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IRA Vs Al Qaeda
July 7, 2011 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Gary Brecher (the "War Nerd") examines the track records of the IRA vs. Al Qaeda "It’s hard for an American to get your head around any of this, but the point, and it’s very 'counter-intuitive' as they say, is that Al Qaeda did everything wrong, spending all their assets and going for maximum kill, and the IRA, the poster-boy for long, slow, crock-pot guerrilla warfare, did it exactly right." (via) posted by jenkinsEar (62 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I dunno. I think the jury is still out on Al Qaeda's accomplishments. They're unfinished and ongoing. Let's wait to see whether the US completes its descent into paranoid self-destruction, then we can compare. 9/11 changed everything™, y'know.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:59 AM on July 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


Stewart Lee on the IRA.

Let's not forget though, that what the IRA actually achieved was: killing a lot of people over a long period, then settling for almost exactly the same kind of Stormont compromise they objected to in the first place.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:02 AM on July 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


Metafilter: The poster-boy for long, slow, crock-pot guerrilla warfare.
posted by lemuring at 8:06 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


And yet, the IRA accomplished little to nothing other than killing people, right? Northern Ireland is still a part of the UK. I don't really know what the IRA gained.
posted by inturnaround at 8:08 AM on July 7, 2011


“The first rule of guerrilla strategy is: Continue to exist....
That’s how every modern guerrilla army except Al Qaeda has played, and that’s why every one of those groups has lasted longer than Al Qaeda did.
His argument from the previous day is that they are no longer relevant because they haven't been represented in the recent Libyan and Egyptian conflicts. But were these conflicts really relevant to Al Qaeda's goals, to the extent that it ever had coherent goals?

On preview: I find War Nerd entertaining, and I'm glad he's back. But this essay is typical of his formula: he picks a winner and a loser, praises the hell out of the winner, and makes fun of the loser. War is all about winning, I guess, but as the other comments about the IRA's actual accomplishments suggest, he's kind of shoehorning the history onto this formula.
posted by Estragon at 8:13 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Since no one can be bothered to read the article:

The Good Friday Accords that Clinton brokered in 1998 set free every IRA prisoner, dissolved the old apartheid police (RUC) and set up a new one that went out recruiting in the same slums the IRA drew its people from (PSIS), and put Adams and McGuinness in power in a local Northern Ireland Assembly to replace the old No Papists one. Sinn Fein is now the biggest political party in the place and the Brits have basically conceded all the territory west of the Bann River to them. It’s the Loyalists who seem all confused and drifting now, trying to decide if they want to go the guerrilla-war route on their own or face the fact they’re losing out year by year to the people whose necks they used to enjoy standing on. Martin McGuinness, ex-IRA officer and Sinn Fein “terrorist,” is the Deputy Prime Minister.. They say he and the Loyalist ranter Ian Paisley were the best of pals when they worked together, telling gory old jokes about who buried who’s second cousin in some bog back in the good old days. Meanwhile, Adams is pushing the party into the South as well, and the old boy pols down there are terrified of Sinn Fein taking over.
posted by absalom at 8:15 AM on July 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


COMPARING things that should not be compared:
What is or was IRA out to do? Where? Why?
What is or was Al Qaeda out to do? Where? Why?
When IRA starts operating out of Yemen and Somalia then we might begin to compare
posted by Postroad at 8:21 AM on July 7, 2011


You're right, absalom. I stopped reading when I got to the part I quoted and just skimmed the IRA history looking for evidence that AQ no longer exists because I don't understand exactly what kind of novel nonexistence he's claiming for them.
posted by Estragon at 8:21 AM on July 7, 2011


I didn't want to enjoy the article, because I really don't enjoy his tone and attitude. It's a very schoolboyish glee about bombs and guns, without any real empathy for human targets. I guess that's where "war nerd" comes in. I've often felt that people like that miss the context, because they're too busy salivating over the width of a rifle bore or the tonnage of bunker buster bombs.

