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January 11, 2007

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"The development in the 20th century so that civilians (and civilian morale) are considered part of the industrial strength and support of the warring nation, which then permitted Dresden seems to force a pushing back on the necessity of inflicting cruelty unless a true existential struggle is taking place."

I think it is deeply dangerous to think of Dresden as some 20th century departure from the norms of war. It was different from warfare as practiced for thousands of years, all over the globe, only in technology. Setting fire to an enemy's city is a classic.

Finding war and instead of peace is NOT a departure from the normal functioning of human affairs. Peace is not the natural state of the world. If you want it, it is a huge struggle against the history and practice of how humans work.

Lots of such struggles are very worthy, but don't believe for a minute that peace is the default, or we won't ever have it. Don't think that lack of cruelty is the defaut, or you won't be able to fight it properly.

I suspect that a few shots in the air, in the right place at the right time, would've made all the difference in Baghdad -- if we'd had the boots on the ground in the 1st place.

If there had been sufficient boots on the ground, even shots in the air wouldn't have been required. Mass looting of this kind takes place in a vacum, and is easily deterred.

It happens in my vacuum all the time.

I agree that Dresden is a natural culmination of trends in warfare, that is pretty clear. I also believe that a counter trend is the refusal to waste lives. The last experience the world has seen Along those lines were the wave attacks in the Iran-Iraq war, and I think that experience has fed a level of resistance as well as a willingness to countenance going nuclear. Now, one could argue that detonating a dirty bomb in an urban area is more cruel than taking a village and administering collective responsibility, but if the latter preceeds the former, you are going to unable to completely justify the cruelty and face internal opposition, at least if we are talking about developed countries.

This is not to suggest that peace is a default, it is to suggest that the current zeitgeist prevents the US from taking measures that France took in Algeria, or that the US took in Vietnam, creating a inherent limit to the level of cruelty that can be inflicted, even though it is much more within our abilities to completely flatten Sadr City and kill all of the inhabitants. That we can, but are unable to should not be attributed to some sort of built in restraint that we have but to the development of social ideas and models that limit us from doing that.

These social ideas relate to two points, 1) we are not going to chew up US forces to do this (though we are much more willing to accept losses in dribs and drabs) and 2) we are not willing to accept the massive civilian losses unless some scenario can be created to assign guilt to all members. We were able to do that in WWII and Korea, and to a lesser extent in Vietnam, though we weren't able to do it in the Cold War and I don't think it is possible to do so in Iraq, as much as some unregenerate neo-cons would like to.

It is a really bad sign if even the rational democrats start favoring capital punishment for thiefs - and no one seems to have a problem with it.

It's not even capital punishment: it's summary execution on the spot without a trial, or even letting the executed person have any kind of say at all.

Would those who favor it have been in favor of shooting looters in New Orleans during the Katrina crisis? Is there a difference, and if so, what is it? (That's a genuine question, not snark).

Going along with Sebastian (I like doing that once in awhile, just for variety), I'm often surprised by the number of people who think that 20th century attacks on civilians are a new barbaric departure from previous practice. As best I can tell, there was a period following the Thirty Years War where there was some half-hearted attempt for a couple hundred years at restricting attacks on civilians in wars that were fought strictly between European countries (or countries like the US whose citizens were mostly of European descent). Even with those restrictions it wasn't always the case that civilians were spared--the French government was not humane when it crushed the Paris Commune revolt and the English weren't kind to the Irish in 1798, from what little I've read.

WWII (and Korea) were a return to the historical norm as far as brutality is concerned. Fortunately we currently live in a world where people do, to some degree, want to fight wars according to rules, which does cut down somewhat on the level of barbarism.

It is, as I often complain, difficult to tell how many civilians our own forces are killing in Iraq. It's even difficult to tell how many insurgents they claim to have killed. I actually miss the Vietnamese bodycount--it was often fraudulent, with either civilians killed or sometimes totally made up, but the US claimed to have killed roughly 1 million VC and NVA soldiers, and that, coincidentally, is about how many the North Vietnamese say did die, along with a few million civilians (by their account--by US counting a few hundred thousand). This matters not just for ghoulish purposes, but because it's ridiculous to talk about stabilizing Iraq and cutting down on the level of violence by using US troops when we don't have any verifiable numbers (or even verifiable order of magnitude estimates) on how much killing US forces are doing in their own right. Nobody in the government or the mainstream press even seems to think this is a question worth asking.

