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Belmont Club

The Pound of Flesh

October 31st, 2011 - 4:39 pm

Warfare is older than the modern state. When the Strategy Page described what it calls “vigilante warfare” by Israeli settlers on members of Hamas it might have been talking about a process of “going native”. In the Middle East the tradition of pre-Westphalian warfare is strong. Private war, from the action of clans against other clans to the sponsorship of belligerence by warlords never completely went out of style. The BBC described how Saddam Hussein promised to pay anyone who would kill a Jew. “A Hamas suicide bomber’s family got $25,000 while the others – relatives of militants killed in fighting or civilians killed during Israeli military operations – all received $10,000 each.” The awards came with a special commorative document popularly called a “martyrdom certificate”.

Die, Jew, Die

For those who are interested, the Taliban has its own version.

Die, Infidel, Die

But as with everything else, the going price for killing or kidnapping a Jew has gone up. The Strategy Page notes that the going rate for a live Israeli soldier is now a cool million dollars. “In Saudi Arabia, a prominent Saudi prince, Khaled bin Talal, added $900,000 to the $100,000 reward offered by a Saudi cleric several days earlier. The million dollars goes to whoever kidnaps an Israeli soldier, who then can be exchanged for hundreds of Arab terrorists held in Israeli jails.” Perhaps not surprisingly, Hamas is being paid back in its own figurative coin, the currency of lead.

Fatah, the corrupt, old line Palestinian party that controls the West Bank is upset at the growing revenge attacks by Israeli settlers. This is something new. For decades, the settlers could be depended on to be passive after a Palestinian attack, letting the Israeli police and military look for the culprit. But now the settlers are increasingly launching “price tag” counterattacks. The price tag refers to what the Palestinians must suffer for every attack on Israelis. This is vigilante justice, and it does more damage to Palestinians than Israeli police efforts to catch and prosecute Palestinian attackers. The Palestinians are not accustomed to this kind of swift payback, and they do not like it. Israel is under pressure to crack down more vigorously on the vigilantes.

One of the great innovations of the Westphalian system was that private individuals who had previously been responsible for visting retribution, were supposed to leave justice — and warfare — to the state. For as long as the population trusted the King (or the State) to punish criminals and protect them from foreign attack, private individuals were content to leave things in the hands of uniformed officialdom.

But a strange thing happened on the way to the 21st century: political correctness as imposed by a variety of lawyers, human rights activists and the like progressively reduced the power of the state to defend its population against external aggressors to the point where it failed to provide an adequate level of protection.  When private individuals could no longer rely on uniformed officialdom to protect them, they did the natural thing. They took the matter of warfare back into their own hands.

But along with the advantages of vigilanteeism came its drawbacks. Reuters reports that some settler groups are burning mosques on the West Bank.  That may be regrettable, but is also inevitable. For in doing away with the Westphalian system, political correctness unintentionally — or perhaps unthinkingly — undermined the Laws of War. The whole panoply of uniforms, ranks, discipline and obedience — so hated by pacifists — were all Westphalian mechanisms designed to ensure some kind of law and order on the battlefield. By taking the armies out of the game, the disciples of political correctness didn’t end war; they merely ended the old rules of war and returned the field to private warfare.

Maybe that isn’t too bad. If the 20th century is any gauge, Westphalian Armies did precious little to prevent widespread loss of life. Indeed World War 2, a Westphalian War, was the most devastating episode of belligerence in human history. For all its ugliness, one might argue that private war sheds less blood than the regular kind per unit of time. Unfortunately it also did away with that other Westphalian innovation, Victory. World War 2 for all its destructiveness had one great virtue. It ended. Today wars are far less destructive. The bad news is they never end.

Today warfare is no longer entirely a matter of soldiers fighting each other under the Geneva Convention. Instead, it every man for himself; it is the knife in the dark, the molotov cocktail thrown from the passing car and the IED along the road. What should really worry the politically correct class, however, is not that private war is waged against Hamas, al-Qaeda or Hezbollah.  What should worry them is that methods of Hamas have still been but imperfectly copied.

It is what happens when vigilantes take a leaf out of Hamas’ book and start waging non-Westphalian warfare on the international agencies that should keep them up at night. The Strategy Page notes that nonstate actors have long had recourse to methods of intimidation denied to Westphalian states. “In Gaza, Hamas is pressuring the UN and other aid agencies to give Islamic radicals more direct control over aid money and projects. The aid groups resist, because they know that if the radicals gains control, much of the money will be diverted to terrorism efforts, or the bank accounts of terrorist leaders. This has always been a problem, but now it is getting worse.”

Hamas is a military midget compared to the United States. What they can do that Washington cannot is fire a gun at your feet and make you dance to their tune. At the limit non-state actors can simply frighten the UN or the humanitarians into agreeing to their demands out of pure fear. The Canal Hotel bombing, directed by al-Qaeda in Iraq against the United Nations, killed a top UN bureaucrat and 22 others and ultimately led to the withdrawal of most UN staffers from Baghdad. The UN responded by declaring The World Humanitarian Day — they could have hardly taken a hard line against the private warfare directed against them.

If vigilantes start emulating Hamas in their treatment of the UN, as they have emulated them in other respects, then the symmetry will have been completed. On the day when private warfare is waged by both sides political correctness will probably disappear; not from a change of conviction among its the globalists, but from a change in underwear forced on them by stress. Perhaps Shakespeare understood the process of human nature better than the activists of today.

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

It’s called technological diffusion. Those who object to where these trends may lead should ask themselves: do they want the Westphalian system to work again or are they happy to have everything old new again?

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