FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Ruthlessness

by DIANE CHRISTIAN

 

“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: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

 

More articles by:

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 29, 2017
Dave Lindorff
Sy Hersh, Exposer of My Lai and Abu Ghraib, Strikes Again, Exposing US Lies About Alleged Assad Sarin ‘Attack’
Chuck Collins
What Happened to America’s Wealth? The Rich Hid It
Rev. William Alberts
When the Bible is the Root of Evil
Jeff Mackler
Trumps ‘No Fly Zone’ Escalates U.S. War Against Syria
Bill Willers
The Next World War Won’t Just Be “Over There” 
Ellen Brown
Sovereign Debt Jubilee, Japanese-Style
Jack Laun
Will There Finally be Peace With Justice in Colombia?
Binoy Kampmark
Holding the Police to Account in the UK
David Swanson
Against Ignoring the KKK
Rima Najjar
Israel’s Illegitimate Tactics Against Palestinian Armed Resistance vs. Legitimate Global Security Concerns
Mel Gurtov
Advise, Assist, Arm: The United States at War
David Welsh
Berkeley Capitulates to Police Militarization and Spying
Marion Andrew
Not Being Considerate of One’s Audience: US Television’s Coverage of Olympic and International Sports
June 28, 2017
Diana Johnstone
Macron’s Mission: Save the European Union From Itself
Jordon Kraemer
The Cultural Anxiety of the White Middle Class
Vijay Prashad
Modi and Trump: When the Titans of Hate Politics Meet
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Efforts to Hide Palestinians From View No Longer Fools Young American Jews
Ron Jacobs
Gonna’ Have to Face It, You’re Addicted to War
Jim Lobe – Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio
Is Trump Blundering Into the Next Middle East War?
Radical Washtenaw
David Ware, Killed By Police: a Vindication
John W. Whitehead
The Age of No Privacy: the Surveillance State Shifts into High Gear
Robert Mejia, Kay Beckermann and Curtis Sullivan
The Racial Politics of the Left’s Political Nostalgia
Tom H. Hastings
Courting Each Other
Winslow Myers
“A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind”
Leonard Peltier
The Struggle is Never for Nothing
Jonathan Latham
Illegal GE Bacteria Detected in an Animal Feed Supplement
Deborah James
State of Play in the WTO: Toward the 11th Ministerial in Argentina
Andrew Stewart
Health Care for All: Why I Occupied Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s Office
Binoy Kampmark
The European Commission, Google and Anti-Competition
Jesse Jackson
A Savage Health Care Bill
Jimmy Centeno
Cats and Meows in L.A.
June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail