The Long View 2006-08-18: The Endings of Various Epochs

Iron Dome system in use  By Israel Defense Forces and Nehemiya Gershoni נחמיה גרשוני (see also ) -, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Iron Dome system in use

By Israel Defense Forces and Nehemiya Gershoni נחמיה גרשוני (see also ) -, CC BY-SA 3.0,

I learned a lot reading Matti Friedman's Pumpkinflowers, once I finally got around to it [it sat in my to-read pile for two years]. The suicide bombings started shortly after the Lebanese occupation was over, and then the security checkpoints installed to stop the bombers led to missile attacks. Currently, the Iron Dome system helps to mitigate the damage done by such things. This is in fact the bullet-hitting-a-bullet thing that SDI naysayers always insisted couldn't be done, and probably benefited from that particular R&D expense by the US. Also, the Israelis are assholes to their neighbors.

John also talks here about the impact of gas prices on suburban and exurban America. Even at $3/gallon and more the result has been, not much. I think we could gain some benefits from denser development, but the truth is cars are freedom and convenience, and Americans are still among the richest people in the world, and we can afford the gasoline. But I should talk, I work 5 minutes from my house.

The Endings of Various Epochs


The missile barrages on Israel began in earnest after the West Bank Wall made frequent suicide-bombings impossible. But suppose this story means what it implies?

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency has begun working with Israel to help find ways to counter enemy rockets, ... The system at issue, called Skyguard, is built by Northrop Grumman Corp. and based on a tactical high-energy laser the company co-developed with the Israeli army in the 1990s. ... Company officials told reporters July 12 they were awaiting a show of interest from Israel to kick off an export-license request for the updated system.

Deprived of the ballistic option, the jihad against Israel would have to find some other tactic. If Israel proper is largely invulnerable, then perhaps Israel's commercial and academic contacts in the West would be targeted. Heretofore, this has been attempted with boycotts organized by fellow travelers, but the jihad requires photogenic rubble.

In any case, even the partially successful public use of these defensive weapons would mark a change of epoch. There are psychological and professional explanations for opposition to missile defense. One reason for the opposition is that the increasingly gray eminences of the Cold War cling to strategic deterrence as the one aspect of the Cold War world that never went away. Very soon, though, it will be hard to assert that MAD is part of the permanent structure of the universe.

* * *

Speaking of the end of an epoch, could it really be that rising gas prices will kill the suburbs?

There's even talk of crude hitting $100 per barrel -- or 10 times what it sold for in the summer of 2005.

Once the realization soaks into the American consciousness that high-cost gas is here to stay, Gabriel predicts, those high commute prices will pull more homeowners -- even young families -- to live in central cities and create a push for more public transportation. ... But with the cost of gas hovering around $3 per gallon on average in the U.S., it's worth considering whether a shorter commute would pay for the incremental cost of a more expensive in-city home.... Assuming a full-time job, $3 gas, 26 mpg and 50 cents a mile for maintenance and no parking fees, a 50-mile roundtrip commute costs $646.15 a month, or $7,753.80 a year, according to the City of Bellevue, Wash.'s, Commute Cost Calculator.... Moving closer to work boosts your house-buying power. Everything else being equal, a 10-mile, roundtrip commute costs just $1,550.76 yearly -- saving about $6,200 per year, or $517 monthly. That can add about $80,000 to the total amount of a mortgage loan, says one Chicago lender. The rule of thumb: Each $250 a month you can free up for mortgage payments equals roughly $40,000 more you can borrow at current rates (using the recent national average of 6.5%), says David Kasprisin, district sales manager for National City Mortgage Co. in Chicago.

Might I remark that, before there were suburbs, there were many small towns? These were relatively densely built places where people both lived and worked and did not commute to. I don't doubt that the older core cities will benefit from higher fuel costs, but other things will be happening in addition to the abandonment of the more ridiculous suburban housing tracts.

