Why an Intelligent, Stealthy, Focused Military Strategy is Better Than a Shatter and Destroy One
In response to September 11, many Objectivists have weighed
in on what military tactics the United States should take against the Middle
East. The running theme in most statements is "Shatter and destroy the
Middle East. Do not have regard for innocent life—none of them are innocent
States the Sponsor Terrorism," Leonard Peikoff argues the U.S. should
"de-Nazify" Iran; that the risk of overreaction is negligible, and
ends with, "The choice today is mass death in the United States or mass
death in the terrorist nations." Peikoff acknowledges that such a war
against Iran cannot be won by "weaponry alone" and would require
From Craig Biddle's How
to Solve America’s Terrorism Problem in 5 Easy Steps:
Obliterate, from high altitude and long distance, all known
Iranian military assets, all Iranian government buildings, all Iranian mosques
and madrassahs, and the residences of all Iranian leaders, imams, clerics, and
government officials. Hit these targets when they are most likely to be
occupied (e.g., mosques during the day and residences at night). Do not send
soldiers in on foot, except as necessary to identify targets or gather
intelligence. We do not need to send soldiers in on foot to fight, and it would
be immoral to do so. We have many big missiles, fast planes, and good bombs,
and we should use these liberally while building bigger, faster, and better
in War?" Onkar Ghate says, "As President, [George W Bush] has no
right to worry about civilian causalities in enemy territory." Further,
"In fact, victory with a minimum of one's own casualties sometimes
requires a free nation to deliberately target the civilians of an aggressor
nation in order to cripple its economic production and/or break its will."
[I]t is false that every civilian in enemy territory--whether
we are speaking of Hitler's Germany or Hirohito's Japan or the Taliban's
Afghanistan or Hussein's Iraq--is innocent.
Many civilians in the Mid-East, for example, hate us and
actively support, materially and/or spiritually, those plotting our deaths. Can
one seriously maintain, for instance, that the individuals in the Mid-East who
celebrated by dancing in the streets on September 11 are innocent?
Other civilians in enemy states are passive, unthinking
followers. Their work and economic production, however meager, supports their
terrorist governments and so they are in part responsible for the continued
power of our enemies.
First, the issue here is not whether or not the United
States should have a strong, resolved response to terrorism. It should. The
issue is also not if Islam is evil. It is—and I have long spoken out against this
violent, primitive religion. The issue also has nothing to do with if the U.S.
should engage in a particular war. The issue is the specific military
tactics advocated by these philosophers, which is to slaughter large
swaths of the Middle East, purposely hit Mosques in daylight, have no regard
for innocents whatsoever, "liberally" use United States weapons—and if
this "shatter and destroy" method is effective.
Sun Tzu, considered a military mastermind, still studied
today by both military and business leaders, says:
In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take
the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good.
Why would Sun Tzu, someone who had seen battle over and
over, say this?
A good case study for the "shatter and destroy"
method of warfare with nothing but bombs and zero regard for casualties is The
Battle of Stalingrad. From Wikipedia:
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major and decisive battle of
World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control
of the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in the southwestern Soviet Union. The
battle took place between 23 August 1942 to 2 February 1943 and was
marked by constant close-quarters combat, and lack of regard for military and
Nazis tried to take Stalingrad with the liberal use of
weapons and disregard for casualties. Instead of gaining victory, it
deteriorated the Nazis own forces badly and they never recovered. Infrastructure
(roads, railways) was so destroyed that supplies could not be brought in. The
rubble created many hiding places for the Soviets. It was a turning point in
the war, with the Soviets eventually winning.
These are the very reasons Sun Tzu says not to "lay
The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch
his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of
his men are slain, while the town still remains un-taken. Such are the
disastrous effects of a siege.
If you lay siege to a town, you
will exhaust your strength. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources
of the State will not be equal to the strain. Now, when your weapons are
dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent,
other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no
man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.
The first thing to take note of
with the Objectivist philosophy on war is the cost. The cost of war is not
something that can be ignored—especially when advocating the
"liberal" use of U.S. weapons. The weapons that would be used take
years to make and cost a lot of money.
I was told by a self-described Objectivists
that we owe it to soldiers to have disregard to what the equipment in war costs.
