In the 18th century, Goethe’s romantic novel The Sorrows of Young Werther led than more than one “sensible” young gentleman to emulate the protagonist and kill himself. I hope a happier end awaits Old Werther, the northern Virginia defense analyst who writes under that nom de plume for Chuck Spinney’s DNI Web site. Just as DNI is one of the best places to find thoughtful material on Fourth Generation war (4GW), so Werther is perhaps that site’s most insightful contributor.
Werther’s Dec. 30, 2004 column, “4GW and the Riddles of Culture,” is one of his best. Among its services is debunking the French Resistance, the only object in human history of which it can be said that the farther you get away from it, the larger it appears. As Werther, citing John Keegan, writes, “for most of the war, the 30-50 German occupation divisions took no part in anti-resistance activities the number of actual anti-resistance security forces in France (the Feldsicherheitsdienst) probably did not exceed 6,500 at any stage of the war. That in a country of over 40 million!”
I would add that, other than during the Warsaw uprising of 1944, I do not know of any case where German occupation forces used bombers or artillery on cities they occupied, something U.S. forces now do routinely in Iraq.
Werther references World War II resistance movements to pose the question of why they did not amount to much while the Iraqi resistance now faces the U.S. with a very serious challenge indeed, in the form of Fourth Generation war. That, in turn, leads to another question: just what is Fourth Generation war? What lies behind its power to defeat state armed forces that vastly overmatch it in terms of resources, technology, and technical skills? Werther concludes,
“4GW is a ‘riddle of culture,’ to paraphrase the anthropologist Marvin Harris. It is perhaps bound up with identity politics, absolutist religious claims, and the aspirations and resentments of the wretched of the earth. Why it should have arisen just when man conquered the moon, the atom, and achieved other triumphs of rationalism is one of those paradoxes by which history is always surprising us.”
As one of the founders of the concept of Fourth Generation war, I would like to take a stab at solving this riddle. The key to it, I think, is precisely “the triumphs of rationalism.” Rationalism, or more broadly modernity, believes in nothing. Belief is the opposite of rationalism. Fourth Generation war is triumphing over the products of rationalism because people who believe in something will always defeat people who believe in nothing at all.
If we look at those who are fighting Fourth Generation war, America’s opponents in Iraq and elsewhere, one characteristic they share is that they believe very powerfully in something. The “something” varies; it may be a religion, a gang, a clan or tribe, a nation (outside the West, nationalism is still alive), or a culture. But it is something worth fighting for, worth killing for, and worth dying for. The key element is not what they believe in, but belief itself.
As Martin van Creveld points out in his key book on Fourth Generation war, The Rise and Decline of the State, up until World War I the West believed in something, too. Its god was the state. But that god died in the mud of Flanders. After World War I, decent Western elites could no longer believe in anything: “the best lack all conviction.” Fascism and Communism offered new faiths, but in the course of the 20th century, they too proved false gods (all ideologies are counterfeit religions). Now, all that the West’s elites and the “globalist” elites elsewhere who mimic them can offer is “civil society.” Unlike real belief, civil society is not worth fighting for, killing for, or dying for. It is far too weak a tea to serve in the global biker bar that is the Fourth Generation’s world of cultures in conflict.
Old Werther gets at the central fact when he writes that “the modern age that dawned in the Renaissance is no longer alive World War II was the last gasp of modernity, industrialism, and linearity.” The death of the Modern Age actually comes with World War I; in 1914, the West, which created modernity, put a gun to its head and blew its brains out. The 90 years since have merely been the thrashing of a corpse. The rise of Fourth Generation war, and its triumph over state armed forces in Iraq and elsewhere, marks the real beginning of the new century, a century that will be defined and dominated not by the West’s ghost, nor by the Brave New World that is that ghost’s final, Hellish spawn, but by people who believe.