However. His analysis of the IRA was really interesting, and it's definitely piqued my curiosity. I was in Northern Ireland shortly after the turn of the new millennium, and I've found it fascinating ever since. Time to hit the books I guess! One notable failing in that article though, is that for all of the discussion of the IRA he really is weak on his details about Al Queada, and doesn't go into much details in his comparison between them. Maybe he's unconsciously holding back to see how it plays out, or maybe he just doesn't have enough data points yet.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:23 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Blair had an Irish mother, didn’t hate Micks on sight the way most of them did"

Pretty offensive article actually. Badly written as well. Not sure about the central point though.
posted by schwa at 8:24 AM on July 7, 2011


Beneath his usual bluster, I think his points are good ones. for years i wondered why Al Q didn't use some obvious guerilla tactics in America. They had demonstrated their ability to get 20 suicide operatives in the country. I assumed they had more sleeper cells ready to go. The DC Sniper managed to terrorize the country for weeks with simple tactics that we know for a fact Al Q had trained for. Why not fan10, 2-man sniper teams out across the country and give the word to go. None of the teams know each other, and all of the teams have orders to keep sniping until captured or killed. You could effectively shut the country down for months with this strategy. so why didn't they do it? And if I, a non-terrorist ordinary Joe, could think of this, what else could they, professional terrorists, come up with? Well, the simple answer was, they didn't have the manpower or the ability to get their people in position.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:26 AM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Let's not forget though, that what the IRA actually achieved was: killing a lot of people over a long period, then settling for almost exactly the same kind of Stormont compromise they objected to in the first place.

Yeah, this just about sums it up.

The Good Friday Agreement was once described by Seamus Mallon as Sunningdale for slow learners. IRA tactics prolonged the conflict as their continued use of violence was used as a justification by Unionists/Loyalists to sabotage any and all moves towards compromise with nationalists.

Not that impressed with the article.
posted by knapah at 8:28 AM on July 7, 2011


I donno Al Qaeda's goals, but together Al Qaeda and the Bush administration achieved huge amounts : Reducing American's everyday freedoms via the TSA, Patriot Act, etc. Redirected American tax more dollars towards wasteful & stupid law enforcement programs. Destroying America's image abroad. Miring the U.S. in multiple wars. etc.

I donno what role the IRA had in creating Britian's current pseudo-police state mentality, but terrorists seem effective at giving the powerful the leverage to implement their most insane dreams.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:33 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have no idea about Al Qaeda's strategy, but didn't they basically win? The US is in much, much worse shape than we were in 2001; we're fighting two expensive wars which we basically can't win even if we haven't exactly lost either; our already sharply-limited international prestige is shot; we can't take care of our own soldiers when they come home; our government basically lacks legitimacy and people's confidence in the democratic process is low. Most of these things, I think, are attributable to the license that the Bush administration had following 9/11.

I always figured that Al Qaeda's strategy was basically propaganda stuff - show that the US isn't that powerful or that great, and show that our ways of life are not that alluring, just or sustainable - thus bolstering their constituency's will and sense of community, and making conservative Islam seem more attractive by contrast with a less attractive western model. And that's precisely what has happened. The US is going down the drain like we're the Weimar republic.

Whereas the IRA never really seemed to get much. Good for them for not torturing civilians, I admit.
posted by Frowner at 8:35 AM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


And yet, the IRA accomplished little to nothing other than killing people, right?

No they also blew up cars.
posted by Hoopo at 8:36 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stagger Lee: "I didn't want to enjoy the article, because I really don't enjoy his tone and attitude. It's a very schoolboyish glee about bombs and guns, without any real empathy for human targets. I guess that's where "war nerd" comes in. I've often felt that people like that miss the context, because they're too busy salivating over the width of a rifle bore or the tonnage of bunker buster bombs."

