The New Yorker has a great cartoon that is at once funny, sad, true (especially to people like medievalists who study pre-modern cultures), and paralyzingly foolish. (HT: The Fosters)
It is, alas, true that most wars are fought on something approximating this principle. A pre-Islamic poem expresses the fearful symmetry of the phenomenon poignantly:
Then we, no doubt, are meat for the sword
And, doubtless, sometimes
we feed it meat.
By foe bent on vengeance, we are attacked,
Our fall his cure; or we, vengeance-bent,
Attack the foe.
Thus have we divided time in two,
Between us and our foe,
Till not a day goes by but we’re
In one half or the other.
Al-Marzuqi, Hamasah 2: 825-27, cited in Steykevych, Mute Stones Speak, p. 63.
Anyone familiar with European history knows that for pre-modern monarchs, war was “the sport of kings,” and the question was not, do we go to war, but with whom? Even David, king of Israel, considered war an annual event. The passage on his adultery with Bathsheba
And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:1)
Indeed, for Charlemagne, not going to battle posed problems, suggesting to his enemies that he had grown soft.
In the following year he did not undertake a campaign but again celebrated Christmas and also Easter in the city of Worms…. So it would not seem that he had grown idle and soft with leisure, the king sailed up the River Main to his palace of Salz, which he had constructed on the River Saale in Germany. Royal Frankish Annals ad. an. 790.
(The editor notes that Livy has similar passages about the Romans: “Cf. Livy, I, 57; XXI, u; 48, 53; XXII, 25, 45.”)
This “law of the jungle” is something that, in principle, modern civil societies have – at least domestically – repealed, and internationally, between free-market democracies as well (first articulated in 1999 by Thomas Friedman when he was a full-fledged messianist about global peace via the free market and democracy). There is a widespread, 21st-century “progressive” (really messianic) notion that it should be repealed among all nations, as the meme goes “War is not the answer.” In the massive “peace/anti-war” demonstrations of 2003, the idea spread that “global public opinion” – itself presumed to be for world peace – was a “second superpower,” as opposed to Bush’s USA, a super-power promoting peace.
Alas, much of this, despite its immense mobilization of people of good will, was a massive victory of demopaths using democratic values to dupe democrats into supporting war. As Nick Cohen pointed out, the “anti-war” demos of 2003 (a friend emailed me, historian of the 10-11th century Peace Movement, “the most numerous and widespread peace movement in the history of the world”) was actually an anti-American movement that (unwittingly) promoted a far more terrifying, millennial war (global Jihad). Next to peace signs all over the West, one found pictures of those peace-lovers Yassir Arafat and Saddam Hussein. (Stuart Green discusses a number of these memes in his groundbreaking Cognitive War.)
This category error (mistaking anti-Americanism for peace advocacy) lies at the heart of the “red-green (left-Islamist)” alliance, noted on the right and the left, that is devastating the future of humane values in the 21st century, a true marriage of dupes and demopaths most stunningly visible (just before 2003) in the demopath’s delight, The UN Durban Conference “against Racism” in August-September of 2001, which turned out to be a hate-fest of anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism.
Today, journalists and MSNM pontificators are discussing what Obama does about chemical weapons in Syria. On the one hand, the global moral imperative, for a “moral man” such as Obama, calls for intervention.
the alternative — allowing human beings to be murdered by a monstrous regime using the world’s most devilish weapons, when he has the power to stop it — is not a moral option for a moral man.
Of course, that means war (i.e., not the answer) which violates the superpower of global opinion’s hostility to war, especially when it’s the USA (or, obviously, Israel) that’s waging it. So the cross-currents – right-wing war mongers taunting Obama for being a wuss, left-wing concerns for domestic social programs we can’t afford; right-wing realists urging caution, left-wingers empaths calling out for help for the poor Syrian civilians – provide a perfect storm of riptides.
The New Yorker cartoon might be cute and sharp, but to someone who thinks we can wave away war with massive demonstrations of that superpower of soft power, global public opinion, it’s a dangerously deceptive narcissistic trap.