Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Suicide and war tactics

I was watching a WWII documentary on PBS last night, and found some parallels to the current conflict.  Not direct ones and not what you'd think, but they got me thinking.

One of the more devastating weapons that the Japanese had was suicide bombers.  Of course these were not the type that strapped TNT to their chest and walked into coffee shops, but flew missiles with wings (seriously, they showed armed missiles with tiny cockpits and wings, the only purpose being a one way mission for the pilot).  There were also tiny submarines (6 to 8 feet long) built for the same purpose. 

One main difference was that the Japanese were a bit more honorable than to fly into a coffee shop or something, they were aiming at military targets in their own corner of the ocean.  They're purpose at that stage was desperation, and protection of their homeland.

On the other hand, the U.S. was not afraid to bomb civilians during WWII.   I'm not even going to get into the heavy carpet bombing of Germany, which had the sole intention of killing civilians and destroying cities to affect the German morale.  The U.S. spent a lot of time carpet bombing Japan to, sometimes military targets, but other times cities as well.

The ultimate expression of this was Truman's decision to target two large cities for detonation of the first (and only) wartime use of nuclear weapons.  We targeted civilians because we didn't want to lose any more of our own soldiers trying to invade Japan.  We did it to force them to surrender.  The Japanese were very sensitive to the protection of their families (one of the reasons they fought so hard to keep us out of their ocean). 

So is it wrong that Islamists go after civilians?  I still think it is, but it's not as clear cut as you might think, otherwise we have to denounce the methods of our own generals and Presidents during WWII.

The most important reason I think it's wrong in the current case is motive.  What are they trying to accomplish by killing civilians.  In our case in WWII, we didn't start the conflict.  In fact we were trying to keep out of it when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor (once again, they attacked a military target, not Honolulu).  Also, the Japanese were not all that altruistic either.  Trying to make the best use of military equipment meant trying to reduce U.S. forces and breaking our will to fight in the Pacific.  They could have wasted time and energy trying to bomb mainland U.S. targets, but our Pacific fleet would have walked all over them.

The Japanese also spent considerable effort treating Chinese civilians with much brutality, killing entire villages and small cities worth of them as they rampaged across the Chinese countryside.

Also, we have stopped carpet bombing to get our objectives accomplished, preferring to use strategic and targeted attacks made possible by advances in technology.  However, Islamists don’t have the option of numbers, higher technology or an industrial nation’s resources to compete with us mano-a-mano, so they have to go the guerilla route.

This is not to excuse their tactics, it’s just a bit to think about when we criticize their methods outright.

No comments: