Category Archives: war

If it is “go time,” where do we go?

Severian, Morgan, and a few of the emigos had a good email exchange in reply to the attempted assassinations of some Republican congressmen by a violent Leftist. Or – to be more precise – the email chain wasn’t so much about the assassination itself, but of the open and unrestrained celebration of the attempt by a non-trivial portion of the country.* We’re not talking mere fringe kooks, either, but plenty of persons gainfully employed in media and entertainment, who hold themselves out as respectable and conduct themselves as if they, and not their critics, are the reasonable ones.

Naturally, the critics might also be unreasonable, but as CS Lewis pointed out, Hell sends its errors into the world in pairs of opposites, hoping that you will fight the one by turning into the other: fighting sloth with wrath, or cowardice with recklessness. The true solution is to insist on the true thing, with the certain knowledge that it is stronger than any of the twisted copies. Courage is stronger than recklessness and beats it at its own game… but the trick is to be really courageous and to stick with it even at the moment where it seems that wild abandon is about to triumph.

I’m not seeing much of that in society today. That’s to be expected; the pendulum never swings to the middle and then stops there, and we also have to deal with the human propensity to revel in finally getting one’s own back. Given that we’ve been living for decades in a society where courtesy, restraint, and principle have been taking it on the chin, it’s even less surprising that those who have thus suffered find much less use for those things.

As I understand it, the Alt-Right has a pretty simple flowchart: they see that the Left has, without scruple or pity, slowly but surely ratcheted the culture and the law ever-further to their ultimate goal. They see an opponent who has been utterly contemptuous of the many warnings against dismantling the Western traditions and underpinnings of civilization: <i>”When the Devil turns round on you, where will you hide, the laws all being flat? Will you be able to stand upright in the winds that would then blow?”</i> As a result, it’s time to reap the whirlwind, and the Alt-Right plans to be the sickle and thresher… and they’re in no mood for “cucks” and “betas” who insist that the above warnings apply to us as well.

The flaw should be obvious. Just as the Left will not always be in power, neither shall the Right… so ultimately the sickle and thresher will pass to the next party, and they in turn will be in no mood to say, well, now we’ve learned our lesson and we must all play friendly. They’re the ones who would stick at nothing before all this happened – what are the odds that they will suddenly find their conscience while smarting from their fresh wounds? For the Alt-Right’s plans to “work” they basically have to remain in power forever, and the only way to do that is to become in practice the very thing they’re in such reaction against, only without even the pretense of the forms of justice. There’s a reason why totalitarian regimes still have sham elections and show trials; would the Alt-Right bother with that, or simply dispense with the pretenses in favor of a muscular honesty?

I’m reminded of the Justice League episode where the heroes are dragged into an alternate dimension where their counterparts have imposed just such an order. No crime, but also no freedom; the Justice Lords (as they are now called) rule. And what the show could not address (but it would have been fascinating)… what happens when the Lords themselves grow old and die? All of them eventually would, perhaps excepting Wonder Woman. Without the godlike power required to maintain such a regime, it would collapse in devastation and ruin.

And yet… well, practicing restraint when your opponent offers none has gotten us in quite a mess indeed. The Alt-Right have correctly diagnosed the situation of the moment, which is that the rules are only ever used in one direction. And they also correctly recognize that merely wringing our hands and bemoaning the state of affairs doesn’t actually correct them. I’ve written it before: “It can’t happen here” is a fiction. Every other place it’s happened, has been one of those places it could never happen – many individual civilizations have collapsed in ruin, conquered from without or decayed from within, with all the misery and decades to rebuild. Those who’ve gone quisling in the face of a spiteful foe have earned every ounce of the contempt shown them.

So it is necessary to fight back, and not merely complain or mourn – and the question remains, how do we fight?

It should be plain that to simply ignore the rules ourselves is not going to suddenly spawn a newfound respect for rules, either among the vanquished or the conquering. A vaccine only works because it contains a dead or weakened form of the disease your body must learn to fight – if you injected the real illness you would kill everybody.  We are faced with the rise of those who think that lining everyone up for the full dosage will result in robust health all around… or else those who have gone past the point of caring, and want it all torn down.

On the one hand, we have the tyrannical foe… and on the other, we are faced with either becoming their slaves, or their replacements. One way or another, that leaves us holding one end of a chain that binds.