Is something wrong with Gary's site? I tried connecting with paypal over there and nothing happens.

WWII (and Korea) were a return to the historical norm as far as brutality is concerned.

For soldier-to-soldier combat, I'd say that you're probably right. [POW treatment is a separate category; I'd assume that by medieval historical norms even the Bataan Death March wouldn't stand out but I don't really know much about military ethics.] WWII was, however, significantly more brutal towards civilians -- especially on the Eastern Front and in much of the Co-Prosperity Sphere -- than anyone since the Mongols AFAIK*, though I'm sure a historian or two will be along shortly to correct me.

* One of my favorite historical factoids is that, for many centuries, one of the most sophisticated civilizations on the planet was the Islamic culture in central Asia... until the Mongols simply obliterated it. [The annihilation of Merv, in particular, is one of the more spectacular catastrophes in history.] I've actually seen some very persuasive arguments that the most important reason why Islam lost its "struggle" with Christianity in the colonial era was precisely that their heart got ripped out of them by the Mongols; it's basically the absolute antithesis of Jared Diamond's argument in that regard.

I have the impression the Thirty Years War was pretty horrific for civilians and that that was why, for a couple of centuries afterwards, European warfare was a bit more genteel. And fights between Europeans and non-Europeans could be borderline genocidal, or sometimes right over the border. I just finished the recent book on the Pilgrims by Nathaniel Philbrick (it's back at the library and I forgot the title) and a Connecticut Indian tribe (forgot their name too) which was allied with the Pilgrim/Puritans were utterly shocked at the massacre of a Pequot village by these savage Europeans. Later on, King Phillip's War was, on a percentage basis, extremely brutal, though again because I returned the book I don't have the numbers handy. Though I don't mean to say that all native Americans were followers of the Geneva Convention who had to be taught brutality by the Europeans--certainly not the Aztecs or the Iroquois.

The Crusades were full of civilian slaughter--when the Crusaders took Jerusalem in the 1st Crusade one chronicler I remember reading about took pride in the fact that they did nothing evil to women except pierce their bellies with lances. They did slaughter countless thousands of Muslims and Jews. The Fourth Crusade never even made it that far--they settled for slaughtering people in Constantinople.

I read once (and don't necessarily trust the numbers) that the Mongols might still be the reigning champions of slaughter or at least in the running, even with advantage of higher populations to kill that 20th century butchers had.

I'm often surprised by the number of people who think that 20th century attacks on civilians are a new barbaric departure from previous practice.

Only in scale and means (the Mongols could burn a city, but not create a firestorm, for ex.).

What else has changed, however, is the notion that 98% of the population is human cattle, whose deaths are irrelevant to the sensibilities of anyone important.

We are not too moral to commit a Hamburg or a Nagasaki, but some of us are moral enough to regret it.

This essay by Mark Grimsley (a professor of military history at Ohio State) about Union soldiers in the Civil War and their attitudes toward civilians in the South seems apropos.

Finding war and instead of peace is NOT a departure from the normal functioning of human affairs. Peace is not the natural state of the world.

It's true enough that there's almost always a war going on somewhere. What is NOT true is that any given country is sensibly ALWAYS INVOLVED IN A WAR SOMEWHERE. An awful lot of countries have spent an awful lot of their history at peace.

Interesting cite, Josh. Thanks. The following piece which I clipped says what I was trying to say, although my notion that the era of slightly less brutal warfare started at the end of the Thirty Years War seems to be off by about 50 years.

" Until then, invading armies routinely considered the civilians in their path as enemies to be beaten, robbed, raped, or even killed. Europe had a tradition of brutal conduct going back hundreds of years. The Devastation of the Palatinate in 1688-1689, to name but one incident, offered an example of systematic destruction that made Sheridan's razing of the ShenandoahValley seem comparatively restrained. Even the "age of limited war" in the eighteenth century can be exaggerated. When one acknowledges the gusto with which colonists annihilated whole tribes of American Indians, to say nothing of the ease with which the western Allies as well as totalitarian regimes embraced area bombing against population centers, the restraint of Union armies in the Civil War acquires fresh salience."

