We have apparently arrived at a cusp in history, one where we face a rather stark choice. On the one hand, we have the opportunity to enforce the mechanisms of humanity and Western idealism which characterize so much of what is good in this world. On the other, we have the opportunity to march down the path of totalitarianism, entering a new "dark age" where the very symbols of humanitarianism become a joke--an Orwellian "double-think" where kindness is given at the point of a bayonet and freedom means the freedom to pace a cage.
What is frightening about this cusp, however, is that unless we remember how we got here, we won't understand the language well enough to know which path leads us straight to Hell.
Exhibit A: The Laws of War
Keegan might have added that the forms of war, much more than the letter of the law, provided the greatest extent of protection to the noncombatants. The Zone of the Front and the Zone of the Rear during the First World War helped separate civilians from the violence of combat. The subsequent decline in civilian inviolability was due not to a sudden decline in morality during the Second War but to the emergence of fast moving mechanized warfare and bomber forces which destroyed the neat division between Front and Rear. Yet despite the Warsaws, Dresdens and Hiroshimas the distinction between combatant and civilian still remained. Combatants wore uniforms and, by and large, shot mostly at each other. Because humanitarian protection is so dependent on the modalities of combat, what does it mean when British soldiers must fight where "there is no front line, no division between the war zone and civilian areas, no distinction between terrorists and law-abiding citizens"; where "the only effective agents in a war zone are the combatants themselves, and the innocents have to rely on such people's instincts of decency or fear of punishment for misbehaviour to avert harm to themselves"? The answer must certainly go beyond a choice between civilian and military justice.
If the objective function is to minimize the suffering of noncombatants, the first step must surely be to discriminate between the "innocent" and the "guilty", for when distinctions are not made obvious by the wearing of uniforms other methods must be substituted.
Always an excellent read, 'wretchard' strikes an interesting chord with this post. One point here which I'd like to elaborate on is the notion that if we are to honor the spirit of the doctrine of a "Just War"--a Christian doctrine, I may add--rather than just the letter of the law, then much of the current arguments coming from the Left must necessarily be scuttled--or at least refuted as detrimental to the safety of civilians on the front line.
The whole point of the Geneva Conventions--which are now being used to somehow "demonstrate" the illegality of the U.S. war in Iraq and argue for the impeachment of George Bush--is to encapsulate the principles of a "Just War." And the first principle of a "Just War" is that both sides must engage in fair fighting: clearly delineate as much as possible who are on the "front lines" and who are on the "rear lines."
The Geneva Conventions were drafted on the principle that both sides in an armed conflict have certain humanitarian obligations to both the civilians about them, and to the civilians in an occupied country. These obligations are necessarily reciprocal: they do not promise either side an "unfair advantage", but instead are designed to protect civilians in a war zone.
Unfortunately what we have today is the Left attempting to use the Geneva Conventions to give terrorists an "unfair advantage" by repeatedly stating that the United States somehow has a "higher obligation"--an unreachable standard--by which we are required to operate. Terrorists and countries supporting terrorism in Iraq--Syria and Iran--do not have to answer to the requirements of the Geneva Conventions, according to the Left, because somehow they are inferior--and thus need to be given some sort of advantage against the United States.
While in the abstract this sort of anti-Americanism (in that these unbalanced standards effectively "handicap" the United States abroad) has a sort of appeal, it does put the Left in a very awkward position of demanding the United States tread lightly--and as a result encouraging suicide bombings and the death of civilians in Iraq, so long as they happen before the morning news broadcasts in New York.
By demanding unequal standards, the Left is in effect encouraging the death of civilians--turning the meaning of the Geneva Conventions on it's head. And all of it, all of it! is being done without regard for the original intent of the Conventions, by instead interpreting the letter of the law through lawyerly weasel language, rather than trying to understand the spirit of the law--which is the humanitarian desire to reduce the danger to civilians.
Exhibit 'B': My post yesterday about Alger Hiss and the downfall of the Nixon Administration. While there is little more I can say today about that then I did yesterday, I will note that without understanding the history of Alger Hiss and his involvement with some very foundational principles of the Left, such as Socialism and the resulting gutting of the underlying principles of the Founding Fathers with the rather famous dissent by Supreme Court Justice Holmes who declared (incorrectly, in my opinion) that the "constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory, whether of paternalism and the organic relation of the citizens to the State or of lassiez faire.", it is nearly impossible to understand the hostility the Left had towards Nixon. After all, if you list the accomplishments of the Nixon Administration--the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency, opening trade with China, ending the Vietnam War--you'd think that Nixon would be the Left's favorite Republican President. Nixon, after all, was a Quaker: he was religiously devoted to the idea of peace.
But instead, and in large part because he stood in direct opposition to the forces wishing to create a Socialist "paternalistic" state in place of our Capitalist society, Nixon was vilified as Republican Evil incarnate.
I noted this before somewhere else, and I will note it again.
The fundamental difference between the Left and the Right in the United States is quite simple. The Left is devoted to the notion that human kind is "perfectible." The evolution of Socialism and Communism--both Left wing philosophies--require that human kind evolve beyond the need for capital and property ownership. Star Trek's Federation is the perfect example if this theoretical evolved ideal: in one episode, Captain Piccard notes to someone from the 20th century that "we have evolved beyond the petty need for material things."
The Right, on the other hand, believes that the human condition is enduring. While individuals may evolve, and while societies may perfect better mechanisms of law or create wealth enough to enjoy the luxury of humanitarianism--because only someone with two loaves of bread can give away one without starving himself--human beings as a whole do not evolve. We will, therefore, always have the need for police officers and jails and armies and judges and juries to settle disputes, arrest murderers and jail rapists--even if the techniques employed by them become more humane or the tools used by the police officers become less lethal.
For the Right, we believe fundamentally that human existence will always be brutal: we are born screaming into a world of finite resources and finite time, with the ever-present desire to compete for those resources, for the girlfriend, for the promotion at work, for a bigger house. We will never, as Piccard observed, evolve beyond the petty need for material things--because those material things include the clothes on our back, the food in our mouths and the machines necessary to produce them.
We may become so efficient as to lower the cost of clothes and food and shelter to the point where even the poorest in our country live better than the rich in half the populated world. (And we have.) But that doesn't prevent the desire to compete in order to improve ourselves as individual human beings.
The United States Constitution can only be enduring if our memories of history are enduring. If they are not, then we get irrational statements by Supreme Court Judges who state that somehow our Constitution was written in a sort of philosophical, economic and political "void", and thus is subject to re-interpretation as new economic and philosophical "fads" present themselves.
This forgetfulness, this nihilism--this is the path to Hell.