The View From Olympus 29: Shooters and 4GW

The recent shooting at Fort Hood raises a question: do these shooters, whether military or civilian, have anything to do with Fourth Generation war? The answer, I think, is “not yet.”

Some shooters are clearly acting as 4GW fighters. The previous mass shooting at Fort Hood was done by a Muslim, explicitly acting as a jihadi. But so far, this situation is rare in the United States. It is more common in Europe, where Islamic populations in countries such as France are increasingly open about the fact that they are waging war on the surrounding Western society.

If we consider the large majority of shooting incidents in this country, including that at Fort Hood and the Newtown, Connecticut massacre, they are at this stage crimes, not war. Crime relates to 4GW in that it represents a failure on the part of the state to deliver what it promises, namely safety of persons and property. That failure is a blow against the state’s legitimacy, which is the main stake in 4GW. In countries such as Mexico, crime has grown so widespread and vicious that it has put the state’s legitimacy in question. The Mexican state has lost its monopoly on violence, not only to the drug gangs but also to growing vigilante organizations formed to fight the gangs. The vigilantes are attempting to fill the vacuum left by the failure of the state.

But to understand the situation here and where it may be headed, another question may be useful: what would it take for currently random, individual shooters to become participants in Fourth Generation war? The answer, I think, is connectivity. If shooters here begin to be inspired by other shooters, saying, in effect, “He went out and shot people because he was angry, so I am going to do the same, because if a lot of people like me do it it will change the situations that make us angry,” then you are looking at something more than crime. Such connectivity would create a new type of 4GW player.

It is important to remember two facts about 4GW. First, there need not be any overt communication or coordination, much less any top-down structure, among the fighters. One inspiring another to act is enough. This is sometimes called “leaderless resistance.” Second, 4GW players’ motives need not be political. 4GW is broader than Clausewitz’s “extension of politics by other means.” Intense anger, even if unjustified and mixed with mental illness, can be a shared motive, just as rational as faith in a nutty religion or mentally unbalanced adherence to a cause such as animal rights. Throughout history, many fighters, and many causes for which they fought, have been nuts.

Obviously, it is important that the American state not allow shooters to move beyond crime to war. There are two actions it could take that would help prevent it. The first would be to interrupt, as much as possible, connectivity among real shooters. That means forbidding any publicity about shootings or shooters beyond the local level where a shooting has occurred. News media would be banned from covering the incidents. As much as is possible, personal electronic media would also be prevented from covering it, though that is obviously difficult. The answer to cries of “freedom of the press” is that the press is no more free than anyone else to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater. Enabling shooters to connect and expand the frequency and casualty count of shootings to where it becomes war is the equivalent.

Second, the state could break the connectivity between potential real shootings and virtual shooters. Lt. Col. David Grossman’s work has established a strong and undeniable link between shooters and violent video games. Virtually every shooter, in this country and elsewhere, has been a heavy player of those games. The horrible Breivik massacre in Norway, perhaps the worst of all the mass shootings, was don by someone who played violent video games up to sixteen hours a day.

Virtual shootings can inspire real shooters just as powerfully as can other real shooters, perhaps more so because the violence is real-time and graphic. If the federal government wants to prevent more shootings, it needs to outlaw violent video games. It won’t, of course, because the game manufacturers give money to Congressmen, while there are no checks for legislators who want to ban the games. Maybe someone should put out a Congressional first-person shooter game where the weapons are checkbooks.

Here we come face-to-face with the bedrock of 4GW. The state is losing its legitimacy because it lacks the will to do what is necessary to maintain domestic peace. If shooters are allowed to build connectivity to the point where they move beyond crime to war, American society will suffer. Measures can be taken to prevent that connectivity and break it where it has already formed, between real and virtual shooters. But the state won’t act, because it is weak and corrupt. Why should anyone give their primary loyalty to an institution that does not deliver what it promises? That should be the number one question in all of Washington, but it’s not even on the list.