Let’s Play “Whack a Mole” with the World

whack-a-mole-cartoon

The saying is often noted but just as often ignored that “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”  — Santayana.   To this profound advice, I would argue that my following observation is equally true and that it has resulted in an equal number of policy disasters and misadventures.  To wit:  “Those who do not recognize the patterns around them are doomed to failure.”   I came by this observation in the middle of a night while pondering the intricacies of playing the “Whack a Mole” game

There is a game that children play and it is called “Whack a mole.”  Have you ever played this game?  If not, view the game at “Whack a Mole”.  Basically, it involves a series of plastic moles that keep randomly popping out of different holes.  You get points for each mole that you whack before it drops back into its hole.  No sooner do you “Whack” one mole then another one pops up again.  [If you would actually like to play the game, you can play a free fast paced version of the game at “Whack a Mole.”]  They call it Smack and Bash at this site.

As I thought about this game, I began to see how it applied to numerous efforts that we undertake to bring about change.  Understanding the game, I could see how futile many of these efforts are and clearly why they are doomed.  Let me give you four examples that will show you how pervasive the “Whack a Mole” game is in politics and US policy:

  1. Eliminate the Mafia
  2. Win the war on drugs
  3. Defeat terrorism in the Mideast
  4. Stop the arms race

 1.  Eliminate the Mafia:

The Mafia may have begun in the United States in the second half of the 19th Century.  The US law establishment has been waging a war to eliminate the Mafia for well over 100 years.  During that time they have killed or arrested the following Mafia leaders:

large_movie_mobsters

It should be noted that this list includes only the leadership in just one crime family.  There are at least a dozen or more Mafia crime families in the USA.  Each one has a history of crime bosses since the early 1900s.

treeCrime bosses get eliminated or changed in a number of ways. Some die.  Some are murdered.  Some are arrested.  Few if any ever simply retire.  This last fact is good for our law enforcement agencies, since it helps keep them occupied with finding and catching Mafia leaders.

So for over 100 years now, the FBI, the Justice Department and every police department in the USA have been playing the “Whack a Mole” game with the Mafia.  They no sooner whack one Mafia leader down and another pops up in his place.  What fun!  At the taxpayers’ expense of course.

  1. Win the war on drugs:

Drugs starting becoming a major problem in the USA with the competition between cigarettes, alcohol and other substances designed to give someone a feeling of either being up, down or out of it.  We know that in 1920 the US passed the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution making the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol illegal.  Few who have studied any history can forget the fiasco that Prohibition entailed.  Alcohol continued to flow while crime, murder and mayhem associated with alcohol increased dramatically.   Did we learn anything from this?  Following is a short list of the major drug laws and “banned” drugs in the USA.  (By the way, alcohol and nicotine and caffeine are all drugs and at one time or another have all been banned someplace in the world)

1906 The Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, forming the Food and Drug Administration and giving it power to regulate foods and drugs, and requiring labeling of contents on foods and drugs. The most important effect on the drug problem was the demise of the patent medicine industry. Drug addiction began a dramatic drop.
1914 The Harrison Tax Act was passed, effectively outlawing the opiates and cocaine.
1915 Utah passed the first state anti-marijuana law. Mormons who had gone to Mexico in 1910 returned smoking marijuana. It was outlawed at a result of the Utah legislature enacting all Mormon religion prohibitions as criminal laws.
1922  Narcotic Drug Import and Export Act – Intended to eliminate use of narcotics except for legitimate medicinal use.
1924  Heroin Act -Makes it illegal to manufacture heroin.
1937  Marijuana Tax Act

1938    Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act

1942    Opium Poppy Control Act

1951    Durham-Humphrey Amendment

Established more specific guidelines for prescription drugs: habit forming, safety, and evaluation of new drugs

1951    Boggs Amendment to the Harrison Narcotic Act

1956    Narcotics Control Act

Intends to impose even more severe penalties for narcotics violations

1965    Drug Abuse Control Amendments (DACA)

Strict controls over amphetamines, barbiturates, LSD, etc.

1966    Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act (NARA)

1968    DACA Amendments

Provides that sentence may be suspended and record expunged if no further violations within 1 year

1970    Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act

Replaces and updates all previous laws concerning narcotics and other dangerous drugs. Empasis on law enforcement.

1972    Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act

1973    Methadone Control Act

1973    Heroin Trafficking Act

1973    Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

Remodels Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs into DEA

1978    Alcohol and Drug Abuse Education Amendments

Sets up education programs within Department of Education

1984    Drug Offenders Act

Sets up special programs for offenders and organizes treatment

1986    Analogue (Designer Drug) Act

Makes use of substances with similar effects and structure to existing illicit drug illegal

1988    Anti-Drug Abuse Act

Establishes oversight office: National Drug Control Policy

So here we see the efforts of over 100 years of drug policy to stop people from using, enjoying and abusing drugs in the USA.  What has been the result?

