"A bomb dropped on an innocent is a wasted bomb." Amber Pawlik

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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 anyway."

In "End 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 ground troops.

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 ones.

In "Innocents 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." And finally:

[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[6][7][8][9] and was marked by constant close-quarters combat, and lack of regard for military and civilian casualties.

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 siege":

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 wealth.

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 enemy.

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 in this.

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 harmony!

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 strategy.

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 Sponsor Terrorism":

[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.

Amber Pawlik
September 27, 2012

Islam on Trial: The Prosecution’s Case
Amber Pawlik
An article that argues that the violent ideology of Islam is the root of Islamic terrorism. Until we challenge Islam ideologically, Islamic terrorism will not be defeated. It includes a statistical study of the Koran which found over 50% of it is hatred of infidels. 16 pages long.

This article is protected under the US Copyright Act of 1976. No part may be copied.

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