Friday, January 2, 2009

The Kalashnikov Paradox and the Gaza Solution

Enlightened Export of 2nd Amendment Democracy? 72

After being in “school” for half a century, we have learned a great deal about the Kalashnikov automatic rifle. At least we have learned all sorts of technical things. Along with other ambitious colonial powers and decades of rather sordid schemes and other adventures, our own American forces have met this weapon all around the world, and our diplomats have met the unexpectedly determined men and women who carried it.

We certainly haven’t missed many details about the machine itself. What we have missed is the essence of precisely what it meant to be one of those carrying one. The United States has consistently tried to frame the motivation of those we have confronted in our own frame. They were not in our frame of reference at all. Our insistence that these adversaries were, somehow, just like us aside from some ideological differences allowed us to make them incomprehensible.

Portrayed in our press as it ignored this “frame” problem, we simply could not understand these enemies of ours very well at all. It turns out that our awkward mystery had less to do with the Kalashnikovs than with the minds and bodies pulling their triggers. Now, at the start of 2009, we find ourselves, once again, paying an uncomfortably heavy wage for our lack of perception.

Kalashnikov imposed interesting requirements on his design. One was the extreme durability of the weapon. Did he think that “wars of liberation” could never finally succeed? His weapon design was so durable that it almost always remained quite serviceable at the moment when victory finally prevailed in these conflicts. That led to a new, revolutionary government inheriting a population of well armed former insurgents. In these historically dynamic moments, an experienced and well armed revolutionary force of irregulars could turn on the new government as quickly as it had risen up against the previous one.

Our lingering view of war

Thanks largely to the “incomprehensible motivation” of these adversaries mentioned before, we have gradually mutated our most fundamental concepts about war, not to necessarily make them more realistic or accurate, but at least to make them more comfortable, that is, more comfortable than “incomprehensible motivation.”

We have made all these variations within what we call insurgencies, vacuously homogenous. We have formalized, for ourselves, a blanket condemnation of war, devoid of details. We have repeatedly sought what we called “ceasefires,” regardless of the substance of the issues of combat, claiming that our position was “high ground.”

Worst of all, we have wandered into this unusable wasteland with the perspective of a colonial power, a “super power,” although we deny it. Naturally, that approach strands our considerations of the reality of such matters back in the frame problem. Again.

At the moment we are confronted with folks, most carrying, of course, Mr. Kalashnikov’s rifles, in eastern Congo, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and, most recently, in Gaza among other places. If all these conflicts ended tomorrow, another list of other conflicts is already prepared to replace them. In every case our insistence on what we call “negotiations” or our proposals for “disarmament” seem to be strange songs played out in alien notes. When we speak of limiting proliferation of conventional weapons, our song becomes even less interesting.

“Gosh,” we think, “if only we could get them to stop fighting. They just seem to prefer the mayhem of war.”

Three quick visits to the war zones

Consider Darfur. The problem seems to be that only one side of the conflict is doing all the shooting. If you are a refugee woman who needs to gather firewood, you face the prospects of being raped. You are effectively helpless. The bad guys have all the guns (What else? Kalashnikovs, of course), and you’ve seen them in action. You are trapped without any particular protection or alternatives.

Consider Zimbabwe. The government and the army seem intent on wrecking everything. There is no work. There is no food. There is no help allowed. You have seen everyone who has raised his voice disappear. Usually for good. Sure, there’s probably politics involved somewhere, but at the moment it is a problem of food for your family, cholera and desperate, hopeless violence. You are trapped without any particular protection or alternatives.

Consider Gaza. Your home and family know that the “crazies” are in your backyard shooting rockets at Israel. You know that, inevitably, an Israeli jet fighter will come and bomb them. And you. And your house. And your family. Yet, there is nothing you can do. Even if you have a bit of ideological sympathy for the situation, they have all the guns and you’ve seen them in action. You are trapped without any particular protection or alternatives beyond abandoning your house. With your family.

