Warrior Code

By Callimachus:

I want to take another stab at convincing some of you there’s an important — essential — distinction between a warrior and a terrorist, and it’s not based on the cause they’re fighting for. It’s a theme I’ve brought up from time to time in the blogging I’ve done.

In Greek histories, Spartan mothers sent their sons to war with the commandment, “Come back with your shield, or on it.”

Spartan mothers loved their babies, too — they did not want to see dead bodies of their son brought back, as was the custom, sprawled on their shields. But if a warrior returned alive and unarmed it meant he had broken ranks and run. It meant he had thrown away the shield that protected — not his own life, but, in the old method of fighting in phalanxes, the life of the man next to him. He had broken faith with his comrades; he had forgotten his warrior’s code.

They wanted their sons back alive, but whole in spirit as well as body. They wanted them with honor intact. Everyone today who loves a soldier, sailor or Marine understand this. We want them alive, we want them victorious — and we want them to have lives worth living when their battles are over.

Modern armies sweep into their ranks hundreds of thousands of people. Not all are fit to be soldiers. Those who are not, when discovered, should be weeded out and sent home, and if they have committed crimes in the meanwhile they should be punished for them.

But this is not a matter of good soldiers and bad apples. Certain kinds of combat, or duty, wear down the military codes of honor. The warrior’s code frays, then the seams fall apart. Then horrible things begin to happen.

Warrior codes, whether in Sparta or in West Point, distinguish soldiers from murderers. Warriors have rules that govern when and how they kill. Learning them is part of the purpose of military training. We give soldiers the power to take lives, but only certain lives, in certain ways, at certain times, and for certain reasons.

The purpose of a code “is to restrain warriors, for their own good as much as for the good of others,” writes Shannon E. French, an assistant professor of philosophy and author of “The Code of the Warrior: Exploring Warrior Values Past and Present.” “The essential element of a warrior’s code is that it must set definite limits on what warriors can and cannot do if they want to continue to be regarded as warriors, not murderers or cowards. For the warrior who has such a code, certain actions remain unthinkable, even in the most dire or extreme circumstances.”

Yet the greatest danger of crossing that thin, sharp line that separates warriors from murderers is not in a war not among great powers, evenly matched. But it lurks when well-equipped armies are pitted against weak but merciless foes who hit and run and hide among civilians. It lurks in the places where people blow up public buildings to make a political point. There is no warrior code in that; a terrorist is a terrorist, however he justifies himself.

It is not the justness, or lack of it, in a war that makes this happen. Japanese soldiers, brutalized by experience in China, massacred and mutilated surrendering American soldiers in the Pacific in World War II, and Americans did it in turn to the Japanese when they found out about it. Tennessee soldiers who fought with honor and discipline at Shiloh in 1862 turned into murderous bushwhackers by 1864. Many soldiers in Hitler’s army behaved to the end with utmost military discipline. Some of the Soviet troops who defeated the Nazis raped and pillaged their path halfway across Europe.

When warriors and murderers clash, the murderers risk nothing but death. The warriors risk more. “Their only protection is their code of honor,” French writes. “The professional military ethics that restrain warriors — that keep them from targeting those who cannot fight back, from taking pleasure in killing, from striking harder than is necessary, and that encourage them to offer mercy to their defeated enemies and even to help rebuild their countries and communities — are also their own protection against becoming what they abhor.”

[That's something written three years ago, thinking of the U.S. in Iraq. I could make the same point again in fresh words, with references to the current situation in the Mideast. But here it is with nothing tilted or spun for the sake of the case in view.]

Force in Proportion

By Callimachus

One of the most interesting and in some ways infuriating books I’ve read recently is A.C. Grayling’s “Among the Dead Cities,” a book by philosopher that argues that much of the Allied air war — British bombing of German cities and the U.S. bombings of Japanese cities, including the A-bomb attacks — was an unjustifiable moral crime. I wrote about it (extensively) here but here’s a short version, focusing on the salient points.

Grayling’s central precept is that “the means used to conduct the war must be proportional to the ends sought.” This notion is not entirely accepted today, he acknowledges, but he shows it to be the essential quality of a just war, as that concept has evolved since Aquinas.

He is not concerned here with war crimes law so much as morality. Grayling’s non-pacifist stance allows him to invoke the doctrine of double effect: “No wrong is committed by the belligerent if the harm he does to innocents is an unaviodable ancillary to military operations — even if such harm can be foreseen.” In other words, if the primary goal is good and legitimate, the negative secondary effect, even if foreseen, is — not good, but not wrong.

This, too, is a controversial notion and one rejected outright by strict pacifists, for it legitimatizes some collateral damage. Grayling says the proportion doctrine applies:

Take the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: if these were claimed to be attacks on targets of military value, assuming there to have been industrial units or military barracks in these cities which ‘military necessity’ demanded should be destroyed, dropping an atom bomb on them is the equivalent to chopping off a man’s head to cure his toothache, such is the degree of disproportion involved.

He lists the large arguments in favor of such bombing, then pushes them back. Was area bombing worse than what the Germans did to the Jews or the Japanese did in Nanking? Certainly not. But “the fact that a wrong is less than a competing wrong does not make it a right.”

