Dr Strobe Driver examines the deeper components of terrorism and the regretful ‘heads should roll’ issue being popularised by the Prime Minister.
‘Heads should roll’
With regard to Prime Minister Abbott and his ‘heads should roll’ comment of 25 June, 2015 there is more to be said about this incident and the witch-hut that has taken place in the public sphere. There are two issues at stake: the first being a fear that Australia is becoming a southern hemisphere equivalent of Iran and Egypt—two governments that default to crushing comment that is not ‘officially’ approved of—and moreover, that any comment that disagrees with the current government is deemed to be quasi-‘seditious.’ Notwithstanding, there is another perspective with regard to ‘terrorism’ that needs uncovering—in order for a deeper analysis to be offered.
To start with, the comment with regard to Zaky Mallah and his question to the panel of the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s (ABC) QandA program, in particular directed at government MP Steve Ciobo who is currently, according to a recent ABC evening radio program, leading a trade mission to India. Returning to the question of Mallah, it is a reasonable assessment to accept the end part question involved the words of a frustrated and angry young man, rather than the words of a would-be-terrorist—otherwise we can assume he would have been arrested upon exiting the ABC studio. From this entire Q&A scenario however, the deeper components of terrorism and the ‘heads should roll’ issue that has been alluded to should now be addressed. Getting to the point terrorism however, needs to be accessed via a complex path and modern day technology is a good place to begin the process.
Terrorism and technology
A good point to start the deeper issues alluded to is to understand that the uninhabited-aerial-vehicle strikes—or as they have become colloquially known ‘drone-strikes’—that are occurring in the sovereign nation-state of Pakistan on a near-daily basis are just that, strikes against an enemy that the United States of America (US) deem to be worthy targets in its ‘war-on-terror.’ With regard to the anger and rage the Pakistani’s feel toward these strikes is making o future friends for the West and the fact that the Permanent Five (P5) of the United Nations (UN) Security Council has not approved of the strikes, which essentially means that the strikes are, according to the relevant tenets of international law, illegal. To state that the illegality factor, in conjunction with the actual raids simply reinforces the rage is to state the obvious. However, beyond the aforementioned war-on-terror points there is no need to discuss the actual war beyond a mention, as it is terrorism that is the overwhelming concern. It is here that a part of history is able to be introduced to give terrorism a greater perspective.
Drone-strikes, and the associated technology that is being used against Pakistan are a byproduct of technology, and at the forefront of this technology there is a dyad: jet propulsion and rocket-science. Which in simple terms is an ‘ability of science’ to send aircraft across a given geographic area to strike targets, and also to propel satellites/rockets into the upper-stratosphere, and then deep-space. Where did this ability come from? Achieving this level of science and technology came to the fore in the immediate years following the end of World War Two (WWII). A ‘space race’ would then develop between the two major victors of WWII: the Americans and the Russians. Once again, how did this happen? Where did this technology come from? How were the Americans and the Russians able to embark upon a (competitive) space-program so quickly after WWII? The answer lies in their capture, and use of, what in modern day parlance would be deemed utilizing the abilities of ‘terrorists.’
In general terms and broadly speaking from the evidence available in numerous documentaries and books—which perhaps the neoconservatives should acknowledge in order to bring a balance to this debate—this is what happened at the end of WWII. The Russian military swept into Nazi Germany from the East and Allied forces (with a major component on the part of the Allies being American) from the West. To be sure there were other directional events and strategies, however, these were the major incursions and this phase of WWII would involve gruelling and attrition-driven offensives that would culminate in the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. There was it should be noted, considerable attrition to both sides and this should not be ignored in order to understand the shocking elements of this total war. Only one example is needed to establish the near-unbelievable personnel cost of the campaigns. The Russian Army for instance would lose a staggering 540,000 troops in the taking of East Berlin. Hence, it is safe to argue the Russians were keen for compensation for their effort. The Americans too, were after their compensation as they had taken the brunt of the Pacific phase of the war; were essentially dragged into the European war; and had lost thousands of troops in the Ardennes (colloquially know as the Battle of the Bulge), which had dragged on for months longer than was forecast.
