This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← A History of Violence

A History of Violence - Comments

Atheist Mike's Avatar Comment 1 by Atheist Mike

Gone down in 20% of the world yes. Not so much for the other 80%.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 00:52:51 UTC | #876159

MilitantNonStampCollector's Avatar Comment 2 by MilitantNonStampCollector

This is almost irrelevant given the fact of nuclear weapons.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 01:17:17 UTC | #876167

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 3 by Neodarwinian

This is almost irrelevant given the fact of nuclear weapons.

Really now? I think not being killed for absolutely nothing all the time is a slight improvement on the past.

Seen this one many times. With slight variation he keeps beating back the rear guard action of the empiricist, romanticists and dualist forces. A thankless job ( seeing comments here from time to time ), but someone has to do it.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 01:47:09 UTC | #876173

isisdron's Avatar Comment 4 by isisdron

well that was interesting to read. I guess the only way to see what will happen in the future is to stick around, wait and see. No one really knows what will happen. Even in what seem like predictable cycles, unpredictability will find a way to emerge. That is what keeps life interesting, changing, and going forward.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 01:52:39 UTC | #876174

secularjew's Avatar Comment 5 by secularjew

I've been looking forward to this book ever since Pinker's TED speech in 2007. This promises to be informative and hopefully may lead to a different view of how to better the world. I will probably read it as soon as I finish "Brain Bugs", which I heartily recommend, by the way. Anyway, the thing to do now is sit back and see how many people will completely misunderstand Pinker's thesis.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 02:44:09 UTC | #876185

KJinAsia's Avatar Comment 6 by KJinAsia

Of course Pinker is right. The facts speak for themselves. Civilization works. Many people, both liberal and conservative, will simply not accept it though. There seems to be a human need for fear and loathing of the future and it is a cognitive error to suppose that an admission of success leads to an abandonment of continued improvement.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 04:25:31 UTC | #876199

BanJoIvie's Avatar Comment 7 by BanJoIvie

Comment 1 by Atheist Mike

Gone down in 20% of the world yes. Not so much for the other 80%.

Apparently, this is somewhat true, but since that 20% was previously responsible for like 90% of global violence, the overall reduction has been remarkable. Did you watch the lecture?

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 05:36:31 UTC | #876215

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 8 by Premiseless

In a hamlet of 10, 1 death is 10% of the population.

In a world of 7 billion 10% of the population is 7 hundred million (the world population in 1700, or total population of China in 1963, or the combined population of the USA, Russia and Brazil in 2011).

To equate the first statistic as on par with the second, in terms of humanity, is a strikingly interesting mathematical conundrum!

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 06:11:49 UTC | #876218

M D Aresteanu's Avatar Comment 9 by M D Aresteanu

I've had the book for 2 days now and I'm near the end...I haven't put it down. It has a lot in common with Guns, Germs and Steel.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 06:32:38 UTC | #876222

Vorlund's Avatar Comment 10 by Vorlund

Comment 6 by KJinAsia :

Of course Pinker is right. The facts speak for themselves. Civilization works. Many people, both liberal and conservative, will simply not accept it though. There seems to be a human need for fear and loathing of the future and it is a cognitive error to suppose that an admission of success leads to an abandonment of continued improvement.

I agree, despite the appalling carnage around the first half of the last century, it may be that humans are finally coming of age. Better communication and global awareness, 'better' education, increasing secularism must all have contributed.

Thompson estimates something like 40% of males in hunter gatherer societies died as a direct result of male coalitionary violence. That would be around 2.5 billion on today's population.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 14:34:25 UTC | #876320

Anonymous's Avatar Comment 11 by Anonymous

Comment Removed by Moderator

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 15:15:45 UTC | #876335

BanJoIvie's Avatar Comment 12 by BanJoIvie

Comment 8 by Premiseless

In a hamlet of 10, 1 death is 10% of the population.

In a world of 7 billion 10% of the population is 7 hundred million (the world population in 1700, or total population of China in 1963, or the combined population of the USA, Russia and Brazil in 2011).

To equate the first statistic as on par with the second, in terms of humanity, is a strikingly interesting mathematical conundrum!

