Women and Children First

Coincident with the centennial celebration of the outbreak of World War I, I finished David Fromkin’s excellent A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. Fromkin’s message, if I may paraphrase, is that since in took Western Europe 1500 years to get its shit together after the fall of the Roman Empire, we may have another 1400 of reports of madnesses and slaughters to look forward to ingesting each morning over coffee in The New York Times

In a sense, they all boil down to tribes squabbling over dirt; and until we recognize we are one tribe (people) on one patch of dirt (Earth), we may not make it to next Tuesday, let alone the millennium and a half Fromkin has his eye on.

LSD in the water supply may be the only answer.

Recent events in the corner of the globe Fromkin had under discussion—as well as some others—led me to recall an evening in the spring of 1968 when my roommate responded to a report on the evening news of protestors decrying the killing of women and children in Vietnam by saying, “Of course, we’re killing women and children. That’s how you win wars. Kill the women and children.” He was not even stoned when he told off Walter Cronkite.

Ron and I were VISTA volunteers, living and working for a legal services agency on the South Side of Chicago. We were both graduates of Ivy League law schools (Harvard, in his case, and Penn, in mine) and, to varying degrees (totally, for him and partially, for me), neither of us would have been volunteering in service to America but for a desire to avoid the draft. Still we did not see eye-to-eye on everything. I, for instance, a West Philadelphia guy, relished the experience of our being, along with another VISTA pair in our building, the only whites in an, oh, mile-and-a-half radius, and he, from an Iowa farm town, once told our program director, “How do you expect me to do my best work, when I am terrified to walk from my apartment to my car?” I thought VISTA provided a grand opportunity to deepen myself while I pondered the mystery of what to do with the rest of my life. He could not wait to assume his already secured position with a white shoe, LaSalle Street firm and feared his present place of employ might place a permanent stain on his resume as he sought to scale the partnership ladder.

But Ron possessed the most professional orientation of anyone with whom I’d yet closely associated. And he had the sharpest legal mind of anyone on our staff. So I took note of what he said. Over the decades, I have thought about his analysis from time to time. Now I think about it often.

The world record holder in this murderous event was probably set by Genghis Khan against the Khrwarezmians: millions massacred and enslaved; pyramids of skulls erected; towns and farms destroyed; a river even diverted over their emperor’s birthplace in order to eradicate it. But excellence is well-rooted in the western classic tradition as well. See, for instance, Rome against Carthage: 445,000 Carthaginians slain; 50,000 sold into slavery; their cities razed; their crops destroyed; their fields sewn with salt. In fact, it is even an accepted part of our Judeo-Christian heritage, what with the Children of Israel following Jehova’s instructions to wipe the earth clean of those sinful Canaanites, every last man, woman and child. Anyone finding the Lord’s alleged roll in this operation worrisome need only consult www.gotquestions.org (“The Bible has answers; we’ll help you find them”) for reassurance. There a theologian—no, not Stephen A. Smith—points out those women were “seductive”; and, as for the kids, well, “no human person (including infants) is truly innocent.”

Anyway, the proof is in the pudding. When was the last time you heard of any Khwarezmians giving anyone trouble?

Look around. All over the globe, people are killing people over disputes that started 1500 years ago. You keep hearing the argument, “You can’t kill that guy, or you’ll create three or four more who want to kill you.” Not if you wipe out his women and children, you won’t.

And slavery’s just not an option any more. I mean, it is in Africa and Asia; but in the west, the economic opportunity just isn’t there, plus you’ll give your country a branding problem. So I say, if we’re going to keep war on the table as a foreign policy option, let’s do it right! No more pussy-footing around. Stop pretending we are something we are not.

From August, 2014