Saturday, March 03, 2007

War of Values

There's a very interesting and provocative article in the new issue of Air and Space Power Journal that's worth your time to read. It's by Col William Darley, U.S. Army, and it's titled Strategic Imperative: The Necessity for Values Operations as Opposed to Information Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can read it online at

Col Darley takes a historical look at conflicts between incompatible systems of cultural values, and draws conclusions for the success of our present war against radical militant Islam. He builds his thesis from the idea of "civil religion," defined as "the key centrifugal cultural force that unifies people in ethnic and national identity and shapes their values." In the context of the current conflict, he defines the cultural religion of the West as one of individual rights and liberties, as opposed to that of Islam which "denies the existence of individual rights and demands submission to the dictates of God as interpreted by a de facto Islamic priesthood in charge of government." Loosely stated, there is no Western-style separation of church and state in the Islamic world, where the mosque and state are inseparable.

Col Darley's basic point, which he buttresses with historic examples from the Roman Empire to Nazi Germany, is that existential clashes between completely incompatible systems of values can only be won when one side is able completely to impose its system on the other. The Romans successfully conquered many diverse nations and tribes by forcing (or, at best, coercing) them into adopting Roman values...sometimes by the incorporation of elements of the conquered culture into Roman society. Germany and Japan were utterly crushed in World War II, and were rebuilt as modern, progressive democracies by a complete eradication of the previous regime (in the case of the Nazis) and by retention of the emperor in a much-reduced figurehead role (in the case of Japan). Col Darley has a pessimistic view of our ability to create Western-style democracies in Islamic lands, noting that "...we must recognize that we can successfully establish democratic pluralism in countries that have never known it only if we broadly supplant cultural values at a grassroots level that currently makes cultural acceptance of democracy virtually impossible due to Islamic literalism." He notes that "current conflicts can be resolved only by clearly recognizing them as strife between civil religions and understanding them as primarily a test of strength of conviction by each side in the rightness of that civil religion...Western democracies will require strong resolve combined with a supporting values campaign to transform Middle Eastern populations to a civil-values system that establishes individual liberty as the core cultural value in democratic societies."

I'm not sure we can do that. Islam offers a seductive system of belief that claims to offer all the answers to all the problems of the world in exchange for total and uncritical belief in a system of values based in the culture of the 7th century Arabian desert. The civil religion of Western democracy is much harder. Individual liberty demands a great deal of the individual, with no recourse to the shoulder-shrug of insh'allah ("if God wills it") that summarizes the fatalistic attitude of the Islamic cultures. I don't think we in the West still have the capability for utter ruthlessness that allowed the ancient Romans, and even the United States of the 1940's, to impose its will on a defeated enemy and completely supplant its culture.

Our enemies, unfortunately, do.

Please take the time to read the article by Col Darley, think about it, and let me know your comments. I think it's one of the most important and thought-provoking pieces I've read in a long time.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


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