“America is at war.  We have been fighting drug abuse for almost a century.  Four Presidents have personally waged war on drugs.  Unfortunately, it is a war that we are losing.  Drug abusers continue to fill our courts, hospitals, and prisons.  The drug trade causes violent crime that ravages our neighborhoods.  Children of drug abusers are neglected, abused, and even abandoned.  The only beneficiaries of this war are organized crime members and drug dealers.” — Stanford University

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For an excellent article on the costs of the drug war in the US, please see:  (“The Hidden Costs of America’s War on Drugs” by Joseph D. McNamara, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University)

As it should be clear, the US Government, the FDA, the FBI and most mainstream churches in America have been playing the “Whack a Mole” game with drugs since the Puritans first landed at Plymouth Rock.   First they “Whack” one drug down.  Then another one pops up.  Then they eliminate one drug lord and then another one pops up.  They defeat one drug cartel and then another one takes its place.  Our drug enforcement agencies are so busy playing “Whack a Mole” that they don’t have any time to deal with the reasons behind the influence and attraction of drugs.  Instead they just keep on “Whacking Moles.”

  1. Defeat terrorism in the Mideast:

The beginning of terrorism in the Mideast can be traced back to the Assassins sect that began in the eleventh century.  Wikipedia notes the following:

“Assassins (Persian|حشاشين}} Hashashin) is a name used to refer to the medieval Nizari Ismailis.  Often described as a secret order led by a mysterious “Old Man of the Mountain”, the Nizari Ismailis were an Islamic sect that formed in the late 11th century from a split within Ismailism – itself a branch of Shia Islam.”

wac-a-terrorist

Modern terrorism is actually a form of asynchronous and asymmetric warfare.  One side being more powerful than the other side (asymmetric) forces the other side to avoid one to one confrontations or pitched battles in favor of random unpredictable strikes (asynchronous).   Terrorism is a means of striking back at a more powerful enemy and avoiding what might be an assured defeat by not confronting your opponent in a pitched battle.  History is full of episodes where fighters and even entire armies engaged in such warfare.  In the US, the Indian Wars often followed such methods of warfare.  The battle against Geronimo being a prime example.

Terrorism in the Mideast since George H.W. Bush and through the Obama administration seems to be following the pattern that I have called “Whack a Mole.”  Using drone attacks, surgical strikes, clean bombing, decapitation strikes, discriminant deterrence, hunter killer teams, kill boxes, and counterinsurgency attacks, the US military attempts to “neutralize” the power of the “terrorists” who have their own panoply of attack methods.

If you look at what has happened over the past twenty years in the Mideast in terms of the War on Terrorism, you can clearly see the “Whack a Mole” game at work.  We eliminate one of their leaders, they destroy some of our soldiers with bombs, IEDs or suicide attacks.  We then strike back at their leaders and then it is their turn again to kill us.  We “Whack” them and then they “Whack” back.

whack-a-moleEach time we kill one of their leaders, another one pops up to take their place.  Each enemy group we defeat seems to be immediately replaced by another enemy group.  Our Army, Navy Air Force, Marines, armament industries and politicians never seem to get tired of playing the “Whack a Mole” game.  Keep in mind, that while the game might be great fun for these groups, there is a cost to the game.   To date the financial and human costs are:

Financial Cost of the War on Terror : 

“A recent Brown University study, for example, pinned the cost of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria at about $3.6 trillion from 2001 to 2016, using the $1.6 trillion operations costs as a baseline but also accounting for counterterrorism costs.

Adding in money appropriated for war spending and on homeland security in 2017, the total reaches $4.79 trillion. This figure also includes future obligations for veterans medical and disability costs ($1 trillion through 2053) as well as interest on borrowing for wars.” — Politifact, Linda Qiu, October 27th, 2016.

Human Costs of the War on Terror:

Afghanistan and Pakistan:  173,000 dead and 183,000 seriously wounded.  (2001 to 2016)

Iraq:  1.9 million killed (1991 to 2003) and 1 million killed (2003 to 2015)

For the figures I used above as well as for other estimates and detailed breakdowns of casualty figures, see the following sources.  The above figures are low compared to some estimates.  None of these figures include the deaths in Libya, Syria, Israel, Turkey, USA or Palestine which should also be considered as deaths from the War on Terrorism.

