Sunday, April 9, 2006

A "fight between two bald men over a comb"

... as the incomparable Jose Luis Borges said of the Falklands War. And indeed, 255 Brits and 635 Argentines lost their lives, over what Reagan called "that little ice-cold bunch of land down there." It's got a sheep on its flag, for crying in the soup. But, of course, to the 3000 British subjects who lived on those wind-swept hills in the sea, it was their country, invaded and occupied by a military dictatorship for purely cynical reasons. Principle is a hard thing to kill for, but it's one of the few things worth dying for.

Immediately prior to the arrival of the British navy at the Falklands, when a British SAS team had Argentine General Mario Menendez perfectly framed in the cross hairs of multiple high-powered rifles, word came from London, "We don't do assassinations." As it turned out, there was, um, little need for it. The Argentine military dictatorship was a paper tiger, that crumpled shortly afterwards. And only 890 men died in the conflict. That's a good thing, right? I'm sure, somehow, it must be. But how many orphans does that make?

It gets better. The French acted in close concert with the Brits, being especially positioned to do so, having recently sold Argentina most of its arsenal - fighter jets, missiles and so on. The French trained British pilots in aerial combat tactics; they provided intel to sabotage the French-made Argentine missiles. (Hmm. There may be an upside, to all this seemingly-treacherous French and Russian arms dealing with, oh, say, Iran. Hey, guys, tell us a secret.) But maybe it gets worse: President Mitterand said of PM Thatcher, "what an impossible woman! With her four nuclear submarines in the south Atlantic, she's threatening to unleash an atomic weapon against Argentina if I don't provide her with the secret codes that will make the missiles we sold the Argentinean deaf and blind." Was it in the cards? The classified information will be made public in 2082. Some of us may live that long. And here we come to the crux of the matter.

Regardless of reasons, regardless of justice, there will be wars. Men will die fighting, women and children will die as victims. As long as there is history, it will be this way. Was Thatcher bluffing? It is entirely possible that she was not. Right or wrong, it would be a high cost to pay for victory. But that's why there will always be wars, large or small - because there are always going to be people willing to fight them. Or cause them to be fought. Right or wrong.

So why don't we do assassination? If we will set off nuclear bombs, to kill many thousands or more, then what possible principle could dissuade us from assassination? As a function of math, it is surely the most efficient of all bloody solutions - one life for many. It cannot set any worse example or precedent than war itself. It cannot reasonably be considered more unethical. And as I point out in Piety,

"when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised them up a deliverer" - Ehud, who delivered Israel by assassinating Eglon, king of Moab. "I have a message from God, for thee," said Ehud to the fat king. And he plunged his hand-crafted blade so far into Eglon's belly that it was lost in the folds of blubber. That's some message, from the Lord. That's some deliverer, raised up.

This is what happened - not necessarily an exemplar of right conduct. It is not a mandate. But the words do seem to have a certain clarity, wouldn't you say?

The prohibition on assassination is a politician's safety device - it's expected for the common soldier to get killed, but heaven forefend that an officer or politician should be targeted, merely for innocently holding his office or rank of power and privilege. I know from the very most trustworthy of sources that - oh, how shall I say it - an Iraqi man holding a weapon in an area where it is known that the US military has forbidden it, will be killed on sight. When I heard this, I said, "Good." Absolutely. Good. Blood enemies are for killing. (This is, of course, another discussion.) If the messenger may be killed, why not the author?

Wars, like principles, are often foolish and misguided things. But judgments like "foolish" and "misguided" are almost entirely functions of opinion. And opinions are not facts, because they depend on some inner and invisible moral compass, rather than on a capacity for objective demonstration. Point is, there will always be wars, fought for "principles." Insofar as it is possible to bring rationality to such a situation, I would argue for a policy of swift and ruthless assassination, as the lesser of evils.

Between the gutting of some blubbery despot, and the making of countless orphans, I find no dilemma. Take the dagger from your right thigh and thrust it into his belly, so that the haft goes in after the blade, and the fat closes upon the blade, so that you cannot draw the dagger out of his belly, and the dirt comes out. Because most of them are full of dirt, and even those who aren't, are no cleaner than the armies that would perish in their stead.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How appropriate !!