Whom the Gods Want to Destroy…

IDF-Soldier-who-shot-neutralized-terrorist-is-suspected-of-murder-Israel-PalestineThe killing last week by an Israeli soldier of a wounded Palestinian terrorist who was lying helplessly on his back has sent the country into a turmoil. No sooner was the picture published on the Net then the Israeli media mounted a wave of protest. Taking up from there, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Yeelon, and chief of staff Eisenkot quickly denounced the deed and promised that the soldier in question would be put on trial and punished. This was followed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attorney general’s announcement that the charge would be murder.

Israelis like to think that theirs is “the most moral army in the world.” Consequently there was much palaver about the IDF’s “ethos,” its “values,” and so on. But not everyone agreed that the killer was in fact being treated as he deserved to be. Not only did his family and friends stand by him, but images of him, in handcuffs, led to an equally strong wave of protest in his support accompanied by rioting. That caused Netanyahu, a weathervane if ever one there was, to soften his original stance on the case pending a court investigation. Not content with that, right-wing politicians, smelling blood, entered the fray. They lionized the soldier and accused the chief of staff of failing to back his troops. One notorious extreme right-wing activist, Itamar Ben Gvir, demanded that the police investigate Be-Tzelem, the humanitarian organization responsible for taking the image and spreading it. One rabbi has even suggested that, for having the soldier tried, the chief of staff himself should be put on trial.

In his defense, the soldier claimed that the terrorist was moving and that he was afraid that he, the terrorist, might be carrying an explosive belt on his body. This was denied by the man’s commanders and made doubtful by the fact that the terrorist, who had been lying there for no fewer than six minutes before he was killed, had been examined and found unarmed. As always happens in such situations, charges and countercharges quickly multiplied until they congealed into a single opaque, stinking, tissue of truths and falsehoods. I do not know what the outcome is going to be. But I am prepared to bet that the soldier will not be punished as murderers in Israel usually are, i.e. with life in prison. Assuming he is punished at all, almost certainly he will get a pardon of some kind.

All this is still in the future. Meanwhile the fallout from the case is splitting Israeli society from top to bottom. Not to mention other soldiers’ justified fear that, should they be caught in a similar situation or commit a similar deed, their superiors, instead of backing them up, will wash their hands of them. To be sure, the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are not the world’s worst human rights offenders. Unfortunately, though, they are bad enough.

Sun Tzu, in the first chapter of his celebrated On War, says that victory will go to the side who keeps the favor of heaven—meaning, the moral advantage—by formulating rules of behavior and sticking to them. I agree. For those of you who have never read my best-known book, The Transformation of War, or who have forgotten its contents, here is what I wrote about this topic a quarter century ago:

“[Suppose a war] where one belligerent is much stronger than the other. Under such circumstances, the conduct of war can become problematic even as a matter of definition… Over the long run… fighting the weak demeans those who engage in it, and therefore undermines its own purpose. He who loses out to the weak loses; he who triumphs over the weak also loses. In such an enterprise there can be neither profit nor honor. Provided only the exercise is repeated often enough, as surely as night follows day the point will come when enterprise collapses… Since the very act of fighting the weak invites excess, in fact is excess, it obliges the strong to impose controls in the forms of laws, regulations, and rules of engagement… The net effect of such regulations is to demoralize the troops who are prevented from operating freely and using their initiative. They are contrary to sound command practice if they are observed and subversive of fighting discipline of they are not. Hence Clausewitz’s dictum, plainly observable in every low-intensity conflict fought since World War I, that regular troops combating a Volkskrieg are like robots to men.

A sword, plunged into salt water, will rust…A strong force made to confront the weak for any length of time will violate its own regulations and commit crimes, some inadvertent and others not. Forced to lie in order to conceal its crimes, it will find the system of military justice undermined, the process of command distorted, and a credibility gap opening up at its feet. In such a process there are neither heroes nor villains, but only victims: whom the gods want to destroy, they first strike blind.”

Mr. Netanyahu, are you listening? For God’s sake, GET OUT OF THE TERRITORIES!!!


Some time ago, someone called me a “cranky old man.” Now it so happens I am exactly the same age as Donald Trump (and Ronald Reagan, at the time he became president). So I decided to take it as a compliment.

