An Eye for an Eye: Not the Answer
Perhaps you remember that Osama bin Laden blew up the USS Cole in Aden harbor. Perhaps you have noticed that the US has not yet retaliated for this attack on a military target.
At the time, in an article entitled "Warmongering Defined," I wrote that there are those commentators who are too ready to beat the drums for war, and to send others to their deaths. Again, for the record, my brother-in-law was an officer on the Cole. He survived the attack and the ensuing ordeal.
The same was true over the incident between the US and China over the American spy plane; there were those calling for a war with China.
Now, with the World Trade Center destroyed, the Pentagon in flames, untold thousands dead and lives shattered, there are those who again see blood as the remedy for blood.
In that regard, John Derbyshire of National Review writes that he has a profound disagreement with classical liberals. Perhaps it is merely his love of British imperialism shining through when he writes that
even setting aside the lunatics, there was a sort of crabby, ill-mannered, claustrophobic atmosphere about the whole thing that started to grate on me after a while. No, I'm not a Paleo. Republic or Empire? Empire, please.
Kudos to Derbyshire for conceding that the United States is now an empire. Derbyshire, however, makes the standard attack on classical liberals, questioning their sanity because he does not share their views.
Here is Derbyshire's flawed analysis of American foreign policy:
however much Americans might wish to leave the world alone, the world will not leave America alone. Great wealth and great success generate great envy and great hatred. And America's high ideals, if clutched jealously to America's chest, while those abroad who believe them are hunted down and slaughtered without help, will whither and die. Idealism, like terrorism, has — can have — no borders. We know that our way of life is far superior to Islamic Fundamentalism, Chinese Communism, "Big Man" Kleptocracy and Bureaucratic Welfarism.
The paragraph quoted above makes numerous errors. The world will most certainly leave America alone if America leaves the world alone, much as bees will tend not to sting you unless you go around sticking your hand in their nests. Again, despite his dislike for such examples, Derbyshire can have no intelligent reply to the fact that Switzerland and Australia do not get bombed.
Although it may be true that wealth generates envy (envy, after all, is the root of collectivism), there is no indication that envy was behind the attack on the World Trade Center. Although it is true that Western civilization is superior to other ways of life, this is again beside the point (besides, query whether the US does not already suffer from what Derbyshire terms "Bureaucratic Welfarism").
There is no evidence that Osama bin Laden, or Saddam Hussein, have staged acts of terror against American targets in the name of envy, or out of fear that the millions living in the Arab world will suddenly rise up and demand a political system modeled on the United States. Evidence or no evidence, there is also no rational basis to believe that envy motivated the attacks of September 11.
Instead, the evidence is rather clear as to why various Arab terrorists have sought to kill Americans. The United States meddles in the affairs of their nations. In some cases, such as Serbia and Iraq, American troops have killed civilians, even if unintentionally, by large-scale bombing. This was known as "collateral damage." In other cases, as in Israel, American tax dollars are given to the Israeli government, and the United States give arms to the Israelis. These arms and dollars are used to kill Palestinians, including infants.
Importantly, it must be noted that the Vatican has condemned: 1) the American bombing and embargo of Iraq, and 2) the Israeli actions toward the Palestinians.
Why? Because civilians are unduly targeted, contrary to the Judeo-Christian and Aristotelian moral code which is at the heart of Western civilization.
And do not forget the United Nations Conference on Women, in Egypt, when the Arab nations aligned with the Vatican to block American and European efforts at granting UN recognition to abortion rights and other such abominations. The United States not only perpetrates and sponsors military attacks on Arabs, we attack their culture as well. Derbyshire's reference to "Islamic Fundamentalism" is also vexing. To characterize Muslims as "fundamentalists" is as inappropriate as characterizing Christians as "fundamentalists." (See the anthology Three Faiths, One God and Fazlur Rahman's Islam on these points).
