During my high school years my parents owned a lodge in the mountains of Colorado where they would occasionally have country western dances on a Saturday night. The mixture of cowboys and alcohol can be dangerous at times but we had pretty reliable insurance against such problems in the form of my father who had grown up in the area and who had a legendary reputation as a skilled fighter who tolerated no nonsense in his establishment (unless, of course, he was the instigator of said nonsense). Now and then, however, there were newcomers who either didn’t know about my dad’s reputation or who felt compelled to test it, and things would get interesting. On one such night two young men who were new to the area started a fight with a third man in the bar while my dad was outside. Other patrons attempted to intervene and stop the impending mayhem, but the two young men were not to be talked out of the fight. Someone went to get my dad, explaining that a fight was about to start and the instigators were acting crazy and couldn’t be reasoned with. “We’ll see about that,” said my dad as he entered the building. Now, my dad liked to collect interesting objects to decorate his bar. One of those objects was an old, petrified tree root shaped like a club with large, pointed spikes covering the round end. This deadly conversation piece hung behind the bar, and as my dad strode in he grabbed that club and catapulted himself on top of the bar in one quick motion. “Now you’re gonna get the hell out of here,” he said, and there was nothing but calm resolution in his eyes. He was more than ready to use the club if anyone dared to defy him. The Indians who had been deaf and blind from rage two seconds earlier were magically transformed back to sanity. Now keenly aware of their surroundings and the imposing figure with the spiked club who was poised for action, they suddenly changed their minds about fighting and quietly left. Go figure.
The moral to the story is this: people like to fixate on the psychology behind violence and imagine that the best response involves some attempt to manage those psychological forces through reasoning or propaganda when really the best antidote to violence is the real threat of greater violence in return. I have watched with great interest the reports of young men (and a few ultra-foolish young women) migrating to the Middle East to join ISIS. The attention that ISIS is getting has had the predictable effect of attracting young people from around the world who, in another place and time, might have become members of the Weather Underground or the SLA. It’s the same mentality: people who yearn to feel powerful by inciting fear and exercising violence against others. They are the disaffected young adults deeply unsatisfied with life in societies that won’t tolerate their need for power and attention. You cannot rationalize with such people, and what’s really in order is a big dose of shock and awe coupled with a steadfast resolution to eradicate them from the face of the planet. That’s what the U.S. strategy towards ISIS should be if we are serious about changing the trajectory in the Middle East and sending a warning to barbarians; but of course, Obama is not.
It’s a funny thing about shock and awe. It has the unique ability to separate the die-hard believers in a cause who will fight it out to the end (hence the term, “die-hard”) from the disaffected attention seekers, many of whom will magically forget ‘the cause’ when the going gets rough. Then, if they are lucky enough to survive their foolishness, they can migrate back to the U.S. and embark on lucrative careers in higher education.