Eschatology and Counterterrorism Warfare

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 11 months ago

Eschatology, or the study and philosophy of the last things, is key to the proper understanding of counterterrorism warfare, but not usually mentioned in the same breath. Theologians do not usually engage in discussions of military strategy, and infantry officers do not usually read books in religious philosophy. Yet, on a grand scale, the two are intimately connected, and eschatology is the determinative factor in the motivation of the terrorist, even if his view of the end only involves the fulfillment of secular goals such as the will to power.

The Baathists had threatened to retaliate should the “crime” of executing Saddam Hussein be committed, saying that “The Baath and the resistance are determined to retaliate, with all means and everywhere, to harm America and its interests if it commits this crime.” FNC had reported just prior to Saddam’s execution from they U.S. officers in contact with the tribal leaders supportive of anti-coalition efforts that these tribal chiefs were propositioning them to “release Saddam, and he and the U.S. would handle the Iran problem together.”

Even for those who rejected the religious eschatology of victory embraced by al Qaeda and Ansar al Sunnah, they were loyal to the end, and hopeful for a resurgent Sunni rule in Iraq led by Saddam. Those who sided with the terrorists (Saddam’s secret police and the Fedayeen) merely found expediency in objectives: the driving of the coalition forces from Iraq.

So determined are the anti-coalition forces that they are willing to pursue a “scorched earth” policy to achieve their objectives. It was reported on October 23, 2006, that 500 000 Iraqi citizens had fled Iraq (primarily from the Anbar Province) to Syria. As of December 3, 2006, it is reported that 700 000 Iraqi citizens are in Syria and another 700 000 in Jordan, for a total of 1.4 million displaced citizens. One anecdotal piece of evidence is given to us by an otherwise non-remarkable person in the Anbar Province:

The gunman stood at the foot of his bed. “Are you al-Jaboury?” he yelled. It was 2 o’clock on a stifling July morning, and al-Jaboury had been sound asleep next to his wife. After hearing his name, the young Iraqi police officer didn’t hesitate. Grabbing the gun he had been stashing under his pillow every night since he’d joined the police 18 months earlier, he shot the intruder in the throat. The gunman’s accomplices all fled.

But the danger wasn’t over. “I knew the insurgents would come back, and maybe they would blow up the whole house,” al-Jaboury says. “My wife blamed me for joining the police. She said that I am a Sunni and that I know that the insurgents don’t like this, and that I would get killed sooner or later.” The next day, al-Jaboury left his wife, his daughter, and his home in the troubled Diyala province and took off in a neighbor’s pickup truck, loaded with fruit, and headed for Syria. He had $300 in his pocket.

Literally splitting families apart, the insurgents are willing to destroy the population and infrastructure to effect their end. They are willing to do this for the same reason that the 50 million dollar bounty on the head of Bin Laden is meaningless to those with whom he lives. They believe that they will win.

Until they are no longer convinced that victory awaits them, U.S. government largesse means nothing to the insurgents. No amount of so-called “nonkinetic” operations on the part of U.S. forces will “win the hearts and minds of the people” when wives are concerned about their husbands siding with the police for fear of them getting killed by insurgents.

This problem is exacerbated and compounded when religious pre-commitments are involved. Secular eschatology doesn’t compare in strength to religious eschatology. The Baathists need to see tangible results in time and space. When final defeat becomes obvious, although not yet fulfilled, the remnant might be persuaded to stand down, or simply disappear from the scene. Those who have a religious commitment need not see tangible results in time and space, and so nothing can dissuade them from their deadly adventures.

Guerrilla warfare is not the unique development of the twentieth century. Francis Marion fought the forces of Cornwallis to a standstill in the swamps of South Carolina, with an eschatology that was at least in part based on religious commitment. Even in the twentieth century, Vietnam was not the first example of such tactics. In my studies of World War II many years ago, I was fascinated to learn about the existence of “Hitler’s Werewolves.” A brief description of their accomplishments follows.

What did the Werwolf do? They sniped. They mined roads. They poured sand into the gas tanks of jeeps. (Sugar was in short supply, no doubt.) They were especially feared for the “decapitation wires” they strung across roads. They poisoned food stocks and liquor. (The Russians had the biggest problem with this.) They committed arson, though perhaps less than they are credited with: every unexplained fire or explosion associated with a military installation tended to be blamed on the Werwolf. These activities slackened off within a few months of the capitulation on May 7, though incidents were reported as late as 1947.

… Goebbels especially grasped the possibility that guerrilla war could be a political process as well as a military strategy. It was largely through his influence that the Werwolf assumed something of the aspect of a terrorist organization. Where it could, it tried to prevent individuals and communities from surrendering, and it assassinated civil officials who cooperated with the Allies. Few Germans welcomed these activities, but something else that Goebbels grasped was that terror might serve where popularity was absent. By his estimate, only 10% to 15% of the German population were potential supporters for a truly revolutionary movement. His goal was to use the Werwolf to activate that potential. With the help of the radical elite, the occupiers could be provoked into savage reprisals that would win over the mass of the people to Neo-Nazism, a term that came into use in April 1945.

