is beyond me.

In other words, I haven't got the damndest idea how to win this.

SMG
7.8.2005 4:20pm
Fishbane:
DVRS is on to something, I think. I also like the surgery example in conjunction here - yes, absolutely, have the tumor removed. I hope the doctor is efficient, and effective. But also quit smoking and balance your diet so as to reduce the odds of ending up going under the knife again a couple of years from now.
7.8.2005 4:20pm
heldmyw (mail):
DVRS
quote:"...as if all we need to do is kill more and more terrorists until, finally, none are left".

I'm sure PETA would have a preserve and breeding program set up so we could maintain a viable population until they could be reintroduced into the wild...

[tongue firmly in cheek and no offense meant]
7.8.2005 4:25pm
Cheburashka (mail):

This is not true. There are many ways of dealing with terrorists. We can kill them. We can lock them up. We can give them enough of what they want so that they stop committing terrorism or reduce it to (practically, not of course morally) acceptable levels. We can try to change the conditions of the world, or our own actions, in ways that will tend to produce fewer terrorists in the future. We can try to shunt as many of them as possible into political processes.


Do you have any examples of any of those strategies actually working?
7.8.2005 4:41pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
Cheburashka,

We can try to shunt as many of them as possible into political processes.

That is a good description of what we are trying to do in Iraq. According to R.J. Rummel, liberal democracy is the antidote to war, democide (mass-murder) and famine. I don't know that he has specifically addressed terrorism, though.

Yours,
Wince
7.8.2005 5:11pm
Eh Nonymous (mail) (www):
Cheburashka: interesting question. I would counter-request, can anyone list some of the situations in which violence, and violence alone (without accompanying favorable circumstance) has quelled rebellion or opportunistic terrorism?

That said, sometimes you can kill or scatter every last terrorist, and then the problem is "solved."

I get steamed when the most extreme right hawks accuse the majority of liberals... or whoever... of wanting to "put out indictments on and arrest" the 9/11 hijackers, or their masterminds. Darnit, didn't criminal trials (or military tribunals) work out fairly well for Nazi military officers? I see neo-Nazis around, but no former Nazi leaders. They were arrested, tried, convicted, and put to death, the guilty ones. I hate to risk invoking Godwin's law, but I take it as an article of faith that one can't invoke it while naming it.

So: the hijackers are, alas, beyond the reach of extradition. The Al Qaida leaders may be unarrestable, only snipable. But surely some foolish sponsors or planners will be unlucky enough to be caught, and what then? Shoot them on the battlefield? Or put them on trial, humiliate them, stick them in a jail cell for years, and then maybe (depending on which law is being applied) put them to death?

I will never forget this: a murdered Saddam would have been a martyr. A living and aging and aged and toothless and crazed Saddam does his side little good, no matter what he publishes.
7.8.2005 5:11pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
DVRS. They want you dead. Report to the nearest Wahhabi mosque for processing.
7.8.2005 5:30pm
SteveMG (mail):
"Darnit, didn't criminal trials (or military tribunals) work out fairly well for Nazi military officers?"

Well, it didn't work out well for them, but we get the point. However the trials were conducted after Nazi Germany had been reduced to rubble. It's army slaughtered or in prison camps, it's population reduced to begging for sustenance, it's land totally controlled by the Allied armies.

In other words, after the war was over.

SMG
7.8.2005 8:13pm
grahamc (mail):
DVRS,

There are many who agree with you. Keep that in mind, keep posting well expressed thoughts like this, and ignore the trolls.
7.8.2005 9:26pm
Biff:
"One bleeding-heart type asked me in a recent interview if I did not agree that "violence begets violence." I told him that it is my earnest endeavor to see that it does. I would like very much to ensure--and in some cases I have--that any man who offers violence to his fellow citizen begets a whole lot more in return than he can enjoy."

Eh. The assumption being made here is that retaliatory violence deters aggressive violence. The fundamental insight in the saying "violence begets violence" is that retaliation can act as an incentive to further violence, rather than as a deterrent.

After every terrorist attack, our leaders tell us to "stiffen our resolve", but the thing is, after every retaliation, the terrorists' leaders probably tell them the same thing.
7.8.2005 11:08pm
Bill Mullins:
Robert Heinlein in _Starship Troopers_, 1959:

One girl told him bluntly: "My mother says that violence never settles anything."

"So?" Mr. Dubois looked at her bleakly. "I'm sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that. Why doesn't your mother tell them so? Or why don't you?"

She said shrilly, "You're making fun of me! Everybody knows that Carthage was destroyed!"

"You seemed to be unaware of it" he said grimly. "Since you do know it, wouldn't you say that violence had settled their destinies rather thoroughly? Anyone who clings to the historically untrue -- and thoroughly immoral -- doctrine that 'violence never settles anything,' I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other
factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms."

7.9.2005 2:26am
Mark Poling (mail) (www):
"We can give them enough of what they want so that they stop committing terrorism or reduce it to (practically, not of course morally) acceptable levels."

I agree with you that the approach to terrorism should be multi-modal, but I'm afraid this statement indicates that you don't really get the appeal of terrorism to the terrorist. What they want is fear and capitulation. Does giving a addict more of the sweet stuff make the addict less addicted? No.