I've always been a little creeped out by WN for this reason, but every now and then he comes up with something like this:
And that’s why guerrilla war isn’t as romantic as Rambo fans like to think. Rambo, you’ll notice, has no family. Guerrillas do have families and when they commit to irregular warfare, they’re signing away their family’s chance to live a decent life and die in their beds. That’s why it’s not something you do casually like a Red Dawn teen fantasy.
posted by vanar sena at 8:37 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If popular cultural representations are anything to go by, the IRA managed not to piss off Americans, which is one point in its favour.
posted by londonmark at 8:38 AM on July 7, 2011


Hang on -- I'll admit I'm not that well schooled in international politics, but might it not be possible that the reason the IRA didn't "achieve much" was also because of a lack of support from the Republic of Ireland itself?...

I've asked my friend in Ireland about the IRA precisely once, and got quite an earful; the IRA was actually outlawed in the Republic, as I understand. (My friend's uncle was in a unit of the Gardai that at times was on the lookout for and on guard against IRA activity in the Republic.) The impression I got from her was that while a union of Northern Ireland with the Republic was a profoundly-to-be-wished-for goal, when it came to whether Irish people felt that the IRA was taking the best approach to achieving that goal, opinions were at least mixed, if not lukewarm or cold.

In my friend's case, certainly, she was seriously opposed to their methods; I innocently asked her a question in a letter about how "when the IRA does something, we get a statement from Sinn Fein and a statement from 10 Downing Street, but don't often hear from Ireland, why is that?" and I got a three-page sternly-worded dissertation with lots of underlined words and all-caps about how the Irish government's response would be a lot like the English one because the Irish government was entirely opposed to their methods, and this kind of union could only be achieved through dialogue, and etc. and etc. and basically Ireland agreed with England in the opinion that the IRA sucks and did that answer my question? (I meekly wrote back "yes ma'am" and never asked about it again. I've only ever seen her that riled up one other time -- when someone dissed Marie Curie.)

It strikes me, then, that perhaps part of the reason that the IRA didn't "achieve much" in terms of rejoining the Irish Republic may have been because the Irish Republic itself wasn't supporting the IRA as much to begin with. Maybe?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:45 AM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Deeply unimpressed by the article, particularly its appearance here on the same day as this salutary reminder that things weren't all about not killing civilians.

A story I tell too much: in the late 80s I lived in north London, a few hundred yards from a stretch of commuter train line. Early one morning the IRA planted a bomb on the line. It was spotted by a train going in the other direction, the line was closed, the bomb was deactivated and removed, and the whole thing got about twenty seconds on the local news that evening, because this kind of IRA shit was so commonplace in the late 80s.

A bomb on a suburban commuter line is there to kill civilians. No other reason.

I'm prepared to be convinced that the IRA fought a good campaign, but if they did it wasn't on the terms the War Nerd describes.
posted by Hogshead at 8:46 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The situation has to be evaluated in relation to the adversary as well.

The IRA and the PLO used to train together in Tunisia. They famously used similar tactics and methods. The result for each has been widely different.

Al Q announced a war on the world. They are fighting the US, Israel, the Saudi Royal Family, Shi'ites, and anyone else who disagrees with them.
posted by Flood at 8:47 AM on July 7, 2011


Of course both the IRA and AQ had major funding through mega rich countries. IRA from America and AQ from Saudi Arabia
posted by adamvasco at 8:47 AM on July 7, 2011


I really don't enjoy his tone and attitude. It's a very schoolboyish glee about bombs and guns, without any real empathy for human targets.

This. I lived in London through the Stock Exchange and Bishopsgate bombings; I vividly remember being caught up in Central London bomb scares. I have a real problem with the gleeful hand-rubbing tone of his writing.

Also, this, about the Brighton bombing, is downright offensive:
In fact, so many Brits hated her that this was about the only time the IRA was popular in England, with people giving them the old “Try, try again!” cheer.)
Not in my recollection; not at all; and I come from a fairly lefty background with no love at all for Thatcher and her policies. We wanted her out; we didn't want her blown to bits by an IRA bomb.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:51 AM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh, I wouldn't say the IRA accomplished nothing; they got the 26-county version of the Republic, after all. Over the long arc of history, they're doing quite well: N.I. will still be part of the U.K. when the 100th anniversary if the Anglo-Irish war rolls around, but whether one will say the same for the 125th. Assuming anyone still cares by then, the womb may win what the bomb could not; peep the census figures.

