The revolt of Algeria in 1954, and the French attempt to repress it, are worth examining in some detail. For one, the revolt itself entwined the nightmares that evolved in the first half of the 20th century: in the fascist states, Lenin's Russia, and the Palestine wars. And when they merged they gave the world the modern terrorist movement in the form we are fighting it now, in al Qaida especially. Also, the French response offers some instructive counter-examples.

Algeria was a French colony, but it also was a settlement, a mass migration of northern Mediterranean peoples to the southern coast of the sea. The indigenous population of Algeria in 1830, when France acquired it, was 1.5 million Arabs, and the number was in decline. The pieds noirs who settled in Algeria from Europe included French, Corsicans, Spanish, and Italians. By 1954, they had expanded 2,000 cultivated square miles (in 1830) to 27,000.

But their arrival also had the unanticipated effect of reviving the native population, and sparking its growth. Not only did the prosperity draw in settlers from elsewhere in North Africa, French medical services slashed the malaria and typhus death rates so that by 1906 the Muslim population stood at 4.5 million, and by 1954 it numbered 9 million.

Yet if the two populations were not physically segregated, they lived unequal lives in many ways. In 1945, some 1,400 primary schools served 200,000 European children, while a mere 699 schools taught 1.25 million Muslim children. Like the common view of South African whites and U.S. confederates, the pieds noirs had a hardened image as racist exploiters that was out of step with the white homelands of these people. While Paris had traditionally been hospitable to blacks socially, the French colonial policies were so grim that Africans fled from French colonies into neighboring British ones.

But the greatest inequity was political. Algeria had separate electoral colleges for Arabs and French. The French settlers also sent deputies to the parliament in Paris, and there they were able to block bills to extend rights to Muslims, especially in 1936. Maurice Viollette, who had been governor-general of Algeria and who had been among the sponsors of the reform bills, warned the Chambre:

When the Muslims protest, you are indignant. When they approve, you are suspicious. When they keep quiet, you are fearful. Messeurs, these men have no political nation. They do not even demand their religious nation. All they ask is to be admitted into yours. If you refuse this, beware lest they do not soon create one for themselves.
A fraudulent electoral system (the elections of 1948 and 1951 were faked outright) alienated moderate, educated Muslims like Ahmed Boumendjel, who wrote, "The French Republic has cheated. She has made fools of us. Why should we feel ourselves bound by the principles of French moral values ... when France herself refuses to be subject to them?" With moderates marginalized, radicals moved into the vacuum.

The storm broke in 1945, when Arabs massacred 103 Europeans.

The French reprisals were on a savage scale. Dive-bombers blew forty villages to pieces; a cruiser bombarded others .... According to the French official report, 1,020 to 1,300 Arabs were killed. The Arabs claimed 45,000. Many demobilized Arab soldiers returned to find their families dead, their homes demolished. It was these former NCOs who formed the leadership of the future Front de Liberátion Nationale (FLN). As the most conspicuous of them, Ahmed Ben Bella, put it, "the horrors of the Constantine area in May 1945 persuaded me of the only path: Algeria for the Algerians." The French commander, General Duval, told the pieds noirs, "I have given you peace for ten years." [Paul Johnson, "Modern Times"]
He was only off by a few months. The revolution broke out in earnest on Nov. 1, 1954. The goal of the insurgents never was to defeat the French army, which would have been impossible. Instead they sought to carve such a gulf of hatred between the Arabs and the Europeans that the concept of a multi-racial Algeria and coexistence was unthinkable. The first order of business was to eliminate the moderates on both sides.
The first Frenchman to be murdered was a liberal Arabophile schoolteacher, Guy Monnerot. The first Arab casualty was a pro-French local governor, Hadj Sakok. Most FLN operations were directed against the loyal Muslim element: employees of the state were murdered, their tongues cut off, their eyes gouged out, then a note, "FLN," pinned to the mutilated bodies.
This strategy had not developed in a vacuum. It had been pioneered in the 1920s in Palestine, by the genocidal Mufti of Jerusalem. But elements of the strategy also had come ultimately from the Jewish terrorist groups 20 years later that fought in their own way to create the state of Israel.

