Blog Bites Metaphor

June 29, 2006 § 15 Comments

Money quote:

See, I don’t want us to ever get to the point where “Americans torture detainees” also becomes a “dog bites man” story. What InstaPundit calls moral equivalence is actually a gross dis-equivalence. Americans are held to a higher standard than Al-Qaeda is.

May it ever be so.

My only quibble is a pedantic one: that it isn’t true that AQ is objectively held to a lower standard. What is true is that AQ does abominable things, failing to adhere to the standard which applies to us all.

May the moral failures of our enemies never, ever be invoked as an excuse for us to do evil. May America never, ever settle for “sure, we’re evil, but we aren’t as evil as them.” May wickedness of Americans at war forever remain a man bites dog story, unbelievable on its face, a wild and rare exception to the overwhelmingly dominant rule.

UPDATE: Seamus’ quotes from Chesterton in the comments are not to be missed.

Chesterton is the bee’s knees. The cat’s pajamas. The lobster’s dress shirt.

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§ 15 Responses to Blog Bites Metaphor

  • Seamus says:

    Chesterton (as is so often the case) had sage words on this subject many decades ago:“According to some modern moralists whenever Zulus cut off the heads of dead Englishmen, Englishmen must cut off the heads of dead Zulus. Whenever Arabs or Egyptians constantly use the whip to their slaves, Englishmen must use the whip to their subjects. And on a similar principle (I suppose), whenever an English Admiral has to fight cannibals the English Admiral ought to eat them. However unattractive a menu consisting entirely of barbaric kings may appear to an English gentleman, he must try to sit down to it with an appetite. He must fight the Sandwich Islanders with their own weapons; and their own weapons are knives and forks. But the truth of the matter is, of course, that to do this kind of thing is to break the whole spell of our supremacy. All the mystery of the white man, all the fearful poetry of the white man, so far as it exists in the eyes of these savages, consists in the fact that we do not do such things. The Zulus point at us and say, ‘Observe the advent of these inexplicable demi-gods, these magicians, who do not cut off the noses of their enemies.’ The Soudanese say to each other, ‘This hardy people never flogs its servants; it is superior to the simplest and most obvious human pleasures.’ And the cannibals say, ‘The austere and terrible race, the race that denies itself even boiled missionary, is upon us: let us flee.'”

  • Seamus says:

    On reading further (actually in the paragraph just above the one I just quoted), I come upon these additional words of Chesterton’s that I can’t resist quoting:“Whatever else is right, it is utterly wrong to employ the argument that we Europeans must do to savages and Asiatics whatever savages and Asiatics do to us. I have even seen some controversialists use the metaphor, ‘We must fight them with their own weapons.’ Very well; let those controversialists take their metaphor, and take it literally. Let us fight the Soudanese with their own weapons. Their own weapons are large, very clumsy knives, with an occasional old-fashioned gun. Their own weapons are also torture and slavery. If we fight them with torture and slavery, we shall be fighting badly, precisely as if we fought them with clumsy knives and old guns. That is the whole strength of our Christian civilisation, that it does fight with its own weapons and not with other people’s. It is not true that superiority suggests a tit for tat. It is not true that if a small hooligan puts his tongue out at the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Chief Justice immediately realises that his only chance of maintaining his position is to put his tongue out at the little hooligan. The hooligan may or may not have any respect at all for the Lord Chief Justice: that is a matter which we may contentedly leave as a solemn psychological mystery. But if the hooligan has any respect at all for the Lord Chief Justice, that respect is certainly extended to the Lord Chief Justice entirely because he does not put his tongue out.”Source:http://www.online-literature.com/chesterton/all-things-considered/27/Chesterton is the bee’s knees. The cat’s pajamas. The lobster’s dress shirt.

  • TS says:

    Let’s cut to the chase: the key is for Americans to be ready, willing and able to <>lose<> – a war, our safety, or whatever. Unfortunately the “winning is everything” attitude prevades the culture (look at sports where cheating is epidemic).I wonder if the Allies still would’ve won WWII if they hadn’t bombed civilian populations as Germany did. The outcome isn’t the issue and you can’t have a bad means to a good end but moralists should tell the truth and paraphrase Christ, “if you want to save your country, lose your country”. Just before WWI, every civilized country thought the machine gun was a barbarous weapon which should not be used in warfare. And they were right, weren’t they? It changed warfare into a mass killing field. But someone used it. Then everyone used it.

  • Rob says:

    ts–That’s right.

  • zippy says:

    It is even worse than it appears.A “war against terrorism” is not and cannot be won. There is no way to create a future state wherein there is no possibility that 20 men (out of seven billion) with $500k in financing will be willing to kill themselves to blow up some civilians. If the entire world were a flowery democracy of peace-loving hippies the possibility would still not be ruled out. A “war against terrorism” is basically a war against violence. Such a war can never be won, in principle. What <>can<> be done is that our country can be made more secure or less secure. The trade off isn’t being willing to lose in order to not do evil, it is being willing to live with less security in order to not do evil. At the crossover there is always that temptation: if we are willing to do just a little bit of evil we get a big “bang for the buck” in security,And we American’s love a bargain.

