I am completely supportive of stooping to the depths of whatever hell the opposition is willing to inhabit in retaliation. This principle applies to both intellectual exchanges and kinetic military action. As a civilized society, we cannot allow ourselves to believe that we are somehow “above” resorting to brutality to respond in kind to savages, who employ such tactics. Doing so invites asymmetric conflict, which the opposition will happily exploit to our detriment.
[Originally posted on 14 Jun 2004]
When did we start considering civilians to be non-combatants? In World War 2, cities throughout Europe were devastated with strategic intent. Innocent bystanders were not immune from the life or death struggle that dominated everyone. Germany surrendered unconditionally, because its nation and its people faced annihilation. Japan surrendered unconditionally, because annihilation was already upon them. The people were accountable for their nation’s deeds, and they acted accordingly.
What happens when we offer immunity from attack to civilians? Military power can be rendered combat ineffective. By disguising combat forces as civilians, they gain an advantage. If attacked, they claim brutality, and they accuse the military of war crimes. Meanwhile, they can conduct their offensive operations, and return to the safety of civilian life. More importantly, because civilians are immune from the consequences of financing, harboring, and otherwise supporting a campaign of terrorism, there is no reason to ever surrender to the opposition. There is no possibility of military defeat, so long as the people are willing to endure prolonged economic hardship to achieve a strategic political victory.
Terrorism takes this to an extreme. Suicide bombers die as martyrs with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their loved ones will be compensated by the terrorist establishment, and they will be immune from retribution. There is no accountability, because we allow terrorists to get away with having nothing to lose, except for their lives, which they don’t value.
In ancient times, leaders prosecuted a policy of capital punishment for the worst criminals. Knowing that family loyalties would lead to the criminal’s closest loved ones seeking to avenge the execution, a policy was implemented to also execute three generations of direct family related to the criminal.
To combat terrorism effectively, the consequences of violent action must be dealt with harshly, not only by exterminating the terrorists, but also by punishing the loved ones on whose behalf the terrorists are acting. Civilian immunity from combat breeds cultures, which will continue sponsoring asymmetrical combat, without any reason to surrender, because there is no possibility of defeat. The people who sponsor terrorism must be required to be accountable for their loyalties. Only then will they surrender.
In summary, the policy statements to effectively counter terrorism are as follows. Kill the terrorists. Kill their families. Kill their friends. Do not stop, until they surrender. Live by the sword, die by the sword. He who shall survive will have the biggest baddest sword and the will to wield it. In a world of terror, the most terrifying shall prevail.