Nave and Nefarious

Kim Sun-il was naïve. So were the Iraqis who cut his head off.

Poor Kim was naïve to believe that the government of South Korea, his government, would take steps to protect, not merely his interests, but his very life, when that life was threatened by Iraqi activists who asked South Korea not to send additional troops to Iraq if Kim’s life was to be spared. And those lethal Iraqis were naïve to believe it might happen as they asked.

Korea has about 670 military in Iraq; they are planning to send another 3,000 soon, making them the third largest military force in Iraq. Is this because Iraq presents some sort of threat to Korea? An absurd idea. Is it because Korea wishes to become a major player in mid-east politics, and elbow in on the oil business? Well, hardly. The truth is almost certainly much simpler than that: the U.S. pointed out to Korea, no doubt very politely, that North Korea presents an ever-present danger to South Korea (after 40+ years!) and the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea provide them with protection from the armed and hostile North. (And, of course, Americans buy a lot of Korean goods!) So, in effect, Kim Sun-il’s nefarious rulers told him, "Too bad, Kim. Better you lose your head than we lose ours, and our business deals." Kim shouldn’t have been surprised: what ruling clique will put the welfare of its subjects ahead of its own? Of course the rulers of South Korea would let one of their own subjects die, rather than climb out of a nice warm bed with Uncle Sam.

Evidently, the Iraqis were as naïve as Kim, thinking that a government would do whatever necessary to protect the life of one it called its own. Although their tactic — the threat to the life of the innocent, in return for some political consideration — has been standard practice for generations, it requires larger numbers.

Consider, for example, the firebombing of Dresden. Thousands of civilians, in a beautiful city with no military significance, were incinerated by repeated waves of British and American bombers. Killing of innocent civilians, so as to exert pressure upon the German government, was precisely the reason for the slaughter.

Or consider the incendiary bombing of Tokyo. Knowing that most of the housing in that city was wooden, the attackers must have realized that tens of thousands of civilians would be killed or left homeless. That was the point. The suffering inflicted upon civilians would pressure the Japanese to capitulate. It didn’t work then, but after being repeated, with more oomph, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it did.

And what about the V1 and V2 attacks on London? Were the targets military? Of course not; there weren’t even any specific targets, other than the city itself. Again, it was the plan to use civilians as pawns that triggered the flying bombs.

And the tactic generally works. Destroy enough civilians, and the rulers are apt to yield, lest some of their own fall victims. THAT would be unthinkable!

The Iraqis failed because they were unable to carry out this mayhem on a sufficiently large scale. An occasional slaughtered civilian, now and then, is of no more concern to a government than any other unimportant death: surely not enough to warrant a weeklong state funeral, for instance!

The plight of the Iraqis is understandable, if their tactics are unacceptable. They would like foreign invaders out of their country. They cannot rely upon their own government to accomplish this, because there own government does not exist, having been replaced with a puppet government whose objective is to make a deal with the invader, not repel him. Thus, they are utterly without the resources to kill innocent civilians by the thousands, or tens of thousands. But, as they are discovering, killing them one at a time won’t do the job. To kill large numbers effectively, you’ve got to be a government. Government is good at it!

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.