The reason why Mr. X paid me the compliment was because I have written, in a forthcoming book, that the US armed forces, along with the remaining Western ones, had gone soft. As did the societies in which those forces are rooted. Understandably the idea that wealth, highs standards of living, and luxury can cause one’s people to go soft is not popular in the countries in question. That is precisely why I want to explore it a little further here.

From Lycurgus, Solon, Heraclitus, Herodotus, and Plato on, many ancient statesmen, philosophers and historians believed that history was cyclical. Rise and fall, rise and fall. Repeated over and over again. Medieval sages such as Honoré Bonet and, in the Islamic World, Ibn Khaldun agreed. So did some twentieth-century scholars such as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. The details vary from one thinker to the next. But the gist of the argument is always more or less the same; if ever there was a topos, (Greek, singular of topoi), meaning a theme or archetypical story that people keep telling themselves, this is it.

soldiersAs this particular topos goes, originally war was waged by men of poor, nomadic tribal societies like those of which, long ago, all of us used to be a part. At first they fought over such things as access to water, hunting- and grazing ground, domestic animals, and, not least, women. At some stage one tribe, often headed by a particularly able leader, defeated all the rest and united them into some kind of league, confederation, or federation. As the ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Huns, Magyars, and Mongols all did.

Next, the victors took on their richer, settled, neighbors. They fought, triumphed, conquered, and subjugated. Having done so, they discarded their nomadic traditions and took up life in the cities under their rule. Exploiting the labor of others, they grew rich and soft. They also indulged in every kind of luxury, allowed themselves to be governed by women, and witnessed a sharp decline in fertility.

Having abandoned the military virtues, at some point they started looking down on them. Hiring foreigners to fight in their stead, they ended by losing the qualities that had made them great. Attempts to substitute technology for fighting power, such as were made both in fourth-century AD Rome and, repeatedly, in China, did not work. Nor is there any reason why they should, given that the barbarians could often capture or imitate the technologies and find renegades to operate them. As, for example, Genghis Khan and Timur did. Each empire in turn was overrun by its poorer, but more virile and aggressive, neighbors. More often than not subject peoples, long oppressed, rose and joined the invaders. The end was always the same: ignominious collapse.

The cycle formed the stuff of which history was made. Polybius, the sober, businesslike second-century BC Hellenistic historian, says that, in his time, “men turned to arrogance, avarice and indolence [and] did not wish to marry. And when they did marry, they did not wish to rear the children born to them except for one or two at the most.” And he goes on: “When a state has escaped many serious dangers and achieved an unquestioned supremacy and dominion, it is clear that, with prosperity growing within, life becomes more luxurious and men more tense in rivalry about their public ambitions and enterprises.”

The historian Livy, who lived about the time of Jesus and experienced the empire’s power at its height, says that Rome was “struggling with its own greatness.” And the poet Juvenal, a century later: “we are now suffering the calamities of a long peace. Luxury, more deadly than any foe, has laid her hand upon us, and avenges a conquered world.” Previously, he adds, success in life depended on military excellence. Now it led through some rich woman’s vulva.

Some of these thinkers and doers also proposed solutions. Lycurgus prohibited his Spartans from using gold and silver and made them lead lives so austere that they have become proverbial. Plato wanted his imaginary state to avoid external trade, as far as possible, so as to prevent it from growing luxurious. Interestingly, both of these also emancipated women. The former gave them much greater freedom than any other Greek city-state did. With the result, Aristotle says, that they became licentious and utterly useless. The latter liberated them from the need to look after their children, thus putting them on an equal footing with men in everything but physical strength.

Isocrates, the fourth century BC Athenian statesman, argued that, if Athens wanted to avoid repeating the cycle that had led to the ruin of its first empire, moderation and benevolence were the right tools to use. Three centuries later Cicero, the Roman orator and statesman, did the same. Polybius on his part claimed that Rome made war on the Dalmatians in 150 BC because “they did not at all wish the Italians to become effeminate owing to the long peace… [and] to recreate, as it were, the spirit and zeal of their own troops.”

In 101 BC Metellus Numidicus, censor and therefore in charge of Roman public morality, held a famous speech. The Republic, he said, was short of military manpower. But the solution was not to open the legions to property-less men as Marius had suggested. Instead he demanded that upper- and middle class men should share the burden, marry and have children. The title of the speech? De ducendis uxoribus, “about leading (marrying) women.”

Nor is the softening effect of wealth and civilization by any means the only topos around. One very widespread topos is the story of the helpless young woman who is waked up by prince charming (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty). Another, that of the prodigal son who, after many years of wandering, returns to his desolate father, mother, or girlfriend (Peer Gynt; Ruby Murray, “Goodbye Jimmy, goodbye”). Yet another, that of the noble loser who, having fought bravely, goes under through no fault of his own but maintains his dignity to the end (Spartacus, Robert E. Lee, Erwin Rommel). You get the idea.

Admittedly, all of these and many others are topoi. But that does not mean they are not true to life. To the contrary: it is precisely because they are often true that they developed into topoi and grew as popular as they did.

Food for thought here, no doubt.

Two Articles Caught my Attention Last Week

Last week being international women’s day, two articles caught my attention and drove me to do a little more research. One dealt with the fact that, as of the early years of the twenty-first century, in only a handful of fields do women make more than men. The other argued that most women—between two thirds and three quarters of them, in fact—prefer men who are taller than themselves. How to explain these facts, and what do they mean for the present and the future?

lioness-and-lion-love-i12First things first. In a previous post (“Women Outperforming Men,” 10.12.2015) I noted that, in most of today’s “advanced” countries, women make about two thirds as much as men do. As best we can calculate, that figure has not changed much since at least the time of ancient Rome. Indeed it has been claimed that, should present trends continue, women will need another 177 years to draw level with men. The article that caught my attention claimed that men out-earn women not just in general but also in almost all professions separately. Out of three hundred professions on one list, only in ten do women make as much as, or more than, men. That applies even to fields that are overwhelmingly dominated by women, such as teaching.

This is strange. Normally being a minority means being discriminated against, which in turn leads to lesser earnings. So why do men, who in the teaching profession are outnumbered by about two to one (U.S figures), earn more than their female colleagues? A mystery—or perhaps, given the physical advantage men enjoy even in the most sedentary professions such as being a professor of history, not so great a mystery after all.

That brings me to the second article. Women’s preference for tall men is easy to explain. As I also pointed out in a previous post (“The Indispensable Sex,” 11.2.2016), among many mammalian species, primates included, it is the task of the males to defend the females and their young. Even at the cost of their lives, if necessary. The fact that it is lionesses which do the hunting does not contradict this arrangement. If male lions do not leave the home but stay with the kids, then that is because they alone can protect them against predators. To enable male mammalians to carry out their appointed task, nature has made most of them considerably larger and stronger than their female counterparts. In the case of lions it has also given them their powerful roar. The larger and more powerful a lion, the more attractive he is to females and the better his chances of having multiple offspring.

The difference in size, known as dimorphism, is easily visible among humans as well. Only a small minority of women are as large as the average man. True, humans are less dimorphic than many other mammalians. But the difference between the sexes is sufficiently large to put most women at the mercy of most men. That, incidentally, is why much of the advice that tells women to practice “self-defense” is misguided. Should they try, then usually the outcome will be injuries. It also explains why, starting when they are toddlers, boys are always warned against hitting girls. Even if, as often happens in early puberty, they are larger and heavier than them. Doing so is considered “not nice” at best and can lead to serious consequences at worst.

Part-HKG-Hkg10109760-1-1-0But there are other repercussions as well. Many “less advanced” societies do not have strong police forces. Instead it is the task of the male members of each clan to protect their own womenfolk. That is why women are subjected to so many restrictions. Such as prohibitions on leaving the home, taking up work outside it, and, in Saudi Arabia, driving. When they do these things they are obliged to cover their bodies and faces and/or take on a male escort. A woman who stays inside, or who is escorted when she goes out, is less vulnerable to sexual assault and the consequences it may bring. So is one who instead of wearing provocative clothing, hides her face behind a veil.