* * *

Every Wednesday morning the first thing I look at online (after checking for credible death threats in my email) is The Onion. I can't say that i have ever had trouble telling an Onion headline from the headline of a real news story. Still, reading The Onion and then reading the real news does create a certain amount of disorientation. Look at this list of Onion headlines and headlines from non-satirical sources:

Osama Bin Laden Found Inside Each Of Us

Blues Musician To U.N.: 'Yemen Done Me Wrong'

Casino Has Great Night

Exit Interview Goes Well

Comedian Confesses To Killing Them Out There

Harsh Light Of Morning Falls On One-Night Stand's DVD Collection

JonBenet suspect was 'threat', ex-wife said

Judge orders halt to NSA wiretap program

Lebanese troops deploy in Hezbollah heartland

No compromise on sovereignty: PM

I don't know about you, but I can't stop looking for the joke even when I know there isn't one.

* * *

Mark Twain once observed that wherever the early French explorers of North America went, they always brought a Jesuit to explain Hell to the savages. In rather the same spirit, Mark Steyn has been traveling through Australia, on what he says "I like to think of as my 'Head for the hills! It’s the end of the world!' tour.” The Australian recently published he text of one of his harangues under the title Mark Steyn: It's breeding obvious, mate, in which he shared with his audience his familiar concerns about the jihad and Western demography. He makes all good points, but again, I would suggest that he is extrapolating trends whose very direness ensure that they will reverse. Towards the end, he adds this useful point:

....But it’s important to remember: radical Islam is only the top-eighth of that iceberg – it’s an opportunist enemy taking advantage of a demographically declining and spiritually decayed west. The real issue is the seven-eighths below the surface – the larger forces at play in the developed world that have left Europe too enfeebled to resist its remorseless transformation into Eurabia and call into question the future of much of the rest of the world. The key factors are:

i) Demographic decline;
ii) The unsustainability of the social democratic state;
iii) Civilizational exhaustion.

I would not lengthen that list, but the factors he mentions are facets of larger phenomena. The US immigration crisis (which might be defined as the transformation of the whole country into a border town) is in some ways the same crisis as Europe's; certainly both have a demographic foundation. The anti-natalist project of the past 50 years is just one manifestation of a deep cultural dysfunction that shows up in the oddest places: future histories may categorize the whole gay episode (1850-2050?) as just another reflection of it. Actually, among the pathological symptoms I would also include libertarianism, survivalism, and every account of the state as an evil that must be overcome rather than a precious and fragile tradition that must be cultivated, like classical music.

Finally, let me note that "exhaustion" is not something that civilizations do, at least according to the sunlit and tranquil philosophy of Oswald Spengler. The future is not Mad Max, but the Glass Bead Game. These present troubles are sent to us to get us moving in that direction.

* * *

Spelling Reform Note: The Soundspel edition of Philip Dru: Administraetor is available through I get no money from its sale, and neither does the American Literacy Council. Buy the book only if you are really interested in spelling reform.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Pumpkinflowers Book Review

Beaufort IDF northern military post (1995)  By Oren1973 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Beaufort IDF northern military post (1995)

By Oren1973 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier's Story
by Matti Friedman
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (2016)
$25.95 paperback; 243 pages
ISBN 978-1616204587

I received this book for free from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program.

This is a book in three parts. 

First, we have the account of an ordinary soldier who doesn't really want to be there.

"A. reached basic training young, healthy, and innocent". This is Avi, writing of himself in the third person.
When the sergeant said to do things on time he did, and when the commander ordered everyone to give him 50 pushups A. was the one who set the pace.
But the danger of innocence is that it gets cracked easily by stupidity and cruelty. And so not much time had passed before A. started thinking that perhaps it was not right that he was the only one who was not late, or that he was the only one who cared when the sergeant threw him a good word. His concern grew when he heard the other members of the platoon saying that the regular punishments of running back and forth were not even punishments for something they had done wrong! They were, instead, a plot by the sergeants—that is, the system—directed against them! A. began thinking about this until he could no longer sleep during the short nights allotted to them. He thought so much that he began to move slowly in the morning himself, and to run slowly when they were punished. Because all of his faculties were devoted to the problem, he did not notice anything else, and quickly became the slowest and deafest of soldiers. Because one of the commanders would speak to him on occasion and interrupt his thoughts, A. suddenly understood that what they wanted to do was prevent him from thinking. He understood that they were his real enemies! They were the enemies of thought and creativity who wanted to enslave him and turn him into a creature incapable of thought, and willing to obey them.
This thought scared him so badly that he began resisting in any way he could. He started to think and do things his own way. If they gave him a mission, like setting the tables in the dining hall, he would put the cutlery backwards! Or miss on purpose at the firing range!! Now he was a rebel!!! And thus A. fought the system, and to the best of our knowledge he might still be doing so today, somewhere in the time and space of the army...