To be blunt, Derbyshire ignores the facts in claiming that an envy of Western civilization fuels Arab terrorists. Worse, by encouraging terror in retaliation for terror, Derbyshire would throw away exactly that which makes Western civilization superior to other forms of civilization, namely, Judeo Christian and Aristotelian morality.
But of course, Derbyshire gave up morality long ago, if his own words are any evidence. As Derbyshire writes of his fawning preference for Empire,
I come from a nation that actually did practice Empire, very successfully, but eventually decided it was too much trouble and cost, and gave up on it.
"Too much trouble and cost." What a callous (and revealing) way to summarize the deaths and oppression of millions. Tell that to the Irish who died in rebellion against "Mother England," in the Great Famine, and to those Irishmen shot down like so many cattle over the ages by British troops. The Irish, and the other peoples of the world upon whom the British "very successfully" practiced Empire, have a very different view of things. But at least there can be no debate about the meaning of Empire: naked force, might makes right, without a pretense of morality. Three cheers for rule by the sword!
The Irish view of British imperialism is nicely summarized by a song known as "God Bless England" or "Whack Fol the Diddle" (I believe that the song landed its writer in jail; ah, the burdens of empire, having to police songwriters):
Oh, I'll tell you a tale of peace and love
Whack fol the diddle o the die do day
Of a land that reigns all lands above
Whack fol the diddle o the die do day
May peace and plenty be her share
Who kept our homes from want and care
Oh, God bless England is our prayer
Whack fol the diddle o the die do day
Whack fol the diddle o the die do day
So we say "hip hooray"
Come and listen while we pray
Whack fol the diddle o the die do day
Now our fathers oft were naughty boys
For pikes and guns are dangerous toys
At Ballinahabwee and at Bunker's hill
We made poor England cry her fill
But old Brittania loves us still
God bless England so we pray (remaining choruses)
Now, when we were savage, fierce and wild
She came as a mother to her child
Gently raised us from the slime
And kept our hands from hellish crime
And she sent us to heaven in our own good time.
If Derbyshire wants the forces of terrorism to be hunted down and exterminated, what of Mrs. Thatcher, who suggested that the "Cromwell solution" should be used on Ireland? Cromwell, as in mass killing and driving people from their homes. How very Western. How very superior to Osama bin Laden.
What of Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble, accused in Sean McPhilemy's book (and Channel 4 documentary by the same name), The Committee, of membership on a committee which plotted the murders of Catholics in Northern Ireland? McPhilemy was paid a settlement by the Sunday Express, and won a verdict against Rupert Murdoch's Times, when the two papers claimed he had fabricated the account. Has there been an independent investigation of these charges, not conducted by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (who are also accused of complicity in crimes)? If not, why not?
Why are IRA terrorists, who have done the foulest and most beastly things — the kinds of things, though not on the kind of scale, we saw on Tuesday — walking around free in the streets of Belfast and Dublin, having been let out of jail in return for a few vague and empty promises from those who give them their orders?
Well, Mr. Derbyshire, what of the two Scots Guards who murdered Peter McBride? Why are two British soldiers, convicted of murdering an Irish youth, in the British Army, and not in prison?
And, since Derbyshire is so very eager to round up terrorists, what of those who killed the Irish attorneys, Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane, in car bomb attacks? Rosemary Nelson had helped McPhilemy investigate the murders of Catholics in the North, and for her troubles she received death threats and was killed. Pat Finucane also worked in the area of civil rights. Have the killers been brought to justice?
And what about the soldiers who fired on unarmed civilians on Bloody Sunday. Surely, Derbyshire foams at the mouth for justice to be done. Doesn't he?
So much for the rule of law.
Of course, it is precisely the end of the rule of law which Derbyshire counsels:
Justice must go by the board for a while, as it did when we firebombed German and Japanese cities, incinerating helpless babies and old folk who wished us no harm. Where was the justice in that?
