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Three DoubleQuotes via Paradoxes of War MOOC

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there's actionable intel, and then there's the chewable kind -- guess where my own interest is focused ]
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There’s a cognitive style that’s embedded in the concept of actionable intelligence, and in the software and trainings that serve it, Palantir being among the most notable. And there’s a cognitive style that’s embedded in the concept of “inactionable” intelligence, and in any software and trainings that serve it, the HipBone/Sembl/DoubleQuotes combo fitting into the way of things under that “uncomfortable” rubric.

So let’s give those cognitive modes other names, and call them, for simplicity: act-on mode and chew-on mode. Some people need to act on the intelligence they receive, some need to chew on it.

The three DoubleQuotes that follow are the byproduct of today’s discussions on Princeton’s Paradoxes of War MOOC, and to mmy mind they’re worth chewing on.

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Brilliant! These two quotes are juxtaposed as epigraphs to James Der Derian‘s paper, War as Game. Given my interest in both war and games, that was a natural DoubleQuote to borrow..

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The thing about Thomas Friedman‘s quote — which became a semi-tongue-in-cheek theory after he wove it into his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, under the name “The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention” — is that it traces back so directly to Immanuel Kant, thus demonstrating the theorem, applicable to both waterways and spiritual utterances, that matters whose beginnings are pure tend to accrue contaminants as they move away from source — an effect for whose religious variant Max Weber coined the phrase, “the routinization of charisma”.

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Lastly, here’s one for the Zenmaster, knowing his appreciation both for ancient history as it relates to military matters, and for the art and science of education:

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Sources:

  • Der Derian, Epigraphs from War as Game

  • Friedman, Big Mac
  • Kant, Perpetual Peace

  • Mead, Military Recruiters
  • Deligiannis, The Spartan ‘Agoge’
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    Posts from my Coursera classes I — dehumanization, consequences

    Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- where brute reality & instinct collide head-on with morality & military professionalism ]
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    I’ve been taking various MOOCs recently — online courses from places like the University of Leiden, the START program at the University of Maryland, and Princeton, on topics relating to counter-terrorism and warfare. In some cases, I have been TA-ing these courses, and I’ve offered to write a FAQ for the folks at Leiden on religious aspects of their terrorism course. Most recently, in a Princeton course on “paradoxes of war” I have been finding myself writing some short essay-style summaries of my thinking on various topics, supplemented with appropriate source materials, and thought I’d post some of them here for commentary and further refinement.

    Here’s the first, responding to some posts on the incident where a group of US videotaped themselves urinating on Taliban corpses — an issue in which brute reality and instinct collide head-on with morality and military professionalism.

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    I have read through this thread with interest, appreciating the various voices raised and at the same time wishing that more of the available research was more widely known.

    Several scholars have studied the realities of “dehumanization” and written about it, and what they have to say can usefully support some of our own thoughts about the matter, and in some cases challenge us to look deeper into war and its effects.

    We might start our considerations from the work of Brigadier General S. L. A Marshall, official historian of the European theater in World War II for the US Army. As a 2012 Guardian article put it:

    Marshall’s astonishing contention, debated vigorously ever since, was that about 75% of second world war combat troops were unable to fire their weapons on the enemy. Guns were discharged, but they would be deliberately aimed over the heads of the enemy. The vast majority of soldiers couldn’t actually kill. And, in the midst of combat, they became de facto conscientious objectors.

    Indeed, in his 1947 book Men Against Fire: the problem of Battle Command, Marshall argued:

    It is therefore reasonable to believe that the average and healthy individual — the man who can endure the mental and physical stress of combat — still has such an inner and usually unrealized resistance towards killing a fellow man that he will not of his own volition take life if it is possible to turn away from that responsibility.

    That’s the scholarly basis for holding that soldiers don’t “naturally” want to kill their enemies, even when under fire. It is entirely possible to disagree with Marshall, but to do so effectively requires more than a simple opinion: it requires research.

    This would be a horribly long piece if I jammed everything I want to say into one post, particularly since the conversation had already covered so much ground by the time I came across it — so I’ll break here, and follow up shortly with more pieces of the puzzle as I see it.

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    Let’s pick up the thread where I left off in a previous post about General Marshall’s finding that humans tend to avoid killing one another, even in time of war.

