Sunday, February 10, 2013

Targeting Families

AM wrote an interesting post that talked about this. He hits on the rather important point that it just doesn't work. This is not how folks win wars.

AM's post was about cause and effect. If you hurt somebody's family they will have a serious vendetta against you and might not value the lives of people around you very highly. Even in pretty ruthless criminal organizations they generally leave families off limits. This is largely for functional reasons that even scumbags have people who they love and nobody wants to go down that road. Think about it for a minute. If somebody hurt my family I wouldn't have much to lose and the life expectancies of people around them would be low. Lots of folks probably think the same way.

Something Matthew Bracken touched on is death squads formed by cops or various paramilitary types. Basically it goes like this. Some cops or whatever are doing their jack booted thing. They face some effective reprisals by some guerrilla types. Instead of waiting to get shot up by some rednecks with deer rifles the cops decide to get pro active off the books. They know more or less who the people they are up against, especially in a small town or a place with good proactive intelligence gathering. These cops get together off work and do the old snatch and drag to the woods to kill in a ditch routine. Maybe it is unofficially sanctioned by their bosses in an "I know you know, you know I know but we don't talk about it" sort of way or maybe it's just that no cops look very hard when a rabidly pro freedom gun shop owner vanishes. Also it isn't exactly too hard for a group of cops to make sure an investigation doesn't go anywhere.

Of course the G types are doing the same thing more or less; it might have developed on it's own or as a response to the regime death squads but it doesn't really matter.. They quickly realized that instead of waiting for a bunch of guys with body armor and automatic weapons to stack outside the door at 2 am it's better to get their own group of guys and hit some houses of their own, snag a guy coming out of a bar or whatever.

This is bad but it happens with almost predictable regularity. Look at the various dirty wars in South America throughout the 70's and 80's or Iraq circa 2006-2008ish. Like they say history doesn't repeat itself but sure rhymes.

I do not think that lethally targeting families is a good idea first because of the slippery ethical slope it puts you on (pretty quick you're bombing random civilians Bagdad 2008 style to destabilize the security situation) secondly because of reprisals and third because it doesn't gain the desired effects. I just think it is a bad idea.

That does not mean you should not target families (non lethally). Shunning is very powerful in isolated insular communities which a lot of small towns sort of resemble. Imagine a guys morale if his wife can't get her hair cut, the family has to drive 90 miles to find a doctor or dentist, the grocery store stacks the canned stuff on top of the bread every time, the son can't make a friend to save his life, the daughter isn't asked to the dance despite being a beautiful and charming girl, the bank messes up their account causing overdraws or freezing their money almost weekly, the mechanic won't look at the family car, you get the idea. Pretty quickly that guy is going to move or find another job.Shunning takes a high percentage of the community.

However there are still things a smaller group can do. Not much says you aren't welcome like burning someones house down. Also that has the benefit that you can find a time when it is unoccupied and not harm anybody. A group that has a reputation for action gets to the point where they don't even have to do these things. They just need to drop a night letter saying to leave or they will do whatever. Worst case if the night letter is accompanied by a Godfather style animal head it will probably be taken seriously.

Anyway those are my .02 cents on that.


Aesop said...

The last is where the payoff is.

You don't have to kill somebody's family. Shooting up the house when it's empty is far more effective, because now Regime @$$hat is more likely to stay home to guard his homestead than to go out looking for yours. And he has to spend his resources to beef up security, harden his quarters, and do all sorts of things to avoid his family members becoming easy targets, all of which makes their life hell without making any martyrs. It leaves the wife and kids alive to whine to him every day about how he oughta get a different job.

Anytime you have the chance to fight your battle on someone else's turf, the opportunity should be taken to the hilt. At best, the regime has to spend assets to lock down everything, which creates more recruits for the other side, and wastes a significant part of available resources for a net negative effect. At worst, it begins unravelling things for the regime, because they don't have the resources to do offense and defense at the same time.

And for all the talk about how targetting civilians wasn't effective, that's missing the forest for the trees. In WWII, bombing German cities was more effective than German bombing campaigns against us, with the result that they shortly had to switch most of their limited aircraft production to fighters instead of bombers. Which meant our ships and troops weren't being bombed by the bombers they didn't have. And as time wore on, their talent pool of fighter pilots grew less and less experienced through attrition of a limited talent pool, while ours got more and more so, because we had the resurces to make bombers AND fighters, and plenty of pilots for both. Once we had near absolute air superiority, the ground war was a question of when, not if. The only exception was the limited counterattack in the Ardennes (Battle Of the Bulge), when weather temporarily grounded our air cover. Once the sun came out, the game was over, and in short order, so was the war.
We didn't win because we targetted civilians, but by forcing the enemy to play defense, we were free to go on offense whenever and wherever we chose, from 1943 onwards.
As AMs article pointed out, there are always deeper effects than the immediate one, even in this case.
The only truism is that nobody rules out a given tactic arbitrarily, unless they'd either rather lose, or can afford to do it without losing. It'd be like saying that in hand-to-hand fighting, you wouldn't kick gonads or gouge eyes, because it might piss off the guy you're trying to kill. If you're a black-belt ninja, 6'4" and 250 pounds, you might pull that off and still win. If you're a trained accountant, 5'5" and 120 pounds dripping wet, not so much.
You do whatever you perceive you have to do to get the job done.
There hasn't been a "clean" war in recorded human history; and if you ever find yourself in a fair fight, it's because you made an enormous tactical f###-up.