Did bombing civilians hasten the end of the war and thus spare the Allies greater battlefield casualties? Some say so. But saving military lives by substituting civilian ones is, Grayling says, like using civilians as human shields on the battlefield.

What’s left among justifications are the lesser ones of whether the bombing did in fact have a military objective important enough to justify the civilian deaths and wanton destruction of culture and property. Grayling enlists the many historians who have argued effectively against this conclusion.

Grayling declares precision bombing aimed at specific military targets as legitimate and morally acceptable. This exempts most of the raids by the American air forces in Europe from his indictment, since they targeted German oil facilities and similar targets. The American bombing campaign “proved highly effective” and “was proportionate and pertinent; it could also legitimately claim to be a necessary part of the effort to defeat Germany. The area bombing of civilian populations was not necessary.”

But this has problems, too. The Americans, in avoiding the heavy concentration of anti-aircraft fire around military targets, dropped from high altitudes and often with little ability to really aim for what they were after. The fact that such military targets as rail junctions and large-scale processing and manufacturing industries tend naturally to be surrounded by dense blocks of homes meant this tactic could be, and often was, as lethal as deliberate city-bombing.

And how do the ethics of air power apply to a ground war? The U.S. Army pushed through central Germany in the spring of 1945, with the German military before it mostly reduced to small ill-trained units, but when the Americans met any sustained resistance they pulled back, called in artillery, and blasted whatever was in front of them, whether it was a wooded ridge or a farming village.

The experience of Neuhof in the Frankenhöhe was typical of hundreds of other small German towns. The 92nd Cav. Recon Squadron reached it toward evening on April 15 and ran into a battle group of young SS soldiers north of the town. The Americans held off and pounded the town with artillery all night. In the morning, they waited for the fog to lift, then blasted Neuhof with phosphorous shells, setting everything ablaze. They attacked again at noon with infantry and tanks, but they still met resistance, so they poured more artillery and tank fire into the town. They finally took it at 5 p.m. that evening.

By that time only a few buildings still stood intact in Neuhof, most of the ancient village having been reduced to a glowing pile of ash and shattered stone. Cries from the wounded, strewn about with a dozen or so dead, intermingled with shouts for help from those still fighting fires and the occasional shots from American tanks to create a Dantesque atmosphere. [Stephen G. Fritz, "Endkampf," p.170]

In measuring the “proportion” and “double effect” rules, a philosopher can be content with images of cutting off heads to cure toothaches. A military commander in the field has to deal in more tangible material. Am I more responsible for protecting the lives of the men in my command than I am for those in the enemy’s ranks? Yes. What about their civilians? If I kill 50 enemy soldiers and 1 civilian, is that proportionate? Are 10 civilians? If we have a 60 percent chance of killing Hitler if we bomb a certain city of 20,000 on a certain date without warning, is that legitimate?

These are questions more pertinent to the modern face of warfare. But Grayling’s book is mute on them. In the end he’s shone such a narrow shaft of illumination that “Among the Dead Cities” doesn’t add much to what Billy Sherman said about war and hell.

My question is, how does this apply to what’s going on now between Israel and Hezbollah and the Palestinians? One obvious point of departure is that World War II was fought in a time when only nation-states had the ability to rain death from the air, and thus the responsibility to consider questions of proportionality and double effect. That’s no longer the case.

Hezbollah Flexes its Missiles

By Callimachus:

NYT reports:

The power and sophistication of the missile and rocket arsenal that Hezbollah has used in recent days has caught the United States and Israel off guard, and officials in both countries are just now learning the extent to which the militant group has succeeded in getting weapons from Iran and Syria.

While the Bush administration has stated that cracking down on weapons proliferation is one of its top priorities, the arming of Hezbollah shows the blind spots of American and other Western intelligence services in assessing the threat, officials from across those governments said.

American and Israeli officials said the successful attack last Friday on an Israeli naval vessel was the strongest evidence to date of direct support by Iran to Hezbollah. The attack was carried out with a sophisticated antiship cruise missile, the C-802, an Iranian-made variant of the Chinese Silkworm, an American intelligence official said.

At the same time, American and Israeli officials cautioned that they had found no evidence that Iranian operatives working in Lebanon launched the antiship missile themselves.

But neither Jerusalem nor Washington had any idea that Hezbollah had such a missile in its arsenal, the officials said, adding that the Israeli ship had not even activated its missile defense system because intelligence assessments had not identified a threat from such a radar-guided cruise missile.

But it was Friday’s successful launching of a C-802 cruise missile that most alarmed officials in Washington and Jerusalem.

Iran began buying dozens of those sophisticated antiship missiles from the Chinese during the 1990’s, until the United States pressured Beijing to cease the sales.

Until Friday, however, Western intelligence services did not know that Iran had managed to ship C-802 missiles to Hezbollah.

Officials said it was likely that Iran trained Hezbollah fighters on how to successfully fire and guide the missiles, and that members of Iran’s Al Quds force — the faction of the Revolutionary Guards that trains foreign forces — would not necessarily have to be on the scene to launch the C-802.

