Skip to comments.The Power of Shame: Only U.S. Strength Can Defeat Islamism
Posted on 07/31/2006 6:36:17 AM PDT by Valin
With the U.S. facing multi-faceted diplomatic crises regarding the threat of Islamism, TAE looks back to an article from December 2003 about dealing with this enemy.
Military commanders from Julius Caesar to Norman Schwarzkopf have paid as much attention to the group psychology of their opponents as to the quality and quantity of their arms. National character and shared temperament, after all, bear directly on a populations fighting spirit.
Such moral and psychological judgments of our Islamist enemies are currently off limits to our strategists and commentators, however; whether accurate or not, they are considered to smack of ethnic profiling, a contemporary sin. But in wartime, hard-won street smarts about national character are a military resource that should not be ignored, and at present we keenly need intimate knowledge of Islamist radicalism.
Human societies can be loosely divided into two groups: those governed by shame and those governed by guilt. Though often conflicting, guilt and shame are both normal functions of the human psyche. In different individuals and societies, how-ever, one or the other may predominate.
Guilt-dominant individuals tend to mistrust their own native aggression, and they will act to protect others from it.
When they are in the majority, they tend to maintain societies that will go to war only after they have been attacked. Tolerance, moderation, and charity are the official virtues of guilt societies, and play a part in shaping their educational practice, legislation, and foreign policy.
By contrast, shame-vulnerable individuals are constantly vigilant toward aggressions of others against their sense of honor. If insulted, they feel humiliation and rage. The shame-prone willingly submit only when the external power appears so invincible that there is no alternative but surrender. Beneath their outward defiance, the shame-prone often hold unconscious yearnings to be submissive; the seemingly omnipotent conqueror allows them to be passive without shame.
The cultivation of victim-hood is common in shame societies. Shame-prone men will look for malign external agents to rationalize any humiliation, for the victim is, by definition, not responsible for his own troubles. And the claims of victimhood eliminate any guilty inhibitions against aggression, and unlock the fury that drives the terrorist legions of shame-based societies.
There are no pure shame cultures. But both Sparta and the Confederacy were societies dominated by the avoidance of shame and the quest for honor, as were the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan in World War II. The most extreme shame-based societies have always been associated with ruthless warfare.
At present, the Islamic Middle East is where we see shame-based cultures in their purest form. The war against terror puts us in conflict with the most militant factions of highly shame-avoidant societies. While we are told much about the economic, ethnic, and sectarian influences that motivate these opponents of America, psycho-cultural elements of their radicalism have been neglected.
In this essay I will use my knowledge as a clinical psychologist and my own experience in Middle Eastern war (as an ex-member of the Israeli Hagana) to consider some of the ways in which these shame-avoidant societies may wage battle against us. Bear in mind that I am not describing all Middle Easterners, but only group tendencies that are prevalent there today.
Middle Eastern Arabs in particular are currently suffering from a deep crisis of shame. Their physical, scientific, and economic backwardness in relation to the West is mortifyingly evident. Their military defeats at the hands of the Israelis and of the various coalition forces in Kuwait and now Iraq are plain to see. Throughout history, when Arabs have gone to war, it has not primarily been for strategic or economic reasons but rather to escape the stigma of shame. By prevailing in battle, they export shame to the defeated enemy. Today, Arab agitators insist that their honor has been taken from them and replaced by shame. They call for whatever means will get honor back.
Shame societies are most likely to attack an enemy who appears weak, rather than strong and threatening. The weak enemy is corrupt, effeminate, and ready to surrender his honor. The enemys perceived weakness is like catnip to shame-mongers, as they fantasize about the foes humiliation. Since 1947, Israeli-Palestinian relations have oscillated between war and peace, depending on whether the Arabs saw the Jews as shamefully weak or as intimidatingly strong. A brief history of that conflict tells us much about Arab management of shame.
Prior to the 1947-48 Israeli War of Independence, the Palestinian leadership viewed the Israelis as terminally puny--Children of Death--and rejected a U.N. plan that would have divided the Holy Land into Arab and Jewish states. Believing that they, aided by the surrounding Arab armies, could easily drive 650,000 poorly armed Hebrews into the sea, the Palestinians refused partition, and initiated a war of extermination. But while the Hebrews stood their ground, paid their heavy butchers bill, and prevailed, most Palestinians fled, to become homeless refugees. They have never recovered from the shame of that flight from the despised Yahud.
Churchill once remarked of the Germans--another shame-prone people--that The Hun is either at your throat or at your feet, referring to their tendency to fight like hell until soundly defeated, and then to vegetate torpidly under the conquerors heel.
