When it comes right down to war-gore imagery, I s'pose I could trot out the photo of the bombed Israeli bus from, oh, '99 or thereabouts; believe it was the seventh round of the intifada or so. The contorted, smeared and fractional human remains in that particular argument-ender appeared doubly macabre, because the roof of the bus had been vapourised, and the dead passengers could be seen all... leaning back, it seemed, from the detonation point near the steering wheel, as though the vehicle had suddenly, terrifically accelerated.
Can't remember where I saw this photo; seems to me it was a newspaper. But it may well have been the "rightist" equivalent of the dripping-red-letters website P&S linked to today; perhaps the percussively-repeated caption used was "Land for peace? Land for Peace?! LAND FOR PEACE??" Doesn't matter. Agitators and true believers somewhere deployed those dead civilians, holding the photo of their splattered end to as many pairs of eyes as possible. The aim: to win their war. Well, fair enough; part of the modern arsenal; it's not like images of flayed babies, halved shopkeepers and charred housewives are objectively worse than the events they capture, if you see what I mean. I disagree with those who say we shouldn't look at the real essence of war, on grounds of taste or discretion or respect, or whatever; everyone should look, everyone from every side, in every conflict, from now until the end of vision (which'll arrive before the end of war, mark me.)
The Israelis, in this case, should look at the gore and human wreckage in Lebanon, look hard at the dismembered babies, the dust-blasted, bloated faces of dead innocent grandmothers; and then they should refuel their fighter jets, man every tank, and keep attacking, attacking, attacking in south Lebanon and Gaza too, until every Hezbollah and Hamas man is dead, fled or captured, and every Qassam missile, packet of C4 and AK-47 is broken, buried and unreplaceable.
The literatus is right that pictures of mangled bodies prove nothing, and signify everything. They can mean, "We won't let this be done to us" or "We won't do this." And just wars look as ugly as unjust ones -- the death of a soldier in the Wehrmacht in open combat was the killing of some conscript mother's child. All true.
Before I get to the rational argument in response to "attacking, attacking, attacking ... until every Hezbollah and Hamas man is dead", though, we need to discuss what rationality means in these circumstances. And the literatus has something to say about that:
I don't want to get too political here, [P.], believe it or not; I'm looking to push you a bit on the dead-baby-photo linking --- as to who's "right" or "wrong" here, you know where I stand -- let me just quickly say, some brutality and vehemence in the right places, I believe, some * warnings,* the clarity of blood, may be our only hope of changing enough minds in Tehran, Damascus and Karachi to stop the clash o' civs that could otherwise develop. I know Riyadh and Cairo and Tripoli have got it, chum; I think I've got it; have you got it...? Or are you still relying on dialogue and understanding? I don't think this is the fuse leading to World-Wide-Web-War, Next Chapter, in other words; I think these attacks are stepping on that spark. Here's a thing you can't make an image of: the future lives, families and nations saved by prompt, ruthless, callous, warmaking.
As I said, the literatus wrote this a week ago, when it was still possible to imagine that "Riyadh" and "Cairo" could represent something important, before the entire Arab world -- Sunni, Shi'ite and even Christian -- made it clear which side their dictators had better be on.
The lesson here isn't that the literatus erred in his future-telling -- the Pithlord knows that having even an irregular blog puts too many hostages to fortune to get snooty about that. The lesson is that certain violence now for uncertain benefits of peace in the future is a trade too easily made. The best rhetoric for those who would sacrifice one generation for the one after it comes from Trotsky, particularly in Terrorism and Communism, written at the height of his power two decades before the ice pick.
The leaders of Israel, as with the rest of us, have no way of knowing what the indirect, ultimate consequences of this will be. But they are responsible for the direct, immediate ones.
But here's the thing, [name redacted], God, I have a heart. War is disgusting, on so many more levels than just a picture of a toddler with his spinal column ripped apart by shrapnel, grievous and repellent though that image -- that fact -- is, by itself. Whether it's by sword, artillery shell, suicide attack, tank battle, or atom bomb, war is the devourer of the souls of its victims and perpetrators, the eater of their humanity and individualism; war is the self-perpetuating system of weights that pulls us back down into the muck from which we so recently and partially ascended. It can't be done cleanly, simply, surgically or well, especially in the 21st century. Yeah: war sucks. It's important to hate it. These photos from Lebanon are the latest confirmation of this obvious fact. (What is the size of a hypothetical file, opened at the dawn of photography, that contains all images of all those killed in war? That's a long download, bud.)
