Thinking about assassinations

Yesterday’s assassination of Jovenal Moise, the President of Haiti, on July 7, 2021, made me think about assassinations in general.

To begin, what is an assassination? Of course, it is a type of killing. But whereas unjustified intentional killings are called “murders,” an assassination in some sense transcends that label. It is a targeted killing for some political, economic, or ideological reason; normally, of some prominent individual.

By contrast, in warfare, a sniper’s killing of a general or a king is not likely to be called an assassination.

Let me distinguish bottom-up and top-down assassinations. The assassination of a President or some government official is a bottom-up assassination, and these are the assassinations which we are familiar with. Here is a list: List of assassinations

However, when a ruler targets someone to assassinate, this goes by the euphemistic phrase of “targeted killing.” Lists of such attempted and successful assassinations (“targeted killings”) can be found here:List of assassinations by the United States; List of Soviet and Russian assassinations; List of Israeli assassinations.


See: Nils Melzer, Targeted Killing in International Law, 2008; Claire Finkelstein, Jens David Ohlin, and Andrew Altman (ed.), Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World, 2012; Ronen Bergman, Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations, 2018.


Most such “targeted killings” have been covert. The first nearly overt one which caught my attention was the U.S. invasion of Panama by President George H. W. Bush on Dec. 20, 1989 in order to capture Manuel Noriega. To me this was worse than any “targeted killing,” because it involved the killing of needless American soldiers and some 500 Panamanian civilians.

After 9/11, with the so-called “war on terror” and the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, “targeted killings” became something like a common practice. Under President Barack Obama, Osama bin Laden, Answar al-Awlaki and his son were assassinated, and killing by the use of drones became a standard procedure.

The other assassination which looms large in my mind was that of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, approved by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.

This practice of “targeted killings” as a strategy, rather than being a “war on terror,” has tended to create something approaching a totalitarian state of terror!

Bottom-Up Assassinations

Given that most governments are in the hands of single rulers (be they monarchs, presidents, or prime-ministers), they tend to be ambitious, greedy, inept, or ruthless. And the intent of most assassinations of prominent officials is simply to get rid of a perceived evil vermin.

There is one prominent exception that I can think of. It is the assassination of Emperor Alexander II of Russia in 1881 by Narodnaya Volya. Their hope was not to kill a man, but to kill a system — to start a revolution, which did not materialize.

What is the difference between a Mercenary and a Paid Soldier?

“People view soldiers like wives and mercenaries as prostitutes, who turn love into a transaction. But every soldier has a little mercenary in him, and vice versa. Troops often reenlist for big bonuses, a transactional practice common in most militaries. For example, the U.S. Army sometimes offers up to $90,000 for Soldiers to reenlist, enough to make modern mercenaries salivate. The author has also seen mercenaries refuse jobs on political grounds. Some American-hired guns will never take money from Russia, China, Iran, or a terrorist group; America’s enemies are their enemies. The line between soldier and mercenary is fuzzy.” Sean McFate, Mercenaries and War: Understanding Private Armies Today, National Defense University Press, 2019.

Interview with Sean McFate about mercenaries

Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, 2007.

Russian Mercenaries — The Wagner Group

Candace Rondeaux, Decoding the Wagner Group: Analyzing the Role of Private Military Security Contractors in Russian Proxy Warfare, 2019.

Types of Wars and Killings

I keep thinking of the slaughter of people which occurs by such things as dropping an atomic bomb over them. This is a mass extermination of people, as are genocides. I also have in mind dropping of napalm on villages and cities, as in Vietnam and Japan. [See: 67 Japanese Cities Firebombed in World War II]

My naive picture of war used to be the picture of a battle in which two armies faced each other — something like the Napoleonic battles. Below is a depiction the Battle of Austerlitz:

.

But mass extermination has no semblance to these pictures of two armies facing each other. It has semblance more to an execution or pest control.

As to Napoleonic type battles which represent all State wars of the past, they all have the stench of Pyrrhic victories. Who is the winner? And the winner of what?

The winner is normally some individual — a monarch, a president, a general, or, today, some corporation and some CEO.

And who is the loser? The countless bodies on the battlefields (the “pawns”) and civilians . Think of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. It involved more that 1.5 million soldiers, of these .5 million dead French soldiers, and .4 million dead Russians.

Or, think of Abraham Lincoln’s invasion of the South in 1861. [It was not a “civil war” since it did not involve a struggle over the replacement of the federal government; it was a war against secession.] According to Wikipedia, “The war resulted in at least 1,030,000 casualties (3 percent of the population), including about 620,000 soldier deaths—two-thirds by disease, and 50,000 civilians.”

What is appalling today are the assassinations and “collateral damages” by the U.S. “turkey shoots.” I have in mind the targeted killings by the use of helicopters and drones as below:

And there is concerted effort today in the U.S. to suppress reporting about such “turkey shoots.” Julian Assange is facing a British court which is deciding whether to extradite him to the U.S. to stand trial for violating the Espionage Act (1917) by publishing on Wikileaks materials provided to him by Chelsea Manning about such U.S. “turkey shoots.”

Putin’s Russian Invasions

I want to remind viewers that under Putin, in 2014 Russia invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and is still occupying the Donbass region.

In 2008 Russia invaded Georgia, occupying Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In 1994 and in 1999 Russia invaded Chechnya.

In 1992 Russia’s army supported the breakaway war of Transnistria from Moldova.

What should an American soldier do if the United States invades Iran? Patriot, Slave, or Mercenary?

Soldiers of Conscience: Perspectives on the Morality of Killing in Wartime

 

Philip Zimbardo, The Psychology of Evil, 2008

C. D. Broad, “WAR THOUGHTS IN PEACE TIME,” (1931) with “Afterthoughts in Time of Cold War.” (1953)