What Is The Price of Perception?

A lot of hue and cry, some legitimate and some ill founded, has been raised at these boards about the brewing crisis in Afghanistan. I have been sometimes rightfully and sometimes quite maliciously bashed for my own stance.

I bring to you a fundamental question, and some rather uncomfortable considerations about what is involved in the suggested ground campaign that so many are bandying about here.

What shall the price of perception be? Where does it become unacceptable and does it even at all? At what point does the loss of life in our armed forces become more important than the perception that we are always so prim and proper in the prosecution of our military goals? I do not suggest that we should be entirely unconcerned about the need to maintain a certain basic ethicality in our conduct as a superpower. I merely would like to know when it is that the loss of life no longer makes that ethicality practicable. Is the number, one? Is it one hundred, a thousand? More than the five thousand that we have already lost? How many?

In conducting a ground war in Afghanistan we are confronted with many extremely difficult goals and perilous situations. There will probably be exceptions to the regular rules of warfare so as to make the Viet Cong look like school boys. I give you a few to consider.

What shall be done when we round up some suspects only to have dozens of our own soldiers killed when one of the detainees detonates the bomb that is strapped to his body?

What shall be done when we get sick of losing even a single GI as he attempts to pat down another suicide attacker carrying a bomb?

Do you think that mandatory strip searching of suspects will solve the problem? Do you think it won’t just enrage people even more?

What method can we use to distinguish the terrorist elements from valid refugees as we attempt to monitor those leaving the battle scene? (Please know that this is in no way any attempt whatsoever to justify indiscriminate killing of the population.)

What means will we use to suppress continued infiltration and reenlisting of the refugee population by the terrorist elements?

How will we accurately monitor the huge quantities of people displaced by our actions?

What will we do when we finally encounter the ultimate evil as prisoners of war arrive who have ingested quantities of explosive in order to serve as human bombs?

Do not snicker at this last suggestion. It is a distinct possibility. Quite obviously, nothing is beyond these vermin. Such a concept is not much of a reach after September the eleventh. What is the response to such an event? Do we have to set up x-ray or MRI body imaging systems to detect such deceit?

If a conventional war is to be fought, our side will quickly realize that unconventional methods may be entirely necessary. I maintain that swift and overwhelming retaliation may actually result in less overall loss of human life. We could see extremely reduced casualties for our side, reduced Afghani citizen casualties and less actual suffering than a protracted war might bring. There are important similarities to be drawn with Japan, but unlike Japan such an equation must totally and irrevocably exclude initiating the use of nuclear weapons.

I will repeat that I have no love for human suffering. Until last week I never thought that I could ever advocate overwhelming force so loudly. Try to remember that if Osama bin Laden was able to kill continuously at the rate he did in New York, he would surpass Hitler in just a few months. We are dealing with a monster who has deployed weapons of mass destruction against our nation. More horrific, they were civilian liners filled with human beings. This maniac and the government that harbors him have already sworn their enmity of us. What choice do we have but to bring about their utter ruination?

I am compelled to remind you that this was not simply an attack upon our nation. This was an attack on each of us and it was done with weapons of mass destruction. I can only call an act that slays thousands in an hour mass destruction. Our normal doctrine is to respond to weapons of mass destruction with similar if not greater force. It is for this reason that I feel that such overwhelming force may be justified. And I again maintain that such an attack may result in less loss of life on all sides.

We must think very carefully as to even the sheer viability of waging a ground war.

Here are some more complications to keep in mind:

How to identify and track potential or suspected terrorists as our troops encounter them?

How about generating photographic documents with both thumbprint and possibly a retinal scan of each individual processed. The management of such a database would be ponderous at best but could generate significant downstream benefits for monitoring candidates.

You could demand that all people not wishing to be detained swear an oath on a copy of the Koran denouncing the Taleban and renouncing any belief in their goals. If you think that this would work, you’d be dreaming. Goodness knows that the mullahs would give them absolution to do so.

One of the few new applicable technologies we have is mentioned in Tom Clancy’s latest snoozer “The Bear and the Dragon.” It is known as “Dark Star” and consists of unmanned remote controled drone aircraft that patrol at 60,000 feet. Using digitally augmented optical and thermal (infra red) imaging systems they are able to provide GPS coordinates for objects the size of a single human being.

A network of these drones could potentially monitor the cave areas where bin Laden and his associates may have hidden out. Any traffic to or from these locations could be detected immediately and responded to. They remain out of reach for SAM’s (Surface to Air Missiles) and fighter jets alike. The information they deliver is real time and highly detailed.

All of this assumes that bin Laden is holed up in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan. This might be an entirely erroneous assumption to make. That is why if there is going to be a complete solution to this problem it will involve Afghanistan becoming something akin to either postwar Berlin or a protectorate of the United States. If democracy could bloom in Afghanistan it would serve as a beacon for our own foreign interests as well.

However, this all remains a pipe dream when one snaps back to the realities of getting anywhere near the military advantage required in order to implement such a goal.