And from an article on Minutemen of the Third Reich.(history of the Nazi Werewolf guerilla movement) The Werewolves specialised in ambushes and sniping, and took the lives of many Allied and Soviet soldiers and officers — perhaps even that of the first Soviet commandant of Berlin, General N.E. Berzarin, who was rumoured to have been waylaid in Charlottenburg during an incident in June 1945. Buildings housing Allied and Soviet staffs were favourite targets for Werewolf bombings; an explosion in the Bremen police headquarters, also in June 1945, killed five Americans and thirty-nine Germans. Techniques for harassing the occupiers were given widespread publicity through Werewolf leaflets and radio propaganda, and long after May 1945 the sabotage methods promoted by the Werewolves were still being used against the occupying powers. Although the Werewolves originally limited themselves to guerrilla warfare with the invading armies, they soon began to undertake scorched-earth measures and vigilante actions against German `collaborators’ or `defeatists’. They damaged Germany’s economic infrastructure, already battered by Allied bombing and ground fighting, and tried to prevent anything of value from falling into enemy hands. Attempts to blow up factories, power plants or waterworks occasionally provoked melees between Werewolves and desperate German workers trying to save the physical basis of their employment, particularly in the Ruhr and Upper Silesia.

In the end, the “Werewolves” were merely Hitler youth, lacked moorings and leadership, and lacked a cogent world view, and within a year or so they were finished. This is instructive. They saw that they had no chance to succeed, and vanished into the landscape in short order, lacking a vision for victory.

In this time of post-Saddam Iraq, we now have the knowledge that we have destroyed the only true enemy of Iran. Does the vision for the GWOT include considerations for the future of U.S. forces in the region to impede Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon? Does victory in Iraq include the notion of the creation of an ally in the GWOT? Does victory in Iraq mean that the Iraqis are able to stand on their own immediately, or is the lesser goal adequate – that of the U.S. providing security now so that some day this might take effect? And if we bring security, how would we do this? The casualty rate in December of 2006 rivals the casualties in the first and second battles for Fallujah.

It has been said to me recently by one serviceman that “since we were battling Saddam’s forces, defeat of the remaining Sunni insurgency in Anbar means victory.” This is true, given a minimalist definition of victory. But when the generals themselves cannot define an eschatology of victory, the servicemen are left to devise their own. With nuances, there will be as many definitions as are there are servicemen.

  • Dominique R. Poirier

    Your exposé is interesting and based upon sound basis. Now, to which extent a poor and disappointed bearded warrior who would give Bin Laden’s head could expect being signified then something as: Thank you very much, sir. Now we are immediately going to open an account bank for you and put on it 50 million Dollars? ?

    Sadly enough, the largely commented example of this Iraqi who gave the head of Saddam Hussein to the U.S. troops and who was finally denied similarly promised attractive reward for constitutes, I think, a precedent that seriously undermined further credibility and trust. Whichever were the pretexts for that justified this denial; it will hardly help to capture Bin Laden that way, now. Also, an amount such as 50 millions Dollars is perhaps a bit too much to be credible.

  • Alan Cranford

    Funny thing about the German guerrilla campaign just mentioned–it was Nazi until 1947, then “became communist” after that, and still smolders in Germany. Unfortunately, the killing didn’t end on VE Day. Only the people claiming credit changed. There’s always a bunch of hooligans around to smash and burn.

  • http://journals.aol.com/bmiller224/OldHickorysWeblog/ Bruce Miller

    I’m dubious about the claims on the Werewolves made in the last quotation in your post. The extent of violent resistance in postwar Germany became a current topic in 2003 when Don Rumsfeld and Condi Rice tried to dismiss the growing insurgency in Iraq by comparisons to postwar Germany. I don’t think there’s any real-time propaganda stake in the issue today, since it’s hard to imagine anyone trying to argue that Germany four years after V-E Day was in a full-blown civil war of the kind going on in Iraq now.

    Daniel Benjamin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, one of the leading American experts on terrorism, argued that Rummy and Condi were wrong on that point in Condi’s Phony History by Slate 08/29/03:

    Werwolf tales have been a favorite of schlock novels, but the reality bore no resemblance to Iraq today. As Antony Beevor observes in The Fall of Berlin 1945, the Nazis began creating Werwolf as a resistance organization in September 1944. “In theory, the training programmes covered sabotage using tins of Heinz oxtail soup packed with plastic explosive and detonated with captured British time pencils,” Beevor writes. “… Werwolf recruits were taught to kill sentries with a slip-knotted garrotte about a metre long or a Walther pistol with silencer. …”

    In practice, Werwolf amounted to next to nothing. The mayor of Aachen was assassinated on March 25, 1945, on Himmler’s orders. This was not a nice thing to do, but it happened before the May 7 Nazi surrender at Reims. It’s hardly surprising that Berlin sought to undermine the American occupation before the war was over. And as the U.S. Army’s official history, The U.S. Army in the Occupation of Germany 1944-1946, points out, the killing was “probably the Werwolf’s most sensational achievement.”