At the same time, some experts said Iran was not likely to deploy such a sophisticated weapon without also sending Revolutionary Guard crews with the expertise to fire the missile.

One wonders what else they have we don’t know about.

No Easy Answers

The National Council of Churches wonders, why can’t everyone just get along?

Is there ever to be an end to violence in the land we call holy? What has violence solved these last 60 years? What has violence solved these past weeks?

Maybe I’ve been in the cynical newspaper business too long, but isn’t that rather simple-minded? “Give peace a chance” feels good when you chant it, but shouldn’t we expect more hard thinking from theologists? What has chanting matras of peace from a safe distance solved these past 60 years other than making the chanters feel good?

What’s odd is that after describing the all around mess and chaos of the present Middle East, the NCC calls upon “our own government and all governments, recognizing the success of former peace initiatives ….”

Well, it’s a bit hard to recognize them amid the smoke and flying shards and collapsing apartment blocks, isn’t it? If it doesn’t stick for more than a few months, is it really success?

The NCC statement is absolutist pacifist. That’s probably (but not certainly) what Jesus Would Have typed up in a press-release, right?

But maybe a better step, for serious thinkers about religion, would have been to take notice of the fact that not all the faiths involves have the same scriptural foundation. Or to consider the doctrine of just and appropriate use of force as it has been shaped by men and women of faith over the centuries since Augustine.


By Callimachus


The caption currently accompanying this Associated Press photo, both online and on the AP media wire, is:

Syrian men touring Damascus streets on Sunday, July 16, 2006, in their cars, waving the flags of the Lebanese Hezbollah Party, in a show of solidarity with the Lebanese resistance. A picture of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, is seen in the rear window of the front car.

Emphasis added. That strikes me as a politically loaded description of Hezbollah, and a word choice that’s … unfortunate, to say the best for AP.

War Stories

By Callimachus:

Some quick looks around the Web:

Stratfor says the next likely scenario is an Insraeli invasion of Lebanon. And the likely collateral casualty will be Beirut.

1. Israel cannot tolerate an insurgency on its northern frontier; if there is one, it wants it farther north.

2. It cannot tolerate attacks on Haifa.

3. It cannot endure a crisis of confidence in its military

4. Hezbollah cannot back off of its engagement with Israel.

5. Syria can stop this, but the cost to it stopping it is higher than the cost of letting it go on.

It would appear Israel will invade Lebanon. The global response will be noisy. There will be no substantial international action against Israel. Beirut’s tourism and transportation industry, as well as its financial sectors, are very much at risk.

* * *

The Independent tells the story of a survivor of one of the Haifa rocket attacks:

Yossi Amergi, a 46-year-old mechanic lay in the emergency ward of Haifa’s Rambam hospital, tubes sticking out of his arm, raw skin showing through a bandage on his right leg.

A few hours earlier eight of his workmates were killed by a rocket that burst through the corrugated iron roof of their railway maintenance depot, sending arc lights crashing, splintering carriage windows and covering the concrete platforms with gore.

… “I heard a boom,” he recalled. “My ears were bursting; blood was spurting from my leg. I lost friends, Jews and Arabs who worked together.”

* * *

Some blogs are pointing to a news release by Lebanese Foundation for Peace, an organization of Lebanese Christian exiles, praising the Israeli attacks.

“We urge you to hit [Hezbollah] hard and destroy their terror infrastructure. It is not [only] Israel who is fed up with this situation, but the majority of the silent Lebanese in Lebanon who are fed up with Hezbollah and are powerless to do anything out of fear of terror retaliation.”

Be that as it may, the press release begins with a very unfortunate preposition:

For the millions of Christian Lebanese, driven out of our homeland, “Thank you Israel,” is the sentiment echoing from around the world.

I suspect they meant “from,” or “on behalf of.”

* * *

An L.A. Times piece (subscription required) paints the picture in other Arab capitals:

In Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, governments with ties to the United States have guardedly denounced Hezbollah for the attack on Israel that triggered the fighting — even as the people began tacking up posters of Hassan Nasrallah, the bearded, turbaned cleric who heads the Shiite militia group and has vowed to bring “war on every level” to Israel’s door.

The disconnect between the broad range of public support for Hezbollah and the unease felt by many Arab leaders is one of many reasons that Arab governments have been largely unable to mount an effective diplomatic response to Israel’s 5-day-old bombing campaign.

Over the weekend, for example, the Arab League, meeting in Cairo, was able to agree on little more than a statement that urged all parties to avoid actions that may “undermine peace and security,” appealed to the United Nations for intervention and unsurprisingly declared the Middle East peace process “dead.”

On one level, the divide pits Syria and Iran, long-time backers of Hezbollah, against Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose Sunni-led governments fear the rise of Islamic militancy and the influence of Iran.

“The resistance will win, and the Israeli aggression will fail,” said Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal in a statement Sunday, pledging a “firm and direct response” if Syria is hit. “The resistance has hit deep inside Israel, and the enemy did not expect this.”

Iran, meanwhile, threatened that Israel would suffer “unimaginable losses” if it widened the conflict with an attack on Syria.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on Sunday rallied behind Hezbollah, describing Israel as “an evil, cancerous tumor” in the midst of the Islamic world.

