Purity of arms


Hebraice, “טוהר הנשק”, a much-loved though now rather threadbare commonplace of Israeli propaganda. The idea is that war can and should be waged in a deeply moral way. There are people you can kill and other people you can’t; there are ways you may kill them and other ways you mustn’t. One imagines the Marquis of Queensberry refereeing the gory slaughterpit we call the ‘modern world’.

This notion, silly as it is, just won’t go away, and lately I’m hearing a lot of it from my Lefty pals who have lined up with AIPAC to cheer on the Syrian insurgency. The most recent great debate is, who’s using chemical weapons, the insurgents or the ‘regime’, aka the government?

Hmm. Well, suppose they both were? What would become of Queensberry’s Moral Razor in that case? Would all these beautiful-souled Trots just walk away in disgust? Or would they go out to the next decimal place, and consider who was supporting whom, and why?

But that scenario is no fun. The scenario I like is the one where the right side does all the wrong stuff — the chemical weapons, the ‘terrorism’, etc. — and the wrong side does all the right stuff — drones, boots on the ground, bunker-busters, and so on.

This has always been the way of it with the Palestinians and the Israelis, for example. The highly moral smug Israelis have their tanks and bulldozers. The poor Palestinians have none of that, so they’re reduced to hijacking airliners and suicide-bombing discos.

But even so I favor the immoral Palestinians over the moral Israelis. Not that they truly are that moral, of course; it’s sheer hypocrisy, really; but even if all their moral claims were true, I would still be on the side of the sinners. Because, at bottom, the sinners’ cause is just, and the cause of the Zionist bulldozers is not.

Now I really have no idea what’s going on in Syria, and I daresay very few other people who don’t have platinum security clearances have any idea either.

Certainly my moralizing comrades, with their nattering tut-tuttery about chemical weapons, have no more idea than I do. But for them, Purity Of Arms takes the place of actual information.

If ‘the regime’ is using chemical weapons, then the regime stands condemned. Presumably if the insurgents were using chemical weapons, they too would stand condemned; and therefore, since the insurgents are clearly the right side, it follows that the insurgents can’t possibly be using chemical weapons.

Tidy world these people live in.

But there is no morality in war. War is wickedness from start to finish. This is not to say that wars should never be fought. If you’re attacked, you have the right to fight back. But your attackers will observe no morality in attacking you, and you will observe none in defending yourself.

14 thoughts on “Purity of arms

  1. Look at the bright side: all those soft-headed “analysts” you won’t have to take seriously any longer for egging on the “humanitarian” onslaught: Stephen Zunes, Juan Cole, Vijay Prashad, Gilbert Achcar and others of either Liberal or Trot persusasion. Although, it is sad to see Norman Finkelstein and Tariq Ali losing their edge in their 50s and 60s. They should have emulated Bertrand Russell and Noam Chomsky who resisted the onset of senility even in their 9’th and 10’th decades. The latter noted apropos the hoopla over Libya that “the humanitarian talk is too cynical even to discuss.” Bertrand Russell’s very last public statement read out after his death at the age of 98 was admirably clear:

    The tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was “given” by a foreign Power to another people for the creation of a new State. The result was that many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were made permanently homeless. With every new conflict their number have increased. How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty? It is abundantly clear that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which they were driven, and the denial of this right is at the heart of the continuing conflict. No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse from their own country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate?…We are frequently told that we must sympathize with Israel because of the suffering of the Jews in Europe at the hands of the Nazis. I see in this suggestion no reason to perpetuate any suffering. What Israel is doing today cannot be condoned, and to invoke the horrors of the past to justify those of the present is gross hypocrisy.

    • I never took any of those folks seriously anyway, except Finkelstein, who wrote some scorchingly good stuff. But the guy definitely has a squirrelly side.

    • It’s that morality doesn’t apply. Assad and company are not exactly the Knights Of The Round Table. But Israel has been trying for decades to make sure that all its neighbors are “failed states”, incapable of any autonomous activity whatsoever. My guess is that a defeat for Assad is a victory for Israel, and on that assumption I know whose side I’m on, no matter how lamentable that side may be.

      • Excellence of writing! Yet:

        You allege: “Assad and company are not exactly the Knights Of The Round Table”

        How do you know? You wrote by yourself, that “I really have no idea what’s going on in Syria,” and despite that you make this bold statement!

        Dr. Bashar al-Assad’s performance in the crisis until now is brilliant. Contrary to western media claims of a bloody suppression he avoided violence against the protesters, the policemen guarding the protest marches initially were unarmed (this explains why the death toll of syrian security forces at the start of the crisis was exorbitantly high).

