Making progress in conflict resolution

May 16, 2012

From the print edition

The Allied Somme Offensive of World War I commenced July 1, 1916, with 60,000 casualties on the first day. The operation ended in mutual exhaustion the following November without victory for either side, and with total of 311,000 dead, sacrificed on the altar of God, King and Country. WW I ended in 1918 with a total of at least 13 million dead and a peace treaty well-calculated to sow the seeds of WW II.

Jack O’Brien

Jack O’Brien

This insane carnage encouraged new ideas for winning a war, and after a few small-scale experiments in Spain and Abyssinia, it was concluded that massive aerial bombing could do the job more economically. The idea was developed during WW II into saturation bombing, creating useful collateral advantage in creating a firestorm, which, by robbing the air of oxygen, asphyxiated those who escaped the blast or the flames. But this, too, turned out to be illusory, as flattened factories were rebuilt underground or out of aircraft range, and civilians refused to die in sufficient numbers.

The concept of terrorism lurks at the roots of all conflict theory, the idea being that if your adversary ignores the voice of reason, he must be frightened into surrender by barbaric means. This concept worked brilliantly in the closing days of WW II, when after 65 million dead discouraged a formal invasion of Japan, and the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki persuaded the Japanese to surrender. The threat of mutually assured destruction has averted WW III for nearly 70 years, though not a series of conventional wars where the nuclear solution was deemed too risky.

Finally, the Palestine Liberation Organization, refusing to accept the verdict of the Six-Day War, introduced the Third Party Terrorism concept, whereby instead of trying to terrify the enemy, you terrify uninvolved bystanders into doing the job for you. Refined by a dozen Muslim groups, the idea has proved highly successful, holding down sizeable armies in Iraq and Afghanistan in an impossible attempt to distinguish friend from foe.

Has the monstrous expenditure of lives and treasure in Korea, Vietnam, Yugo-Slavia, Iraq and Afghanistan achieved the promised objective of protecting the homeland, or has it rendered our lives less secure, exhausted the Treasury and devalued the currency? Wars are here to stay so long as opinions differ, but given the history of the past century, it is obvious that an alternative remedy must be found resolving conflict.

Fortunately, the recent U.S. policy of eliminating al-Qaeda leaders, though too late and little, points the way: selective removal by imprisonment or assassination of the responsible leadership, on both sides if necessary.

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