Avi Ofner was definitely a square peg in a round hole in the Israeli infantry. Since Israel has compulsory military service, personnel officers still need to find somewhere to put men like Avi. It seems that someone had an idea of what his personality was, because his platoon seemed to be made up of similarly bookish young men:

When his tent mate, Amos, brought a book of philosophical meditations called In the Footsteps of Thoughts he and Matan actually read it and then talked about it for weeks, lying sore on the ground after days of exhaustion, breathing in the smell of their own unwashed bodies, of earth, and of dusty canvas....Today, Matan is a physicist. Amos is a psychiatrist and lives in Paris.

For all of his adolescent rebellion, Avi also refused to take a desk job when a physical turned up a spinal cord defect a couple of years into his enlistment. He preferred serving at the Pumpkin, a hilltop fort in southern Lebanon near Beaufort Castle. Avi and his mates in the Pioneer Fighting Youth were stationed in a series of such forts in the South Lebanon Security Zone.

My best guess for the approximate location of the Pumpkin, based on Matti Friedman's descriptions

My best guess for the approximate location of the Pumpkin, based on Matti Friedman's descriptions

That stubborn devotion got Avi killed in an unfortunate helicopter accident in 1997, when he was being flown back to his post in Lebanon in a desperate attempt to avoid bombs on the roads. After that, the soldiers went back to the roads, in a desperate attempt to avoid more helicopter crashes. I think Friedman is right that this crash was the beginning of the end for Israel's long-running low-grade war in Southern Lebanon, which had been going on for almost twenty years at this point.

My second part is Friedman's firsthand recollections of his time at the Pumpkin. Friedman's parents had emigrated from Canada, and now Friedman's compulsory service was due shortly after the crash that killed Avi. This would make Friedman a couple of years older than me, if he was 19 in 1997. Were I Jewish, and had my family immigrated to Israel, I easily could have found myself in the exact same place that he did.

A map of the Pumpkin, from the front matter of Pumpkinflowers. There weren't enough maps for my taste in the book.

A map of the Pumpkin, from the front matter of Pumpkinflowers. There weren't enough maps for my taste in the book.

That place turned out to be the Pumpkin, with that unusual combination of boredom and terror that garrison duty provides. Friedman's prose changes in this section, becoming simpler and more direct. The first part of the book was based on Avi's writing and interviews with people who knew him, whereas the second part is largely Friedman's direct recollection.

Interleaved with Friedman's account is a short history of the Four Mothers movement, which arose in response to the helicopter crash that killed Avi. The crash killed 73 soldiers, which to put into perspective for me, would be the equivalent of 3400 dead Americans, based on the relative population sizes of our two countries at the time. That is almost as many American soldiers who died in the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq. Except all at once.

Thus it isn't surprising that the Four Mothers movement successfully campaigned to get Israel to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000. From Avi's and Friedman's accounts, the whole hilltop fortress thing never seemed to have been terribly well thought out. Rather, it was blundered into, and since militaries tend to be extremely conservative, the Israeli army just kept on doing what they had been doing, until something shocking happened and allowed everyone to reassess.

The final part of the book is Friedman's post-Pumpkin civilian life, and his bold quest to go see the Pumpkin again. I was struck by the way in which Friedman described the process by which shared suffering can forge lasting bonds among soldiers, and by extension the rest of your nation. Given how small Israel really is, this process is much more intense than it possibly could be in a larger nation like the United States.

Using his Canadian passport, Friedman traveled into Lebanon. He saw the country, posing as a tourist to deflect suspicion that he might have once served as an Israeli soldier. Since it hadn't really been that long, Friedman couldn't meet his former enemies openly, the way Hal Moore met Nguyen Huu An.

