Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics Web Log for 18-Jun-06
Massacre of civilians in Sri Lanka leading the way to a crisis war

Web Log - June, 2006

Massacre of civilians in Sri Lanka leading the way to a crisis war

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, the gratuitous murder of civilians in a war indicates that the genocidal level of the war is increasing, and this indicates that a crisis war is building.

This is an extremely dangerous and rapidly changing situation, because, as I discussed the other day, a genocidal war between Tamils and Sinhalese could easily spread from Sri Lanka to India, and from there to a larger region.

Indian subcontinent, with the island of Sri Lanka off the southern tip of India.
Indian subcontinent, with the island of Sri Lanka off the southern tip of India.

The latest incidents incidents illustrate this. Three days ago, a bus was bombed, killing 64 people, including children. Yesterday, a church with 200 civilian Tamils, including children, was bombed, killing 7 people.

The government blames the Tamils for the bus bombing, but the Tamils deny responsibility. The Tamils blame the government for the church bombing, but the government denies responsibility. But civilians are being killed on both sides, and that's really all that matters right now.

I'd like to use this as an opportunity to discuss some things about crisis wars in general, in order to emphasize why the situation in Sri Lanka is so dangerous.

The meanings of "crisis era" and "crisis war" are very complex and subtle, which explains why I get questions from readers on the subject. Even people familiar with generational theory find the concepts confusing.

Right now, today, the question often is this: If America is currently in a "generational crisis" period (which it is), does that mean that the Iraq war is a "genocidal crisis war" that we're waging against the Iraqi people?

This question is currently being discussed in John Derbyshire's postings on the National Review online blog, in a discussion comparing the Iraq war to the Vietnam war. (On that page, the underlined phrase, "This is an optional war, not a "crisis war"" is an indirect link to my book on Amazon.)

So are we pursuing the Iraq war as a genocidal war?

Obviously not, since we go to a lot of trouble to avoid killing civilians, except by accident; and when it appears that our armed forces may have intentionally killed civilians, then it becomes a criminal investigation and an international news story, as in the Hadith scandal, currently under way.

So we appear to have a contradition in Generational Dynamics: How could this be a "generational crisis period," if the Iraq war is not a genocidal crisis war?

The answer is that generational crisis periods build slowly. What characterizes crisis eras is that the generation of risk-averse people who grew up during the previous crisis war all disappear (retire or die), all at about the same time, leaving behind younger generations of confrontational people, who take the country to a new crisis war.

Early in a crisis era, there are still a few people around in the generation that grew up in the previous crisis war. (In our case today, this refers to the Silent generation that grew up during World War II. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is in the Silent generation, and Chinese President Hu Jintao is in the corresponding generation for China.)

As long as enough of these people are in power, then wars can begin and be pursued with vigor, but the "rules of war" will be followed, and care will be taken, for the most part, to protect the lives of innocent civilians.

However, as crisis eras progress, and people from this generation continue to die off, then the population becomes increasingly willing to "cross lines" and risk various kinds of brinksmanship, including the killing of civilians as collateral damage. This raises the stakes in a non-genocidal war, so that a "tit for tat" pattern arises.

A certain "tipping point" occurs in every crisis war, when the public becomes so anxious, furious and outraged by acts (real or perceived) on the other side that the desire to win and to protect one's nation and way of life become more important than anything else. This point is called the "regeneracy," because the public forgets about political differences, and starts worrying about national survival. It's the time of regeneration of civic unity, and, in a sense, it's the time of regeneration of the entire nation.

In the American Civil War, it was the Battle of Bull Run that turned the war from a spectator sport into a serious war, and led to the bloody Battle of Gettysburg and Sherman's "scorched earth" March through Georgia. In WW II, it was the Bataan Death March that infuriated and united the country, and let to the Allies' saturation bombing of civilians in Germany and Japan.

Unlike the Civil War and WW II, the Vietnam war was an "awakening era" war for America, not a crisis war, and so the nation acted very differently. In 1967, the North Vietnamese "Tet Offensive" was a military disaster for them, but it invigorated and united the North Vietnamese against us, since this war was a crisis war for them. But it was an awakening era war for America, so the Tet offensive only served to heighten the "generation gap" that split America politically, and led to the American defeat.

That's why the online discussion, mentioned above, comparing the Iraq and Vietnam war, is so completely, totally meaningless.

It's like saying, "Apple blossoms grow in the spring. Why don't they grow in the fall?" Or, "Leaves blow off of trees on windy days in the fall. Why don't they blow off of trees on windy days in the spring?"

America today is in a generational crisis era. During the 1960s, when America fought the Vietnam war, America was in a generational awakening era. It's nonsense to compare the Vietnam War to today's Iraq war, just as it's nonsense to compare apple blossoms in the spring with apple blossoms in the fall. It just doesn't make sense.

It astounds me that almost no one, including people who should know better, sees the vast differences. For example, the massive anti-war protestors against the Vietnam war were from the college-age Baby Boomer generation, and they were protesting against their parents. Today's tiny collection of anti-war demonstrators are old crones and geezers from the geriatric Baby Boomer generation, and they're protesting against George Bush, reliving their childhoods. This is as plain as the nose on your face, and the implications are profound, but it never ceases to astound me that journalists, pundits, analysts and politicians just can't see this. It's as if somebody had pounded a nail into the portion of their brains that can figure such things out.

This brings us back to the genocidal violence in Sri Lanka. This civil war is occurring in what is definitely a crisis era, since the last crisis war occurred just after the end of WW II. But the civil war violence has been mostly "low-level," and even resulted in a peace agreement in 2002.

But, in the last few months, the violence has increased. But more than that, we're beginning to see lines being crossed, both sides are practicing brinksmanship. The bombing of a bus and then a church filled with civilians, including children, are major lines being crossed.

If this weren't a crisis era for Sri Lanka, then the violence might stop there. As long as there are plenty of people around who lived survived the last crisis war, then "cooler heads will prevail." Old people who remember the last crisis war will say, "Let's simmer down for a while until we see who's responsible for these bombings, and we'll decide what to do next."

But a population in a crisis era is like a tigress in heat, and a crisis war is like wild, uncontrollable sex. There's no rational thought, just a desire to take action based on blind emotions. And I'm not exaggerating or joking when I compare crisis wars to sex. They are both totally irrational and guided by gut emotions -- unlike non-crisis wars, which are much more guided by reason and rationality. Talking about "mission creep" in a crisis war makes as much sense as talking about "mission creep" in sex.

So now we can answer some of the questions we raised at the beginning of this essay.

Are we pursuing the Iraq war as a genocidal war? No, because it's early in America's crisis era. Wait until some horrible surprise happens -- a large terrorist attack on American soil, a substantial military loss overseas, or a nuclear missile or two landing on American cities, for example. This would launch American into a war of revenge and retribution and, with today's high-tech weaponry it would be a war like none the world has ever seen.

Why is the Sri Lanka war so dangerous? Because the entire Indian sub-continent is in a generational crisis era right now, 61 years past the end of World War II, and a genocidal war in Sri Lanka might quickly spread to a war in the entire sub-continent, and then to a world war. (18-Jun-06) Permanent Link
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