I have no idea why gaming sites post things about real world events that do not directly affect gameplay. I furthermore have no idea why someone would choose to come to a gaming site for informed and useful commentary on disasterous events on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade center and the Pentagon. This is what CNN and the like are for, right? Therefore, it confuses me a lot when in addition to the usual emails I get on an almost-daily basis advising me to "UPDATE YOUR SITE DAMNIT," I also get inquiries about why I haven’t posted anything about the attacks. What the hell? Sure I have an opinion, as I suspect most of the world does at this time. What does that have to do with my site?

Then I realized that it’s not a gaming site anyway… it’s just a site I dribble little bits of useless stuff on from time to time as I feel like it. Considering the utter uselessness of information available at the mainstream gaming sites, and the utter stupidity of the crap going on at sites like AO-Basher, I am far from monopolizing the world of useless dribbling. So fine.

The Pearl Harbor Comparison

First of all, one little nagging thing I’ve been bothered by are the constant comparisons to the Sept. 11 attack and Pearl Harbor. This was NOT Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was an attack by an identifiable nation that was part of a larger alliance, and most importantly, Pearl Harbor was a MILITARY TARGET. Part of the onus of being "military" means that you may get shot at someday, something which media-saturated Americans tend to forget. The Sept. 11 attacks were acts performed by a semiprivate organization against civilians in the World Trade Center, which although an inviting symbolic target is not military. People didn’t sign a contract stating that they understood that they might be killed horribly by an enemy power if they went to work in an office there. The Pentagon is staffed by some military personnel, but it is not a military target. If you want a military target, you attack a shipyard, an airbase, missile silos, munitions factories, etc. The purpose of the attacks was to kill American people regardless of military affiliation is the most visible way possible. This is a stated goal of Osama bin Laden, who from the time of the attack was obviously suspect number one based on the target and methodology of the action.

Defense is Futile

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon shocked the world, but they were far from inevitable. Anyone with a decent understanding of territorial control and terrorist strategy had to know that ultimately, the United States is undefendable. Oh, we can deter attacks like this, mainly through ground intelligence operatives (as the CIA and its ilk are rediscovering, budgeting for additional manpower as opposed to new wacky gadgetry), but once your country is as BIG as this one, you cannot reasonably hope to defend it against subversive warfare. Hell, we can barely even deal with invasion. The only reason we haven’t fought a war on our own soil for this long is because we happen to be surrounded by allies and 2 oceans. But this is beside the point…

Against terrorism, defense is useless. Terrorism is "the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons." It is carried out by persons and groups who, though they may have the backing of political entities, are not officially affiliated with them. This rules out sanctions and the threat of counterattack; could you declare war on the state of New York or the U.S. Army for the actions of Tim McVeigh? It took an action on the scale of the Sept. 11 attack to galvanize enough nations into making military threats against the Taliban government and the nation of Afghanistan.

So if defense in the conventional sense is ultimately futile, what’s left is counterattack. Israel has known this for all of its existence, as have many European nations who take a hard stance against terror. And not eye-for-eye either: in order to be effective, a counter against a terrorist organization has to be so incredibly devastating that you remove the idea of terrorism in the future. Paraphrasing Ender’s Game, one might say that you not only have to win this fight, but all the ones hereafter. However, you can’t do this solely by destroying a country that harbors and trains terrorists; the faction will live on, and become more ferocious, and the world community turns against you. Therefore you have to take a look at the appeal of terrorism, identify its appeals, and destroy them.

Terrorism has two things going for it as an attack policy, aside from the political implications above:

  • It is EXTREMELY cost-effective
  • It rallies its operatives through fanatical beliefs, often religious in nature, and the ideal of martyrdom.

 Making Terrorism Expensive

 

Now if it had been a government that did this, your course is clear: destroy enough of their country to make their action a bad buy. However, because terrorist groups are not governments, you have no choice but to apply indirect leverage against the governments that support them. Afghanistan is feeling this pinch now, but not nearly hard enough in my opinion. You must not only sanction the supporting government to a degree you feel comfortable with, you must punish them to such a horrifying degree that not only will they refuse to support the terrorists any longer, but no other country in the world would even think about it. If this means the destruction of the target government and a large portion of the country’s economy, so be it.

It normally wouldn’t come to this, but the scale of what was done on Sept. 11 justifies it, and at no other time in history has the world been in a better position to come to such a decision. It needs to be made fast though, before people forget, and the will to deter any future actions flags in the face of misplaced humanitarianism.