In 1921, the British had authorized a Supreme Muslim Council to direct religious affairs in Palestine, and at the head of it they appointed for life Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, who was both leader of the biggest landowning clan in Palestine and genocidal little Hitler "who devoted his entire adult life to race-murder." The Mufti of Jerusalem, as he was known in his new position, had posed for a portrait photo with Himmler in 1943 (the Nazi chief had signed it with a flattering inscription). He killed Jewish settlers when he could, but what made him a truly nefarious influence on the later 20th century was his success through the systematic destruction of the moderate elements in his own Arab population. His terrorist squads by 1939 had systematically wiped out leading Arab moderates and drove the rest into silence. Jewish immigration to Palestine had all but halted.

When it revived, with new urgency, after World War II, the flood of Jews to the Holy Land had a military component, part of it legitimate, part of it mere terrorist gangs. Among the latter, Irgun, especially as led by Menachim Begin, "was a fateful development, because for the first time modern propaganda was combined with Leninist cell-structure and advanced technology to advance political aims through murder. During the next forty years the example was to be followed all over the world: a cancer of modern times, eating at the heart of humanity."

It is important to note that while the Arab states lined up behind the Mufti's extremism, Chaim Weizmann and other founders of Israel fought against their own terrorists and vowed the Jewish people would "cut off this evil from its midst." That took time, however, especially during the flood tide of refugees. And meanwhile the prototype modern terrorist attack had been staged: The destruction by Irgun of the King David Hotel, home of several government offices, in Jerusalem on July 22, 1946. It killed 41 Arabs, 28 British, 17 Jews, and 5 "others." While many Israeli leaders lamented the attack, in part because it was counterproductive -- it turned the British government, people, and army against the Jews -- "The first to imitate the new technique were, naturally, the Arab terrorists ...."

Many of the Algerian rebel leaders had served under the Mufti, such as Mohamedi Said, who had joined the Mufti's "Muslin SS legion" and still wore an SS helmet from time to time.

His disciples included some of the worst killers of the twentieth century, such as Ait Hamouda, known as Amirouche, and Ramdane Abane, who had sliced off breasts and testicles in the 1945 massacres, read Marx and "Mein Kampf" in jail, and whose dictum was: "One corpse is a suit is always worth more than twenty in uniform." These men, who had absorbed everything most evil the twentieth century had to offer, imposed their will on the villages by sheer terror; they never used any other method. ... Ben Bella's written orders included: "Liquidate all personalities who want to play the role of interlocuteur valable." "Kill any person attempting to deflect the militants and inculcate in them a bourguibien spirit." Another: "Kill the caids .... Take their children and kill them. Kill all those who pay taxes and those who collect them. Burn the houses of Muslim NCOs away on active service."

The FLN didn't want to liberate Algeria from France so much as it wanted to wreck it, then rule it. Its policy was to carve a riverbed through the nation and fill it with blood. Its path for this project ran through the bodies of the most decent, or innocent, among the Arabs and the French: the moderate, the civil servants, the teachers. The tactic was pure Leninism, as was the cell organization that effected it. This was not an Islamist project, as this was the days when Arab anger flowed into Marxist models, not religious ones. Yet the methodology has served the Islamists well in more recent years, with a few juggled Quranic verses to justify what is a deeply atheist tactic.

The French government of 1954, at the start of the rebellion, was more sympathetic to the political aspirations of the Algerians than perhaps any that had ruled in Paris since 1830. It was headed by Radical-Socialist Pierre Mendès-France (his Interior Minister was François Mitterand), whose initial response to the uprising was to attempt, at last, to build Algeria into a genuine multi-racial society and to transplant there the noblest of French values; the liberty-egality-fraternity package.

Whether this could have been done after more than a century of colonial attitudes is an open question. It's even more doubtful that it could have been done in light of the explosive birth rate of the Muslims compared to the stagnant population of the Europeans. But idealism and generosity never stood a chance in a confrontation with FLN's fascist barbarity.

Mendès-France dispatched as governor-general Jacques Soustelle, who sought to give the Arabs social justice and real democracy. He set up social centers, created local police in the outlying towns, and involved moderate Muslim leaders in his administration. One by one, the FLN blew them to smithereens or tortured them to death and left the corpses in public places.

The FLN killed 1,035 Europeans in its first two-and-a-half years of open warfare. But it killed Arabs at about 20 times that rate (unofficial figures). Having gone far toward its goal of eliminating the Algerian moderates and thwarting Soustelle, however, the FLN turned increasingly to European targets. And here, too, the goal was not a military victory, but a bid to provoke the French to a savage response that would alienate the Arab silent majority. This, too, was a pure Leninist tactic: turn the political situation into a military confrontation, the better to exploit the suffering of the people.