Here's a thing that's worse than war, though: pretending it doesn't exist. Closing your eyes and hoping it goes away. Getting on your knees and presenting your throat to be cut. Surrendering your self, your family and your nation to this world's armies of evil, because you can't bear the thought of graveyards filling with the innocents who will die if you retaliate with strength. The only thing more sickening than war, I mean, is pacifism; is meekness and squeamishness; is the infantile, finger-crossing hope that good men will never need recourse to arms; [...]
Sure, some pacifists are undoubtedly meek and squeamish. But the idea as such doesn't strike me that way. A real pacifist is inhumanly ruthless -- prepared to tell parents who have seen their daughters raped that they cannot strike back, prepared to suppress every human emotion of justice and revenge. Quite possibly, they are right -- that nothing in either past or future justifies this present killing.
I can't join the pacifists, though. I suspect real pacifism requires the belief in a pretty bloody and activist God, and I'm not ready for such a fellow. What I do believe in, though, is what the literatus attacks next:
[...]is the even- more babyish notion that war might be conducted in such a way that only soldiers die. (War does not operate that way; never has; and it may be that the men who drafted the Geneva Convention could not conceive of an Islamist enemy who'd make the Nazis look like gentlemen. What's the deal with the Geneva idealists, anyway...? Seems like they could not possibly have been soldiers.)
As per your blog, though, G., I guess what I want to say is that lining up that website full of ghastliness, as though in itself it proved, supported or substantiated your position about "the rape of Lebanon," seems a bit, ah, histrionic, or undignified: it's beneath you. I hasten to reiterate, let's not ban such photos; they do serve a moral purpose. But in this context, we have a disagreement, clearly, should I just respond with .jpegs of the eight IDF corpses the Party of God's unexpected sortie left behind (God -- just last week) or show you the agony on the smashed faces at Haifa railway station? What would be the fucking point? You start swapping pictures of the Horrors The Other Side Has Visited Upon Our Side, you wind up quickly in a corner with the retarded fanatics whose "thinking" on the situation is, basically, just an ever-escalating exchange of exclamation marks ("!" "!!" "Oh yeah? !!!!") That's all war-dead images are, really. They can leave you reeling, Lord knows; but they cannot help nor pardon...
I'm just sick, I guess, of the "well, what about this" moral-equivalency approach to the fearsome puzzle of the Middle East, and its jihadi dimension. Sick of elaborate "root-causes" chatter that goes on and on, till it disappears up its own nuanced, sophisticated asshole, being too cosmopolitan for proximate causes like act-of-war Hamas/Hezbollah attacks on Israeli soil.
I'm not a pacifist, but I am a believer in chatter. Law is just the principle that force must be justified by chatter. (That definition doesn't require a sovereign, so it allows for international law.) Since we don't actually have the activist and bloody-minded God, we can't do without human-applied force. But we can't trust that force, we can't hope for the day when that force ends the endless talk about consociational cabinets, buffer zones and verification procedures. It's really that desire to end the chatter that I distrust. It's really the hope to subordinate the use of force to procedure that I look to.
Ironically, the Bush administration has been using the "root causes" phrase to justify the Israeli attack (the "root cause" being Hezbollah's being armed). That isn't totally mistaken, but once we start talking about root causes, we have to be willing to listen to other versions of what those causes might be. When Israel invaded Lebanon the first time, Hezbollah was nothing -- neither a significant representative of the Lebanese Shi'ites nor a serious military force. Hamas was initially encouraged by Israeli intelligence as a counter to the PLO. Not that that means that Hezbollah or Hamas are Israel's fault. The Arab world has to take responsibility for its own lack of political maturity, for messing its own bed. But how can we be confident about the consequences of this action?
I claim no originality in the observation that everything the US (and now Israel) have done in the last four years has increased the influence of Iran and Hezbollah.