On Not Becoming A Barbarian

P1010271CBS News’s Bob Schieffer recently quoted historian Will Durant who said:

“Barbarism, like the jungle, does not die out, but only retreats behind the barriers that civilization has thrown up against it, and waits there always to reclaim that to which civilization has temporarily laid claim.”

I’m not familiar with jungles but with farm land. I can walk through the woods behind my house and see the foundation of an old house, its concrete steps leading to air, the chimney crumbled in on itself, the stone walls that used to be the borders of its cleared farm land and the rudely cobbled road that gave it access to the outside. All are difficult to discern since they have been reclaimed by the forest.

I’ve walked through the hills of New Hampshire and come upon small clearings behind the oaks, pines and other conifers. Entering them I’ve found grave stones of young children with the same surname, three, four and five years old.  They were all victims of the harsh life of earlier centuries. Was it only 50 or 100 years ago that this land was totally cleared of all trees and brush and crops were planted?

When we stop tending the land it slowly reverts back to its natural state. When we drop our guard, much more quickly will our society revert back to its natural state: barbarism.

We institute societies to keep the brutes from the door. We enact laws. We teach our children correct behaviors which have been taught to us by our parents. Acting correctly and having legal restrictions alone will not let them survive. We need the means to insure those who have not been taught as our children, or those who have little regard for the laws, are disabled from hurting those that do. We create police forces to keep the brutes at bay. We cross our fingers hoping our police forces won’t become brutes.

Will Durant said that like the poor we will always have the barbarians among us. They have only been temporarily tamped down and restrained by our laws. While we recognize might does not make right but as Durant noted, the barbarian believes otherwise. It just waits to redeem what it lost.

The 20th Century showed us the correctness of Will Durant’s statement. Two words Nazi and Cheka give proof of it. The barbarians did not come from untamed foreign lands into Germany or Russia but were living among the people. It was the neighbor or school mate or fellow worker who threw off the cloak of civilization once the way was made clear.

Again as we begin our trek through the 21st Century we see the sluice gates holding back the barbarians have been opened. These brutal men using brutal means have acquired power. They make up brutal rules to govern how others must live their lives. Who within their realm of power would dare defy them?  They murder others without remorse.

During the Cold War we referred to the nations of Eastern Europe that had been shanghaied into the Soviet orbit as Captive Nations. The people living under the barbarians are captive people. They have no voice; they have no choice.

Among today’s barbarians are: Hamas, ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Ukrainian Separatists, and Taliban. The dilemma facing those who must confront them is to decide how to do it without further injuring the captive people.

Israel is on the front line now fighting the barbarians of Hamas. My problem with its fight is that it has confused the barbarians with the captive people. It has done this by not accepting the blame for their killings. Calling them shields, or suggesting that Hamas has forced it to kill them, allows Israel to wash its hands of any responsibility for its actions.

When you kill someone and blame someone else for making you do it you give yourself a license to continue to kill. When others accept such an explanation they too are giving you such a license. And, the killings will go on until you decide you’ve killed enough. And what then have you accomplished other than to lay the groundwork for future generations of people who will hate you.

The difficulty in fighting barbarians is to keep from becoming like them. When killing is done without remorse then one comes too close to being one.


19 thoughts on “On Not Becoming A Barbarian

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  2. * … that if they did not feel intimidated by Hamas …….. that they would * not .. be whispering their discontents … “

  3. Matt :

    ” Most of the diapproval is beneath the surface, hinted at only in private conversations” … Did you thoroughly read the post and that exact quote in the paragraph of the article quoted before you … asserted … that I want to have it both ways as it suits my purposes regarding the Gazans being intimidated by Hamas. Certainly you understand that if Gazans did not feel intimidated by Hamas … an Outfit the author clearly states has been ” known to intimidate– and sometimes harm— its critics in Gaza ” … that they would be whispering their discontents. The air is poisoned. Self- preservation ordains that they be extremely careful about criticizing publicly the war that privately they are asserting has brought them such suffering through Hamas mis- management. Just what do you reckon the Cause and Effect is here that they are wrestling with. The Destruction of Israel is as Michael Bloomberg says … ” Written into the Hamas playbook .” You are a consummate apologist for Hamas it seems Matt. Astonishingly you have not levelled a single criticism against them, not even regarding the tunnels. I’ll just have to take your views with a large grain of salt Matt. As regards your friend Hamas just be careful what you wish for. I suspend any further comment. SHALOM 🙂