Vietnamese Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An and Hal Moore

Vietnamese Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An and Hal Moore

Nonetheless, Friedman still manages to humanize his former [or maybe current] enemies. Which is not to say that he uncritically accepts what they might say about him or his adopted country, but rather he just presents them as they are, which is what he tried to do for himself and Israel. I think he does a reasonably good job.

I would have liked more maps though.

My other book reviews

The Long View 2003-11-12: Doomsday matters

Fortunately, many of the people who hate America the most are also the most incompetent. Also, Israel is far more serious than us about policing their borders. Which is why we haven't had to deal with the awful spectacle that would result from a terrorist attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque

If you want to see what this kind of thing would look like, one only need go back to 1979 when something similar was attempted in Mecca.

Doomsday Matters

Here is something to think about from the easily alarmed but always entertaining Northeast Intelligence Network:

The plot to destroy the [Al Aqsa] Mosque by fundamentalist Islamic terrorists, then placing the blame on the "Zionists and the Americans", if not stopped in time, will be the platform from which all further retaliatory strikes will be made. This is THE event that has been referenced in a number of sermons, jihad posts, and other channels of communication that will mark the call to jihad in the United States.

As you know, the Al Aqsa mosque is built on the site of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, though recent Islamist propaganda and a small number of eccentric scholars dispute this fact, and doubtless I will get email for reasserting it. Something not in dispute is that the destruction of the mosque has been a central feature of the endtime scenario of Christian millenarians since at least the 1967 war, when Israel gained control of the whole of Jerusalem. To put it briefly, the mosque must be cleared so that a Third Temple can be built on the site, which the Antichrist will desecrate during the Tribulation. Groups of messianic Jews are of similar mind about the need to rebuild the Temple in the Latter Days. Though these Jews and Christians differ on the details of the scenario of the endtime, they have nonetheless cooperated on plans for the rebuilding, and have even conspired to destroy Al Aqsa.

Their logic is not quite that reported by the Northeast Intelligence Network. The shadowy Islamist conspiracy the Network reports is said to intend to blow up the mosque and blame Israel and the US. On the other hand, one might note that there has been a syncretism of apocalyptic ideas in Islamist circles. The works of American pretribulationists are available to the Arab public, either directly or through Muslim interpreters. In any case, the mosque seems to have acquired a symbolic role that is quite new.

I have no way of confirming or even assessing this latest report, though I must confess that I had dismissed speculation about such a tactic when I first heard it at a conference of the Center for Millennial Studies several years ago. Is it likely that religious extremists would blow up their own sacred site, I asked? Now we learn that one of the strategies that Al Qaeda and related groups plan for Saudi Arabia is to attack pilgrims on the Hajj. The reasoning for that is quite specific: the legitimacy of the Saudi regime rests in large part on its ability to protect access to Mecca. If the regime is shown to be incompetent in that regard, for whatever reason, then its days could be numbered. Such a strategy makes clear that fear of sacrilege plays little role in these calculations.

The Islamist strategy of dramatic terror seems to be backfiring at this point; the recent truck-bombings in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, which strike ordinary civilians, are alienating local public opinion. The bombing of Al Aqsa might have a similar effect. Whatever the repercussions in the Arab world, however, the implications for the United States could be dramatic, as well as for the rapidly growing regions of the Third World where evangelical Christianity is on the ascendant. The clearing of the Temple Mount is the "ON" button, in many versions of popular eschatology, for the beginning of the endtime. It would generate apocalyptic expectations in a way that the year 2000 singularly failed to do. This would give the Terror War a new dimension.

The US response to the Islamist Jihad did not begin as a Crusade, but it could easily turn into one. 

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2002-02-11: The American Prerogative

This is another short one. I'll copy the whole thing here again, because it illustrates some interesting points in John's thinking, and some interesting developments in the last decade.

Kyoto HoaxThe Kyoto Protocols were an unenforceable hoax, and it is good someone finally said so. By way of reminder, look at this image from Wikipedia. Most of the world, and most of the worst polluters, had no actual obligations under the treaty, only the West minus the US and Canada had targets to meet [marked in dark green].

