Austin Bay

The phrase "involuntary martyrdom" is a hideous clue to contemporary terrorists' perverse notions of battlefield victory and their means for pursuing political power in the 21st century.

Reduced to ugly essentials, "involuntary martyrdom" as practiced by Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas organization amounts to taking their own civilian populations hostage. With this "human shield" positioned, they attack Israeli homes, schools and hospitals with rockets fired from launch sites located near Lebanese and Palestinian homes, schools and hospitals.

Hezbollah and Hamas also build "meshed, networked static defense systems" comprised of bunkers and tunnels in their human shields' neighborhoods and selectively booby-trap houses with high explosives. They then dare Israel to counter-attack and, in the process, kill thousands of Arabs while losing several score Israeli soldiers in close combat with guerrillas.

Video cameras, television talk shows, native human sympathy for harmed innocents and, yes, democratic values play major roles in "involuntary martyrdom."

As the body count rises, Hezbollah and Hamas provide global media with heart-rending video featuring dead bodies and wounded survivors. Anti-Israeli protests erupt in European capitals, and Israel is once again "condemned by the international community" for committing war crimes. The United Nations drafts a ceasefire deal, as Hezbollah and Hamas leaders -- the men who employ this strategy -- proclaim victory because they survived the Israeli attack. No ceasefire ever lasts with such men. Within 24 months they fully intend to employ the same criminal strategy again.

And it is criminal. Using a hostage as a "human shield" is a criminal technique. We've all seen the Hollywood dramatization, where the pistol-wielding thug grabs his beautiful, naive accomplice and places her body between him and the police. The crook bets that the cops value the accomplice's life. A cruel paradox guides the bad guy's gamble. He relies on the police observing moral and legal codes he himself disdains.

The tension jumps several quanta if the sociopathic gunman fires at a policeman and kills him. Does the cop's shaken partner hold fire or risk hitting the hostage?

A fictional film might have a hero cop make the perfect shot, drilling the bad guy in the forehead with laser-accuracy. Combat operations in densely populated areas, however, face the fact of inevitable destruction and death. There will never be several thousand perfect shots.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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