The Past Is All Coming Back

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The international goo-goos (Tammany Hall’s old name for the "good government" types) need their humanitarian crise du jour, and the Sudan currently fills the bill. The usual celebrities are wringing their hands and we are all supposed to care, deeply. The realist replies, "Yea, that’s life in the global village," but realism is out of fashion these days. Sense, it seems, has been defeated by sensibility.

But there is more to events in the Sudan than the usual starving children. A recent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer offered a peek at Fourth Generation war at work in some ways both new and very old. After noting that more than a million people have been turned into refugees in just 16 months — not a trivial military result — the paper wrote:

Over and over, they (the refugees) tell the same story. First airplanes and helicopters came and bombed their villages. Then gun-and-sword-wielding militiamen came galloping in on horseback and camelback — burning, looting, raping and pillaging.

Tens of thousands have made the journey, forced on a desperate flight through the desert by Arab herders bent on chasing their African farming neighbors from the vast western region (Darfur), the size of Iraq.

In these few sentences, we take a journey through war over the last five thousand years. It begins with a modern overlay, in the form of bombing by aircraft. Terrorizing tribesmen by bombing their villages from the air was a technique pioneered by the British in their post-World War I fight with insurgents in Iraq. It has the advantage that tribesmen seldom have much in the way of air defenses, other than to get up and move. In the Sudan, that seems to be just what their enemies desire.

Of course, the involvement of aircraft suggests the involvement of the Sudanese government. But the rest of the Plain Dealer’s brief account quickly moves us beyond, or more precisely, back from the age of the state.

Those gun (muzzleloaders? flintlocks?) and sword-wielding militiamen are almost certainly tribesmen. Not only are their horse and camel-charges something out of past centuries, so is their primary loyalty. It is safe to say that their ties to the government of the Sudan are tenuous. They are fighting for their tribes, against other tribes they have fought for generations. As the state recedes, it reveals once again the old human landscape, almost unaltered and ready, like winter wheat under the snow, to spring to life again and flourish.

Another ancient cause of war, race, also presents itself. The attackers are Arabs, the refugees are Negroes. How long have those two been going at it, with the blacks almost always getting the worst of it? In the Sudan, even today, that "worst" includes black slavery. Of course, as is also true throughout history, the alternative to slavery is death. An old Russian proverb comes to mind: Life is terrible, but death is not so great either.

Finally, to complete a two-paragraph journey back to history’s dawn, the mounted attackers are herdsmen while the victims are farmers. The Navahos could tell us something about that one, as could the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians and the Chinese. One cannot help but wonder if in addition to their swords and guns those horsemen are good shots with a bow?

We see here in this remarkable vignette one of the most important, most powerful and also most unremarked features of our age: the past is all coming back. As modernity crumbles, all ancient ways and causes of war return, defining a Fourth Generation that is also a vast Minus One Generation. I have said from the outset that the Fourth Generation marks the end of modern war and the modern age, and nowhere do we see that more clearly than in places like the Sudan (and there are more and more such places).

Those who have eyes, let them see.

William Lind [send him mail] is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.

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