Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Monday, March 14, 2005
Two peculiar institutions. My regular correspondent ARC writes with some...

...reflections on the essay by Lee Harris about the 'peculiar institution' of Palestinian terrorism that you linked to.

Apart from its title, which prompts some thoughts, I'm not so impressed with it. Harris is much concerned about 'the impossible being the immoral'. Quite apart from the fundamental philosophical issue, who decides what is impossible?

- Firstly, some people's idea of the possible is as narrow as a piece of paper seen end-on. In 1940, there were those on both left and right (the people's convention crowd, Lord Halifax momentarily, etc.) who thought Churchill was being very unrealistic in ignoring Hitler's peace offer. Such cross-party stupidity has been common in our history: "Who is there mad enough to expect that we shall be able to drive the French out of the Peninsula?", asked leading Whig Sir William Fremantle in the house of commons in early 1811. The kind of answer he got may by judged by (Tory) Lord Liverpool's letter to Wellington, "Your chances of success are considered here by all persons, military as well as civil, so improbable, that I could not recommend any attempt at what might be called desperate resistance." (King George III was almost the sole exception; he may of course have been the 'mad enough' person Fremantle had in mind)

- Secondly, the blatantly impossible can happen. When the emperor Hadrian decided that ethnic cleansing would effect a final solution of the Jewish problem back in the second century, he must have felt sure that the prophecy of their survival and ultimate return was utterly ludicrous.

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:

> Southern slaverowners and Palestinian terrorists both wowed
> the foreign girls with their brooding, tragic, sexy, dangerous,
> gun-totin' ways.
He says:

The South did reject intifada. At Appomatox, the idea of continuing the war guerrilla-style was put to Lee who replied that the soldiers "would be under no discipline ... The country would be full of lawless bands in every part, and a state of society would ensue from which it would take the country years to recover." That state can be studied in the Palestinian areas today. Would the left ever admit that the people they love to hate were better than the people they love to excuse?
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."