I can think of few things more horrifying than to give a country a blank check
in their efforts to wage war—even the United States. A country should have a
healthy defense budget but it should not be endless. The defense budget is
normally restricted if the nation's currency is on a metallic standard but if
using fiat money, a country is at liberty to spend without discretion. Paying
for the Vietnam War was one of the reasons the country went off the gold
standard. Ayn Rand in "The Roots of War":
Economically, wars cost money; in
a free economy, where wealth is privately owned, the costs of war come out of
the income of private citizens—there is no overblown public treasury to hide
that fact—and a citizen cannot hope to recoup his own financial losses (such as
taxes or business dislocations or property destruction) by winning the war.
Thus his own economic interests are on the side of peace.
I have to point out something as
an addendum to this quote, which was written in 1966: there now is a
bloated public debt to hide the fact that the cost of war comes from private
Liberally using all weapons will
wear on a country. U.S. weaponry cannot be expended like candy. One of the
biggest national security risks a country can face—even mentioned by Sun
Tzu!—is to be broke. When broke, "other chieftains will spring up to take
advantage of your extremity." Unlike Ayn Rand, I have yet to hear current
Objectivist leaders speak about the cost of war.
As to the argument from Sun Tzu,
the cost of war is exponentially affected when waged in an unfocused way,
proudly and purposely slaughtering large swaths of an area. Killing or
targeting innocents is of no military value, particularly when fighting
dictatorial governments or terrorist organizations that are willing to
slaughter their own people. A bomb dropped on an innocent is a wasted bomb.
A bomb dropped on an innocent or
innocents is wasted for many reasons. Sun Tzu dedicates an entire chapter to
spies in The Art of War. He says knowledge is a deciding factor in war; thus he
advocates utilizing many types of spies including local ones. This is not
possible if destroying a city or country. I am not privileged to know the
effort that went into hunting down terrorists in the Middle East, but I believe
I can be assured that spies were used. In looking at Iran, a good number of people living in
that country completely loathe their government and actively rebel against it.
To turn them into the enemy to would be a sore mistake. They should be used as
allies against a common enemy—and encouraged to take over the country once the
evil government is toppled.
The assumption of Objectivists is,
"The United States military is so big and so strong. It can take out anyone
anywhere handily." The next logical conclusions from this are that allies,
local spies, etc., are unnecessary/expendable and that the military response
from "primitive" countries is negligible. This arrogance of overestimating
your own forces and underestimating the enemy has long foiled militaries. In
September of 2012, the Taliban destroyed 6 AV-8B Harriers jets, each of which cost $30 million.
They did it by attacking them while parked. The article linked describes the
attacks as being carried out with "military like precision." The
enemy is, for good reason, scared of United States air power. They will
respond to this. They have developed weapons, such as SAM sites, which strike a
humble and healthy fear into the hearts of U.S. pilots, to protect themselves.
They can also, taking from Sun Tzu, attack when unexpected, such as attacking
parked jets. They send spies to the United States to gather as much information
as possible. An aerial bombardment has no guarantee to kill every terrorist—all
the while unnecessarily killing many innocents—and, contrary to Objectivists'
belief, it will not completely squash their desire to fight. The actual
enemy is not stopped; for instance, aerial bombardments could not have reliably
found and killed Osama bin Laden (or any other key terrorist leader). While the
United States is emptying every aircraft and weapon in its arsenal, the enemy
could easily outwit us, themselves using clever attacks against an arrogant
Sun Tzu writes that a proper
military strategy is stealthy and clever. When the enemy is looking left, hit
right. If your troops are organized, feign chaos. When the enemy isn't
expecting it, strike hard. The best strategy is, if possible, to not fight
at all. Hitting with a loud, thunderous "ROAR" is of no use. It
hits the wrong people; wears on your own forces and morale; and begs for the
enemy to be excited into action. No genuinely good warrior brags about his
conquests nor does he brag about his ability nor does any wise soldier actually
want to fight. Sun Tzu describes how a truly good warrior takes his enemies so
handily that there is no glory in it. No one sees him struggle—he may not have
had to even fight—and so he remains an unsung hero. Consider a popular quip
against Marines—the finest soldiers the world has ever known—that "MARINE"
stands for "Muscles Are Required; Intelligence Not Essential." Yet
Marines are some of the sharpest individuals on the planet. They have no desire
to correct this under estimation of them. War is about deception.
There is no clear equation that
more bombs equal greater victory. If there was, the United States would have
easily taken North Vietnam. This point—that many, many bombs do not
guarantee victory—should be sang from the high heavens.
