[ by Charles Cameron -- who is personally blind to the ultraviolet, the infrared and the classified -- and speaking of intel analysis, to a subset of elephants and gorillas, too? ]
Noting quickly that I don’t “do” American politics, I’d still like to point to the occasional specifically religious aspect of the matter. In today’s New York Times, for instance, under the heading Cantor’s Loss a Bad Omen for Moderates, we read:
David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.
“Part of this plays into his religion,” Mr. Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”
Talk about an elephant in the room — or was it a gorilla? Have you seen this brilliant remake of a classic video?
How helpful is Richards J. Heuer‘s Analysis of Competing Hypotheses in finding invisible gorillas — or elephants? I wouldn’t even know how to test the question using PARC’s ACH software: the evidence is there, but if we’re “blinkered” we won’t even see it.
And just how blinkered are we?
There may be known elephants in the room — to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld — and also unknown elephants. How will we ever know about the unknown elephants, before they tusk us?
Question and Answer:
Q: When is an elephant a gorilla?
A: When it’s in the room with you.
[ by Charles Cameron -- a follow-up post, includes the "brother against brother" issue & Afghan Taliban ]
Following up on my previous post in this series, I’ll begin with some comments specific to the Taliban that address the issue of dehumanization I raised there… and conclude with some comments on “brother against brother” in warfare in general and Afghanistan in particular.
Since various people have mentioned the Taliban in this thread, and some have attributed the actions of al-Qaeda to them — even actions taken many thousands of miles away from Afghanistan and Pakistan — it may be helpful to recall that the Taliban is not al-Qaeda, and has from the beginning had its own bones to pick with them.
Kuehn points out that the Taliban and Al Qaeda adhere to different strains of Islamic thought, the Taliban associated with Saudi-influenced, Wahhabi-style Hanafi beliefs, and Al Qaeda associated with the more radical, more rigid Hanbali school. The Taliban, of course, are Afghans, and Al Qaeda mostly Arab and almost entirely non-Afghan. Generationally, they are different, too, with most Al Qaeda leaders older than the young commanders of the Taliban, and whereas many Al Qaeda people are professionals and well educated, the Taliban are rural, unschooled, and grew up in places like Kandahar where newspapers were nonexistent and even radios were in the hands of only a privileged few.
The Taliban, in other words, are Afghans concerned mainly about Afghanistan, while al-Qaeda is a multi-national franchise operation, originating in Saudi Arabia and Yemen and focused largely on “the far enemy” — ie the United States.
And how do the Taliban themselves feel about dehumanization? Do they recognize the effects of war in those terms?
Here’s a Taliban poem from that collection which directly addresses dehumanization, but through “enemy eyes”…
We are not animals,
I say this with certainty.
Humanity has been forgotten by us,
And I don’t know when it will come back.
May Allah give it to us,
and decorate us with this jewelry,
the jewelry of humanity,
For now it’s only in our imagination.
That pretty much wraps up the “dehumanization of the enemy” side of things for me, at least for now. Next up, the question of brother fighting against brother, and its implications in Afghanistan. What follows is also drawn from the thread on “Marines Urinating on Taliban” in the Princeton Paradoxes of War MOOC
I’m going to bypass the “urinating on the dead” side of things for a moment, and offer a comment on the Afghan Taliban, specifically, and more generally the Afghan mujahideen (vs the Soviets) and more generally still, the
issue of families that find themselves on both sides of a conflict. I’ll work in from the most general case, and wind up with the specifics of the contemporary Afghan Taliban.
Not without reason, the American Civil War is sometimes termed a war of “brother against brother”.
There seem to have been many families where some members sided with the Confederacy and some with the Union forces. I am usually wary of believing Wikipedia without further research, but it appears that there were two instances in which a pair of brothers were each brigadier generals on opposite sides of the conflict: George Bibb Crittenden (Confederate) and Thomas Leonidas Crittenden (Union), and James Barbour Terrill (Confederate) and William Rufus Terrill (Union). The letters between James and Alexander Campbell are instructive on this point:
I was astonished to hear from the prisoners that you was colour Bearer of the Regmt that assalted the Battrey at this point the other day. When I first heard it I looked over the field for you where I met one of the wounded of your Regt and he told me that he believed you was safe. I was in the Brest work during the whole engagement doing my Best to Beat you but I hope that you and I will never again meet face to face Bitter enemies in the Battle field. But if such should be the case You have but to discharge your deauty to Your caus for I can assure you I will strive to discharge my deauty to my country & my cause.
