Rule by Assassination

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“Justice has been done,” chortles President Obama and his spokespeople.  ”Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, good bye,” chanted the proles on the streets of New York.  There are already T-shirts on sale saying “Obama got Osama.” I am surprised not to have heard of a procession of little people in colorful costumes singing “Ding dong the witch is dead.  Which old witch?  Bin Laden witch.”

As a major power, the United States is an embarrassment, and its leaders are not so much evil as imbecilic.  With enough firepower, both nuclear and conventional, to blow up half the solar system, we exult in the assassination of a terrorist in Pakistan, and the son and grandchildren of Libya’s ruler.

While Gadafi is largely a figure of fun–the Michael Jackson of the Mediterranean as Taki has described him–Osama bin Laden was possessed of a noble idealism.  He sacrificed everything, wealth, social position, reputation, and ultimately his life for the religion in which he believed. Deluded by the evil commandments of a false prophet, he arranged the murder of people he had never met in order to retaliate against a government that oppressed his co-religionists. I made this case in the weeks following the attacks on the Twin Towers, and I have learned nothing that alters my opinion.

I suppose they actually did kill him.  I accept this in the same cautious spirit in which I accept Obama’s birth certificate.  I have no proof to the contrary, and just because a President of the United States publicly says something does not automatically make it a lie.  Life would be too easy if they lied about everything all the time.

Of course, he had to be killed, though I do not see how an assassination on foreign territory where we do not have permission to operate can be described as an act of justice.  But as Americans celebrate the victory of the greatest superpower on earth over a conspiracy numbering some thousands of Muslim fanatics, I wonder if they recall the old saying, “What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

Justice, in political and legal terms, is the execution of the law by the sovereign authority that has jurisdiction.  The killing of Osama is an act of extra-judicial revenge against a man who probably long ago lost his ability to harm the American people.  In any event, he played the game and paid the price on the old terms Christians were reminded of just a bit more than a week before the assassination: Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.

Unlike the acts of revenge carried out in societies where vendetta is part of the social and moral code, the assassinations carried out by the United States and Israel have been carried out in defiance of international legal conventions to which they are signatories.  Speaking personally, I do not have much use for Declarations of Human Rights or the various Geneva conventions prohibiting assassinations and  terrorist acts against civilians.  I suppose it is a trivial point, but we–and the Israelis–did sign all these expressions of naive idealism.

When I bring up the cruelty and indecency of our drone attacks in Pakistan or Israel’s ruthless policy of blowing up entire apartment blocks to kill one enemy, I am told that war is hell–an excuse once made by one of America’s war criminals.  Hitler could not have been defeated except by the terror-bombing of his cities, and if it were not for fire-bombing and two atomic bombs, Japan would never have submitted.

This argument involves two serious problems.  The trivial problem is that it is a lie.  Terror bombing solidified German opinion against the allies, whom they now regarded as inhuman monsters that had to be resisted to the end.  The Japanese had been defeated before Hiroshima.  The argument that it would have cost countless American lives to conquer the home islands rests on the assumption that every war must be concluded by unconditional surrender.  That is the position taken by the Lincoln administration while it was engaged in terrorism against Southern civilians.  At best, it can be regarded as a case of special pleading.

Democratic regimes naturally gravitate toward demands of unconditional surrender, because, in order to sell the “sovereign” people on a war, they have to create a propaganda campaign to demonize the enemy:  French aristocrats and businessmen, who were plotting to murder all the upstanding sans-culottes in their beds; Southern slaveowners who enriched themselves off the sweat and blood of Africans; Germans who were all obsessed with a master-race ideology that made them determined to conquer the world; and of course the warmongering Japanese fascists who without any justification whatsoever attacked the entirely innocent United States.  Patriots should be willing to fight for their people even when they have to acknowledge their government has blundered or even done wrong in provoking a war.  Nationalists, however, have to accept every lie concocted by a regime, and in the end they become as evil as the enemy they have demonized.

One can debate the facts until the cows come home without either side convincing the other.  This implies to me that, at the very least, the question of fact is open to dispute.  (And it is  not at all to my purpose here to reopen each question of fact.)  The second problem, though, is crystal clear.  The government of the United States, since the days of Grant and Sherman, has made it a policy to make war on civilians in order to minimize military casualties.

The argument for this is always circumstantial, that the ends justify the means.  Very well then, let us say they do.  Then we have surrendered our right to work ourselves up into moral outrage when an enemy, whether the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or Hamas, stages a successful terrorist attack against US military forces or civilians.  911 was just one of those things that happen when we agree that “war is hell,”   and Osama bin Laden nothing more than an enemy willing to play by American rules.

None of us, including senior military officers, has any control over these events.  We can, however, be free in our own minds to make correct moral judgments.  The earliest version of the Golden Rule, one that is even simpler to understand than Jesus’ formulation, was negative: Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.  We can, at the very least, refuse to fall in with the mob mentality that demonizes an enemy in order to justify any atrocity.

Islam is evil when it not only condones but glorifies the slaughter of the innocent and the assassination of enemies.  When self-described Christians adopt the same arguments and justifications, they are repudiating their faith and joining the party of Herod.

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