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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Essay: A rant on the use of violence

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A rant on the use of violence

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Chum For Thought:
Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters

A rant on the use of violence


Although good fences may be said to “make good neighbors,” hatred, blood-feuds, violent lust for revenge, and terrorism do not make good neighbors. Terrorism is often considered to be the use of violence by disenfranchised (not yet victorious) organizations or individuals against non-combatants to coerce political, social, or economic change.

Similar violence by established authorities is often considered “counter-terrorism” and “collateral damage.” Similar violence by successful “freedom fighters” is often considered heroic. In any event, targeting civilians is generally considered bad sportsmanship and should be frowned upon and viewed as unworthy of true gentlemen.

Likewise, Westerners may prefer to discuss the “ignominious French-Algerian War,” while North Africans refer to the glorious “Algerian War of Independence.” In any event, this war ran from 1954-1962, after over 120 years of French “international support” (or “imperialist colonial occupation and subjugation.”) History records similar atrocities committed by, and against, both sides during this war, regardless of issues of just or unjust causes.

Because history tends to repeat itself, thoughtful men have carefully examined this paroxysm of French-Algerian violence to learn lessons so as to avoid confrontation (or to prevail) in the case of similar circumstances arising again. One hopes that the motive in examining past terrorism is not isolated to refining more-effective
tactics of violence. Happily, many historians have begun to conclude that such violence is inherently counter-productive if you ever again hope to sleep soundly while living in the same neighborhood.

From ancient history, the most reliable way to fully pacify an area (and plunder its resources) is to sustain the determination to murder every man, woman, and child, and be willing to do the same to their alarmed neighbors. This is just bad mojo, and out of the question in our modern world. So, the basic lesson of French-Algerian terrorism, with only a cursory glance, is “don’t even start.” As an alternative, try everything else, and keep on trying. End of story.

Prefer diplomacy. Even the poor widow of parable eventually received justice due to her persistence. If you want something and do not have it, make your case while maintaining the moral high ground. If you are weak and stand to risk losing the little you have, do not imagine that poking the beast will make it consider your cause with empathy.

If you have superior force, forget about defending honor and saving face. You have the big stick and everybody knows it. You do not have to pick fights, just end any fight as quickly and surgically as possible. Do not occupy foreign territory; if an area’s population does not currently prefer to salute your flag, it is foreign territory. If you build a foundation for your tent, you have been there too long. Cultivate friends; if you make friends, you will have spies everywhere.

Do not get into the middle of someone else’s blood feud. If they still have such primitive values, you are not going to improve matters by taking sides. Your side will flaunt their new influence and the other side will feel unfairly disadvantaged. Only a fool will grab the ears of a mad dog. Many a friend has intervened in a family dispute, only to have both parties turn on him. Back off.

You are a sovereign nation. They, even if you perceive them as truly pathetic, are a sovereign nation. If you believe that diplomatic persuasion is ineffective and forcible intervention is required, do not organize a mob of peers. Get the neighborhood together and elect an honest-to-god sheriff, vested with the authority to enforce law uniformly, fairly, and without bias. And, especially if you commit to responsibility as a deputy, you should be willing to fully submit your own house to that sheriff’s authority. Just because the big rancher has enough resources to throw his weight around does not mean that he is entitled to unilateral intimidation of any of his neighbors.

Do not be covetous or greedy. Your friends will not trust you and your enemies will despise you. Do not succumb to quaking fear in the face of terror; that is terror’s purpose. Decisions made on the basis of greed or fear are all suspect; they are very often terribly poor and destructive to yourself and others. Admire the clarity and purity of purpose that cohabits with virtuous motives, self-respect, and peace of mind.

Do not complain. Complaining is the last resort of the weak and impotent. Listen to the complaints of the weak and impotent. Discern the source of their distress and act with compassion to ease their suffering. Terrorism is the most desperate last resort of the weak and impotent.

There is pure evil. Actively resist evil. Shine the light of truth mercilessly upon evil. Do not waver or tire out. Show it for the outrage that it is. Squeeze it out of your heart and purge it from your lips. Do not tolerantly listen to it from your neighbor. Vote it out of your legislature. Hound it back to its deep holes and dark corners. Reflect goodness back upon it until it cannot continue to abide itself. Do not be evil.

I do not believe that I am a blind pacifist. Individual, cultural, and national aggression demands a response. But, a good first response is to look down to see if you have been standing on someone’s toes. My kittens have scratched me when I stepped on them. I understood, immediately lifted my foot, forgave them, and opened a can of their favorite liver snack. Conversely, I would never cage and starve my dogs until they got mean.

I suppose that I could make a defense of organized violence as a logical response to interminable oppression and war as a necessary response to armed national hostilities. The thing is, damn it, can we not find a way to avoid getting into these escalating scrapes in the first place?

And, to press the issue, how the hell did we get to the point of concluding that there were no better options then firebombing the population centers of cities like Dresden, and Hiroshima? What moral high ground and international honor did THAT achieve?

Oh, and by the way… When I see scenes of plazas full of angry men publicly commiserating with each other about their grievances by shouting “Death to Whomever,” I am reminded of the most primitive precedents of our very ancient history and it gives me a bad case of the creeping heebie-jeebies.