By 1955, the FLN was pursuing a policy of open genocide: Kill all the French. Civilians of all ages and conditions were hacked to pieces, infants ripped from the womb and dashed to pieces in front of dying mothers, all the depths of depravity of terrorism. If it managed to kill a French official, it then tried to bomb his funeral, too.

The French soldiers responded to this with furious reprisals that killed Arabs indiscriminately. That was exactly what FLN sought. The FLN, of course, was the one group that knew when and where a bomb was going to go off, so it cleared the area of its operatives before the French paratroopers began shooting wildly in response, insuring that only innocent Arabs were hit by the bullets.

The violence spiraled in 1956. The French got tough. In January 1957, Soustelle's successor gave Gen. Jacques Massu and his 4,600 men carte blanche to clean the insurgents out of Algiers. Torture, which had been banned to French soldiers since the Revolution, crept back into use. A secret report as far back as March 1955 had recommended its use, in limited form, to prevent unlimited use of unauthorized torture. Soustelle had rejected this, but Massu authorized it.

The argument was that successful interrogation saved lives, chiefly of Arabs; that Arabs who gave information would be tortured to death, without restraint, by the FLN, and it was vital for the French to make themselves feared more. It was the Arab belief that Massu operated without restraint, as much as the torture itself, which caused prisoners to talk.
Torture was not the end of it. According to one French official in a position to know, some 3,000 prisoners "disappeared" during the Algiers battle.

It was the one battle in the insurgency that the French clearly won. Fighting the FLN near its own level, with matching weapons of terror, Massu won the fight for Algiers. But civilized France all but tore itself to pieces in the process.

On the one hand, by freeing army units from political control and stressing the personalities of commanders, it encouraged private armies: colonels increasingly regarded themselves as proprietors of their regiments, as under the monarchy, and began to manipulate their generals into disobedience. In the moral confusion, officers began to see their primary obligation as towards their own men rather than the state.

At the same time, news leaking out of what the army had done in Algiers began to turn French liberal and centre opinion against the war. From 1957 onward, many Frenchmen came to regard Algerian independence, however distasteful, as preferable to the total corruption of the French public conscience. Thus the demand for the restoration of political control of the war -- including negotiations with the FLN -- intensified just as the French army was, as it believed, winning by asserting its independence. This irreconcilable conflict produced the explosion of May 1958 which returned General de Gaulle to power and created the Fifth Republic.

De Gaulle came to power with the enthusiastic support of the Algerian colons, and in his rhetoric he played openly to their desire to keep Algeria a part of France and French culture. But he was a realist, who knew that France's days as a colonial power were over. For the time (1958) his principal job was to preserve France from a coup or civil war at the hands of the military men who had engineered his return to power. And so, for the time, he spoke in the language of the colons, while carefully avoiding any specific commitments.

But privately, he called their dreams of French Algeria "a ruinous utopia," and said, "L'Afrique est foutue et L'Algérie avec."

By 1960 he had gotten a firm grip on the state, steered passage of the constitution that created the Fifth Republic, and broken or jettisoned all the men who had propelled him into office. Now he turned his attention to Algeria.

He opened secret talks with FLN leaders, then in January 1961 he held a referrendum, in which Algeria voted overwhelmingly, as he knew it would, for freedom, though it was papered over with the hollow qualification, "in association with France." FLN terrorist leaders were set free from French prisons to join talks about independence.

Now it was the European-ancestry colons, betrayed and desperate, who turned to terror. Several army leaders in the colony attempted a rebellion, but their conscripts did not follow them, and it collapsed. But the people took matters into their own hands, and formed the Organization de l'Armée Secrète (OAS), which fought tooth and nail against the inevitable.

The OAS was, or soon became, the mirror image of the terror-drenched FLN. It killed some 12,000 civilians, mostly Muslims, as well as hundreds of police officers. As before, at the hands of the FLN, the moderate Muslims suffered most.

The OAS leader, General Salan, who once upon a time had been an honorable soldier, issued orders in February 1962 to rain Molotov cocktails on police "night and day," and to "destroy the best Muslim elements in the liberal professions so as to oblige the Muslim population to have recourse to ourselves," as well as "to paralyze the powers that be and make it impossible for them to exercise authority. Brutal actions will be generalized over the whole territory ... at works of art and all that represents the exercise of authority in a manner to lead towards the maximum of general insecurity and total paralysis of the country."

The seeds of Leninism and Hitler's fascism, transplanted to Palestine and nurtured into dark blooms, now had been transplanted to Algeria, both "black" and "White."