Interestingly enough, there’s an echo here of Matthew 10.21 in the Christian New Testament:
Brothers will turn against their own brothers and hand them over to be killed.
— although here it is the new religious view which causes families to split apart…
But there’s another strategy which pits brother against brother, not because of ideological principle or geographic sympathies, but as a means of risk management…
Particularly risky (and less frequent) is the family strategy of purposefully sending offspring to serve in competing armies. During the English Revolution, “some contemporary cynics argued that these family divisions [between belligerents] were part of a carefully arranged insurance policy, so that whichever side won there would always be someone with influence among the victors to protect the family property from confiscation and dismemberment”
And this appears to be a regular feature of Afghan Pashtun culture. Here’s Vern Liebl writing in “Pushtuns, Tribalism, Leadership, Islam and Taliban: a Short View”, Small Wars & Insurgencies, vol 18 iss 3, Sept 2007:
This is a historical tendency among Pushtun tribes; most families/-tribes will play multiple axes, just in case. For example, during the Soviet occupation era, it was not unusual at all to send a son (either of the family or the khel) to join the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan Army, essentially serving the Communist
regime, another son or sons to join one or more of the various mujahedeen groups, another son to a madrasah in Pakistan, another son to the West to study and/or work, and a last son to stay and work to keep everybody else alive.
Jonathan Goodhand and Mark Sedra in “Bargains for Peace? Aid, Conditionalities and Reconstruction in Afghanistan” (Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’, Conflict Research Unit, August 2006) put this in terms of the conflict of (presumed) opposites:
Afghans on both side of the conflict consistently subverted the bi-polar logic of their external backers; alliances in the field were constantly shifting back and forth between the mujahedin and pro-government militias. At the micro level Afghans would have family members in both the government forces and the mujahedin as part of a political risk spreading strategy.
And the Australian David Kilcullen — a senior counter-insurgency advisor to US General Petraeus — puts it very simply:
A lot of families in Afghanistan have one son fighting with the government, and another son fighting with the Taliban. It’s a hedging strategy.
So — a given Taliban fighter may have a brother working beside ISAF team members in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Is he perhaps “Taliban” only as a risk-avoidance strategy, on behalf of his father, mother, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, cousins? Because that’s not the same as hating all Americans…
And that’s yet another of the paradoxes of this particular war, I’d suggest…
Once again I’m offering these mini-essays here in their original form, which offers opinion backed by research sources, hoping that comments here will point me in new directions and allow me to reconsider and rewrite these materials as I move towards book form…
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
– Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944
My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far. And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home – fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas – whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them – help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too – strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, June 6, 1944
The men who landed at Normandy seventy years ago when they were young saved the West from Nazi tyranny. They are now all very old and for the most part, frail and far fewer of them will be with us ten years hence to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of D-Day. They were not like the fabled generation of the Civil War, their only peers in American history, whose “hearts were touched by fire”. The GI Generation, unlike their great- grandfathers were not kindled by fire, they were summoned by duty; danger appeared of the greatest order and they shouldered the burden and defeated the enemy utterly.
Utterly. How many in all history can make that boast from the Walls of Troy to the villages of Paktia?
Furthermore, they were not conquerors with a bloody sword bearing chains for slaves, but liberators whose victory changed the course of world history for human freedom.
China has invested considerable resources both in acquiring foreign cruise missiles and technology and in developing its own indigenous cruise missile capabilities. These efforts are bearing fruit in the form of relatively advanced ASCMs and LACMs deployed on a wide range of older and modern air, ground, surface-ship, and sub-surface platforms.(9) To realize the full benefits, China will need additional investments in all the relevant enabling technologies and systems required to optimize cruise missile performance.(10) Shortcomings remain in intelligence support, command and control, platform stealth and survivability, and postattack damage assessment, all of which are critical to mission effectiveness.
ASCMs and LACMs have significantly improved PLA combat capabilities and are key components in Chinese efforts to develop A2/AD capabilities that increase the costs and risks for U.S. forces operating near China, including in a Taiwan contingency. China plans to employ cruise missiles in ways that exploit synergies with other strike systems, including using cruise missiles to degrade air defenses and command and control facilities to enable follow-on air strikes. Defenses and other responses to PRC cruise missile capabilities exist, but will require greater attention and a focused effort to develop technical countermeasures and effective operational responses.
The authors speculate that China has done the calculus and determined they can’t match us (or perhaps have no desire) in platforms, but rather are choosing a lower cost alternative: omassive missile barrages—so massive ship defense systems are overwhelmed. Numbers matter; as the great WayneP. Hughes, Jr. (CAPT, USN, Ret) points out in his seminal Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, naval warfare is attrition warfare. With that in mind, this paragraph illustrates the gravity (emphasis added):
Cruise Missile Ratios
DOD transformation assumes that by shaping the nature of military competition in U.S. favor, or “overmatch,” rivals will continually lag in a demanding security environment. What if this is a false assumption? In other words, China may be choosing to com- pete in a traditional or conventional maritime environment in which transformed U.S. forces are structured and equipped in a significantly different way. As analyst Mark Stokes has reported, some Chinese believe that, due to the low cost of developing, deploying, and maintaining LACMs, cruise missiles possess a 9:1 cost advantage over the expense of defending against them. (103) The far more important—and difficult to estimate—ratio is that of PLA ASCMs to U.S. Navy defense systems. Numbers alone will not determine effectiveness; concept of operations and ability to employ cruise missiles effectively in actual operational conditions will be the true determinants of capability. Even without precise calculations, however, it appears that China’s increasing ASCM inventory has in- creasing potential to saturate U.S. Navy defenses. This is clearly the goal of China’s much heavier emphasis on cruise missiles, and it appears to be informed by an assumption that quantity can defeat quality. Saturation is an obvious tactic for China to use based on its capabilities and emphasis on defensive systems. PLAN ASCM weapon training, production, and delivery platform modernization continues to progress rapidly. Scenarios involving hostile engagement between PLAN and U.S. CSG forces could be quite costly to the latter due to the sheer volume of potential ASCM saturation attacks.
Dr. Erickson pointed out in today’s meeting that the Mark Stokes estimate may be an overstatement, but certainly illustrative of economics involved.
This is an important contribution and the challenges facing our Navy and Allies in the South China Sea/East China Sea lead me to conclude with hope that policy makers read and heed.
[ by Charles Cameron -- with an extended riff on the apocalyptic significance of Chernobyl, as mentioned by the Idaho curmudgeon, Walt Bayes ]
This may be the most remarkable piece of political theater I have ever seen
It’s the debate between four Republican candidates for Governor of Idaho — “a cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, or a normal guy, take your pick” as the biker claims — and although the whole video runs close to an hour in toto, I found it riveting.
I’m not alone: Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petriheadlined it as “surreal, magical”, and termed it “incredible” and “everything that you ever wanted and more”.
Why? Not because it featured the sitting Governor and a State Senator, who utter their focus-grouped speaking points, but because of two of we-the-people, Harley Brown and Walt Bayes, who speak their minds.
It’s the last four minutes or so of the debate — from 54.25 to be exact — that contain the apocalyptic reference to Chernobyl that caught my attention:
At 54.25, candidate Walt Bayes (the “curmudgeon”) begins his closing statement. Earlier in the debate he had made it clear that
You remember Chernobyl where the Russians had a little problem with their atomic energy? Chernobyl, when you translate that into English it comes out Wormwood. Wormwood is mentioned in the Bible a whole lot where your studying these Last Days, and it’s radiation.
and then after a brief discussion of potassium iodide, Fukushima, and US nuclear power plants, he closes on the words:
and my Bible says it’s going to get worse and worse and worse! We’d better get some
Our curmudgeon is correct, BTW, insofar as it’s true that the Ukrainian word Chernobyl corresponds to English Wormwood.
Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it was made bitter.
The Orthodox Study Bible comments:
Wormwood (in Slavonic, “Chernobyl”), an extremely bitter plant that would make water undrinkable, symbolizes the bitter fruits of idolatry…
The association of the Chernoby the place with Chernobyl the devastating apocalyptic star has history to it:
Chernobyl is first mentioned in twelfth century manuscripts as a settlement near the River Pripyat in Lithuania (later Poland and Ukraine), and was settled by an apocalyptic sect of Old Believers in 1775, under the headship of one Illarian Petrov. The “Chernobylites” preached the arrival of the Antichrist and the imminent end of the world. Whether they migrated to Chernobyl because they believed the end centered around that town, we do not know. Illarian Petrov, according to Russian journalist, Andrey Illesh, “bore the rather strange nickname ‘Cows Legs’ and was known for his extreme fanaticism.” The Chernobylites were persecuted because they “refused to pray for the tsar, acknowledge passports, forbade military service and oaths, and behaved in a contrary manner.” At the end of the nineteenth century (when the end did notcome), the sect emigrated to Austria.