I'll have to google to find out what the devastation of the Palatinate was about.

"Is something wrong with Gary's site? I tried connecting with paypal over there and nothing happens."

Paypal rejected me when I connected from linux using firefox. It worked using explorer from xp; I think firefox on xp didn't.


Ideas about or energy for longer term help would probably be even more useful.

Michael Moorcock's book (his best in my opinion) on the Thirty Years' War starts something like: "It was in that year when the fashion in cruelty demanded not only the crucifixion of peasant children, but a similar fate for their household pets ..."

I'll have to google to find out what the devastation of the Palatinate was about.

Turning to antique data storage, Churchill's Marlborough (I.101) refers glancingly to "the systematic devastation ... ordered by Louis XIV .. as a matter of policy." Tessé seems to've carried it out at the behest of Louvois, the war minister:

Louvois therefore ordered it to lay waste the Palatinate, and the devastation of the country around Heidelberg, Mannheim, Speyer, Oppenheim and Worms was pitilessly and methodically carried into effect in January and February of 1689. There had been devastations in previous wars, even the high-minded Turenne had used the argument of fire and sword to terrify a population or a prince, while the whole story of the last ten years of the great war had been one of incendiary armies leaving traces of their passage that it took a century to remove. But here the devastation was a purely military measure, executed systematically over a given strategic front for no other purpose than to delay the advance of the enemys army. It differed from the method of Turenne or Cromwell in that the sufferers were not those people whom it was the purpose of the war to reduce to submission, but others who had no interest in the quarrel. The feudal theory that every subject of a prince at war was an armed vassal, and therefore an enemy of the prince's enemy, had in practice been obsolete for two centuries past; by 1690 the organization of war, its causes, its methods and its instruments had passed out of touch with the people at large, and it had become thoroughly understood that the army alone was concerned with the armys business. Thus it was that this devastation excited universal reprobation; and that, in the words of a modern French writer, the idea of Germany came to birth in the flames of the Palatinate.

C.V. Wedgwood btw is still the go-to for the 30 Years' War, AFAIK. An interesting lady.

I once had a lovely picnic in the ruins of one of the fortresses Louis XIV laid waste to! About a week or so earlier, I'd traveled a bit downstream to see a fortress Napoleon laid waste to, and later that afternoon, a fortress that survived---because it had surrendered to the French Revolutionary Directorate. I think it might have gotten dinged a bit by Louis Napoleon, though.

"the sufferers were not those people whom it was the purpose of the war to reduce to submission, but others who had no interest in the quarrel."

Gotta say, that's cold.


On the Gary situation, maybe the new open thread would be a place for ideas, if anybody has any.

"On the Gary situation, maybe the new open thread would be a place for ideas, if anybody has any."

On reflection, I don't feel comfortable discussing his history and problems or dispensing advice, esp. in his absence.

Good point.

Hmmm, I didn't mean to sound like such an optimist about man's ability to inflict cruelty on others, but I do think that there is at least some countervailing trend involved here. It is far too small and far too late, but if we fail to acknowledge that small voice saying 'no you can't do that', it becomes sort of Taoist invitation to accept that these sorts of things happen. One can note that the Holocaust took the eventual form it did because German soldiers were unable to carry out the kind of mass killings that were required.

Of course, if I were being pessimistic, I would argue that the potential victims of such a campaign now have access to more power and technology, which restores a balance of power, but one of those is relying that more developed consciousness that has arisen.

Guess I was being optimistic about Limbaugh's inability to inflict deeper idiocy on us.

Finding war and instead of peace is NOT a departure from the normal functioning of human affairs. Peace is not the natural state of the world. If you want it, it is a huge struggle against the history and practice of how humans work.

Ah, Sebastian, you should find yourself a nice husband and raise a family ;). I have three little boys and I assure you that there are may things not part of their normal behaviour that they still need to learn to adept to. Not grabbing what you want to have if you are stronger is one of them. But it can be learned to most people and the fact that there still are thieves doesn't mean that you have to accept that it might just be part of their nature.

