Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Etzioni: Hey, I used to plant bombs!

I’ve heard good things about the writings of Amitai Etzioni, a prominent sociologist and former advisor in Jimmy Carter’s White House, so when I saw an article by him on the moral and legal case for drone strikes against terrorists in Joint Forces Quarterly I made sure to put a copy in my “reading bag.” ...

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I've heard good things about the writings of Amitai Etzioni, a prominent sociologist and former advisor in Jimmy Carter's White House, so when I saw an article by him on the moral and legal case for drone strikes against terrorists in Joint Forces Quarterly I made sure to put a copy in my "reading bag." Last night I got around to reading it.

High up, he establishes his credentials to discuss terrorism. He used to kind of be one, he mentions:

Unlike some armchair ethicists, who write about this matter and never come closer to combat that watching a movie in a theater, I have some first-hand experience in the matter. In 1946, I was a member of the Palmach, a Jewish underground commando unit that pressured the British to allow Jews who escaped Nazi-ravaged Europe to settle into what would become Israel. (I say "pressured" because unlike our competitor, the Irgun, we fought largely a public relations war. We did so by alerting the British military to leave before we blew up buildings that housed them-to grab headlines, not bodies.) One day, we attacked a British radar station near Haifa. A young woman and I, in civilian clothes and looking as if we were on a date, casually walked up to the radar station's fence, cut the fence, and placed a bomb. Before it exploded we disappeared into the crowd milling around in an adjacent street."

I’ve heard good things about the writings of Amitai Etzioni, a prominent sociologist and former advisor in Jimmy Carter’s White House, so when I saw an article by him on the moral and legal case for drone strikes against terrorists in Joint Forces Quarterly I made sure to put a copy in my “reading bag.” Last night I got around to reading it.

High up, he establishes his credentials to discuss terrorism. He used to kind of be one, he mentions:

Unlike some armchair ethicists, who write about this matter and never come closer to combat that watching a movie in a theater, I have some first-hand experience in the matter. In 1946, I was a member of the Palmach, a Jewish underground commando unit that pressured the British to allow Jews who escaped Nazi-ravaged Europe to settle into what would become Israel. (I say “pressured” because unlike our competitor, the Irgun, we fought largely a public relations war. We did so by alerting the British military to leave before we blew up buildings that housed them-to grab headlines, not bodies.) One day, we attacked a British radar station near Haifa. A young woman and I, in civilian clothes and looking as if we were on a date, casually walked up to the radar station’s fence, cut the fence, and placed a bomb. Before it exploded we disappeared into the crowd milling around in an adjacent street.”

Tom again: I am not much swayed  by this distinction between going after “headlines, not bodies.” I think that the purpose of terrorists generally is the former, not the latter, which is a byproduct of their process. Surely there are other, more important distinctions, like whether one’s targets are purely military.

Etzioni’s bottom line is that he likes drone strikes because, he says, they “contribute to staying the course as long as necessary,” and, basically, he concludes, shit happens.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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