As you can clearly see, the choices are not obvious at all and the repercussions are vast if we allow even a few of these vermin to slip through our clutches. We are faced with an almost unwinnable campaign. What are the viable alternatives?

Once again; What is the price of perception?

This is absolutely not going to be an easy war to fight. I’m sure that the United States military is going to encounter ‘tactics’ like they’ve never seen before.

I would venture to guess that no matter how we go about this, it’s going to be very messy and very saddening on all fronts. It’s unfortunate that the terrorists have made it absolutely mandatory that they be eradicated. Unfortunate for them, because the world WILL succeed, and unfortunate for us because we’re going to see our friends and loved ones dying to eradicate them, to rid the world of their disease.

I personally believe that taking over the major cities, eliminating any of the Taliban and their supporters that may be there, and installing a government consisting of Afghani people who are more enlightened (meaning NOT fanatic nuts who twist their religion to suit their own evil desires) would go a long way to solving the problem.

After that it would become more of a waiting game… make sure they have no lines of communication and no supply. They MUST come out eventually, to eat.

I could be way off base… they could have facilities ensuring survival for a long time… but I doubt it.

It’s a thought.


While i believe bin Laden is an evil maniac, you don’t do your overall credibility any good with absurd comparisons like this.

The final figures for last Tuesday are not yet in, but look like being around 6,000 people in the one day. At this rate, it would take 1,000 days (or almost three years) before bin Laden even arrived at the number of Jews killed by Hitler in the concentration camps, let alone the millions of others killed in the actual battles. Of course, if you conclude that all 6,000 or so died within a few hours, you get a bit closer to the mark, but your comparison is meaningless in any event. As are these:

About 23,000 people died in one day at Antietam, Maryland in the Civil War.

British bombing of Dresden over a few nights in WWII killed about 125,000, mostly civilians.

US bombing of Tokyo in WWII killed 124,000, and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed about 175,000 combined.

The Japanese killed about 2,400 in a morning at Pearl Harbor.

Vietnam saw the death of over 50,000 American and 2,000,000 Vietnamese.

Except for the tragic loss of life, these figures have nothing of substance in common. Like the ones that you present, they are all irrelevant to the present debate. This whole issue is too important to be obfuscated by the sort of sensationalism that you indulge in here.

And your idea of “loyalty oaths” to be demanded from the people of Afghanistan smacks of 1950s McCarthyism. How many times do people have to be told that most people in Afghanistan are to busy trying to survive under a brutal dictatorial regime to be worrying about the US? Just because that is where bin Laden is does not mean that the people all support him. And such oaths surely violate the oft-cited American value of “innocent until proven guilty”. But don’t let trivia like that restrain your bloodthirsty zeal, will you?

You say you have no love of human suffering. Well, the majority of your post implies otherwise.

I don’t know that this is such a far-fetched comparrison when you take a look at this statement issued by Al-Badr spokesman Mustaq Aksari.

(Bolding mine)

Although not directly associated with bin Laden, the Al-Badr group shares their ideology.

Too bad you didn’t bother to read past the first sentence in my paragraph. I have bolded the simultaneous dismissal of such a notion as loyalty oaths that was immediately subsequent to its mention for your edification.

However gruesome, that was my point. Your attempts to dilute it with irrelevant statistics are meaningless. We had all better hope that these maggots do not have possesion of a nuclear device.

Thank you Attrayant, for providing such a good link for those unfamiliar with the level of hatred that we face. America has never encountered such fanaticism in its military history. The WWII Japanese pale in comparison to what we will most likely find in Afghanistan.

I wonder how people will feel once atrocities are committed against American prisoners of war. Although I hope it is not true, I can only anticipate that any captured Americans will fare far worse than those who were so brutally murdered in Somalia. How many incidents of this sort will the American people put up with before demanding that our military personnel are kept out of harm’s way? Has anyone here considered what military solutions will be employed once our ground troops are withdrawn from the theater? These are the concepts I am trying to address.

I provide another quote from the article cited by Attrayant:

“They used to tell us America is a devil for Islam and we need to crush America,” Ali said. “You know to play with one’s religious emotions and that’s it. If you do that, you are there, you can do anything. It’s a human bomb available.”

I did not attempt to “dilute” your argument - it was paltry enough without my intervention. And i conceded that my statistics were irrelevant - exactly as irrelevant as yours were.

I too would be pretty damn worried if bin Laden had access to a nuclear bomb. But your meaningless comparison with Hitler served no purpose whatsoever. Why can we not just examine and discuss the “evilness” of madmen like bin Laden without constantly resorting to reductionist comparisons that have no educational value?

You also wrote:

I did read your OP, and i did see this argument. But your argument in this paragraph implies that loyalty oaths should not be imposed because they would not work. My argument, as my reference to McCarthyism implied, was that loyalty oaths should not be imposed because they are fundamentally wrong and a violation of the free speech and free expression tenets that America holds so dear. There is thus considerable difference between our positions. Yours, as it stands in the above paragraph, involves nothing more than an issue of practical logistics, and has no basis in moral and ethical considerations.

