Hindsight is a luxury the dead never profit from.  The tragedy at Ft Hood yesterday may have been preventable:  lawfully armed citizens could have intervened; higher surveillance of a suspicious individual, any number of factors could have averted the tragedy.  It is impossible to change the events, but it is not impossible to learn from them.  Terrorists almost always raise suspicions before they strike.

The events of September 11, 2001 demonstrated the capability of radical islamo-fascists to mount and organize attacks inflicting damages (>$40 bn) and loss of life ( >3000) far exceeding the worst natural disasters to strike the United States (Hurricane Andrew >$20 B and nearly 60 lives; Northridge earthquake >$12 B and ~ 25 lives).  The suicide attacks in London on July 7, 2005 evidence an alarming trend towards increased attacks against civilians in western democracies.  One of the most challenging wild cards is the lone wolf terrorist.  Probability theory may prove useful in quantifying the risk of future attack, but probability alone adds no knowledge towards understanding the salient features of human intent, strategy, and paths to victory.

Game theory has evolved as a mathematic discipline to study strategic interaction in competitive and cooperative environments by developing mathematical formulas and algorithms to identify optimal strategies and to predict the outcome (payoff).  In just half a century, game theory has already revolutionized economics and is rapidly spreading to a wide variety of disciplines.  The principles of game theory are useful to gain an understanding of the “strategies” and “payoffs” when applied to acts of terrorism.

To play any game well, a gamer need to be proficient at reversing roles. How would their opponent react if they did X versus Y? Would they understand the real intent or would they read another intention? From Schelling’s book, The Strategy of Conflict:

“If I go downstairs to investigate a noise at night, with a gun in my hand, and find myself face to face with a burglar who has a gun in his hand, there is a danger of an outcome that neither of us desires. Even if he prefers to just leave quietly, and I wish him to, there is danger that he may think I want to shoot, and shoot first.”

In December 1996, Henderson took this other-person’s-shoes approach with a group of Defense Department officials by asking why terrorism exists.

“What leads the Irish Republican Army to put bombs in Britain? Why don’t they, for example, put bombs in Canada or Bangladesh? To ask the question is to answer it. They place the bomb where they think it will help influence the government that makes decisions most directly in the way of their goals, and the governments in the way of their goals are usually governments that intervene in their affairs.”

Henderson concluded, “If you want to avoid acts of terrorism carried out against people in your country, avoid getting involved in the affairs of other countries.”  In short, he suggested refraining from stirring up hornets’ nests.  Major Hassan did not want to deploy, he pursued many avenues to avoid deployment.  His writings gave clues to the level of animosity growing within.  A game theorist like Henderson might recommend not deploying the major or anyone similarly opposed to deploying with the same level of growing animosity.  I don’t know if that type of recommendation would have prevented the tragedy.  I don’t know what that strategy would do to the cohesiveness of the military.  But, I would think an all volunteer Army would be more cohesive when those deploying did so willingly.  People have to volunteer to jump out of planes, why not apply the same logic to deployments?  If you opt out, you are discharged.  If you are discharged early because you owe the government service time for graduate training, such as medical school, or bonus payments, the debt follows you into civilian life.  If, as a result of lack of volunteers, we don’t have the manpower to deploy, maybe the foreign policy needs to be revisited.

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