[lit-ideas] Re: When a civilized society fights a barbarous one

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2006 09:24:36 -0700 (PDT)

Actually, Lawrence, this might the time to remind you
that Texas is not exactly Hegel's paradigm of a
civilized society. 


--- Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

> Much has been and is being said about how we, a
> civilized society, are
> degrading ourselves in certain ways as we fight a
> barbarous one.  Diana West
> does a good job in my opinion of addressing the
> salient issues.
> Lawrence
> The war for moral superiority
> By Diana West
> Jun 26, 2006
> I can see it now -- I think. 
> It's on the right-hand page of a book by or about
> Winston Churchill, and it
> is a quotation by Churchill on the subject on war --
> specifically, what
> happens to a civilized society when it goes to war
> with a barbarous one. I
> can't find it (yet), but what I remember as being
> the main point was that if
> -- if -- the civilized society is to prevail over
> the barbarous one, it will
> necessarily and tragically be degraded by the
> experience as a vital cost of
> victory. Partly, this is because civilized war
> tactics are apt to fail
> against barbarous war tactics, thus requiring
> civilized society to break the
> "rules" if it is to survive a true death struggle.
> It is also because the
> clash itself -- the act of engaging with the
> barbarous society -- forces
> civilization to confront, repel and also internalize
> previously unimagined
> depredations. This is degrading, too.
> In Churchill's era, the more civilized world of the
> Allies was necessarily
> degraded to some intangible extent by what it took
> to achieve victory over
> barbarous Nazism. For example, bombing cities, even
> rail transportation
> hubs, lay beyond civilized conventions, but this was
> one tactic the Allies
> used to defeat Hitler. However justifiably,
> civilization crossed a
> previously unimagined and uncivilized line to save,
> well, civilization. Then
> there was Hitler's Holocaust -- an act of genocide
> on a previously
> unthinkable scale and horror. Who in the civilized
> world ever imagined
> systematically killing millions people before
> Hitler? And who in the
> civilized world retained the same purity of mind
> after? Civilization itself
> was forever dimmed. 
> The question is, did, for example, bombing Dresden
> to defeat Hitler or, in
> the Pacific War, dropping two nuclear bombs to force
> Japan to stop fighting,
> make the Allies into barbarians? 
> I think most people would still say, "of course
> not," and argue that such
> destructive measures were necessary to save
> civilization itself -- and
> certainly thousands of mainly American and Allied
> soldier's lives. But if
> this argument continues to carry the day, it's
> because we still view that
> historic period from its own perspective: namely, as
> one in which Allied
> lives -- our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons --
> counted for more than
> Axis lives, even those of women and children.
> How quaint. That is, this is not at all how we think
> any more. If we still
> valued our own men more than the enemy's and the
> "civilians" he hides among
> -- and now I'm talking about the war in Iraq -- our
> tactics would be totally
> different, and, not incidentally, infinitely more
> successful. We would drop
> bombs on city blocks, for example, not waste men in
> dangerous house-to-house
> searches. We would destroy enemy sanctuaries in
> Syria and Iran, not disarm
> "insurgents" at perilous checkpoints in hostile
> Iraqi strongholds. 
> In the 21st century, however, there is something
> that our society values
> more than our own lives -- and more than the
> survival of civilization
> itself. That something may be described as the kind
> of moral superiority
> that comes from a good wallow in Abu Ghraib,
> Haditha, CIA interrogations or
> Guantanamo Bay. Morally superior people -- Western
> elites -- never
> "humiliate" prisoners, never kill civilians, never
> torture or incarcerate
> jihadis. Indeed, they would like to kill, I mean,
> prosecute, or at least tie
> the hands of anyone who does. 
> This, of course, only enhances their own moral
> superiority. But it doesn't
> win wars. And it won't save civilization. 
> Why not? Because such smugness masks a massive moral
> paralysis. The morally
> superior (read: paralyzed) don't really take sides;
> don't really believe one
> culture is qualitatively better or worse than the
> other. They don't even
> believe one culture is just plain different from the
> other. Only in this
> atmosphere of politically correct and perpetually
> adolescent
> non-judgmentalism could anyone believe, for example,
> that compelling,
> forcing or torturing a jihad terrorist to get
> information to save a city in
> any way undermines our "values." It undermines
> nothing -- except the jihad. 
> Do such tactics diminish our inviolate sanctimony?
> You bet. But, so what?
> The alternative is to follow our precious rules and
> hope the barbarians will
> leave us alone -- or, perhaps, not deal with us too
> harshly. Fond hope.
> Consider the 21st century return of (I still can't
> quite believe it)
> beheadings. The first French Republic aside, who on
> God's modern green Earth
> ever imagined a head being hacked off the human body
> before we were
> confronted with Islamic jihad? Civilization itself
> is forever dimmed --
> again.

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