Friday, January 09, 2009

Walzer on Gaza

Ueber-decent Michael Walzer opines, no, pontificates, on Gaza:

Asking the hard questions and worrying about the right answers--these are the moral obligations of commentators and critics, who are supposed to enlighten us about the moral obligations of soldiers. There hasn't been much enlightenment these last days.

Such self-awareness, such willingness to confront the hard questions, such moral courage. Oh, if only everyone were as brave.

32 Comments:

Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

This follows the trend of almost everything I've read from Decents on this conflict. Posturing as 'insightful and able to rise above partisan accounts'? check. boring, lengthy, and unconvincing 'discussion' of what 'proportionality' means? check. attacking lots of straw men with precious little evidence? check. polite rehprasings of typical wingnut positions? check. Pretending to go somewhere while sticking to a position of saying pretty much nothing, only to conclude that, well, war is bad but this aimless war is ok because terrorism is bad? check. Insinutations that anyone who voices criticism of Israel must either support Hamas or otherwise devote all their time time to criticising Hamas? check. pretending to be balanced while still blaming Hamas for everything? check. ignoring most of the facts of who is being targetted to play out a simplistic good vs bad narrative? check. etc etc. It's all so depressingly awful.

I wasn't a particularly keen follower of the world of decencny in the Lebanon conflict, but this Gaza onslaught doesn't really show decents in the best light. Harry's Place has descended into a pardoy of itself, and it's hard to take all the 'it is 1939 and all muslims are hitler' guff seriously when UN schools are being shelled for what seems like no reason.

1/09/2009 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

The bizarre thing to me (and I might end up writing something on this to wind up the philosophers at Crooked Timber) is that Walzer just doesn't even seem to mention the relevant international law at all; he acts like the only thing that happened in 1977 relevant to constraints on the waging of war was his book. "The moral obligations of soldiers" are actually written down in a set of conventions and protocols, and as far as I can see, those protocols take a much more sensible and intellectually rigorous approach to the question of protecting noncombatants than he does.

1/09/2009 10:47:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Like the 2006 War, the current conflict has pulled what the Decents stand for, into sharp focus. You can really ditch all the guff about universal human rights, democrcay and P2P. When the chips are down Decency is distilled down into its basic premise - providing moral cover for whatever nefarious activity is carried out by US/UK/Isreal.

I known I have bigged him up repeatedly but Martin Shaw has really nailed the dishonesty and cant inherent in Walzer's 'Just War' Theory.

In principle the just war rules could be made to address a lot of the issues which will arise in any legitimate military action. Having said that though, it seems to me the problem is not just the way in which just war thinking is abused by political leaders. The problem is also the way in which it has been developed as an intellectual tradition. In my book I criticise the ways in which Michael Walzer in his famous book Just and Unjust Wars, tried to develop this tradition in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. This has been one of the defining texts of this trend of thought in recent years. It seems to me that the just war tradition has been exposed to repeated manipulation and has provided cover for the crimes that have been committed against civilians in war. This is not something which is accidental to the tradition. It comes from the basic assumption of the tradition, that war is possibly legitimate. My argument is that this is not the most appropriate starting point for us today. The questions are not just which war is legitimate, and which means are legitimate. The fundamental question is whether war is a valid means of resolving political conflicts. In the age of weapons of mass destruction, and an overwhelmingly urbanised, and complex global society, it seems to me that war almost always tends towards social catastrophe, of some degree or another. Maybe this argument is fairly obvious if we talk about nuclear weapons. The conceit is that 'smart' weapons somehow take out the targets you have while avoiding collateral damage. This is unrealistic in almost all cases...

We shouldn't be starting from the just war premise that war is possibly a useful and valuable means of resolving conflicts because that limits our thinking to the problem of determining under which conditions, and with which methods, we should use war. I think we should start with the premise that war is a problem in itself, that war is not something which is any longer really appropriate for our society, and that our aim should be to remove it from the political field.

1/09/2009 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger steven said...

It strikes me that a thoroughgoing cynic could suppose that "just war theory" originated as a way for the church to keep itself friendly with the state: after all, if religious people took seriously all that "Thou shalt not kill" nonsense and so condemned war absolutely, political leaders would just consign them to the dustbin of irrelevance.

I have no idea if this might be true, though. Anyone know if such a hypothesis has been advanced by someone who knows something about it?

1/09/2009 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

HP doesn't even go through the motions of Posturing as 'insightful and able to rise above partisan accounts' It is unashamedly partisan (the frequent cut and paste jobs from "Z-Word" are particulary irritating) to a point when they have gone beyond even "Decency" and are well into Mel Phillips territory.

