Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bomber Harris Was Wrong 60 Years Ago and Osama Bin Laden is Wrong Now

Sir Arthur"Bomber" Harris is one of the most important, but least known, figures of the 20th century. He was the leading proponent of saturation or terror bombing. In 1942, as head of the British Bomber Command, he launched the first 1,000 bomber raids against Germany. According to his BBC bio--

Using incendiary bombs, the allied planes targeted cities such as Cologne in 'thousand bomber' raids. In February 1945, the obliteration of the historic city of Dresden from the air became one of the most controversial episodes of the allied war effort.
His policy of "area" bombing was adopted by the United States Air Force.

"Bomber" Harris's theory was simple. If you drop enough bombs on the enemy civil population, the terrorized civilians will force their government to sue for peace. Sadly his theory didn't work. The German and the Japanese civilian populations were defiant to the end. The Allies had to physically conquer Germany. The atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki convinced the emperor that more bloodshed was useless. They didn't break the will of the Japanese people who had suffered greater losses in conventional incendiary raids on Tokyo and other major cities.

So what? Who cares about some stuffy old British Air Marshall? Well, his theory is at the core of modern terrorism. Al Qaeda's deadly attacks are intended to so dishearten us ordinary citizens that we will insist our government grant the terrorists their demands. According to Max Abrahms
The prevailing view within the field of political science. . . is that terrorism is an effective coercive strategy. The implications of this perspective are grim; as target countries are routinely coerced into making important strategic and ideological concessions to terrorists, their victories will reinforce the strategic logic for groups to attack civilians, spawning even more terrorist attacks.
Abrahms has examined a variety modern terrorist campaigns and concludes that terrorism is a singularly ineffective method for obtaining political ends. It works about 7% of the time and only in situations where the campaign is targeted to narrow limited objectives
Specifically, the group is fighting to either (1) evict a foreign military from occupying another country, or (2) win control over a piece of territory for the purpose of national self-determination.
Terror is utterly ineffective when the goals are "maximialist" as, for example, when a terrorist group is attacking a country to either (1) transform its political system (usually to either Marxist or Islamist), or (2) annihilate it because of its values. But even in cases where the objectives are limited terrorists are far more effective when they limit themselves to military as opposed to civilian targets. Over all terrorism only works when the goals are limited and the targets are not civilian, and then not all that often.

Why doesn't terrorism work? Enter a concept known as correspondent inference theory. Bruce Schneier writing in Wired explains correspondent inference theory this way.
People tend to infer the motives -- and also the disposition -- of someone who performs an action based on the effects of his actions, and not on external or situational factors. If you see someone violently hitting someone else, you assume it's because he wanted to -- and is a violent person -- and not because he's play-acting. If you read about someone getting into a car accident, you assume it's because he's a bad driver and not because he was simply unlucky. And . . . if you read about a terrorist, you assume that terrorism is his ultimate goal.
In simple terms when terrorists attack civilians, the survivors interpret the attackers as wanting to kill them. What the terrorists say is irrelevant. All that matters is what they have done. You don't negotiate with somebody you perceive as trying to kill you. You either run away or fight back. Since there is no place to run, we fight back.

We don't pay any attention to the terrorist's "limited demands." We don't care. Our reaction is not rational. It is biological. Human beings are hard wired to infer that terrorists are trying to kill us when they attack civilians. Our ancestors didn't negotiate with big cats or wolves. We are not wired to negotiate with predators.

Did you know that Osama bin Laden has been very consistent in his demands:
1. End U.S. support of Israel
2. Force American troops out of the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia
3. End the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and (subsequently) Iraq
4. End U.S. support of other countries' anti-Muslim policies
5. End U.S. pressure on Arab oil companies to keep prices low
6. End U.S. support for "illegitimate" (i.e. moderate) Arab governments, like Pakistan.
Neither did I. The truth is nobody pays any attention to what terrorists say. Nobody cares.

Again quoting Schneier
Although Bin Laden has complained that Americans have completely misunderstood the reason behind the 9/11 attacks, correspondent inference theory postulates that he's not going to convince people. Terrorism, and 9/11 in particular, has such a high correspondence that people use the effects of the attacks to infer the terrorists' motives. In other words, since Bin Laden caused the death of a couple of thousand people in the 9/11 attacks, people assume that must have been his actual goal, and he's just giving lip service to what he claims are his goals. Even Bin Laden's actual objectives are ignored as people focus on the deaths, the destruction and the economic impact.
Winston Churchill was smart enough to realize that terror bombing civilians doesn't work. That is why he called off "Bomber" Harris after Dresden. When is Osama Bin Laden going to learn the same lesson?