As to whether Al Qeada has failed where the 'ra succeeded, I'd say to a great extent that's so. The revolution came this spring and they weren't in it. A terrorist is simply a guerrilla who lacks an army; the purpose of terrorism is to create the societal polarization and fracture that will trip yet peaceful members of the terrorist's co-whatever group into taking up arms. It is quite rarely a successful tactic because most people don't like getting shot. Ireland in the 20s is probably one of the most successful manifestations, from the terrorist's perspective, Ireland in the 60s less so. Al Qaeda of course, was working on a far grander scale; they were thinking global. And they were at least partly successful, dragging the US into two wars. Where they failed was in getting enough recruits. Turned out the Arab youth would rather have a facebook revolution than an Islamist one...
posted by Diablevert at 9:05 AM on July 7, 2011


It's worth bearing in mind that Gary Brecher is a construct and not a real person. Anyone getting their knickers in a twist might want to go read up on what he is first.
posted by channel-1- at 9:07 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the comments Dejo is on to something: In short, comparing Al-Qaeda with the IRA is fruitless since they’re not even the same type of military contingents.

The IRA was successful in that, as guerrillas, they replaced the government they were fighting (at least in part). The terrorist side, not so much.

AQ too is not really a guerrilla outfit. And they don't fight a guerrilla war. It's more a war to supplant ideology. Which will ultimately utterly fail. They can tolchuck the U.S. as much as they like. Even if they collapse the country, it's not really the U.S. that is the opponent. It's democracy and the values of openness and respect for diversity.

You can't really fight that without a huge propaganda engine and control of the media. And you can't fight a system that is willing to listen to your point of view and tolerate it (within reason). So it's an unsustainable engagement. "Hey I believe in a radical take on Islam!" "Ok, good for you. Feel free to practice that." "Oh ... uh .... and everyone else must believe it too." "You really want to fight that one out?" "..."

The IRA had this “Nerf” strategy of not striking back at stuff like this, and not killing civilians, which seemed weak to me. But it worked way, way better than I could have imagined.

See, that there was the actual "guerrilla warfare" part. It's why Mao's schtick worked so well.
And there is something romantic about the guerrilla warrior. It has to be. It's propaganda.
The big difference is the guerrilla warrior is desperate by situation. If they lose they die, if they win they become the establishment. They're outsiders who want to be insiders.
Terrorists are desperate because they see no chance of supplanting a system by other means. They're outsiders by design and will always remain that way. To destroy them all you have to do is bring them inside.
S'why the "we don't negotiate with terrorists" line always irritates the hell out of me. Know what the #1 most successful (as in 'people not dying') method of dealing with terrorists is? Negotiation.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:14 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


When IRA starts operating out of Yemen and Somalia then we might begin to compare

What, Boston and Chicago too posh for your taste?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:27 AM on July 7, 2011


I have no idea about Al Qaeda's strategy, but didn't they basically win?

I thought their main goal was to get the US out of Arab countries, probably as a first step towards re-creating the Caliphate. I don't think they've been very effective at that.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:29 AM on July 7, 2011


I have no idea about Al Qaeda's strategy, but didn't they basically win?

What did they win?
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 9:30 AM on July 7, 2011



It's worth bearing in mind that Gary Brecher is a construct and not a real person. Anyone getting their knickers in a twist might want to go read up on what he is first.


Can you explain this?
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:41 AM on July 7, 2011


I look at it another way.

Ireland changed because GB recognized their waning power and rather than continue to appear impotent, appeared effective by engaging with a dedicated insurrection utilizing coordinated guerrilla and diplomatic efforts to become a legitimate formalized political power.

The Global War on Terror would be more accurately named the Grab Power by Fearmongering. On the other side AQ, as typified by OBL, efficiently manipulate(s/d) followers into giving all to their power structure. So nothing changes. Each side simply entrenches their base by maintaining the status quo by inflaming fear and hatred of the enemy.