I'm afraid I don't see the conundrum. Focusing only on the raw number of deaths in your illustration does not really express the impact "in terms of humanity" as a whole, because you exclude the other side of the equation. Increasing a population from 10 to 7,000,000,000 while keeping percentages of violence constant will obviously result in a massive increase in the number of violent acts and victims of same. It will ALSO result in an increase in lives lived free of violence and/or the threat thereof at exactly the same rate.

You could as easily have said that the the poor, blood-soaked hamlet only had 9 people who escaped a violent death, while in the "world" 6.9 billion lives were lived out in peace. An obvious advancement! Right?

In both cases, the average citizen had exactly the same statistical chance of violent death. "In terms of humanity" there was no difference between living in the first society and the second...at least in the very narrow measure of avoiding death by violence.

A decrease in the percentages of violence even when population increases mean the total amount of actual violence has increased may still be viewed as real and meaningful progress. To illustrate, imagine we tweak your scenario a tad and say that the Hamlet has a 10% death rate, but the world of 7 billion has managed to reduce theirs to 1%. An observer might say, "Holy shit! The number of deaths shot up from 1 to 70,000,000! Society gone straight to hell!" Certainly the specter of 70 million deaths is tragic, and not to be minimized, but it would also be a mistake to overlook the fact that the lowering the rate of deaths had actually spared the lives of 630 million people.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 16:02:55 UTC | #876353

ChadSmith1452's Avatar Comment 13 by ChadSmith1452

I can't leave unremarked that Pinker takes an invidious dig at Chomsky, with the standard, pristinely vacuous, utterly brainless canard that Chomsky thinks the West is to blame for all the ills in the world, that the West can do no right. This is fathoms beneath Pinker, or should be. If you insist on traducing Chomsky with this ancient, nebulous reproach, please at least rub your temples and make the pretense of some psychokinetic effort to get it to coalesce to some state of solid specificity. Chomsky blames "the West" or "America" unfairly? Cite and closely paraphrase a specific argument or observation Chomsky has made; say precisely why you take issue with it; and aduce lucid reasons. Failing that, (which one very probably will) have the intellectal integrity to just hold your damn tongue.

"Virtue itself 'scapes not calumnious strokes."

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 16:59:00 UTC | #876371

blitz442's Avatar Comment 14 by blitz442

Comment 13 by ChadSmith1452

Here is an interesting bit of wisdom from Chomsky on the death of bin Laden. He has some possibly valid points such as this:

There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial.

And then he has points like this:

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.

The highlighted portion especially is crazy, hyperbolic nonsense, and I hope that this is not typical of Chomsky.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 17:33:06 UTC | #876381

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 15 by Peter Grant

I really enjoyed that :D Couldn't figure out how to download the video, but I managed to find the mp3.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 18:38:53 UTC | #876399

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 16 by Alovrin

I cant argue with the figures just not sure about the conclusion.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 19:08:32 UTC | #876405

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 17 by KenChimp

Comment 14 by blitz442 :

Comment 13 by ChadSmith1452

Here is an interesting bit of wisdom from Chomsky on the death of bin Laden. He has some possibly valid points such as this:

There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial.

In societies that profess some respect for the law, suspects are not tortured for any reason including the gathering of HUMINT, such as in interrogation.

And then he has points like this:

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.

The highlighted portion especially is crazy, hyperbolic nonsense, and I hope that this is not typical of Chomsky.

That all depends on specifically what we're holding in comparison. I'm an American, and I am convinced that George W. Bush should be prosecuted for murder and war crimes at the very least.

I simply will not accept the premise that in order to fight an enemy one must become like the enemy. In contrast to his "compassionate justice" speech given shortly after 9/11, the actions of some U.S. military and intelligence operatives under Bush's orders were anything but "compassionate" or "just". The actions were pure and simple reciprocity. The actions were against the Geneva Conventions Accord, against international law, and against the laws and treaties of the United States.