Thank you for making an excellent point.

My intention was not to suggest that there is merit to something so patently offensive as loyalty oaths. I was merely trying to identify any possible methods of distinguishing the terrorists from the general populace.

While it is much less taxing to poke holes in my own examples, I would enjoy seeing you cudgle your wits and make some valid suggestions. This is one of the overall intents of this thread. What methods exist in order to wage an effective mop-up campaign in Afghanistan? The concepts I provided are meant to demonstrate the incredible difficulties we are faced with, not cut-in-stone solutions.

While you are in no way obliged to come up with anything better than I have, I would like to see what you might be able to contribute. I still maintain that my comparison of bin Laden to Hitler is pertinent. An agenda of mass murder is common to both. Hitler is well recognized as that which is most despicible and I firmly suggest that bin Laden is of the same ilk, if not attempting to one up Adolph. The vigorous prosecution that Hitler experienced is exactly the same that bin Laden must face. I compare them to each other because they are on a par. If you are able to import an appropriate Civil War analogy into this, feel free.

Actually, inasmuch as Hitler and many Arabs have shared an intense hatred of anything Jewish, the comparison may be especially illustrative of the lengths to which they are willing to go.

I’ve known Palestinians personally who considered Hitler something of a hero.

Anyhow, in regards to booby-trapped soldiers, I recently stumbled across a website about millimeter-wavelength photography. With it you can “see through” clothing, and determine if a person is carrying a weapon.

So my question is, is this technology currently being employed by the military? And if not, would infrared photography perform the same task?

Thank you for making some excellent points.

The ability to perform remote body searches will be particularly useful. As I have already mentioned, what will happen when they secrete the explosives within their own bodies? A suicide bomber will think nothing of scoffing down a meal of C4 if he will be able to kill his opponents by doing so.

This is not meant to downplay the validity of your observation, merely to note that we may face an exceptionally devious enemy.


I guess I didn’t have a point to make about a terrorist ingesting C-4, because I have no ability to comprehend the possibility.

Would this work? How? Has it been done?

I haven’t heard of it being done, but leave it to those wacky Taleban to figure out a way.


“All you have to do is to make the C4 look like Skittles and the rest is easy once Halloween rolls around.”


I’ll put it this way; The bone fragments will kill almost as many as the explosion itself. Ever heard of a “Bouncing Betty” land mine? I just wonder if people have really considered the depths of depravity we might face in a ground conflict over there.

Again, dunne, your point about Palestinians lionizing Hitler really drove the point home perfectly. Thank you.

And if I shot rocket fuel out of my ass and had a pilot light, I’d be able to fly. As it depends on completely unrealistic circumstances (OBL having the means to kill 6,000 Americans per day) your comparison is pretty useless. It’s not a big deal though.

Just a nitpick: There were about 23,000 casualties; i.e. killed, wounded and missing. Actual dead was, IIRC, approximately 8,000. Give or take.

For many of the very same reasons that the OP mentions, I seriously doubt the efficacy of a military response in Afghanistan, depending on our goals. While our natural impulse may be to use a level of (military) force that is “appropriate” relative to the WTC attack, we should remember that such abstract judgements have no bearing on whether or not to actually use a certain level of force. After Pearl Harbor, we had not only outrage but also a tangible and fixed enemy that could certainly be conquered by an effective military campaign. A large-scale military reaction was justified because of what it could realistically hope to accomplish, not because we were upset.

What can the military really accomplish in Afghanistan? I seriouisly doubt that we’re going to find Bin Laden if he’s trying to hide and is not an idiot. It’s trying to find the proverbial needle in a stack of needles. We might be able to damage his terrorist organization (i.e. thin out its numbers) but we’ll never be able to wipe it out. We could probably, if we really tried, force the Taliban from power, but the consequences of that (and of the means required to accomplish it) may create an even worse situation. Christ, do we really want to occupy Afghanistan (or even a part of it)?

Ethically, I’m not primarily concerned with the loss of life in our armed forces (although it is, of course, a concern), as they have all agreed to risk their lives should the need arise. What concerns me is the loss of life and freedom among innocent Afghanis. My question, instead, would be more like: “At what point does the death and inconvenience (for lack of a stronger word) among innocent Afghanis become unacceptable given the probability and importance of a successful military operation?” The answer to this question really depends on what kind of military operation we try to carry out. We should know relatively soon.


But the concern is not the “perception” that we are acting ethically. It is, instead, that we are acting ethically (not killing and inconveniencing innocent Afghanis). From a purely practicle standpoint, since the long term effects of our military operations will be determined (in large part) by the harm inflicted upon the general populace and the anger stemming from said harm, acting ethically is supremely important, even if it puts American lives in danger.

Regardless of practibality, destroying the lives and livelihoods of Afghani citizens who did not choose to be part of the conflict so that our soldiers (who did) can be somewhat safer is an ethical disaster.