  • Rob says:

    It now seems plausible that the term “war” was applied to the U.S. counter-terrorism effort in anticipation of Iraq (and beyond?).The military is ineffective against terrorists, as the failure to capture bin Laden in the assault on Afghanistan has demostrated. The military was able to disrupt the activities of the Taliban by disrupting the activities of the State and by killing its security forces. But al-Qaeda, as an organization, was viritually untouched.Anti-terrorism is police work; it is clandestine assasinations and pinpoint commando operations. What it is not is the destruction of whole societies with bombs and/or the occupation of sovereign nations. The very use of the word “war” in connection with anti-terrorism is de facto propagandistic disinformation. It is no more honest than putting the same amount of detergent in a bigger box and labeling the product “NEW IMPROVED KING-SIZED”.In either case, the “consumer” doesn’t get what he thinks he paid for.

  • zippy says:

    <>The military is ineffective against terrorists, as the failure to capture bin Laden in the assault on Afghanistan has demostrated.<>The general point may be true, but this isn’t a particularly good example of it. In <>The One Percent Doctrine<> Suskind says that the reason bin Laden got away was exactly because we didn’t have a military presence on the ground at Tora Bora. We relied on the Afghanis and on the Pakistanis; and the latter either screwed us on purpose or turned out to be hopelessly inept.

  • Rob says:

    Okay. Maybe Suskin is right. In any event, the general point is way more important than the specific instance of Tora Bora (where aerial bombardment failed, btw).As with the situation at Waco, and the missed opporunities to arrest David Koresh away from the compound, a timely police action to arrest, or assasinate, bin Laden without a large-scale operation would have been the thing to do.

  • zippy says:

    Well, I think it is important to find the right swingset on the always-sometimes-never playground.There is little doubt that the use of military power in Afghanistan was very effective in badly disrupting Al Qaeda’s ability to operate. The miss on bin Laden was a tactical miss: we could definitely have gotten him if we had had a few thousands troops in close enough proximity, and if we hadn’t counted on the Pakistanis to block off the exit. Fifteen square miles is a very small area, comparable to the size of Dulles Airport.

  • Rob says:

    Or, we might have gotten ourselves ambushed in some narrow defile and wiped out in large numbers. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. I think that there were probably very good tactical reasons for leaving the ground work up to the locals–they just didn’t work out.Bottom line: we used the military and didn’t get him.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–Given what’s going on in Afghanistan today, the best we can say is that we temporarily inconvenienced the Taliban (not necessarily al-Qaeda), by our military action in Afghanistan.If our object was to get bin Laden (and it was), one would have to say that we failed, even if the Taliban were not making a comeback, which it is.

  • zippy says:

    <>…the best we can say is that we temporarily inconvenienced the Taliban (not necessarily al-Qaeda), by our military action in Afghanistan.<>No, that isn’t the <>best<> we can say, and the rest of your comment begs the question.

  • Rob says:

    I’m not too sure what is meant by AQ’s ability to “operate out of Afghanistan” any way. Bin Laden still seems to be operating out of Afghanistan, or out of that part of Pakistan that is distinguishable from Afghanistan only on political maps. It seems to me that Afghanistan was more a safe haven than it was a staging area for AQ.

  • Rob says:

    Okay, it’s the “best we can say” that seems to describe reality–as opposed to the Pentagon/State Dept. spin–given events as they are unfolding at this time.

  • zippy says:

    <>Okay, it’s the “best we can say” that seems to describe reality…<>No, it isn’t. Most of the expert and < HREF="http://www.henryholt.com/holt/nuclearterrorism.htm" REL="nofollow">well-connected voices<> I have read are saying that Afghanistan genuinely disrupted AQ’s ability to operate and surprised bin Laden by failing to turn into a Soviet-style quagmire in the process. Going into Iraq snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by giving bin Laden even more than he wanted. AQ doesn’t act out of blind hate. AQ acts in pursuit of strategic objectives. According to Ron Suskind a semi-independent poison gas attack on the NY subway system by a loosely affiliated “home grown” terrorist cell was called off by AQ leadership – not stopped by US intelligence but discovered and called off by Zawahiri personally – probably because AQ is perfectly happy with the way things are going now, and they don’t need another attack to disrupt their plans.The objective of 9-11 was to either 1) have America do nothing of substance in response, thereby energizing bin Laden’s anti-Saudi pro-Caliphate agenda; or 2) to get America involved in a quagmire war in a predominantly Muslim country to turn the Muslim world against the US. To bin Laden and Zawahiri’s surprise, the Afghan campaign was mostly successful – only <>mostly<> because OBL and Zawahiri were not personally captured or killed.But then we gave them the gift of exactly what they wanted by going into Iraq. The “October surprise” appearance by bin Laden before the last election was almost certainly intended to help Bush get reelected.

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