A Quick Comparison Between the September 11 2001 NYC-Washington attacks and the November 26-28 2008 Mumbai Massacres (An Application of the Case-by-Case Philosophical Technique of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough)
In my book Philosophy of Economics (Routledge, 1989) and in my August 24 2004 public lecture in England “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”, both available elsewhere here, I described the “case-by-case” philosophical technique recommended by Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough. (Bambrough had also shown a common root in the work of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.) Herewith an application of the technique to a contemporary problem that shows the “family resemblance” between two modern terrorist attacks, the September 11 2001 attack on New York and Washington and the Mumbai massacres last week.
Similarity: In both, a gang of motivated youthful terrorists acted as a team against multiple targets; their willingness to accept suicide while indulging in mass-murder may have, bizarrely enough, brought a sense of adventure and meaning to otherwise empty lives.
Difference: In the 9/11 attacks, Mohammad Atta seemed to have been a single predominant leader while each of the others also had complex active roles requiring decisions, like piloting and navigating hijacked jumbo-jets. In the Mumbai massacres, the training and leadership apparently came from outside the team before and even during the operation – almost as if the team were acting like brainwashed robots under long-distance control.
Similarity: Both attacks required a long prior period of training and planning.
Difference: The 9/11 attacks did not require commando-training imparted by military-style trainers; the Mumbai massacres did.
Difference: In the 9/11 attacks, the actual weapons used initially were primitive, like box-cutters; in the Mumbai massacres, assault rifles and grenades were used along with sophisticated telecommunications equipment.
Difference: In 9/11, the initial targets, the hijacked aircraft, were themselves made into weapons against the ultimate targets, namely the buildings, in a way not seen before. In the Mumbai massacres, mass-shooting of terrorized civilians was hardly something original; besides theatres of war, the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Japanese Red Army used these in the 1970s as terrorist techniques (e.g. at Rome Airport Lod Airport; Postscript January 26 2009: I make this correction after reading and commenting on the RAND study which unfortunately did not have the courtesy of acknowledging my December 6 2008 analysis) plus there were, more recently, the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres.
Similarity: In both cases, Hollywood and other movie scripts could have inspired the initial ideas of techniques to be used.
Similarity: In both cases, the weapons used were appropriate to the anticipated state of defence: nothing more than box-cutters could be expected to get by normal airport security; assault rifles etc could come in by the unguarded sea and attack soft targets in Mumbai. (Incidentally, even this elementary example of strategic thinking in a practical situation may be beyond the analytical capacity contained in the tons of waste paper produced at American and other modern university Economics departments under the rubric of “game theory”.)
Similarity: In both cases, a high-level of widespread fear was induced for several days or more within a targeted nation-state by a small number of people.
Similarity: No ransom-like demands were made by the terrorists in either case.
Similarity: Had the single terrorist not been captured alive in the Mumbai massacres, there would have been little trace left by the attackers.
Difference: The 9/11 attackers knew definitely they were on suicide-missions; the Mumbai attackers may not have done and may have imagined an escape route.