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A Peril Beyond Their Reckoning

May 12th, 2004 - 10:25 am

Remember the ending of Braveheart, Mel Gibson’s fictionalized William Wallace bio? After Wallace was brutally tortured to death by the English, the film’s Robert I of Scotland (aka, Robert The Bruce) intones:

After the beheading, William Wallace’s body was torn to pieces. His head was set on London Bridge, his arms and legs sent to the four corners of Britain as a warning.

It did not have the effect that Longshanks planned.

I hesitate to ascribe a great deal of logical reasoning to the thugs who murdered Nick Berg. Barbarians commit such acts first and foremost because they want to, and offer up twisted justifications as an afterthought. That understood, Berg’s killers were undoubtably well-versed in Osama Bin Laden’s “strong horse” theory, nurtured by thirty-odd years of American withdrawls and second-guessing. By butchering an innocent man on camera, they probably sought not only to assuage their own blood-thirst, but also to pull a Saigon/Teheran/Beirut/Mogadishu (or Madrid?)–throw blood in America’s face and watch the ‘weak horse’ turn and trot away from the battlefield.

Time may well change perceptions and soften reactions, but one day on, Berg’s decapitation did not have the effect the jihadis planned.

Despite the newfound squeamishness of the American press, video and pictures of the murder have made the now-familiar end-around to the public via the internet, and the immediate response is not exactly “Let’s quit.” I offer up a few nuggets of anecdotal evidence, the first from a college professor (no, not Glenn Reynolds) posting late yesterday on a non-political message board:

We have moaned and groaned for weeks now concerning the prison photos. We have worried about our perception in the world. Today we were confronted with just whom and what we are at war. War is war and it is not pretty. But we should see it through to the very end, totally humble these people, then build them back up so they may actually give back to civilization. It worked on better societies in the 1940′s, and look at the Japanese and the Germans today. And the Arabic people are far less advanced than the afore mentioned nations. It is time to take the kid gloves off and get down to business. I am reminded of how Rome quelled rebellions and wars: with thousands of dead Jews, Britons, Gauls, and Germans. Worked for them, why can’t it work for us?

Not an appealing prospect, but I daresay this isn’t an unusual point of view in the US today. As others have noted, we hear a lot about the alleged volitility of the ‘Arab street,’ but to date, the ‘American street’ appears to be the group that is not only energized, but also capable of turning its anger into policy–deadly effective policy.

The writer also brings up a point that almost everyone, on every side of the war, has missed or avoided to date. We talk about how Germany and Japan were pacified, democratized, and enriched after World War II. We haven’t talked much about how they were utterly destroyed and broken first.

Consider this as well, from an email to Andrew Sullivan:

I’ve never really liked this war and my disgust for George Bush and his planning for this war is immeasurable. However, I agree with your piece “Insane Spin.” I am still fuming about the beheading of Nick Berg, and people throughout the world need to understand the contrasting images of that situation and the Abu Ghraib prison fiasco. The world needs to understand that we will get to the bottom of this problem no matter where it leads. In contrast, al Qaeda and it’s murderers flaunt this type of cruelty because they believe it will make Americans run away. In fact, it pisses us off and this type of crap needs to shown to the American people so that we all know who we are dealing with.

Taking matters to a disctinctly possible next level, there’s this, from James Lileks:

Simply put: if a US city is nuked, the US will have to nuke someone, or let it stand that the United States can lose a city without cost to the other side. Defining

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