  4. Matt:

    ISIS was a sidebar. This is why they were …referred to globally if you will and with the clear set aside at the end of one post of … IN OTHER NEWS MATT … and an equallly clear set aside at the end of the other. I really do deplore this tactic you seem to employ of throwing out red herrings such as ” you seem to want to justify the killing of a thousand women and children by something ISIS is doing elsewhere. ” I have not, nor would I ever seek to ” Justify ” any such. That is your assertion and your language and while I will not impose upon you to identify this disingenuous bit of curious assertion as … either fact or speculation … I will say it has nothing to do with any points I was making. You seem to want to ignore argument you are hard pressed to answer Matt, and instead practice an intellectual sleight of hand where you divert attention elsewhere under false intellectual pretense. This ISIS/ ” You seem to want to justify the killing of a thousand Palestinian women and children ” gambit of yours is yet another illustration of this strategy. Eye the Jury, Matt !!! … They are not buying it and neither am I . Read my comments and if you are stymied so be it ; though why when two parties are civilly communicating and airing arguments one side and another on a topic should result in anyone being … stymied … is mysterious to me. Do not just make things up out of whole cloth.

  5. Matt :

    My comments are civil, clear, relevant and certainly no longer than yours or a number of other commenters. If you cannot logically refute a rebuttal then do not resort to placing absurd conditions on commenters such as ” identify your assertions as fact or speculation. ” Are you serious ? Have you identified your very wrongminded and wholly incorrect assertion that I ” seem to want to justify the killing of 1000 Palestinians ” as either fact or speculation. I admonish you to read the comments more thoroughly yourself before replying.

    For imstance if you did that, you would realize that it is rather crafty and completely intellectually dishonest to re-capitulate in an exact quote regarding Gazans’ support for Hamas going to war a point that I had very clearly, in the interests of fairness, been careful to acknowledge in my comments. I am certain no deceit is intended to the reader on your part as you appear to be … clearing the record … and catching me out on stating things out of context, when really all you are doing is rendering an exact quote of a point that I had already acknowledged in its entirety.

    Look Matt, if you want to throw up graphic pictures of dead children and make your arguments with readers just acquiescing to your arguments then I am certain there will be sycophants who will applaud you here or elsewhere. If you have the moral and intellectual courage to accept clear, logical, civil, humane and eminently balanced argument … read my comments … then take Aunt Polly’s thimble off your thumb and stop censoring Tom Sawyer as if you have caught him raiding the jam jar. Your magisterial response to my logical argument just sucks all the air out of the room. Period.

    As to … oh, hold your breath now … those baneful CAPS, just where has your sense of humor fled to. They were brief in duration in the form of ironically humorous codas at the end of two posts and I have not seen you get your schoolmaster’s beanie all askew when several other commenters who come to mind have used them. So why the exception? You stifle debate by not reponding cooly and dispassionately and logically as a debater and instead take refuge in affecting great umbrage over some purported violation of … the rules of this blog and so on. You disappoint me Counselor!

    As to your evenly applying these rules, particularly in peevishly implying that my comments were not ” short ” I say only this. You have one frequent contributor whom I will identify pseudonymously only as … Highly Literate Billy. And he does ramble on at times in prolix stream of consciousness fashion and while never inchoate in his flow is still at times rather antically chaotic at what he throws up on the board for perusal. I enjoy his remarks as they seem to well from a real love of literature and are protean in form. I never try to put my foot on the neck of anyone who cares enough to try to express something well and thoughtfully. I figure they deserve the benefit of my thoughtful audience and so I give it to them. Just as I gave your remarks very thoughtful audience. I would hope you would at the least understand this.

  6. * ” …. that tightly controls the Gaza strip and is * known to intimidate — and sometimes harm — …. “

  7. Matt :

    MIDDLE EAST UPDATE : Washington Post.com article today … As war with Israel shatters lives, more Gazans question Hamas decisions … by Sudarsan Raghavan

    ” As the Palestinian death toll tops 1900, more and more Gazans are questioning the strategies of Hamas, the militant Islamist group that tightly controls the Gaza strip and is knowledge to intimidate– and sometimes harm– those critical of its policies. Most of the diapproval is still beneath the surface, hinted at only in private conversations. But in battered enclaves such as Brit Lahiya, discontent is bubbling up openly, fueled by a sense of helplessness and fatigue.”

