Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Asymmetric Warfare: Some Thoughts

     It’s everywhere these days. It colors many aspects of our world, yet it often goes unnoticed. And it has some valuable lessons for us.

     Something deep and primitive in the human psyche urges us to go head-to-head against the enemy, whoever he is. When the fight-or-flight reflex kicks in, he who chooses to fight almost always goes straight at his opponent, even if the opponent is much larger, stronger, and better equipped. And in most such cases of unequal ability and / or equipment, we may celebrate the little guy’s courage, but seldom award him a victor’s laurels.

     We learn slowly, but we learn. It might have taken millennia and losses innumerable, but eventually, military tacticians learned not to pit strength against strength: to look for and assault weak points at which they might create breakthroughs. That development was one of the few intellectual advances from World War I.

     Yet the primal urge to go straight at ‘em remains powerful. Consider these two passages from On Broken Wings. In the first, Louis is training Christine to fight:

     “Combat is about advantages and how fast you can use them. Everyone has both strengths and weaknesses: you, me, those creeps who came here for you. You never pit strength against strength. You always look for weakness. If you can concentrate your strength against your opponent's weakness before he does the same to you, you have the advantage, and you win. Otherwise, you lose.”
     “You make it sound like a game.”
     “It is a game. There are no rules, and the stakes are your life, but aside from that...”

     In the second, later passage, Christine has just seen her lover murdered before her eyes:

     Her new love stared sightlessly up at her. She crouched over him, felt for his pulse, found none, and began to scream.
     It was a scream of loss and pain, but it was more. Rage swelled within her, pure and lethal, until her universe could hold nothing else.
     It was the call of a predator who has summoned all his powers and challenges his enemy to come forth from the forest to meet him in a final trial of strength and ferocity. It echoed from the buildings and gathered itself to pound against the dome of the sky. It foretold a great battle and a river of blood. It promised death and destruction in a universal tongue. No creature that heard that howl could do other than flee.

     This brilliant, superlative fighter, a supreme master of the arts of combat who’d been trained by the greatest warriors in human history can think of nothing but plunging straight at the biker gang she thinks responsible for the murder. She would have done it, too, if she hadn’t been delayed long enough to receive some all-important counsel from one of her teachers. That’s how basic the go straight at ‘em impulse is.

     Great fury tends to neutralize the higher reasoning centers. When that happens, the go straight at ‘em impulse will be unchecked. Only if the raging one is fortunate enough to be delayed, such that his rationality can return before he does something rash, will deeper analysis of the tactical situation prevail.

     Occasionally, a government will incorporate enough delaying mechanisms to enforce the return to cool reasoning in the aftermath of an attack. Black Tuesday, September 11, 2001, illustrates how important such a delay can be. Had the United States been under the rule of an absolute hegemon, he might well have lashed out at the entire Islamic world with nuclear weapons. If you were alive and awake when the 9/11 atrocities occurred, that might have been your immediate impulse as well. (Yes, it was mine.) It certainly would have been emotionally satisfying, but whether it would have been the best choice of responses is doubtful.

     Among the terrors of today is the potential for an unanticipated, unannounced attack by a weapon of mass destruction. Had the 9/11 atrocity in Manhattan been committed with a nuclear weapon, President Bush would have had a harder time resisting the impulse to bathe the entire Muslim Middle East in nuclear fire. He might have resisted or been restrained nonetheless, but the impulse would have been near to overwhelming. The magnitude of the sense of violation matters.

     If you’ve read Freedom’s Scion and Freedom’s Fury, reflect on how fortunate it was for the Loioc that Althea Morelon wasn’t carrying a planet-buster when she was attacked with the nanites the Loioc used to render their men non-sentient. Put yourself in her place, and load a couple of notional planet-killing weapons into the hold of Liberty’s Torch. (The starship, not the website.) Would you have been able to resist the genocidal urge?

     It’s my hope, as an amateur of strategic thinking, that Mankind will learn more and better techniques in asymmetric warfare as we progress. We need them. Consider, if you will, the ravagings Muslim terrorists are inflicting upon the peoples of Europe. The Islamic campaign to conquer Europe has two principal prongs:

  • Terrorist strikes;
  • Reproduction.

     Clearly, the First World cannot and must not attempt to use those tactics in response. Neither would it suffice to deploy any other conventional law-enforcement or military tactic. The nations of Europe must develop a new tactic with which to reply: something just as asymmetric to the Muslim invaders’ tactics as the invaders’ ploys are to conventional nation-against-nation warfare.

     I cannot foresee that tactic. It probably won’t be military, though that’s not guaranteed. It might be economic; it might be religious or philosophical; or it might be something wholly outside historical experience. But the necessity is plain.

     The inverse of go straight at ‘em is hit ‘em where they ain’t. The First World’s military strategists and tacticians have grasped that. The time has come for the rest of our institutions to follow suit.

     If you’d like to supplement the rather somber article above with a little levity, consider this: I got the impulse to write about the topic from reading this article. Enjoy your laughter, to be sure, but reflect on the commonality of the principles, as well.

1 comment:

jabrwok said...

Containment would work, though it does nothing about the Muslims who are already here. Accept no more and energetically proselytize those who are in the West (legally) into assimilating and/or converting to a more benign faith.

But the first step is to close the gates.