The Durban Conference was not a hoax, but rather more like a protection racket raised to an international level. There really is no upside in humoring ideas like this, although I find the argument comparing Israel with South Africa more compelling than I used to.

Twelve years ago, when John wrote this, I was not Catholic. Since converting, I have noticed that more political support in America for Israel comes from Evangelical Christians than Jews. Catholics are noticeably cooler than other American Christians, partly for domestic political reasons, but also because of the less than polite treatment Arab Catholics have received in Israel.

Zionism is not apartheid, although I can see why you might think so. John Kerry didn't actually say this recently, what he actually said was:

A unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens — or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.

While whites were able to dominate the governments of both Rhodesia and South Africa for extended periods of time, in the democratic twentieth and twenty-first centuries, you cannot long remain in power without some sort of popular will supporting you. The white population of South Africa decreased from 20% in 1960 [stable since 1904] to less than 10% 2011. Rhodesia had a peak white population of about 200,000, give or take, but between 1960 and 1978 the black population had doubled from 3 million to 6 million. Demography contributed as much to the downfall of each government as boycotts and other political events did.  Israel plays it pretty smart, and I think the Israelis have avoided the fate of South Africa and Rhodesia by not becoming a minority in their own state. Jews went from a minority to a majority in Israel between 1946 and 1948, by displacing between 700,000 and 800,000 Arab Palestinians. Without doing that, Israel would likely have faced the same demographic doom that overwhelmed the intransigence of the white settlers of Africa. If you pay attention, you can see the Israelis are doing their best to keep their country majority Jewish.

The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was a Cold War coup for the Soviets, who managed to build a functional missile defense system before signing a treaty with the US. Abrogating this treaty was an important step in moving beyond the Cold War, although at this point it is hard not to see how we are kicking Russia when they are down.Encircling the Bear

However, the point of all this for John was that the international system was actually functioning well. John was a fan of the international system. He pointed out that international bodies that do what they are supposed to do rarely make the news, for example the Universal Postal Union. The world's international institutions often do good and necessary work, they also function as an amorphous and unelected legislature of the world.

America functions as the equally unelected executive, in addition to being the security utility of the world. This restores some balance to the system, as John noted.  Eventually, things will even out, and the system will seem more rational. However, we are in for interesting times until that happens.

The American Prerogative

The World Economic Forum ended its meeting in New York City last Monday. The organizers changed the venue from Davos to Manhattan after 911 to show support for the injured city. The hotel and restaurant industries were indeed glad of the business, but the Forum will probably regret the one-time relocation. When the conference was held in an isolated Swiss fastness, it was easy to imagine the event as Night on Bald Mountain with cell phones. Now everyone knows it's the Academy Awards, but without the intellectual seriousness. No good deed goes unpunished.

Nonetheless, the conference was roused from its fashionable slumber as the full implications of last week's State of the Union Speech sank in. Naturally, most critical comment was about the apparent willingness of the US to conduct open warfare without reference to the UN or NATO. More generally, speakers suggested that the Administration was returning to the policy of unilateralism with which it began.

Since the Bush Administration came to office, three of its acts have been most frequently cited as evidence of unilateral arrogance. These are: (1) the repudiation of the Kyoto Protocols on Global Warming; (2) the refusal to attend last summer's Third United Nation's Conference on Racism held at Durban, South Africa; and (3) the withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty. Let me very briefly address these three questions individually and then tie them all together.

(1) The Kyoto Protocols were an unenforceable hoax that no major country could ever have implemented. President Bush said this in public when he visited Europe last year. The leaders of the European Union were deeply offended by the charge of hypocrisy, and the protocols were quickly renegotiated to make them easier to enact. They are still a hoax.

(2) Most of the poverty in the world is caused by looters in office, people who look on government as a license to prey on sources of wealth. The agenda of the Durban Conference was to take this practice international by establishing the principle of reparations for the African slave trade. Additionally, the conference equated Zionism with apartheid. There is no upside to humoring ideas like this.

(3) Defenses against ballistic missiles are necessary if decisive conventional force is to be used against hostile regimes that possess strategic nuclear weapons. Deterrence is irrelevant when the Rangers are rappelling into the Presidential Palace. It is true that strategic defenses do not stop terrorist attacks. They do make countries that harbor or support terrorists subject to retribution.