Turkey and the Kurds

By Callimachus

The Middle East this morning faces many possible next steps to Hell. Certainly one of them is a flare-up of fighting between Turks and Kurds, which would take place in a region Michael has criss-crossed several times and written about eloquently.

Now it looks like that possible next step is a step closer. Here’s the AP version:

Turkey said Sunday that it was weighing an escalation of its fight against Kurdish rebels after the guerillas killed seven Turkish soldiers and a village guard.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, wants autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast. Its Saturday ambush, which Turkish officials said was launched from neighboring northern Iraq, drove the number of Turks it has killed since Thursday to 13.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed outrage, signaling that Turkey could step up its battle against the rebel group. And high-ranking military, civilian, police and intelligence officials held an emergency meeting of Turkey’s High Anti-Terrorism Council to discuss possible new measures against the guerrillas.

Here’s the Al Jazeera version.

[I'm going to leave comments open here, but please don't use them to continue grudge matches begun elsewhere.]

My Friend is a Refugee

by Michael J. Totten

My friend Lebanon.Profile at the Lebanese Political Journal once guest blogged for me while I was in Egypt. He is one of the most open-minded people in Lebanon when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and I have linked to some of his posts in the past on this very subject. Israel has lost him. And he has lost his country.

You’ve made this country unliveable for the people fighting to disarm Hezbollah.

Guess what? I’m leaving. Yep. Me.

Where am I going? Syria. Didn’t want to, but I have to. The people we marched against are the ones you sent us begging to. The people who assassinated our leaders, kept us from having an operating democracy, and who armed Hezbollah are laughing it up because they’ve won the game because of you.

Bashar Assad said Lebanon would be destroyed if he left. I didn’t know the Israelis would play into his game. It’s not surprising that Syrian-allied Hezbollah started the mess, but you guys are just vicious.

All my Hezbollah supporting friends are sticking around. They call the rest of us cowards. I guess we are. We want to do scientific research. We want our children to learn how to play the piano. We want to watch our stock porfolios burgeon. We can’t do that here any more.

I tried to sympathize with you. I didn’t support Hezbollah, and if you look at the posts before this conflict began, I was maligning the political parties that oppose Hezbollah for not doing enough.

I even gave you guys the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of this, as did most Lebanese. Even the Shia, Christians, and Druze in South Lebanon understood your position. Not any more.

Oh, well. I’m a refugee.

Comments are Closed, and Some Clarifications – UPDATED BELOW

by Michael J. Totten

Insulting my personal friends while they are driven out of their homes as war refugees is not acceptable. My old neighborhood is under attack. My friends are terrified and in danger. How on earth do you expect me to feel about this right now? If you can’t factor these things into account before bloviating in the comments, then you do not get to comment. Comments are closed until further notice.

In the meantime, allow me to clarify a few things so (some of you) can stop thinking I’ve decided Israel is the enemy or that Hassan Nasrallah deserves anything but a headstone or a war crimes tribunal.

Obviously Hezbollah started this and Hezbollah is the main problem. Not only did they drag my second home into a war, the bastards also threatened me personally. So I hardly see the point in telling you what I think about them right about now. I’ll get to them later.

I sympathize one hundred percent with what Israel is trying to do here. But they aren’t going about it the right way, and they’re punishing far too many of the wrong people. Lord knows I could be wrong, and the situation is rapidly changing, but at this particular moment it looks bad for Israel, bad for Lebanon, bad for the United States, good for Syria, and good for Iran.

There is no alternate universe where the Lebanese government could have disarmed an Iranian-trained terrorist/guerilla militia that even the Israelis could not defeat in years of grinding war. There is no alternate universe where it was in Lebanon’s interest to restart the civil war on Israel’s behalf, to burn down their country all over again right at the moment where they finally had hope after 30 years of convulsive conflict and Baath Party overlordship.

The Lebanese government should have asked for more help from the international community. The Lebanese government should have been far less reactionary in its attitude toward the Israelis. They made more mistakes than just two, but I’d say these are the principal ones.

What should the Israelis have done instead? They should have treated Hezbollahland as a country, which it basically is, and attacked it. They should have treated Lebanon as a separate country, which it basically is, and left it alone. Mainstream Lebanese have no problem when Israel hammers Hezbollah in its little enclave. Somebody has to do it, and it cannot be them. If you want to embolden Lebanese to work with Israelis against Hezbollah, or at least move in to Hezbollah’s bombed out positions, don’t attack all of Lebanon.

Israel should not have bombed Central Beirut, which was almost monolithically anti-Hezbollah. They should not have bombed my old neighborhood, which was almost monolithically anti-Hezbollah. They should not have bombed the Maronite city of Jounieh, which was not merely anti-Hezbollah but also somewhat pro-Israel.

Israelis thinks everyone hates them. It isn’t true, especially not in Lebanon. But they will make it so if they do not pay more attention to the internal characteristics of neighboring countries. “The Arabs” do not exist as a bloc except in the feverish dreams of the Nasserists and the Baath.

UPDATE: I hate closing the comments, and I’m sorry for having to do that. I just simply will not stand seeing some of my dear friends insulted — some of whom are Americans as well as Lebanese — while their neighborhoods are on fire and they’re being driven to Syria — Syria! — as war refugees.