Similarly with the Palestinians: From 1949 until 1987 there was no significant Intifada. As long as the Israelis had the reputation of military supermen that they earned in the Six Days War, the Palestinians could tolerate a relatively peaceful co-existence under Jewish dominion.
After almost 40 years of relative Palestinian quiescence, however, profound degenerative changes in Israeli society shook up the relationship. The decline of the Labor party, the unpopular Lebanese war, and the growing political clout of the Orthodox led to social disunity and a decline in the military effectiveness of the once mighty Israeli Defense Force. An emerging anti-war movement preaching Land for Peace added to the impression of Israeli decadence. The pacifism shown by guilt-prone Israeli peaceniks was not read as morality by the shame-haunted Palestinians, but as evidence of weakness and lack of resolve: The Jews are fed up with war; kill some of them and they will plead for terms. The first Intifada of 1987 was thus not in response (as is endlessly claimed) to Jewish settlements and brutality, but to perceived Jewish weakness.
The precipitate Israeli retreat from Lebanon in 2000 probably gave the real coup de grace to the Oslo peace process. The Women in Black--mothers of Israeli boys who had died in Lebanon--ululated on the border, demanding immediate and unconditional withdrawal. Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak complied, pulling out his forces so quickly that they dishonored themselves, abandoning equipment to Hezbollah and putting Israels Lebanese Christian allies at grave risk.
Arafat seems to have drawn the predictable conclusions from this debacle. The Jews could not tolerate casualties, weepy women set their military policies, and determined guerillas could make them run. Arafat brought these conclusions to the Camp David meetings with Clinton and Barak in the summer of 2000. The Jews offered hitherto unthinkable concessions: a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, control of the Temple Mount and 95 percent of the West Bank territories. Yet Arafat remained rigid. Each Israeli concession seemed a further sign that the Jews were begging for terms. If he turned up the heat, he might get even more.
In addition, the residue of Palestinian shame from 1948 would not let Arafat passively accept a state handed to him by the Americans. The Palestinians should not only gain their state, but shed their historic shame. They would win Palestine as the Jews had won Israel--through an ordeal of blood and fire that this time around would leave the Zionists shamed and dispossessed.
But Arafat had mistakenly confounded the Peace Now crowd with the entire Israeli population. Not all Hebrews were fearful and guilty; some were angry as hell about being terrorized. Ariel Sharon, the hawk from Israels own shame party, Likud, was elected by a large majority to replace Barak, the dove from the Labor Party guilt faction. Soon after, the IDF went back into the West Bank in force to root out the jihadi nests.
The decisive battle was fought in the Jenin refugee camp, where the Israelis negated their own shame by dispensing with their advantage in heavy weapons and fighting a man-to-man infantry battle with the dug-in Palestinians. Despite taking heavy losses, the Israelis broke the back of the resistance in Jenin and other West Bank cities. They also dispatched the illusion that fuels much of the Intifada--that the Israelis are cowards who hide behind their tanks and cry for their mothers. Since Jenin,a new note, less delusional, less boastful, and more introspective, has appeared in the Palestinian rank and file, and among some of the leadership.
According to the Israeli and American doves, all-out military action would only accelerate the cycle of violence. They were wrong. While suicide bombings do continue (at a reduced rate), there are finally open expressions of discontent with Arafat. The post-Jenin Palestinians are finally admitting that some of their own leaders, not just the Jews, are corrupt and wrong. There are open attempts to replace Arafat, though he has so far beaten these back with support from the Palestinian terror factions and the Europeans.
Israel is learning what Americans discovered earlier when fighting shame societies. The Union found that only total war would defeat the Confederate shame-and-honor society. Half a million men had to die, and Sherman had to burn his way through Georgia, before the proud Southerners put down their arms. And when we fought Germany, Italy, and Japan in World War II--all of them flagrant shame societies--we again had to put aside the pieties of our own guilt society and wage utterly bloody war.
The militaristic, authoritarian Germans and Japanese would not give up their fantasies of global conquest until the decadent democracies destroyed their armies, burned and atomized their cities, and sunk their fleets. Their arrogant, shame-obsessed rulers had to be jailed, or hung, before more sensible leaders could be installed.
Paradoxically, these total wars did not lead to a cycle of violence and enduring hate, but to lasting peace. After waging pitiless war, we showed great mercy to the former Axis powers and helped rebuild them from a rubbly waste into our major economic competitors. But in order to win their hearts and minds, mercy had to follow might, not precede it. When mercy shows first, the shame-prone will view it as a sign of guilt and weakness; but when generosity follows total war, it is like Allahs mercy, a blessing from a power of unquestioned omnipotence.