The Israelis have always lived right next door to their enemies, and have been subject to terrorism for as long as they have been in existence. By all rights, Israel should be a smoking hole in the ground by now, but it isn’t, because the Israelis exact a huge toll on their enemies when they are attacked. Set off two carbombs in Israel, and your host nation suddenly loses two city blocks or more. Immediately. Pretty soon your friendly government is not so friendly anymore, because your random acts of terror are demolishing the home team’s cities. Add to this the "Big Prison" also known as the Gaza Strip, a ready source of hostages against Palestine should they feel a bit squirrelly.

Now, one might argue that Israel is still subject to terrorism, but the causes for the hatred between Israel and its foes are rooted in religious and historical gripes that will probably never be resolved. Israel will be at war until a threat of mutually assured destruction, either from their own conflicts or imposition by a world government, make war unthinkable.

Nerfing Martyrdom

The fanaticism is a stickier issue though. Zealots give up their lives by crashing a plane into a skyscraper because they figure this is their way into zealot heaven, and other zealots will look on their works, admire, and emulate them. You can do nothing about the trip to heaven except hope that they will be in for a nasty shock once they reach the hereafter, so you deal with the more pressing issues involving the living. It’s doubtful that you’ll be able to sway them with missionaries and Chick tracts, so you use a stick. Your purpose is to kill enough of the zealots to send a message to those that escaped you: commit terrorism and there will be nobody to follow you.

There are a number of examples of the effectiveness of this tactic that come to mind, but a relevant one is provided by the French when they occupied Afghanistan. The French had big problems with underground terrorist cells, where one terrorist might have known one or two others involved. The solution was to kidnap a known terrorist and simply torture him until he gave up names, then kidnap them, rinse and repeat. It’s horrible and inhumane and whatnot, but it had the effect of neutralizing the terrorist threat. (You might be able to cut back on the torture with drugs now, but they’re a little unreliable.) American intelligence agencies are bad at this sort of activity though, since they get too much news coverage and congressional scrutiny, and they just have a bad track record in general. It can, however, be done effectively by the forces used by American intelligence agencies fairly decently, and if all else fails, outside contractors are probably available now.

Extreme Counteractions Required

So now we have some possible actions to take against Al-Qa’edah. The scope of the attacks is horrifying though, far beyond any previous single act of terrorism, and so the response must be scaled accordingly. To me this means a massive counteraction against the Taliban government, including invasion and dismantling. The annhialation of the Taliban government is a small price to pay for an unforgettable deterrent to future acts against any nation.

It also means that you must find, capture, and execute bin Laden publically. Then you must eliminate his followers. Then you eliminate his and his followers’ children and families. Then the people who worked for them. Then the people who trained and supported them. Then their friends. Since this is a hunt and peck sort of spook operation, it is likely that this small scale war will require years to resolve, and at some point the organization will cry out for mercy or whatnot. You continue. If ten years from now, it is announced that an Al-Qa’edah officer has been captured in Venezuela and is being transported to Washington for execution (or life in a welded cell with no outside contact until he hangs himself), it’s a constant reminder of what happened, why it must not happen again, and what happens to those who perpetrate these things. By then you might not have to kill his followers’ families’ friends, and a fair number of them may have given themselves up anyway to avoid proactive measures against their children.

The Nuclear Counter-Counter Threat

Individuals like bin Laden and organizations like Al-Qa’edah have one important thing in common with their supporting national entities: the possibility that they possess nuclear devices, and the willingness to use them if it seems like a good idea. Since the dismantling of the Soviet Union, the biggest tactical threats against the United States have been China, which doesn’t care what the world thinks about its decisions, and the middle east, which is partially driven by religious fundamentalism and a warrior ethic. Since everyone and his grandmother is able to get uranium from Africa, and since we really have had no idea how much plutonium has gone missing for years, it’s safe to assume that a fair bit of it is in the hands of terrorists and/or sympathetic political entities. Therefore the concept of nuclear retaliation against a massive attack is quite realistic.

There’s a bit of solace in the fact that they haven’t been used yet. I’m personally amazed that nobody has yet carried a suitcase bomb into Manhattan and detonated it. One would have to imagine the difficulty in transporting a tactical device undetected must be formidable. The repercussions of a detonation would be catastrophic worldwide, as automated counters and the like would devastate a huge percentage of the landmass of all nations, and so it’s generally in the best interests of nations to prevent this sort of thing from happening. This is not necessarily a consideration for religious fundamentalists, however, since they’re all going to Paradise anyway, and what better way to secure one’s place than to destroy the evil empire as you go down? So while a national entity like Iraq might think twice about using atomics, a small cell of zealots might not.