Chris said...

I seem to recall from an undergrad class on terrorism that targeting civilians can be effective for actual terrorists who lack the broader support to launch a credible insurgency. Targeting civilians is likely to provoke a draconian state overreaction, which alienates more people, which creates the conditions for a broader insurgency... Unless the state can control its security forces, or the people are so appalled by the initial crime that they accept state overreaction.

The perp on the run in Cali has demonstrated this. Yes, by targeting family members first he toasted any moral legitimacy he might have claimed and caused the cops to go ape shit. The second order effect of the cops going ape shit is that the police are lighting up random civilians, drawing guns at traffic checkpoints, detaining & beating the shit out of black men at the gym, illegally seizing private property, parading around like paramilitary infantry squads in residential areas, etc. That will alienate parts of the community, and even some middle class well adjusted people who aren't from the ghetto may be upset about being drawn down on at a random check point or having their car seized and impounded on a trip to Lowe's without any probable cause.

You hit on a good point with non-lethal targeting options as well. It is worth reading up on the activities of the Sons of Liberty pre-April 19th. They burned buildings, tarred & feathered, incited mobs, targeting commercial enterprises in league with the crown, forced sheriffs to renounce British laws, posted "night letters" (death threats) against any lawyer or court official that served in British courts, etc.

Brass said...

The Sons of Liberty were terrorists who destroyed private property. Burning houses? Really? Yeah, making women and children homeless is wrong. Tarring and feathering, despite being sadistic, could often be a death sentence through gruesome burns that would never heal.

If you promote those tactics, I will never be on your side.

Chris said...


A few thoughts. First off, nobody is advocating taking such actions at this time. As I understand it, the discussion is (1) a professional and academic discussion initiated by a professional warfighter who is spending a lot of their career doing COUNTERINSURGENCY which involves observing and countering these tactics and (2) a review of relevant history, even if it is unpleasant to contemplate.

Your reaction is exactly why terrorists and insurgents often lose. Insurgents usually have a 50% or less success rate. Much of this is due to the required brutality of many of their tactics. Note that I said above that violent tactics are not effective if "the people are so appalled by the initial crime that they accept state overreaction."

A good example of this is 9/11. AQ wanted to wound the US, but their political objective was to force us to stop occupying the Middle East. They wanted a troop withdrawal. They hoped to motivate their Sunni base and influence our behavior.

The US arguably overreacted to 9/11: for example, when you fly with your family today, your 6 year old daughter is subject to being groped insider her pants by a government official and your wife can be touched "under and around the breasts" and inside her pants too. We invaded Iraq at huge cost of blood and treasure. However, the violent attack on 9/11 was so horrific that American civilians tolerate such overreaction. AQ did not achieve their political objective; if Americans had rioted in the streets and shut down the country over the overreach of TSA, PATRIOT ACT and Iraq then AQ might have achieved their goals.

In a more local setting, things like arsons, night letters, targeted assassinations and other such tactics are intended to provoke a state response, not to win sympathy. If the State responds with a heavy hand then the innocent people stuck in the middle tend to be inactive and demotivated: they don't want to actively support brutal insurgents but it isn't motivating to support a corrupt or overbearing government either. They tend to just sit it out in disgust, which works fine for insurgents playing a long game.

The insurgent's dilemma is to use enough violence to attract attention (and thus media, recruits, and money) and generate a State response but not so much attention that they turn the middle ground into opponents instead of bitter neutrals willing to just sit it out (or neutrals willing to aid the growing insurgency in response to State overreaction). This is difficult and is a good reason why most terrorists and insurgencies fail to achieve their goals.

Finally, in our historical example, you're right that the SoL would be considered a criminal organization. The Crown certainly did; Gen Gage extended amnesty to all of Boston after Lexington & Concord except for Sam Adams and John Hancock, who he regarded essentially as domestic terrorists. The only difference is that a terrorist who wins their struggle, or is martyred, is called a "freedom fighter" in the history books.

Insurgencies are essentially civil wars and they are nasty business, historically speaking. Nobody "wins" in an insurgency. Usually the entire nation ends up poorer for a time after such bitter conflicts, which tend to destroy infastructure, human capital, and private property. The success rates are low and such tactics are the refuge of the desperate or the foolish.

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