(On the otherhand, if the terrorists do manage to O.D. on the stuff, the physical effect will be the West getting Medieval on the entire Middle East's ass....)
7.9.2005 12:09pm
big dirigible (mail) (www):
Hmmm, what did we get from violence? How about Western civilization? It all comes down to one bunch of guys sticking bronze spear points through some other bunch of guys. Postulate that Athenian hoplites had failed to catch and destroy a key portion of an enormous Persian expedition of conquest on the Plains of Marathon. Result, Greece is overrun and becomes a poor man's Persia. Classical civilization as we know it would never have happened. No recognizable classical civilization, no recognizable Europe. No Renaissance, no Age of Enlightenment, no modern liberalism.

Is that sufficient?
7.9.2005 1:28pm
mitch (mail):
Killing is well and good, but there are some rather nasty alternatives:

It's time for some psy-ops activities:

Dip all ammunition and ordnance in pig blood prior to use and let people know about it. Scare the crap out of them. They may "die for Allah" but in their minds they're not going to Paradise and get their 72 virgins. We should exclusively use Israeli bullets when fighting Muslims (or at least imply we are). It's rather difficult to get to a prayer mat, face Mecca and pray with a bullet or three in one's body

Bury all male bodies face down and with a male pig on top of them.

Bomb them with pig parts, pig crap, and shell fish (although I'd rather eat the shrimp and lobster!)

Instead of guard dogs, we use guard pigs.

It is time to take the gloves off and follow the "Chicago Way" - "You wanna know how you do it? Here's how: they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send on of his to the morgue! That's the Chicago way, and that's how you get Capone! Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?" - Sean Connery, The Untouchables

If one believes in irrationality, one should go insane by it.
7.9.2005 1:41pm
billg (mail):
>>...constantly ignoring Bin Ladin's more narrow goals and understimating his understanding of democratic politics is getting alot of people killed...

Nothing we are doing is getting anyone killed. The people doing the killing are solely responsible for their actions. The only reason to try to understand them is to help catch them.

Whether motivated by hatred or love, belief or indifference, oppression or greed, acts of terror are always beyond the pale. They can not be explained away or justified. The motivation is not material.
7.9.2005 3:50pm
asg:
Historical episodes where violence was successfully used to quell rebellion or opportunistic terrorism:

1. Malay insurrection of 1948
2. Indian Mutiny, 1857
3. Mahdist uprising, 1898
4. Taiping Rebellion, 1850 (mixed, since the government was very much weakened by the rebellion)
5. Shays' Rebellion, 1786

Note that in many of these cases (1,2,5), once the rebels were defeated, their grievances were somewhat addressed -- but only after they had been decisively beaten and punished.
7.9.2005 7:42pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Let's see. If you like being Christian, or if you like the idea that people are free to be Christian, you owe something to the guys who fought at Tours, and Lepanto, and with Jan Sobieski at the Siege of Vienna and held the Turks out of Europe over the centuries in Eastern Europe.
They didn't do it by understanding.
7.9.2005 9:21pm
Jake (mail):
Arguing against "violence doesn't solve anything" is a strawman in this case. The question is not whether violence is able to at times solve problems (or to be the best solution) but whether in this particular case violence is the solution. If the War on Terror is to be successful, then violence will surely play an important role. However, to pretend violence alone will solve this problem is naive.

Additionally, the general idea of this entry seems to be "Terrorists want us to stop what we're doing, so we should continue." Thats not a full thought out policy, however. Dissent, even in wartime, is important. The idea that the government is beyond reproach due to war, especially a war undertaken far from US borders, doesn't make any sense. This logic indicates that the US should have continued to fight in Vietnam forever. Instead, both the people of the US and the government must always evaluate whether continuing the current conflict is in the best interests of the country. There is nothing that states a war must be continiously fought until it is won. While one can't simply pull up stakes once a war is going badly, there is a point where you're simply "throwing bad money after good."

Very few if any are calling for an end to the War on Terror. The questions involve, primarily, tactics and methods and whether Iraq ever had a place in that war.
7.9.2005 11:07pm
Brian H (mail):
Jake;
Islamofascism and Global Caliphate-ism are not "dissent". They are attempts to take over, and then permanently impose Sharia on the world. How do you feel about that?
7.10.2005 1:49am
Zev Sero (mail) (www):
Is there any way of calculating, on the whole, whether violence has been good or bad for society
On the whole, the effect of violence has to be negative. Violence never achieves anything good. It doesn't even repair the damage caused by other people's violence. All it does is prevent other people's violence from doing further damage.

Yes, violence stopped Saddam Hussein, and that was a good thing. But the world is still far worse off than it would be had Hussein never engaged in violence in the first place. Even preemptive violence can only cancel out the effects of predicted future violence; it still can't actually make things better than they would be without any violence at all.

The same goes, by the way, for passive defense, such as burglar alarms, locks, insurance, etc. These are huge industries that produce nothing at all; all they do is prevent loss that would otherwise occur. If there were no burglars, nobody would need to spend money on locks and alarms, or insure against theft. If there were no arsonists, the need for fire insurance would be less, and more people would choose to do without it and do something productive with the money. Unfortunately we don't live in a universe where this is possible.
7.10.2005 4:36pm