Hobbes, Churchill and Israel

An Opinion Journal piece argues that wars against barbarians represent a new trend. It ain’t so – our history is full of such wars.

Opinion Journal (my ellipsis)

Forget Karl von Clausewitz’s dictum that war is a last resort and circumscribed by the methodical actions and requirements of a state and its army…As the authors (of “Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias”) remind us…: “Tribal and clan chieftains did not employ war as a cold-blooded and calculated policy instrument. . . . Rather, it was fought for a host of social-psychological purposes and desires, which included . . . honor, glory, revenge, vengeance, and vendetta.” With such motives, torture and beheadings become part of the normal ritual of war.

Winston Churchill’s The River War gives an excellent account of a war against barbarians. Such wars have their own logic – you overcome the barbarians’ courage, personal fighting skills, and ruthlessness with your superior weapons (e.g. Gatling guns), logistics (railways), tactics, and discipline. And, in case of capture, you save your last bullet for yourself.

Thomas Hobbes (1588 –1679) explains:

So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First competition; secondly, for safety; thirdly, glory. The first maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; the third, for reputation. The first use of violence, to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children and cattle; the second to defend them; the third for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.

The Arab wars on Israel since 1948 are clearly in the third category, and the Israeli responses are in the second – as are our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

So Churchill and Hobbes would recognize the Syrians, Iranians, Palestinians and Hezbollah as the latest in a long procession of barbarians driven not by hope of material gain, or self defense, but by a sense of honor. After a lifetime fighting barbarism, Churchill came to have a poor regard the world outside the Anglosphere:

(in) the exchange between Selwyn Lloyd and Churchill when the former was appointed a minister of state at the Foreign Office under Eden in 1951. (Lloyd later said) “I was flabbergasted. I wondered whether it was a case of mistaken identity. . . I said: ‘But Sir, I think there must be some mistake. I do not speak any foreign language. Except in war, I have never visited any foreign country. I do not like foreigners.’

He [Churchill] replied: ‘Young man, these all seem to me to be positive advantages.'”

Today Israel is fighting tribes of honor-seekers in the traditional way, using advanced weaponry, superior organization, better tactics, and better discipline.

There’s no doubt Israel will prevail, at some cost. But when these tribes get city-busting nukes, we’ll have no choice but to overcome them with country-busters.


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