2015/07/21

Fourth Generation and Asymmetric Warfare Discussion

I had this idea for a post, but random thoughts rapidly ballooned out of control into something far too long for a single post. It was to do with asymmetric Warfare and how, despite the recognition warfare has changed, a lot of people still feel like it's about engaging the enemy in the field of battle.

While it's fun to think about battles of yore with waves of tanks sweeping in grand formations across the steppe, the reality is modern wars are fought somewhere on the same scale as repression, occupation, political movement, and large policing action.

This sort of conflict has always existed, and was perhaps the only type of major conflict until laws of war were formalised. Even during World War 2, partisan activity tied down significant resources in Europe, and many political revolutions were born of this sort of conflict at the start of the 20th century. This is why I prefer the term Asymmetric Warfare to Fourth Generation Warfare.

Those two terms do actually have different meanings and connotations, and Fourth Generation Warfare is worth talking about in the context of western powers. Technically, all warfare is asymmetric to some degree, but in the context of asymmetric warfare at least one faction in the conflict has very little de jure authority or de facto military power compared to its opponent. The other faction may be the current government or local military (its legitimacy is of no concern for the time being), or an occupying force from another country.

If we use that definition (which is as broad and neutral as I can make it), one can see how it relates to modern and contemporary political movements. The rules of the conflict are different and thus the strategies present are different. 'Fighting' protesters in a democracy is very different to fighting tribal militias in the hills. But, ultimately, they are both about fighting over people. The staggering human cost associated with figuring this out in structured militaries is a testament to the complexity of those conflicts.

A compliant local population (for the purposes of this, the local population is the population of the region where the conflict is occuring) is relatively cheap for the occupying force, and really the ultimate goal of such a conflict. Without support from at least a portion of the population, the small insurgent force will run out of both those willing to support it, and those willing to equip it. As modern technology improves, the portion of the population goes down, but it's still quite high. Let's say the homosexual emancipation movement as a "break-point", around 40-60% support for gay rights giving a fairly solid bloodless advance on their objectives. In the context where people are getting shot regularly for open support, I'd imagine there being more casualties on all sides but ultimately less support is needed for regular supply (the sunk-cost fallacy in action).

For the occupying force, unless they are willing to commit to genocide, they must check their power. During World War 2, there was a theme among many of the democracies that the war could be won through demoralising their enemy's civilian population, while propaganda would strengthen their home front. However, it was discovered that the brutal treatment of the local population hardened them and gave them more reason to continue fighting (who knew?).

For the insurgency, the goal is immediate survival, and to maintain or increase its support in the local population. Its other goals (for instance, homosexuals gaining rights or pushing the Soviets out) are ancillary, but all other goals will be defined by those first two, either being achieved by those or working towards those. What depths of human savagery they may want to sink to is up to them and the society they live in, but the fact is without popular support they are effectively powerless.

In a more contemporary context, the occupying force must be seen as a stabiliser for the region, providing security through necessity. This itself is still not a learned lesson; the USA contracted a lot of US companies (duh) to rebuild and upgrade the infrastructure of Iraq, rather than employing and paying locals to do it. The behaviour of the contractors, while shitty, is not the fuck up. Once people have livelihoods and those livelihoods are at stake, they are much less likely to support insurgents. Obviously there is a security risk there, but it is less likely to breed bad blood.

That is one instance of a major failure that could have been easily avoided. Different regions will have different rules (regardless of how dumb you might find them to be). But learning from others' mistakes is probably the cheapest way to learn (though one must take care in understanding the context in which they made those decisions), and there are many common themes.

For the occupiers, whether or not they are actively exploiting the local population, they must appear as though they are not. There are reasons for occupation beyond the more cynical ones (as many of my friends believe), but the reasons are mostly irrelevant. Just to throw out an example, there is ample reason to move troops into an unstable neighbouring region to install a government (as legit as you want) aligned closely to you. A lot of the rules for the occupiers can be boiled down to "don't be a dick".

For the insurgents, it is important to make the occupiers appear cruel, callous, or both. But it is also important that their main 'bases' or hubs remain relatively hidden or innocuous and separated, such that they cannot be targeted with any degree of alacrity. Obviously, the second point is less important in conflicts that don't use explosives. There is very little thought of individual conquest; while ISIS talks big, it is unlikely that they will directly cause the collapse of NATO.

I'll probably post more about specific situations while gathering thoughts for more general rules. Fighting in such a conflict is likely to cause significant psychological trauma for everyone involved, and I don't wish to marginalise that. But in a scrap only one side comes out on top, and in the moment that's all that matters.

2015/07/15

Fist, Mk 2

I had some brief thoughts about brass knuckles, because that's what I do with my time. For those not in the know, brass knuckles are weapons designed to increase the damage caused by punching. They are illegal in a bunch of places due to concealability and association with gangs.

