Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!




“Dhuluaya, Iraq…US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of date palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking US troops.”

Patrick Cockburn,
Counterpunch, Oct. 14, 2003

Ruthlessness is conventionally condemned. To be without pity or mercy or feeling is thought cruel and inhuman. But in war the moral convention fades as men and women are licensed and charged to be ruthless. They must destroy and kill the enemy on behalf of their country which orders and sanctions it. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says the mode of war is apart from human time. A civil libertarian like Alan Dershowitz rationalizes ruthlessness and torture for the sake of one’s tribe.

Normally we would reproach the punitive killing of trees and razing of homes. But the United States and Israel right now uproot ancient date palms and olive trees to coerce informing on kin and to punish families related to fighters. Ruthlessly destroying trees and homes is sanctioned as necessary action-to punish the family of an enemy and thereby deter bombing and encourage informing. The Romans sowed salt to punish the land and people they particularly despised. That long-lasting warrior brutality taught the same imperial lesson.

Stopping war is hard. At the end of The Odyssey Odysseus returns home and kills the suitors who have been eating at his house and stalking his queen. Odysseus and his son and father stand and fight gloriously to defend their property. When the hall is drenched in blood they prepare for an onslaught of vengeance which must follow. The families of the suitors will have to revenge their dead. Athena, goddess of wisdom and war and Odysseus’ protector, asks Zeus to stop the fighting and he drops a pall of forgetfulness so that vengeance can fade. Even so Odysseus’ own blood lust is up and he doesn’t want to stop. Zeus has to hurl a thunderbolt at his feet to quell his fighting spirit. That works, and Athena in the guise of Mentor counsels Odysseus to have a nice life. Humans without divine help tend to go on fighting in the Greek story.

In our recent war on Iraq, the Pentagon spent great energy praising the stunning power of our military prowess and the kinder gentler attitude of our troops. They weren’t shouting kill kill kill. They were liberating, respecting Islam, loving the children. They weren’t ruthless. The pictures showed men cry at the loss of comrades and the wounding of children. One soldier in Dhuluaya reportedly broke down and cried when bulldozing the fruit trees.

How do you turn from ruthless to compassionate? How change the actions from destruction to construction? If you haven’t the power to make the conquered forget, nor the thunderbolt to check warrior passion, how does it happen? We tried proclamation. We announced that the time for shock and awe and forcing violence is over and we intend to make peace and rebuild civilization. But the way of force is not the way of freedom. Saying doesn’t make it so. We started fighting because we abandoned words, spurned diplomacy, and said the time for talk was over. We speak the language of force and find it hard to translate into peace talk.

Getting back to words, making peace, beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks takes mind, muscle, and a will to lose the weapons. It takes first the mastery of ruthlessness. We enter our own cloud of forgetfulness, ignore what we have done and do, call war peace and brutality liberation. The thunderbolts do not fall at our feet.

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo. She can be reached at:


DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases