“civil wars are always more brutal than other wars”

In a Facebook discussion:

it would have been interesting to see how the Balkan war late in the 20th C arose and why there was such genocide.

I can’t remember the ins and outs of it – but civil wars are always more brutal than other wars.

My response—off the top of my head—was:

  1. Civil wars are not covered so much by modern war legislation nor the ancient rules of war, so there are no limits to methods or violence.
  2. The opposing sides are not easily differentiated so anyone can be a target to anyone.
  3. In civil wars dividing lines shift as power struggles occur: you don’t know who you can trust.
  4. Civil wars often have a variable number of sides which keep changing as alliances shift.
  5. Civil wars have greater confusion as communication and hierarchies are far weaker than in conventional wars.
  6. External states always take advantage of them to weaken the warring state, usually by propping up the weaker side to keep it going.
  7. Civil wars are great opportunities for proxy wars which means external material and money to keep them going long beyond a natural end.
  8. Civil wars are a great opportunity to sell untested weapons to see how they perform, debug them and advertise them.
  9. Defeat in a conventional war is easier to identify as battle lines collapse so they stop sooner.
  10. A conventional war can end with one side giving up, a civil war often requires complete crushing of the loser.
  11. You cannot retreat to your own country in a civil war.
  12. The infrastructure is usually so badly affected that the injured cannot be sent somewhere to be cared for in a civil war.
  13. There is less likely to be a safe family at home to return to in a civil war.
  14. In a civil war there is a greater tendency for revenge and cruelty (exacerbated by armed militia and little legal constraint).
  15. In a civil war each side is usually more equally matched using the same techniques, language, cypher systems, weapons and training meaning they have to slog it out to round 12 to win on points rather than get a quick knockout in round 2 or 3.
  16. Civil wars make use of mercenaries and attract and welcome psychopaths, extremists, revolutionaries and criminals.
  17. Civil wars make use of untrained armed civilians who both die more messily and kill more messily than trained soldiers.
  18. Civil wars are invariably total wars meaning everyone and everything is a valid target.

That’ll do for now. Oh, please, lets have a 2000 word essay on civil wars!

Although, with hindsight, that is the makings of a book.  Or a thesis.  I left out child soldiers, PTSD in armed civilians, how much harder it is to catch the war criminals afterwards, how much harder it is to reconcile, the damage to the society, recovery of the post-war bankrupt economy, the long-term consequences of having had an armed civilian population and the opportunity cost.

Principles of Just-War Theory

Lynn Roulstone at the Open University raised the questionsWhat do we think to Aquinas’s Just War theory?  Is it ever possible to have such a thing?” and provided a link to a short explanation of the seven principles of Just-War Theory.

I wasn’t particularly impressed by them and this was my response:

1. Last Resort
Sartre, Ghandi and Jesus said a violent response need not be the final resort.  Deciding not to use violence is also an available option.  It was certainly the best way for your civilisation to survive an invasion by the Roman empire, the Mongol hordes or many other invading forces who purpose was to subjugate.

2. Legitimate Authority
We have a representative democracy so if Tony Bliar decides to start a war despite dodgy evidence and 3 million people protesting, he is perfectly entitled.  If Obama declares war on Mexico tomorrow, he has legal, personal, absolute authority to do so under USA law.

3. Just Cause
Righting a wrong done to A committed by B by killing C is as logical as bombing for peace.  It just results in tit-for-tat feuds that need never end.

4. Probability of Success
If it is wrong to fight in case you lose – and there is always the possibility of unexpectedly losing – then one should not fight.  Conversely, if one has such overwhelming power that victory is inevitable, there must be diplomatic alternatives to using overwhelming violence.

5. Right Intention
A hollow argument.  The victor is always right, after the event.  Also, if the intention of war is to re-establish peace, then the best outcome is genocide of one’s enemies and destruction of their culture since that best guarantees peace.

6. Proportionality
The minimum amount of force absolutely necessary is often the assassination of one person or one dynastic line.  However, international conventions have long, long agreed that targeted execution of the leaders of sovereign states is against the rules.  Killing millions of the people who happen to live in the same country is OK though.

7. Civilian Casualties
The concept of total war (which is thousands of years old) means that the economy and production ability of the enemy are part of the war machine and valid targets.  Bombing dams to flood valleys is fine.  Armaments factories employ civilians as do the mines and refineries that serve them.  There is no point continuously killing their soldiers if they just keep breeding and equipping more – one must raze their cities, salt their fields, sabotage their infrastructure and starve the population into defeat.  The civilian capacity to raise armies must be destroyed.  The alternative is to not use total war, but then you lose to someone who is.

I do not see how there can be a just war.  Expedient, yes, but just, no.

How might post-traumatic stress disorder change warfare?

This is a brief note from thinking about Open University DD210 Living Psychology module, book 2, chapter 13, page 149…172 ‘3. The impact of extreme circumstances‘, ‘4. Recovery, resilience and post-traumatic growth‘ and ‘5. Perils, pitfalls and positive effects of psychological interventions‘.

Post-traumatic stress disorder.  People can be damaged by what they are ordered to do; might this change how warfare is conducted?

Millennia ago and centuries, marching off to another country or city allowed preparation time, bonding and training time on the way there.  On the way back there was lots of time for reflection with those who had been through the same experience, done in an environment of routine, with physical activity and done outdoors.  Might that have prevented PTSD for most people?  Is PTSD a phenomenon that arrived with the ability to leave the front line and go home fairly quickly?

Might the consequences of PTSD on military personnel make government change the way warfare is conducted so that it is prevented?  If so, what will that look like?

Is PTSD just an infantry complaint?  Do snipers get it worse than combat area engineers?  Do bomber crews get PTSD?  What about drone pilots who work 9-5 and go home every evening?  Who suffers most: conscripts, volunteers or militia?  Do revolutionaries / guerillas / freedom fighters get it?  Do victors get it?  Is it worse for those who suffer defeat?  How bad is it for child soldiers?

How bad is it for civilians in a war zone?  Refugees?  Survivors?  Orphans?  (And does anyone in governments care about civilians in war zones? It does not seem so.)

What research is being done in PTSD?  By whom?  Why?  Is it for peaceful purposes to demonstrate how warfare is bad, or to make warfare and killing less stressful for the troops so that it can continue?

What happens now about the burning Syrian oil fields?

The oil wells currently being blown up in Syria and being used by IS should have been dealt with months ago.  This has been said by quiet lone voices but only became newsworthy just this past week as the airstrikes against them began.

We know from the 2nd Gulf War that these will burn and continue to burn until the fighting is over.  Presumably, if IS somehow manage to put out and cap a well, it will become a target again and this continue until the territory is retaken.

This will mean months, or years, of the burning of crude oil polluting the local land indefinitely and air downwind for the duration, which the government cautiously warns will be three years or more.

What a waste of an irreplaceable commodity.  What a filthy, highly carcinogenic, CO2-filled cloud it will produce.

And the workers at these oilfields are not going to be AK47-wielding jihadists but the same oil-field workers who were there before.  Civilians.  Likely doing their job at gun-point now.  Now being blown up or burned to death by our bombing.  Airstrikes kill civilians.

War is great, innit?  Lovely grainy black-and-white pictures of something going “Puff” from 12,000 feet up reported as the good work of terrorists being dealt with, when actually it is just destruction and killing and maiming and polluting.

About 300 to 1,000 civilians were killed in Iraq for each person killed in the Twin Towers terrorist attack.  I wonder what the kill ratio will be for the Paris terrorist attack.  At that rate it will need to be about 39,000 to 130,000 ‘collateral’ civilian deaths.

62 workers were caught up in the recent Azerbaijan oil rig fire accident, of whom half are likely dead.  It is looking like a tragedy caused by lax safety measures and a violent storm.  Bad enough, but still not as bad as the awful, no, horrific Piper Alpha disaster which took 167 of the 228 lives on board.

Syria has about 40 oil fields with a number of wells per field but I cannot find the latter number – shall we assume 10?  Assuming 62 workers per well (as they are all land-based, I believe) that gives us 34,800 civilian workers as potential death targets of the oil well bombings.  That’s a ratio of 190 civilian deaths for each Parisian victim.  I wonder if that will be enough to satiate the politicians’ blood lust?  If not, there’s the fire control crews, the replacement workers for wells that are put put and repaired, pipeline maintenance crews, pumping station crews, management and admin offices and all manner of other support and ancillary staff who come under the heading of ‘infrastructure’.

I’m sure that with a bit of effort—killing the accountants, secretaries, maintenance staff and cleaners too—it ought to be possible to get up to the same kill ratio of 300 foreign civilians to victim as was achieved in Iraq.

Do think on that when being impressed by those grainy, black-and-white videos taken from long range – that ‘infrastructure’ includes the people who work there, leaving their widows, angry fathers and brothers and embittered children ready to refresh the ranks of IS or produce the next generation of terrorists.

Assuming the cancer from the oily black smoke doesn’t deal with them first, of course.

Lest we forget

An exchange on an Open University forum.

Fast Forward

 ‘Named, unnamed. Remembered, forgotten. They all did that trick the dead do. Whether they died immediately, more or less immediately or later, they all did that trick. From living human being to corpse – the fastest transition in the world.’
(Robert Mc Liam Wilson, Eureka Street)

As I lie here
crimson rivers stream by
painting obscene pictures on my brain.

Beside me
half a young man’s face, open minded, sanguine
looks on. He was smiling

when he ceased to exist.
That girl has something recognisably human about her meat,
others have been blown entirely to bits,

soft unresisting flesh to be scraped up and shovelled
into plastic bags. Cajun dust settles on carnage.
Does a meld of politics ordnance and circumstance

explain all this? In the aeons after the blast
in the ringing piercing silence
in my head, I hear distant white coated voices,

‘Treat only those you think you can save,’
as the last sigh of life escapes my torn lips
unheard; the fastest transition in the world.

Sheena Bradley, 2012

Me: Lest we forget.

Sheena: Do you think there might ever be a time, a decade or a century when there is even a slight chance we could forget? I doubt it.

Me: There’s always hope.

I’m aware “Lest we forget” has different meanings to different people and in different contexts.  With hindsight, it was an inappropriate response to your post, Sheena, and I’m sorry I made it.  I was thinking of the Great War, not the Troubles.

For me, “Lest we forget” means “never forget the suffering we bring upon ourselves by blindly following orders to subject others to violence”.

For others it seems to mean “Never forget what sacrifices others have made for you, so be prepared to make sacrifices for them”.  There “Lest we forget” is used to promote what was Veterans’ Day and is now Armed Forces Day – but why don’t we also celebrate Peace Day with parades and banners?  There’s money and street closures made available to celebrate the military, but why not the Fire Brigade too, for example – they also put their lives on the line for us and they do it more often – what makes the military so different?  I’m coming round to the way of thinking of Forces Watch, that such events are the marketing activities of the arms industry, making killing palatable and something to be proud of.  And that way of thinking leads to “Lest we forget” meaning a demand for patriotism, nationalism and bigotry, where expressing a preference for peaceful solutions gets one called a coward or a “terrorist sympathiser”.

Then there’s the version of “Lest we forget” that seems to me to be the underling problem to finding peace in Northern Ireland, the perpetuation on both sides of “Never forget what those b~~~~~~s did to us”.  The perpetual generation of hatred, especially as indoctrination of the young.  Earlier this year we witnessed in Glasgow an Orange parade – bands and marching and banners and crowds coming out to watch the spectacle.  All I could see were bitter old men and angry middle-aged men wearing orange sashes, and lots of small boys dressed in military uniforms looking all proud to be maintaining the tradition.  The atmosphere was just anger and hate; it was appalling and pathetic to see.  It is nothing like a Scouts’ St George’s Day parade and poles apart from the likes of Warrington’s Walking Day.

As well as talking, listening and reconciling, there’s an awful lot of forgetting needs to be done in and around Northern Ireland: forgetting to maintain the tradition of instilling children and young adults with blind hate.  It makes us sick when Moslem extremists like IS do it, and when Christian extremists like the Lord’s Resistance Army recruit child soldiers in Africa.  So why is it OK for religious extremists in the British Isles to recruit children to propagate and perpetuate their militaristic tradition of violence and hatred against their fellow people?  And it would help if we quietly dropped Armed Forces Day in Northern Ireland too – it is counter-productive having the British Army setting an example of militaristic street marches.

For the love of God, as a society, can we please just stop passing on a tradition of hate and instead learn to forget?

 

PS: Airstrikes kill civilians.

“We were only following (the UN’s) orders.”

Another OU student made this observation on his blog:

The whole Authoritarianism thing a complete area on its own as there is a definite case of further investigation needed into why socially superior society accepts these individuals as authority.

which prompted these thoughts:

I did a Coursera course on international criminal law which talked about how the “I was only following orders” defence was challenged at the Nuremberg Trials and created a precedent for international justice by rejecting it.  I find that whole history—from Nuremberg to modern day decisions about what legal action can be taken across borders—fascinating.  We now have continental courts of justice and war trials procedures and all sorts of good stuff to improve the safety and security of (most) everyone on the planet from abuses by their own government.

But the pendulum seems to have swung the other way from the principal established in the mid-1600s of sovereign states having absolute control of internal affairs, (“Westphalian Sovereignty”) to NATO saying the Westphalian principles are undemocratic and humanity is not relevant and then Tony Bliar simply called it anachronistic and that you can therefore attack who you like with impunity which, it appears, he could.

When I take a step back and look at the last 1,000 years of European history, it seems in this past 20 years we have undone the work of the preceding 350 in a supposed pursuit of justice on behalf of the citizens of other countries.  We have scrapped the idea of governments killing their own citizens and replaced it with it being OK to kill the civilians of other countries.

The victims of the Nazis got justice (as much was practically possible, anyway) at Nuremberg.  But where do civilians killed by Western airstrikes get their justice?  As Hilary Benn said yesterday: “Ve are only folloving ze orders of ze United Nations!”

So that’s all right then.

As for accepting authority, the Milgram Experiment was the one where unwitting volunteers were talked into electrocuting people to death because the bloke in the white coat told them to.

When Hilary Benn¹ gave his speech, the bit about “We are only following a UN mandate” was the bit that won over the MPs: knowledge that whatever happens, not only does their collective responsibility mean they are only a tiny bit to blame if things go wrong, it was all the UN’s idea anyway.  They can vote for war and airstrikes that will kill civilians² with impunity.

Maybe that right there is a very good argument for our elected representatives to be held responsible for their actions, not just those of countries we don’t like, and I don’t mean at the ballot box.  Maybe we should be sending our war criminals to trial as a lesson to the others.  Maybe the MPs will cheer less than they did last night when they voted for war.

 

¹ The son of Tony Benn, the man who said “When there is a great cry that something should be done, you can depend on it that something remarkably silly probably will be done“.

² The first targets are to be oil fields and related infrastructure.  These are operated by civilians.  (Why weren’t these destroyed over a year ago?  Oh, yeah, the oil has to keep flowing, doesn’t it?  Even if it is bankrolling Islamic State.  Until it ends up all over the media that Israel and Turkey are cheerfully buying it for sale to the world market.  But it’s not all about oil, oh no…)

There is no pax Americana

Bringing down stable governments of countries and failing to put something in its place is the principal cause of the terrorism and conflict going on in the world at the moment.

When the Romans invaded, they took control, dictating foreign policy, providing defence in exchange for a promise to not rebel and pay tribune.  In so doing peace reigned over the Roman Empire at the cost of freedoms at a national level. This was the pax Romana.

The Islamic Golden Age, inspired by the philosophy that “the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr“, in which huge advances were made in medicine, mathematics, culture and science, was also a period of peace, sometimes called the pax Islamica.

A thousand years later the Mongols conquered much of Asia and held it to produce the Pax Mongolica.

The Ottoman Empire in turn provided peace to its citizens in the pax Ottomana.

A similar arrangement to the Roman Empire was achieved by the British Empire to produce the pax Britanicca.

Chinese empires have come and gone and provided their own periods of internal peace, as have many other cultures.

The concept of “empire” has come to be seen as purely a bad thing since the mid 20th century as countries gained their independence, partly through economic consequences of the World War 2, partly through improved communication and education and partly through the disruptive influences of the Cold War.  In place of an imposed external governing body, freedom for those of a territory has been granted, often with disastrous consequences.  The lesson that could and should have been learned from those experiences are that independence should be done slowly, replacing institutions and structures with new ones, a part at a time.  It is frustrating, but far more stable. [Note to self: specific examples needed.]  A clean break leaves a county with no stable government and civil war and decades of turmoil is the usual result.

But the desire to ignore the beneficial benefits of a benign empire has resulted in much chaos, death, suffering and desire for revenge of late years.  The removal of stable governments from countries like Iraq and Libya without replacing it with something else that works has been far worse than what most empires have done in the past.

It would have been cheaper and less destructive (but probably no more productive in the long term) to simply assassinate those leaders that were considered undesirable.  At least there would not be hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed civilians and a world-wide problem with revenge terrorism.

The idea the USA has been the global policeman producing a pax Americana is a fallacy.  They are not spreading peace: just fear and hate, chaos and disorder.

Instead of toppling a regime, take it over and change it from within, fools.  Learn from thousands of years of history.

War causes social breakdown, allows us to be worse than animals, and to get away with it

I decided to go into war prevention because I suspected it was not cost effective and because it creates a generation of people wanting vengeance.  The Iraq War was sold to us as a great way to make money from reconstruction (by destroying what already existed), to support international development (i.e. take their oil industry) and produce peace (by turning a militarised country into a terrorist region).

What I have since learned about is some of the human cost.  I had some idea, of course, but there are murkier aspects that do not get talked about.

One example is male sexual abuse.  I did not think it likely to be a big deal: rare and hardly very damaging.  All a bit “Fnarr, fnarr, you’ll get over it.”  I was very wrong.

The scale of the problem and the nature of the physical damage to the body are described in this Guardian article from 2011 entitled The rape of men: the darkest secret of war.

I wanted to cherry-pick some quotes about the marital breakdown, humiliation, physical consequences of the permanent damage caused, lack of support and lack of recognition, but the article itself if pretty relentless in providing these itself.  Essentially, it is not about sexual gratification, it is about the perpetrator being so dehumanised that they routinely perform the most degrading torture on innocent strangers and war both creates the environment for such cruelty and makes it possible to hide the act both at the time and later.  If interested, I suggest you read it for yourself.  It’s all quite sad.

I thought Sven Hassel’s books about what went on at the Eastern Front were bad; reality is worse.

War causes social breakdown and allows us to be worse than animals and get away with it.  It makes one wonder what the agenda is for those people who promote it.