.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sunday, January 04, 2015


The Future of Collective Punishment

Richard Fernandez ponders the problems with Western culture that's incapable of creating a belief in justice.

In the Western legal model it is illegitimate to impose “collective punishment” and being unable to do so, nothing is done. There is a strict injunction against profiling Muslims and other groups precisely because group guilt is forbidden. And that is as it should be, if the taboo is to be maintained. Collective punishment is a very destructive and blunt model which arises from a lack of information and a conviction that discrimination is a hopeless task.

But the prohibition does not run the other way. There is no strong taboo among ISIS or al-Qaeda, for example, against punishing individual Jews for the collective guilt of Israeli existence. It is enough to kill a Jew, any Jew. It doesn’t matter who. Their model of punishment doesn’t require detailed information.

The key distinction between lawfare and warfare is that the former recognizes only individual guilt, while the latter consists of nothing but collective punishment. Warfare is an information-poor form of conflict. In World War 2 style conflicts all the necessary information was encapsulated in the uniform. The people in American uniforms shot the people wearing German uniforms. The moral state of individual wearer of the uniform mattered not a whit. Anyone wearing an German uniform was liable to be shot, burned, blown up, stabbed or run over by a tank operated by an individual with an American uniform and vice versa. It was collective punishment all the way.

A whole system had to be brought down. An entire state and perhaps even an entire way of life had to be terminated. Under these conditions, the only information required was ‘whose side are you on?’

Provided the soldiers obeyed the conventions of war, they might kill hundreds or thousand and acquire no individual guilt at all. Paul Tibbets may have been proximately responsible for piloting the Enola Gay to Hiroshima, but the act was America’s. The foremost hero of the underground resistance, Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward “Tommy” Yeo-Thomas GC, MC & Bar, also known as the White Rabbit was “a surprise defence witness in the war crimes trial of Otto Skorzeny, particularly on the charge of Skorzeny’s use of American uniforms in infiltrating American lines. Yeo-Thomas testified that he and his operatives wore German uniforms behind enemy lines while working for the SOE.” As far as the White Rabbit was concerned, Skorzeny had no individual guilt even if Skorzeny had caused the death of hundreds in the course of his illustrious military career.

When hackers bring down companies or terrorists commit outrages and then obfuscate their identity, the Western moral code goes “tilt” because it cannot resolve the contradiction between having to punish somebody and not knowing the name of that someone to punish. Although we might guess the identities of the guilty parties — more or less — that’s not good enough to mete out only individual punishment. Without the names of individuals to punish the whole Western defense and legal mechanism grinds to a halt. Without information and the ability to punish individuals lawfare is nothing but a pitiful, helpless giant.

Terrorism uses obfuscation to defuse lawfare knowing that the West will not turn to the alternative form of warfare.

The danger of course is that a “pitiful, helpless giant” sooner or later loses the the legitimacy to govern. A sufficiently enraged public will demand something more than impotence. Collective punishment is what happens when individual justice is seen to fail. When lawfare collapses then warfare eventually ensues, a point which I made in the Three Conjectures. Maybe not immediately, but inevitably, with all the tragedy that implies.

At some point, people in a culture that does noting effective to protect its citizens against aggression will see a backlash. That's happening in Europe now, with the growth of political movements that oppose the unlimited immigration of Muslims who are violent and have no desire to assimilate.

Labels: , , , , ,

Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?