The only thing you can do about this threat is improved security, advancing anti-atomics technology, and eliminating the threatening parties before they act. Sadly, even if you hunt down and eradicate as much of the enemy group as you can extremely quickly, if they have a sympathetic Saudi magnate with a backpack nuke (or, more likely, a more cost-effective biological device), he may try to use it in retaliation.

However, if you do nothing, you are guaranteeing that the device will be used anyway.

How to Destroy Middle Eastern Culture through Organic Farming (thanks to Shadwolf for this idea)

One of the biggest reasons why the middle east produces so many terrorists is its culture. By and large, the middle eastern culture is relatively medieval. Women are essentially property, veiled, housebound, and beaten regularly. Religion passes as rationale. The solution to the infidel problem is murder. The sort of culture present in the modern middle east is more apropos to the middle east of the age of Saladin, where a harsh climate and ferocious competition for scant resources dictated ethics. The middle east never underwent the sort of cultural changes experienced with an industrial revolution because there was no industrial revolution there. When the rest of the world discovered the utility of fossil fuels, the Arabs discovered they had a desirable exportable natural resource, and any technology desired by the power structure could be simply bought with the proceeds of oil sales. There is no ethical evolution when you simply sell oil and buy what the rest of the world developed.

The modern world, and particularly the United States, is hated by much of the middle eastern power structure because of the cultural threat it poses, and the inevitable cultural changes that come with a truly postindustrial economy and politics. In Afghanistan, all media is strictly controlled, and mass media is virtually nonexistent. The penalty for owning a TV satellite dish is death, though many Afghanis want them (and have them), because of the damage to the prevalent mores that would result. A rich guy doesn’t want to lose his harem because the local women get strange ideas about fairness from the news.

Obviously the middle east is doomed eventually: they will run out of oil. This may take a while, and in addition to the damage done by (and to) the middle east through this continual income, there are serious and undeniable ecological concerns posed by the continuous use of fossil fuels. Therefore, it seems to be in the best interests of the rest of the world to stop using so much oil. However, alternative energy programs like those begun during the Carter administration keep getting killed by the tremendous political influence of the petroleum industry. If the weakening of the OPEC nations is an attractive byproduct of alternative energy projects in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack, the time may be right to look again at sensible energy solutions. We are long overdue for large scale fusion research and national light rail networks.

However, we can do more damage to the economy of the oil producing nations (and save ourselves a lot of money in the meantime) by exploring large scale organic farming techniques. Contrary to popular belief, most of the oil usage in this country goes into producing fertilizers. Without going into a lengthy discussion comparing organic versus creative chemistry farming techniques, yields with organic farming are generally better than they are with conventional fertilizers and pesticides. It requires a better educated agronomy sector and, most difficult, a willingness to change techniques by the farmers, historically resistant to change even in the face of bankruptcy. Best of all, we would be cutting our oil requirements by a fantastic amount, putting a huge dent into the bank balances of petroleum exporters, many of whom turn around and use our purchase money as gifts to crazy people hiding in caves who need large amounts of explosives.

It should be noted that U.S. support of the oil exporting nations has significantly more to do with our allies than the U.S. itself. Japan and most of western Europe are highly dependent on middle eastern oil, far more so than the United States. Therefore, these solutions must extend to allied nations. The U.S. needs to do it first, though, to show that it can be done. Arable land-starved Japan, especially, needs the example to follow. More importantly, the U.S. needs to show its allies that it can finally buck the petroleum interests.

Without oil income, internal security collapses and, with it, the regime. Iran was nearly destroyed by the 1950′s boycott by Great Britain. The ensuing weakness paved the way for the Americans to place the Shah in power, and to grab a tidy chunk of the nation’s oil industry for itself. If nobody was buying the oil simply because it was not needed, collapse would have been inevitable. The same holds true today, and destroying the oil factor effectively forces totalitarian regimes in oil producing nations to either evolve their cultures to keep pace with the world community, or become third world nations once again. No doubt some revolutions will occur in a nation that suddenly loses 100% of its export market, and lives will be lost. Compare this to the lives lost in the Iran-Iraq war, only one of a number of nigh-continuous oil-fed conflicts.

