Friday, May 20

Last Man Standing

December 2004

I, in America, listening to John Batchelor in Jerusalem talk with Robert Alter in Wales. They are discussing Alter's work to translate the five books of Moses. With millions sitting by the radio and hanging on every word, Alter is discussing -- a word. "Seed" to be exact.

How to get at the essence of what Hebrew scholars were trying to convey thousands of years ago? How to intuit what Alter terms "a little puffy cloud of abstraction," the significance the scholars attached to the word "seed" in writing about The Flood?

I scribble notes and ponder. For those of us awake to the scale of this war and the nature of the enemy it has become a duty to think hard on what is worth fighting to defend.

I remember overhearing my father ask my mother, "How could a country that produced Bach and Beethoven produce Hitler?" Of course it was a rhetorical question but small children don't understand the meaning of rhetoric.

It took me a few decades to work it out, but the answer to my father's question is that civilization is not self-perpetuating. It takes a conscious decision on the part of many people, a constant effort to be guided by conscience, a determination to struggle against barbarity.

Adolf Hitler was explicitly aware of that point although I didn't know it until I read an essay by Aisha Siddiqa Qureshi. Qureshi observes:
In his writings, Hitler clearly said that he is a barbarian who wants to express his primal instincts and Judaism says he can't. For him... the concept of conscience [is] "a Jewish invention; it is a blemish, like circumcision... I am freeing man from... the dirty and degrading self-mortifications of a false vision known as conscience and morality."
I don't know how much stock to put in Quershi's thesis that "people are and have always been willing to hate the Jews [because] they gave the world the concept of objective right and wrong."

And I think most who are prejudiced against Jews are not well-informed enough about Jewish theology to think about them at the level Hitler did. But Hitler and his circle certainly understood that to take control of ideas of right and wrong they had to suppress attention to conscience. Can that really be done on a widescale basis?

Patrick K. O'Donnell, who was embedded with the Marines during the Battle of Fallujah, reported to John Batchelor last week that the Marines found many used syringes in the rubble. They also found vials of adrenaline and caches of cocaine.

That explains how the enemy is able to wire his own wounded with explosives, wire himself with explosives, and remain in a fighting posture even when surrender is clearly not dishonor. The jihadi warrior in Iraq is a druggie. He arrives at the gates of his imagined paradise stoned out of his skull.

So yes, it's possible to condition or drug a person into not referencing the dictates of conscience. The catch is that it's not possible to forge a civilization with such people. That's because the bedrock of human society is the ability to put oneself in the place of another. That ability is conscience.

If not for conscience there could be no civilization -- not even primitive tribal societies. For society to exist people must be able to ask themselves, "How would I feel, if this were done to me?" when they contemplate murder.

So Hitler spoke nonsense in saying he could both create an Aryan civilization and destroy conscience. One can't have it both ways. But of course the Nazis knew this. That is why they had to keep conquering, in the way a junkie has to steal more and more to support his addiction. It was the only way to keep the illusion going that it's possible to do anything you damn well please to others and suffer no great consequence.

It is the same for the present enemy and his talk of an Islamic civilization. At their core the Nazis and Islamic terrorists are a murder-suicide cult. Last man standing shoots himself.

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