1/09/2009 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

This from Copn the Don of the Middle East http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/concoughlin/4177607/One-ill-directed-missile-has-turned-the-tide-of-support-against-Israel.html is hilarious by the way. Particularly:
"The appalling loss of life this week when Israeli forces shelled a UN compound killing more than 40 people is an illustration of the dilemma facing commanders on the ground, when confronting Islamist militants who refuse to acknowledge the normal rules of engagement."

1/09/2009 02:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Mordaunt said...

I don't think Steven is a million miles from the truth. AIUI, what happened in 312 AD was a scenario in which a nominally pacifist religion got made into the state religion of the Roman Empire which had to deal with internal claimants to the throne and external attacks from the barbarians. JW theory, which is usually blamed on the all too fertile mind of St. Augustine, is an attempt to say that yes, human beings should live in peace but they don't always and this is when you are justified in responding in kind.

Personally, I don't think that Iraq, Israel vs. Hezbollah or Israel vs. Hamas can be justified with reference to classical JW theory. I suspect that in the depths of his solemn little soul Walzer knows this which is why he's flanneling desperately here.

1/09/2009 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Whether "normal rules of engagement" include "being in an aeroplane miles up in the sky where nobody can get at you" is a question much remarked on, so I believe, in some areas of the world.

1/09/2009 03:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Darius Jedburgh said...

As with the Geneva Conventions and the doctrine of double effect, if just war theory (as opposed to the caricature of that is emerging) were applied rigorously it would provide a powerful banner for protest, not cover for apologists for atrocity.

Christianity has never been strictly pacifist in its mainstream. Christ certainly treats the centurion as if he has a legitimate function (unlike, eg, the prostitute).

If Augustine had been concerned to "keep the church friendly with the state," he never would have written City of God, among very many other things.

1/09/2009 04:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

There's a good discussion of the emergence of Just War and Holy War at the beginning of Christopher Steven,

Tyerman's 'God's War: A History of the Crusades' is good on the emergence of Just War.

He notes that "The whole idea of a holy war is different from that of a just war. The Crusade was a holy war; therefore, it was a devotional practice in itself. A just war is a legal form of war that excuses war, but admits that war is an evil." []From an on-line interview]

1/09/2009 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

If Augustine had been concerned to "keep the church friendly with the state," he never would have written City of God, among very many other things.

I didn't know Augustine wrote Portuguese.

1/09/2009 04:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Darius Jedburgh said...

Oh he was a very learned man.

1/09/2009 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Excellent choice of pseudonym, darius ..

1/09/2009 05:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also see to remember Tyerman teaching me (well, trying to teach me - it's a bt hazy now) about the 'Peace of Christ'. IIRC, the C9th -C10th church sometimes did try to mandate absolute pacificim in Christendom. Perhaps.

Chris Williams

1/09/2009 05:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Darius Jedburgh said...

Pacifism is a minority tradition within Christianity. It is unknown to the Hebrews. The suggestion that "Thou shalt not kill" could conceivably have been understood by Moses and his people as a pacifist precept (as opposed to a prohibition on murder) is about as comical as the idea that Augustine was shilling for state power. A generation later Yahweh was egging Joshua on to genocide to clear a homeland for his people. So even "if religious people took seriously all that 'Thou shalt not kill' nonsense," as Steven puts it, no absolute condemnation of war need result. Steven's "thoroughgoing cynic" is fortunately an ignoramus.

1/09/2009 07:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Mordaunt said...

Notwithstanding Augustine's jaundiced approach to political power in City of God, I think he saw the Church as working together with the Roman Empire. The conflict between Donatists and Catholics in N. Africa being a case in point.

I think it's fair to say that Christianity was pacifist during the very early centuries. Christians refused to serve in the army and, IIRC, to serve as judges as this involved the shedding of blood. C.f. Tertullian's The Crown. After the accession of Constantine, and since, not so much. The Truce of God movement was an attempt to mitigate the gangsterism of the early feudal period. According to Tom Holland it was taken up by William the Bastard who believed that his vassals ought not to be fighting each other but his enemies, such as the King of England.

Tyerman describes the Augustinian attitude to war pretty accurately. I suspect, however, that this tended to be held by clerics and monastics and not by the knightly classes of Christian Europe who were pretty gung-ho when it came to the smiting, whether of the Heathen Turk or of each other.

1/09/2009 07:57:00 PM  
Blogger steven said...

I take it that Jesus was just taking the piss when he said "Turn the other cheek" etc?

1/09/2009 09:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Darius Jedburgh said...

No, Steven, he wasn't. But given many other things he is reported as saying, one isn't obliged to interpret this as an unqualified command to abjure violence. (Nothing follows, for example, about what to do if one's child is struck. Or murdered. Just to take one other kind of case.)

1/09/2009 10:27:00 PM  
Blogger steven said...

"Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you", "Love your enemies", “Put up your sword. All who take the sword die by the sword" — all bollocks, right? Or some kind of joke?

1/09/2009 11:51:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I might end up writing something on this to wind up the philosophers at Crooked Timber

I have now carried out this thread, and even self-plagiarised a title from AW in order to do so.

1/10/2009 01:19:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

kerching, but i think this is worth it. from harry's place, based on one anonymous letter that melanie phillips claims to have received, David T writes the following:

Muslims are attacking Jews on the streets of London, and wherever they can find them.

1/10/2009 08:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Aarowwatch going to start watching David T?

He's quite annoyed at the moment, forgetting to make the distinction between Islamists and Muslims. If such a thing as an anti-muslim bigot exists, surely Mr.T now fits the bill.

1/10/2009 08:57:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

wow, having just been over to HP, it really is worrying the kinds of cranks they are giving space to. There's also a post with 100 responses about a Jewish kid being bullied at school over this military action bing 'her fault'. fairly sad i guess, but hardly newsworthy. the problem is that the child's mother has not gone to the school because - dear god - she is 'worried about the possible political views of the teachers'. and the regulars on HP all think is 'a very sad case'. well yeah it is, but maybe not for the reasons they think.

oh and David T in the same thread claims that there was no bigotry directed towards muslims (in britain i think, but he seems to be suggesting anywhere else too) prior to september the 11th... sits incredibly oddly with his views on antisemitism.

as i think i said earlr on here, this is bringing the very worst parts of decents, but especially harry's place out of the woodwork.

1/10/2009 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

I think you allow Harry's Place to trap itself with its own logic. As with Aaronovitch Watch's eventual conclusion to drop Nick Cohen watch, it was, well, he doesn't need watching; he like HP will eventually disappear into some kind of mental black hole. There's some hilarious decency-esque rhetoric from Alan Dershowitz today. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/08/hamas-dershowitz-israel-gaza

1/10/2009 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Ker-ching, indeed.

HP is HP and always will be.

The only way it's ever going to change is if a fucking smooth black pillar mysteriously appears among them.

1/10/2009 10:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CHeck out bloggerheads. Tim has shown how the Sun's recent 'Islamists target Jews' piece was in fact made up by a professional Islamophobe. Required reading:
http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2009/01/glen_jenvey_has.asp

Chris Williams

1/10/2009 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Good stuff Chris.
It'd be great if Jenvey was exposed as making money from The Sun by conjuring up stories by using a fake ID as his source. Shouldn't he be prosecuted for ID theft btw? As his fake ID will presumably get paid off by Jenvey?!

1/10/2009 11:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

Aaro is worth watching because he's a fairly influential commentator on the centre-left (if you feel he can be so categorised). Nick was influential, at one point, but is probably a little too fringe these days.

Harry's Place, on the other hand, is just some cranks on the internet, and if it ever was 'influential', stopped being so about three years ago. If some Americans want to believe their horseshit about the UK being on the verge of a Kristallnacht, or their UK contributors want to share in this fantasy, then let them. There is nothing useful that a site like Aaro Watch can say about David Toube other than that he's an extremist and a monomaniac. He is no more worth watching than Nick Griffin.

1/10/2009 04:11:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I think it's still worth watching Nick because of the incredibly swift, and also very extreme, shift in his views in the last few years. Although most of what he writes now is wingnuttery in extremis, and the usual resposne is shock that this bloke gets paid to write this rubbish, it's still of interest to see where his bizarre melting-pot of beliefs takes him.

I agree on David T. But it's just so easy... Also remember that HP is Aaro's 'favourite political website'...

1/10/2009 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

I think that Nick is worth Watching when he's talking about Decent Left issues - we only dumped him as a general-purposes watchee. Aaro is worth watching in more or less anything he does because he's still definitely on the road to the top.

Harry's Place are worth occasionally watching, but frankly only on Principia Wingnuttia grounds. David T in particular has now got hold of a new idea - that one about British Muslims being a fifth column holding our foreign policy to ransom - which Aaro and even Nick Cohen would never say out loud, but which is presumably there in the background.

1/10/2009 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

This week's Ham&High reckons various schools are holding "drills" for Jewish pupils in case of "attack".

Can you imagine the shitblitz if this was a school in Manningham?

Of course the real purpose of drill is always the same; to remind you who's on your side and that the others are out there.

1/11/2009 12:15:00 AM  
Anonymous little keithy said...

Now that Prince Harry has been outed over his use of "raghead" and "Paki" should he become the inspiration for Harry's Place? Afterall both their views of Muslims appear to be becoming ever closer. And it would be rather qauint to have a royal's smiling visage at the top of the site. PH's HP

1/12/2009 01:34:00 PM  

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