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Breeding revenge in Afghanistan and Toronto

07 Jul

Wired’s Danger Room blog had an interesting post yesterday on a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which found “strong evidence for a revenge effect” when civilians are killed by military forces in Afghanistan. The findings, in my opinion, can also apply to Toronto and the recent G20. I’ll explain in a minute.

First up, the bureau examined the effects of more than 4,000 civilian deaths in Afghanistan over a 14-month period and found that, yes, such events do trigger revenge attacks. U.S. forces and their allies can expect an:

Additional 0.03 attacks per 1,000 population in the next 6-week period. In a district of 83,000 people, then, the average of two civilian casualties killed in ISAF-initiated military action leads to six additional insurgent attacks in the following six weeks.

Wired filed this in the “no, duh!” category, and it was certainly borne out in my research of Sex, Bombs and Burgers. One of the main motivators in developing new military technology, several experts told me, was to limit civilian casualties. An iRobot executive told me it was in the U.S. military’s best interests to limit civilian damage because “today’s enemies are tomorrow’s allies.”

Indeed, there is probably no better way to prolong a war than to kill civilians, thereby inspiring hatred, anger and feelings of revenge in the survivors. Conversely, if you can avoid that, you are likely to actually shorten the conflict.

Where does the G20 come in? Well, I don’t want to equate protests in major cities – even violent ones – with the carnage and casualties found in places such as Afghanistan, but there is a similar factor at work in both situations. I, for one, never gave much thought to G20 protests and the chaos they always bring with them until, of course, they showed up in my backyard. Well, it was actually a little before that, as I’ve mentioned here before.

The billion-dollar security bill and the downtown detention camp, both unveiled before the actual summit began, did a good enough job of turning me against the G20. The civil rights violations that took place during the actual summit pretty much cemented it.

If there’s even a whiff of another G20 summit coming to town, you can bet I’ll be out there on the front lines protesting it. I suspect I am far from alone in feeling that way. I wouldn’t go far as Black Bloc-ing it, but I’m willing to bet that movement will grow too.

In that sense, I suspect G20 summits tend to inspire their own brand of revenge-bent survivors. Just like Afghanistan, it’s a beast that seems to feed itself. The National Bureau of Economic Research should do a similar study on the effects of these summits.

UPDATE: What I forgot to mention is that, ironically, technology can also play a big role in ameliorating the effects of the G20. As a number of people commented on Twitter during the summit: why didn’t the leaders just use video-conferencing? I wrote that up as a story, with the pros and the cons, last week.

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Posted by on July 7, 2010 in afghanistan, g20, u.s.

 

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