To fight the OAS, the French colonial government continued the brutality and torture it has employed against the FLN. But as this time the victims were white citizens of an African colony, fighting to retain colonial control, there was no howl of indignation from the liberals of Paris, or the enlightened Third World dictators, or the Arab states.

All the OAS really managed to accomplish was driving the final nail in the possibility of a European presence in the new Algeria. The French began to move toward a policy of resettling the descendants of the European settlers in France.

With end-game in the air, both sides ramped up their orgy of bloodletting. A Muslim mob sacked the Great Synagogue in Algiers, killing the Jewish officials, shredding the Torah, and writing "Death to the Jews" on the walls. The OAS sacked a social center that trained handicapped children and shot six men to death, including Mouloud Feraoun, a friend of Camus, who called him the "last of the moderates."

When the OAS murdered 18 gendarmes and 7 soldiers in March 1962, the French commander retaliated by smashing "the last redoubt of Algérie français, the pied noir working-class quarter of Bab-el-Oued, with its 60,000 inhabitants. He attacked it with rocket-firing dive-bombers, tanks firing at point-blank range and 20,000 infantry. It was the suppression of the 1870 Commune all over again; but this episode does not figure in the Marxist textbooks." ["Modern Times," p.504].

Some 1.4 million people fled Algeria to France. The community of Europeans that had flourished there since 1830 was reduced to a mere 30,000. The end of the exodus of Europeans back to France in 1963 ended the conflict -- almost. The departing French took laboratories, oil terminals, and libraries with them, but they left something behind. The agreements with the FLN -- in effect a French capitulation -- gave no protection to the quarter of a million Muslim officials, many of them low-ranking, who had faithfully served the French government when it had promised a peaceful, multi-racial Algeria. Only 15,000 or so could afford to flee.

"The rest were shot without trial, used as human mine-detectors to clear the minefields along the Tunesian border, tortured, made to dig their own tombs and swallow their military decorations before being killed; some were burned alive, castrated, dragged behind trucks, fed to the dogs; there were cases where entire families including tiny children were murdered together." [Johnson, p.504]
Camus, alas, was wrong. Feraoun was not the last of the moderates. But by the time the FLN got finished killing as many as 150,000 of them, there were too few left to matter. By the mid-60s, the new leadership of the nation had even purged itself of every member who had been brought up in a Western tradition or achieved a European education.

The (reported) Michael Moore quip about lightning killing more people than terrorists, and all the moral equivalency about comparing the number of American deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq to the number killed by 9/11 misses the point of why terrorism repulses us. It's called "intent." And it matters a great deal.

The number of college students killed by National Guards at Kent State was less than the number that died that year from alcohol overdoses. More blacks in the South in the 1920s died from poor hospital care than from lynching. All those Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals incinerated at Auschwitz would be dead by now of old age anyhow.

Because human beings have the power of intention, and lightning bolts, booze bottles, and bacilli do not, there is a difference. And unless you're a Buddhist saint or a pure Pyrrhonist philosopher, you will feel that difference in your bowels: Terrorism is an indignity.

To the terrorist, you are frankly irrelevant. He wants nothing from you but your life. Not your surrender, not your money, not your good behavior. Terrorism has a perverse quality of art; it embraces many elements of theater, and the essential players are artist, audience, and medium. The essential connection is between the terrorist and the audience who will be psychologically traumatized. The dead? You are mere props.

Terrorism's victims are taken to death with full human deliberation and will and craft. But they are essentially taken at random (unless, as sometimes, their very innocence is what dooms them). They are living corpses waiting to be arranged for the camera in the most dramatic poses. It is the ultimate dehumanization, the complete objectification of human life.

Algeria was the first modern terrorist thugocracy, a nation born of a cowardly father -- European lack of will -- and a cruel mother -- unrelenting terrorism on a grand scale. Naturally, the country fell into complete economic collapse. Twenty years after he served at its first president Ben Bella admitted, "We have nothing. No industry -- only scrap iron." That would have been bad enough, but throughout the '60s and early '70s, Algeria served as "the chief resort of international terrorists of all kinds." The terrorist-state survived there, and spread its seeds across Africa and the Middle East.

The FLN in Algeria polished the model of 20th century state power in the hands of rotten-hearted leaders. Islamists later would take that model in hand, and, under a coat of green paint, attempt to pass it off as the new Caliphate.

