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August 14, 2005 - At War

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July 31 in Semantics: Thucydides got it right a long time ago… you would find a long discussion of how our government had decided to change how we discuss what we are doing around the world. The Global War on Terror (GWOT) was to become the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (GSAVE) - a change in terms to better capture what we were doing. Yes, it was awkward, but not a bad idea. Precision is nice.

But GSAVE has gone the way of the great auk. We're back to GWOT. Disregard GSAVE. It’s dead. It's extinct. How that came about was covered Sunday, August 7, here.  Folks got a bit ahead of themselves.
Major Cook in Baghdad has some thoughts (first posted as a comment on the web log):


Hey everyone, just hopping around the Net and had to dig in a little. For those who don't know, I am Alan's nephew.

As a soldier and an officer I prefer GWOT. Not because, as some of you may think, I am a warmonger and like the word "war" - but, because it defines what we are doing. Really Total Wars (like WWI and WWII) are Global Struggles - so why try to define it by its title? If people are too naive or uneducated to think that what we are doing is "global" and stretches from offensive military action, to election support, to eroding the terrorist's support base, to handing out toothbrushes and soccer balls in Mosul Iraq - then they are short-sighted and short-minded.

My personal opinion is that we need the commitment associated with a Total War - and that is not what the American Public nor much of the rest of the International communities want to give to the GWOT. Without that commitment, we might as well send invitations to Al Qaeda and Ansar Al Sunna (or/and while you have your pen out maybe Hezbollah) to come to America and attack us there.

So, anyway, I like that GWOT thing as long as it comes with all the bells and whistles.

Major Brian Cook, US Army
Baghdad, Iraq
156 days to go.


My reply?


Thanks for the comment. Heck, they change the name and then change their minds. Geez. GWOT was fine with me, even if General Myers was uncomfortable with it. GSAVE just wasn't right, somehow.

As I used to teach general semantics the names folks choose for things always interest me. Yes, it's what you do, not so much what you call it. I guess we could call the whole business WWD - What We Do. But damn, that's just too vague.

I'll work on some alternatives.


Major Cook will be back here in Southern California on a fifteen-day leave starting around Labor Day. I'm not sure I'll have any ideas even by then.

As you recall, the idea is we're not fighting "terror" - as that's a tactic an enemy uses, and not the enemy itself. As General Myers himself pointed out, that's like saying WWII was "a war on submarines." No, we were fighting the fascist powers in Europe - Germany and Italy - and that Hitler fellow, and then fighting Japanese take-over-the-world imperialism. They used submarines, and so did we.

But whatever the name of the enemy is it has to be catchy, and sum everything up nicely. So drop this "terror" word? And use what?

We don't want to call it a war on Islam, and somehow a war on "Radical Islam" cuts too close too. Some have suggested a war on Islamacists (huh?) or a war Islamofascists (sounds too much like a carnival thing?) - but clearly "terror" and "terrorists" makes too vague an enemy - as some Irish fellows would fit here, and Basque folks, and folks in the new republics south of Russia, and the Tamil Tigers in Ceylon, and so on. We’re not fighting all of them. We need to be selective.

As is often said, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter - we ourselves didn't exactly play by the rules against the British in the 1770s after all. Dick Cheney himself, as a congressman way back when, famously held onto the position for years that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Now Mandela is a grandfatherly hero. Some say when we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, then another on Nagasaki, and wiped out hundred of thousands of civilians, that was terrorism. Curtis LeMay, the man who ordered the firebombing of Tokyo, wiping out a third of the city, said if we had lost the war he would probably be tried as a war criminal. A war on "terror" presents problems.

So let's be selective and precise.

Is this a war on backward states that are troublesome, and happen to have a lot of oil? Is it a war on states at all? Is this a war on a stateless movement that wants us out of the Middle East, along with any number of the governments in power there now? Is this a war not against one thing in particular but for a finite resource, oil? No, that's too crude. (Bad pun.)

No, we seem to be up against an angry international movement, not tied to any formal government in any particular country, with a list of grievances all tied up with getting the west out of the Middle East entirely, with anger at everything that has happened or been done to the Palestinians since 1947, and with a demand for the freedom to practice a strict and repressive form of Islam all over the Middle East, where they say the folks want just that. They're saying, "Just go away and let us be." We say no. Oil and Israel seem curiously bound up with all this. We cannot abandon an ally we pretty much created, and we need the oil. There's a lot over there, so they have us over a barrel. (Another bad pun.) We cannot walk away from Israel. But they want to force the issues, with terror as the most effective tool they can find.

How do you sum up all that? We are fighting a loose, stateless confederation very angry people who feel they have been wronged, and may have been, and also may be quite crazy and know nothing of how the world really works. And they're pretty good at acts of terrorism. And they don't use submarines.

How do we name our enemy? And if we cannot name our enemy with some precision, then how do we win, or know when we have won?

Note this from Associated Press, Sunday, August 7 –


The mother of a fallen U.S. soldier who is holding a roadside peace vigil near President Bush's ranch shares the same grief as relatives mourning the deaths of Ohio Marines, yet their views about the war differ.

"I'm angry. I want the troops home," Cindy Sheehan, 48, of Vacaville, Calif., who staged a protest that she vowed on Sunday to continue until she can personally ask Bush: "Why did you kill my son? What did my son die for?"


Well, he died in the Iraq subset of the larger war against a loose, stateless confederation very angry people who feel they have been wronged, and may have been, and also may be quite crazy and know nothing of how the world really works, and are pretty good at acts of terrorism, and don't use submarines. How Iraq is involved in this? Let's see - no trace of WMD like we thought and no real connection to or support for the loose confederation, al Qaeda or whomever, like we thought - but now we have this general idea that a democracy there would help things, even if it turns out to be run by a group of fundamentalist Shiite guys who are all cozy with the fundamentalist Shiite Iraq bad guys....

I'm not sure she'd be happy with that.

But Major Cook is right about the W in GWOT - you don't have to worry about calling it a war, or a struggle, as long as you understand it's more than battles or sniping, and includes everything from criminal gumshoe work to PR, and from forensic accounting to trace the flow of funds to being the good guys and winning some trust. But it isn't easy, whatever it is.

I guess we could call the whole business WWD - What We Do.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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