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November 16, 2010

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Can you imagine what we would be saying if the Russians did this? I suppose the Russians did this in Chechnya when they razed Grosny. I know the Russians did a lot of horrible stuff when they were in Afghanistan, minefields, cluster bombs and who knows what else. But I really thought we were better than this. It seems like the Philippines all over again, one hundred years later and we just haven't come very far.

Actually, once my house had been turned into a giant killer booby trap, I don't think I'd care a lot one way or the other whether someone blew it up. Better they blow it up than my brother come to visit and accidentally blow it and himself up. Certainly, I'd rather be paid compensation for my house which has been ruined by being turned into a bomb (and then blown up) than not being paid compensation for having my house turned into a bomb.

I think we should get out of Afghanistan 8 years ago (I opposed the invasion from the start) and failing that tomorrow would suit me fine, and I'm sure that if an occupying army paid me compensation for blowing up my house I'd hate them for it even though my other option was to have a IED riddled house an no compensation, but I think there are a lot of things the US army is doing/ has done that I'd hate them a lot more for (midnight raids where they disappear my cousin, rocket attacks on my wedding because they mistook celebratory gunfire for an attack, rocket attacks on my house because my old enemy informed on me for cash, rocket attacks on my house because a taliban sniper was hiding out in my hen house, burning down my poppy crop, restoring the corrupt warlords the Taliban drove out, etc. etc-- including attacking the Taliban so they booby trapped my house on their way out of town) than paying me compensation to blow up my booby trapped house.

Houses are booby trapped in anticipation of US forces entering a neighborhood to suppress insurgent activity. Our targeting of a neighborhood to be cleared is the impetus for creating booby trapped houses. If we didn't want to enter a specific neighborhood, they wouldn't have a need for improvised explosives. I can't believe that houses are being booby trapped everywhere in Afghanistan; the traps are in direct response to our offensive maneuvers.

So, basically, we are going into your neighborhood to destroy your homes, which are booby trapped because we picked your neighborhood to enter. We can't be earning any positives with the local population with this.

As I often am, I'm reminded of the Stan Rogers song, House of Orange,

All rights and all wrongs have long since blown away
For causes are ashes where children lie slain
Yet the damned [USA army] and the cruel [Taliban]
Will tomorrow go murdering again.

Except we have far less excuse than either the damned UDL or the cruel IRA.

As a brutal foreign occupying army, we aren't earning any positives period. I shouldn't cavil at an expression of outrage at the senseless brutality of our occupation, so I'll stop.

Would you rather live under a lunatic Christian fundamentalism or have your house blown up?

It might be worth pointing out that there are lots of examples in recent history of people preferring to have their houses blown up rather than live under lunatic governments of various sorts. But they were foreign people.

And there is of course always the option of having both. Lunatics love to blow up houses not just abroad.

U!S!A!
shining beacon on the hill!

"We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

You'd think the 11th or 12th time you heard yourself saying that, it would sort of be a wake-up call.

To be honest, I have to give the military props for trying their best to pull some kind of rabbit out of a very, very crappy hat. And for "trying their best", please read "getting themselves shot at and killed".

No small thing, that. Can I get an amen?

But I'm not seeing that we're making anything any better over there.

If we leave, the wheels will come off. That's the assumption, and it's probably so. But it's totally unclear to me that the wheels are on now.

At l(e)ast someone admits what war is actually about [that's snark]
Via rightwingwatch.org

Sometimes I wonder if Bryan Fischer isn't really just some brilliant left-wing satirist committed to making the AFA look as ridiculous as possible: "We have feminized the Medal of Honor ... We now award it only for preventing casualties, not for inflicting them. So the question is this: when are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things so our families can sleep safely at night?"

It might be worth pointing out that there are lots of examples in recent history of people preferring to have their houses blown up rather than live under lunatic governments of various sorts.

Ajay, all other things being equal, I'd let you blow up my house and all my worldly possessions in order to avoid having to live (and probably die, quite horribly) under a fundamentalist Christian regime.

So maybe Jacob's rhetorical attempt to boil things down wasn't entirely successful.

