Skip to comments.In this war of civilisations, the West will prevail
Posted on 10/07/2001 4:01:28 PM PDT by Pokey78
PRESIDENT BUSH'S threatened war against terrorism has begun. What is so striking at the outset is the brief lapse of time between its declaration and its outbreak.
The Gulf War, also led by the United States, took six months to prepare. This war, declared on September 11, the day of the atrocities, is in full swing only 27 days later. All the same stages have been gone through - organisation of an alliance, diplomatic preparation, positioning of forces. The first blow has been struck in one-sixth of the time.
Striking quickly, as well as hard, may be a quality of this war deliberately chosen, and with good reason. A harsh, instantaneous attack may be the response most likely to impress the Islamic mind. Surprise has traditionally been a favoured Islamic military method. The use of overwhelming force is, however, alien to the Islamic military tradition. The combination of the two is certainly designed to unsettle America's current enemy and probably will.
Samuel Huntington, the Harvard political scientist, outlined in a famous article written in the aftermath of the Cold War his vision of the next stage hostilities would take. Rejecting the vision of a New World Order, proposed by President Bush senior, he insisted that mankind had not rid itself of the incubus of violence, but argued that it would take the form of conflict between cultures, in particularly between the liberal, secular culture of the West and the religious culture of Islam. Huntington's "clash of civilisations" was widely discussed, though it was not taken seriously by some. Since September 11 it has been taken very seriously indeed.
If I thought Huntington's view had a defect, it was that he did not discuss what I think the crucial ingredient of any Western-Islamic conflict, their quite distinctively different ways of making war. Westerners fight face to face, in stand-up battle, and go on until one side or the other gives in. They choose the crudest weapons available, and use them with appalling violence, but observe what, to non-Westerners may well seem curious rules of honour. Orientals, by contrast, shrink from pitched battle, which they often deride as a sort of game, preferring ambush, surprise, treachery and deceit as the best way to overcome an enemy.
This is not to stereotype Afghans, Arabs, Chechens or any other Islamic nationality traditionally hostile to the West as devious or underhand, nor is it to stereotype Islam in its military manifestation. The difference in styles of warfare is borne out by the fact of military history. Western warfare had its origins in the conflicts of the citizens of the Greek city states who fought to defend the strictly defined borders of their small political units. Beyond their world the significant military powers, however, were nomads, whose chosen method was the raid and the surprise attack. Once they acquired a superior means of mobility, in the riding horse, they developed a style of warfare which settled people found almost impossible to resist.
The Arabs were horse-riding raiders before Mohammed. His religion, Islam, inspired the raiding Arabs to become conquerors of terrifying power, able to overthrow the ancient empires both of Byzantium and Persia and to take possession of huge areas of Asia, Africa and Europe. It was only very gradually that the historic settled people, the Chinese, the Western Europeans, learnt the military methods necessary to overcome the nomads. They were the methods of the Greeks, above all drill and discipline.
The last exponents of nomadic warfare, the Turks, were not turned back from the frontiers of Europe until the 17th century. Thereafter the advance of Western military power went unchecked. One Islamic state after another went down to defeat, until in 1918 the last and greatest, the Ottoman empire, was overthrown. After 1918 the military power of the Western world stood apparently unchallengeable.
The Oriental tradition, however, had not been eliminated. It reappeared in a variety of guises, particularly in the tactics of evasion and retreat practised by the Vietcong against the United States in the Vietnam war. On September 11, 2001 it returned in an absolutely traditional form. Arabs, appearing suddenly out of empty space like their desert raider ancestors, assaulted the heartlands of Western power, in a terrifying surprise raid and did appalling damage.
President Bush in his speech to his nation and to the Western world yesterday, promised a traditional Western response. He warned that there would be "a relentless accumulation of success". Relentlessness, as opposed to surprise and sensation, is the Western way of warfare. It is deeply injurious to the Oriental style and rhetoric of war-making. Oriental war-makers, today terrorists, expect ambushes and raids to destabilise their opponents, allowing them to win further victories by horrifying outrages at a later stage. Westerners have learned, by harsh experience, that the proper response is not to take fright but to marshal their forces, to launch massive retaliation and to persist relentlessly until the raiders have either been eliminated or so cowed by the violence inflicted that they relapse into inactivity.
News of the first strikes against Afghanistan indicate that a tested Western response to Islamic aggression is now well under way. It is not a crusade. The crusades were an episode localised in time and place, in the religious contest between Christianity and Islam. This war belongs within the much larger spectrum of a far older conflict between settled, creative productive Westerners and predatory, destructive Orientals.
It is no good pretending that the peoples of the desert and the empty spaces exist on the same level of civilisation as those who farm and manufacture. They do not. Their attitude to the West has always been that it is a world ripe for the picking. When the West turned nasty, and fought back, with better weapons and superior tactics and strategy, the East did not seek to emulate it but to express its anger in new forms of the raid and surprise attack. September 11 was a declaration of war. October 7 was the declaration of a counter-offensive. The counter-offensive will prevail.
Sir John Keegan is Defence Editor
Wow! As un-PC as it is possible to be! Great post.
This is the first real war we've been involved in since Bush senior was in office, and that one was so well handled it turned into a turkey shoot. Clinton, a bully by nature, lacked the will to settle down and fight. He was capricious and cowardly and lacked the credibility to inspire the troops.
Now for something completely different.
EITHER YOU ARE WITH ME, OR AGAINST ME
No matter what spin, what happens, how long it takes, in the end, this is what it is all about.
This may be hard for some to swallow right now, but eventually the truth must be faced.
His book The Second World War is the best I have ever read on the subject, outside of Churchill's memoirs.
I used to not believe this. I used to believe that the differences were simply a matter of traditional culture and development. Now I believe it's something deeper than that. I think their religion has something wrong with it. Looks to me that the religion of Islam tends to promote fanatics.
How about this for un-P.C. This is the patron saint of Galicia, Spain, the land of my ancestors before their move to the New World.
The Muslim Moors conquered all of Spain in 711 A.D. except for the Northwest provinces of Galicia and Asturias. The Reconquista (Reconquest) lasted 781 years until 1492 but, as Keegan notes, perserverance is the Western way of war.