After 9/11 there was a running dispute over the question “Do they hate us for what we do, or because of who we are?” Liberals tended to suggest that a history of Western colonialism and exploitation, combined with poverty, disease and technological backwardness in the Muslim world were the root causes of the conflict, whereas conservatives saw it as ideological — they hate us because of our freedom, democratic institutions, sexual equality, etc.
If you ask Gunnar Heinsohn, he would say that both explanations are wrong.
Heinsohn is a proponent of the ‘youth bulge’ theory which holds that a great deal of war, terrorism, genocide and general violence are a result of young men who have no place in their societies. In societies where the eldest son inherits land or position from his father, the younger ones need to make a place for themselves, often violently.
In a talk he gave Thursday at Israel’s RAFAEL (Armaments Development Authority), Heinsohn described the options open to superfluous young men in youth-bulge societies:
- They emigrate, i.e. opt for colonization without bloodshed.
- They engage in crime and decimate each other in gangs.
- As young officers they stage coups in the army, where promotion is rare for them.
- They engage in civil war or revolutions, masking their ambitions behind selfless service for true gods, tormented peoples, brotherly values, etc.
- They oust minorities from their jobs by genocide or expulsion.
- They engage in cross-border warfare to find their place through bloody colonization or again genocide.
In the case of blocked emigration youth bulge territories can never exist without killing, so to speak, but will always oscillate from gang wars to terror, civil war, genocide and war.
Heinsohn didn’t invent the youth bulge theory, but he has generalized it and applied demography to explain various historical events — the Crusades, major wars, etc. He thinks that the existence of a youth bulge — which he defines as “growing population with at least 30 per cent of males aged 15 to 29″ is an almost certain predictor of violent instability in a society.
And nobody has a bigger youth bulge than some of the Arab societies that have recently been focal points for terrorism and violence.
The age distribution of a population at a given time can be shown graphically a diagram called a ‘population pyramid’. You can create them yourself from the US Census Bureau’s International Database. Here is one for a country that is highly unlikely to be the source of the next Mongol horde, Germany:
In Germany the ratio of men aged 40-44 to boys from 0 to 4 is about 1 to 0.5. The problem in Germany and many other European countries is to find young people to do the work to to support the growing number of retirees. Young people are not faced with a lack of high-status positions to move into as their elders move out of them — rather, there are not enough skilled young people to take over from the older generation. Heinsohn calls a graph shaped like this an indicator of ‘demographic capitulation’, the shape of a society in decline.
Now let’s look at the profile of Saudi Arabia in 2001, the source of most of the 9/11 hijackers:
Saudi Arabia has about 3.2 boys from 0-4 for every one 40-44 year old. And 31% of Saudi males are in the dangerous 15-29 age group. Because of the huge discontinuity around ages 30-40, there are few positions available for young men to step into; and Saudi society has not invested in the kind of social infrastructure that might help provide high status positions. To add insult to injury, there are not enough women to go around in the 20-35 year old groups.
One of the most extreme examples of a youth bulge is the Gaza strip:
In Gaza there are 4.2 boys in the age group 0-4 for every man aged 40-44! Today there are about 222,000 men from 15-29, which is about 29% of the male population. The huge bulge in the younger age groups will ensure a supply of fighting men for years to come. Gaza is an example of ‘demographic armament’, says Heinsohn.
It’s not only a question of numbers. Soldiers from Western democracies tend to be only sons so the society is less willing to risk them. And they have something to lose at home so they are less likely to take risks:
With 31m fighting-age males aged 15 to 29 in 2008, Afghanistan and Pakistan combined are almost just as strong as the USA with 33m. But for a future war the Afghanis and Pakistanis still have 41m boys aged 0-14 in reserve, while the Americans can only count on 31m, of whom a quarter are overweight. While, according to 2008 statistics, the Americans are only sons, Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s 41m boys under 15 include 26m who are also fed and loved but hardly have any chances of a future career. This situation is similar to that of Europe in 1914-1918, when ten million young men were sent to the slaughter. They were born in the 1890s when European women – with the exception of France – had as many babies as the women from Gaza and Afghanistan have today but did not have back then.
Of course the West has superior technology. But this can be offset by asymmetric warfare:
Only if youth bulge warriors seek a pitched battle, can a western high-tech soldier deal with large numbers of them from his bomber turret or missile launcher. But in close quarters combat or on nation building missions he is doomed to fail. This is the crucial disadvantage of western democracies after 1950: They are part of a demographic imbalance with foes whose second to nth sons can fight until death without endangering the survival of their home country while losses on their own side will demographically exterminate whole families.
Paradoxically, Western attempts to ameliorate conditions in the third world often make things worse. A paradigm case is the operation of UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency) in Gaza and Palestinan refugee camps elsewhere. UNRWA provides welfare services to Palestinians which encourage them to have as many children as possible; but there is no infrastructure of jobs to absorb them. As the population grows, UNRWA simply asks for more money, creating a completely dependent society whose sons are angry and seeking status and meaning in life. They often find it in the terrorist militias or criminal gangs.
So how can the explosive power of Gaza be defused? In the long run, ending the UNRWA policy of rewarding unrestricted population growth will work, but it will take 25-30 years before the huge number of today’s children reaches an age at which they become less dangerous. In hindsight, Israel made a great error by permitting the hostile UNRWA — 90% of its employees are Palestinian ‘refugees’ themselves — to create the demographic bomb.
From a military point of view, Israel would be foolish to invade and re-occupy Gaza. There simply are not enough Israeli soldiers to do this and Israel’s technological advantage would be reduced insofar as the fighting becomes more close-quarters. Suicide terrorism against occupiers becomes possible as a result of the pathologically high motivation of young men with nothing to lose. Any incursions should be short and with well-defined objectives. An overall strategy of containment with surgical actions when necessary to counter particular threats is probably the best approach.