But of course, the choice facing the people of Afghanistan isn't as simple as "Taliban vs. not-Taliban." It's more like

A. Taliban

or

B. several more decades of civil war stalemate in which your house may very well get blown up a couple more times (not to mention the ever-present possibility of your limbs getting blown off and your kids getting blown to confetti) so that you can be 'governed' by an ineffectual, kleptocratic puppet state propped up by tens of thousands of foreign soldiers, the vast majority of whom who don't speak your language, know nothing about your country, and are only there to 'get the bad guys.'

Not so simple. Being something of a wuss, my choice would probably to hightail it the hell out of there by any means necessary.

What russell said.

Missing from your question, Jacob, (but partly raised by James) is "would you rather live under lunatic Christian fundamentalism [any particular reason you chose that description/religion btw?] that kicked you out of your house in order to make it into a bomb . . ." You know as well as I that the home was lost the minute the Taliban kicked them out (or, if done voluntarily, the minute the homeowner vacated) in order to make the home an HBIED.

Point taken about what happens when you engage in war. Point NOT taken for appearing to not place much blame on the Taliban and placing it on the army (aka the "heavily-armed foreign occupying army that wants to destroy your house"). I don't think the soldiers take great pleasure in blowing up houses. But just MHO.

I'm not blaming the people on the ground. Destroying every building that an enemy could be in is a standard tactic of warfare. Nobody who saw what happened to Fallujah can be honestly surprised to hear what's been happening in Afghanistan.

War is killing and destruction. It's not some kind of odd football game with particularly expensive equipment. Having a war in a country is the absolute worst thing that can happen to it. The idea that we're doing Afghans some kind of favor by bringing 130,000 heavily armed soldiers into their country is delusional.

the army (aka the "heavily-armed foreign occupying army that wants to destroy your house").

The problem is that, from many Afghan's point of view, the army most likely is exactly the heavily-armed etc.

The Taliban, by contrast, are "Uncle Aziz and his friends".

His scary disturbing violent no-good friends, perhaps. But it's still "the occupiers" vs "Uncle Aziz".

They speak the same language, or at least a language Afghans have heard before. They eat food and wear clothes that Afghans eat and wear, or at least recognize. They may not be their kind of people exactly, but they're a kind of people they grew up around, and a kind of people they have some understanding of and knowledge of how to deal with.

And when the dust finally settles, they're the people who are still gonna be there.

Advantage Taliban. Whether that seems sane to us, or not.

Perhaps I should have left that second paragraph in its original form, in which I suggested that your choice was between living under a lunatic fundamentalist Christian regime or having your house blown up and then probably winding up living under the same lunatics when the invading army loses interest.

If the Taliban don't take over again after we leave, the brutal and corrupt Afghan government will. What about either of those scenarios is going to be made better by having your house blown up first?

As for blaming the Taliban, dude, they live there. If they want to fight a war in their own country with the forces of our pet warlord in Kabul, that's their problem. We don't live there, we don't have to be there, we wouldn't lose anything of value if we left tomorrow. There would still be a war there, but it would be a much smaller war because it wouldn't have 130,000 NATO soldiers and their heavy weaponry involved in it.

So when did the DOD put JPChase and BofA in charge of operations in Afganistan?

I mean, damn, those foreclosure actions are a bit extreme, don't you think?

FWIW, I wrote a post about this on Democracy Arsenal last week, citing a different article. Money graf from that article:

[US Military officials] also argue the destruction is actually a positive development — it forces Zhari residents to go to their local government center for compensation. U.S. Army commanders see this as a way to kick-start progress toward the final goal of the Kandahar campaign: connect the people of Zhari district to the Afghan government.

link here

Destroying every building that an enemy could be in is a standard tactic of warfare.

No, it isn't. It's certainly not permitted by current ROEs. To my knowledge, recon by artillery fire is not a normal tactic in Afghanistan.

Having a war in a country is the absolute worst thing that can happen to it.

Again, an opinion not shared (fortunately) by a lot of people in recent history. But, again, most of them were foreigners.

[US Military officials] also argue the destruction is actually a positive development — it forces Zhari residents to go to their local government center for compensation. U.S. Army commanders see this as a way to kick-start progress toward the final goal of the Kandahar campaign: connect the people of Zhari district to the Afghan government.

I keep reading that over and over, and still can't believe how awesome it is. Fncked-up-itude in its purest form, best consumed through the nose.

