“War is always a harvest of death,” wrote WWII veteran J. Glenn Gray in his superb The Warriors. Reflections of Men in Battle. And what a somber harvest of death radical Jihadists (first Al-Qaeda, now Isis) have gathered over the course of the years slaughtering innocent civilians, at the rear lines in the Middle East and in Western cities.
And today once again, in Brussels: hard to believe that another European capital has been hit by a such a terrorist attack. This is the new face of war. It is a mistake to call it just “acts of terror.” The mechanical or material means could have changed from traditional warfare methods, but the end goal is the same.
These attacks call into action all the fundamental emotional and psychological elements that are central to warfare from times immemorial: arbitrariness, randomness, fear, hatred, violence, powerlessness. Hardening of the soul, and the feeling of critical exposure. Strangeness—that dreamlike quality of the experience: what is going on cannot really be happening. (I bet many of the survivors of the Brussels attacks this morning came away from the experience with that feeling.)
The agents of the last wave of attacks don’t immolate themselves any more. It is an expression of the soldier’s mindset: killing, preserving his life, retreating, surviving for the ongoing strife’s next episode.
The complexity of the situation overwhelms, I believe, the Western mind. Police methods are just not enough. Counter-intelligence, and military means at the reach of Western institutions to fight this type of “asymmetrical warfare” are necessary.
I am certain that “Bomb them all” is not an operative or effective solution—although that is our first raw reaction for sure, a retaliatory impulse that has feed all wars since the mythological times of Helen of Troy and Agamemnon’s expedition overseas. Disguising this murdering under the cloak of religion is just a travesty: it’s clear that these fanatics have hijacked Islam, and that many Muslims around the world have nothing to do with these murderers.
To finish, J. Glenn Gray makes an observation that can help understand the new environment of syncopated violence—this “war in peacetime” and “combat violence within the inner limits of civilian life” we are growing accustomed to:
“It is death brought about by hostile intent rather than by accident or natural causes that separates war from peace so completely …. The difference is not only between dying and getting killed. It is much more the difference dying by disease or accident among people who know and cherish you and having your life cut off without preparation by someone who cares not at all for the anguish he causes. This creates the terrible hatred of war, particularly among civilian populations”