Kevin has at long last delivered The Überpost!
I can’t really disagree with the essence of what he says but I’m going to play devils advocate for a bit. And I’m certain he already recognizes the problem I am about to point out. He says:
But the ideas of Western civilization in general, and the American philosophy in specific have proven themselves superior.
“Superior” on what scale? How is it that you measure that superiority? By the scale used by Muslims we are arrogant, decadent, and sinful. We drink alcohol. Our women, who are the tools of Satan, are allowed to tempt men with exposed skin in public are allowed to attend schools. We charge interest on the loaning of money. We do not pray to Allah. We tempt the youth of the faithful to desert that which is holy and become sinful. We have succumbed to Satan. Our power is not proof of our superiority. It is proof of the bargain we have made with the Prince of Darkness.
The Germans in the late 30’s had a “noble goal” as well–“purification” of the human race. A similar argument could be made of the Japanese in the same time frame.
Who are you to say Western civilization is superior? By what measure and how have you determined that measure is superior?
[End devils advocate mode.]
Other things that come to mind from his post:
In the Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order Huntington said that frequently after one civilization convincingly wins a conflict with another civilization the loser imitates many of the characteristics of the winner. If the loser has a framework for dealing with the loss then there can be peace for a while. In particular the Chinese and the Japanese civilizations have the concept of a hierarchy of power and when the West unequivocally demonstrated greater military and economic power they had a cultural construct for at least a short term (in civilizational time scales) peaceful co-existence with the West being the superior civilization.
Islam does not have as much resiliency in this regard. After their defeats in the first part of the last century they realized they had to learn from the West and adapt what they could to their civilization. But they have no cultural construct of accepting non-Islamic people or institutions as being superior to Islam. If such a thing appears to be true then it is proof that those Muslims were not Islamic enough. It was proof that Allah was punishing them by allowing Satan to rule over them. Hence the demonstrations of the West being of superior power only means they must be even greater adherents to Islam.
They also have no concept of pacifism as a virtue (I am not a pacifist but consider input from those that are a useful balance of ideas in how to deal with conflict). Their greatest religious leader was a warrior and is praised for his warrior acts. The killing of infidels is regarded as not only acceptable or praiseworthy but as necessary acts of profound devotion to their faith.
Paraphrasing Greg Hamilton here: In the eyes of Muslims what Osama Bin Laden has to say about the West is as inherently obvious, once articulated, to them as the superiority of Western civilization is to us.
As to the central question brought up by Kevin I think he misses a concept that can help explain, or at least rationalize, our killing the civilians of cases such as the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In our minds we were not the aggressor–Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was unprovoked. The Japanese, of course, have a different view on this. We believed Germany’s aggression would not end with the conquest of Europe and ultimately would be a threat to us if it was not stopped in Europe. The aggressor, in our minds, is the criminal in a conflict. Criminals do not have the same rights as innocents. That combined with the view in both Germany, at that time, and Japan that the concept of individualism was almost if not in fact repugnant. The State (in Germany) and the Emperor (in Japan) were what the individual existed to serve. Hence, we were “playing by their own rules” by killing civilians in our efforts to defeat the Germany state and the Emperor of Japan. And even then it is clear that many had serious qualms about the actions taken. We weren’t blind to the hypocrisy of suspending our principles. It was a reluctant pragmatic concession to reality not mapping perfectly to our theory of individual rights. It was an ugly thing, as is all war, but it was the least ugly of the available alternatives.
This last point could be just another way of saying what Kevin offers when he offers this quote from Second Hand Lions on how we justify our violations of others “inalienable” right to life:
Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love, true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.
Lots of things to think about. Thank you Kevin.
Another point in the discussion of targeting civilians During WWII. It was generally accepted at that time that, when a country declares war, the entire country was at war. In the minds of the Allies, we weren’t just at war with Germany and Japan’s military, we were at war with the countries of Germany and Japan and their industrial centers (read cities) were legitimate targets. The civilians in Dresden and Tokyo supported the war effort just as the civilians in Detroit and Cleveland did. Attacking civilians was partially a “terror” tactic, but it was also a legitimate effort to destroy The Axis’ ability to wage war.
My reply is up.