  1. Stop the arms race:

The final example of a “Whack a Mole” game that we are caught in deals with our oft stated goal to stop creating more dangerous and more expensive weapons of war.  We call this the “arms race” and we have played it with Great Britain, France, Russia and now China.  I will briefly explain how the game works.  You will readily see that it is a version of the “Whack a Mole” game.

arms-race

Step 1, we conceive of a weapon that nobody else has or has even dreamt of having.  It must be dangerous, expensive, frightening and have the potential to kill millions or at least thousands.  Step 2, we spend billions of dollars on R&D to develop the weapon.  Step 3, we then spend billions of dollars to produce the weapon.  Step 4, we then sell the weapon to any military agency in our own country that will buy it.  Step 5, after a sufficient period of time has elapsed (but before the weapon is obsolete), we sell it to other friendly countries that will buy it.  We must start with the highest bidder.  Step 6, after we have sold it to all our allies or potential allies, we wait until they have sold it to any potential enemies.  This might take a year or so.  Finally, after our enemies have now acquired the same weapon potential (even if in a slightly modified form) we then loudly proclaim that:

“Our nation’s security and ability to defend itself is being undermined by the weapons that our enemies have.  We must build new and better weapon systems.  We must increase defense spending.  We risk falling behind in the ability to defend ourselves.”

Then we start the process all over again from Step 1.  

It is the “Whack the Mole” game, albeit a modified version of the game.  We build the weapons to whack our enemies and then they buy the weapons or build similar weapons to whack us back.  Then we build weapons to counter their weapons and then they build or buy weapons to counter our weapons.  We have been engaged in this game since 1776 with every single weapon system that has ever been devised.   Think of the Atom bomb.  How long did it take Russia to develop a similar bomb?  Think of the Hydrogen bomb.  How long did it take the Russians and others to develop a Hydrogen bomb?

Here is a list of rifles that have been used in the USA since the War of 1776.  The following list does not include carbines.  For a full list of weapon systems and their history see:  List of individual weapons of the U.S. Armed Forces – Wikipedia