Don't confuse the seemingly
self-confident and aggressive position of current Objectivist leaders with a
resolved, steely eyed approach to dealing with threats. Look closely at what
they advocate. In "How to Solve America's Terrorism Problem in 5 Easy
Steps," Biddle advises, after an aggressive aerial bombardment, to drop
leaflets on the Middle East, literally threatening annihilation …
… if we see anything that we so
much as feel might conceivably pose even a remote threat
either to America or to our allies. (Emphasis original)
Or look at Leonard Peikoff's
argument that massive slaughter would not cause the Islamic world to rise up
against us but would "terrify them." The goals proposed are not to
verifiably break actual terrorist organizations or overthrow a government but
to scare the populace. They want a display of force not
intelligent force to break the actual enemy. They want the military to bark
louder not bite harder.
Objectivists often point to the
atomic bombs dropped on Imperialist Japan as an example of a military policy
that they admire. But those bombs were not dropped indiscriminately as is
commonly believed but rather they were dropped on valid military targets.
Dropping the bombs was not done to simply scare the enemy nor to
actively target civilians; it was to break the actual enemy into a
formal submission. American engineers had to work night and day to build long
range bombers and the atomic bombs; at no point did they take the force—or the
cost of the force—for granted. I do not think there was an article written in
the 1940s, "How to End Imperialist Japan in 5 Easy Steps."
Even though modern combat planes
and bombs are better and more accurate, the fundamentals of war have not
changed. Sun Tzu did not have aerial weapons available to him but even with
their introduction, his predictions remained accurate. Technology most
certainly improves a military's effectiveness in war but technology is not a
replacement for good tactics. In the same way Ayn Rand is to be commended
for how well she could predict economic and politic events, Sun Tzu is to be
commended for predicting the outcome of battle!
Now, for the ethics of the
"shatter and destroy" method. Any rational person acknowledges that
innocents may be killed in war. No one denies this. It should be a point made but
solemnly accepted. There is no need to dwell on the point. Objectivists don't
just acknowledge that innocents may die in war but it is unfortunate; they
believe it is desirable. To declare that the citizens in a country contribute
economically to their government thus are guilty—there is no room even for the concept
of "innocent" in their thoughts on war. This was not the
policy in bombing Japan. In bombing Japan, it was indeed accepted that some
innocents would die. It was not considered a reason to cow the U.S. into
submission but it was not celebrated either. It was not considered enlightened
or desirable to happen; as is the case when an Objectivist cavalierly says we
should bomb a Mosque in the middle of the day. I believe there is deep-rooted
racism for people in the Middle East among many Objectivists that plays a part
Regardless of the effectiveness
or not of this strategy (a term I use loosely), the most convincing argument
against the shatter and destroy position, in my opinion, is the position it
puts soldiers in. Imagine being the soldier asked to fly over a country and
bomb indiscriminately. It would be a horrifying mission. Soldiers
voluntarily sign up for service to kill the bad guy and save the good guy.
Soldiers from a free nation are not programmed to perform such slaughter.
And what if soldiers could be
made to execute such slaughter? What kind of men would return from battle?
Would you want this person as your neighbor?
I can't help but notice that
Objectivists are always advocating other people do their bidding. They
talk a really big talk—slaughter them all!—but they'll leave the dirty work for
other people to do. I have yet to meet a soldier who wants this.
Indeed, the policy being advocated
by them, while outwardly having a swagger of being mean and aggressive, is
actually quite cowardly. Actual heroes put themselves in the midst of actual danger
to hunt down violent men. The policy advocated isn't to target the actual
enemy—blind air raids don't do that. No, the policy is to have complete
disregard for civilians and bomb the entire country as to scare them. Being a
big, bad bully to thousands of people not actively committed to acts of
aggression is hardly heroic.
Having the view that they do, the
Objectivist view of soldiers becomes quite bizarre. When a U.S. military
service member is injured or killed, the usual Objectivist reaction is
righteous indignation. Why did the soldier have to die? Given how hot
under the collar they are to engage in war, indeed, I find this view bizarre. But
given their philosophy that enough bombs can be used to obliterate the enemy,
they genuinely think wars can be won without one lost life. So, instead of
admiring and respecting the heroic acts of soldiers, they do the worst thing
imaginable: they pity them.