Fanatics like bin Laden seem bent not merely on conquering the wills of the western world, but on forcing a final conflict between the two ideologies from which only one remains. We cannot prevent this necessarily, as there is no negotiation with fanatics. We can, however, force the conflict in a way that spares civilians, and sends the enemy culture out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Learning from our Own Mistakes

Lest I be pigeonholed as a far right jingoist by those who think I’m just out to show the world that America is the greatest, let me say that America does indeed need to acknowledge and learn from its own culpability in its terrorism problem. This is not to say that America deserved attack in any way, nor that America got its just desserts for some injustice done in the past, real or imagined. Rather, America should not be surprised that it gets attacked by middle eastern terrorists, since we more or less created them in many instances.

Osama bin Laden was trained by the United States when it was convenient to have him attacking the United Arab Emirates. The Iraqis under Hussein received significant support from the U.S. in order to cover our embarassment when the 1986 Iran-Contra scandal broke, and we felt we needed to maintain a public image of non-favoritism. The U.S. idly stood by while civilians (notably the Kurds) were massacred by chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war, largely due to embarassment over previous dirty laundry. Every time we meddle in the affairs of the middle east out of concern for petroleum interests, it inevitably comes back to haunt us, and it has again. And like clockwork, every time something comes back to slap us in the face, we take the corporate route and find someone else to blame, sending them support so they can then turn on us in a few years. (Our support of future opponents is not limited to the oil countries: Manuel Noriega was put into power by us, and would still be there if he wasn’t so close geographically.)

We need to stop screwing up like this. If action is warranted, we need to have the stones to take the action ourselves and not prop up a fall guy instead. When we go into Afghanistan (as I hope we will), we need to go in and utterly destroy the Taliban government, its military resources, and its economic infrastructure… and then leave. We cannot bolster the Afghani resistance who will inevitably come into power in the hopes that they can be controlled, unlike every other coup we’ve ever financed. It never works. We need to say, "We financed terrorists in the past, it was a stupid idea, and it’s done," and mean it. This means cutting support for any terrorists who are currently on our international layaway program. This would be far easier to do once the demand for oil is cut severely, and the powers of petroleum interests are appropriately gelded.

It’s what we need to do, but I don’t have fantastic hopes. The American public seems to find the idea of funding a bunch of anonymous foreigners who will die for the sake of our gas tanks and plastics far more palatable than taking the responsibility ourselves.

Wrapup

For those who think this is a bit harsh and that we must look to a time of healing, understanding, and bringing the world together, etc., that’s fine, as long as you are bringing the world together in a huge manhunt. When we hadn’t made a military response within 24 hours, I was disappointed. You have to act quickly in these cases, while you have the support of the world (except for Saddam Hussein, who should have been killed by now anyway) to do what needs to be done. And it does need to be done, right away. We knew bin Laden was connected to the 1993 bombing, and we knew where he was, and we didn’t get him. We failed to prosecute him after the embassy bombings, and did not follow up on our inadequate kidnapping/cruise missile plans. Now the towers are gone. If we do not act harshly and immediately, I would like for all of my surviving friends and family to consider relocation away from the New York metropolitan area as quickly as possible, because within five years someone is going to sail into New York harbor and detonate a radiocobalt bomb, or release a biological agent, or something equally horrific. Lack of response to the 1993 bombing led bin Laden to believe that the Sept. 11 attack would succeed, and it did. I’d rather not think about the next attack if we fail now.

American aggression has been horribly disappointing since the Korean War. The nation with the richest, the best-equipped, and a pretty well-trained military force seems totally unable to finish a job once started. Mired in bureaucracy and political considerations and public opinion, we never reach a conclusion. Even our "best" operation recently, Desert Storm, was incomplete. It was barely even a conflict. The only way that this attack could have been countered would be to detonate a tactical device under the desert as the cavalry rolled across it, and it didn’t happen. We didn’t finish anyway. A large part of why we didn’t finish had to do with the fact that we did a great deal to put Hussein in power initially, and really we just wanted the oil (stupid americans). This case is different. Civilians were slaughtered on U.S. soil, bin Laden doesn’t control a bunch of natural resources we need to buy at inflated prices, and the idea that this scenario was manufactured to bolster up the presidency isn’t nearly as appealing as it was in the Gulf.

By the way, the passengers who attacked the terrorists on board the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, short of its target, sacrificed a lot more than their ethical considerations and a couple nights’ sleep to prevent the loss of lives to terrorist attack. We all need to understand this.

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