Art of war not easily understood

Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2010

All of us know the story of Osama bin Laden and the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. At the time, I found it very interesting that so much was made of it.

After all, compared to the recent earthquake in Haiti, it was not of any great consequence. If an event of a similar magnitude had occurred in the United States, it would no longer be a major world power. The economy of the United States would be in total ruin, unable to feed its own population or function as an independent economic entity. If Osama bin Laden had been able to do that to the United States, he certainly would have.

As a result of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States launched its war on terror. If one is going to fight a war, one should have a clear understanding of the subject. It is a much deeper matter than most people appreciate.

Sun tzu was a Chinese military philosopher and military leader who wrote the book called "The Art of War." He lived during the period from 500 B.C. to 300 B.C. In his book, he explains how one should conduct a war. His main premise is that one should not attempt to destroy one's enemy, but rather entice one's enemy into destroying himself. In order to do this, one should employ secrecy and deception. One must know everything about one's enemy, and keep him in a state of false optimism or total confusion. One must exploit the enemy's weaknesses while concealing one's own. In other words, one must be Osama bin Laden.

The United States is a great military and industrial power. It is not, however, invincible. Nothing al Qaida can do can cause the sort of social and economic collapse that we see in Haiti. We can, however, do it to ourselves. That is his purpose and objective.

Osama bin Laden understands his enemy and knows what he has to work with. He knows the United States has an emotional need to think of itself as invincible. The purpose of his campaign of terrorism is not to bring down the United States by any direct means, but to prompt us to take extreme and unwise actions that will undermine the effective functioning of our society while striking out compulsively against poorly defined targets far far away.

The Transportation Security Administration is one such example. A terrorist has the enormous advantage being able to choose the time, place and method of an attack. The defender must, in theory, protect everything, everywhere, all the time. That necessitates a tremendous and very costly effort, which, in the end, will not work.

This was demonstrated by the attempt to destroy an airliner en route to Detroit on Christmas. It did not fail due to poor planing. If properly and efficiently carried out by the operative and had passengers not intervened, it would have been successful. If someone really wants to kill people and is willing to die in the process, one can never count on being able stop that person. The functionaries of the TSA are paid by the people of the United States, but they work for Osama bin Ladin, since they are doing what he wants them to do.

What Sun Tsu would have done if he had been sitting in President Bush's seat on Sept. 11, 2001, would have been to take action secretly while publicly congratulating bin Laden on the well-planned and well- executed operation. One must never fall into the trap of not showing one's enemy respect when respect is due. The reason being that lying to one's self will always come back to bite one in a very unfortunate place. Secretly, Sun Tsu would send a hit squad.

The Sept. 11 attacks were unfortunate, but should not have been unexpected. The United States involves itself all over the world in ways that people at times do not like. f the United States wants to be a player in Middle East politics in the way it has been since the 1950s, it should expect attacks from time to time. They are a cost of doing business.

Osama never made any secret of his anti-American views. We should have paid more attention. When a flight instructor informed the FBI that he had a student who did not seem to be interested in learning how to land and that he thought the student might be up to no good, an FBI agent should have paid attention. The best way to deal with terrorists is to publicly ignore them, while secretly taking what measures are necessary. Obviously, we should do away with the TSA and see it for the stupid concept that it is.

• E. Ruth Wood is a retired data base administrator who worked for the American Medical Association. She and her husband are members of the Juneau Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

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