Here is the reality: Wars cannot
be won except with soldiers. Yes some—even the very best of the best of
them—will get killed or injured. Many injured soldiers have made comments that
they would do it again. They aren't asking for your pity when asking that you
remember them. They are asking for simple respect and acknowledgement of the
extremely brave thing they did.
I am suspicious of the sentiment that ground troops should
not be committed in war as quoted above—a policy that is very Clinton-esque. If
there is a war that is 100% necessary for the security of the United States,
soldiers should be deployed. The decision should be weighed heavily but U.S.
soldiers should not be treated with kid gloves. Soldiers sign up voluntarily to
serve. Indeed, many signed up just days after 9/11 with the very intent
of kicking some jihadi butt. I cannot see how anyone would say the U.S. should
go to war but not commit troops—unless they thought the war they were
advocating was not in the self-interest of the United States.
Their view is worse than pity though. When you are of the
belief that wars can be won in "5 Easy Steps," and you don't see the
need for ground troops, you don't end up respecting the very difficult and brave work that soldiers do. And, since war is so easy, if a soldier is injured or dies, it is taken as
a sign of weakness. This is the view that some/many Objectivists have. For
instance, on Memorial Day, some Objectivists will post on facebook the General
Patton quote, “No poor bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won
it by making other bastards die for their country.” This quote is a perfectly
good quote 364 days a year. But not on Memorial Day—a holiday intended
to remember the fallen. Who exactly are they calling "bastards"? Or,
after Osama bin Laden was caught and killed—an effort which took the best
intelligence and the best soldiers, operating in the desert of the Middle East
to do—several prominent Objectivists' reaction was "Took you
long enough!" (This latter is particularly grating when you consider that
Objectivists made statements that catching Osama bin Laden didn't matter, and,
of course, when you consider their reluctance to commit ground troops. As far
as not all Objectivist leaders agreeing about war—Although Objectivists are a
very opinionated bunch, I have yet to see any of them have any meaningful
debate with each other about this topic.) I have pointed out repeatedly that,
10+ years after 9/11, the United States has not had one directed terrorist
attack against it—something that the U.S. military should be applauded for. I
was told by one Objectivist regarding this that "Correlation does not
equal causation"—that the fact that we have been safe since 9/11 when the
U.S. was targeted often before—has nothing to do with our U.S. military. If
only those terribly stupid military leaders would adopt their views of near
genocide! Really, the arrogance is unbearable.
The Objectivist view on war is unfortunate for there is much
wisdom that could otherwise be given about war. It is clear they see the
military as one gigantic all brawn and no brain club—as opposed to being a profession
with a very intelligent science and art behind it. Of all people,
Objectivists should be all over the promotion of reason governing our
military with a laser-like focus on breaking the actual enemy, with as minimal
financial cost and minimal life lost as possible. This is done not in the way
they advocate with the "shatter and destroy" method, but in the way
Sun Tzu advocates—with attacks by stratagem (clever strategy). And, regarding
innocents, in looking at history, isn't it so wonderful that what is so obviously
ethical—not targeting innocents—and what is practical in war is in perfect
I was told once by a man that he didn't agree with most of
Objectivism but when Objectivists talked about economics he learned to
"Shut up and listen." He said this was after watching their economic
predictions come true. When you look at Objectivist circles, you will see many
economics professors, business owners, and financial experts. It is clear they
have a good working knowledge of economics. But in Objectivist circles,
you see very few military historians, military members, or military weapon
experts. They are simply not versed in the art of war.
At the very least, as philosophers, they need to realize
they are not equipped to give specific military advice. I personally
would never dream of telling any military officer how to do their job,
including telling them they should have disregard for innocent life—particularly
when they are so very obviously good at what they do! I will however call out
this "shatter and destroy" method—a both unethical and ineffective
What is perhaps scarier than their military philosophy is
how quickly they give advice when they are so clearly unqualified to give any.
As philosophers they are preservers of knowledge and should set a better
example. They should understand that to come up with as complex of an art as a
military strategy, there should be serious thought given to it with references
to reality as much as possible. In the absence of actual military experience,
preferably as an officer—actually, preferably as a successful military
officer (from a free nation, and, no, having a brother, father, or son in the
military does not count)—as much realism should be brought to the issue
as possible. History should be referenced; military weapons should be
understood; basics of military tactics taken into consideration. The example
they set is completely poor—that people with a surface-level knowledge of a
topic at best are at liberty to not only give their $0.02 but give their $0.02
on how entire countries should be slaughtered.