I note a few design flaws in most brass knuckles, as I've seen them in media and the occasional example or replica:
They restrict digital dexterity. By which I mean they basically restrict your fingers' movement while wearing them. This isn't tremendously important, but does limit their casual use (say, holding a pistol AND a brass knuckle, or using a keyboard etc).
Most of them seem to have square edges. I'm not sure if this is a deliberate design choice or just an affect of the casting process. The blunt-ish edge means that either your punches are off centre, or you're spreading out your point of impact.
Many of them "float" a distance from the fingers, resulting in a lot of slippage and force directed at the skin between your fingers (ow). Some designs I've seen have a palm grip that would push against your palm next to your thumb (apparently this is the heel, or thereabouts), which definitely would help.
Many of them waste a significant amount of mass and volume for the inclusion of the ring finger and the little finger, neither of which should be that involved with punching (a downward mallet smash could justify the inclusion of another force concentration device). This means that components that need to be stronger aren't as strong as they could be, and that the brass knuckles are less concealable than they could be.
The intended angle of impact is somewhere below the knuckles, meaning that impacts can cause more injury to the wrist (rotationally pulling the fist downwards). While it's a fairly small force, why take that added risk?

To resolve these problems, I have been thinking about the mark 2 fist, or the Enhanced Brawling Impact Device. The intent is it could be worn as a ring or sewn into a set of gloves (fingerless or no), thus preparing the wearing to be able to break bone with a well placed punch. I do have a bit of a penchant for flowing organic designs, which may introduce some inefficiencies. Alas.

The design is also intended to be usable with either hand, looping around the index and middle fingers, with the business side of the EBID lining up with the knuckle when a fist is made. The requirement to be usable when striking with the fist lateral does mean that it isn't as symmetrical as traditional brass knuckles are.

This could be made of any reasonably solid material, but if you use wood I'm not responsible for splinters. Metals have the obvious advantages of being fairly sturdy and packing a lot of mass. Padding may be included inside the rings so as to reduce the load on the wearer's fingers.

The inside of the rings should attempt to spread the force evenly over an area of the fingers, to ensure the safety of the wearer's fingers. The index and middle knuckles should be kept steady, not forced apart or together (though slightly together is preferable).

I haven't yet learned to make this sort of thing in zbrush yet, so here's some crappy sketches. Once in zbrush, I'll upload this and then you can 3D print it and pop some eyeballs.


2015/07/12

Social Movements and Snappy Media

Over the last few years, I've watched, though been rather apart from, a few social justice movements. Whether or not I believe in their respective causes, I don't really have the energy to go to rallies, get angry and all that jazz. That may or may not make me the "enemy".

I used to go for that. When gaining a new belief, especially one further from the norm, you want to shout it from the rooftops. It's an intense experience. That alone explains a huge amount about those vocal about music tastes, personal relationships, and internet atheism. People want to know that others agree with them, and want to revel in that feeling of being accepted.

After much introspection, and having a break from having strongly held beliefs that I couldn't help but bring up, I had a few thoughts.

Followers of a cause will often bring up that cause, whether as part of a casual discussion or as a calculated PR move. There is also the distinction between whether that cause will be discussed or heard by other followers or non-followers. The latter requires some special examination.

Far too many people will repost (on tumblr or facebook or your social media of choice) snippets, quotes, comics, or whatever other media that only makes other followers feel smug and self-satisfied. Such media does have a use. It solidifies the core and makes people feel like they are right; the followers feel like others agree with them and it can be explained simply and clearly. Moreover, it ridicules the opposing viewpoints, something people take savage pleasure in.

However, if such a post is viewed by a non-follower, it will tend to alienate them. The logic or correctness (morally, socially, or practically) of the argument posed by such a post is irrelevant. Non-followers, both adversarial and apathetic, will immediately feel defensive against such a post. Why, though? Especially the apathetic group, one who is not tied to one side or another.

People react poorly to smugness unless they are in agreement. The active participation required for smugness to work in a social context means that even the apathetic are alienated.

Thus, when making such a post publicly, the follower must consider; does she care more about her image or her cause. If she posts a derisory one-liner or some other such thing that mocks the opposing viewpoint, she must understand that such an act will help herself at the cost of alienating people from her cause.

Does it, though? Within her movement, people will agree with her, laud her over her peers for telling it like it is and so on. She will become more popular (even in a small way) within her social movement. But the movement, as a whole part of the community it is part of, is hurt, as apathetic members of the community are alienated by being treated as monsters.

People must, of course, take care of themselves. But in trying to spread the word, followers must be aware of how they appear to the outside word, if they truly wish others to follow the cause they do.

We all know people who do this. In fact, I think almost all of us do this, to some extent or other. But if we are aware of it, perhaps we can reach the unwashed masses we all so sneer at.