Belmont Club

Learning to Hate

Obama may be leading the world in offering condemnation for the death of Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist beheaded by ISIS when authorities failed, in some way, to comply with their demands to release bomber Sajida al-Rishawi.  But it is Jordan which may have seized the popular imagination when it threatened to summarily execute all its ISIS prisoners should a hair on the Jordanian pilot in the gunmen’s custody be hurt.

Elijah Magnier, chief international correspondent for Kuwait’s Al Rai newspaper, told MailOnline: ‘I have reliable contact in the Jordanian government who says a message has been passed to ISIS.

‘It warns that if they kill the pilot they will implement the death sentences for Sajida and other ISIS prisoners as soon as possible.

Such an action would certainly meet with disapproval from the international legal community. Recently some lawyers were deeply disturbed by recently revealed details describing CIA and Mossad involvement in the death of Imad Mughniyah.  They blew him on a Damascus street with a directional bomb.

Now Mughniyah was wanted for a string of crimes including, but not limited to the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the attack on the embassy in that city which killed 63 people, the 1984 kidnapping and torture of the CIA’s station chief in Lebanon, William F. Buckley. The officials said Mughniyah arranged for videotapes of the brutal interrogation sessions of Buckley to be sent to the agency; the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and the slaying of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem, a passenger on the plane … the planning of the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.

But for America to kill him illegally even though the detonation signal was technically detonated by the Mossad is more than some lawyers can bear.

“It is a killing method used by terrorists and gangsters,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor of international law at the University of Notre Dame. “It violates one of the oldest battlefield rules.” …

Mughniyah was targeted in a country where the United States was not at war. Moreover, he was killed in a car bombing, a technique that some legal scholars see as a violation of international laws that proscribe “killing by perfidy” — using treacherous means to kill or wound an enemy.

If the lawyers can muster such outrage over Mughniyah, how much indignation will they feel for ISIS?  It will be interesting to see how the State Department reacts to Jordan’s announcement. They surely cannot endorse collective punishment or support such a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention as Jordan suggests.  To countenance this action would clearly be an abandonment of all international law.  If so why are some of the public cheering on Jordan?

Because maybe they are tired of lawyers and “lawfare”. The Washington Free Beacon reports that ever “since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the Pentagon’s civilian workforce has grown by 7 percent and the number of active-duty military personnel has been slashed by 8 percent.” Bullets out, briefs in. “American Sniper” has given way to “American Lawyer”, or perhaps even “American Snacker” if Michael Moore is involved.

Yet whatever the lawyers say,  the real oldest battlefield rule is to kill the enemy before he kills you. Now this observation may offend listeners on most campuses, but it is nevertheless true.  As George Patton once put it, “I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country.”

At the level of mud and bullets, war is all about subtraction.  Plain old brutal subtraction. And that’s exactly what the Jordanians are a-fixin to do: they’re going to do a whole lot of subtraction.  It’s funny, but not a little tragic, that it always comes down to that.

Students of 20th century military history know how the great conflicts started off ship-shape with everything in lawyerly control. But by the end of the wars the lawyers had been banished by the primal beast in man — a beast which recognized no limits — and which was allowed to rage unhindered by a tragedy weary public. For example, during the first Christmas of the Great War, before hatreds had taken hold, the frontline troops still regaled each other with carols. Yet within a year they would be notching bayonets to make it hurt the more when the enemy was stabbed.

Allied air forces began the Second World War with the noble idea of avoiding civilians targets.  By the end they would be firebombing whole cities, none more effectively than Curtis LeMay, who was wiping out one city a night at his peak. And that was before they got the Atom Bomb.  Curtis knew all about subtraction. He said, “If you kill enough of them, they stop fighting.”

Submariners initially surfaced before sinking merchantmen, in order to give their crews time to escape. It was not long before such gallantry was replaced by unrestricted, sink-on-sight tactics, crowned by the practice of machine-gunning survivors in the water. During the Battle of the Bismarck Sea US and Australian pilots annihilated a whole convoy of Japanese troops.  When the ships themselves had foundered they  returned to strafe the lifeboats with B-25s modified to mount so many forward firing .50 caliber machine guns the rivets popped out of the aircraft when the arsenal was unleashed.

For the next several days, American and Australian airmen returned to the sight of the battle, systematically prowling the seas in search of Japanese survivors. As a coup de grâce, Kenney ordered his aircrew to strafe Japanese lifeboats and rafts. He euphemistically called these missions “mopping up” operations. A March 20, 1943, secret report proudly proclaimed, “The slaughter continued till nightfall. If any survivors were permitted to slip by our strafing aircraft, they were a minimum of 30 miles from land, in water thickly infested by man-eating sharks.” Time after time, aircrew reported messages similar to the following: “Sighted, barge consisting of 200 survivors. Have finished attack. No survivors.”

The B-25s worked really well for the purpose intended. As Sherman noted the beast of war can never be taught manners.  However, he can be put back in a  cage through the operation of victory. Victory brings peace, and peace brings healing. But modern political leaders have an abhorrence of victory and prefer to string along conflict for as long as possible, actually intervening when one side — like Israel for example — threatens to win. In this way the evil of victory, the curse of a “military solution” can be indefinitely avoided.  The pursuit of that holy grail, the negotiated settlement continues apace.  There are no more knockouts in international relations; just a bare-knuckle eye-gouging brawl that goes on for 100 rounds, with the man behind on points revived by speed and dextrose so that he can answer the bell.  This is the humanitarianized conflict of today.

In the process, however, the stop-and-go fighting preferred by the elites builds up a huge head of primal hatred, which like a pustule that cannot be lanced creates an unreasoning yet understandable desire for revenge.  This is what we see in Jordan’s threat.  The balm of hashtags and candles finally loses its potency to be replaced by such a desperate desire to end the conflict that any decisive action, whatever the cost, however great the brutality seems worth it. The idea of an eternal stalemate, so beloved by lawyers, becomes unbearable to a public and unltimately unleashes an unstoppable monster that neither lawyers nor journalists can control.

However illegal it may be to shoot the ISIS prisoners there will be a lot of cheering among the great unwashed if Amman executes the whole kit and caboodle. There is a point when people are finally all out of sympathy for Mughniyah and his human rights. It is when populations become tired of the lawyers that the real danger begins. The question is: how far are we from not giving a damn?

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