I do not think that Ayn Rand would adopt this "slaughter
them all / expend weapons liberally" approach. Indeed, I think the
principles I laid out of having an intelligent, skilled military with focused
goals; mindful of cost; and hesitant to go to war, is more in line with Ayn
Rand's philosophy of Objectivism and with her writings on war. However, there are
enough Objectivists with the aggressive view that it makes me believe there is
either something germane to Objectivist philosophy or perhaps something left unclear
in Objectivist writing that makes them be this way.
The first thing missing is a solid method to pay for
government. This is usually shrugged off as an unimportant issue—the unspoken
conclusion by most is that there will always actually be taxation, so they just
assume government will be there. (They then sometimes give very strong advice
on what this unfortunately funded entity should do.) I see this as important
because the government in and of itself is the primary instrument of
security. That no good solution is given for how to fund the government is an
indication that the topic of security is not taken seriously.
I think what also may be missing is a caution against
vengeance. Absolutely, justice should be sought. Justice is the response of a
person with self-esteem when attacked, defrauded, or otherwise hurt. Indeed, a
very resolved, committed response to punishing the aggressors and making sure
it doesn't happen again is important (the latter by the way is more important).
But it's best that justice doesn't turn into vengeance. Vengeance is blind
rage. Vengeance almost always end up hurting people who don't deserve to be
hurt—who, having been hurt themselves, if they had self-esteem, would right
that wrong. Objectivists, only able to see how they have been victimized,
cannot recognize how they might victimize others (A phenomenon that has much
wider implications than just regarding war.) Objectivists will not like this
caution against vengeance but they should understand that a caution against
vengeance is not the same as a call for inaction. (They, of course, almost
always spin anyone who speaks out against vengeance or heavy-handed military
policies as being an appeaser or a pacifist.)
Finally, I believe the lack of a solid commitment to
gun rights is also of note. Gun rights are outright advocated by some Objectivists
but only tolerated by most. Ayn Rand had heroes with guns in her books but she
also said that a government has a legal monopoly on force so her views are, at
best, difficult to ascertain—people for gun rights are usually FOR them. I
point this out because people who accept the enormous responsibility of owning
a gun—of having lethal force in one's hand with the pull of a trigger—have a
fundamentally different mindset about security than the entire rest of the
population. They are aware of what an enormous responsibility it is and do not
flaunt it cavalierly. They are aware of what power they are capable of and take
it with solemn seriousness. They do not expect other people to protect them
from violent threats—"A gun in the hand is better than a cop on the
phone" they say. Most important, they do not approach matters of security
from a position of fear.
Objectivists should learn where they can be of most use—and
they could be plenty useful! Peikoff rightfully argues in "End States that
[T]errorism is not an issue of personalities. It cannot be
stopped by destroying bin Laden and the al-Qaeda army, or even by destroying
the destroyers everywhere. If that is all we do, a new army of militants will
soon rise up to replace the old one.
However, although he says terrorism cannot be stopped by
"destroying the destroyers everywhere," his proposed solution is to
"end the regimes that make them possible." Destroying the regimes,
while a valid military strategy against aggressive countries, won't eradicate
terrorism forever. Terrorism IS made possible by the ideas that make it
possible. The idea that makes it possible is simple: the violent ideology of
Islam. Objectivists need to be, and are, at the forefront of intellectually
embarrassing this violent, misogynistic, primitive religion. Until this religion
is embarrassed and mostly abandoned by those in the Middle East, indeed,
"a new army of militants will soon rise up to replace the old one."
And, indeed, many of our political leaders have made
terrible decisions regarding threats to the United States—ordering the very
competent and ethical U.S. military to stand down. Whenever political leaders
advocate appeasement, Objectivists and everyone else should raise their voice. A
lesson learned from the 9/11 attack, I think, is to take even seemingly
"small" terrorist attacks against the United States seriously. If it
means taking out a dictatorial regime that sponsors the terrorist attacks
whenever it happens, then that is what it means.
When I argue the point I have given above with Objectivists,
I get cross-eyed confusion. They just can't quite understand what my problem is
with massive slaughter.
I hope that this article has made it clear as a bell.
September 27, 2012