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Friday, August 11, 2006

The Successes of Jihad

The convergence of terrorism and technology may lead to the collapse of air travel, and that will have interesting repurcussions for the global village concept.

Most airlines rely on business passengers for the bulk of their revenues. Business travellers are becoming increasingly unhappy with the difficulties involved in air travel. Given the ability to video conference, the cost of air travel may easily become prohibitive for them. Businessmen without laptops are like fish without water - they get eaten for lunch.

The jihadist goal is to disrupt the economies of their opponents, thereby putting their opposition on the same footing they themselves are on.

In WWI, the Germans attempted to economically disrupt England through U-boat combat, and they very nearly succeeded. True, the Germans often had to target "civilian" ships in order to sink the armaments those unarmed ships carried in their cargo holds, but these attacks on civilians were generally limited. Still, the U-boats sunk enough shipping to put all of England on starvation rations. If Kaiser Wilhelm had built 30 or 40 more subs before the beginning of combat operations, he would have won the war.

In WWII Allied Bomber Command tried to disrupt Germany and Japan from the air. Unfortunately, no one had very precise bombing techniques - analysis demonstrated that bombs fell an average of one mile from their intended industrial targets. But that wasn't a bad thing from the perspective of the airmen. They were killing the factory workers in the suburbs, which they argued would idle the factories nearly as effectively as blowing up the equipment.

Thus, by 1943, American bombers were deliberately targeting civilian populations, arguing that there is no such thing as a civilian when you are waging economic warfare. We burned out entire cities in Germany and Japan. Indeed, the atomic bomb was not desirable for its radiation effects - they took too long to kill the enemy - it was desirable for the marvelous firestorms it created, which rendered the need for precision obsolete.

In the event, the Allied bombing killed enormous numbers of civilians, but did little to affect production. German factories, for instance, steadily increased production in every year of the war, right up through 1945, despite the steadily increased bombing. But it did set a precedent.

Today, jihadists wishing to shut down the Euro-American economy have very wisely chosen to concentrate on air travel. True, a certain number of civilians are killed, but precedent has already established that civilians may be targeted in war as long as you can make the argument that the targeted civilians are part of the economy you intend to disrupt.

When the Allies bombed Dresden, Germany, they did not intend to create a firestorm in the heart of the city. That was just luck. But once the firestorm happened, the Allies were so pleased with the amount of death and destruction that they set out to deliberately replicate the effect elsewhere - work which eventually led to the atomic bomb.

Jihadists pursuing their quest to destroy America's economy may have lucked into a similar situation. They may have figured out how to destroy America's public image and self-image.

If they successfully drive the airlines out of business, or close to it, international travel will become a thing of the past, especially for the United States. Europeans, Asians and Africans will eventually come to believe that every American is a soldier, because they will never see any Americans except soldiers. Whether we are Sparta or not, we will be perceived to be Sparta - that perception is taking hold even as I type this.

From this perspective, the war is going very well for the jihadists. Like Islam, the American ideals will be associated with extreme levels of surveillance and violence as we attempt to make the world safe for those same ideals.

Islam is trying to re-make us in their image. It will be interesting to see if they succeed.

10 comments:

Doogie said...

Interesting points Steve. I don't think business travel will be too much affected however. Likely the big corporations will embark on a massive memo spree advising all their travelling employees to finish their drinks before going through security. Thus causing more use of paper...

That's it! The Islamists want to deforest the West! They're trying to make us into a vast desert!

DavidofOz said...

If the current forecast restrictions regarding on board luggage bans come into play - no computers or electronic gear allowed on board - business travellers will be quite resistant to travelling abroad. I mean, will you trust your laptop with all it's vital data to a baggage handler?
Video conferencing and remote access, here we come.

Jordan Potter said...

"But once the firestorm happened, the Allies were so pleased with the amount of death and destruction that they set out to deliberately replicate the effect elsewhere - work which eventually led to the atomic bomb."

I know what you're trying to say here, Steve, and your underlying point is valid, but in this case your history is a little off. The firebombing of Dresden happened after work on the atomic bomb had already begun.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

True, the Allied work on the atomic bomb had begun well before Dresden, but remember that even the physicists themselves were initially unsure of the effects. It is worth remembering that one of the big fears among physicists early on was that the detonation of an atom bomb would ignite the earth's atmosphere - a firestorm extraordinaire.

The Allies knew firestorms could be created, and the atomic bomb promised something along that line, but no one knew how devastating they were until Dresden.

After taht, bomber command was pushing for something like the atom bomb (although not everyone pushing for it knew the atom bomb was in the works) - they were pushing for a way to create a firestorm in EVERY city they bombed. The atom bomb provided the answer to their demands.

So, while the work preceded Dresden, Dresden and the firebombing of Tokyo - which killed more people than both Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined - created the situation that allowed for psychological acceptance of the atom bomb.

Jordan Potter said...

Yes, that's what I knew you were getting at. It just wasn't phrasing as clearly, that's all.

Jordan Potter said...

"Phrased," that is, not "phrasing."

Patrick said...

davidofoz,

After 9/11, corporations like mine tried to reduce travel with tele- and videoconferencing and did to a significant degree. However, they soon found that certain travel was always required; customer sales meetings, business contract meetings, etc. So you can restrict till the cows come home and most of the business travel left will continue unabated. I expect only a small cut in anyones travel plans, nothing too significant compared to the large reduction everyone saw after 9/11.

DavidofOz said...

Oddly enough, the night after I posted my comment, a business friend rang from the US telling me his laptop, electronic organiser and mobile phone were all in a lost bag. His business plans are now heavily disrupted.
I suspect that laptops will be used less or have a variety of alternate methods of carryng the essential office data.

Patrick said...

The interesting issue with Dresden is the historical perspective. On the anniversaries of the dropping of the A-bomb, asian groups complain about the ruthless inhumanity to slaughter so many civilians for no reason (ignoring the Emperors own statements that every civilian would fight to the death). However, at the time, military figures argued that the A-bomb was a humane and "clean bombing" compared to the intense physical destruction over a much wider area with firestorms that would last for days/weeks that fire bombing required to work effectively.

Jayson said...

Europeans, Asians and Africans will eventually come to believe that every American is a soldier, because they will never see any Americans except soldiers. Whether we are Sparta or not, we will be perceived to be Sparta - that perception is taking hold even as I type this.

I don't see that this scenario would be a "problem"; given that most world societies--especially outside the West, and within the "Arab" and "Islamic" worlds--are "face" cultures that place a premium on outward appearance of strength or "manliness," this should be a plus. It would garner Americans more respect.