  • M16A3 (5.56×45mm NATO) (USN SEALs and USN Seabees)
  • M16A2 (5.56×45mm NATO) (USAF, USCG, and US Army)
  • M27 IAR (Infantry Automatic Rifle) (5.56×45mm NATO) (USMC)
  • Mk 16 Mod 0 (5.56×45mm NATO) (USSOCOM)
  • Mk 17 Mod 0 (7.62×51mm NATO) (USSOCOM)
  • M14 SMUD (Stand-off Munition Disruption rifle) (7.62×51mm NATO) (USAF)
  • M39 Enhanced Marksman Rifle (7.62 NATO) (USMC)
  • XM8 (Lightweight Assault Rifle system) (never issued) (5.56×45mm NATO)
  • XM29 (Kinetic Energy and Airburst Launcher System; 5.56×45mm NATO and 20 mm airburst munition (XM1018)(early)/25 mm airburst munition) (experiment canceled)
  • Advanced Combat Rifle entries (concluded 1991)
  • Future Rifle Program entries (canceled)
  • Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) entries (concluded/canceled)
  • FN FAL (battle rifle, trialled as T48 against the T44 and T47 to replace the M1: lost to the former)
  • Olin/Winchester Salvo Rifle (battle rifle, 5.56mm duplex)
  • M14E1 (Selective Fire Rifle, 7.62×51mm NATO) (never standardized)
  • M16A1 (5.56×45mm NATO)
  • AR-15/Colt Model 601/602 (5.56×45mm NATO rifle) (USAF and SOF use only)
  • XM22/E1 Rifle (Selective Fire Rifle, 5.56×45mm NATO)
  • Mk 4 Mod 0 (Suppressed Rifle, 5.56×45mm NATO)
  • M1 Garand Variants (E1-E6 and E9-E14) (Semi-Automatic Rifle, .30-’06)
  • Mk 2 Mod 0/1/2 (Semi-Automatic Rifle, 7.62×51mm NATO)
  • M1 Garand (Semi-automatic rifle, .30-06)
  • M1941 Johnson rifle (Semi-Automatic Rifle, .30-’06)
  • Model 45A
  • M1946 rifle (never used in active duty)
  • M1947 Johnson auto carbine (Semi-Automatic Rifle, .30-’06)
  • Gyrojet rifle (13 mm) (never issued)
  • Pedersen Rifle (.276) (competed unsuccessfully with M1 Garand to become primary service rifle)
  • Pedersen Device (attachment for Springfield M1903, .30 conversion)
  • M1918 BAR (.30-06)
  • M1903/A1/A3 (Bolt-action rifle; .30-03, .30-06)
  • M1917 Enfield (Bolt-action rifle)
  • Model 1907/15 Berthier rifle (Bolt-action rifle)[14]
  • M1916 Mosin–Nagant (Bolt-action rifle)[15]
  • M1895 Navy (Navy Lee, 6 mm Navy)
  • M1892/M1896/M1898 Rifle (a/k/a Krag Bolt Action Rifle; .30-40 Krag)
  • M1885 Remington-Lee (Bolt-action rifle; .45-70 Gov)
  • M1882 Short Rifle (.45-70 Gov.)
  • M1882 Remington-Lee (Bolt-action rifle; .45-70 Gov.)
  • M1879 Remington-Lee (Bolt-action rifle; .45-70 Gov.)
  • Remington-Keene rifle (Bolt-action rifle; .45-70 Gov.)[16]
  • M1875 Officers’ Rifle (.45-70 Gov.)
  • M1873/M1879/M1880/M1884/M1888/M1889 Springfield (a/k/a Trapdoor Springfield;.45-70 Gov..: .45-55-405 & .45-70-500)
  • M1872 Springfield (a/k/a Rolling Block Springfield; .50-70 Gov.)
  • M1865/M1866/M1868/M1869/M1870 Springfield (a/k/a Trapdoor Springfield; .50-70 Government)
  • Sharps carbine/rifle (Breech-loader; .42-60-410) (.52 caliber issued to Berdan’s 1st and 2nd US Sharpshooters in the US Civil War)
  • Henry rifle (Lever-action; .44-26-200)
  • Spencer rifle (Lever-action; 56-56 (.52-45-350))
  • M1863 Springfield
  • M1861 Springfield (.58)
  • Colt revolving rifle (Colt Model 1855; 6/5-shot revolver rifle;.44/.56)
  • Greene rifle (Bolt-action breech-loader)
  • P53 Enfield (.577 (.58))
  • P51 Enfield Musketoon (“Artillery Carbine”; 24″ barrel, .69)
  • Model 1854 Lorenz rifle (Rifle-musket, .54, .58)
  • M1859 Sharps (‘New model 1859’, breech loader; .52, .56)
  • M1855 Rifle-Musket
  • M1855 Rifle (Percussion muzzle-loader; 58-60-500)
  • M1847 Musketoon (Springfield, .69)
  • M1842 Musket (Percussion musket, .69)
  • M1841 Rifle “Mississippi Rifle” (percussion muzzle-loader;.54, .58)
  • M1840 Musket (flintlock musket;.69)(later percussion)
  • M1835 Springfield (flintlock musket; .67 cal)
  • M1819 Hall rifle (Harper’s Ferry;Breech-loader)
  • Model 1822 Musket (Flintlock Musket) .69 (later percussion)
  • Model 1816 Musket (Flintlock musket; .69) (Later Percussion)
  • Model 1817 Rifle (‘Common rifle’;Derringer, Johnson, North and Starr; Flintlock rifle, .54) (later percussion)
  • Model 1814 Common Rifle (Deringer, Johnson; Flintlock rifle; later percussion; .54)
  • Springfield Model 1812 Musket (Flintlock musket; .69)
  • Model 1808 Contract Musket (Flintlock musket; .69)
  • Harper’s Ferry Model 1803 Rifle (Flintlock rifle; .54)
  • Model 1795 Musket (Flintlock musket; .69)
  • 1792 contract rifle (Flintlock rifle; .49)
  • Charleville musket (Flintlock musket; .69)
  • Brown Bess (Musket; .75)
  • Kentucky Rifle (Flintlock rifle)
  • Ferguson rifle (Flintlock breech-loader; .69)

not-safe-yet

Do we call this progress?  Do you call this progress? 

Conclusions:

I started this blog off with the comment that if we fail to connect the dots and see the patterns in our lives, we are doomed to keep repeating them and failure will never be far away.  It is almost but not quite the same as forgetting the past.  There is indeed a similarity between my comment and Santayana’s famous quote.  However, I see it as a pattern that I have described as “Whack a Mole.”  How long will we go on whacking moles, killing people, spending money that could go to education, health care or eliminating poverty?

Time for Questions:

Do you think that we should be playing “Whack the Mole?”  How do we stop playing this game?  Do you think it is human nature to keep fighting and killing others?  Should we really be trying to ban every substance that people want to take?

Life is just beginning.

Falken:  Did you ever play tic-tac-toe?

Jennifer:  Yeah, of course.

Falken:  But you don’t anymore.

Jennifer:  No.

Falken:  Why?

Jennifer:  Because it’s a boring game. It’s always a tie.

Falken:  Exactly. There’s no way to win. The game itself is pointless! But back at the war room, they believe you can win a nuclear war. That there can be “acceptable losses.”

may_june_2014_cover_of_foreign_policy_magazine

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