The following comment, sent by email from Shalom Deen, is what I would like to see if I could stand to keep comments open.

Guys- This is one of the greatest blogs for honest analysis of what goes on in the Middle East, so let’s try to maintain civility and understanding here as heated emotions are sorted out (which, admittedly, might take a while). Obviously, both Israel and Lebanon are very close to the hearts of many of this blogs’ readers and

writers. The current situation is going to introduce some strong feelings, and since most participants here are reasonable, intelligent, and informed people, let’s just be careful about things getting too heated.

LP certainly has the right at this point to rant, as does Michael. Lebanon is obviously getting the short end of the stick at the moment, and it remains to be seen whether Israel’s actions are responsibly calculated for the desired result–and most of all, whether they succeed–or if they’re just looking to inflict damage. None of us really know the answer at this point. So at the very least, no matter what our opinion is regarding Israel’s operations, we should be understanding of the fear and frustrations of those who are affected–especially when they’re *the good guys*.

For Lebanon it’s not just scores killed and hundreds wounded; it’s sweat, blood, tears, and money invested in an infrastructure and a fledgling economy that will now take months or even years to rebuild. Whatever the fault of the Lebanese government (and reasonable people can argue the extent of it), it is not the time to berate those who have been passionately committed to peace and dialogue for being very angry at the moment.

I pray (my agnosticism notwithstanding) for the safety of all, and for the successful elimination of those vile Hizbullah murderers. Hopefully, some good will come of this in the end.


by Michael J. Totten

I’m sorry to be gone and (mostly) unable to blog at a horrible time like this, when a city I love and used to live in is under attack by an ally of my country. I’m scrambling to keep up with what’s going on while trying to do my temporary full-time and all-consuming job, which ends in a week. Meanwhile I try, as much as is possible, to console some of my friends while their country burns, while fighter jets scream over head, while columns of filthy black smoke blot out the sun.

Israel has a right – nay, a moral obligation – to defend itself and rescue the kidnapped. But what kind of down-the-rabbit-hole war is this, where the guilty parties – the Baath regime in Syria and the Jihad regime in Iran – sleep warm in their beds while Beirut, a libertine city they hate, takes the punishment for them?

The dictators in the region have always been happy to fight the Israelis to the last Palestinian. Now it looks like they’re happy to fight the Israelis to the last Lebanese, too. And why not? Lebanon is a relatively liberal and almost half Christian sort-of democracy. Can’t have any of that in the region if you’re a totalitarian mullah. It suits Tehran just fine if the Jews slug it out with such people.

Bashar al-Assad promised to make Lebanon burn if his Syrian occupation soldiers were forced out of the country. No doubt he is ecstatic at this latest turn of events. His principal enemies are killing each other instead of teaming up against him like they would in a better and more intelligent world.

Israel and Lebanon are the two freest countries in the Middle East. They are the only countries, aside from tortured Iraq, that hold unrigged elections for parliaments and heads of state. The tyrants to their east have pulled quite a coup, haven’t they? The two countries friendliest to America and to liberal Western values are now shooting each other. (The Lebanese army, which has cooperated with Israel in the past behind the scenes, is now firing anti-aircraft guns at Israeli planes.)

It’s a catastrophe for Lebanon, which is now under siege because Iran took it hostage. It’s a catastrophe for Israel, which could have, and should have, worked toward a peace process with the Lebanese. Lebanese are (were?) far and away the most likely of all Arabs to sign a genuine treaty at some point down the road. And it’s a catastrophe for the United States. We have few friends in the region already, none of whom get along well with each other as it is.

The Middle East was in a holding pattern until two days ago. No one knew what would happen next, what the next big thing would be. Now we know. The democracies suffer and bleed and turn on each other while their enemies, our enemies, sit back and watch. The Baath regime and the Jihad regime rest easy knowing that Israel is too cautious or gutless to take the fight to the source and chooses to hit the country of the Cedar Revolution instead.

Closer to War

… or already there?

By Callimachus

Grist for the conversation mill. I don’t necessarily agree with all or any of what’s said in all or any of these, but they advance arguments worth considering, or refuting:

Ammar Abdulhamid:

All wishful thinking aside, I just don’t think Israel is going to lose this round, and I think the going-ons in Lebanon are only a prelude for the eventual and now inevitable confrontation with Syria, with all sort of disastrous implications and consequences for our people.

Some people see this differently I know, they see the Assads and Mullahs emerging as serious contenders in the arena once again, and that they have embarrassed the US and Israel. I kindly disagree. But, be that as it may, the winner of this round notwithstanding, we, the people, are the ones who will get screwed.


Sayyid Nasrallah is still alive and declaring an open war. Where is our President? Where are our Ministers? Prime Minister? Members of Parliament?

All these institutions and the guardians of these institutions are obsolete at this point. Nasrallah is leading the show. He’s defying everything and everyone. He is assuming the position of the guardian of the Prophet’s Family, against all odds. This is not about Lebanon anymore; this is about Nasrallah’s pride.

