In World War II, neither the Allies nor the Nazis had any qualms about carpet bombing cities and killing large numbers of civilians. So-called collateral damage was not a concern for the military leaders. Indeed, collateral damage – the more the better – was part of the strategy to terrify the opposition into surrendering.
Fast forward to today, and military leaders, especially in the West, are severely constrained by the fear of collateral damage. If a civilian is inadvertently killed, the Western press make this a front-page story and condemn the military and their political masters. And of course, the bleeding heart, anti-West leftists start demanding that those responsible be tried for crimes against humanity.
Guerrilla warfare is not a new strategy. It has a long history. It is the right strategic response by those who cannot win a traditional military battle – mano a mano on an open battlefield far away from civilians. Since the goal is victory, if you can’t win one way, you change the rules of the game to increase your chances of winning.
Today guerrilla warfare has become more prevalent and somewhat more sophisticated. Suicide bombers and embedding soldiers and weapons in heavily populated areas are key parts of the new guerrilla warfare strategy.
What are the options for dealing with today’s guerrilla warfare strategies?
Capitulation is one. Rather than risk any collateral damage, just give up. This is the preferred option of the anti-West leftists who do not really care about freedom, democracy or human rights. But this option only would inspire a greater use of such tactics and lead to countless deaths.
Another option is to cut off the money to those who rely on such strategies. This is a low-cost, low-risk response that might prove to be effective if pursued vigorously. But this option might lead to serious economic damages for civilians caught in the middle, and might even lead to starvation and a shortage of drugs – collateral damage of another type.
A variant of this option is an embargo on all goods. Cut off the soldiers from everything they need – weapons, fuel, food, etc. This requires multi-state cooperation and would lead to even more collateral damage than simply cutting off the money taps.
In the middle ages, armies would cut off towns and starve the inhabitants and their leaders into submission. This proved effective.
Countries hounded by suicide bombers can take a page out of the playbook of the Russian and Colombian cartels. The message can be spread that anyone who becomes a suicide bomber will put his/her entire family, all of his/her friends and everyone with whom he/she ever had any contact at risk. Following up on a suicide bomber by killing as many family members, friends and other associates will begin to deter others from becoming a suicide bomber. While this strategy will not put an end to all suicide bombings, it would greatly reduce the numbers. In this case, a little collateral damage could a long way towards saving many more lives in the future.
Finally, the military and the political leaders can play to win and ignore collateral damage altogether. The West, for example, could issue warnings to all civilians who allow soldiers to hide in their midst and use them as shields, that they will be considered accomplices and hence free game. Following up by killing a few thousand civilians should encourage others to force out soldiers engaged in guerrilla tactics.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in tens of thousands of civilians being incinerated with tens of thousands more dying much slower and probably more painful deaths. This massive collateral damage saved even more lives, as the arrogant and selfish military leaders of Japan finally succumbed.
Killing one to save two lives is a simple choice. Killing one to save ten lives is an even easier decision. So bombs away whenever there is a threat to democracy and freedom!
Of course, most people have difficulty with these propositions, and would immediately demand that whoever was responsible for the deaths of “innocent” civilians should be tried for crimes against humanity. However, they miss the point entirely, for the military leaders who engage in guerrilla tactics and put the lives of civilians at risk, and the financiers who facilitate these strategies, are the ones committing the crimes against humanity. Perhaps another option is to capture these people, including their financiers, put them on trial and then execute them publicly and humiliatingly. Such executions undoubtedly would be very popular on YouTube.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and Internationals Affairs.