Well, "standard tactic of warfare" begs the question of "whose standard?" The visigoths?

No, it's pure stimulus. Break a few windows, and the glaziers are working overtime.

Maybe it could work over here, as well.

Yeah Ugh, that was my reaction as well.

ajay: No, it isn't.

Yes, it is. War is not nice. It is not police work. In every war, villages and towns that found themselves involved in battles have been reduced to rubble, burned down or blown up. That was true in every war in history, it was true in WWII, it was true in Korea, it was true in Vietnam, and it was true in Iraq. So I don't know why anyone would expect that it isn't true in Afghanistan, to believe that warfare has changed somehow so much that destroying everywhere that could house an enemy or a trap is no longer the safest thing for troops on the front line to do.

I don't blame those troops. I wouldn't want to get killed by booby-trapped IEDs in someone's house. If I was in charge of soldiers there I'd be ordering them to blow up houses too. That's what war is like. That's why the moral thing is not to go to war - or continue a war - a minute longer than you need to.

A photo of the town of Cassino after the Battle of Monte Cassino. Another photo of Cassino:

Seoul, 1950:

Me: Having a war in a country is the absolute worst thing that can happen to it.

ajay: Again, an opinion not shared (fortunately) by a lot of people in recent history. But, again, most of them were foreigners.

Bit too cryptic for me there. Could you be a little more explicit? Presumably you mean e.g. the French under German rule in WWII. I dispute that. Most people in France were happier not fighting against the Germans with all the associated destruction; you can tell, because they didn't do it.

That's not a very romantic truth, and it's not to say that they weren't happy to see the Germans gone when someone else forced the issue, but except in that extremely small minority of cases where you were more likely to be killed under occupation than in warfare, most people prefer peace under any regime to war.

Jacob,

I may be mindreading a bit, but I read the "Most of those people are foreigners" as a direct shot at the interventionists who are happy to have a little war in someone else's country for some greater purpose, cause it won't be that bad.

I have a cousin in Afghanistan right now. Her twin sister will be going over as a "civilian contractor" at some point soon (was until recently in uniform).

As far as I can tell, they're still gung-ho ooh-rah. Or at least still very committed to the mission (whatever the mission is at this point). I can't tell if that's good or bad. Or neither.

The last email exchange I had was... distinctly unproductive (it was more about the "Ground Zero Mosque" and the allegedly imminent danger of creeping Islamism in the West than about the war, though the war came up).

2014 is the new 2011. Apparently 10 years of one step forward, one step back isn't enough to prove that the mission (again, whatever that is) is impossible.

"There would still be a war there, but it would be a much smaller war because it wouldn't have 130,000 NATO soldiers and their heavy weaponry involved in it."

However, we would probably leave a lot of the heavy weaponry behind so they could kill each other more effecively. Then we would have to replace it so it would be directly stimulative as those production lines are "shovel ready".

Shovel ready and stimulative, yes, but with little to show in terms of facilitating commerce long term.

That is why infrastructure repairs/improvements are better bang for buck. Not that you disagree.

In every war, villages and towns that found themselves involved in battles have been reduced to rubble, burned down or blown up.

This is false.

And in any case, it's not the point you made. You didn't say "Wars tend to lead to buildings in the war zone being destroyed". You said "Destroying every building that an enemy could be in is a standard tactic of warfare" and this is not true. It's certainly not true in Afghanistan, where it's prohibited by ROEs.

If you think a patrol in Afghanistan will routinely be moving along and think "Look, there's a building up ahead. Can't see any movement, but I suppose there could be some Taliban waiting to ambush us inside. Let's call in air and flatten it" then you are - and I'm trying to keep things civil here - laughably, pitifully uninformed. If you think that's standard operating procedure, then... well, it's difficult to know where to start.

Destroying buildings that an enemy is actually in, on the other hand, is a tactic of warfare, and as you possibly know, there were Germans (who were the enemy) in Monte Cassino.

Most people in France were happier not fighting against the Germans with all the associated destruction; you can tell, because they didn't do it.

Well, no, that's because "most people in France" weren't in the French armed forces. But the decision for the army to fight against the German army received majority support from the French population - even if they were (rightly) not overjoyed at the prospect of another bloody war.

except in that extremely small minority of cases where you were more likely to be killed under occupation than in warfare, most people prefer peace under any regime to war.

