Dulce Bellum Inexpertis

V.D.Hanson, professor of ancient history and conservative pundit (and fellow of the conservative Hoover institute) ought to know what the title of this post means–more on that later. Considering our recent history in Iraq and Afghanistan and the amount of terrorism that has inspired (rather than deterred), we were mystified to see such belligerent opining:

What then would be the new Western approach to terrorism? Hard and quick retaliation–but without our past concern for nation-building, or offering a democratic alternative to theocracy and autocracy, or even worrying about whether other Muslims are unfairly lumped in with Islamists who operate freely in their midst.

This reminds me of something I urge upon my students. If the answer feels easy, gratifying, or is strangely in line with how you wanted it to come out, or how you have always thought, then there’s probably something wrong with it. In this case the obvious thing is that terrorism asks us to retaliate massively. Isn’t that just what terrorists–these in particular–want? Since war is politics by other, mostly violent, means, the terrorists means of violence are some of his own, and much of ours in response. That’s why they attack us. Our massive air attacks–however precise–fill their ranks faster than they could ever dream:

Any new policy of retaliation–in light of Sept. 11, 2001, and the messy efforts to birth democracies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and the West Bank–would be something of an exasperated return to the old cruise-missile payback. Yet in the new world of Iranian nukes and Hezbollah missiles, the West would hit back with something far greater than a cruise missile.

They dream about ever more violent war with the US. And clueless hacks like Hanson would give it to them. The most surprising thing, however, is this:

If they are not careful, a Syria or Iran really will earn a conventional war–not more futile diplomacy or limited responses to terrorism. And history shows that massive attacks from the air are something that the West does well.

Massive assaults on Hezbollah from the air have not resolved the crisis as it stands. How would these assaults on other countries change attitudes towards Israel? How have the so far changed attitudes towards the US? Did massive air assaults bring about an end to terrorism in Afghanistan? In Iraq? To repeat the same belligerent opining that has achieved every aim the terrorists had boggles the mind.

It’s easy–pleasing as the Daily Howlermight say–to think these things about our the only weapons we seem to have in our arsenal. And, of course, (warning graphic images): Dulce bellum inexpertis.

6 thoughts on “Dulce Bellum Inexpertis”

  1. “That there are men in all countries who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of nations, is as shocking as it is true;
    but when those who are concerned in the government of a country, make it their study to sow discord, and cultivate prejudices
    between nations, it becomes the more unpardonable.”
    “A kingdom got by violence must by violence be maintained.”
    -Thomas Paine, “Letter to Abbe Raynal”

  2. War is lovely for those who know nothing about it, indeed. You would think that a professor in ancient history would know enough about history to understand what the use of force entails, and its consequences, but maybe I should know better considering the current political climate. Then again it seems to have always been this way. To begin with historically, strategically, and tactically the use of air superiority to pummel an enemy into submission has not always worked; the fire bombing of Dresden and Tokyo during world war II did not work, all they accomplish was to terrorize the civilian population, and it did not bring the Nazi regime to its knees as the Allies hoped it would. Again it did not work in Iwo Jima, the US Navy pummeled the island for days and all it accomplished was to annoy the deeply entrenched Japanese. North Vietnam was bombed for days and all the US accomplished was strengthen the North Vietnamese’s resolve. Bombing Lebanon or other so-called terrorist hotspots will only add more fire to the supernova of anger, the use of disproportionate violence engenders more violence and increases the civilian support for these terrorist groups. The lack of an attempt to understand why these terrorist groups are so prevalent is very disturbing, and should be the first question anybody asks when dealing with this issue. But instead we get the old doctrine of ” bombing the enemy back to the stone age”.
    There seems to be a leitmotif in the US military doctrine and in certain political circles were air power, and any weapon or technology that allows the US military to reach out and touch someone from a long distance, is believed to be the quick fix to any problem (i.e Shock and Awe during Gulf War II: the Empire Strikes Back, and Afghanistan). I find this very problematic, the conviction that vilence can and should be used to solve the worlds problems does not leave any room for dialogue or negotiations, not to mention the amount of deaths that it causes among the civilian population.

  3. in response to the images, one might offer that there exist many such images from numerous bus bomings in tel aviv and jerusalem. why no website with flammable captions for these pictures?

  4. Good point, but I think that what Doctor Casey was trying to illustrate was the consequences of using disproportionate force to punish a perceived harm, by using air power and other technologies. If we look closely at the numbers of Israelis,Palestinians and Lebanese dead being reported in the news I think that we can see how distorted the image is. Israeli deaths are report close to 3 to 1 to Palestinian deaths,(http://www.ifamericansknew.org/media/net-report.html for some info), that is not representative of the actual death rates.I think this creates a false world view were more Israelis are being killed than Palestinians, it victimizes the Israelis and vilifies the Palestinians. I’m in no way condoning suicide bombings but the use of airpower as a means to stop Hezbollah and Hamas has caused many more civilian casualties than suicide bombers will ever do, not to mention the psychological damage to the civilian population.

  5. determining proportionate force is a whole other issue, because simply reciprocating leads us to the current situation we have there now. i hit you, you thit me, and that’s why they’re still fighting. no one wants to strike the decisive blow, except perhaps, this current conflict, which israel seems to think, falsely, in my own humble opinion, that removing hezbollah will end the strife, just like breaking up al queda ended the threat to america. oh, wait, oops. yeah…anyway, i understood Dr, Casey’s point, but i think’s it worthwhile to note that war was being made on civilian populations long before israel began lobbing shells indiscriminately into southern lebanon. the numbers shouldn’t be important, although i agree with you as to their affect. 10 dead on one side and 34 on the other should only mean that 44 people are dead, not that the israelis owe the palestinians 24 more bodies. if a civilian dies in this war, no matter what side, that person is a victim. when i wore a uniform i understood it meant that my life was demanded of me. civilians shouldn’t have to feel that way about their ethnicity.

  6. I sent the follwing to the professor:

    Tired westerner here. Actually, I’m not tired at all of what might satisfy “the Islamists–from Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to the Iranian government in Tehran to the jihadists in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle”. Its clear, enlivening, very simple and quite straightforward but may be taken the wrong way by Hooverite-type world improvers such as yourself, Brooks, Kristol and Krauthammer. Their satisfaction will come within the blink of an eye when you:
    1) Get the jackboot off their necks and hoods off their heads and learn to be real, honest brokers,
    2) Stop sanctioning terror and terrorist regimes only to, predictably, fall off the wagon at some point and lose their phone numbers (you have no personal loyalties),
    3) Stop partitioning their lands and creating countries out of thin air, for your own self-serving purposes, that you then act as if have existed forever for such purposes,
    4) Figure out who semites are so we can all figure out who to be anti of,
    5) Understand that, given your weapons arsenals and record of use, its you that can’t be trusted and that they therefore legitimately need to protect themselves from you, as they see fit, and without phony advisements and threats from you,
    6) Stop funding and supporting those uninvited gangsters (you know, the non-semites) that would steal their land, control their every movement, confine them in an outdoor prison, disappear and murder them at will with forces excessive to the task, yet cry wolf and raise an arguable tale of past woe at each stone slung their way,
    7) Go home, save your money (what riches you could have had for your people) and your children’s lives (they can’t fathom for a moment, your continued willingness to sacrifice your own children on suicide missions when you yourselves were unwilling to do so in past circumstances, under your father’s watchful and manipulative care, elsewhere on this grim planet – its ungodly),
    8) Forever after tend to your own affairs and leave theirs well enough alone, as all good Republicans would have it.
    Now isn’t that simple enough for even educated meddlers to understand.


    Richard Fye

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