Monday, February 18, 2008

An End to War. Sort Of.

Akiva Eldar tells that Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak have snubbed The United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sir John Holmes, by shunting him off to meet underlings during his present visit to Israel and the PA and Gaza. I doubt this will have any adverse effect on their political careers.

Holmes used his visit to make the usual pronouncements, which were probably written for him in advance before he ever came to (not) see for himself. Israel's response to the Qassam attacks must be proportional. (Meaning Israel should shoot back Qassam rockets?). He patted the British on their back for not having bombed Northern Ireland, back in the bad old days. Being British himself, this means he was being smug, at best, or ridiculous. He trotted out the usual boilerplate about condemning also the shooting of the Qassams.

What does he advocate? We all know the answer to that:
"The only thing that will make a lasting difference is a peace settlement," he said. "You can't stop these problems militarily. They have to be solved through negotiations."

But let's be serious for a moment, because there is a truly fundamental issue at stake here. Holmes, the United Nations, the European Union, parts of the American political community and others have convinced themselves in recent decades that human history never happened, or, second version, that human nature has very recently revolutionized itself.

Look at that statement, whereby "these problems" can't be solved militarily, only through negotiations. For the first 10,000 years of the history of human societies interacting with one another (or more? I don't know when it all started) such a statement would have had no meaning. Violence has always been a primary means of resolving differences of opinion; the advance of civilization has sometimes tamed the violence between individuals, and sometimes channeled the violence between groups, but the idea that negotiations are the only way to resolve conflicts of interest is sheer nonsense, not as a political statement but as an objective factual one.

For a complex and not fully understood series of reasons, mankind has indeed been growing ever more aware of the inadvisability of resolving conflicts with violence, and this a fine thing - although I suspect that one of the drives towards this is not a growing gentleness among the human species but rather an awareness the the destructive potential of violence is growing too great to be affordable. Given that the definition of what is or isn't affordable is subjective, this is a weakness built into the very fabric of this new historical trend. (But that's grist for a future rumination). For this reason and many others, at this moment in history the best you can say is that diplomacy and the art of negotiations, coupled with the opprobrium of waging war, have reached a stage of development that could suggest to some differing parties that violence is not their best bet. The Serbs seem hugely aggravated by the Kossovar declaration of independence yesterday, for example, but seem not about to go to war. Is this because they're in Europe, however, or because the Americans have already demonstrated their willingness to use violence against them in this particular discussion?

Anyway: this blog post is meandering more than I originally intended - a drawback of not working with a strict editor. My original intention was merely to point out that Sir John et. al. are engaged in a fundamental attempt to discredit war in any form. All the recent talk about how Israel may not adversely effect the civilian population of Gaza, for example, is a new train of thought. Just War theory never made such a claim, preferring to try to limit the pain inflicted on non-combatants, but not to shield them totally, which unfortunately cannot be done.

A final thought for today: If conflicts of interest mean that people on different sides of the divide will gain or lose according to how the conflict is resolved, this has to mean that no matter how the conflict is is resolved, some people will lose something. Which means, someone will inflict some degree of discomfort on them. Something to bear in mind next time someone tells you that poverty is as bad as death, for example.

PS. Of course, some critics of those who are not yet ready to forgo the use of force are simply hypocrites. I refer to the many useful idiots who decry the use of force by non-Westerners but don't really mean it, and are eternally furious at Americans, British, and of course Israelis for not being pacifists.

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