Unless we use the leverage of the Arab shame dynamic, we are not likely to impose the Pax Americana on the terrorist states. Terror--the one form of war in which they outdo the West--is the default military option for Islamic militants, and one which they eagerly take up after their regular armies have been humiliated. Terrorism can be, after all, a more efficient means of shedding and exporting shame than outright war. In the shame calculus, the guerilla is like David talking on Goliath: Morally speaking, he never loses. Thus, defeatist reporters document a quagmire, and driven by unmanly fear, the enemys civilians may begin to demand an end to the costly struggle. Like the French in Algeria, the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the Israelis in Lebanon, the humiliated enemy, defeated by a numerically inferior but spiritually superior force, will carry the weight of Arab shame with him as he slinks away.
America cannot allow such a show of weakness in Iraq. The terrorist organizations must be smashed, and their sponsoring nations made to pay the price. If we withdraw in feebleness, triumphant Islamic terrorism will increase catastrophically.
Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and their clones will never completely disappear, but like the Afghan Taliban, they can be suppressed long enough for democratically inclined rulers to surface. Secured against the traditional Middle Eastern politics of assassination, more rational leaders could consolidate military power and popular support to the point where they are able to prevail against extremists. The example set by such new Iraqi leadership could spread rapidly across this troubled region.
But only American forces unhampered by guilt and refusing to be shamed can bring Allahs mercy to the Middle East.
David Gutmann is professor emeritus of psychology at Northwestern University Medical School.
It is only through lack of will on our part that they can out do us on terror.
The US waging total war waged even by the lights of the Geneva Convention as was done in WW II, complete with analogs of Dresden and Hiroshima, would be more terrifying to the civilians on the receiving end than 9/11, 3/11 and 7/7 were to the West.
One can never underestimate the psychology of your enemy.
Once we get the Cajuns to take out Iran, Syria and N.K
Ok, I'm only on my 2nd cup of coffee so I'm not yet on my game, so.....What does that mean.
as was done in WW II, complete with analogs of Dresden and Hiroshima,
Ever ask yourself why we fought the air war in WWII the way we did? could it have something to do with the technology of the day?
IMO way tooo many people think WWII when looking at this war when they should be thinking Cold War.
Really what we are dealing with is a guerilla war on a worldwide scale. You don't fight a guerilla war the same way you fight a conventional war.
In short, he's saying we'd better open up an industrial size container of whup ass and leave the guilt baggage behind. Weakness only invites aggression.
Fascinating read. Thanks for posting.
Interesting point of view of the psychology of large groups.
HOw do we, as a society, overcome our guilt so that we may go to war in an effective way, and with the public propoganda organs working with us to aide in the conflict?
The enemy is fed by the hand-wringing of a vocal portion of our society.
and with the public propoganda organs working with us to aide in the conflict?
That my friend is a really great question. I wish I had an answer, other than it's up to the likes of us to get the message out. It's one way we can contribute to this war. I know it doesn't sound like much but 100,000 people talking to their friends...they talk to their friends.....next thing you know......
*sniffsniff* Macro-psychology view of WOT, smells like protein. Self-ping for later consumption.
Astoundingly exact. This article needs to be bookmarked, reprinted, linked, shared, and refered to for the sake of truth and enlightenment, or we shall suffer the fate that the ignorance of Juan Williams, Chris Mathews, the MSM, and the entire Democrat Party dooms us to.
I have repeated this point so often to colleagues and family and friends that I am becoming a bore: Every speech delivered by Bush, Blair and their advisors/ cabinet folk should contain the words "Honor" and "Shame." THAT, and not the contrast "Good" and "Evil," is the way you can move their hearts and minds.
I REALLY hope Tom Friedman reads this piece. He is prone to defending and taking up for the Arab world because of the shame and humiliation factor. He ends up taking the inevitable appeasement route- because it's the only place left if you don't actively fight them.
Thanks for posting this.
Surely the author is not referring to the CSA...
Tell it to the Israelis.
They need to be 'draining the sea' in which the Hezbollah guerillas 'swim' to use Mao's metaphor, meaning going after the Shi'ite neighborhoods in Lebanon, not just Hezbollah positions (which are surprisingly often collocated with the homes of my fellow Orthodox Christians).
Savage says America doesn't have the moral strength to prevail. He is probably correct.
When we finally feel fear, then we will get up and do what needs done. Right now we feel maybe a touch of anxiety, but it is about gasoline and the mortgage payments.
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