Wasn't that whole idea that democracies would fight democracies based upon the idea that the population wants peace?

maNy things, not may things...

Dutchmarbel, of course we should strive for better. But as a matter of understanding what we are doing, it is important to understand that we are fighting the natural impulse of humanity. That is ok, that is one of thing civilization does. But to take peace as the baseline, and departures from peace as a mystery to be explained is to confuse the whole project. The default state is violence and brutality. Working against that is a noble project, but it is an ongoing project. Thinking that peace is the natural state leads us to think we can rest if we get there. That isn't the case (unfortunately).

"Ah, Sebastian, you should find yourself a nice husband and raise a family"

Heh, there is another project to strive for that seems well out reach from the real world. [weak smile]

The default state is violence and brutality. Working against that is a noble project, but it is an ongoing project. Thinking that peace is the natural state leads us to think we can rest if we get there. That isn't the case (unfortunately).

More than just a noble project, I'd think. We're not too far from the point that nuclear weapons are possessed by whomever wants them. That will either result in an enforced peace, or, more likely, the deaths of many of us. Possible all of us.

I was thinking about Dutchmarbel's point, and I'm wondering if this easily calculated math analogy would underline it.

Imagine a 100 nation planet over the course of a century. This would give you 10,000 nation-years. Now imagine that every year, there is a war between two countries, which would give you 100/10,000 or 1% total war. Now, imagine that there were three world wars on this planet, lasting for 6 years each that involved 90% of the nations, which would give you another 1620 nation years of war. Your total would be 1720/10,000, or 17% war or around 80% peace. Looked at another way, you would need to get 50 nations to be at war for the entire 100 years in order to get us to half war and half peace. I'm not sure what the comparable stats would be for us in the 20th century, and this excludes civil wars, but I've tried to make it worse that the actual situation of our 20th century. (Of course, the temptation is to do a Spock imitation of the line he had in ST IV, which was "If memory serves, there was a dubious flirtation with nuclear fission reactors resulting in toxic side effects. By the beginning of the fusion era, these reactors had been replaced, but at this time, we should be able to find some." Arched eyebrow optional...)

Obviously, these figures are for ease of calcuation, but it seems that if we imagine war is the natural state, and peace is merely interludes between wars, we are giving a short shrift to what people would actually tolerate.

This reminds me of the difference between the US and UK editions of Burgess' Clockwork Orange. In the US edition, the story ends when Alex has his treatment reversed, implying that he will return to his delinquency. But in the UK version, Alex begins to behave exactly the same way, but then decides to renounce his life, settle down and get married. The UK ending was criticized as too pat, by Kubrick among others who suggested that he was forced to add it, but Burgess argued that it was intentional. This essay is quite interesting

Burgess also suggests the somewhat comforting message, at odds with all that has gone before, that Alex’s violence is nothing new in the world and that the transformation of immature, violent, and solipsistic young men into mature, peaceful, and considerate older men will continue forever, as it has done in the past, because deep inside there is a well of goodness, man having been born with original virtue rather than original sin (this is the Pelagian heresy, to which Burgess admitted that he was attracted).

Dalrymple disagrees with this, saying

But a quietistic message—cheerful insofar as it implies that violence among young men is but a passing phase of their life and that the current era is no worse in this respect than any past age, and pessimistic in the sense that a reduction of the overall level of violence is impossible—is greatly at odds with the socially prophetic aspect of the book, which repeatedly warns that the coming new youth culture, shallow and worthless, will be unprecedentedly violent and antisocial.

But I'm not all that convinced, and I think the only difference is in the technology to cause harm is much greater.

Doublechecking this on Wikipedia turns up this interesting fact

The book was partly inspired by an event in 1943, when Burgess's pregnant wife Lynne was robbed and beaten by four U.S. GI deserters in a London street, suffering a miscarriage which further resulted in chronic gynaecological problems³. According to Burgess, writing the novel was both a catharsis and an 'act of charity' towards his wife's attackers - the story is narrated by, and essentially sympathetic to, one of the attackers, rather than their victim. Alex's age at the end of the novel is the same age that the Burgesses' miscarried child would have been at the date of publication, had the child survived the attack on Lynne

Anyway, just some random thoughts.

