History is packed with accounts of asymmetrical wars. Among those accounts is the war between the Persian Empire and Greece at the beginning of the fifth century BCE. The first pivotal battle took place in the narrow pass at Thermopylae. There, three hundred Spartans and a few thousand other Greeks stemmed the tide of twenty thousand ‘invincible’ Persian warriors intent on demolishing the fledgling Greek culture.
Asymmetrical wars are waged between severely disparate powers. The usual pattern of warfare for the weaker power is to develop tactics that are ideal for its terrain thereby partially or heavily diminishing the disparity. There are also times when the terrain is not at all a significant factor.
The popular belief is that current American wars are asymmetrical in favor of the United States. That is obviously true in terms of military power. But there are other factors that tell me otherwise.
Most of my generation thought of World War ll as a ‘good’ war. Americans were not polarized. The overwhelming majority of us knew exactly why we were on America’s side. That war was also viewed as necessary. Almost all of the remaining few of us still hold that view. Many young people agree with us. For others, young and old, ‘good and necessary’ are debatable. Being selfish, I’m glad the democracies and (ironically) the Soviet Union won over the dictatorships. I’m glad of that because I strongly suspect that I would not be able to write this blog if we had lost that war.
In any case, I believe that the one thing we can all agree on is the profound difference in American public opinion regarding every war we’ve fought since the end of World War ll, including the Cold War. The difference between public attitudes during those wars and World War ll is profound.
The ‘blood, sweat, and tears’ are still there, so are spies and lies. But we no longer have clear territorial and ideological boundaries. Western civilization put religious wars to rest a long time ago. Contrary to the opinion of millions of people in both hemispheres, the United States is not engaged in a religious war. We are mired in tribal and theocratic regions for reasons that have nothing to do with religion on our part.
[Shiites and Sunnis are still at it! The Middle Ages have come back to haunt us. Like a dog that will not give up a bone, theocratic leaders are still badgering us with talk of the Crusades. It’s bad enough to have masses of Muslims influenced by regurgitated issues, but worse is the expectation by some Americans that American Muslims should be permitted to observe Sharia Law.
Burqas? The Lady in the Harbor welcomes ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free;’ she says nothing about faceless people. Freedom of religion does not include persons who are in effect disguised. Our way of life (despite its expansive diversity) requires faces to be seen in public, even those of Muslim women who prefer to wear burqas. There are heated parliamentary debates about immanent or already legislated laws in European countries with significant Muslim populations. Basic secular arguments include: a) Observance of extreme religious custom vs. Danger to society, and b) Freedom of choice in dress vs. Objection to what burqas represent: a rejection of Western Civilization and the Suppression of women.
Ironically, Muslim women are on the spot whichever argument is being spotlighted! Yet, it is good to know that democratic governments are sensitive to the plight of women under the domination of their husbands and fathers. For example, one of the European countries has (or is considering) legislation to protect Muslim women. Although Muslim women wearing burqas in public may be fined, it is the husband (or, I suppose, father) who will be heavily fined and/or imprisoned if he forces his wife (or daughter) to wear a burqa in public. Perhaps brothers, guardians, uncles, etc…can also coerce women to wear veils in public. I suppose there are all kinds of variations and details about Sharia Law in different countries. I haven’t researched those niceties because I avoid unnecessary ‘scholarship.’
Besides, the essential part of the burqa issue is whether or not burqas constitute a danger to society. Personally, I enjoy the diversity of dress in my hometown, New York City. Indian dress is particularly beautiful. But I’m depressed by the sight of fully covered women with only hands and niqabs to reveal that there is a woman behind a tomb of cloth. On the other hand, I’ve seen women whose Muslim-based garments are exquisite—they do not include burqas, of course.
Although I hear lots of immigrants (as well as native citizens) tell me what they don’t like about America, I don’t tell members of either group to go to some other country if they don’t like the ‘American Way.’ However, Muslims (among others) must realize that if a religious conviction irreconcilably clashes with jurisprudence in America, they do have to leave the country. Some convictions demand a price.
Stoning a woman to death? What is considered justice by extremely religious Muslims, is considered murder according to our law.]
Of all the tactics employed by the weaker military powers of the Middle East and Southwest Asia, there are two at the top of the list that are gravely immoral.
There is no justification for the use of civilians as shields in order to balance asymmetrical warfare. That practice is not only barbaric, it belies the terrorists’ fervent claims of honor. Knowing that civilized soldiers will neither kill human shields nor bomb hospitals and mosques, terrorists take advantage of inviolate human values.
‘Suicide bombers’ also cannot be justified as a tactic designed to reduce asymmetrical warfare. “Ah,” one might exclaim, “what of the loyalty to Islam that prompts a man to voluntarily become a suicide bomber?” Consider this: a homicide bomber has the guarantee that he will die instantly and go directly to paradise where all sorts of delights await him, including seventy-two virgins. Yes, most Muslims do not take this belief any more seriously than their Christian counterparts’ notion that heaven offers winged angels; and yes, the houri are often interpreted in ways that are not sexual in the way we know sex in this world. But innocent people must not be maimed or killed to satisfy the religious ardor and sexual desires of men who interpret the Qoran literally.
Many politically correct people object to the use of the word ‘terrorist.’ Some prefer the words, ‘freedom fighter.’ They make no distinction between soldiers in battle and terrorists. War itself is terrible, of course, but terrifying civilians is nothing more than a cowardly act designed to balance military asymmetry at the expense of innocent people. So far, terrorists are doing their bit to raise a question as to which adversary has the better end of these allegedly asymmetrical wars.