So here's the difference:

Ireland: both sides wanted change, in order to increase their power.
GWOT: neither side wants change, in order to increase their power.
posted by buzzv at 9:41 AM on July 7, 2011


Terrorism has a built in time factor. It is a young man's game. Repeatedly, its chief problem is instilling murderous passion in the rising generation. Long gaps measured in decades in Irish terrorism while new firebrands came to the fore. Al Qaeda is fated to be that tired group of old men whose muttering has long since lost its heat.

What did they win?

Kneecapping of US power and economy. We were kings of the world in the year 2000.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:43 AM on July 7, 2011


Al Qaeda: Is the USA more or less involved in the Middle East today? FAIL.

IRA: Is the UK more or less involved in Northern Ireland today? FAIL.

Secondary effects are not measures of success.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:48 AM on July 7, 2011


Hattip to them for firing empty mortars over the airport runway just to show they could but not actually doing it knowing its bad PR.
posted by Damienmce at 9:55 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can you explain this?

He's a literary character written by Mark Ames. His views don't really reflect the views of any particular person, "Gary Brecher" is effectively just a method of analysis with some character details surrounding him. The use of literary characters has a long history in Western literature, but in recent years the drive to make everything suck as much as possible has mostly obliterated the knowledge of how to do it properly, or even the awareness of the device. Kirkegaard, for example, used literary characters to great effect, but a modern class on Kirkegaard often misses the point that the views expressed are not necessarily those of the author.
posted by Electrius at 9:57 AM on July 7, 2011


Ah here. I haven't time at this moment to dig up links but to say that the IRA were admirable for not torturing civilians is offensive. They murdered and tortured just like everyone else in the addled hell of pre-Good-Friday Northern Ireland, but for different reasons that they considered justified. There were no good guys; any analysis that hints there were is misguided or shallow or just stupid.
posted by StephenF at 9:59 AM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, this, about the Brighton bombing, is downright offensive:

In fact, so many Brits hated her that this was about the only time the IRA was popular in England, with people giving them the old “Try, try again!” cheer.)

Not in my recollection; not at all; and I come from a fairly lefty background with no love at all for Thatcher and her policies. We wanted her out; we didn't want her blown to bits by an IRA bomb.


As a contrary data point I've heard that or similar from literally dozens of people over the years. There are plenty of people who'd have been happy for Thatcher to die by any means.
posted by longbaugh at 10:00 AM on July 7, 2011


There were no good guys; any analysis that hints there were is misguided or shallow or just stupid.

Very true. You can magic away any heroes of Erin nonsense by just mentioning Jean McConville. What WarNerd was trying to get at is that they eventually twigged that the way to win to hit the UK in the wallet, repeatedly with as little blood as possible.
That and having definable, reasonable goals compareed to AQ's destruction of western civilisation. Try one to negotiate that.

posted by Damienmce at 10:03 AM on July 7, 2011


> [AQ won by effecting the] Kneecapping of US power and economy. We were kings of the world in the year 2000.
In this regard, it's not so much that AQ won as that the US lost by using AQ as an excuse to go nuts.
posted by Estragon at 10:11 AM on July 7, 2011


who's going nuts now...
posted by clavdivs at 10:17 AM on July 7, 2011


A story I tell too much: in the late 80s I lived in north London, a few hundred yards from a stretch of commuter train line. Early one morning the IRA planted a bomb on the line. It was spotted by a train going in the other direction, the line was closed, the bomb was deactivated and removed, and the whole thing got about twenty seconds on the local news that evening, because this kind of IRA shit was so commonplace in the late 80s.

A bomb on a suburban commuter line is there to kill civilians. No other reason.


Key question here - did they call it in?

If they called it in, the intent wasn't really to kill. It was to make an un-ignorable disruption. It worked. You recall it vividly decades later.
posted by codswallop at 10:21 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good for them for not torturing civilians, I admit.

Err: very, very wrong
posted by lalochezia at 10:49 AM on July 7, 2011


Good for them for not torturing civilians, I admit.