The merits and demerits of these ideas can, of course, be debated. There is substantial international sentiment to the effect the US should have done just that, in the forums provided by the international system, rather than acting unilaterally. However, this criticism misconstrues the situation.

The merits and demerits of these ideas can, of course, be debated. There is substantial international sentiment to the effect the US should have done just that, in the forums provided by the international system, rather than acting unilaterally. However, this criticism misconstrues the situation.

When the president of the United States refuses to promote something like the Kyoto Protocols, he is not seceding from the international system. Quite the opposite: he is, in effect, acting as the executive of the system by vetoing a proposal from the tangle of institutions that act as its legislature. As with the presidential veto domestically, such acts are not final, and the power involved is essentially the power to stop things. This is true even of the withdrawal from the ABM Treaty; in a world with an increasing number of small nuclear powers, the old Cold War agreement had come to mean something new. This veto authority is a real, organic development of the international system, far more important than the commissions and special tribunals organized by international activists.

This American prerogative really is terribly uppity. It would be insupportable, if it were in derogation of democratic institutions, or even of the rule of law. Those features are, however, precisely the features that the "international legislature" lacks. The world's international institutions often do good and necessary work, but they are appointed bodies of experts. The pretenders to democracy in the international system are the non-governmental organizations. These are run by self-designated persons who turned to the international arena because they could not get their agendas accepted domestically.

As for international law, it has been fatally undermined by international legal experts. Historically, customary international law was a description of how governments actually behaved. Now, increasingly, it means norms devised by international jurists on the basis of nothing more than their own ideology. Some of these norms are good and some are bad. None of them, however, deserves special deference from a responsible elected official.

The current situation is unstable because existing international institutions lack legitimacy, and sometimes even a name. (As the astrophysicists say, no fact will be accepted until we have a theory to confirm it.) Still, it is not hard to see how things will evolve. Extensive democratization of the international system is probably impractical. However, its predictability will increase when the legislature becomes less irresponsible. The American Prerogative is essential to making that happen.


The Long View 2002-02-07: The Irrelevance of Peace

This entry of John's blog is pretty short, and pretty pithy, so I'm just going to copy the whole thing here.

John Derbyshire, unlike John Reilly, is rather a pessimist; John Reilly described himself as an inveterate optimist, and the mission of his blog was to view everything in the best possible light. Twelve years on, it is pretty clear the Reilly was more right about this little snippet than Derbyshire, Israel just keeps getting stronger. Lots of people hate the Jews, but the Jews seem pretty good at looking out for their own interests, and their immediate enemies seem feckless.

The rather more interesting part of this entry is the purported weakness of capitalist democracies. In his book review of A Republic not an Empire, John pointed out that a likely consequence of a German victory in WWI would have been to discredit the idea of capitalist democracies like Great Britain and the United States. In fact, that is not what happened, although we have no good reason to think it inevitable. Post-Cold War, it looks like Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama were on to something. All of the other theories of how to organize a state have been tried and found wanting. I think this is true even though China is currently surging in wealth and power. [you can blame John for my pessimism on China too.]

Democracies, when it really comes down to it, can be truly terrible opponents. Athens destoyed Melos for refusing to submit to their suzerainty. My own county is the only country to have ever used a nuclear weapon in anger. And then we used another one, to make sure both designs worked. And we firebombed the civilian populations of our enemies long before we had nuclear weapons, resulting in far more deaths. Jerry Pournelle calls this WARRE, "war to the knife, war to victory, fire bombs, nuclear weapons, death and destruction." Democracies, when threatened, respond the same way a mother does when you threaten her children: all rules are forgotten, and only victory matters. Kill them all and let God sort them out.

Finally, John touches on how South Africa avoided the fate of Rhodesia. Nelson Mandela certainly helped, although maybe not in the way you think. The collapse of the USSR was a bigger factor, as this allowed the Afrikaners to negotiate their way out instead of being lynched. Instead, we now have a slow-motion ethnic cleansing, as more and more Afrikaners are leaving South Africa, as they feel increasingly insecure and unwelcome. Neill Blomkamp keeps trying to make this point, but nobody is interested in listening.

