Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Rebirth Of Evil

Men have known periods of both moral advancement and moral regression. When the context is politics and government, the least appreciated of the former is usually known as the Peace of Westphalia: a period in 1648 over which several highly significant treaties were agreed among the crowned heads of Europe, which could then still be non-sarcastically called Christendom.

The Westphalia treaties set down several principles most persons of our time take utterly for granted – indeed, to the point of shock upon being informed that rulers haven’t always conceded them. One of those glossed over more often than not was the proscription of private armies, a corollary of the reservation of the warmaking power to the sovereigns of nation-states. Private armies had long been deemed pernicious for several reasons, not the least of which was their habit of sweeping up any able-bodied man they found in their path and impressing him into their forces. In consequence, the wars in which those armies fought often reaped as many noncombatant as combatant lives, it being well nigh impossible to distinguish one from the other.

The sovereigns agreed, at long last, that allowing the carnage of war to embrace noncombatants was “bad for business;” that is, it impeded the economies of the belligerent nations. That could put a premature end to the fighting. Horrors! From that grudging recognition, added to the sovereigns’ desire to have the privilege of warmaking reserved to themselves, arose the formal distinction between soldier and civilian, the latter being protected from impressment or deliberate slaughter by general agreement among those who retained the privilege of making war.

Though the principle was sometimes disrespected “along the edges” – e.g., Napoleon’s imposition of conscription upon France during his years of dominance – no sovereign dared to denounce it openly for more than two centuries. What we know today as the Geneva Conventions on War began to germinate.

Then came a truly terrible day.

A government with evil intentions had sent two million men marching on a mission of conquest. Its liege lord and top military planners were angry at the stubbornness of a minor power, neutral by treaty, that refused those armies free passage through its lands. The conquest-minded state decided on a strategy of intimidation. An aircraft long kept in reserve was sent aloft on a mission of terror, the first since the Westphalia treaties inaugurated the moral renaissance of Europe.

The aircraft was a Zeppelin, designated the "L-Z" by the commanders of the armies of the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II. Its weapons were gravity bombs, thirteen in number. Its target was the Belgian city of Liege, where the Kaiser's troops had met unexpected resistance to their Schlieffen Plan thrust against France. Its harvest was nine civilian lives: the first civilians deliberately killed by authorized military action since the Peace of Westphalia.

The date was August 6, 1914: one hundred years ago today.

Contemporary commentators don’t spend a lot of ink on that terrible day. Some of them are so shallowly grounded in history that they aren’t even aware of it. Others prefer the supposedly more dramatic events at Hiroshima, where many more nominally civilian lives were taken by a wholly new mechanism. But for a moral transition, an abandonment of absolute moral constraint for cold utilitarian preference, that day in August, 1914 stands infinitely far above any subsequent event.

The bombs Zeppelin “L-Z” dropped on Liege opened a gate to the aerial civilian slaughters of every subsequent armed conflict. Any one of those subsequent bombardments dwarfs the death toll at Liege, but Liege was what made them thinkable. Liege, by which the German Empire declared that the rules set in place by the Westphalia treaties would not bind it – that bypassing little Belgium and getting its forces into France trumped any moral considerations – liberated the rest of the governments of Europe from those same constraints.

When an unnamed scientist said in 1945 at Alamogordo that “Science has now known sin,” he was approximately thirty-one years too late. The sin was committed in 1914, over Liege. Only the science familiar to Sir Isaac Newton was required to consummate it.

One of the doctrines of my faith is that of Original Sin, with which I have long quibbled on moral grounds: i.e., that a just God would not taint the soul of a newborn with the deeds of his ancestors. Yet we are clearly a fallen race, ever in danger of ignoring the dictates of conscience in the name of profit or “practicality.” Worse, we are a backsliding race, prone to discarding the hard-learned lessons of our progenitors as if we were of a higher and more insightful species, and then painfully having to learn them all over again.

Liege and its century of consequences bring home to me what Original Sin is really about: our susceptibility to evil, rather than any odium for evils committed by persons long dead. Original Sin guarantees that evil cannot be put down permanently so long as we remain men under the veil of Time. It will rise from its supposed grave over and over, like a vampire un-staked, to drag us back to the abyss whence our forefathers so laboriously climbed.

Look to the east, to the blood-drenched lands of the Middle East. Look closely; squint if you must. After a while you will spy the armies of Xerxes and Muhammad. You’ll discover the slaughters of the Crusades era, and the blood toll collected at the gates of Vienna. You’ll discern the silhouette of Yeats’s “rough beast” slouching toward Bethlehem. You will see the shadow of Zeppelin "L-Z" hovering over Liege.

Pray for deliverance. I’ll be doing so shortly. It’s all I can do.


Anonymous said...

I would say that the total war started by Lincoln and carried out by grant Sherman etal was the the ethnic cleansing of Missouri and its concentration camps lead to the boer war excess and then the ww2 camps most of the war on civilians can be layed at the great dictators feet.your frien truckwilkins

F.J. Dagg said...

Outstanding insight re Original Sin, Fran. Thank you.

Then, in your final paragraph, you come very near poetry. Bravo.

gwynn romano said...

Interesting timing. On the way home today I was thinking of how Obama and his merry band of academics seem to be goading Russia into a hot war while at the same time this administration's expert handling of the Middle East has set in motion a renewed Muslim caliphate. On top of this we have the building tensions and divisiveness here at home thanks to Dear Leader whose birthday we must all honor and praise. I have to say thank you low information voter. and thank you main stream media for aiding and abetting the community organizer along the way and for covering up his gaffes and horrendous actions. May God help us.

MissAnthropy said...

Great pondering on Original Sin. I myself cannot help but view this great Culture War in which we are now embroiled, this conflict of visions, as an object lesson on man's Original Sin.

On our side -- the preservationists, traditionalists, conservatives, whatever term you prefer -- is the view that Man is a fallen being, by his very nature stained with Original Sin, utterly hopeless without God's salvation. The best we can hope for on the earthly plane is to consciously reign in this sinful nature and mitigate it through justice and equal application of the Rule of Law.

On the other side -- the Leftists -- is the view that Man is a perfectible being. With their enlightened ministration, and application of what they call "scientific socialism" this so-called sinfulness of Man can be rectified. They took up Nietzsche's rally of "God is dead", and have asserted themselves worthy of filling that vacant position. Modern history has shown that there is no limit to the number of eggs they're willing to break in pursuit of their utopian omelette.

To harken back to the notion of Original Sin, this conflict of visions can be seen as one side cautioning to obey the commandment against partaking of the Fruit, and the other side scoffing at such petty superstition as it devours the Fruit. You can virtually see the serpent whispering into their ears.

This conflict is as old as Mankind. It has been fought over and over again, with relative plateaus in between. It would seem we are right up against another round in this fight.

Martin said...

And the upshot of that Original Sin? 'I was naked, and ashamed, so I hid myself." Shame, Fear, and Control. Three strongholds on which every evil builds it's ramparts. Used most effectively of late, right here in the good 'ol U.S. of A. We can all think of at least one example of each.

Indeed, we are as susceptible to each as we allow, individually and collectively. Obama was appointed to us by God to illustrate our fragility, as well as the depths of the evil of the human heart that only He can fathom. Sad that there is so much confusion as to which 'he' is so bloody essential.