Obviously, these figures are for ease of calcuation, but it seems that if we imagine war is the natural state, and peace is merely interludes between wars, we are giving a short shrift to what people would actually tolerate.

Most studies of humans in a pre-historical state have indicated that we are warlike in the same way that chimps are warlike -- we band in related groups in well defined areas, and there are no-man zones between groups. When members of other groups are found in the no-man zone by larger groups (where they are usually getting food), they are brutally killed. This results in a death rate of about 25% (I think) by war.

I believe the death rate through war is now at about 1.5% and dropping, so things have improved considerably.

That could all change once all of the house apes get their hands on nuclear weapons, however.

What about the bonobos?

We're not as perverted as the bonobos.

I should have said that we display similar characteristics to Pan troglodytes.

Posted by: togolosh: "It seems to me that a lot of the authoritarian right is complaining that we are doing poorly in Iraq because we don't do the kind of things Saddam was just executed for doing."

Saddam was executed for two crimes: (a) invading Kuwait, and thereby removing himself from the lists of "our SOB'S"; (2) failure to maintain a vast stockpile of WMD's, which might have deterred Bush from invading.

If Saddam had not invaded Kuwait, he could have done everything else that he did, and he'd be Our SOB. After 9/11 (assuming it or something like it would have happened), his position would probably have improved to Our Ally.

Seb -- WRT your thoughts on Dresden and how it fits with the course of history: I think you are correct that war has seldom been well isolated from the civilian population and that cities were often destroyed. But I would not necessarily claim that this is equivalent to strategic bombing. The material effects on a population are roughly the same, but everything around it is very different, from the segments of populations engaged in the waging of war to the source of the massive losses (which, prior to the latter half of the 19th C. was mostly due to disease). Whatever we might claim about how well strategic bombing (or tatctical bombing against civilians for that matter) fits into the history of warfare, the historical figures of the time did not view it as being of-a-piece with the rest of war. It was hugely controversial and troubling to the principals.

Quick book recommendation for a historical overview of war in culture: From Chivalry to Terrorism by Leo Braudy. It's a bit weak in the early parts (before the Middle Ages) but gets stronger as it goes along. I'm about 3/4 of the way through it at the moment.

I have stated previously that I endorse cruel things in war — to eschew them is folly

You know, there is a world of difference between "regrettably recognize that, inevitability, such things happen" and "endorse".

You shouldn't begin a war you can't win...

Sometimes you are forced by circumstance to enter wars you have no freaking hope of winning. It can, sometimes, actually be courageous to do so.

What you should never begin are wars that are not necessary.

If you are going to war, you should be brutal, and cruel and quick, because you end up being much less brutal and cruel than you would if you let the war go on indefinitely.

Cruel to be kind, in the right measure.
Cruel to be kind, it's a very good sign.
Cruel to be kind, means that I love you.
Baby... got to be cruel to be kind.

Isn't that the way the song goes?

Haven't we heard enough of this garbage for the last four years? Shock and awe wasn't enough for you? The utter destruction of the infrastructure of the nation of Iraq, not enough? The death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens, still not cruel enough?

What, in your opinion, have we left undone? What level of cruelty or brutality have we failed to achieve? How would stepping up to that extra measure of brutality put us across the goal line and get us all the way to victory?

I sort of think I understand what you're trying to say, but in context your comment here seems to border on the inhuman.

Creatures like this should be shunned by all civilized people.

Catsy gets my vote.

Thanks -

What, in your opinion, have we left undone? What level of cruelty or brutality have we failed to achieve?

He says it explicitly: concentration camps.

Paul Colinveaux's Why Big Fierce Animals Are Scarce is sometimes quirky and not altogether reliable, but he makes a lot of good points, starting with this simple observation: most predators spend most of their time not killing, and most prey spend most of their time not being killed. We're sort of excitement junkies, so we tend to underplay how much of life goes on in the pursuit of things that aren't huge, flashy, dramatic, painful, and so on.

It may not make most sense to define "at war" in terms of countries, either, not in an erea that includes low-intensity conflict and a bunch of othe things. it might be interesting to figure out what percentage of the public is directly affected by war, and how often.

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