Friday, March 13, 2015

Syria at Night

March 2012

December 2014. Satellites see only 17% as much light in Syria today as in 2012.

How long can the war go on at this level of intensity?

5 comments:

David said...

Afghanistan has been in a state of war this intense or worse for more than 35 yrs, and the war shows no sign of abating. The Vietnamese Wars lasted thirty years all told. The Lebanese Civil War lasted more than a decade and a half. And when one considers the premodern record, it seems a condition like this can go on more or less indefinitely.

John said...

Premodern conflicts sometimes went on for decades or centuries but were not intense. (Or were only occasionally so.) During this war Syria has more than a million inhabitants and half of its people have been displaced from their homes. Its economy may have shrunk by 80%, if you exclude foreign subsidies to its various military factions. I wonder how these numbers compare to Afghanistan and Vietnam, and I wonder why things in Syria haven't settled down to a more manageable level of mayhem. Is it because the outside backers of the factions are pushing their people to stay on the offensive?

David said...

I don't know the figures, but I'd be surprised if the figures for Afghanistan weren't at least comparable, especially if you factor for size. Pre-modern conflicts were comparatively low intensity overall, but there were long periods of intensity comparable, it seems to me, to Syria's: e. g., northern France during the period from Agincourt to 1453, or the Thirty Years War from the Swedish intervention to 1648.

In any case, Syria's mayhem has actually looked pretty manageable to me for about the last six months. Most of what seems to be happening is that the various armed groups are consolidating their control and material resources in their own areas. I haven't heard that they've been fighting each other in a very intense, modern warfare type of way that leaves thousands of casualties among the actual fighters. The figure of 2000 killed that we're told ISIS lost in six months at Kobani isn't in historical terms that high. The Communists lost more than that in one month at Hue in 1968; that's intense.

In all these examples, material support from outside the immediate zone of conflict was essential to enabling the factions to keep going; but I can't think of an example where outside backing could keep a faction fighting after they no longer wanted to.

David said...

Thinking further about this, perhaps the higher wisdom is that militarily intensity in itself may have little to do with how devastating and intense a conflict is in its effects on the civilian population, and that the hates and ambitions of the leaders and their most ardent followers can keep a conflict going long after most of the population is sick and tired of it.

John said...

Maybe one reason the Syrian fighting seems fairly intense to me is that the government has an air force and they bomb somebody almost every day. This causes a lot of general mayhem without killing many soldiers.