Saturday, August 13, 2011

Taking a Hostage

The use of other human beings in armed conflict, as well as taking humans as hostage in, say, a hijacking or other type of terrorist attack, goes to the very core of what it is to be civilized. While the use of civilians as hostages is probably as old human conflict, it was the practice of Khrash by the Mongol hoards that may be the most odious:
A commonly used tactic was the use of what was called the "kharash". During a siege the Mongols would gather a crowd of local residents or soldiers surrendered from previous battles, and would drive them forward in sieges and battles. These "alive boards" or "human shields" would often take the brunt of enemy arrows and crossbow bolts, thus leaving the Mongol warriors safer. The kharash were also often forced ahead to breach walls.
It is likely that this was used in the siege and destruction of Baghdad in 1258. For students of irony, one should perhaps compare this to the "Shock and Awe" attack on Baghdad by "allied" (i.e. American) forces in 2003. Lost in the glorification of that massive bombardment was that fact that innocent civilians lived there. Baghdad just can't cut a break.

There is no doubt about it, Boehner, Cantor and friends took the American people hostage in the recent Debt Limit debacle. There are still politicians, nay, presidential candidates, who feel America should have been let to default on their debt. That these supposedly intelligent candidates are still flourishing, nay, are considered lead contenders, speaks volumes to the level of political discourse in this country.

The basic idea is that when there is a conflict between the leaders of two groups, threatening members of the opposing groups with harm (the leaders, e.g. Saddam Hussein, Boehner, Cantor remain unscathed) has become, if not acceptable, then a common means of attaining one's end. Using the above examples, it is an observation that this method is used either when one of opposing forces is either overwhelmingly powerful with respect to the other (Baghdad then and now) or the attacker is basically powerless (terrorism). Perhaps one should lump both of these together under the rubric "terrorism" and simply say that "Shock and Awe" was a form of State Terrorism. Israel's invasion of Gaza with the subsequent loss of civilian life could be discussed in these terms.

One alternative is compromise. Since 1938, the word "compromise" has come to signify cowardice. If it is one thing that most humans fear. It is being labelled a coward or an appeaser:
The term appeasement is commonly understood to refer to a diplomatic policy aimed at avoiding war by making concessions to another power. It has been described as "...the policy of settling international quarrels by admitting and satisfying grievances through rational negotiation and compromise, thereby avoiding the resort to an armed conflict which would be expensive, bloody, and possibly dangerous."
Alpha males don't compromise. To make their point, they sometimes even march across the fields of Gettysburg  and get slaughtered. John Boehner and Eric Cantor view themselves as alpha males. They view Obama, as one who seeks compromise and is therefore weak. Thus, Boehner after using the American economic welfare as hostage in the recent Debt Limit debacle, felt that he had gotten 98% of what he wanted. That was not a compromise, it was an appeasement. The long term effect on politics will be to, as they wanted, severely weaken the American's view and conception of Obama. Though probably unintended, it reinforces the stereotype of the black male being subservient to the white male, with that relationship somehow natural and acceptable. Racism runs deep in our Country.

Thankfully, there is a glimmer of hope. The recent plunge in the polls of Boehner's approval may mean that Americans have seen through the hostage ploy. I do know that none of us ever want to see it used again.


Ray Girvan said...

Depressing, isn't it? We've discussed "chimpiness" before, and I think it inherently cripples politics as a means for rational change. Politicians have to be seen as alpha and making strong pro-active choices: it's seen as weak to compromise; weak to change a policy (even if the evidence is that isn't working); and indecisive or gambling with lives to try different approaches in order to get an evidence-based result as to what works.

Felix said...

[Following on from Ray's comment as well as the Doc's post]

At the same time, all these alphas have to limit what they actually do in the way of making theses strong proactive choices.

Of the various ways to combat a budget surplus, significant increases in tax are never seriously floated. Even a one percentage point overall personal tax rate increase would make a noticeable difference. Increasing that by an extra percentage point for each tax bracket above median income, whilst leaving those below median as they are, could wipe out the UK's deficit faster than any of the proposed cuts. But none of the brave alphas dares to be strongly proactive in that direction.

(To the perfectly reasonable question: yes, I do believe that I personally am undertaxed.)

Dr. C said...

Thanks Ray and Felix. I agree that I am undertaxed, but I can think of a lot of people who are way undertaxed. Ironically, Romney is upset that the other 50% of Americans pay no income tax (though they pay sales tax, gas tax, social security tax, and Medicare tax). The reason they pay no income tax is because their income is to low. But Romney wants to change that. Tax the poor suckers.

Our own representative, a Tea Party stalwart, wants to abolish income tax and have a 23% tax on all consumption! Now there's an idea that is stillborn.

These folks are just plain nuts. And it is scary to me that all of the Republican candidates are in lockstep on the craziness. I hope Obama can strap on his cajones.

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Anonymous said...

Dr. C
They pay no income tax because the politicians want their vote to control their own power.

About compromise, why does compromise become the answer only when the left doesn't have the power to completely implement their ideas?

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