Tribute to the military

Monday, October 23, 2006

The wisdom of the survivalist crowd

Crossposted with prior permission from TSC DAILY 

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By Josh Manchester : BIO| 23 Oct 2006



Glenn Reynolds' last article here at TCS drew attention to the seeming growth of disaster preparedness and survivalist tendencies in the mainstream population - even though such have usually been the stuff of small subcultures outside the mainstream. Glenn noted that this is no longer the case: freeze-dried food can be bought at Costco, chic survival kits are to be had at Eddie Bauer, and state and local governments left and right are constantly telling people to be ready to survive on their own for some time.

This trend dovetails nicely with another: the mainstreaming of apocalyptic visions of the future. Consider a recent article in New York Magazine, "Why Everyone Has Apocalypse Fever." (and see an extended discussion here). The author, Kurt Andersen, argues that the number of apocalypse-seeking and expecting individuals and groups has grown dramatically, and they are going mainstream:

Five years after Islamic apocalyptists turned the World Trade Center to fire and dust, we chatter more than ever about the clash of civilizations, fight a war prompted by our panic over (nonexistent) nuclear and biological weapons, hear it coolly asserted this past summer that World War III has begun, and wonder if an avian-flu pandemic poses more of a personal risk than climate change. In other words, apocalypse is on our minds. Apocalypse is ... hot.

Millions of people—Christian millenarians, jihadists, psychedelicized Burning Men—are straight-out wishful about The End. Of course, we have the loons with us always; their sulfurous scent if not the scale of the present fanaticism is familiar from the last third of the last century—the Weathermen and Jim Jones and the Branch Davidians. But there seem to be more of them now by orders of magnitude (60-odd million "Left Behind" novels have been sold), and they're out of the closet, networked, reaffirming their fantasies, proselytizing. Some thousands of Muslims are working seriously to provoke the blessed Armageddon.

Andersen is dismissive of many of these groups. But there is an easy relation between a mainstreaming of apocalyptic thinking and a mainstreaming of formerly hard core survivalist mentalities. One might not cause the other, but they both contribute to the zeitgeist.

Whether one chooses to see all of this as paranoia or preparedness is a personal call. But allow me to make an unprovable supposition: if there is one thing that is most likely to lead to some sort of breakdown in national order, it's not avian flu, hurricanes, global warming, or Armageddon. It is the war.

Perhaps this can be dismissed given my military background. "Man who has only hammer sees every problem as nail." Didn't Confucius say that? Nevertheless of all those other maelstroms, the one that is most immediate, growing, global, and certainly getting worse is the global Islamist insurgency - and unlike the other threats, it includes an adaptable, quickly learning enemy that seeks to kill as many as possible.

There are few places in the world or spheres of life now unaffected. Pakistan has ceded Waziristan to the Taliban. A coterie of Islamist judges have taken over Somalia. Thailand's new prime minister plans to "reach out" to those in the south of his country who have killed 1500 since 2004. The French police fight an intifada every night, and recently requested armored vehicles and water cannons to bolster their efforts. The British have asked university professors to keep tabs on Muslim students - because there are so many who could be radicals that the intelligence agencies need all the help they can get. And we haven't even touched Iraq, the ambitions of Iran, or its bosom buddy Kim Jong Il, who now professes a trio of more nuclear tests shortly.

One cannot listen to the Pope; watch South Park; walk into a bookstore; enter a university campus; or of course peruse the news without being inundated by reactions to or the influence of jihad.

Americans are therefore preparing for what might come, without really knowing what it might be, only that it will probably be bad to say the least.

The French military theorist Ardant du Picq ( . . . mandatory pause for snickers about French military theorists . . .) specialized in the moral dimension of war. "It is to be noted that when a body actually awaits the attack of another up to bayonet distance (something extraordinarily rare), and the attacking troop does not falter, the first does not defend itself." That lack of defense comes from the assumed moral superiority of the attacking force, due to the fact that at some subconscious level, a force that is confident enough in itself to attack, is also confident in its reasons for attacking, and maybe even in its world view.

Du Picq once related the story of a Russian unit that waited and waited for an attack, expecting to join the fight only after being struck first:

They say that the battle of Amstetten was the only one in which a line actually waited for the shock of another line charging with the bayonets. Even then the Russians gave way before the moral and not before the physical impulse. They were already disconcerted, wavering, worried, hesitant, vacillating, when the blow fell. They waited long enough to receive bayonet thrusts, even blows with the rifle.

This done, they fled. He who calm and strong of heart awaits his enemy, has all the advantage of fire. But the moral impulse of the assailant demoralizes the assailed. He is frightened; he sets his sight no longer; he does not even aim his piece.

Back in August, when Tony Blair gave a important yet largely ignored speech in Los Angeles, he made these comments about our enemies:

Sometimes political strategy comes deliberatively, sometimes by instinct. For this movement, it was probably by instinct. It has an ideology, a worldview, it has deep convictions and the determination of the fanatic. It resembles in many ways early revolutionary Communism. It doesn't always need structures and command centres or even explicit communication. It knows what it thinks.

So it does. And while the American people may be divided on many issues, they are preparing for what is to come, practicing their own form of strategy by instinct - and rightly so, for, given our present course, the horrors visited upon us thus far may merit a mere footnote compared to those to be loosed upon us in the trials ahead.

The author, Josh Manchester,  is a TCS Daily contributing writer.  I would encourage you to visit TSC Daily to read more thought provoking and controversay articles.

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