Err: very, very wrong
posted by lalochezia at 6:49 PM on July 7


Thanks for that. My blood pressure is slowly starting to fall again.

Oooh, don't get me started on the fucking IRA. Just don't. That Stewart Lee bit was great, though. "Decent British terrorists". OUCH.
posted by Decani at 11:54 AM on July 7, 2011


>He's a literary character written by Mark Ames.

Actually, by Ames' colleague: Itinerant academic John Dolan, I think.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:07 PM on July 7, 2011


It's John Dolan. I think this interview was where the identity was first publicly revealed, although there was a lot of speculation that way before.
posted by Anything at 12:23 PM on July 7, 2011


He's also known for calling the James Fray hoax (if anyone remembers that) way before widespread suspicion.
posted by Anything at 12:28 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Frey, not Fray.
posted by Anything at 12:29 PM on July 7, 2011


The IRA succeeded because the UK wasn't going to bomb the shit out of Chicago, Boston or New York for being funding members of the Axis of Irish-ville.
posted by mobunited at 12:34 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, by Ames' colleague: Itinerant academic John Dolan, I think.

Oops, you're right. I have Mark Ames on the brain today.
posted by Electrius at 12:35 PM on July 7, 2011


I didn't want to enjoy the article, because I really don't enjoy his tone and attitude. It's a very schoolboyish glee about bombs and guns, without any real empathy for human targets.

It's already been pointed out that the War Nerd is a construct, but I'd also like to add that "his" articles usually make a point of pointing and laughing at "war-tech" obsessives.
posted by pharm at 12:46 PM on July 7, 2011


This has many of the usual flaws of War Nerd columns, but it still (as also usual) makes a few good points. Correct: The column doesn't do much to explain the al Qaeda part of the analogy. Correct: The column doesn't do much to establish that the al Qaeda and IRA aims and strategies were close enough for such a direct comparison.

this salutary reminder that things weren't all about not killing civilians.

Do note that Brecher's points are about the Provisional IRA. The Omagh bombing was by a violent offshoot called the Real IRA, which disagreed with the strategy Brecher outlines.

In any event, the point returns that the Provos became more and more concerned with how to fight the war on British soil, and clearly the bombings and other incidents were done with effective ways of stopgapping casualties. Since it's 7/7 this is worth directly comparing to the London bus bombings. Even if you allow that in years past, and especially within NI itself, the Provos were ruthless toward informants and "collaborators", this was before they formulated the strategy Brecher's talking about. That is, they were learning from their own actions what affected their legitimacy within NI and with the Irish diaspora or the British public. This is Brecher's point, not some sort of grant of absolution for being a nicer breed of terrorist.

might it not be possible that the reason the IRA didn't "achieve much" was also because of a lack of support from the Republic of Ireland itself?

Oh, it's very much the case that political support within the Republic was quite limited, especially as Dublin and London came more and more to a meeting of the minds. Much of their financial support came from overseas, especially the US. It was also the case that as time passed the support for the Loyalist side with the UK diminished to approaching nil. By the end of the Stormont peace process both Ireland and the UK were pretty much tired of both sides and the UK would probably gladly have found a way to eject NI if the Protestants botched the agreement. But Ireland didn't want to absorb NI and the "tribal warfare" component, either. Meanwhile, Ireland was benefiting from EU investment and there was a general feeling that the war was a boat anchor, and NI was looking hungrily across the border at that investment and those jobs, which were an impossible dream if the war were to continue. There isn't any one factor, but this decline in any sort of outside support for either side is essentially what forced both sides to the table.
posted by dhartung at 1:32 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


He's a literary character written by Mark Ames

True, but something needs to be said about why Ames constructed this character.

I really don't enjoy his tone and attitude. It's a very schoolboyish glee about bombs and guns, without any real empathy for human targets.

Understatement. He often praises butchers, genocidaires and Mongol hordes for the brutal efficiency of their methods. The character has to grit his teeth to admit that the IRA's (relatively) low casualty Nerf approach had its advantages. The character typically sees war as a force that gives us meaning and despises himself for his quiet suburban lifestyle.

