How do we fight an idea?

24 Feb

Arms keep peace. That is an old latin proverb.  For the most part of human history that has been true. You would not want to attack a powerful neighbor. Throughout the cold war the idea of MAD, mutual assured destruction, kept the United States and the USSR from launching their missiles. Yet the 21st century is a new world. Strong arms only help when your enemy has cities that could be taken or armies to be fought. But that’s not what we’re fighting now. What do you do with an enemy that has no country, no cities, no armies, an sometimes a desire to die?

The enemy is an ideology. How do you feel an idea? Bullets can’t hurt ideas. You can deploy as many troops as you want, but that will only give the enemy more targets and breed resentment in the local populations. Your security forces and soldiers can’t be everywhere at once. How do you fight these people? You can’t be in every house, every school, every place of worship where these ideas are spread. You also can’t sit back and just let them destroy you.

It’s a really tough question and I’m not sure what the answer is. I think a good direction to go in would be to try and isolate these radical groups even more by improving the lives of the people in their strongholds. If you go in and try and take over the place in an effort to stop them, they will just slip back into the shadows. The local population will just side with your enemy and try and fight you off as the oppressors. Yet if you give that local population aid, they might see that the fringe groups do not serve their best interests. The Marshall plan helped fight communism by providing at risk areas with aid, why not do the same thing with terrorism?

4 Responses to “How do we fight an idea?”

  1. Charlie February 27, 2010 at 10:23 am #

    GP, excellent thoughtful piece. You made two statements to which I would like to respond, “I think a good direction to go in would be to try and isolate these radical groups even more by improving the lives of the people in their strongholds”, and “The Marshall plan helped fight communism by providing at risk areas with aid, why not do the same thing with terrorism?”

    I agree with the principle, but we have failed in our Western arrogance in assuming that a suitable and effective replacement idea is our concept of mateialism and commercial enterprise. The world, especially those with aesthetic and transcendent values, has seen the shallowness and meaninglessness of our Western materialism; how ‘stuff’ just doesn’t cut it in finding meaning in life. What is needed is to replace the religious and political fervor in these worldviews with one that maintains a sense of meaning above and beyond materialism but weeds out the need for competitiveness of values and ideas.
    The Marshall plan was great in its time, but we are now in the Post Modern period and on the crest of Post-Post Modernism. People have rightly called out the overarching political and religious schemes for power, control and dominance and rejected them. The problem is, we are just scratching the surface on learning how to fill the void. Until we do, I am concerned we have nothing adequate to say to the terrorist mind.

    Best regards,


  2. Charlie February 28, 2010 at 8:42 am #

    GP, for ideas on how to combat terrorism, I highly recommend reading the book, “Three Cups of Tea, One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace, One School At a Time” by Greg Mortenson. It is the biography of an American mountain climber who became lost from his party in the mountains of Afghanistan and was assumed dead. he was rescued by the people of a small mountain village. To thank them, he built them a school, as they were too poor to do so themselves. The story goes forward from there, and is pretty significant, in line with your proposition of improving the lives of the people in these places from which the terrorist organizations draw their disciples. I think you would enjoy the read.

    Best regards,


  3. godlesspaladin February 28, 2010 at 12:56 pm #

    Oh wow, I’ll check it out. Thanks Charlie. And I agree with you, since this is a belief system and not an economic one we’re fighting, material “stuff” probably won’t work like it did in the Marshall Plan.

  4. Mark May 7, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    The only idea I see being enforced is police state capitalism, selfish materialism, duplicity and “democracy” at the point of a gun. And the idea that killing families and children with drones, occupying, looting and impoverishing a population is fine as long as the noble ends justifies the means. I’m sure they’ll embrace those ideas lol.

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