Just FYI, I was an interrogator in the U.S. armed forces in the 1980s, so I know just a smidgen of what I'm talking about.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 19:13:02 UTC | #876407

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 18 by rod-the-farmer

The video stops repeatedly at the same spot, after about 10 minutes.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 20:09:40 UTC | #876422

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 19 by Premiseless

Comment 12 - BanJolvie

You illustrate my point well. One death, percentage wise, can appear equivalent to millions due a more massive population. Analysis of various factors, by percentage comparisons, often tells us far less than we ought to be aware of due the evolution of other factors that become synonymous with the more massive diversities found in larger populations. Disease and ecosystem, for example, gradually evolving efforts to learn science and discover cures, become as significant, if not greater than efforts to wage and win wars where the likelihood of one exceeds the other. Stuff like that!

Fri, 30 Sep 2011 01:18:18 UTC | #876490

Luis_Cayetano's Avatar Comment 20 by Luis_Cayetano

blitz442 said:

The highlighted portion especially is crazy, hyperbolic nonsense, and I hope that this is not typical of Chomsky.

Why is this ''crazy, hyperbolic nonsense''? What Chomsky said happens to be completely accurate. For a US president's crimes NOT to exceed those of bin Laden will be progress in itself.

On the other hand, it should be noted that the reason Bush was able to carry out more death and destruction than bin Laden isn't because he's more vicious, it's simply that he had more awesome means of violence at his disposal.

Fri, 30 Sep 2011 13:06:27 UTC | #876576

Jumped Up Chimpanzee's Avatar Comment 21 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

Comment 14 by blitz442

Here is an interesting bit of wisdom from Chomsky on the death of bin Laden. He has some possibly valid points such as this:

There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial.

It's amazing how many otherwise intelligent people just can't understand the factors at play in certain situations when you have to deal with highly dangerous criminals such as terrorists.

For all the advance information the US forces may have had on the Bin Laden compound, there is no way they could have been certain in advance exactly how many individuals were in that compound, what sort of weapons and other defence systems they may have had, and how ready and willing they may have been to use them.

Nor could they have been certain how long they may have had at the site before the situation became complicated by the possible arrival of other Al Qaeda forces to defend Bin Laden, or before intervening Pakistani forces arrived.

The fact that 1 helicopter crashed during the event shows that such an operation is not a walk in the park. A softer approach would not only have left the US forces vulnerable to possible counter attack (and for all we know they may have encountered a stronger counter attack had they not used the elements of speed and surprise that they did), it would also have given Bin Laden more of an opportunity to escape, or have allowed the situation to become much more complicated by the arrival of local police, who may have insisted Bin Laden be arrested and tried in Pakistan. Just imagine the problems the Pakistanis would have had to deal with if Bin Laden had been held in one of their jails.

It's not a perfect example of justice but it's not a perfect world. I think it was the best way to deal with the situation as it was. It is a standard way for most Western counter-terrorist forces to deal with such situations (no different from the Iranian Embassy seige in London in 1980).

I suggest the next time some terrorist lair is discovered, Mr Chomsky is sent in ahead with a pair of handcuffs. I also suggest he bears in mind that we aren't all endowed with his extraordinary gift of hindsight.

Fri, 30 Sep 2011 14:48:20 UTC | #876595

Luis_Cayetano's Avatar Comment 22 by Luis_Cayetano

Jumped Up Chimpanzee said:

It's amazing how many otherwise intelligent people just can't understand the factors at play in certain situations when you have to deal with highly dangerous criminals such as terrorists.

Those factors didn't play out during the raid. Like Chomsky said, the only threat posed by bin Laden was his lunging wife.

The fact that 1 helicopter crashed during the event shows that such an operation is not a walk in the park. A softer approach would not only have left the US forces vulnerable to possible counter attack (and for all we know they may have encountered a stronger counter attack had they not used the elements of speed and surprise that they did),

Here you're simply and falsely equivocating two entirely separate things: speed and ruthlessness with getting TO bin Laden, and the question of what to do with him once he had been located and found. How would a 'softer' approach with respect to the latter have left the US forces 'vulnerable'? Especially given that these forces spent some 30 minutes rummaging around for material in the compound. If they were so precariously on the edge of failing, staying there for anything other than acquiring bin Laden would seem an extreme extravagance.

It's not a perfect example of justice but it's not a perfect world.