An unlikely proposal

All these unfortunate situations have reached their present grave states based on a firepower problem. The reasonable folks caught up in them have no weapons. The unreasonable folks who seem to be in charge have plenty of weapons.

The solution? Arm everybody, except arm them in a special way.

Of course, pouring modern firepower into these already troubled regions seems outrageously stupid. We know that arming people has a bad habit of coming back at us, especially when we are arming them with our normal ambitions of exploiting them later, when they’ve run off the current crop of bad guys who won't let us exploit them.

We need to consider a different approach to arming them. We need to reinvent the Kalashnikov. We need a new weapon, and it needs to be a “Temporary Rifle.”
Please consider the following design specifications before you quit reading.

1. Temporary: It lasts no longer than one year. It can’t be repaired or refurbished. It can’t be stored away for later. One year is it. Replacement parts won’t help. It can’t be modified to last longer than one year. After that, it’s useless. Perhaps it can only fire two hundred shells before it’s, of course, useless.

2. Durable: It’s tough enough, not for longevity, but for rough delivery. A single rifle and its ammunition needs to be tough enough for an air drop. We won’t be making ambitious little stinky agreements with warlords. We will be arming everyone who can pick up a rifle that has been air dropped. The provision of these weapons will be what diplomats call “unilateral.” No strings attached.

3. Caliber: These rifles use ammunition of such a bizarre caliber that absolutely nothing else will fit or fire in them. If things move in a positive direction, we can drop more ammunition the same way we dropped the rifles. Should we adopt this plan, we can change the ammunition every year or for every conflict. Black market ammunition production won’t look so appealing if the only rifles it will fit are all going to be gone in a year.

4. Range: A 100 yard maximum range should be plenty. Any more, and our rifles suddenly become useful for invasions. That’s not the plan. These are strictly home (and possibly village, possibly neighborhood) defense weapons. No rockets launched in our back yards. No women raped gathering firewood. No “disappearances” at the heavy hands of the police. At least not here and not now.

5. Simple: These rifles have to be easy to use, easy to fire, easy to clean and easy to learn. No one gets any training. Everyone who has one understands the nature of the weapon and its limits. The caliber needs to be small enough for old people, women, and, yes, children to successfully aim and fire.

Is the old frame of reference beginning to slip a little?

If you are that family man in Gaza with the rockets firing from his back yard, and you are armed, you are no longer helpless. Especially if your neighbors have a similar position. If you stop the rockets, you are no longer a civilian. If you don't stop the rockets, you are also no longer a civilian. At least there will be no invasion.

A new picture of strategic success

When all these rifles have done their duty for a year, does it mean that our American businessmen will have complete access to the place where we dropped them? No. The rifles will simply be gone. The results on the ground will be the results accomplished by the people with the rifles.

Hopefully, the people who gathered them up after the air drop have made some progress for themselves, for their situation. Hopefully, the bad guys have mellowed a little once all their old victims started shooting back.

Maybe a popular government is hatching out of the chaos. Maybe the new “man in charge” will remember how quickly his entire population can be armed, for a year, before he starts getting as outrageous as the last government he's replaced.

So, perhaps a good shipment of our new “Temporary Rifles” brings about a “little more war.” Maybe a “little more war” is what was needed all the time, especially when, in this “little more war,” everyone has a gun. At least, everyone has a gun for a year.

Do we have to land troops? Do we have to sit back and bemoan the cruelty that we just can’t stop? Do we have to fire up an endless hot bed of one crazy autocrat murdering the last crazy autocrat? Do we have to attempt “ceasefires” one after another while every opportunist in the play maneuvers for another tidbit, oblivious to the hardship he is imposing on all the people and the rest of the world giggles?

Our 2nd Ammendment has served us well for two hundred years. There have probably been some who would have launched usurpations but abandoned their plans because everyone was armed. Maybe we should share a good idea.

Think about it.

Not up to date with the details of Gaza's conflict? Juan Cole is a fairly good choice:

and a pretty good, "bigger picture" link:

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