Tuesday, 15 March 2016

You Say War Crime, I Say Counter-Insurgency

Eric over at Swords and Socialism has a great little post, Debunking the Myth of the "Clean Wehrmacht."

As you might've guessed, it's about the idea that Germany's atrocities in World War II were solely the work of the Nazis, not of the Wehrmacht themselves. If you're not clear on the distinction, the Wehrmacht was the armed force serving the German state, whereas the Nazis just happened to be the political party in charge of that state. It's like the Australian Army can't be held responsible for the crimes perpetrated by the Liberal Party, who continue to imprison refugees in concentration camps and insist on denying our LGBT citizens their nuptials (yeah, I went there, but I don't think it's any secret I'm bitter about the Abbott/Turnbull regime).

In WWII it gets a bit more complicated because the Nazis also had the Waffen-SS ("Armed Protection Squadron"), which fielded full Panzer divisions like our old friends the 3rd SS Totenkopf, who fought alongside the regular army, but they were technically part of the Nazi party and separate from the normal Wehrmacht.

The SS provide a convenient loophole that allows one to pin the entire war-crime bodycount on the Nazis and exonerate the rest of Germany's armed forces as good, honourable people who just happened to be fighting on behalf of a vile regime. To his credit, Eric wants to dispel that idea and does a decent job of it, going through the reasons the myth was convenient for everybody and then digging up plenty of examples that prove the Wehrmacht were neck deep in it. Germany was not ignorant of what the Nazis were up to: at the very least they were guilty of silent complicity, at worst of aiding and abetting. And when I say "they," I mean We, because it's happening again, right now. We no longer need scratch our heads and wonder how the German people fell for it, because with the rise of Trump we're living through the exact same thing. Not for nothing does the Chief over at Graphic Firing Table call him Il Douche; only time will tell whether the American people will reject him at the polls and demonstrate that we've actually evolved a little over the last 70 years.

But I want to focus on one bit that jumped out at me.
There is an account of a German soldier who's unit was attacked by a Polish sniper. They burned the village to the ground and his account of the event is chilling, and shows the inhumanity that the Wehrmacht cultivated:
"Burning houses, weeping women, screaming children, A picture of misery. But the Polish people didn't want it any better. In one of the primitive peasant houses we even surprised a woman servicing a machine gun. The house was turned over and set alight. After a short while the woman was surrounded by flames and tried to get out. But we stopped her, as hard as it was. Soldiers can;t be treated differently just because they're in skirts. Her screaming rang in my ears long after. By the time the military administration of Poland ended in late October, the Germans had killed over 16,000 Poles and burned over 500 villages."
There's another name for this stuff: counter-insurgency. Whatever else he was, that brave Polish sniper was an insurgent. That woman servicing a machine-gun was an insurgent. And the Wehrmacht soldiers, who were clear-headed enough to recognise that "soldiers can't be treated differently just because they're in skirts," were running a counterinsurgency campaign. A pretty effective one, if I may say so: it wasn't until the Red Army arrived several years later that the Germans retreated from Polish turf.

Now mentally shift the setting from Poland to Fallujah, and suddenly it becomes clear why we had such a tough time there. We just weren't ready to be Nazis.

Most of us, anyway.

Make no mistake, that's what it would've taken. It'd still take that now. Occasionally our leaders reveal they're still umming and ahh-ing over whether to go back to Iraq, or intervene in Syria; Il Douche is promising to invade someone and invade hard, which of course his supporters love.

But in my view, the question they all need to ask is, are we ready to do what the Nazis did in Poland? Are you – you, personally – ready to pack a Black & Decker as well as your Heckler & Koch? After you've killed the young guys in a firefight, are you ready to go after their women? How about the children? The old people? Because they're in on it too. The laws of war that are supposed to protect civilians no longer apply, because guerrillas deliberately erase the line between civilians and combatants. There's no distinction, no point trying to separate the sheep from the goats, because they're all wolves. Here's a snippet from Afghanistan:
With us, they’re not even playing their A team. Seriously, they’re funning with us. You can see that if you read these stories carefully, with a cold eye. Here’s a classic example from that Stryker story, a little story about this local Pashtun kid whose heart‘n’mind they won over, supposedly:
“A young boy came up to Outpost Outlaw with news of a buried bomb. Stick in hand, he took the soldiers to a trail a short distance away, but then seemed uncertain about just where to point. Finally, he gestured to a spot directly underneath the feet of Cpl. Wes Pfeil.

“Everybody kind of freaked out,” Pfeil recalled.