That's true, because it wasn't an example of justice at all. It was simply extrajudicial murder, as several high ranking officials have confirmed.

I think it was the best way to deal with the situation as it was.

That's a retrogressive justification. They could always say later on that the situation was fraught with uncertainty. But if they knew that GOING IN, then in what circumstance would they have apprehended bin Laden rather than killed him? Apparently, one of those scenarios wasn't if bin Laden offered no real resistance.

It is a standard way for most Western counter-terrorist forces to deal with such situations (no different from the Iranian Embassy seige in London in 1980).

Ridiculous. These situations involve hostages. What you're saying is that the standard for Western counter-terrorist forces is to act as death squads.

I suggest the next time some terrorist lair is discovered, Mr Chomsky is sent in ahead with a pair of handcuffs. I also suggest he bears in mind that we aren't all endowed with his extraordinary gift of hindsight.

Not worth rebutting.

Fri, 30 Sep 2011 23:46:56 UTC | #876792

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 23 by Red Dog

Comment 14 by blitz442 :

Comment 13 by ChadSmith1452

Here is an interesting bit of wisdom from Chomsky on the death of bin Laden. He has some possibly valid points such as this:...

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.

The highlighted portion especially is crazy, hyperbolic nonsense, and I hope that this is not typical of Chomsky.

How is that hyperbolic nonsense? Lets add up the crimes. 9/11 was around 3,000. My guess is if you add up all the other attacks combined its less than 9/11 but lets be generous and round way up to 10,000 innocent civilians. Those are Bin Ladens crimes.

I'll ignore Afghanistan because you could at least argue that the US had some justification for going there in response to 9/11 (I don't really think that's true, the Taliban were willing to give up Bin Laden if the US provided some evidence but giving the benefit of the doubt to Bush). So lets just take Iraq. Clearly Bush is responsible there. I've heard all sorts of different estimates but at a minimums 100,000 innocent civilian deaths. I think when you add up deaths due to sewage in the streets, lack of basic medicine, birth defects due to depleted uranium the actual figure could be close to a million but again give the benefit of the doubt to Bush lets say just 100,000 and lets also ignore the CIA sponsored coup in Venezuela and countless other Bush crimes.

There is also the matter of torture. To my knowledge Bin Laden as bad as he was never officially sanctioned torture of US soldiers. Bush did. So we have:

Bin Laden: 10,000 civilian deaths no torture. Bush: 100,000 civilian deaths, sanctioned torture.

So please tell me again how its crazy hyperbolic nonsense to say Bush's crimes were greater?

Sun, 02 Oct 2011 01:03:53 UTC | #877055

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 24 by Red Dog

Comment 21 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee :

Comment 14 by blitz442

Here is an interesting bit of wisdom from Chomsky on the death of bin Laden. He has some possibly valid points such as this:

There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial.

It's amazing how many otherwise intelligent people just can't understand the factors at play in certain situations when you have to deal with highly dangerous criminals such as terrorists.

As I hope is clear from my last post I'm no apologist for the US. I admire Chomsky immensely and I'm glad he acts as a conscience in cases like this. But its so easy to second guess after the fact and I think part of the second guessing comes from people who have spent most of their life in academia and not dealt with the real world.

I've never been involved in combat or anything close to the stress of this kind of operation. But even in my nerdy world of trying to do things like build and deploy large computer systems I've learned that for every possible problem you think you have accounted for there are always ten others you never even thought of. If that's true for computer systems its even more true for a covert operation behind the lines with a country that is supposed to be your ally but in reality turns out to be harboring your most hated enemy.

I agree that it would have been ideal to capture him alive but I think its amazingly pretentious to second guess on an operation like this. I remember the Carter attempt to rescue hostages from Iran that ended up giving up after one of the helicopters crashed in the dessert.

Sun, 02 Oct 2011 01:49:10 UTC | #877060

Jumped Up Chimpanzee's Avatar Comment 25 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

Comment 22 by Luis_Cayetano

Those factors didn't play out during the raid. Like Chomsky said, the only threat posed by bin Laden was his lunging wife.