    Sebastian Junger, who hung out for the better part of a year with troops in one of the most heavily contested parts of Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, describing what he saw there in the book War and the film Restrepo, which he directed. Junger commented not so long ago in the Washington Post:

    I can’t imagine that there was a time in human history when enemy dead were not desecrated. Achilles dragged Hector around the walls of Troy from the back of a chariot because he was so enraged by Hector’s killing of his best friend. Three millennia later, Somali fighters dragged a U.S. soldier through the streets of Mogadishu after shooting down a Black Hawk helicopter and killing 17 other Americans …. Clearly, the impulse to desecrate the enemy comes from a very dark and primal place in the human psyche. Once in a while, those impulses are going to break through.

    And:

    They are very clear about the fact that society trains them to kill, orders them to kill and then balks at anything that suggests they have dehumanized the enemy they have killed.

    But of course they have dehumanized the enemy—otherwise they would have to face the enormous guilt and anguish of killing other human beings …. It doesn’t work …, but it gets them through the moment; it gets them through the rest of the patrol.

    That’s the evidence from the front lines — in a war still winding down as we speak — for the practical necessity of dehumanizing the enemy.

    Next up: the psychological impact.

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    Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former Ranger who has taught psychology at West Point, agrees with Marshall that we humans tend to be averse to killing one another, and with Sebastian Junger on the necessity of desensitization in time of battle:

    During the Vietnam era millions of American adolescents were conditioned to engage in an act against which they had a powerful resistance. This conditioning is a necessary part of allowing a soldier to succeed and survive in the environment where society has placed him.

    In his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War, he explores how the US has responded to such findings as Grossman’s, by a “triad of methods used to enable men to overcome their innate resistance to killing” including “desensitization, classical and operant conditioning, and denial defense mechanisms”.

    He then goes on to point out the moral obligation these simple facts place on those who send sons and daughters, wives and husbands, fathers and mothers into harm’s way:

    But if society prepares a soldier to overcome his resistance to killing and places him in an environment in which he will kill, then that society has an obligation to deal forthrightly, intelligently, and morally with the psychological repercussions upon the soldier and the society. Largely through an ignorance of the processes and implications involved, this did not happen for Vietnam veterans — a mistake we risk making again as the war in Iraq becomes increasingly deadly and unpopular.

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    But what are the “processes and implications involved”?

    Archbishop Desmond Tutu is neither a battle-hardened soldier like Marshall and Grossman, nor a war correspondent like Junger — but he cuts to the point where there’s a potential disconnect between life “up range” and the realities “back home” when he says:

    when we dehumanize someone, whether you like it or not, in that process you are dehumanized. A person is a person through other persons. If we want to enhance our personhood, one of the best ways of doing it is enhancing the personhood of the other.

    And he’s right, it seems.

    Psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, author of the book Achilles In Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character, found that dehumanizing the enemy during the Vietnam war caused psychological damage to American troops:

    Restoring honor to the enemy is an essential step in recovery from combat PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). While other things are obviously needed as well, the veteran’s self-respect never fully recovers so long as he is unable to see the enemy as worthy. In the words of one of our patients, a war against subhuman vermin “has no honor.” This in true even in victory; in defeat, the dishonoring makes life unendurable.

    So that’s the impact of killing an enemy you have dehumanized — and the moral situation we need to reckon with when we send others into the line of fire on our behalf.

    Perhaps now it is time to take a closer and less dehumanized look at our enemies.

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    On which point I’ll have more to say in an uncoming post

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    Two notes relating to Boko Haram

    Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- one on the scripturally-sanctioned revenge abductions of women and the other on Hausa nomenclature, with a possible correlate in Sudan ]
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    Boko Haram and revenge:

    Jacob Zenn and Elizabeth Pearson have an important piece on War on the Rocks titled Boko Haram and the Kidnapping of Women: A Troubled Tactic. Here are some key quotes I’d like to bring the attention of Zenpundit readers:

    Boko Haram members have for some time harassed and abused both Christian and moderate Muslim women. Now there is a new focus on kidnapping women to demonstrate enemy vulnerability, a focus Boko Haram is ruthlessly determined to exploit. The strategy differs from other Islamist groups, to which they have been compared, such as the Taliban. The Taliban are deliberately and increasingly killing women, and have used women as suicide bombers. Boko Haram also kills women, but often deliberately spares them. Kidnapping is now the statement tactic of choice.

    and:

    Shekau’s order to kidnap women dates back to 2011 and 2012, when the Nigerian government detained more than 100 wives and children of key Boko Haram leaders, among them Shekau’s own family. In response, Shekau issued his first video message in January 2012 threatening to retaliate by kidnapping the wives of government officials. Several more similar videos and statements followed. However, Boko Haram’s first abduction came over a year later in May 2013…

    and:

    After security forces detained ten women related to Boko Haram in September 2012, Shekau’s fifth video message threatened revenge on wives of government officials. In this address, Shekau alleged the possible sexual abuse of the Boko Haram female family members by the government, promising the retaliatory targeting of “enemy” women:“Since you are now holding our women, just wait and see what will happen to your own women…to your own wives according to Shariah law.”

