The war of insurgency was not the invention, or exclusive provence, of Ho Chi Minh. Ahmed Ben Bella was orchestrating a similar decentralized opposition to French rule in Algeria at roughly the same time Ho's more standard army units were attacking Dien Bien Phu. And it was a style of battle well-known in places like Ireland and the Philippines a century or more before that.
It has always been hard for a standing army to oppose an insurgency, and certainly for a colonial power to oppose a popular uprising -- even if the uprising is only "popular" in the sense of coming from within the society, as opposed to "popular" in the sense of being approved by most people.
The army faces an enemy they cannot isolate from the people whom they profess to be protecting from it, and who often would rather shelter "our boys" -- however horrific their sins -- than see them carted away by "them."
Add a dash of ancient animosity and you've got a mess that cannot be controlled from the outside, as proven in places like Ulster and the Balkans as well as Third World countries where we civilized (read: white) folks are less astonished to see it.
So how do you oppose an insurgency?
Drones appear to offer a solution: The ability to select individual targets from a distance.
And, assuming that the solution to insurgency is to oppose it on whatever battlefield the era defines, there is a lot to be said for drones.
Which I think is Sack's stated point.
But there are two problems, and the "mind your own business" issue is only part of it.
That is, I think the Taliban's support of Al Qaeda justified the US strikes to force them from power. Theoretically. And to the extent they could do it without falling into the "graveyard of empires" that Afghanistan has traditionally been.
There's also a compelling argument to be made, however, for letting people sort out their own problems.
But, beyond that somewhat theoretical ("somewhat" in the sense that it ain't theoretical when it's your kid being shot at) point, there is the element of practicality.
Not every gathering of people, even of Talib, is a political plot being hatched. Sometimes it's a wedding.
And then there is simple human error: If the police kick down the wrong door, it's possible, if a bit inadequate, to apologize, replace the door and demote a few people.
If you blow up the wrong houseful of people, the blunder is harder to fix.
In this case, the biggest problem of all still, and chillingly, fits that analogy.
Often, the cops reporter at a newspaper becomes so close to the local police that "whoops" becomes the default starting point for stories. "The cops made a mistake, but that's a rare occurrence and an accident and, anyway, it's not like there weren't drugs in that house, too."
According to this report on "On The Media," the American use of drones has been getting that same chummy coverage from the Beltway reporters who are supposed to be keeping government honest.
You know, when they aren't dressing up in tuxedos to buddy up with the powerful and well-known for an evening of giggling and pretending to be at the Oscars.
In that report, Chris Woods, senior reporter for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK, told Brooke Gladstone:
"I think a lot of the reporting that takes place in the United States on drone-related matters is by national security correspondents, and there is a narrative in Washington that says that drones are a good thing and that reports of civilian deaths are exaggerated or are propaganda from militants - and I’ve heard that many times. You know, ultimately, as we’ve seen multiple intelligence leaks from administration figures, from agency figures, this is a rewards-based system, and if you annoy the intelligence community or you annoy your sources in the White House, you don’t get the goodies."
If the whole world is not only watching, but getting a better view than we are, then the equivalency of the two weapons may be more precise than I think Steve Sack had in mind.
Team Cul de Sac Auction wrapping up!
Your chance to score a real bargain in original art, be part of an important moment in comics and to help fund Parkinson's research is fading. The Team Cul de Sac auction ends Sunday, and there are still plenty of pieces that are currently far below market price for original art.
Don't be intimidated by the $5,500 price tag on Bill Watterson's piece. That's only the headliner.
We're talking two figures for some really delightful work by both established cartoonists you've seen featured here and some talented up-and-comers, as well as really low three-figure prices for pieces by some of the industry's giants.
Whether you look at it from the point of view of a fan or of a more serious collector, this is a rare chance. And having one of those pieces on your wall to go along with your copy of the book has the same sort of "I was part of it!" attraction as a ticket stub from the Beatles' Shea Stadium concert.
You snooze, you lose. At least go browse the collection, before it's too late.