He has come right out and said it: justice has nothing to do with his deliberations about bloodshed. Which puts him on the same moral plane as Gerry Adams. Ironic, that.
"Look, constitutions, law, and justice are fine, but just not right now." Mr. Derbyshire, that reasoning cannot be allowed to stand. In the film version of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More's son-in-law declares that he would cut down all the laws in pursuit of the Devil. In reply, More asks "And when the Devil turns 'round on you, where will you hide, all the laws being flat?"
Justice and the rule of law are not optional elements of a civilization, they are civilization. They cannot be disregarded either in the name of grief or in the name of a frenzied call for blood. That quaint Catholic "doctrine" of a "just war" is probably optional, too, isn't it? Who cares if war is just, as long as it feels good.
Derbyshire is right in pointing out that the terror-bombing of German and Japanese cities was unjust. Nagasaki, for example, was the center of Catholicism and Christianity in Japan, and was packed with refugees when it was bombed. It had no military value. Last week, newly-released British documents revealed that certain German towns were bombed only because they would burn well. They had no strategic value, no military assets, but they had many old buildings made of wood — and bombing them would terrorize the German population into surrender.
A BBC TV program, Bombing Germany...records that on the night of March 16, 226 Lancaster bombers took off for Wuerzburg. The crews were told the town was an important communications centre. Yet it was clear to them that their mission was a fire attack on residential areas. In just 17 minutes they dropped nearly 1,000 tonnes of bombs on Wuerzburg; 82 per cent of the town was destroyed, and almost 5,000 people were killed.
This is what Derbyshire wants for you and your family. Not butter pecan ice cream, not a quiet retirement, not peacefully working at a job or planning a wedding, but death. Horrible, painful, suffering and death. For all the right reasons, you understand, the death of civilians is A-OK with John Derbyshire.
No nation which has done such acts should play the altar boy when the bombs come back to haunt them. This is not to justify the evil acts of terror perpetrated in America (by bin Laden, presumably) or in Derbyshire's native Britain (by the IRA). This is, however, a call for perspective. If we do not understand the reason for the attacks, we will never stop the attacks. Whether Derbyshire likes it or not, the reason for the attacks is the manic interventionist foreign policy pursued by the United States. Far from being isolationist, the United States is a global bully, in the guise of a "global supercop." A key difference between the American Empire and the British Empire is that the United States does not readily admit to running an empire.
No Paleo I know of has called for a surrender to Osama bin Laden. Instead, we have called for thought to precede action. And with good reason. As the great Marine general Smedley Butler wrote, "war is a racket." Another revered Marine general, Chesty Puller, said the same thing. (See the book Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller, by Burke Davis) Puller urged his own son not to follow him into the military, and his son ignored him. Lewis B. Puller, Jr. lost his legs in Vietnam, and later killed himself (see his autobiography, Fortunate Son: The Life of Lewis B. Puller, Jr.) His book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.
Sadly, Derbyshire is not an original thinker in calling for death and destruction. At the outset of All Quiet on the Western Front, there is a school teacher who incites his students to war with tales of glory and the need for sacrifice. Have we learned nothing from the horrors of war? Have we not learned from "the war to end all wars" that war does not end war?
Sadly, Derbyshire's piece resembles Mark Twain's "War Prayer" more than anything else, but not in a good way. As prayed by "the stranger" in Twain's piece,
O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it - for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
Poor Mark Twain. If only he were British, he might not have written such a silly satire.
By the way, Derbyshire's beloved British Empire and its global meddling is largely responsible for the current mess in the Middle East.
As David Fromkin details in A Peace to End all Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, it was ill-conceived and ignorant British meddling in the Middle East which shaped the current map of that region, and which stoked the fires of hate. (Albert Hourani's A History of the Arab Peoples is also worth a look, as is The Arab World: Forty Years of Change by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea and Robert A. Fernea).
Shame on John Derbyshire. You go fly the planes, sir. You go kill the children.
September 14, 2001
Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2001 David Dieteman