    So as not to cherrypick the article Matt, and deprive a reader of fair context, the balance of it asserts : Gazans support Hamas’ warring with Israel so as to achieve short term Palestinian goals of lifting the Egyptian/Israeli economic blockades of the Gazan Strip and opening its border crossings. They also do not accuse Hamas of using them as ” Human Shields. ” Given though that they acknowledge the intimidation of them by Hamas this fact, that they refuse to make such an accusation, should be taken perhaps with a large grain of salt.


    1. John:

      To remind you of our Comment Policy:

      Keep it civil. Keep it relevant. Keep it clear. Keep it short. Identify your assertions as fact or speculation. No typing in ALL-CAPS. Read the post in its entirety before commenting.

      You still seem to be justifying the killing of around a thousand Palestinian women and children based on something ISIS is doing. I can’t figure that out. Is your reasoning that because ISIS is made up of aherents to the Islamic religion all members of that religion are fair game? Or is it only those in Palestine?

      The article you cited also said: “The criticism does not necessarily reflect a loss of support for Hamas. Most Palestinians, even Hamas’s biggest detractors, say they back the current war against Israel,”

      As for your grain of salt you suggest on one hand they lie when they say they do not think Hamas uses them as shields (you base that on them being imtimidated) but on the other hand you point to the statement “Gazans are questioning the strategies of Hamas” which apparently they make even though intimidated. It would seem if the intimidation you point out is effective they wouldn’t question Hamas’s strategies. It seems you believe them when it suits your purpose.

  8. Matt: We continue:

    2. ” So Hamas used material in ways it should not have done so we deprive others of the good …. ” … No, Matt, Israel does not deprive the Gazans of the good, or the goods. Like the Somali Warlords in that era of conflict in the close of this past century and our involvement in it ” the Goods ” go to the strong who use them for their gain. In this case Hamas, whom you seem to characterize as if they were unruly frat boys, diverted materials to build terror conduits, tunnels, into Israel. Again a point I made which you neglect to address. The blockade of Gaza started because the Israelis, whom I consider very hardnosed but not the passive innocents that you mis-characterize my view of them to be, caught Hamas smuggling Iranian arms in on ships that were supposed to be freighted with ” Goods” for the Palestinian people. Hamas … Cause and Effect !!! … Gee, how did they wind up in such a terrible way ??? … Guns ??? … Well guns, like rockets are always loyal to the intent of their owners aren’t they Matt? … Stop obfuscating.

    3. It is alarming that you imply a comparison with our American Revolutionary War Patriots and Soldiers to the Hamas terrorists . Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and you give a terrorist group the same fledging as the heroes of the Continental Army ? … As for a disproportionate military capability I think you ignore the fundamental principle of modern asymmetric warfare as practiced by groups like Hamas. Planes, ships and tanks can be trumped by the strategically delivered radiation dirty bomb or if big brother Iran makes good on their avowed aim of getting The BOMB and evolving a missile system to drop it on Tel Aviv then we suppose Hamas won’t be wailing and gnashing their terrorist teeth at how unfair life is, any more! Who are the real hostages in the Middle East Matt? … Who are the real prisoners of the Terrorist blueprint for victory in that region? Israel !!!

    4. No, Netanyahu has not lost any women or children, nor does he intend to. To sugggest that Hamas has no military alternative to strategically placing their batteries in mosques, schools and hospitals and refusing to let civilians leave is in any way excusable, is an argument I think too highly of you to believe you are making except in the heat of the argument.
    Similarly I ascribe the tautology you set up between Netanyahu making an intemperate remark about Hamas being animals and … ” therefore he thinks he is killing animals” more the result of your passionate feelings inflaming your reasoning than anything else. Look Matt, I get where you are coming from ; no one can view the slaughter of women and children by bombs and bullets wirh other than horror. It gets the blood up and enrages any decent person. But I find your Israel is the schoolyard bully of poor Hamas analysis too simplistic. It ignores the historical abtecedents, the Cause and Effect, of the present nightmare. And it is a nightmare. I believe Israel wants a brokered peace and acceptance as a Jewish State from the Arab neighbors. Hamas is apparently just going for broke. And thus will they be broken.