The Irrelevance of Peace

John Derbyshire's column of January 31 in National Review Online [NB. I changed the link to point to Derbyshire's site, since the original link is broken], Israel's Future has this depressing assessment:

"I had better step out front and center here and admit that I am a pessimist…I think Israel will go down. The reason I think this is that I am British, and have been watching all my life, occasionally at very close quarters, the long struggle between the two constitutional nations of the British Isles and the terrorists of Sin Fein/IRA…The IRA now has offices in the House of Commons!"

The IRA, says John Derbyshire, graduated from terrorist to lobbyist through a combination of relentlessness, ruthlessness, and the fact that they do have a plausible case. Their argument for Irish unity may not be ultimately persuasive, but the mere existence of an argument can have a lethally debilitating effect on a democratic political system.

There is something to this. It seems to me that we are often inhibited from using decisive force against terrorists because of a category mistake about the principle, "violence never solves anything." It is true that violence does not answer questions of fact or logic; you cannot determine whether pi is greater than 3 by fighting a duel. On the other hand, violence can indeed determine whether people achieve their desires or not. Sophisticated terrorists purport to be interested in answering questions, but actually they are simply asserting themselves.

That said, though, I take exception to Derbyshire's premise. It is not true that capitalist democracies are particularly gullible, much less fragile.

Ever since such societies began to appear, their critics and enemies (groups that do not always overlap) have characterized democracies as weak and decadent. Democracies are supposed to be incapable of fighting wars. Supposedly they cannot maintain ordinary domestic peace, much less combat foreign subversion. Furthermore, they create the seeds of their own destruction. Every crisis is potentially lethal; it is only a matter of time before a crisis is actually fatal.

As General Norman Schwartzkopf said in that famous news conference at the conclusion of the Gulf War of 1991, "Ha!" The fact is that capitalist democracies are the most resilient societies that exist; maybe the most resilient that can exist. They have destroyed or eroded to dust all the great totalitarian monoliths that sought to supplant them. Sometimes democracies did this by direct assault, sometimes by patience. They can endure through economic hardships that shatter the most fearsome dictatorships. Democracies are mortal, of course, and they are not self-legitimizing: simply establishing a democracy does not mean that it will strike root. Nonetheless, even troubled democracies have an excellent record of fighting off deadly threats, terrorists included.

So why is a lobbyist from the IRA buttonholing MPs? The short answer is that the game of terrorism was no longer worth the candle. Elements of the IRA used to have all kinds of Khmer Rouge ambitions for the Ireland they hoped to create. By the 1990s, however, it was clear that all that remained to fight about was which province of the European Union that Ulster would belong to. Borders just don't mean that much in Europe anymore, including the one between the North and the Republic of Ireland. The IRA still has crank notions, but they see little point in blowing up perfectly good pubs to achieve them.

Possibly the greatest example of peace-through-irrelevance was the end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Since the 1950s, it was obvious that the shrinking white minority could not continue to rule the country indefinitely. Nonetheless, the government did everything it could to exacerbate the situation. Meanwhile, the radicals of the world licked their lips when they contemplated The Day, when the revolution would arrive in Johannesburg and the mass executions could begin. In the event, though, reason broke out in both the government and the African National Conference at the end of the 1980s, and they negotiated a frictionless transition.

Western human-rights activists like to take credit for the South African government's change of heart, much to the annoyance of activists in South Africa, militant and otherwise. The fact is, though, that Apartheid was able to die because the Cold War ended. The government understood that the Soviet Union would not subsidize the creation of a new communist state, like the one it helped create in Ethiopia. The ANC understood that, if their new regime hoped to get any support at all, it would have to come from the West. The stakes became manageably small.

There are occasions in history when disputes are settled by what Toynbee called a "knockout blow." Sometimes a state or class so completely annihilates another that later archeologists have to search very carefully to find any trace of the defeated. At least as common, however, are cases where the issues and even the desires that engaged the protagonists just don't mean much anymore. With the decline of national sovereignty, this kind of resolution becomes easier and easier. It is hard to see how this could happen in the Middle East, but don't write the possibility off.