Any my point is you can only say that with hindsight!

you're simply and falsely equivocating two entirely separate things: speed and ruthlessness with getting TO bin Laden, and the question of what to do with him once he had been located and found.

They are not 2 completely separate things! You can't conduct an operation of this nature, and go in to a building with speed and ruthlessness, and then when someone sees Bin Laden say to everyone at the scene, friend and foe alike: "OK, stop everyone! We've found Bin Laden. No more shooting and yelling. Calm down. We're placing you under arrest. Please ask your bodyguards not do us any harm while we get these handcuffs on and lead you to our helicopter. If anyone on your side wishes to resist or do us harm, please be so kind as to inform us in advance so that we may shoot at your side before you shoot at us."

In any case, even if you could use speed and ruthlessness to get to someone and then suddenly stop, the fact that you used ruthlessness to get to him in the first place implies that you may well have already inflicted harm on others, or allowed for doing so. It seems to me logically inconsisent to say it might be justifiable to use force against his bodyguards but not against Bin Laden himself.

Of course, it is possible that Bin Laden's and his entourage might have surrendered with little or no fight, or that US forces might have been able to arrest him and get him out without sustaining any casualties, but I think it is reasonable to assume that that was unlikely or too great a risk.

Especially given that these forces spent some 30 minutes rummaging around for material in the compound. If they were so precariously on the edge of failing, staying there for anything other than acquiring bin Laden would seem an extreme extravagance.

Presumably that was after, not before, they killed Bin Laden and took some sort of control of the site.

it wasn't an example of justice at all. It was simply extrajudicial murder, as several high ranking officials have confirmed.

Bin Laden has made it known on numerous occasions that he has been behind terrorist attacks and he supports more attacks in future. A straightforward arrest and trial were not realistic options in this case, or at least carried an extremely high risk of him getting away (to carry out more potential atrocities) or of others being killed. So on balance I consider the action taken to be justified.

What you're saying is that the standard for Western counter-terrorist forces is to act as death squads.

In any situation where an arrest cannot be made without a serious risk of innocents being killed, yes. (Of course there should be very strict procedures in place for authorising such a course of action, and such actions should be subject to full inquiry, with severe punishments for any failures to adhere to procedures. If that doesn't happen as a rule, or didn't happen in this case, then I agree you have a case for objecting.)

Thu, 06 Oct 2011 13:11:12 UTC | #878418

DaveyJones's Avatar Comment 26 by DaveyJones

seems to me that this guy concentrates entirely on western society, ignoring all the societies violated by it.

Sat, 08 Oct 2011 16:00:48 UTC | #879009

Luis_Cayetano's Avatar Comment 27 by Luis_Cayetano

They are not 2 completely separate things! You can't conduct an operation of this nature, and go in to a building with speed and ruthlessness, and then when someone sees Bin Laden say to everyone at the scene, friend and foe alike: "OK, stop everyone! We've found Bin Laden. No more shooting and yelling. Calm down. We're placing you under arrest. Please ask your bodyguards not do us any harm while we get these handcuffs on and lead you to our helicopter. If anyone on your side wishes to resist or do us harm, please be so kind as to inform us in advance so that we may shoot at your side before you shoot at us."

Stupid nonsense. I didn't say anything remotely like that, and I'm tempted to say that you surely know that. Sorry, but it's slightly annoying when people caricature what I'm saying.

In any case, even if you could use speed and ruthlessness to get to someone and then suddenly stop, the fact that you used ruthlessness to get to him in the first place implies that you may well have already inflicted harm on others, or allowed for doing so. It seems to me logically inconsisent to say it might be justifiable to use force against his bodyguards but not against Bin Laden himself.

Again, I have to wonder whether you're contemplating anything I'm saying. Here it is: his bodyguards posed a clear and immediate threat to the SEAL team. It wasn't at all obvious that bin Laden did. Why is that hard to understand? Secondly, it's not 'inconsistent'. If it was, the it would never be possible to apprehend powerful criminals.

Of course, it is possible that Bin Laden's and his entourage might have surrendered with little or no fight, or that US forces might have been able to arrest him and get him out without sustaining any casualties, but I think it is reasonable to assume that that was unlikely or too great a risk.

sigh.