  9. Matt :

    In response to your points :

    1. What is a ” Willy Nilly ” attack? Is it one without ample warning after ample provocation ? Who is in charge in Gaza … Israel? … Hamas is in charge and has cowed the population there so the idea of Israel establishing pre-strike refugee camps that Hamas would not let Gazans seek safe refuge in as it considers them expendable political capital does not hold up. You refused to address this point I made that Israel leaflets and gives timely warning to the civilians and that Hamas refuses to let them leave the targeted areas. There seems to be a Gobsmacked obliviousness to the immutable law of Cause and Effect that is the operative principle in this argument.

  10. Matt,

    You should include the international financial terrorist who, for example, are attempting to weaponize water just as they have done with oil and some other natural resources….the terrorists that you have named are all funded by someone…

    1. Jean:

      You are right. I have to do more on pointing out how water will become the next area for the international cartels to take over.

    1. Rather:

      George Kennan tells of a visit to Hamburg, Germany, right after WWII. He had been there before and seeing the devastation caused by the Allies (US/Britain) he became frightened. 75,000 civilians killed in 3 days. After that, you can see in his writings he did all in his power to try to make sure they’d be no more wars like WWII. He went to the extreme that even though he knew how bad the Soviets were, he was seeking to make accommodations with them that were rejected by everyone else. Sherman was right; and he proved the point, at least according to those who live in the South.

    2. there’s a brand new biograph of William Tecumseh Sherman that all of us history buffs should read. Saw it at the Pru’s Barnes and Nobles two weeks ago, it’s on my reading list. After I finish Trollope and some Comic-Convention authors I met. From psychiatry to astrophysics to microbiology to war to sci-fi to thrillers to hard core history, there’s a lot of illuminating stuff out there. I just saw LeCarre’s movie about A Man (with Seymour Hoffman–brilliant) last night at the Loewe’s Boston. He and Graham Greene nailed the ugly American CIA spy genres. Greene’s “the Quiet American” written in mid 1950s presaged American entry into and mucking up Vietnam (all of Greene’s stuff should be mandatory reading for history, literature buffs) , and all of LeCarres —did he do the Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Gifted writers with time on their hands. I also like Guy de Maupasant’s short stories, mysteries, and Herman Hesse. Body and soul, war and peace, the human condition best done by William Somerset Maughm (sp?) start with his little novella “Lisa of Lambeth” He left medicine early (one year into internship/practice as an MD @1900) to concentrate on writing. “Of Human Bondage>” Post Script of many things: I wouldn’t glamorize any gunmen, today. The old IRA was brave; Irish gunmen today are just bullies, so said my cousin too Roger Concannon, a retired Boston Police Officer, signed William M. Connolly, a piano player and writer: REad Character Assasins II and my new novel INTERREGNUM due out in 2015, both are guaranteed to flop to this extent: I’ll lose money writing them, but a toss of dice, win or lose, never bothered me or stopped me or stopped anyone I grew up with from expressing themselves however they deemed fit. Up the Republic!!

  11. Matt:

    A thoughtful overview. As a practical matter how do you suggest Israel should have handled the following problems: 1) Your civilian population is subject to unceasing Hamas rocketry, you have a superior Military and a spanky aerial defense system, Iron Dome, that gives you virtually complete protection and yet some do slip through. It is intolerable both because of the psychological terror it inflicts and your constant fear that Hamas will acquire missiles from Iran or elsewhere that can easily reach Tel Aviv in a saturation strike some morning, or noon, or night and further the warhead on one may be nuclear. It is not an impossibility given time and circumstances favorable to an enemy whose political platform as well as that of the terror state, Iran, supporting it is unequivocal in calling for your utter annihilation. 2) Hamas has taken gravel and concrete you gave them that was dedicated to rebuilding Gaza and improving civilian living conditions and poured it into building tunnels whose tentacles reach into your land to allow its fighters to raid your villages and take hostages. 3) Your opponent cynically places their rocket batteries in mosques, schools and hospitals and when you leaflet and post electronically warnings to civilians in Gaza to move away from where you will be bombing, Hamas threatens them with death if they heed your humanitarian warnings. Hamas understands the propaganda value of their deaths. They are completely expendable to Hamas and the perverse and richly satisfying beauty of it to them is that Israel is perceived as bloody handed by the World while the real practical and moral instigators of Gazan civilian deaths, Hamas, slink off like curs after a kill, jaws slavered with blood and that innocent ” What … Who me ??? ” look in their feral eyes. They are feral in their tactics. They are vicious in their calculations of collateral civilian deaths being a price Gazans will pay in order to advance Hamas aims!