Michael Ledeen:

No one should have any lingering doubts about what’s going on in the Middle East. It’s war, and it now runs from Gaza into Israel, through Lebanon and thence to Iraq via Syria. There are different instruments, ranging from Hamas in Gaza to Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon and on to the multifaceted “insurgency” in Iraq. But there is a common prime mover, and that is the Iranian mullahcracy, the revolutionary Islamic fascist state that declared war on us 27 years ago and has yet to be held accountable.

Mark Perry:

Hezbollah and Israel stand along this border every day observing each other through binoculars and waiting for an opportunity to kill each other. They are at war. They have been for 25 years, no one ever declared a cease-fire between them. … They stand on the border every day and just wait for an opportunity. And on Tuesday morning there were two Humvees full of Israeli soldiers, not under observation from the Israeli side, not under covering fire, sitting out there all alone. The Hezbollah militia commander just couldn’t believe it — so he went and got them.

The Israeli captain in charge of that unit knew he had really screwed up, so he sent an armored personnel carrier to go get them in hot pursuit, and Hezbollah led them right through a minefield.

Now if you’re sitting in Tehran or Damascus or Beirut, and you are part of the terrorist Politburo so to speak, you have a choice. With your head sunk in your hands, thinking “Oh my God,” you can either give [the kidnapped soldiers] back and say “Oops, sorry, wrong time” or you can say, “Hey, this is war.”

It is absolutely ridiculous to believe that the Hezbollah commander on the ground said Tuesday morning, “Go get two Israeli soldiers, would you please?”

Israel vs. Lebanon

By Callimachus

So they say:

The violence pitting Arabs and Jews in the Middle East has spilled from the physical into the virtual world, as combatants on both sides lay siege to the Internet sites of one another.

And why should we be left out?

Honestly, though, I’m on a learning curve trying to figure out what’s happening. It’s times like this I used to go to Michael’s site to see what insights he had from his ringside seat. Instead, I’m here with more questions than answers.

Make this an open thread on the current Mideast crisis. What sites or publications do you look to for unbiased information? Or is it more a matter of taking a bite from both sides and trying to find the center of gravity between them?

Also, I’ve had a nagging feeling that the current Israeli government, being headed by men who, I think, lack the military leadership experience and hawkish track record of many of their predecessors, might feel it has to hit back especially hard in its first test. Is that possibly the case here?

UPDATE: Just after writing this I see my blog-partner Reader_I_Am also is in “read and learn” mode, and she’s got a list started of some of the sites that are putting up good information, including the indispensible Lebanese Political Journal.

Bloggers try to emulate journalists in being the first to report. But sometimes it’s difficult to write an intelligent opinion until the smoke clears a bit and you can see what’s happening.

And Now for Something Completely Different

By Callimachus

Here’s one I used to do at my home place, based on one of my odd-ball hobbies. I don’t know if it will entertain you folks or not; consider it a summer diversion. Are these pairs of modern English words related to each other or not?

Click to see the answers.

1. cult/occult

2. climate/climax

3. priest/preacher

4. defense/offense

5. wine/vine

6. book/beech

7. grave (n.)/gravel

8. proper/property


Cult comes from Latin cultus, which meant “care, cultivation, worship,” but originally “tended, cultivated.” It is the past particple of colere “to till” (the source of colony, among other modern English words, and ultimately related to the root of cycle and circle).

Occult, on the other hand , is from Latin occultus “hidden, concealed, secret,” which is the past participle of the verb occulere “cover over, conceal.” This is a compound of ob “over” and a verb related to celare “to hide.” The ultimate roots of this are in a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European base *kel- “conceal,” which also has yielded, via Latin, cell and cellar, and, via its Germanic branch, holster, hole, and helm.


They come from a pair of Greek nouns, klima “region, zone,” and klimax “ladder,” both derived from the base of the noun klinein “to slope.”

The notion behind klima is “the slope of the Earth from equator to pole.” The Greek geographers used the angle of the sun to define the Earth’s zones.

From Greek, the words took off down diverging paths. The Romans picked up clima (genitive climatis) in its sense of “region, slope of the Earth,” and by Chaucer’s time it had made its way into English. But by c.1600 the meaning had shifted from “region” to “weather associated with that region.”

Greek klimax “ladder,” meanwhile, acquired a metaphoric meaning “propositions rising in effectiveness.” The rhetorical meaning evolved in English through “series of steps by which a goal is achieved,” to “escalating steps,” to (1789) “high point,” a usage credited by the Oxford English Dictionary “to popular ignorance.” The meaning “orgasm” is first recorded in 1918, apparently coined by birth-control pioneer Marie Stopes as a more accessible word than orgasm.


Priest is Old English preost, shortened from the older Germanic form represented by Old High German prestar and Old Frisian prestere. All are very early Germanic borrowings from Late Latin presbyter “presbyter, elder.” Presumably the words came to the Germanic tribes along with the Christian missionaries who converted them.

The Latin word in turn was a borrowing of Greek presbyteros “an elder,” which also was an adjective meaning “older.” It is the comparative form of presbys “old.”

This word is something of a mystery, but one suggested origin is that it meant “one who leads the cattle,” and is a compound of *pres- “before” and the root of bous “cow.”