    I want to emphasize these particular quotes, becuase they indicate pretty clearly that this is not “just” blowback — in this case, meaning the Nigerian government doing something that has unfortunate boomerang-effect consequences — this is the religiously sanctioned return of specific tactics according to a rubric that can be expressed as “what you do to us becomes fair game for us to do to you”.

    I’ve said it before: I think that’s an important rubric for us to remember.

    I dealt with this concept in my earlier post, Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style, for parallels, patterns. The key Qur’anic quote, suggesting that it is permissible to replay enemy tactics against the enemy, is found in Qur’an 2.194:

    For the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.

    And here again, the keywords are “and so for all things prohibited”.

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    Education Bad:

    My second note concerns the notion that education is bad, sinful, or haram.

    The very name Boko Haram is generally rendered “western education is forbidden” in English, and for most practical purposes that may be good enough, though the derivation of Hausa “boko” from English “book” has been powerfully discredited by Prof. Paul Newman, see this Christian Science Monitor piece:

    Newman writes that “boko” has a variety of meanings focused around denoting “things or actions having to do with fraudulence, sham, or inauthenticity” or deception. He says the false linkage to the English word “book” was first made in a 1934 Hausa dictionary by a Western scholar that listed 11 meanings for the word -– ten of them about fraudulent things and the final one asserting the connection to “book.” An incorrect assertion, says Newman.

    A big deal? Not a huge one, but a good example of how received “facts” are often far from the truth.

    Dr Newman’s The Etymology of Hausa boko is the detailed scholarly paper that underpins the CSM piece.

    Briefly, then, boko refers to whatever is considered “inauthentic” or “fraudulent” — and western book learning is considered inauthentic and fraudulent by those who view traditional Hausa Islamic education as the superior article. But this may not entirely be a religious distinction — as this quote from the long and interesting Vice piece, Saving South Sudan, that Stephanie Chenault pointed us to in her guest post yesterday:

    Education was often considered a bad thing because of the fear that men who could read and write would show up to interfere with the area’s simple pastoral lifestyle —- specifically Sudanese tax collectors who would arrive at Machot’s father’s homestead and demand cows as payment. To Machot and his family, being “educated” meant you worked for the government and became corrupt…

    Given that Hausa is commonly spoken in both Sudan and Nigeria, that para seems to me to add a possible (political/cultural rather than religious/Qur’anic) sidelight to the issue of the name Boko Haram.

    That’s a guess on my part, nothing more, based on an intriguing parallelism — if any ZP can correct or confirm it, I’d be much obliged.

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    Lizz Pearson on Boko Haram & gender, BBC4

    Saturday, April 19th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- burn the boys & let the girls get married? -- ]
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    Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Nigeria, torched by Boko Haram Feb 2014. Photocredit: AP

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    Lizz Pearson pulls all the right details together to paint a vivid and nuanced picture of Boko Haram and their actions and attitudes with regard to gender differences in an interview with Woman’s Hour on BBC4. It’s a stunning story:

    This is something that has developed really in the last year, and it’s an explicit evolution, really, in the tactics of Boko Haram. The abductions earlier this week in Chibok have made the headlines because of the scale which is particularly audacious, but they have been kidnapping and abducting schoolgirls and other women really since 2013. [ … ]

    The Nigerian government began at the end of 2011 to arrest and detail women and children related to senior leading members of Boko Haram. This is perceived by Boko Haram as a very provocative act. Women are not regarded as combatants by Boko Haram, but they are a way of getting at an enemy, of humiliating an enemy, and they have become pawns, really, in this conflict, in a way that they have been used, both by the Nigerian government security forces in terms of the arrests of women related to Boko Haram — there’s no reason to arrest them for anything they’ve done themselves — and in Boko Haram’s response.

    For Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, this has been a real grievance, and has motivated him in making many statements in video messages of his intention to, in retaliation, kidnap and abduct Christian women and women related to government officials.