In the refectory of Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos, there is a fresco illustrating the falling Wormwood star. During the 1950′s, the monks interpreted the Wormwood prophecy in terms of a [sic] atomic bombs
Then the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 happened, and was interpretetd…
On a widespread and popular level in Ukraine and Belarus, according to documentary evidence, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster is considered “an act of God” and assigned religious significance. Chernobyl is interpreted as prophetic (fatalistic or predictive) and apocalyptic (cataclysmic or revelatory) in harmony with a long, popular tradition of Russian apocalyptic.
During my initial visits to the Chernobyl region in 1990-91, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Chernobyl, I often would ask Belarusians: “Do you have a religious opinion about Chernobyl?” They typically answered “yes,” and proceeded to rehearse the long history of suffering in Belarus. Frequently, they would cite the “Wormwood star” in the writings of Nostradamus and in the Bible as referring specifically to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
And the results?:
Applying Berdyaev’s Russian apocalyptic eschatology to the Chernobyl Prophecy in Revelation 8:10-11, it can be argued that the Chernobyl catastrophe of 26 April 1986 was a decisive apocalyptic event in the history of Rus, marking the end of an age. It fueled the reformist policies of glasnost and perestroika, broke the back of Communism. It serves an eschatological marker for the end of the Soviet Union, the end of the modern age of the “peaceful atom” and fail-safe technology, as well as the beginning of a postmodern age in the newly independent states.
Regardless of authorial intent and historical-critical interpretations of Revelation 8:10-11, the Chernobyl prophecy is understood widely, in the context of post-Soviet Ukraine and Belarus as pre-ordained and prophetically fulfilled, presenting a fascinating case study of Russian apocalyptic eschatology.
In the aftermath of Chernobyl, popular calendars in Minsk and Kiev distinguished the years before and after Chernobyl. Digital clocks in Belarus continued to flash the current time, temperature, and radiation level. Citizens remembered their former life and anticipated future sufferings. The passing of time had not changed apocalyptic consciousness as much as it changed the meaning of the End for different segments of the population. In striking apocalyptic language, Russian journalist Alla Yaroshinskaya writes how Chernobyl has changed the course of personal histories, national history, and perhaps even sacred history:
…this ancient wonderland, this forest, these fields and meadows, our whole lives…from now on life on earth would not only be divided into epochs and eras, civilizations, religions and political systems, but also into “before” and “after” Chernobyl. The earth would never be the same as it had been before 26 April 1986 at twenty-four minutes past one….
I can’t really leave the debated without a quick tip’o'the hat to the biker, Harley Brown, one of whose central concerns on behalf of his fellow Idahoans is “getting our lands back from the Feds”. He explained:
The key is getting our lands back from the Feds … Here’s my plan of attack. You go in there, and your use spiritual warfare. Everybody talks about the natural, but this other realm … you bind the evil spirits that are behind the fights with the blood of Jesus, the name of Jesus, and the power of [??] of the Holy Spirit, the power of agreement, the word of God. Take air superiority and then go in with your tanks… blitzkrieg.
To which the reporter who had questioned him responded, “The question was about taxes.”
And for the record, the particular talk of spiritual warfare at the Idaho debate comes from a proud biker who has also been a Navy SeaBee, a long haul trucker — and a taxi driver, who also says:
I’ve picked up my fair share of the gay community. And they have true love for one another. I’m telling you, they love each other more than I love my motorcycle.
Consider me amazed!
And Harley Brown is both “reach for the stars” and humble with it. Reaching for the stars…
I said, God, how about putting me back on active duty and making me a battalion commander? Long story short he says, “No son, I got a higher rank for you, I’m gonna make you the commander-in-chief.” And I staggered not at his promise….
After God told me he was gonna make me president, I went out and got the presidential seal tattooed right here on my shoulder, my morale went from negative-500 to off the scale, and I started a presidential campaign right there. [ … ]
For three years I had the credibility of Chicken Little, you know, the sky is falling? And finally, one time, one day, this bishop from Africa comes over and he says, “I am a prophet of the most high God, and in that office I here authenticate that God told you that.”
I says, “Yeah? You mind putting that in writing? He said, “Sure.” And he put it in writing, and I’ve got the original at home. And I was able to go up to all my detractors and say, “Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah.”
That’s more than a touch apocalyptic too, to be frank. But fortunately, Brown is also humble…
I need practice! Practice! I don’t wanna say stuff [when I'm president] like, “Sorry if our bombing caused you any inconvenience.” So I wanna work in the Little Leagues as a governor.
A “cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, or a normal guy” — these were the candidates for Governor of Idaho in the debate.
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