The Rand organization has republished an analysis of the Algerian War [PDF alert] by David Galula, who sought a leadership position on the French side during the rebellion, the better to understand the tactical challenges.

As Bruce Hoffman writes in his forward, "This inability to absorb and apply, much less even study, the lessons learned in previous counterinsurgency campaigns is a problem that has long afflicted the world's governments and militaries when they are confronted with insurgencies. Guerrilla groups and terrorist organizations, on the other hand, learn lessons very well."

Insurgent and terrorist movements as diverse as al Fatah, the African National Congress, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and the Tamil Tigers, for example, have cited the Algerian struggle's influence on the strategies and tactics that they later adopted. Among the officer corps of most countries' standing armies, however, counterinsurgency -- at least until very recently -- was disdained as a "lesser included contingency" unworthy of contemplation, much less serious study.
Some of this will sound familiar to people following the unfolding insurgency in Iraq:
  • "In my zone, as everywhere in Algeria, the order was to 'pacify.' But exactly how? The sad truth was that, in spite of all our past experience, we had no single, official doctrine for counterinsurgency warfare."

  • " 'Ordinary banditry,' said a highranking government official in Algiers .... By the time the insurrection was finally recognized for what it was, only drastic political and military action would have reversed the tide, and slowly in any case...."

  • "The rebels realized that they could achieve the greatest psychological effect on the French and on world opinion at the cheapest price by stepping up terrorism in the main cities, notably in Algiers, which served as headquarters to most French and foreign correspondents and thus acted as a natural amplifier. A grenade or a bomb in a café there would produce far more noise than an obscure ambush against French soldiers in the Ouarsenis Mountains."

  • "Our forces were vastly superior to the rebels. Then why couldn't we finish with them quickly? Because they managed to mobilize the population through terror and persuasion.... It was therefore imperative that we isolate the rebels from the population and that we gain the support of the population. This implied that under no circumstances could we afford to antagonize the population even if we had to take risks for ourselves in sparing it."

  • "If we distinguish between people and rebels, then we have a chance. One cannot catch a fly with vinegar. My rules are this: outwardly treat every civilian as a friend; inwardly you must consider him as a rebel ally until you have positive proof to the contrary."

  • "Reflecting on who might be our potential allies in the population, I thought that the Kabyle women, given their subjugated condition, would naturally be on our side if we emancipated them."

  • "While the insurgent does not hesitate to use terror, the counterinsurgent has to engage in police work .... The police work was not to my liking, but it was vital and therefore I accepted it."

  • "Then, five top leaders of the rebellion, including Ben Bella, had been neatly caught during a flight from Rabat to Tunis. Their capture, I admit, had little effect on the direction of the rebellion, because the movement was too loosely organized to crumble under such a blow."

  • "If there was a field in which we were definitely and infinitely more stupid than our opponents, it was propaganda."

  • "The borders with Morocco and Tunisia would easily have required 100,000 men to control with reasonable effectiveness, given their length and the local terrain. In order to save personnel, it was decided to build an artificial fence, a project which was completed along both borders by the spring of 1958."

  • "Throughout the war our prisoner camps were open for unannounced inspection by the International Red Cross, the reports of which were made public .... In the best camps, efforts were made to sift the tough prisoners from the soft; where it was not done, the camps became schools for rebel cadres."
Algeria was the first modern terrorist thugocracy, a nation born of a cowardly father -- European lack of will -- and a cruel mother -- unrelenting terrorism on a grand scale. Naturally, the country fell into complete economic collapse. Twenty years after he served at its first president Ben Bella admitted, "We have nothing. No industry -- only scrap iron." That would have been bad enough, but throughout the '60s and early '70s, Algeria served as "the chief resort of international terrorists of all kinds." The terrorist-state survived there, and spread its seeds across Africa and the Middle East.

The FLN in Algeria polished the model of 20th century state power in the hands of rotten-hearted leaders. Islamists later would take that model in hand, and, under a coat of green paint, attempt to pass it off as the new Caliphate.

People who support the Iraq project reject the notion of losing. That's defeatism. That's the curse. How could the world's sole superpower "lose" to a gang of religious retards? "Why the Strong Lose," by Jeffrey Record, tells how.

[A]ll major failed US uses of force since 1945 -- in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia -- have been against materially weaker enemies. In wars both hot and cold, the United States has fared consistently well against such powerful enemies as Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union, but the record against lesser foes is decidedly mixed. ... In each case the American Goliath was militarily stalemated or politically defeated by the local David.

