Some thoughts on asymmetrical war

The philosopher André Glucksmann thinks about terrorism and the dangers of asymmetrical warfare in City Journal (HT: LGF) in a piece called “From the H-Bomb to the Human Bomb”:

The only thing that counts is the intention to wipe out random victims. The systematic resort to the car bomb, to suicide attacks, randomly killing as many passersby as possible, defines a specific style of engagement. When, after Saddam Hussein’s fall, terrorist attacks multiplied in Iraq, they spared no one, especially not Iraqis: schoolchildren in buses or on sidewalks, men and women at the market, the faithful at prayer.

When the naive, the falsely naive, and the downright evil blur categories in support of their ideological prejudices and christen the killer of innocents a “resistance fighter,” more lucid minds disclose a different landscape. Consider an editorial published in a Lebanese paper on August 20, 2003, the day after a bomb-laden cement truck destroyed the United Nations’ center of operations in Baghdad: “Yesterday’s operation against the Baghdad headquarters of the United Nations exemplifies this mentality of destruction. Expel all mediators. Banish every international organization. Let things collapse. Let electricity and water be cut off, and the pumping of oil cease. Let theft prevail. Let universities and schools close. Let businesses fail. Let civic life cease. And at the end of the day the occupation will fail. ‘No!’ protests Joseph Samara, ‘at the end of the road, there will be a catastrophe for Iraq. . . . The attack against the United Nations’ headquarters in Baghdad belongs to another world: it is a form of nihilism, of absurdity, and of chaos hiding behind fallacious slogans, which proves the convergence among those responsible for this action, their intellectual limitation and their criminal behavior.’ ”

We have entered another world. The threat of a new Ground Zero, small or great, advances behind a mask. The human bomb claims the power to strike anywhere, by any means, at any time, spreading his nocturnal threat over the globe, invisible and thus unpredictable, clandestine and thus untraceable. The terrorist without borders makes us think about him always, everywhere. Without an accidental delay on the tracks—just a few minutes—the pulverization of two trains in Madrid, at the Atocha station, would have claimed 10,000 victims, three times more than in Manhattan. Then there was London. Whose turn is next? Each of us waits for the next explosion.

The business of terrorists, after all, is to terrorize—so said Lenin, an uncontested master in the field. The ultimate refinement lies in the inversion of responsibility. Operating instructions: I take hostages, I cut off their heads, I show them on video; those who beg for mercy must address themselves to their governments, who alone are to blame for my crimes: my hubris is their problem…

global terrorism eliminates geostrategic borders and traditional taboos. The last seconds of the condemned of Manhattan, of Atocha, and of the London Underground sent us two messages: “Here abandon all hope,” the Dantesque injunction carried by a bomb that wipes the slate clean; and “Here there is no reason why,” the nihilist gospel of SS officers. Hiroshima signified the technical possibility of a desert that approaches closer and closer to the absolute; Auschwitz represented the deliberate and lucid pursuit of total annihilation. The conjunction of these two forms of the will to nothingness looms in the black holes of modern hatred.

Of course, the most horrific things that Glucksman thinks of may never in fact take place. The Human Bomb may prove to be a self-limiting phenomenon. But it would also appear fair to say that the weight of human history seems to be on the side of “if an awful thing can happen, it probably will.” That is the danger after all, and the bad guys use their weakness versus the great powers as a strategic weapon. As we have said, the logic of nuclear terrorism is that retaliation becomes the crime.

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