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Gaza and Mogadishu

January 14, 2009

Over at Contentions, Jeff Goldberg ponders a possible parallel between the current operation in Gaza, which has so far cost around 900 Palestinian lives, with the ‘Black Hawk Down’ episode in Mogadishu in 1993, in which a thousand Somalis were killed.

He asked Mark Bowden, author of the book, for his thoughts on the combatant-non-combatant death ratio. Mark replied:

“If you feel the need to go to war against an enemy that is not as powerful as you are, one of the tactics of the weaker party is to hide among civilians, and use the global media to advertise the horror of the onslaught. People on the receiving end of the bombs greatly exaggerate the casualties and get photographers to take the most gruesome of pictures, and at the same time, the people in charge of the stronger power try to minimize the number of casualties. If you live in a democracy, then public opinion really matters, and reports of dead children swells the criticism of the war. If you live in a dictatorship, then you don’t care what the people think. Israel is a democracy and it cares about the way the rest of the world feels. It gets hurt by killing civilians, so for moral and practical reasons, they’re trying very hard to avoid it.”

“I believe that culpability for these casualties is very much with Hamas. Take this leader, Nizar Rayyan, who was killed with many of his children. He knew he was a target. If I knew that I was a target, I sure as hell wouldn’t have my children near me. It’s a horrible and cynical choice he made. But if your enemy is a sophisticated manipulator of public opinion, then this is one of the many downsides of choosing to go to war. Israel knows that.”

“The parallel with Mogadishu is that gunmen in that battle hid behind walls of civilians and were aware of the restraint of the (Army) Rangers. These gunmen literally shot over the heads of civilians, or between their legs. They used women and children for this. It’s mind-boggling. Some of the Rangers shot civilians, some of them inadvertently and some of them advertently. They made the choice to shoot at crowds. When a ten-year-old is running at your vehicle with an AK-47, do you shoot the kid? Yes, you shoot the kid. You have to survive. When push comes to shove, faced with the horrible dilemma with a gunman facing you, yes, you shoot. It’s not just a choice about your own life. If you don’t shoot, you’re saying that your mission isn’t important, and the lives of your fellow soldiers aren’t important.

It was America’s retreat from Somalia following the killing of 18 US Rangers and Delta Force soldiers, sparked by TV footage of the carnage and the despoilation of the soldiers’ bodies, that fully radicalised Osama bin Laden. He has said that it was at that point he realised the US was a paper-tiger, unwilling to fight, and from that conviction sprang the plot to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

For now, it seems Israel is determined not to make the same mistake, however disturbing the images on TV. But it’s getting harder and harder.

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20 comments

  1. Not that impressed with your military strategic nous, Rob. Such tactics are age-old for resistance fighters and are completely understandable with the use of a set of different mental tools to the ones with which you seem most comfortable and familiar.


  2. So you don’t see anything legally or morally objectionable in the use of unarmed women and children as human shields in a combat situation?


  3. Not much interested in the law as it has an unsurprising habit of finding actions legal in the absence of hard to provide direct evidence and it can and is wilfully ignored or shafted at top government level as the US & Israel repeatedly and spectacularly demonstrate.

    As for morals, I think you’re looking in the wrong place by citing morals here. And in any case morals are a social construct that vary from context to context and dare I say perspective.

    The actions of Israel are by far the most “immoral” to me but even so the degree of their immorality on the moral-immoral continuum is not really the key thing going on here, or rather it doesn’t really address the deeper issue raised by your post.


  4. “Such tactics are age-old for resistance fighters and are completely understandable with the use of a set of different mental tools to the ones with which you seem most comfortable and familiar.”

    Indeed. It’s apparent that Rob does not apply barbarism as a set of “mental tools”, as you euphemistically put it.

    I think this is one of your more penetrating statements, Tad Pole, even if it was inadvertent.


  5. I was referring to human psychology, AC, a major wisdom tradition that is indispensable in understanding wars and human behaviour therein and, well, just about everything else, I reckon.

    If you have no knowledge or appreciation of the tools it provides for understanding, and acting, then you are a storm-tossed ship eternally adrift upon unpredictable, unfathomable seas.


  6. “Penetrating”. LOL. Love the Freudian, AC.


  7. “Love the Freudian, AC.”

    Well at least you’re amusing yourself.


  8. “If you have no knowledge or appreciation of the tools it provides for understanding, and acting, then you are a storm-tossed ship eternally adrift upon unpredictable, unfathomable seas.”

    I’m not the one advocating using women and children as human shields. You, Tad Pole, are a barbarian and an apologist for barbarians.


  9. Bored, now


  10. AC, I am starting to feel a little sick and upset now as a result of your constant abuse, not least because I am a woman, but I feel I must bring to your attention that the word barbarian is an ancient Greek word the definition of which encompassed all non-Greeks and which explicitly regarded all non-Greek languages as total gibberish.

    I understand you perfectly. But sadly, you understand, and seem to not want to understand anything about people like me.


  11. Awful for you, LZ.


  12. Taddy, this isn’t a confessional or a psychiatrist’s couch.

    If you have an intelligible rejoinder to AC, please make it.


  13. very funny, in that awful male way.

    Good night.


  14. If you don’t lift the moderation bar on my comments, I am never commenting here again.


  15. A little while longer, Tad Pole.


  16. Your call.

    Enjoy the power.


  17. You can hardly complain. You’ve largely been an irritating troll, although I get the sense there’s a bit more to you than that, or could be.


  18. you are very abusive.


  19. All posts here get moderated. Why should you be any different if I (and all others) have to wait?


  20. […] Go to Simply Jews Hamas – change of language and pricing issues. Rob wrote Gaza and Mogadishu. […]



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