    So far the strategy is different. It’s right that the Taliban has been explicitly targeting girls and with execution. With Boko Haram it’s a bit different. They have in fact been sparing women from execution in contrast with the Taliban policy. There was an attack, for example, on a school in Yobe state in February in which they similarly drove into the school in a convoy of jeeps, very heavily armed, everyone was asleep, they were very vulnerable. They locked the dormitories of male students, set fire to those dormitories, and then slit the throats of many men that they found escaping through the windows — but in this instance they spared the women, they said explicitly, Go home, get married, don’t come back here. In that sense they’re not executing them, but they do have this policy now that Shekau has explicitly ordered, of abducting women instead.

    That’s some excellent background — and surprising nuance — to bring to our understanding of the 107 young women recently abducted from their school in Borno State by Boko Haram.

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    Ms. Pearson doesn’t mention it, but I suspect there’s a Qur’anic verse somewhere in back of Boko Haram’s notion of retaliation — the same verse which I noted provided the framework for a major bin Laden speech, Qur’an 2.194:

    For the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.

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    The “western” mindset sees certain actions as acceptable and others as unacceptable, and international law and various treaties set forth the accompamnying ruleset. Much of Islamic law sets similar limits, eg concerning the treatemnt of prisoners of war, but this verse — like Torah verses about “an eye for an eye” — specifies a diferent method of assessing what is and is not permitted — one which permits the otherwise impermissible on those occasions on which it has been visited upon one.

    In essence, the rule becomes mirroring — with moderation.

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    That a particular class of actions taken by one party in a conflict may in this way serve as a grant of permission for the same treatment to be returned is a feature of human psychology as well — and may be something worth bearing in mind in considering the introduction of any new class of methodologies or targets in warfare or politics. Do as you would be done by…

    What I do may appear to me to be an action: what I may miss is that it is also a potential invitation.

    I’m not sure whether that’s so obvious as to be a tautology, or so obscure as to bear frequent repetition. It’s certainly an aspect of human nature, variously formalized as tit for tat or proportionality — and in Islam, it is embedded both in scripture and in cultural understanding, in Qur’an 2.194.

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    Education: a call for actors, directors, composers, conductors

    Sunday, March 9th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- leaping as far out of the box from Education: on Engineers, the Navy — and excuse me, Jihad as I can manage ]
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    Director / Actor Jean Renoir as Octave in Rules of the Game


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    Let me dive directly in at the deep end.

    If, as Keith Oatley suggests, theatre is “simulation that runs on minds“, what does that tell us about actors (as compared with the rest of the population) as experienced simmers of complex realities, potential scenario planners?

    Where does that leave Ronald Reagan vis-a-vis Margaret Thatcher? What about directors vs actors? What of Jean Renoir (depicted above)? Or Clint Eastwood, actor, director — and one time Mayor of Carmel, CA?

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    On another tack:

    In one of my all-time favorite quotations — because it covers so much ground, aptly, from Middle Eastern politics to JS Bach — the music critic and pianist (and yes, Palestinian, and other things as well) Edward Said once wrote:

    When you think about it, when you think about Jew and Palestinian not separately, but as part of a symphony, there is something magnificently imposing about it. A very rich, also very tragic, also in many ways desperate history of extremes — opposites in the Hegelian sense — that is yet to receive its due. So what you are faced with is a kind of sublime grandeur of a series of tragedies, of losses, of sacrifices, of pain that would take the brain of a Bach to figure out. It would require the imagination of someone like Edmund Burke to fathom.

    If contrapuntal composers and conductors can hear, feel the conflicts between, and at times, at least for a while, balance and resolve them, what then might Bach be able to teach our analysts, policy and policy makers?

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    And finally, to quote Cornelius Castoriadis:

    Philosophers almost always start by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is a table. What does this table show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever started by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is my memory of my dream of last night. What does this show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever starts by saying “Let the Mozart’s Requiem be a paradigm of being, let us start from that.” Why could we not start by positing a dream, a poem, a symphony as paradigmatic of the fullness of being and by seeing in the physical world a deficient mode of being, instead of looking at things the other way round, instead of seeing in the imaginary — that is, human — mode of existence, a deficient or secondary mode of being?

    What then could we learn from Mozart (and Bach, and Shakespeare, Said and Renoir) about the better understanding of our present mode of existance?

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    Yes.

    I am suggesting that there is in fact such a thing as genius, that it is a “still, small voice” available to any who care to listen — and that we might be wise to center our educational ideas around its care and feeding…

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