I have no desire to live as an insect in a hive, beholden to the all-powerful State; neither do I wish to live in a kill-or-be-killed post-apocalypse wasteland. It is no good fighting Oceania with Bartertown. Like it or not, if civilization is to endure at all, it has to remain civilized. If there is to be a revolution, it has to be one of law and virtue against mere force. And that takes a conscious effort. One doesn’t drift away from virtue and default to a more primitive, yet still healthy, sense of honor. That state of affairs was itself a long, hard-fought victory against the true default of savagery and horror. We have a society that turns its nose up against the work required to do even that much and yet expects that the results of all that work will survive.

To echo John C Wright in his post here… may heaven preserve us from such folly.

*We have also to deal with their allies who, while not celebrating such things, lay down cover for them in the form of moral equivocations. (“Liberal-conservative vitriol” indeed.) But that is a topic deserving its own post.

The Code

A wonderful discussion over at Sarah Hoyt’s place got even better when the duplicitous weasel in question returned… and promptly demonstrated exactly what Sarah was complaining about.

The example of “Marquess of Queensbury” that I’m most familiar with goes by the unofficial name of The Code, and it describes an ideal for how people deal with each other on a hockey rink. Arm a dozen guys with clubs, strap razors to their feet, and toss them into an enclosed space, and it becomes a very practical matter to regulate their behavior – and rulebooks can’t do this alone. You have to have a system of social pressure passed down from veteran to rookie, teaching them “the right way to play” and “respecting the game” and all the other phrases that sound like cliché, but describe real concepts that are the only things making the game itself possible.

Despite some disagreements, there are things about the Code everyone understands – and the biggest thing is that if you disregard the Code you don’t deserve to be protected by the Code. Guys who square up and fight have a respect for each other that is never accorded to a guy who hits from behind, who fouls on purpose and away from the play, and then refuses to answer for himself.

To apply it to boxing – though I am not a fan either, I get why the sport (and similar, such as MMA) exists despite periodic attempts to outlaw it. It is an elemental test of mettle, courage, and strength. As such, it has a compelling quality. Those who do it have to have a core respect for their fellows. One of Ms. Hoyt’s commenters embedded the fight scene from The Quiet Man, so you can click that and watch a living, breathing example.

The “rules” exist in that context in the same way the rules and the Code do in hockey – to keep it a contest of will, skill, and technique. In a sport where one may legitimately damage one’s opponent during the normal course of play (it is indeed the entire point of a prizefight), it becomes even more important to have strong restrictions about low blows and such. I have seen a clip of an MMA fighter, for example, tapping out to save his opponent, who was essentially out on his feet but still trying to continue.

It was a magnificent gesture that only works because a referee then stops the fight and holds up one fighter’s hand in victory; then they hug and part as respected foes. In an alley fight it would be fatal. That brings us back around to the rules, right? They’re silly in a life-or-death fight, but without things like them, every fight must be to the death, or else to the boredom of the strongest fighter there is.

This is a big reason why the Geneva Conventions are binding only when all parties are signatories, and only when all abide by them. There may be very good moral and practical reasons to afford some of those protections in situations where they don’t apply – for example, the humane treatment of those who have been captured or who have surrendered – but on a battlefield doing it will get you killed. And too many times, those who merely disagree about politics or culture have turned that disagreement into a battlefield… and not in the figurative sense, either. Real people have really died when one subgroup has decided to stop regarding them as people at all. And this country and this culture, in this time, doesn’t get a pass. Real people really die here, too. The ones who merely have their reputations and businesses ruined are in that sense fortunate.

Our would-be elites are, of course, well aware of this, but they are at heart fantasists, and their primary fantasy is, “We will be the ones who ultimately decide what is done to anyone we choose whenever we like.” They never dream that someday they may find themselves the ones to whom other people choose to do whatever, whenever.

They know full well that behaving this way as an equal opponent will ring down the curtain on them, so they don’t actually do that – they invest their time, not in playing skill, but in become rulebook experts, exploiting this knowledge to corrupt the game itself. In effect, they seek to replace the referees, to be the ones with the power to enforce the rules, to control all outcomes and by so doing “win” every single time. That’s why they go in for the high-profile, high-influence spots: they all go into government, the media (either news or entertainment), education – seeking power itself and the means to acquire more. On a smaller level, it’s why all the really dirty players in my league are always the ones who squeal loudest about “calling it both ways” and “what about what HE just did?” It’s one of their most potent weapons. They know we care about such things, and exploit it so that we’ll let them off the hook. They will even lie and say that opposition to their cheating is opposition to rulebooks – as if they were engaged in making the world a fairer place and we’re the ones with the problem.