        Later, when police carried weapons the officers had to account for every bullet and got strict order to avoid any confrontation. The restraint didn’t help, as the destabilization efforts went on relentlessly and mercilessly and the western media curtained off the truth behind a wall of lies, working in overdrive to demonize the Syrian government and especially Dr. Bashar al-Assad.

        Until now I had the impression that you are beyond the point where one falls for western media propaganda.

        • Fair enough. I may well in fact have an undeservedly poor impression of Assad, and would be glad of an opportunity to improve it. I always had a good deal of respect for his Pop.

          My impression certainly isn’t based on first-hand information. What I was trying to get out of was the Scylla and Charybdis fallacy — to wit, that you’ve got to enlist yourself as the defense attorney for the side you favor, and try to convince people that they’re morally superior to the other side. After all, my paucity of information cuts both ways; I can neither convincingly attack Assad nor convincingly defend him. So I claim one can grant arguendo at least some of the bad things people say about him, and yet still incline to his side for quite sound reasons.

  2. I don’t understand MJS’s squeamishness about direct Western and Israeli military intervention in Syria. Clearly, if there are chemical weapons being used against civilians in Syria, by government forces, or forces unknown, the solution is for Western imperialist powers and/or Israel to mount a humanitarian bombing campaign against Syria in support of the anti-Assad rebels. To maximise the efficacy of the humanitarian bombing, these attacks will be carried out against government forces, with pinpoint accuracy, using the depleted uranium and other powerful munitions that have already displayed their wonderfully liberating properties to the people of Iraq:

    “Our study in two Iraqi cities, Fallujah and Basrah, focused on congenital birth defects. In both cities, the study revealed increasing numbers of congenital birth defects, especially neural tube defects and congenital heart defects. It also revealed public contamination with two major neurotoxic metals, lead and mercury. The Iraq birth defects epidemic is, however, surfacing in the context of many more public health problems in bombarded cities. Childhood leukemia, and other types of cancers are increasing in Iraq. Childhood leukemia rates in Basra more than doubled between 1993 and 2007. In 1993, the annual rate of childhood leukemia was 2.6 per 100,000 individuals and by 2006 it had reached 12.2 per 100,000. Multiple cancers in patients (patients with simultaneous tumors on both kidneys and in the stomach, for example), an extremely rare occurrence, have also been reported. Dr Jawad al-Ali, a cancer specialist at the Sadr Teaching Hospital in Basra, discussed the issue of multiple cancers with Der Spiegel last December. Familial cancer clusters, described as the occurrence of multiple cancers throughout an entire family, were also disclosed in that Spiegel report. These observations collectively suggest an extraordinary public health emergency in Iraq. Such a crisis requires urgent multifaceted international action to prevent further damage to public health.”


  3. I think any idea of any sort of ‘purity of arms’ or some such honor related to soldiering was rendered null even as an unattainable ideal once weapons were developed that no one could accurately predict the consequences of their use. Anyone talking about the moral way to administer war probably pastes stamps on their telephone before making a call.

    No chemical weapons, that’s fucked up! Dynamite, okay, that’s cool. Nuclear weapons are a HUGE no no, with exceptions for nations that have shown a high level of responsibility. Grenades can be dangerous for the person throwing them, but they are definitely kosher!

  4. Moral purity is a sine qua non proposition for these folks. Chomsky has this weird optimism liberal sorts with the right inspiration can become some kind a vanguard–I guess it’s kind of logical where the product of two and three is six. But where the product is of banana and Robert and renormalization is impossible, well…

  5. How about a genetically tuned weapon –[from ’98, so…..]

    Wired News Report 11.16.98
    Israel is reportedly developing a biological weapon that would harm Arabs while leaving Jews unaffected, according to a report in London’s Sunday Times.
    The report, citing Israeli military and western intelligence sources, says that scientists are trying to identify distinctive genes carried by Arabs to create a genetically modified bacterium or virus. …”

    More current —

    No proof Syria rebels used chemical weapons, says UN

    Other hand, one day before —

    UN accuses Syrian rebels of chemical weapons use
    Syrian rebels have made use of the deadly nerve agent sarin in their war-torn country’s conflict, UN human rights investigator Carla del Ponte has said.

    I assume ‘both’ sides are using and that, bigger picture, no dif……we’ll be visiting [though Hezbollah’s entrance seems significant]

  6. i must admit

    the over throw of BABY A
    appeals to me
    as much as the overthrow of col GADFLY

    in ” these matters”
    i’m just a fan of toppling

    “these matters” ?

    i know one when i see one

    uncle jumping in tends to sober me up some
    i like fresh deals
    new state systems and the like
    for better or worse ..in these matters

    what isn’t a case of ” these matters” ?


    and of course
    the late Hugo C

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