Preach also was an Old English word borrowed from Church Latin. The Anglo-Saxon form was predician, but the word was re-borrowed in Middle English in the Frenchified form preachen.

The source of both forms is Late Latin predicare “to proclaim publicly, announce” (in Medieval Latin “to preach”), a compound of præ- “forth” and dicare “to proclaim, to say.”


The base is a Latin verb (found only in compounds) fendere “to strike, push.” Add the prefix de- “from, away” and you get defendere “ward off, protect.” Add the prefix ob “against” and you get offendere “to strike against, stumble.” The sense of “commit a fault, displease” also was in Latin.


In fact, pretty much the same word. The Latin root is vinum “wine.” From this came vinea “vine, vineyard,” which passed into Old French as vigne and thence into Middle Enaglish as vine.

Latin vimun had gone directly into Old English (and most other Germanic languages) as win, which became modern English wine.

The Latin word for “wine” also passed into Old Church Slavonic (vino), Lithuanian (vynas), Welsh (gwin), and Old Irish (fin).

The ultimate root of the Latin word appears to be from a lost language that was spoken in the Mediterranean before the Indo-European peoples arrived there more than 6,000 years ago, which makes it an ancient word indeed. Its other descendants include Greek oinos and words for “wine” in Armenian, Hittite, and non-Indo-European Georgian and West Semitic (cf. Arabic wain, Hebrew yayin, Ethiopian wayn).


At least we think so. The traditional derivation of the common Germanic word for “book” (Old English boc, German Buch) is from Proto-Germanic *bokjon “beech” (Old English bece, German Buche).

The notion is that the original written documents of the northern European peoples were beechwood tablets on which runes were inscribed, but the derivation also may be from the tree itself; people still carve their initials into them. This is not so far-fetched, as Latin and Sanskrit also have words for “writing” that are based on tree names (“birch” and “ash,” respectively).

The base of beech and its Germanic relatives is Proto-Indo-European *bhagos a tree name that has come to mean different things in different places (cf. Greek phegos “oak,” Latin fagus “beech,” Russian buzina “elder”). It’s not unusual for tree names to switch around like this.

The ground sense of the Proto-Indo-European word may well be “edible,” if it is related, as some thing, to Greek phagein “to eat.” Beech mast was an ancient food source for agricultural animals across a wide stretch of Europe.


Grave is Old English græf “grave, ditch,” from a Proto-Germanic *graban that also yielded Old High German grab “grave, tomb;” Old Norse gröf “cave,” and Gothic graba “ditch”). This evolved from a Proto-Indo-European root *ghrebh-/*ghrobh- “to dig, to scratch, to scrape,” which also yielded Old Church Slavonic grobu “grave, tomb”). IT is unrelated to the adjective grave.

Gravel is from Old French gravele, a diminutive of grave “sand, seashore,” which came into French from one of the Celtic peoples who once inhabited Gaul. IT is related, thus, to Welsh gro “coarse gravel,” Breton grouan, and Cornish grow “gravel.”


The roots of both are in Latin proprius “one’s own, special, particular to itself.”

The Latin word came directly into English (via French) as proper by the early 13th century. In English it originally meant “adapted to some purpose, fit, apt;” the meaning “socially appropriate” is first recorded in 1704. The original sense is preserved in proper name and astronomical proper motion.

Latin proprietas was a noun formed from proprius that literally meant “special character.” The Romans coined this to be an exact translation of Greek idioma once they began to absorb Greek ideas. But the Latin word also took on a specific sense of “ownership, property, propriety,” in which sense it passed through French and into English by 1300.

But the earliest English usages were in the more vague sense of “nature, quality.” The typical modern meaning “possession” was rare before the 17th century. One of the dangers of interpreting old texts is that you may encounter familiar words with meanings that have shifted or narrowed.

Latin proprius is a compound formed from the phrase pro privo, literally “for the individual.”

Eisenhower’s Ghost

By Callimachus

When President Bush visited Hungary, he helped the nation commemorate its failed 1956 uprising against Soviet domination. But Charles Gati wrote that a Clinton-style apology would have been more in order:

The truth is that at a critical juncture in the Cold War, when Hungarians rose against their Soviet oppressors, the United States abandoned them. After 13 days of high drama, hope and despair, the mighty Soviet army prevailed. For its part, Washington offered a sad variation on “NATO”: no action, talk only. The Eisenhower administration’s policy of “liberation” and “rollback” turned out to be a hoax — hypocrisy mitigated only by self-delusion. The more evident, if unstated, goal was to roll back the Democrats from Capitol Hill rather than liberate Central and Eastern Europe from Soviet tyranny.

Gati is an academic and a researcher. It is apparent from his column that he’s formed his opinions about 1956 at least in part from digging he’s done in the CIA’s archives to research a book. They also owe much, it seems, to material from Soviet archives that were available to researchers after the fall of the USSR.

We now know from Russian archives that the Hungarians did have a chance to gain some of what they sought.

I have every sympathy with the Hungarians. I remember reading a white paper account of the events of 1956 when I was a teenager and thinking it was one of the great tragedies of the Cold War. And seeing how the Red Army brought in its Asian units to grind the boot down on genuine factory workers gave the lie to the whole cardboard edifice of Marxist-Leninist rhetoric.