One needs ask, how then does a sweep into Nazi Germany, the capture of West and East Berlin and a nascent post-WWII space-program fit into this analysis? This is how it ‘happened.’ When the Americans swept in from the West and the Russians from the East, they included in their captures (Nazi) German jet propulsion, aeronautical- and rocket-scientists who had been part of the Nazi war-effort. These scientists were of particular interest to both powers, however both sides knew that because of their crimes-against-humanity, they would be sent to the (pending) Nuremberg Trials. As such, these scientists were in fact, in modern day terms ‘terrorists.’ Why? Because they were responsible for the engineering and technology of munitions that had been used indiscriminately against civilians. Their expertise allowed for the firing of, in the first instance V-1 rockets (which were possibly, able to be shot down if Royal Air Force Spitfire’s were able to be scrambled in time), and V-2 rockets which flew much higher and faster and used a different propulsion system than the V-1s, and thus, were unable to be intercepted by fighter-aircraft. The scientists who were directly involved in the firing of, and the ongoing development of these munitions were acts of terrorism. This was known in 1945 and it is known now. Why then, did these people not get sent to the Nuremburg Trials?
To be sure, what the Americans and Russians found in the conquering of Nazi Germany was a veritable and enormous intellectual pool of aeronautical- and rocket-science cum physics talent. The captured German scientists were in real terms, given an ultimatum by the Americans and Russians—come and work for us, or you will be sent to the Nuremburg Trials where you will be convicted of crimes-against-humanity, and sentenced to hang. These scientists obviously chose the former and from this set of circumstances two space programs were born: one Russian, one American. Two space programs were borne of employing terrorists and murderers that should have been sent to hang according to the laws of the time. This is the proud history of how the two post-WWII soon-to-be superpowers dealt with terrorists and murderers. A modern day perspective is needed here to see whether things have changed.
A modern-day perspective
To revisit the above-mentioned, and place it in a more contemporary perspective. Ensconced within the International Criminal Court (ICC) law and numerous UN conventions, to note that to deliberately fire live-munitions on a civilian population is an international statutory crime. The current day Assad government of Syria, will no doubt be (or attempt to be) brought to trial by the ICC, in the coming years. The point being made here is that regardless of the regimes of the world that are indulging in these practices, they are, and remain contrary to UN conventions. Will Australia be dragged into the ICC in the future? A pertinent point is perhaps the Australian government should be wary of accusing others of indulging in acts of terrorism especially considering the Royal Australian Air Force is striking targets—largely at the behest of the US’ in an illegal ‘war on terror’—which is unapproved of by the UN P5 and the ICC may become involved. Time will tell.
Returning to the original point made, the situation is and remains, Australians should mindful that the technology and weapons used against the very people the Australian prime minister rages against, emanate from an intellectual base of terrorists and murderers. And the West—as the oft-repeated upholder’s of a ‘moral high ground’—not only utilized the intellect of Nazi scientists but also offered them sanctuary, fiscal reward and shelter. Hence, the civilians that were killed by acts of terror by Nazi Germany were not only denied justice, their deaths were not honoured as the two victors held their own interests above the laws of justice.
This unfortunate episode in the history of the West (and the most powerful of the East, the Soviets), has allowed the both Russia and America to prosper and essentially rule outer space with military and spy satellites aplenty—which offer up targets to its numerous allies and further offers advantage to these countries indulging in overt and covert wars. The overt wars, whether fought for national security, the two Chechen wars fought by Russia on the premise of defeating Muslim terrorism, the Vietnam War which was used to deny the ‘march of Communism’ throughout Southeast Asia, and the covert Iran-Contra conflict fought in the Central Americas by the US Central Intelligence Agency are to name only several. Whilst these wars are a blight on the East and the West the actions have as a core, the use of technology that has a shameful history.
In conclusion: Terrorism per se, is not the sole monopoly of angry young men, nor is it of organisations such as the Irish Republican Army and other irregular forces. Some of the most powerful governments of the World have used it as a weapon; and continue to do so to this day—Western governments included. The neoconservatives in the political sphere—especially the Australian Liberal Party in this instance—should look to the history of the West before threatening to crush freedom of speech with the use of glib threats and singling out one incident to incite such a punitive response. Perhaps a little introspection to this debate would bring some balance and moreover, it is a good place to start when accusing others of crimes.
About the author:
Strobe Driver completed a doctoral thesis in war studies at Federation University in 2011. Since that time he has been lecturing and tutoring in the Social Sciences at Federation University and continued with his research into Security Studies with an emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, the nation-state and conflict and terrorism. He is a regular contributor to E-IR and more information about his writings can be found on Academia.edu and on his own website Geo-strategic Orbit.com. He is continuing to write articles and build a publishing base and is currently writing a documentary as well. The views expressed are a result of his research and are his own.