Why adopt this character? Partly it's intended as a satire of Guns&Ammo fetishists, but there's a deeper point to it.

War is horrible, and the horror we feel at atrocities can blind us. We like to think of appalling war crimes as senseless; Ames believes that horrorshow tactics are often quite rational, evil acts performed by sane people for sane reasons. Roman counterinsurgency tactics (siege, massacre, mass crucifixion, burn the cities, salt the earth) ended wars and deterred revolts quite effectively. Comparatively our counterinsurgency tactics are nerfed. We bomb Afghanistan here and there and wonder why the Afghans don't love us. The War Nerd tells us that bombing Afghanistan would make sense only if we went in for terror bombing on a scale far beyond what the Soviets did. The character grates his teeth at our refusal to use nuclear weapons.

Ames uses the character to argue that our current way of war is irrational, either too violent or not enough to accomplish anything. By glorying in what it would really take to win a counterinsurgency campaign, he's implying that the only other rational option would be to get out.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:34 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos - while one can definitely debate how much the IRA "achieved", and by what yardstick (as amply demonstrated in the comments here), you're on the money regarding how much popular support they've had in Ireland. I'm Irish, and I don't think I know a single person who wouldn't:

a) roundly condemn the IRA and all their offshoots as terrorists, pure and simple, and,

b) deliver a swift smack upside the head (or at least a serious stink-eye) to any emerald-be'glassed, 'Erin-go-Bragh' American suggesting otherwise.

Matter of fact, I'm actually wondering how long ago it was you asked your friend this, and not just because you mention talking about it via letters. Nowadays, at least in my personal experience, most Irish people genuinely couldn't give a toss about whether or not the North ought to rejoin the Republic.* Granted, I can think of one or two people amongst my circle of acquaintances who still hold onto the old tiocfaidh ár lá pipe dream in a vague sort of way, but by some bizarre and inexplicable coincidence, these individuals are also generally acknowledged as assholes.

So... yeah. While I would argue that the IRA have certainly been very effective as terrorists, sowing discord and fear et cetera, unless their secret endgame was actually 'everyone hates us and virtually nobody in Ireland gives a shit about unity so long as there is peace', I would also argue that said effectiveness is not actually the same as success.

*Well, at least not on an ideological basis. To be fair, if the North decided to secede from the UK and return to the loving bosom of the Auld Country, there probably would be a nation-wide epidemic of brick-shitting. It's just that it would mostly be about what it might mean for the economy.**

**All the above to be read with the caveat that I am a Dubliner born and bred, and that attitudes elsewhere in the country do not necessarily reflect my own.
posted by sophistrie at 1:36 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


(Or, upon catching up on comments, what dhartung said more smarterer than me.)
posted by sophistrie at 1:41 PM on July 7, 2011


I'm actually wondering how long ago it was you asked your friend this, and not just because you mention talking about it via letters.

This probably would have been in 1988/89, my first year of college. She's also from Cork City, and her family is very big into a sort of national identity in general and into promoting the use of Irish Gaelic in particular (which I'm also given to believe is kind of an anomaly outside the Gaeltacht), and that made her ire towards the IRA especially attention-getting as I was at the time new to New York, where at the time you had a lot of subtle pro-IRA propaganda/anti-British sentiment going on in lots of Irish bars.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2011


I don't think I know a single person who wouldn't:

a) roundly condemn the IRA and all their offshoots as terrorists, pure and simple, and,

b) deliver a swift smack upside the head (or at least a serious stink-eye) to any emerald-be'glassed, 'Erin-go-Bragh' American suggesting otherwise.


Consider yourself lucky. I've met a few of these otherwise suggesters with perhaps more involvement than was strictly legal.

Scary people.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:08 PM on July 7, 2011


Yeah, that makes sense. To make another grossly sweeping generalisation, nationalism in Ireland can basically be expressed as:

X = (y/100).N

Where:

X = nationalistic sentiment
y = distance in miles from greater Dublin area
N = number of decades ago/age of individual rounded to the nearest decade.