Sat, 08 Oct 2011 16:11:48 UTC | #879011

Jumped Up Chimpanzee's Avatar Comment 28 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

Comment 27 by Luis_Cayetano

Stupid nonsense. I didn't say anything remotely like that, and I'm tempted to say that you surely know that. Sorry, but it's slightly annoying when people caricature what I'm saying.

I'm sorry if I misunderstood what you said, although if that's the case I am baffled by what you are saying.

Again, I have to wonder whether you're contemplating anything I'm saying. Here it is: his bodyguards posed a clear and immediate threat to the SEAL team. It wasn't at all obvious that bin Laden did. Why is that hard to understand?

What you don't seem to understand, is that it is a standard strategy amongst anti-terrorist forces that in certain situations they will determine that the appropriate action is to go in with the aim to "eliminate the threat". This means killing those who pose a threat, not because it is a form of revenge or punishment, but because that happens to be the best way to stop the threat. It is exactly what happened in the Iranian Embassy siege in London. In that case, there was an immediate threat to hostages and the aim was to kill the terrorists to stop that threat. This "take no prisoners" policy was born out of a previous incident where an attempt had been made to arrest a terrorist who appeared to be unarmed, only for that terrorist to then pull out a concealed weapon and kill those trying to apprehend him. From that point on, the SAS and many other counter-terrorist forces determined that in certain situations you have to go in with a pre-determined aim of killing the terrorist, regardless of whether or not he appears to be armed in the instant you come face-to-face with him.

They are not prepared to take such a risk in what is already a highly dangerous situation. And why should they? (Remember, these people are experts. They spend thousands of hours thinking through these scenarios and training for them. They didn't just think up the idea on a whim. It is based on decades of work.)

And risking their own lives in the Bin Laden case was probably the least important threat. The Bin Laden compound may not have contained hostages, but in a very real sense he was holding the whole western world hostage. His liberty was a very serious threat to all of us. Even if he may not have appeared to have been armed, it would be impossible to make such a judgement with certainty quicker than he might have been able to pull out a concealed weapon. And even if they had ascertained he had no weapon, he may have struggled, allowing bodyguards a chance to shoot his captors, possibly even allowing Bin Laden to escape. The risk of botching up this operation was too great. It risked the lives of those who carried it out and of countless victims of potential future atrocities. That's why they would have made this decision. That's why I thank them for doing so.

Sun, 09 Oct 2011 09:13:40 UTC | #879121

Luis_Cayetano's Avatar Comment 29 by Luis_Cayetano

What you don't seem to understand, is that it is a standard strategy amongst anti-terrorist forces that in certain situations they will determine that the appropriate action is to go in with the aim to "eliminate the threat".

So you agree, the decision to kill him had already been taken before they ''went in'', rather than during the heat of the moment?

This means killing those who pose a threat, not because it is a form of revenge or punishment, but because that happens to be the best way to stop the threat.

You haven't provided any examples of how bin Laden was a threat to the SEAL team. Your attempts to square the circle are becoming somewhat embarrassing.

It is exactly what happened in the Iranian Embassy siege in London. In that case, there was an immediate threat to hostages and the aim was to kill the terrorists to stop that threat.

''Exactly''? Whatever do you mean?

This "take no prisoners" policy was born out of a previous incident where an attempt had been made to arrest a terrorist who appeared to be unarmed, only for that terrorist to then pull out a concealed weapon and kill those trying to apprehend him.

Kind of irrelevant, given that no attempt to apprehend him was even made. On this basis, it would always be justifiable to simply kill any criminal, since he ''might'' pose a threat in spite of appearances to the contrary.

From that point on, the SAS and many other counter-terrorist forces determined that in certain situations you have to go in with a pre-determined aim of killing the terrorist,

That decision wasn't the SEAL team's. That was a political decision taken at the White House. Of course, you're perfectly aware of that. It would be more honest if you simply cheered on what everyone already knows: this was an extrajudicial assassination ordered by the executive, rather than swallowing the Kool Aid about ''our boys''.