That’s the sign that playing against them as if they were still just one of the teams will be a losing strategy. They need to be removed, entirely, just to be able to have a game in the first place. They don’t actually care about the rule of law, much less the larger Code that any rulebook is a mere facet of. When they howl their protests, they are lying, trying to make us tap out so they can shiv us.

Once they’ve gone that crooked, we’re in a tough spot. Recall that it was Cromwell who eventually flattened the law in the case above, and as the movie itself reveals at the end, he wound up quite blown over by the winds he’d loosed upon England. How ought we to behave in such a situation? We’re not talking about theory, either – Thomas More was a real man who lost his actual head; there is no guarantee that such persecutions will not visit our shores the way they have been visited upon so many of our martyred brethren across the world in these times; and it may not just be the faithful, either, who are getting sent to camps and put to the sword. A world like that must be fought against, those who mean to build it must be stopped.

In Scripture, one of the hardest teachings is in Matthew 5:38-48. The Church has always held that this is meant to curb our appetite for revenge. Christ does not forbid us to protect our lives and our liberty. And if nobody ever stood against evil it would trample the world.

Just as certainly, if charity is never extended to those who may exploit it, true charity is impossible. The grace of God doesn’t work that way, and everyone is richer for the Father’s extravagance in this regard. In the admittedly-terrible movie, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for example, there’s a spot where Henry Hyde saves the day, and Dr. Jeckel, in response to thanks, says, “Let’s not make a saint out of a sinner.” But this is foolish – there is no other material out of which to make them. If faith didn’t baptize, there’d be no faith. And likewise, if civilization didn’t seek to make civilized people out of enemies, civilization would perish… which is why we can never wholly fight on their terms. We have the ultimate goal of saving our enemies. Dropping the civilized rules of ritual combats is not the same as simply becoming like the beasts of the field and savaging each other, because then the fight becomes unwinnable. There will be nobody left to enjoy the fruits of civilization if no civilized people remain.

And people call being the good guy “easy”!

Getting it wrong

I was offline most of yesterday until late, so I took what I thought would be a quick peek at Twitter over my coffee before work. Heh. I should know better: I saw a tweet go by and felt that old twitch start up, the “shoot off my stupid mouth” twitch.

Alas, I was stupid. And wrong.

Now, it’s been standard practice for Rueters, the AP, et als to get Catholic stuff wrong, often with the classic “accidentally on purpose” method. The earliest example in my adult life was in the early 90s, when the Church was ready to release the latest Catechism. The New York Times went ahead with some pointless verbiage days before the official English translation was even available, and of course it turned out that the Times was talking out its ass.

Further examples are legion. (My well-meaning Aunt emails them regularly.) Therefore I felt no hesitation in scoffing at an AP report (via a Charles Cooke retweet) that Pope Francis had said that violence was understandable regarding Charlie Hebdo’s cartooning.

Mr. Cooke had to put me some blinking knowledge. I had to apologize. I was in error; in fact, it was the same category of mistake as His Holiness made, that of talking off the cuff without thinking. Unlike either of his two predecessors, he seems to make it a lot.

I’m no stranger to shooting off my mouth, but one hopes the actual Pontiff has more restraint than some randomly-chosen Internet-era pontificator.

Still, I am a random Internet-era pontificator. (During our courtship, my wife once offered to buy me an antique wooden soap box, so I could store things in it when I wasn’t up on it.) My measured pontification is that what Pope Francis said was clumsy and inelegant. He ignored the context of what’s been going on in the world for the last several decades.

So, the takeaway from Pope Francis’ interview seems to be that insulting a religion is provocative and you can expect a violent response.

“It’s true, one cannot react violently, but if Dr. Gasbarri, a great friend, says a swear word against my mother, then he is going to get a punch. But it’s normal, it’s normal. One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith … make fun or toy with other people’s religions, these people provoke, and there can happen what would happen to Dr. Gasbarri if he said something against my mother. That is, there is a limit.”