    Consequently, Benjamin Netanyahu’s quote regarding Israel shielding humans and Hamas using humans as shields, is not just a semantic set piece. It cleanly delineates a very messy and bloody reality

    Put on your Bebe Netanyahu hat for a moment or two there Matt. Tell us now Prime Minister. Just what would you do ???

    1. John:

      1. I suggested that Israel rather than attacking willy-nilly without regard to who it would kill, should have set up refugee camps and allowed all those who did not want to be part of the combat to leave those areas. Israel had blockaded Gaza for 7 years; did it expect that it could maintain such a blockade forever and the Palestinians would accept it. There was a humane way to do it and Israel elected not to do that.

      2. So Hamas used some of the material in a way it should not have done so you deprive all those who would have used it correctly. I mentioned guns. Just because some people use guns in a wrong way doesn’t mean they all should be banned.

      3. Is Hamas supposed to fight out in the open? It has no tanks, or planes, or ships. Of course it is going to hide sort of like the way people fought the Red Coats. What do you suggest people do who have been imprisoned for so many years? You only look at one side; it’s like Israel is an innocent bystander.

      4. Netanyahu has not lost any women and children in this war. That’s what distinguishes this messy and bloody reality. Netanyahu calls the people shields in order to take away their humanity. It is the same thing as using the term collateral damage. He has referred to Hamas as human animals. He thinks he is only killing animals. The problem is not as simple as you make it with Israel as the innocent victim.

      I told you what Netanyahu should have done. He should have allowed those who wanted to flee the fighting to get out. That has been done in almost every other war. He wanted to keep them there. Then he blames the Palestinians when his artillery hits UN schools and refugee centers.

      1. matt has the better of this long running argument with John. NC said it best when he pointed out what we did in Falusha (sp) Iraq. the us marines went in, fought hand to hand, lost 100 men and killed 1,500 Muslin fighters. We didn’t carpet bomb. We didn’t send missles into houses where “shields” were. The mistake Netanyanu makes, and he honestly believes in his missions, is that he thinks the Palestinians do not love their children and women as much as the Israelis do. Now some in Hamas as in ISIL and Al Qaeda are Medieval Barbarians Amoralists who kill and behead out of blood lust; this element must be killed by Israel and the West; there is no dealing with this level of savagery, ignorance and mind-blocked obsession with killing. Kill them before they kill more innocents. But the analogy with the IRA while stretched is not too far fetched. The modern IRA lost all support from Americans via NORAId etc when it began bombing civilian establishments: barrooms, Harrod’s (sp?) Department Stores. The killing of innocents, even the threatened killing of civilians, even with warnings beforehand, should be taboo. Kill the armed bad guys; kill the terrorists, kill the killers before they strike again perhaps with dirty nukes. BUT, make every effort to avoid any, and I mean any, civilian casualties. I’m sure some innocent civilians died in Falusha, but for the most part, that is the way, that and with special forces and targeted drone strikes, that is the way to proceed in future aysmettrical war fare. SELF DEFENSE AND DEFENSE OF OTHERS requires Nations and National Leaders to make some very difficult decisions these days. In retrospect Harry Truman’s decision to us the Atomic Bombs saved perhaps a million lives and several million American, Alllied and Japanese casualties. 70,000 were killed to save several million. A horror, a necessary evil. Sometimes Evil must be confronted and annihilated. Peace, but as the Psalmist said recognizing the Human Condition and God’s creation of us imperfect creatures with free wills, “To every thing there is a season.” We aim for less excessive deaths due to war and disease. But we are not naïve. We have to stand up to and sometimes kill the bad guys; the Enemy. Satan’s minions; Terrorists who blithely kill innocent human beings. It’s kill or be killed. Self defense, defense of others. Saint Thomas Acquinas’s (sp) Calculus: The Just War theories. Nuremberg!!

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