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Friday, August 08, 2008

Dinner and a Movie: How Terrorist Groups Come to an End

I've been a fan of TBS's Dinner and a Movie  for quite a while and I think academia can serve up the same sort of interesting pairings. If the recently issued Rand report How Terrorist Groups End is the main course, then the Battle of Algiers is the movie. Rumor has it that the Pentagon screened this movie at the Pentagon as part of preparation for the occupation of Iraq. Though the Algierian uprising against the French occupation is  not a perfect analogy for the US role in Iraq or in its strategy to address al Qaeda, the movie raises several questions relevant to the struggle against terrorism and our involvement in Iraq. This movie addresses issues such as the military use of torture, the potential use of terrorism as a legitimate tool, and the role of human rights and their derogability in a time of terror.

For those of you that have already seen The Battle of Algiers, you might try Breaker Morant. This movie deals with some similar issues during the Boer War, though its emphasis is on the political use of the court martial procedure. I don't want to give away too much, but this favorite of mine does a nice job of emphasizing both the limitations and the possibilities of law in wartime.

As an appetizer, or perhaps dessert, I'd like to recommend John Nagl's Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. Though I suspect Nagl and the authors of the Rand report disagree on the role of the military, (I can say for sure after I sit down to dine on the Rand report this afternoon), both seem to stress the vital importance of on-the-ground intelligence related to the nature of grievances and the  structure of insurgent or terrorist groups  rather than traditional military information seeking. For instance, Nagl writes in the preface that "understanding tribal loyalties, political motivations and family relationships was essential to defeating the enemy we face, a task more akin to breaking up a Mafia crime ring than dismantling a conventional enemy battalion or brigade. 'Link diagrams' depicting who talked with whom became a daily chore for a small intelligence staff more used to analyzing the ranges of enemy artillery systems."  For those of you who've already seen Battle of Algiers, you may remember a scene involving the efforts to determine the members of the resistance using just such link diagrams.

Posted by Lesley Wexler on August 8, 2008 at 10:44 AM in Film | Permalink


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Although not quite in the spirit of your post (thus you might want to wait until the end of the summer to look it over!), and since you asked, I'll send along my short bibilography on terrorism. It's inter- or trans-disciplinary in makeup and manageable enough to provide a basic although still fairly comprehensive introduction to our topic.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Aug 12, 2008 12:16:43 PM

Looks delicious, thanks Patrick. Any other suggestions?

Posted by: Lesley | Aug 12, 2008 11:59:28 AM

One might add David L. Schalk's War and the Ivory Tower (2005 ed.) to the dessert menu.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Aug 11, 2008 6:56:29 PM

Excellent post. Reading such a RAND report far superior to any kind of meal.

Posted by: Jason | Aug 9, 2008 4:04:48 PM

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