Friday, April 26, 2013

Terrorism disregards the concept of non-combatant; but so did the military draft at one time

I have an old unpublished manuscript (“The Proles”) that contains a detailed, and rather graphic, account of my time in Army Basic Training in 1968.  One of the “academic” topics covered in Basic (they were few) was the Geneva Convention.

I recall the issue in conjunction with another term, “noncombatant”, described in the Protocol of the Geneva Convention, as explained here in Wikipedia, link.  

The topic comes up in my mind because of the incredibly “personal” nature of the attack at the Boston Marathon.  It did not do much infrastructure damage or property damage (there is a question about how insurance companies respond if the government calls it “terrorism”). It did not kill a large number of people. 
But it did main a lot of people, and present not just physical but emotional issues not only for the people directly but for others having relationships with them. 
There are other kinds of attacks that could be imagined, and in that regard the availability of material on the Internet (“Inspire Magazine” and other places) become an issue for national and homeland security. In this case, it looks like the older Tsarmaev brother did have extensive paramilitary training overseas.  But the pattern does seem to shift.  Al Qaeda seems to be inspiring disconnected attacks from lone wolves or small groups, with little or no traceable support, with likely greater dependence on the Internet (without training) in the future.  Although the extremist ideology seems to have a basis in some abstract religious and geopolitical beliefs, it quickly becomes very personal.  The elder Tsarmaev, having failed in his own life in the US, came to regard ordinary Americans (which could have included other Muslims) as personal enemies.  He came to believe that everyone is a “combatant” and should take his turn sharing the suffering.  Therefore, he could go on a frightening and yet surprisingly amateurish violent crime spree.  (Why was his younger brother so easily brainwashed?  What a perversion of the idea of “leadership role” in the family.)
But we’ve seen variations of that sort of thinking .  In the 1960s, we had a male-only military draft,, which tended to make any fit (or even not so fit) male in a certain age range a potential “combatant” (without volunteering first, as today).  The experience was complicated by student deferments, which fueled class resentments and sheltered some at the risk of others with disadvantaged backgrounds. We still have mandatory Selective Service registration, and a sometimes vocal minority of politicians want to restore conscription (which would probably include women now).  It’s only because the Vietnam war was discredited politically that the moral issues associated with the draft (including a disdain for physical cowardice that earlier generations knew) have been largely forgotten.  The debate over “don’t ask don’t tell” at least recalled some of this, however. Among modern democracies, Israel (necessarily) has the concept that every citizen is a soldier and potentially a combatant.  
Furthermore. look at world history.  Despots on both the far left and far right, religious or not (Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, the Jongs of DRNK) believe that ordinary people can be viewed as the “enemy”, or at least as competition for resources in a zero-sum world.  So it should not be surprising that such beliefs would be found in extremist religion, especially radical Islam.
I ran into the “everybody is the enemy” thinking when I “looked in” on the radical Left in 1972, even.  I was seen as part of the “oppressor” because I worked as a “salaried professional” and “depended” on the working person.  If something happened to me, so they thought, I had it coming to me. 

My own history makes me take very seriously the idea that everyone has to “pay his dues” to reach the moral high ground, even though this doesn’t seem to be seen as a reasonable idea in the world of individualism.  Maybe this all comes from “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” (Movie reviews, April 20).  

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