Again, there are many, many historical examples of this being false. The American War of Independence? You're saying that was waged and supported by a small, unrepresentative minority?

ajay, I'm not sure where you're coming from on this, and I'm more interested in talking about that than in arguing over what exactly a standard tactic is.

In terms of whether NATO should be in Afghanistan at all, whether they should be fighting furiously for control in Kandahar, and so on. It's not clear what you're getting at here, at least to me.

In terms of whether NATO should be in Afghanistan at all, whether they should be fighting furiously for control in Kandahar, and so on.

Appropos:

KABUL — Afghans in two crucial southern provinces are almost completely unaware of the September 11 attacks on the United States and don't know they precipitated the foreign intervention now in its 10th year, a new report showed on Friday.
...
The report by The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) policy think-tank showed 92 percent of 1,000 Afghan men surveyed in Helmand and Kandahar know nothing of the hijacked airliner attacks on U.S. targets in 2001.
"The lack of awareness of why we are there contributes to the high levels of negativity toward the NATO military operations and made the job of the Taliban easier," ICOS President Norine MacDonald told Reuters from Washington.

In fairness, I don't know why we are there either.

ajay, I'm not sure where you're coming from on this

OK, I'll be clear.

I understood you to say

1) that blowing up buildings essentially at random is an inevitable part of war, because it's a standard tactic used by all armies. In your words, "Destroying every building that an enemy could be in is a standard tactic of warfare".
2) that, partly because of this, people overwhelmingly prefer to live under oppressive governments rather than have a war going on in their countries.

I disagreed with both these statements and explained why I thought you were wrong.

What I'm getting at is that you're making sweeping statements that are completely at odds with a) history and b) what's actually happening in Afghanistan right now.

that blowing up buildings essentially at random is an inevitable part of war, because it's a standard tactic used by all armies. In your words, "Destroying every building that an enemy could be in is a standard tactic of warfare".

Okay. That wasn't what I was meaning to say, so I appreciate you taking the time to explain that that's how it came across. I definitely agree that destroying buildings at random or while not engaged in actual fighting is not standard practice or even all that common.

What I meant to say was that in actual battlefields - places that are actively, hotly contested - destroying everything that an enemy could hide in or behind is standard practice. I don't think that is all that controversial. Wars bring massive destruction when they're fought in human settlements, but they end up being fought in them anyway both because they contain the productive capabilities that are worth fighting over, and because they provide cover.

I was opposing the idea - not necessarily what you were trying to say, but we were exchanging terse comments and I wasn't clear where you were coming from - the idea that war can be constrained in ways that make it possible to avoid this kind of destruction.

What the post title was intended to convey was my sense that, in contrast to the popular idea of decisive battles, wars often continue until they have caused so much destruction in a given area that there isn't anything left to fight over.

that, partly because of this, people overwhelmingly prefer to live under oppressive governments rather than have a war going on in their countries

I guess what strikes me here is that the extent to which there could be said to be anything resembling government in Afghanistan under either the Taliban or Karzai is fairly minimal. Also, that the idea that the central government will remain in control long-term is probably dubious to people who've seen governments come and go for 50 years.

Very-low-income subsistence farmers in remote, mountainous terrain aren't dealing with any government at all most of the time. So I think for them I'd expect that living under a repressive but extremely remote government was substantially preferable to living under a slightly different extremely remote government and also having your house blown up.

Having your house - or your whole village - blown up is much more devastating than anything any government might have done, even if there is compensation. People's attachment to their stuff - to their residence, to their community and the buildings in it - is the same all over the world.

I don't know as much about the Revolutionary War as I'd like, so I don't know how those dynamics played out there.

As a whole - not addressing you specifically - what I'm trying to dispel is the idea that war can ever be completely controlled or nice or careful or logical or subjected to cost-benefit analysis. As I say I think we talk about it here as it was some kind of interestingly-dangerous professional sport, instead of the illogical, emotionally-motivated, brutal, dirty, destructive force it is. It's not for nothing that War gets to ride out with Famine and Death. Wars are always hugely destructive encounters no matter how nice they look on paper.

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