War is a sickness of the heart and mind that convinces us to believe human sacrifice will correct what we see wrong with the world. It doesn’t matter what side of the conflict we look at, aggressor or defender, both believe the sacrifices they make will solve the problems they see. I learned this as I watched the Mujahedin, allies in our effort to drive the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, create al Qaeda to punish us for not continuing to fund their efforts to develop that country after the Soviets withdrew.
Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed were our allies before they were our enemies. I knew that when I learned they tried to attack the island I called home in 1994 by bombing a passenger jet as it passed overhead. That island was Okinawa. It was targeted because it is home to a large number of U.S. military facilities operated by the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy. The aircraft targeted was Philippine Airlines Flight 434. It was bombed as Mohammed began to test the tactics he intended to use to create terror by simultaneously killing the passengers aboard 12 flights and terrorizing Americans on the ground with the debris. We were lucky that first bomb was a dud because it allowed us to uncover this plot. Unfortunately, little was done to secure our airlines from the modified approach that was uncovered as that investigation continued; the one that would put Saudi Arabians on board who were willing fly the aircraft into targets on the ground.
I’m reminded of how I felt then as I consider Ukraine. The defense community sacrificed a great deal in an effort to turn back the clock in Afghanistan. Too much I think. We’d be asked to do the same if sent into Ukraine. We’ve watched Russia organize this effort to reclaim it and other former Soviet republics without doing much since 2003. That’s the year they began to pressure the Georgian republic to rejoin them. By 2008 they were able to annex parts of it by moving non-uniformed troops in to support uprisings they triggered by stoking tensions between ethnic groups there. They’ve done the same thing in Ukraine since 2009, allowing them to take Ukranian Crimea in just as they had parts of Georgia by 2014. We watched the whole thing but failed to build resilience to it within those countries.
This is our failing. We learn about these plots, then tell ourselves the culprits behind them couldn’t possibly pull them off, until they do. We react rather than prepare. Now I think it’s time to prepare. We can’t turn back the clock in Ukraine but we can make those areas that have yet to fall to Russia more resilient. Furthermore, we can encourage those in occupied territories to resist as the French did in WWII while we’re making these improvements. I think that’s a good example to work with because the French Resistance was able to undermine the Nazi movement by developing relationships between themselves and unsuspecting Nazi soldiers. If they hadn’t stayed underground the resistance would have been destroyed and the Nazis would have solidify their hold before we could come to their aid.
Not enough has been said of the psychological tricks that were used to defeat the Nazi movement. A WWII veteran I knew was encouraged to play chess with the Nazi prisoners he guarded so they would begin to open up. They revealed things kept from interrogators as they let their guard down for the chance to connect on a human level. Once they were talking freely psychologists were able to learn a great deal from them. This is in essence what spies for the French Resistance did. They broke down the barriers that allowed Nazi soldiers to do what they did without a conscience.
These efforts ran alongside combat efforts and continued long after the fighting was done to ensure it didn’t start again. We won WWII because we asked everyone to help instead of suggesting they couldn’t be of help because they didn’t understand war. Germany and Japan would not be our allies today if we had not done this work. They are because their citizens, leaders, and soldiers changed as a result of it.