Warning: This formula is not intended to be mathematically accurate. Do not try this at home. Never attempt to measure Irish nationalism without adult supervision and the proper safety equipment.
posted by sophistrie at 2:46 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Key question here - did they call it in?

No they didn't. As I said, the bomb was spotted by the driver of a train going in the opposite direction, who reported it.
posted by Hogshead at 3:46 PM on July 7, 2011


The genius of Al Qaeda is that they caused us to destroy ourselves. Patriot Act, Torture, giving up our Freedoms, even this new concept of a pre-emptive war.

Instead of all of this "security theater" the U.S. should have responded by continuing business as usual. Take a look at Russia, their airport gets bombed, and they keep the airport open.

That's how you send a strong message. You don't mess with America. We don't stop fighting for what is right, and we don't compromise our values and our freedom, because we're not scared of you.
posted by banished at 4:42 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


What you want to do, what the IRA had mastered by the 1990s, was messing with the incredibly fragile and expensive networks that keep a huge city going. Interrupt them and you cost the enemy billions of dollars, and they don’t even have any gory corpses to shake in your faces.

Any and all objections to the War Nerd and his persona or the ends achieved aside, I think this right here is the point of the article. And it's a point I hope more terror groups (seeing as they're not going to stop being terror groups by dint of us asking them not to be) take to heart. Wholesale slaughter doesn't win anyone to your cause; targeted reminders of your enemy's weaknesses does. "We know that you know that we know, and we don't want to hurt you, but you're kinda forcing our hand, so c'mon, give us a break, we're not asking for anything unreasonable here." It's the wikileaks/Julian Assange thing. The world would be a much better and much more equitable place if more people understood that.
posted by saysthis at 4:42 PM on July 7, 2011


Wholesale slaughter doesn't win anyone to your cause; targeted reminders of your enemy's weaknesses does. "We know that you know that we know, and we don't want to hurt you, but you're kinda forcing our hand, so c'mon, give us a break, we're not asking for anything unreasonable here." It's the wikileaks/Julian Assange thing. The world would be a much better and much more equitable place if more people understood that.

Depends on the cause, and whether the retaliation is greater than the provocation. The end goal of the terrorist is not simply to prove they can strike at the enemy. The end goal is to win the war they think they're fighting. The terrorist enters into this war with the presumption that the enemy is so evil they cannot be negotiated with; that is how he justifies his terrorism to himself.
posted by Diablevert at 5:17 PM on July 7, 2011


The terrorist enters into this war with the presumption that the enemy is so evil they cannot be negotiated with; that is how he justifies his terrorism to himself.

Well, that's true of any war. Heck, isn't that almost the definition of war -- "the thing we resort to when negotiation is impossible". I'd always thought that people pursued terror tactics when the imbalance in materiel and other resources were sharply against them.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:17 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Beneath his usual bluster, I think his points are good ones. for years i wondered why Al Q didn't use some obvious guerilla tactics in America. They had demonstrated their ability to get 20 suicide operatives in the country. I assumed they had more sleeper cells ready to go. The DC Sniper managed to terrorize the country for weeks with simple tactics that we know for a fact Al Q had trained for. Why not fan10, 2-man sniper teams out across the country and give the word to go. None of the teams know each other, and all of the teams have orders to keep sniping until captured or killed. You could effectively shut the country down for months with this strategy. so why didn't they do it? And if I, a non-terrorist ordinary Joe, could think of this, what else could they, professional terrorists, come up with? Well, the simple answer was, they didn't have the manpower or the ability to get their people in position.

This is a point made by Oliver James: almost all of us, without access to arms or explosives, could cause untold chaos if we were resigned to a suicide mission: drive a car into a pedestrian mall, hijack a truck and drive it onto a train line, poison food in a supermarket. So why has Al Qaeda not done this? Are they unable to, or is there no need to?
posted by outlier at 5:11 AM on July 8, 2011


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