The phenomenon of the weak defeating the strong, though exceptional, is as old as war itself. Sparta finally beat Athens; Frederick the Great always punched well above his weight; American rebels overturned British rule in the Thirteen Colonies; the Spanish guerrilla bled Napoleon white; Jewish terrorists forced the British out of Palestine; Vietnamese communists drove France and then the United States out of Indochina; and mujahideen handed the Soviet Union its own "Vietnam" in Afghanistan. Relative military power is hardly a reliable predictor of war outcomes.

I'd disagree with his inclusion of the Peloponesian War here. Sparta only was weaker than Athens at sea. But as Victor Davis Hanson has written recently, Athens had a flaw Sparta never showed -- the volatility of democratic institutions -- and it cracked open in a protracted war of attrition. There is something to be made of the parallel with the situation of America today.

Our perplexity in Iraq also reminds me a bit of a different classical story. Sparta in its might under King Cleomenes I defeated the army of its rival, Argos, and utterly routed it. The men who survived the battle fled into a grove, which the Spartans set fire to, burning the refugees to death.

Argos now lay open to them, a city defenseless, full of women and slaves. But a poetess named Telesilla rallied the Argive women. She gathered up the young boys and old men left in the city and had them man the walls. Then she gathered up all the weapons she could find and armed the women, and marched them out to fight the Spartan hoplites.

The mighty Spartans, the greatest warriors on land in Greece found themselves face to face with a pack of women in arms. They halted and hesitated. The Spartans thought it over. If they fought the women and won, there would be no honor in it, only shame. If they fought women and somehow lost, how much worse the shame would be! In the end they gave up and went home.

Where I see a parallel is the dilemma of the Spartans (not the bravery of the Argive women). All their might and advantage availed them nothing. The need to fight with dignity and honor as a warrior can lead you into fights you can't win. On the other side, the weaker side, the will to fight at whatever cost, and the awareness of the consequences of defeat, are potent weapons. Stendhal, who had ridden into battle with Napoleon, understood this:

"The lover thinks more often of reaching his mistress than the husband of guarding his wife; the prisoner thinks more often of escaping than the gaoler of shutting his door; and so, whatever the obstacles may be, the lover and the prisoner ought to succeed."
Jeffrey Record's piece gives several examples, some of which ought to be familiar to Americans. Vietnam is one. Our own Revolution is another:
Post-1945 successful rebellions against European colonial rule as well as the Vietnamese struggle against the United States all had one thing in common: the materially weaker insurgent was more politically determined to win because it had much more riding on the outcome of war than did the stronger external power, for whom the stakes were lower. ... Because the outcome of the war can never be as important to the outside power as it is to those who have staked their very existence on victory, the weaker side fights harder, displaying a willingness to incur blood losses that would be unacceptable to the stronger side. The signers of the Declaration of Independence risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in what became a contest with an imperial giant for which North America was (after 1778) a secondary theater of operations in a much larger war. For the American rebel leadership, defeat meant the hangman's noose. For British commanders in North America, it meant a return to the comforts and pleasures of London society and perhaps eventual reassignment.
He summarizes observations that others have made -- tentatively, perhaps because they are so disturbing to us. Democracies are particularly vulnerable to losing "protracted conflicts against irregular foes." He cites Gil Merom's observation that "democracies fail in small wars because they find it extremely difficult to escalate the level of violence and brutality to that which can secure victory."

True. And an honorable military tradition in a free people, even when they face defeat, also recoils from such brutality. The Confederate generals in the Civil War, West Pointers, deliberately rejected the option of guerrilla warfare, though many saw it as their best chance for independence. Forrest, a private man with no military education, proved how effective insurgency could be against the Yankees in Mississippi in 1862. But Lee did not follow his path. After the war, Forrest proved it again by founding the Klan. Americans today routinely list him among the nation's 10 greatest villains.

But the cruel truth is, barbarism works -- if by "works" you means defeats the insurgents at a horrific cost in innocent human lives. The French learned that in Algeria, and they also learned the consequence; a free and democratic state with an civilized population simply cannot sustain such a war.

Record adds:

For democracies, the strategy of "barbarism" against the weaker side's noncombatant social and political support base is neither morally acceptable nor, over time, politically sustainable. Since 1945, wars against colonial or ex-colonial peoples have become increasingly unacceptable to most democratic states' political and moral sensibilities. Merom says that "what fails democracies in small wars is the interaction of sensitivity to casualties, repugnance to brutal military behavior, and commitment to democratic life."

