03 August 2006

War and Peace, dueling paradigms

OK, first I have to acknowledge a huge debt to Victor Davis Hanson for a lot of the thoughts which follow.

The Western mindset about many things breaks down into a lot of dichotomies.

Truthful, Liar.

Rational, Emotional.

True, False.

Military, Civillian.

War, Peace.

These are things which are (in English) opposite and to you and I (presuming you are reading this with a Western cultural background) they are completely different states of being. I'm going to speak to the last two of these.

During wartime, there are two enemies (called beligerants) which are recognizable nations (or states, or both, or something of the sort) and which do their best to impose their will on each other. This is usually expressed by blowing things up and/or sticking pointy objects into the citizens of the other beligerant.

During peacetime, the same two nations would not consider condoning the killing of each other's citizens and engage in competition which will not involve rockets and rifles.

The military is composed of people who are selected (by choice or their government) to participate in wars and attempt to kill other people who preferably are in the military of the enemy nation.

Civillians are folks who have not been so selected and hence are theoretically never to be deliberately targeted, unless of course they happen to have lived after the invention of aerial bombardment, in which case they are fair game if they live in the same city as a military target. (Not really, but it's terribly complicated once area-effect weapons are invented, and sieges are also complex legal issues)


In case you didn't get the hint,

Other Cultures Don't Think This Way!

These definitions are an artifact of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome and the societies which trace descent from those civilizations are the only societies for which this is true.

Go get a cup of coffee and think about it.

Let me start with war and peace.

Warfare in Ancient Greece was pretty simple. One side would send the other an ultimatum, stop doing this or Else. Then the army musters, marches out, and starts burning the vineyards and cutting down olive trees. The other city forms up their army, the two meet on an open field, and wham, bam, in an hour or less the war is over. The winners have taken a handful of casualties, the losers have been slaughtered during the pursuit, and the losers sue for peace. Over and done with. Of course there might be a rematch, but it is over for that year.

Gross simplification here, but I'm not writing a doctoral thesis on Classical Greek warfare.

Arabs (among others) are not like this. For one thing, there are multiple loyalties. This is important to note. Americans are, ideally, loyal to America. Englishmen, to England. Germans, to Germany. I might be fond of the Republic of Texas, but I'm not going to go to war for it. I like my parents, but if someone kills them I believe that the police are best suited to handle that situation. Arabs might have some loyalty to their "nation" (or feudal magnate in prior times), but more likely are loyal to family, clan, and tribe. And any or all of those loyalties may demand that he engage in violence. Your family, clan, or tribe could be involved in a feud at any time, and you would feel obligated to fight for it.

Now, these overlapping loyalties mean that the idea of 'peace' as a time when there is no war is pretty theoretical. And peace between nations or feudal principalities did not preclude continued feuding either between inhabitants of that nation or between inhabitants of different nations. It's not a binary decision. Your nation might be at peace, but your clan is feuding with the clan over the hill. And a feud might be quite active or in abbeyance. It's not a binary state.

Implication: The Westerner fights to restore the broken state of peace, preferably by rendering his enemy incapable of fighting (or further opposing his nation's will). Each war is balls-to-the-wall, all out effort to grind the enemy into the dirt once and for all. We may not get it, but that's how we fight. If someone throws a chair at us, we don't throw a chair back at them. We shoot the dumb bastard.

The Arab, when insulted responds by striking back at the insulter in the context of that feuding mentality. The idea of a state monopoly on violence would baffle him. It is a matter for the tribe, family, clan to deal with. So he responds in a way that 'balances' the equation, restoring his lost honor. I shoot his cousin, he shoots mine. The idea that there is a state of peace which has been broken will literally not translate into his mind.

Hezbollah was engaged in feuding with Israel in order to bolster their prestige and gain points with their backers (Syria and Iran). It may actually be true that the leadership did not recognize that there was a state of 'peace' which they had 'broken' with the expected result that Israel would enter into a state of war and conduct major military operations to kick Hezbollah's happy ass all the way out of Lebanon.


Anonymous Michael Llaneza said...

No comments on this piece ?

It's brilliant, nothing else to say.

9:26 AM  

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