Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Daily Snark 5/19

I picked up Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962. This follows a couple of excellent books concerning the Indochina conflicts, Hal Moore and Joe Gallaway's We Were Soldiers...and Young and Bernard Fall's Street Without Joy. The Algerian conflict is one I knew vaguely about but am ignorant of the real details. I found it interesting that on the front of the book is a tag saying this book is on the reading list of President Bush (43). The newest preface clearly takes a negative outlook on the Iraq conflict; given that it was published in 2006, that is hardly surprising. While I pretty clearly disagree with Alistar, the author does know a thing or two about guerrilla conflicts (or, in Fall's perhaps better terminology, revolutionary warfare) in Arab nations. A full review will be posted later, probably much later as I finish getting my students ready for a global regents test, but for right now I want to be snarky about a particular sentence Alistar writes in the 2006 preface. He says:

Now, with the Internet and al-Jazeera, one set of photos from Abu Ghraib is enough to inflame hatred across the Islamic world against the West, providing excuse for all the beheadings and atrocities carried out by al-Qaeda. From the Inquisition to the Gestapo to the "Battle of Algiers," history teaches us that, in the production of reliable intelligence, regardless of the moral issue, torture is counter-productive.

[quoting an Algerian prefect on why "torture should never, never, never be resorted to by any Western society..."] "Because if you once get into the torture business, you're lost...All our so-called civilisation is covered in a varnish. Scratch it, and underneath you find fear."

I don't buy the argument that civilized people cannot resort to terrible violence, ever. When civilization itself is threatened, the only recourse that can work against uncivilized terrorists is violence. Just as police are not horrible people for tying people up and kidnapping them (better known as handcuffing and incarceration), so Western nations are not unjustified or uncivilized in dealing harshly with enemies. That quote about fear is accurate; we enter society and civilization for the sake of self preservation and enrichment. Government is created to preserve that peace and tranquility; government can only do so with the use of force to such extents that others dare not challenge it.

The effectiveness of torture I leave for another day. But if the West requires it for survival, so be it. I will shed no tears for enemies of peace. Civilization exists to make life better for those who will participate in its rules, not to completely undermine our security over a Utopian notion that civilization equals permanent and unequivocal non violence.

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