Democracies fail in small wars because, more specifically, they are unable to resolve three related dilemmas: "how to reconcile the humanitarian values of a portion of the educated class with the brutal requirements of counterinsurgency warfare, ... how to find a domestically acceptable trade-off between brutality and sacrifice, [and] how to preserve support for the war without undermining the democratic order."

Dictatorships, of course, have no such constraint. And insurgents seem instinctively to grasp this weakness in their democratic foes. Record introduces Robert Pape's landmark study of suicide terrorism from 1980 through 2003, which speculated that suicide terrorism, like guerrilla warfare, is "a strategy of coercion, a means to compel a target government to change policy." It is felt to be especially effective against democracies, Record notes, for three reasons:
First, democracies "are thought to be especially vulnerable to coercive punishment." Their threshold of intolerable pain is lower than that of dictatorships. Second, democracies are believed to be more restrained than authoritarian regimes in their use of force, especially against noncombatants. "Democracies are widely perceived as less likely to harm civilians, and no democratic regime has committed genocide in the twentieth century." Third, "suicide attacks may also be harder to organize or publicize in authoritarian police states."
This dispassionate but deeply disturbing set of observations opens up an important discussion we as a nation ought to be having, but which can't seem to advance past the salvos of "Chickenhawk!" and "Defeatist!"

If, for all our ability to beat up anyone's nation-state armed forces, we're a musclebound weakling when it comes to insurgencies, we have a problem. All of us, the smug left included, because as Michael Moore pointed out in his perverse way, the 9-11 hijackers didn't take an account of who loved Bush and who hated him in those skyscrapers or on those luckless jets.

["If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who did not vote for him! Boston, New York, DC, and the planes' destination of California -- these were places that voted against Bush!" The quote originally was posted as a "Mike's Message" on Moore's website on Sept. 12, but was removed not long after.]

And every time the Americans make a military display, then pull back rather than bringing down the hammer, as they did in Fallujah in April 2004, the jihadis surge. They make sure the message gets through: We defeated the infidel Marines. We are strong, they are weak. And when they do so they draw power, they suck in thousands of young men with their mirage of victory. And more blood and carnage follows.

The image of America pulling back from a fight is what inspired bin Laden in the first place:

"After leaving Afghanistan, the Muslim fighters headed for Somalia and prepared for a long battle, thinking that the Americans were like the Russians. The youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers and realized more than before that the American soldier was a paper tiger and after a few blows ran in defeat. And America forgot all the hoopla and media propaganda ... about being the world leader and the leader of the New World Order, and after a few blows they forgot about this title and left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat."
And ... well, I'll let the interviewer tell the rest of the story:
The Somalia operation, in some ways, made bin Laden. During the Afghan war, the CIA had been very aware of him (although the agency now insists it never "controlled" him), but in Somalia, bin Laden had taken a swing at the biggest kid in the school yard and given him a black eye.
This is no secret. CNN's Jeff Greenfield, for example, has connect the same three dots:
It began as a peacekeeping mission in March, 1983. U.S. Marines were sent to Lebanon to try to stop a bloody civil war. Seven months later, 20 years ago today, a massive truck bomb blew up the Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. servicemen -- the worst single-day loss of life for the American military since Korea.

Grim as the news was, it was, in part, overshadowed by the U.S. invasion of Grenada two days later, to overthrow a hard-left pro-Cuban government.

And when President Reagan ordered the Marines to leave Lebanon in January, 1984, not many Americans paid attention.

But by some accounts, others did pay attention. That terrorist act of 20 years ago may have helped to convince some of America's adversaries that the United States, for all of its might, was vulnerable, that heavy losses could be inflicted upon it at a relatively low price.

After all, the reasoning went, the U.S. had lost a war in Vietnam, not because it was militarily weak, but because it did not have the political will to bear the costs. And over the years, these adversaries seemed to take heart from what they saw as American weakness, from what the U.S. did not do when it left Saddam Hussein in power after the first Gulf War, when it pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993 after 18 Americans were killed -- the Black Hawk down incident -- when it failed to strike hard after the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing or the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa that killed 19 Americans, or the attack in 2000 on the USS Cole that left 17 dead.

That history may have been what Osama bin Laden had in mind when he said, three months after 9/11: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse." Indeed, one of the principle arguments made for American military action in Afghanistan and in Iraq was that the U.S. had to prove by direct action that America was not a weak horse, that al Qaeda and its allies were misreading America's resolve. If that's true, that Beirut bombing of 20 years ago may have been where that miscalculation began.

Record cites Marine Corps small-war expert Thomas X. Hammes: Though war against an unconventional enemy "is the only kind of war America has ever lost," the Defense Department "has largely ignored unconventional warfare. As the only Goliath in the world, we should be worried that the world's Davids have found a sling and stone that work. Yet the internal DOD debate has largely ignored this striking difference between the outcomes of conventional and unconventional warfare."


Online Work





Cold War Nightmares
We grew up thinking there was a pretty good chance, maybe 50:50 or worse, that the whole world was going to go up in a nuclear fireball holocaust some day in the near future, without any warning to any of us.

Missing Pieces
Rounded like a cream-colored cast-iron bank-safe, deep and delicious. I sometimes forget they didn't have it till the end.

A naked woman's body is a biological fact. A woman dressed to seduce is an inhabited beauty, a promise of pleasure, a flame from Heaven.

She wasn't a dancer, and it wasn't music. She was an elemental force that pulled music into her body and merged both into something more than human.

Earth Day
Environmentalists often share with creationists the utterly unscientific view that the world was set spinning in one complete, harmonious form.

Under the Grass
Memorial Day began not in one place but in many. Hilltop cemeteries across the North, behind old stone churches and meetings, with long views across the farms.

Lincoln on Dissent
The Great Emancipator shows his political skill, in a way Bush and Cheney can only envy and never hope to match, in pulling the rug out from under the Democratic opposition.

Their political theory may have been wanting, their views on race certainly were deplorable by modern standards, but neither were they sitting passively at home in June 1776.

Our George
George Washington was the steady hand on the tiller when we set sail as a nation.

'Washington's Crossing'
Hessian prisoners were so well treated that, once they had got over the shock of it, they could be sent from one holding place to the next without an armed escort.

Turning Point
I had been instinctively opposed to an invasion of Iraq. But I began to be persuaded. This is an archival record of a mind being changed.

Not all of them are soldiers, but the new war sweeps up more than soldiers in its causes. And all believed in something.

None of us knew at the time what weaponry Saddam had. Probably not even Saddam knew. We all chose -- overthrow him or leave him alone -- based not on our wisdom or our ignorance but on the gap between them.

To understand the founders of American democracy, you have to stand where the founders stood, and then look back, from there, at the past they knew.

Sept. 11 and After
And I kept looking at the pictures, and the words, and thinking, "That can't be right. That can't be right."

'The End'
There is nothing now here, above ground, where they were but the wind and the night. We can never get into them in their final moments. No traveller returns to tell what they felt, falling, burning, crashing down.

Ground Zero
The wrecked buildings looked organic; like melted candles or rotting chunks of flesh.

Journalism is 90 percent the art of deciding what not to tell you. You pay us to decide what's essential to you.

He was the first of us, the historial tourist, and he gazed as we gaze, noticing what we would notice.

Lone Runner
Individualism is the dynamo that drives Western culture.

Classical virtue was not meek. It strove to be first in doing good for one's country and coveted the glory that comes with unrelenting devotion to the good of the people.

Left Behind
The liberals I know have no interest in the Kurds, because the Kurds made the unforgivable mistake of liberating themselves with the help of American military power.

The Impurity of Tears
In what other place in the world would a man, obviously gravely injured, have to shout out an explanation of his religious affiliation before he got help to save his life?

Islamic Reformation
There already was an Islamic Reformation. It happened while we were sleeping. The result is Wahhabi dominance, and Islamic Brotherhood, and Bin Laden.

'You Would Weep'
Everyone knew the town would be looted and the inhabitants massacred when the Americans left.

Mother Tongues
A dictionary half in an unknown language is a fountain of inspiration.

Old English
It was an English without all the cobweb words. It was an English with far more strong verbs, with their juicy evolutions.

Guy Davenport
He was a brilliant and learned man, but with a warm, salt-of-the-earth, Southern sensibility. Think Pound without the prickly aestheticism and the Ivy League snobbery, without the fascism.

Boring Postcards
I still don't know any more about these postcards than what they show and tell.

Old Money
In West Berlin in the '70s, I bought in an antique shop a stack of old German World War I-era currency.

J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien was a devout Catholic. But as a scholar Tolkien was deeply immersed in the pessimistic, pagan world that he studied and taught every day.

© April 20, 2005 Douglas Harper Moe: "Say, what's a good word for scrutiny?" Shemp: "uh ... SCRUTINY!"