Bitch had it comin’. That’s what you might expect from your garden-variety Islamist, hot to trot for the jihad, but not at all what one wants to hear from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Rome.

This is what I find somewhat frustrating with our current pope: he doesn’t seem to get that he can’t shoot from the lip without having it all taken as the official word of Catholicism. Like it or not, a lot if the world despises Christ and his Church, and they have invested too much of themselves to give the benefit of the doubt. They aren’t going to draw a distinction between a bull session and an official papal encyclical promulgating doctrine. They lie enough to try to damage the faith without being handed a truth to do it with. This is where one should apply the Scripture verse about being both harmless as doves AND as cunning as serpents.

I want to be fair to Pope Francis. I get about 75% of what he’s saying. The word provocative implicitly understands the chance of a violent reply; else we would use a word like annoying. And like he said, it’s a normal human response to respond with force to certain provocations.

I confess that I can’t watch that clip without cheering for Mr. Aldrin. That guy was a jackass, he actively harassed and confronted Mr. Aldrin, and he got chin-checked on merit. More importantly: any society where that kind of a response is permanently out-of-bounds quickly devolves into a society ruled by the rudest and most ruthless among us. Some bullies and cowards will never get the message unless it’s slapped into them; this actually makes society more polite and courteous as a result, because someone with no moral compunction about haranguing an old man in the streets now has a more visceral reason to think twice. This is a well-known paradox, where trying to enforce the “right” choice actually makes the right choice impossible, while permitting the “wrong” choice makes a world where the right choice is much safer and therefore much more common.

That brings us to the other 25%, which is what turned even the reasonable parts of Pope Francis’ statements into nonsense.

Had His Holiness said that he understands the anger because of the slanders that his own faith endures, and then quoted “Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26), then we have a teachable moment that reinforces all that he said about forgiveness during his recent visit to Sri Lanka. More importantly, it would put the blame for murder and mayhem squarely on the shoulders of the actual murderers. There’s a huge difference socking some guy who’s mouthing off and won’t shut up, vs. taking lives because you can’t handle a few insults like an adult.

Because whatever else one could say about the Charlie Hebdo staff and their work, the one thing it doesn’t do is chase you across the street, dodge two people politely insisting you stop, ignore the threat of police involvement, and confront you on camera while you try to mind your own business. It’s beyond easy to shrug off Charlie Hebdo; if one must reply, then one could always do it with words and ideas – much like I’m writing this to counter the careless half-baked statements of my own religious leader. That’s the distinction that Francis glossed over; notably it’s also a distinction that the Islamists do not acknowledge at all. So long as they judge the topic to be important enough, then there is a simple binary test – did you respect it or not? And if the answer is “not” then you may be killed for it.

Under Francis’ logic, I could say with all honesty that he had insulted the memory of the dead victims, and under that provocation I could slug him when he stepped off the plane. On those grounds alone, what he said is provably, logically dumb. And if the jihad took it as an insult, then they would blow up the plane before it landed.

Aldrin didn’t seek out this guy to sock him, even though he’s been preaching for years that the moon landings were faked. He reacted when he was sought out and harassed. Had someone taken copies of these cartoons and stuck them under the wiper blades of every car in a mosque parking lot, and then waited until prayer was over to try to stuff them into the hands of the worshippers, I would neither be surprised nor particularly angry if he got his lights punched out. That very notably is NOT what happened here. Far the reverse – Islamists have been carrying out a constant campaign of murder, intimidation, and conflict simply because such things happen to exist. Charlie Hebdo is not a provocation, but a response to a provocation.

The desire to think of civilization’s struggle with Islam as a mere tussle between brands of the same thing, distinct without a real difference, is morally and mentally blinding. It’s a much more visceral fight – a war launched against civilization itself by a centuries-old enemy, wearing a new costume and waving a new flag of supposed grievances. Giving them any sort of intellectual cover for their operations is a small treason against humanity. Likewise, any mental or moral ammunition to bolster our morale is a boon. In a strange way, those cartoons are more on the side of actual decency and respect than any of the weak-kneed refusals to print them or even mention them. A world where those things are tolerated is a safer and saner world, and using actual death and tyranny to silence them is to submit to the cruel and grim logic of barbarity.