With all due respect to India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and with sympathy for the tragic loss of life his country recently suffered in the murderous attacks in Mumbai, it’s still necessary to point out that his statement earlier today grievously — and destructively — mischaracterizes those attacks.
“Sophistication and military precision”? No, no, a thousand times no. The attacks in Mumbai were anything but “sophisticated” and they were ruthlessly, brutally imprecise. We cannot describe indiscriminate mass-murder as having “military precision.” This was not the act of soldiers, but of criminal sociopaths. This was not the act of men, but of monsters.
Let’s remember what these attacks involved. Heavily armed gunmen entered a cafe and opened fire on the patrons. Men pulled out automatic weapons and began shooting whoever happened to be standing in a train station. Armed men attacked hospitals.
Nothing about any of that suggests the work of a brilliant, “precise” or “sophisticated” tactician. These people did not study the theories and tactics of Clausewitz and Napoleon, they followed the brutal example of Harris and Klebold — the two disturbed teenagers who killed 12 other students and a teacher at Columbine High School. The Mumbai attackers were more “sophisticated” than the trenchcoat mafiosi only to the extent that they were more heavily armed.
By “military precision” the prime minister seems to be referring to the killers’ ruthless efficiency, implying that it indicates a level of training and discipline. But these murderers were less lethally efficient than deranged student Seung-Hui Cho was in perpetrating the massacre at Virginia Tech, and I have never heard anyone suggest that his act of meaningless madness was notable for its “sophistication and military precision.”The prime minister’s use of that phrase, “military precision,” is particularly wrong and particularly offensive. The goal and the consequence of the attacks in Mumbai was the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, of noncombatants, and the deliberate targeting and killing of noncombatants is the absolute opposite of military precision.
The deliberate targeting of noncombatants is both immoral and impractical. It is a violation of the laws of war — a war crime. You’re not allowed to kill civilians. But even when accidental or incidental, the killing of civilians and noncombatants is always — always — detrimental and counterproductive. The U.S. and NATO are losing ground and just plain losing in Afghanistan because our air strikes there have resulted in so many civilian deaths. The short-term military success of Israel’s current offensive in the Gaza Strip will be incapable of producing any long-term success because that offensive has brought about — and is bringing about — the deaths of so many noncombatant civilians. These civilian deaths, whether in Gaza or Afghanistan, are the hallmarks of a lack of sophistication and an appalling failure of military precision. The standard is the same in Mumbai.
Prime Minister Singh is today repeating an error committed by President George W. Bush following the attacks of 9/11. Singh wants to legitimize a military response to the attacks in Mumbai and thus he frames those attacks in the rhetoric of a military assault. The result of such rhetoric is that he begins to legitimize those attacks by describing them as warfare — the act of soldiers behaving with “sophistication and military precision.” They were nothing of the kind. The attacks in Mumbai were not the work of soldiers, but of madmen and sociopaths, of brutal, thuggish murderers.
Opening fire on the unarmed patrons of a cafe or on the commuters at a train station is simply a crime — the sort of brainless, meaningless crime that offers no benefit for the criminal. It does not require sophistication or military precision, but rather an utter lack of sophistication and the opposite of military precision. All it requires is a gun, a bunch of bullets, and a perverse imbecile stupid enough to pull the trigger.