Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Most Awful Day: The Wherefores

     A few Gentle Readers have written to ask why I’ve made a habit of reposting this somber piece every August 6. Surely, they contend, anyone who reads Liberty’s Torch, or its predecessor Eternity Road, will have seen it by now. The history will be familiar to all. So what’s the point?

     Yes, I agree: the typical Gentle Reader of this pile of pixels will see “The Most Awful Day,” shrug, and pass on. “He’s at it again,” they’ll think. “Probably has nothing else to write about.” In truth, I almost always have more to write about than time to write, but that’s not the crux of the thing.

     Zeppelin L-Z, and all the civilian-sector-bombing missions over the century that followed, were dispatched by governments. Every civilian life ever taken by civilian-sector bombing was taken at the orders of a government. Despite the long-agreed rules of civilized warfare codified in the Geneva Conventions and elsewhere, governments have routinely decided to spill civilians’ blood as a measure during the prosecution of a war. Why?

     To answer the question “Why,” it’s sometimes helpful to look first at “Why not.”


     I wrote two years ago about the 1648 Peace of Westphalia:

     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.

     Note that the motivation for the abovementioned forbiddings wasn’t moral but practical. Governments do not respect moral constraints.

     When in 1914 the German Empire inaugurated civilian-sector bombing, it did so after calculation: specifically, that the practice would be an aid to winning the war. It tossed aside the Westphalian and Genevan constraints that had limited combat’s perils to acknowledged combatants for what it deemed a tactical advantage. Other governments soon followed in its train.

     Yet to this very day, the great majority of Americans – indeed, the great majority of First Worlders – persist in trusting governments and believing the statements of politicians.


     There’s my answer to the original “Why,” Gentle Reader. To remind you, and anyone else who might come into brushing contact with this site, that governments are amoral constructs unbound by any constraints other than force. Mohandas Gandhi put it best:

     “The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from the violence to which it owes its very existence.”

     There is an escape hatch. Yes, it would be temporary...but for as long as it might last, men would be free – and untroubled by the deeds of governments or the prattlings of those who seek to rule others. And warfare, with all its unrestrainable horrors, is the best of all reasons to consider it seriously.

     I contend that “Why” requires no other answer.

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