March 15, 2005

The Means, Knowledge & Will To Resist

This is an old post of mine that I wanted to publish again.

I was browsing over at WeckUpToThees & found a discussion of an article from Assymetrical Information which was discussing an article by Tim Noah that appeared on The article was entitled Iraq & the NRA: Reader Response. Why you can by guns in Sadam's police state.

So, assumming that the press didn't jump to a conclusion that's not accurate & the Iraqi's did have access to arms, then why didn't the people of Iraq resist Hussein?

I am admittedly no expert in middle eastern culture generally or Iraqi culture specifically but I do have a few observations which I believe are consistent with humans in general.

Arms are necessary for resistance to a numerically superior or technologically superior force, but they are not the only thing necessary.

The means to resist. This does not mean having a single barrel shotgun. It means having weapons comparable to the small arms of the military. Although having any weapon provides the means of obtaining another, perhaps better weapon if you're up to it, all things being equal it's much better to start of with a suitable weapon than having to aquire one.

The knowledge to resist. A person or people has to be aware of what is happening & what is likely to happen.
There is a natural tendency to believe your government is benevolent. Jefferson stated this in the Decleration of Independence.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

When you add effective PR on behalf of a tyrannical government, then it becomes much much harder to realize that there is danger & it's time to act. The U.S. government could move into a small to medium size city & do anything it pleased by force. All that would be necessary would be to cut off all communications into & out of that city, convince the military that this action served some greater national security interest & then tell the rest of the populace that it was necessary for a specific reason to do something in that city. The plausibility of the cover story could be questionable to some degree & it would not have to include any precise details about what's going on. Untill the people in that city realized the military was going to harm them they would go along with most dictates that seemed plausible even if questionable. By the time they realized they were in danger it would be too late to offer anything other than a token resistance. The rest of the U.S. would not get involved unless it had direct knowledge of wrongdoing & if the PR campaign is done correctly then there'd be little danger of that.
Luckily for us the British did not realize how effective that particular strategy was in the 1770's. & again luckily for us the press was on our side back then.

There is no set guideline for knowing when to resist. It's a question that's been debated for some time: when do you start fighting back? The only definitive answer is sometime between the last election & when they come to put you into the cattle car. I wish I could be more precise than that but I honestly don't know the answer. We can all understand that fighting back is not desireable when peaceful solutions are possible. Similarly we can understand that by the time they come for you then it may be too late to do anything more than take a few of them with ya'. At best it is a decision that is subject to many variables & only history will prove or disprove any errors in timing.

In colonial America in 1775 the people of Massachusetts knew that when the Redcoats (we were British too back then) were marching to disarm the colonists that this did not bode well. Further the colonists had some experience with what a free society should be like. Their example was England. Same government, but the people were treated vastly different. They understood that they were not being treated fairly & they understood that should they be disarmed then nothing would prevent their enslavement but the whims of the same government that had been mistreating them. They also understood, at least some of them did, that now was the time to fight back because delay would remove their ability to fight back.
The German Jews perhaps did not see this as clearly in the 1930's. They were used to a certain amount of persecution, although from what I understand Germany was exceptionally tolerant of Jews in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Some did flee but many were reluctant to give up their homes, businesses, communities, etc... untill there was no other choice. They could not, or chose not to see the implications of what was happening untill it was too late. In 1938 hitler passed a law disarming Jews specifically. If they could have known what awaited them in the next few years I doubt they would have heeded the law & possibly could have initiated enough resistance to keep many millions of Jews alive, or at worst taken many millions of Germans with them. As it stands though they did not see the danger therefore the means to resist would have done them little good.

The will to resist. If you have the knowledge & means it avails you little if you have no conviction to fight. Take a woman that's 5'2" & weighs 110 lbs. armed with a sharp nail file who has the knowledge & will to resist. Put her up against a heavily armed 190 lb. man that stands 6'1". Let's assume he has the means & the knowledge but lacks the will to resist. He just is not emotionally or psycholigically capable of harming anyone even in his own defense. Even though she's outgunned & outsized the woman will win. & decisively. When I was growing up a friend of mine who had gotten into a lot of scraps told me once that "size don't matter in a fight, it's who's meaner". Clarifying that it means that the person who wants to win badly enough usually will. Not always but more often than not.
There is another example from WW2 that is relevant here. In 1943 a group of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto decided that it was time to do something. They realized they were being exterminated & they had the desire to fight instead of passively submitting to their fate. They had gained the knowledge & the will, but they had very little means to resist. They procured a small quantity of weapons & used those weapons to gain more weapons. Namely they took weapons off of soldiers that they killed. They organized into small seperate cells & started fighting back in earnest. It took Hitler roughly 3 weeks to roll through all of Poland. They Warsaw Ghetto Fighters lasted for 28 days. The Nazi's eventually burned them out. Many were killed, but a few escaped. One might say that's not a very positive example of armed resistance. But one must remember they were being exterminated. Their resistance at least allowed them to die on their own terms & with the satisfaction that there'd be a few less Nazi's to operate the gas chambers. It's unfortunate that they didn't possess the means, knowledge & will to resist sooner as that might have made the difference between life & death for not only them but millions of their kinsman.

So the means to resist is vital. But it is insufficient without both the knowledge of when, how & why to resist coupled with the will or desire to resist. In the case of the Iraqi's a persuasive argument could be made that they lacked the knowledge &/or the will to resist even if they did have the means. Again I am no expert in the affairs that occur in the middle east, but if my understanding of human nature is as consistent as I believe it is, then the Iraqi's being armed was only one ingredient necessary in the equation.

Posted by Publicola at March 15, 2005 05:43 AM
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