“The boy smiled and pulled a battery out of his pocket. He had already defused the bomb.”
The comedy here is so obvious I can’t believe the dipshit who wrote this thing even tried to pass it off as proof that the locals are coming around, warming up to us at last. This is open mike nite Pashtun style, the kid’s big debut. I bet the whole district was pissing itself laughing that night, the kid doing impressions: “Look, look, this is the Aliens’ faces when I show them the battery!” And the whole mud hut cracks up. Even the goats were laughing. – Gary Brecher, Market Lessons From The Pashtun, 30 December 2010
If the commander had known his business that kid would've been grabbed in the middle of the night and tied to a chair in Outpost Outlaw's basement. By dawn the adults he'd named would've been grabbed and put through the same treatment, and so ad infinitum. The kid – whatever was left of him – would've been buried in a shallow grave somewhere, without even the minimal grave adornments his particular sect permitted (which if he was Wahhabist would be damn few). Eventually his whole village would've been put through the same meatgrinder and buried beside him.

What peace looks like.

If the commander really really knew his business, that's where he would've started. Because sooner or later, it would've been clear they were all in on it.
Okay, now this is where the real nastiness of irregular warfare comes in. People who romanticize guerrilla war just haven’t thought it through. Why did the Taliban (or just the locals) plant that mine? They’re not hoping to wipe out the U.S. forces with little mines like that. What those mines do is push up the level of hate between the foreign army and the locals...

You know they know. Imagine Allen’s squad walking back through an Afghan village. The natural impulse is to kill every living thing in that village. Especially if they smile at you.

Most armies throughout history would retaliate fast and brutal. A lot of what we call Nazi atrocities, like wiping out the village of Lidice, were reprisals like that. Heydrich, a Nazi honcho, gets killed right by this Czech village; the villagers act innocent; the Germans wipe them out. We did the same, off the record, to a whole lot of Vietnamese villages after a bouncing betty took some guy’s legs off walking down the same path the villagers walked, without every getting hurt, every day of their lives.

And the Taliban’s fine with that. Any guerrilla army with a clue what it’s doing WANTS the occupying army to slaughter locals. There’ll always be enough left to help you, unless you’re dealing with the Romans or some other ancient empire. Very few empires have the ruthlessness to wipe out all the civilians in retaliation. And very few empires care enough about their low-level soldiers to want to. – Gary Brecher, Af-Pak: Losing the Long War, One Man At A Time, 10 February 2011
But a modern Western country, with a low birthrate and armies staffed by actual citizens? We don't have cannon fodder like that to waste.
Back when it was us having the Maxim gun and they had not it was pretty simple to run an empire on the cheap. But now every dimestore Westbumfuckian Liberation Front can lay their hands on a couple of shiploads of AKs and a bunch of PMD shoebox mines (or just some Semtex and a Palestinian- or Iraqi-for-hire to show them how to wire the things for sound) and all of a sudden the White Man's Burden becomes hard for low-population-growth, expensive Western volunteer armies to bear. – Graphic Firing Table, Now they have.
So if we're sending in the troops, we have to be efficient about it and do what the Nazis did in Operation Barbarossa – kill them all in the initial invasion and be done with it. Are you ready to do that job? Are you honestly, truly ready to murder the guy who took a potshot at you – then his wife, his eleven children, a few of his cousins and a couple of his brothers and father too? In cold blood? Are you ready to give up, once and for all, the idea that we do this stuff for their own good? That we "liberate" people rather than conquer them? Are you ready to admit that we're a colonial power – auxiliaries, even – playing colonial power games? If you've put on the jellybean suit then you're willing to die for this great nation (and for that this fat civilian can only thank you), but are you therefore ready, when the day comes, to stick your head through the noose? Because count on it, when it's all over there will be a Nuremburg, and the same cowardly politicians and voters who sent you into harm's way will pretend to be shocked at what you got up to over there, and will absolutely throw you to the war crimes tribunal so they can avoid the hard questions and keep feeling good about themselves.

And they do. You know they do.

What's that? You're not ready to sacrifice our national soul like that? Gosh, then I guess we better not go to war after all. I guess the only thing to do is repair our image by taking in some refugees and wait for the Muslim world to decide killing each other over sectarian divides is a fool's game. From what I hear, 90% of them are there already.
The truth about the clash of civilizations you hear people discussing is that it’s all the other way: The Mall is invading Islam, the Mall is taking over. There isn’t any Sharia Law in North Carolina, but there damn well are U.S.-style malls in even the most conservative Islamic countries.

In Najran, in the most remote corner of Saudi Arabia, a state so afraid of Western contamination that it doesn’t even issue tourist visas, there is a mall. And, when I lived there, you could watch – literally watch – the conflict between Sharia Law and Mall culture, five times a day. – Gary Brecher, Jihad vs Shopping Mall, 20 September 2013
It's time to grow up. Armies aren't for winning hearts and minds. They're for fucking shit up. Which means you have to think very carefully about whose shit you want fucked, and why, and how. Otherwise you're just a toddler playing with a handgun. Maybe – just maybe – you'll come up with a compelling strategic reason to obliterate this or that village, but until then there's no reason to parade our Diggers where the locals can develop itchy trigger fingers. More often than not there are ways to achieve our strategic goals without resorting to Nazism. And adults know that.

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