    He also cites the RAND study America’s Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq (2003) by James Dobbins RAND Institute, which says:

    U.S. officials anticipated and planned to deal with significant residual German resistance following the surrender of its armed forces. Yet no resistance of consequence emerged then or at any time thereafter, much as in Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy (see Chapter Five). The large number of U.S. and allied military forces in West Germany and the establishment of a strong constabulary
    force preempted most resistance. Indeed, the constabulary force was specifically created to respond to incidents of civil unrest, conduct mounted and dismounted police patrols, interdict smuggling operations, and aid in intelligence gathering. This contrasts starkly with nation-building efforts in such countries as Bosnia, which were marred by organized crime and civil unrest.

    James Carafano at the Heritage Foundation Web site defended the administration’s claims against Benjamin’s criticisms in A Phony “Phony History” 09/23/03. He wrote:

    What [Benjamin] apparently didn’t bother to do is read Perry Biddiscombe’s “Werwolf! The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944-1946,” which gives full chapter and verse on Nazi-postwar guerrilla operations. It’s true that the Werwolf was poorly organized, and the threat of attacks greatly subsided after a few months of occupation. But they were very real. A survey of records by the U.S. Army Center of Military History shows that at least 39 combat deaths occurred in the first few months of the occupation. If the Nazis had been better organized, the Werwolf might well have given World War II GIs as much trouble as the thugs in Iraq are generating now.

    I’m not familiar with Biddiscombe’s book and I haven’t yet seen a review of it. I also haven’t found the figure of 39 combat deaths he used, but that Military History Center Web site would take a while to search for such a thing. But this article at the History News Network, So Iraq Is Like Germany? (scroll down), originally at the Web site of radio station WNYC 08/29/03, quotes Biddiscombe himself from an interview:

    But according to Perry Biddiscombe, a historian of postwar Germany who wrote a 1998 book on the Werewolves, the force was designed only to assist the German army in winning the war. It was not created to be an underground movement after a German defeat.

    As a result, Biddiscombe said, Rice is correct that the Werewolves attacked U.S. troops — but the only documented assaults took place before the Nazis capitulated on May 7, 1945.

    “After the end of the war there’s a lot more ambiguity,” said Biddiscombe, who teaches European history at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

    One reason for that ambiguity is that a few days before the Nazi surrender, the SS officially disbanded the Werewolves. But in the last month of the war, as Germany collapsed, Nazi radio propaganda called on Germans to take up arms to resist the occupying forces. Members of the Hitler Youth vowed to join the Werewolves in attacking Allied troops, and some other Germans who resisted after the surrender adopted the term “Werewolves” to describe themselves.

    I wasn’t able to locate the original source or author of the last quote in your post. A search for the name of Gen. Berzarin turned up many references apparently quoting from a passage used in a post by the Wall Street Journal’s James Tarantino, “General N.E. Berzarin, who was rumoured to have been waylaid…”

    But Tarantino didn’t give the author or the name of the article and linked only to the general Web site of History Today, and I couldn’t find the article in a search on their Web site.

    I’m curious now about Biddiscombe’s book and also about the “explosion in the Bremen police headquarters … in June 1945, [that] killed five Americans and thirty-nine Germans”. I don’t recall coming across that before.

    I know that there was considerable lawlessness in German cities in the months following V-E Day, particularly by roving gangs of young people. But if that Bremen explosion occurred and was the work of anti-Allied resistence fighters, that would be easily the most significant of such actions I ever heard of.

  • Herschel Smith

    Bruce,

    For some reason, your comment got caught in spam, but I recovered it. Very interesting observations, and I will spend some time studying this. However, I believe that you help me make my point. I recall my studies on the Werewolves from being in literature 20+ years ago, and even then, it was “soft.” I went and grabbed the closest thing I could find, and this happened to be it. I suspect that any real understanding of what they managed to accomplish would require interviews with only a few remaining living people who participated in their activities.

    But the theme is not that the Werewolves were similar to the post-Saddam Iraq. Rather, the theme is that of the dissimilarities. The Werewolves had no coherent world view, no real organization, and no chance to succeed. They didn’t last long. Conversely, the insurgency in Iraq has what the Werewolves lacked: eschatology.

    Thanks for the thoughtful and well-crafted comment.


You are currently reading "Eschatology and Counterterrorism Warfare", entry #434 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Religion,Small Wars,War & Warfare and was published December 31st, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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