But Gati seems to me to be in violation of one of my cardinal rules: In judging the acts and words of people of the past, judge from what they knew, not what you know now.

The United States, according to the usual version of what happened, could not help the Hungarians because any action would have triggered a military confrontation with Moscow. This explanation misses the point: There were actions short of war that Washington might have taken. It could certainly have urged the Hungarians to temporize and pursue limited, evolutionary goals. It could have taken the issue to the United Nations before, and not after, the Soviet crackdown. In an imaginative move toward post-Stalin detente, it could have proposed immediate talks about withdrawing American forces from a small Western European country in exchange for Soviet withdrawal from Hungary.

Instead, Gati writes, and probably correctly, “[T]he United States had no means available to aid, let alone ‘liberate,’ Hungary. For despite all the talk about ‘liberation’ since 1952, neither the National Security Council nor the State Department had devised plans for diplomatic or any other form of assistance. Nor was the CIA ready.”

Thanks to people like Gati, we know what the American and Soviet leaders of 1956 said among themselves. But they couldn’t hear each other at the time.

Gati says other U.S. approaches to the Hungary crisis would have succeeded. But even after you’ve read all the archives, you don’t know that. Once you take a single step outside the historical flow of events, once you introduce a single “what-if,” the butterfly effect kicks in and the entire course of events becomes utterly unpredictable.

It is possible to see similarities between the 1956 uprisings in Poland and Hungary and the events of 1989: A new leader in the East was denouncing old tyrants, admitting mistakes, and promising more openness and better lives for people. Subject populations reacted by rising up not only against their local overlords but the entire Soviet system.

But the similarities mask deep differences. Khrushchev, for instance, was under intense pressure from Mao not to let the Soviet system run off the rails. The audacity, or genius — or luck — of Reagan was to see that the moment had come to press against the rotten regime. The mass rising from below in Eastern Europe was strong enough in 1989, and the change at the top was real enough, and the hollowness of the regimes was so advanced, that the circumstances were just right.

But the main thing Gati seems to have forgotten is the awful dilemma that chilled every day of the Cold War. Every international crisis brought a risk of nuclear annihilation. After a few of them in the first post-war years, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. learned to avoid them — without making that too obviously the main rule of the game.

Stability always is the ideal for world powers, in any era, but in the Cold War it became the only guarantee of survival. Both sides, though they occasionally tested each other (especially at times of a change in administration in Washington) quickly retreated into the fetish for stability. When the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, Kennedy in public used it as an excuse to, correctly, lambaste the Soviet “worker’s paradise” ideal as a sham. But privately he accepted it: “It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.”

The U.S. invested thousands of lives and millions of dollars in maintaining a status quo that was morally indefensible and that compromised our ideals. We muzzled our commitment to democracy and embraced dictators if they pronounced themselves anti-communists. And what was the inhumane doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” but hostage-taking on a global scale?

It was a system that elevated stability over justice. What was the alternative? Bold moves only drove the world closer to the thermonuclear precipice. Before it’s all forgotten, let someone write down the helpless terror felt by average people during the Cuban Missile Crisis; how my parents said good-bye to each other every morning as he went to work, crying and thinking this would be the day the skies blossomed obliteration all over them.

The Cold War need to deter a nuclear war at all costs short of surrender evolved in the minds of leaders from being a temporary and very regrettable condition, to a necessity, to a proper relationship, and finally to a positive good.

In 1956, it had at least reached the level of “necessity.” John Foster Dulles said in a public interview during the crisis that American military intervention to free the Hungarians would “precipitate a full-scale world war and probably the result would be all these people wiped out.”

The lines had congealed on the map when the armies halted in 1945. As Gati writes the rhetoric was launched over the barbed wire, but not the soldiers. Dean Rusk, later and in another context, said what happened in Eastern Europe had “never been an issue of war and peace between us and the Soviet Union — however ignoble this sounds.”

Do you wonder why some of us literally felt born-again in 1989, and why we still prefer the current idealistic follies in the name of freedom and gambles on nation-building? Better that than the grim death match grappling of the Cold War. Yet many people yearn for the “balance” of the past, and want something/anything — Europe, the U.N., even the Islamists — to rise up and force America to back down and return to all talk, no action.

Gati rails against the hypocrisy of an America that talked a good game of liberation and the rights of people everywhere to live free, but was unwilling to put any muscle into the promises:

The president should tell the Hungarians that in the 1950s Congress issued politically inspired “Captive Nations” resolutions and held self-satisfying “prayer breakfasts,” while Eisenhower delivered empty promises about “liberation” during presidential campaigns in 1952 and 1956 to please Hungarian (and other Eastern European) ethnics in Ohio and elsewhere — with no plans to carry them out.

The Hungarians need to hear what happened 50 years ago — and Americans need to hear that in the future we will not say we seek clearly unattainable goals abroad for political ends at home.

That’s an artful conclusion. It can be read two ways: “We should back up our talk with robust action,” or “we should stop talking about freedom being a human right since we’re not sincere about helping make it happen.”


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