The Early Days of a Better Nation

Thursday, July 20, 2006



Against Civilised Warfare

Nothing has done more to corrupt humanity than the attempt to civilise warfare. Just War Theory is an utter perversion of the moral sense, a doctrine of literally mediaeval barbarism, invented by clerics to regulate wars between Christian kings. Its finest moral discrimination to date is that it's legitimate to kill a munitions worker on his way to work, but a crime to kill him on his way home. It tells us that to aim a bomb at an enemy soldier and kill a hundred civilians is - if the necessity is there - legitimate collateral damage, but to deliberately aim one bullet at one enemy civilian is murder. In its pedantic, casuistic jesuitry it still stinks of the cringing, quibbling fusspots who invented it, and retains too its usefulness to a useless and barbaric ruling class. It does nothing whatsoever to restrain their behaviour. Its only function is to befuddle those who oppose, protest and fight them. It justifies every horrific, predictable consequence of imperialist assault as an unintended consequence, and condemns every horrific, predictable consequence of resistance to that assault as an intended consequence. Their violence against civilians is mass murder, ours is collateral damage. When John Bolton stands up in the UN and says that there is no moral equivalence between the deaths of civilians in Israel and in Lebanon, because in the one case the civilians are deliberately targeted and in the other they are not, it is to this iniquitous doctrine that he appeals.
So does Israel itself:
Israel regrets the loss of innocent lives. Israel does not target civilians, yet is forced to take decisive action against Hizbullah, a ruthless terrorist organization which has over 12,000 missiles pointing towards its cities. Israel, like any other country, must protect its citizens, and has no choice but to remove this grave threat to the lives of millions of innocent civilians. Had Hizbullah not established such a missile force, Israel would have no need to take action, and had Hizbullah chosen to set up its arsenal away from populated areas, no civilians would have been hurt when Israel does what it obviously must do. The responsibility for the tragic situation lies solely with the Hizbullah.
Information and Internet Department
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem

The doctrine is quite unshaken by the fact that Hizbollah's actions so far have killed a far higher proportion of the enemy in arms than the IDF's laser-guided precision bombs have managed, but that isn't the point I want to make. The doctrine itself is false. Its preaching should be regarded as a crime against humanity. We are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of our wilful acts. These include the consequences of restraint, of pity, of not hurting the enemy in any way you can. They also include the consequences of attempting to make war an accepted part of civilised life, which is to institutionalise war and thus to perpetuate it.
War is not civilized, but a regression to the state of nature, and in the state of nature there is no sin. In the state of nature there are, however, necessary and unnecessary evils, and in that respect we still have to make judgements. 'All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient.' If I were to criticise Hizbollah's rocketing of Israel, which in the present circumstances I will not, it would only be on the grounds of its futility, if that could be shown.

In The Execution Channel, the novel I've just finished, I imagined a terrorist campaign to destroy a country, to set its sects at each other's throats, to drive it backward towards barbarism; a campaign that targeted motorway junctions, oil refineries and fuel depots, conducted by '[a] network with some strategic thought behind it, that could hit at the most vulnerable points of an industrial society, that could sever blood-vessel and nerve-centre and tendon and take it apart limb by limb.' I didn't imagine that I would see just such a campaign so soon. It makes no difference that it's being done by an air force. Terrorism is not a matter of altitude.

The argument that Israel has a right to self-defence but that its present actions are disproportionate leads nowhere. Sometimes disproportionate response is exactly right, and for the state of Israel disproportionate response will always seem right. What is wrong is the existence of a state that can exist in no other way. Its only hope of survival, spelled out clearly enough by Jabotinsky, is to reduce the millions of people it has wronged to utter despair:
Every indigenous people will resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement.
That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of 'Palestine' into the 'Land of Israel'. [...] As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left.

Israel's assault on Lebanon is rooted in that same precept, and in Israel's past assaults on the Palestinians in Lebanon and on their Lebanese allies.

Protest this Saturday.
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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

This is a test. If this was not a test ...

Ah, sunshine and exercise. It's been a while since I went for a long walk. The cruise liner Crystal Serenity is in the Firth, and the Hawes Pier has its own customs and security post. American tourists are discussing Harleys with two Scottish bikers, both of whom are bald, bearded and beer-bellied, in honour of American tradition.

Blogging from the local library, by way of test.
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Monday, July 17, 2006


Where I've been

'There is that in youth that will not fly,' said Bernadette McAliskey. It took me a moment to click to the usage. She said other memorable simple things. 'We thought we would change the world and then get back to our lives. Years later we found that this was our lives.'

'You have fewer rights than we had when we began the struggle. If I was young and lived here, my ass would be on the street.'

Over the past couple of months I haven't been blogging, because almost all my writing energy was going into finishing The Execution Channel. 'Easy writing makes damned hard reading,' said Dr Johnson. I like to hope that hard writing makes easy reading. Writing near-future is hard when the future changes by the day. A nuclear war can ruin your whole outline. Speaking of which, it may be a little early to be painting your nails for Armageddon, but as Billmon puts it, I could be wrong about that, in which case it's been nice knowing you.

A week last Thursday I delivered the book, which was just as well because I had a long-standing engagement to give a talk on science fiction at Marxism, the Socialist Workers Party's annual big public event. I attended a lot of programme items, such as the above one with Bernadette McAliskey, talked to people, and I have to say I left with a very favourable impression of the event and of the party that organised it. I've sneered at the SWP in the past, and jeered at its political project, RESPECT, so let me take this opportunity to eat crow. The SWP has many good people in it, some of whom I've known and respected for years - decades, in some cases - what finally dawned on me that weekend was that this is not inexplicable.

I came back with a few books, which I may review, but just as I was getting into them, the latest issue of Foundation hit the doormat. Half the articles in it are about Heinlein, and one of them makes the challenging point that Heinlein's late long books give no trouble to readers outside the traditional SF readership, and are worth taking seriously.

Maybe my next project should be a big bad book.
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