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The War Nerd October 3, 2007
Nahr al Bared: A Squeamish Siege
The art of the seige By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Three Irish Martyrs, 3,000,000 shitty poems

Siege warfare has always been the nastiest kind. Or maybe it just seems that way because the people who live in cities usually write the histories, and the only times that war really bums them out is when their own cities are under siege. The rest of the time, when the armies are busy burning nomad villages and raping peasants, nobody notices. It’s not til Timur or Attila is at the gates of the Big City that “violence” appears as a problem in the minds of the fat guys who write the books.

The 20th century had some great sieges, like Leningrad, where the rules were the same as in Timur’s time: we’ll camp outside the walls and try to starve y’all to death, women and children first. And to hurry up the slaughter, we’ll lob in all the shells we can bring up over these damn marshes. In the meantime, you townsfolk just try to stay busy cannibalizing each other, once the dogs and cats have all been fricasee’d, and remember come January that varnished furniture makes excellent firewood.

war nerd
This man would have used his nukes

But the 20th century invented a new kind of siege warfare, what you could call “squeamish sieges.” Old-school besiegers would never have bothered to pitch their tents if they’d had access to 21st-century weaponry; they’d just have melted the town and moved on, chuckling as they zoomed off into the smoky horizon. Imagine trying to tell a Mongol commander that we’ve got these nuke things but we aren’t allowed to USE ’em. You’d soon be experiencing the joys of having molten metal poured into your eyes, a favourite Mongol method of expressing strong disagreement. We’re a lot more confused than those men were. We spend billions inventing stuff that we’re too chicken to use, and then developing half-strength versions of that stuff in case we ever get semi-serious. That’s what those “daisy cutter” bombs are, you know--just plain confessions that we’re too scared to use our nukes but hoping we can make some half-assed non-nuclear nuke out of a fuel-air bomb (like the Russians just did) or by taping together a lot of littler bombs.

So what does one of these squeamish armies do when it’s ordered to lay siege to a crowded slum? That was the Lebanese Army’s problem this spring when it was ordered to root out a tough Jihadi gang called Fatah al Islam (Islamic Conquest) from a Palestinian camp called Nahr al Bared.

In a sane world, the Lebanese Army would just ask the USAF for a quick flyover with a tactical-size nuke, and that would be that. But by 2007 that sort of deal was out of the question unless you happen to be running a place where the press won’t go, like Congo. If the video cameras are running, you have to do a conventional siege and make a show of trying to “minimize civilian casualties.” I love that “minimize” bit. It’s like they have a quota, like California highway patrol with speeders. Every morning the brass assembles the troops, “OK, lissen up, today I want a minimum of 23, maximum of 28 kiddies zapped by our snipers, and somewhere in the neighbourhood of 50-60 housewives shredded by artillery fire. The limit on actual combatants is zero, I repeat zero, until the next fiscal year.”

You can track these squeamish sieges way back, but one example with a lot of similarities to Nahr al Bared--only on a bigger scale--was what the Brits did with an Irish insurgent group in Dublin in 1916. While the real troops were bogged down on the Western front, some Jurassic version of the IRA seized the main buildings in downtown Dublin with just a few hundred lightly armed, untrained troops.

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.

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