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Monday, March 14, 2005
Two peculiar institutions. My regular correspondent ARC writes with some...
I did not find this example as persuasive as the first two, owing to the long timescale. Consideration of the reasons for what ARC calls the "two-millenia staying power of the Jews" takes us outside the ordinary run of history and into the realms of religious delusion according to some observers and divinely-appointed destiny according to others. It would be a foolhardy politician who presumed to make policy on the grounds that his cause had parallels with matters arising from the Covenant of Abraham. However "the ordinary run of history" offers many other examples of results so startling that they could almost be called impossible. ARC continues:
The idea that an achievable goal is necessary to making a war just has certainly been advanced before. It has always seemed to me to reflect a confusion of means and ends. Neither a wrong war, nor a wrong way of war, are made right by being used for an achievable end.There are two propositions: (1) an achievable goal is necessary to making a war just; and (2) a wrong war, or a wrong way of war, can be made right by being used for an achievable end. I am more inclined to agree with (1) than (2), though I take note of ARC's argument that people will disagree, and, indeed, lie, about what is truly achievable. (Which is one reason why we now see anti-racists, who would have laughed to scorn those justifications for the British Empire that said the natives had not yet achieved a cultural level sufficient for independence, trotting out lines about how the Iraqis have not yet achieved a cultural level sufficient for democracy. The best tactic to ensure democracy is not achieved is to say that it is unachievable.) "Achievability" and "necessity" don't have parallel status when it comes to justifying wars, but both matter, and with both it is difficult to tell the true version from the false.
Descending a little from these high concepts, ARC then responds to this line of mine:
I was aware that General Lee refused to pursue a guerilla war, in part from conversation with ARC. It is one of the many principled acts that made Lee a leader worthy of a better cause. My point was more limited: simply that part of the appeal of Palestinian terrorists, at least to some women, is sex appeal. Some women like dangerous men.
UPDATE: ARC, having telephoned my husband to ask him a question about something else entirely, was roped in by me to explain further about that Hadrian example. He recast his argument as something like this: "If one is looking for an argument to dissuade a Palestinian from terrorism, the argument 'it is impossible for you to regain the land you feel is yours' will certainly not work. Such a person is likely to be more aware than most that the Jews held on for two thousand years until the impossible became possible. Although ARC himself might doubt that the Palestinians would do the same, a Palestinian, particularly one motivated by religion, would not doubt. Better (on several levels) to stick to unassailable arguments of principle: terrorism is wrong."