Small Wars Journal

The Spiritual Significance of ¿Plata O Plomo?

Thu, 05/27/2010 - 7:19am

The Spiritual Significance of ¿Plata O Plomo?


by Pamela L. Bunker and Dr. Robert J. Bunker

Download the full article: The Spiritual Significance of ¿Plata O Plomo?

Conventional wisdom holds that narco gang and drug cartel violence in Mexico is primarily secular in nature. This viewpoint has been recently challenged by the activities of the La Familia cartel and some Los Zetas, Gulfo, and other cartel adherents of the cult of Santa Muerte (Saint Death) by means of religious tenets of 'divine justice' and instances of tortured victims and ritual human sacrifice offered up to a dark deity, respectively. Severed heads thrown onto a disco floor in Michoacan in 2005 and burnt skull imprints in a clearing in a ranch in the Yucatán Peninsula in 2008 only serve to highlight the number of such incidents which have now taken place. Whereas the infamous 'black cauldron' incident in Matamoros in 1989, where American college student Mark Kilroy's brain was found in a ritual nganga belonging to a local narco gang, was the rare exception, such spiritual-like activities have now become far more frequent.

These activities only serve to further elaborate concerns amongst scholars, including Sullivan, Elkus, Brands, Manwaring, and the authors, over societal warfare breaking out across the Americas. This warfare— manifesting itself in 'criminal insurgencies' derived from groups of gang, cartel, and mercenary networks— promotes new forms of state organization drawn from criminally based social and political norms and behaviors. These include a value system derived from illicit narcotics use, killing for sport and pleasure, human trafficking and slavery, dysfunctional perspectives on women and family life, and a habitual orientation to violence and total disregard for modern civil society and democratic freedoms. This harkens back to Peter's thoughts concerning the emergence of a 'new warrior class' and, before that, van Creveld's 'non-trinitarian warfare' projections.

A recent insight, gained by the authors after the conclusion of a major research project on Mexican drug groups, is that this insurgency has at its basis a spiritual, if not religious, component that threatens the underlying foundations of our modern Western value system. This component is derived from the well known cartel technique of offering an individual ¿Plata O Plomo?—take our silver or we will fill you with our lead. As a tactic taken by groups with a theological bent, such as La Familia, this offer becomes Faustian, join us and in the process give up your soul or die, a choice historically associated with incidents of religious conversion at the tip of a sword. That technique is typically carried out by young religions, such as militant Christianity and Islam, during their expansionistic phases. These post-battlefield mass conversions are considered by the victors as actually saving the souls of those joining the righteous ranks of God's chosen.

Download the full article: The Spiritual Significance of ¿Plata O Plomo?

Pamela L. Bunker is a senior officer of the Counter-OPFOR Corporation. Research interests include less lethal weapons (LLW) and CONUS OPFORs (radical environmental and fringe groups and religious cults). Her work has been presented in policing and academic conferences in Alaska, Australia, and Germany. She was a contributor to the Encyclopedia of World War I (ABC-CLIO, 2005), has written on less lethal weapons for a NLECTC-West project, and has fired LLW on the South Australia Police (SAPOL) Range. She graduated from California State Polytechnic University Pomona with a B.S. in anthropology/geography and a B.S. in social science and from The Claremont Graduate University with a M.A. in public policy with additional post-graduate work completed in comparative politics and government. Past professional experience includes research and program coordination in University, Non-Government Organization (NGO), and City Government settings.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker attended California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and the Claremont Graduate University. He holds a Ph.D. in political science and an M.A. in government and bachelors' degrees in anthropology/geography, social science, behavioral science, and history. Dr. Bunker is Adjunct Professor, National Security Studies Program, California State University, San Bernardino, and Professor, Unconventional Warfare, American Military University, Manassas Park, Virginia. He has served as a consultant to both the military and law enforcement communities. His research focus is on the influence of technology on warfare and political organization and on the national security implications of emerging forms of warfare. Dr. Bunker's works have appeared in Parameters, Special Warfare, Army RDA, Military Intelligence, Red Thrust Star, Airpower Journal, Marine Corps Gazette, Institute of Land Warfare Papers, Institute For National Security Studies Occasional Papers, and various law enforcement publications, military encyclopedias, and in book chapters.

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Factman (not verified)

Sun, 05/30/2010 - 5:43am

"That technique is typically carried out by young religions, such as militant Christianity and Islam, during their expansionistic phases."

The technique you speak of here is giving active fighters the option of conversion or face death to losers in wars. This was more of mercy rather than brutality. In olden days, once an army wins, it used take over the spoils, i.e, money, women, land etc... According to Islamic principles, civilians are not meant to be harmed in any way and should not be forced to convert either.

The Geneva conventions and human rights codes came much later on.