The Bin Laden compound may not have contained hostages, but in a very real sense he was holding the whole western world hostage. His liberty was a very serious threat to all of us. Even if he may not have appeared to have been armed, it would be impossible to make such a judgement with certainty quicker than he might have been able to pull out a concealed weapon. And even if they had ascertained he had no weapon, he may have struggled, allowing bodyguards a chance to shoot his captors, possibly even allowing Bin Laden to escape.

Yes, the young, brawny bin Laden would have put up some ferocious struggle against those old, skinny commandos.

Secondly, if you think that bin Laden held ''the whole Western world hostage'', you must not have much esteem for the Western world. People who say this seem to unconsciously want to affirm al-Qaeda's pronouncements that the West is so morally and institutionally fragile that a few more 9/11-like incidents will be enough to see the whole thing coming unraveled. But while we're on the subject of existential threats, the Third World has suffered far, far worse, and for decades, at the hands of the West. Orders of magnitude worse. The sanctions regime in Iraq, which killed hundreds of thousands of children, was a far greater atrocity than 9/11. Given that, it would have been perfectly justifiable for a group of Iraqi commandos to assassinate Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, using the same logic you've used above. Right? (or wrong, if you think that Iraqis belong to another, presumably unworthy, category of humanity, not endowed with the right to use lethal force to defend themselves from outside attacking enemies which Westerners are to be routinely granted. But then that would make you a racist)

The risk of botching up this operation was too great. It risked the lives of those who carried it out and of countless victims of potential future atrocities. That's why they would have made this decision. That's why I thank them for doing so.

Sanctimonious, self-congratulatory hogwash. Bin Laden's death doesn't mean the end of Islamist terrorism by a long, long shot. There's no guarantee whatsoever that it will even lessen it to any significant degree. It will continue so long as the United States maintains an imperial presence in the Middle East and seeks to commandeer events there for its own narrow interests.

Sun, 09 Oct 2011 15:14:38 UTC | #879167

RJMoore's Avatar Comment 30 by RJMoore

this was an extrajudicial assassination ordered by the executive

Why would the judiciary be involved? Whats a 'judicial execution'? Who else but the executive would make a decision to get OBL? Do you think judges made decisions regarding SAS missions in Northern Ireland, army attacks against FARC in Columbia, or the FBI operation in Waco?

Kind of irrelevant, given that no attempt to apprehend him was even made. On this basis, it would always be justifiable to simply kill any criminal, since he ''might'' pose a threat in spite of appearances to the contrary.

Its perfectly relevant. They had very limited information on what they were facing in his compound, the compound they only discovered a few months previoulsy he was staying in. They couldnt just mosey on up and ask the occupants a few days before the attack were they armed. In domestic policing, different tactics are used against, say, dangerous armed bank robbers with a history of shooting at police than heroin-addicted shoplifters. OBL was definitely in the former category, analogously speaking.

The sanctions regime in Iraq, which killed hundreds of thousands of children, was a far greater atrocity than 9/11

The suffering was caused by one man and one man only; and you were against his removal by the US/UK. Actaully, wasn't that the refrain of the anti-war crowd and the weak, ballsless UN: 'give sanctions time to work'?

Given that, it would have been perfectly justifiable for a group of Iraqi commandos to assassinate Bill Clinton and George W. Bush

Iraq tried to assassinate HW Bush in the early 90s. A brisk 12 years after the original conflict, the US/UK removed Saddam, after giving him ample opportunity to leave the country if he wanted to spare his country the trauma of war.

...few more 9/11-like incidents will be enough to see the whole thing coming unraveled.

Do you know what actually happened on 9/11? Its not just that nearly 3,000 people died, the heart of the US' commercial hub was brought to a stand-still, and virtually all air traffic was curtailed; if OBL had his way, he would have killed 30k or 300k people. He also tried to destroy the Pentagon and, it seems very likely, was going to attack the White House or Congress. Do you seriously think the US was going to say, "ah, its grand. Sure have another few attempts and we'll review our options in a few years"? Are you living in the real world?

There's no guarantee whatsoever that it will even lessen it to any significant degree

We'll see.

Sun, 09 Oct 2011 19:45:00 UTC | #879201