Pragmatic Pacification

Pragmatic Pacification

By john harrison

What is “pacification”? A dictionary definition would include bringing peace. A counter-insurgency definition would include, the absence of political violence, or at least of organized political violence. However, in the real world, like the word “chili”, pacification means many things, some of them quite different, to many people.

Clearly, pacification as a plan for action and properly understood may include both political and military operations. The Filipinos were pacified after the Spanish-American War when they realized that the Americans really did represent a more viable future than the insurgents offered, and in any event if they did not come in from the jungle that the US Army would hunt them down wherever they went.

Or, pacification may include apparently only a military component. For example, the Apache were “pacified” when they actually did stay on their reservations. This primarily military pacification involved the realization by the Apache that if they left their reservations that they would be hunted down in a fairly short time and that when they were hunted down they would be sent to Florida and would never see their land or their people again. The constant, besides the U. S. Army, in both cases was the use of irresistible military force.

Similarly, the Germans, Italians and Japanese were pacified after World War II when they too were occupied by overwhelming military force. This was also true of the South after our Civil War. All four were pacified successfully almost entirely without the necessity of punitive, or really of any active military operations by the occupying power.

However, while overwhelming or at least irresistible military force seems to be the most reliably successful option for pacification, it does not always work. The Germans occupied much of the Soviet Union with overwhelming military force for years during World War II but never succeeded in pacifying any of it. This was true even though the Germans were in many cases initially welcomed by peoples that had been held in pacified subjugation by the Soviets for years. The Germans also failed to pacify Yugoslavia, as did the Japanese occupations of both China and Indochina during World War II both failed. In the more recent insurgencies in the former Rhodesia and in the Union of South Africa again overwhelming military force was not sufficient for pacification. In each case the occupying power had at least irresistible and in most cases overwhelming military force but nonetheless did not succeed in pacifying their subject populations. What was the difference?

Neither the Germans, nor the Japanese, nor the former colonial governments ever propounded a future that included the populations that they were trying to pacify. It is important to note that even in the case of the Apache there was always the carrot that the Apache could live more or less as they wished on the reservation, albeit in a very circumscribed area. While presenting a minimal, and initially rejected, alternative,  years of uniformly successful military operations made this choice, a political choice, more palatable to the Apache. In the case of the Filipinos, it was the offer of an immediate future of schools, roads, and the more distant but still real promise of independence that provided the acceptable political future necessary to achieve pacification. All the Germans, Japanese and white minority governments ever offered was continued economic, and political subjugation followed in some cases by probable, eventual extermination.

So, it seems that successful pacification, besides at least irresistible military force, must include a political future acceptable to the subject people. However, even this formulation of pacification has not always been successful. The British and Americans tried to offer this to the Afghanis but thus far, neither can be considered successful pacification operations. The Russians attempt at the more traditional recipe of massive military force was similarly unsuccessful in Afghanistan. Why?

Afghanistan is particularly troubling as an example of historic pacification attempts because Alexander the Great, using the massive military force recipe was successful in pacifying the place although it should be noted that this took about three years and cost him more in casualties than his whole Persian campaign where he had won and pacified an entire empire. Even with Alexander’s victorious example, the British, Russians, and now the Americans, have only been successful in leaving their soldiers’ bones there. Why?

The simple answer is that neither the British, nor the Russians nor even the Americans have ever offered a political solution that is acceptable to the Afghani people.  If the American intervention into Afghanistan is going to be successful over the long term, then America must propose a political solution that resolves, or at least stabilizes what is essentially a tribal society.  Alexander the Great did this by marrying the fabled Roxanne which cemented an alliance with her powerful father.  If the American pacification program in Afghanistan fails to do this, then America’s intervention there will fail like the British and the Russians before them.

The American philosopher C. S. Pierce founded the only American school of philosophy. It had originally been called “pragmatism,” but Pierce later changed the name because it was such a useful idea that people kept appropriating the word pragmatism and pinning it on their own formulations. Pierce thought that the word “pramatacism” was sufficiently ugly so that it would preclude further thefts and further dilution of his philosophy. He was correct in the former, the word was sufficiently ugly that it has avoided being taken into general use, but less so in the later in that people kept his word pragmatism for their own.  Analyzing with C. S. Pierce’s philosophy of Pragmaticism, it is clear that the Americans have been more idealistic than pragmatic in their approach to pacifying Afghanistan, and unfortunately that means that the Americans are also unlikely to be successful there.


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