Against the prevailing social and cultural background, all these measures make excellent sense. Thanks partly to the police, partly to what a famous twentieth-century scholar used to call “the civilizing process,” life in the West today is relatively secure. As many researchers have pointed out, the number of crimes per 100,000 of population has been declining for the last two centuries or so. That, incidentally, is one reason why the death penalty is being reserved for more serious crimes, and used much less often, than was the case before 1800. Still women before they need anything else need security. Something tall men, big men, strong men, can normally provide better than weak men, small men, short men can.

Let’s assume, as I, on the basis of the research I did for a number of my books do, that the best days of Western liberal democracy are behind it. And that, as a result, the future is likely to see civil society upset by growing crime, terrorism, and various combinations of the two. In that case women will need protection more than ever. In Europe, where wave after wave of Muslim immigrants are arriving, this is already happening. No doubt men will do their best to provide that protection. But they will do so at a price: to wit, obedience and the inequality it implies. Not necessarily because they are oppressive by nature, as so many feminists have foolishly claimed. But because you can only protect those whom you control.

To put it in different words, were feminism and women’s lib spawned by a relatively peaceful world that is even now coming to an end? If so, what a pity. It was a nice try.

Guest Article: “De-radicalization” as Business

by Renzo Verwer*

brainwash-logo-big1On 28 January 2016 a conference took place in a mosque located in Amsterdam West. The topic: “Radicalization and Extremism.” I was there. And I can assure you: it was very entertaining.

The members of the panel defined “de-radicalization” as “convincing people not to travel to Syria.” Another name for the same process was “preventing them from traveling to Syria.” During the first hour and a half the words ISIS/Daesh/Jihad were not mentioned. Strange, that.

So “de-radicalization” means preventing people from traveling to Syria.

I can see the subsidies starting to flow… armed with this definition, people can make quite some money!

The conference also called for reforming Islam. Two imams in particular were mentioned in this context. Their names are Yassin El Forkani and Abu Ismail. The former is known as a “moderate,” a reputation he won by daring to say, once upon a time, that Islam was not without its problems. It was determined that the Netherlands needed more “modern” imams to take the place of the “old fashioned ones.” Those imams, having entered the country from abroad, were “going around saying strange things.” Just what those “strange things” were no one bothered to explain.

A second conference on the same subject was announced. It made me think: “There we go again. All this nonsense about educating imams so as to rub off the tiger’s spots, reform them, and produce the kind of modern Islam the country needs.” An endeavor on which the Dutch Government has already spent considerable sums without any visible success, so far.

Back to the first conference. The audience, consisting of some 150 people, was of the kind you would expect. Such as the lady from Amsterdam North who likes “engaging in dialogue” and was “so happy with this meeting.” And the journalist Paul Andersson Touissant, who has published a volume that criticizes the integration of Moroccans into Dutch society. There were also four students from the Amsterdam Teachers’ College with whom I talked a little. One of the four was reading two books. One that criticized Islam and another written by a left-wing Dutch politician. She liked them both.

Many people asked a question or made comments. Among them, a surprising number described themselves as “psychologists.” One, a Moslem, said that “Moslem parents often neglect their offspring and blame society.”

Personally the person with whom I found myself in agreement was a fairly radical (depending on your definition, I suppose) Moslem who said (I paraphrase): “We are trying to prevent youngsters from traveling to Syria. But suppose they do so, and start fighting our opponents: should we try to stop them?”

El Forkani, who was present, strongly disliked the question. He became quite aggressive and started berating the man, accusing him of supporting a Moslim radical movement. The man denied it, becoming quite emotional in the process.

After the conference was closed I talked to the man. He had his own theory which he was very happy to share with me. According to him those calling for the establishment of a Khaliphate were planning to change the rules and stop exporting oil. And that was why the West was fighting DAESH.

I had had enough. Having listened to his monologue and partaken of the tea and sweets on offer, I went home.

Outside the building policemen were keeping guard. The reason, I was told, was the fear lest some members of Sharia4Belgium—see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia4Belgium–might break into the hall and cause trouble. It would not have been the first time. The same applies to Sahar as-Sham.

Briefly, the program was to harness the mosques in an attempt at de-radicalization—a concept defined quite broadly. And to make the authorities spend money on the enterprise; have a plan, will take money to carry it out. But how to guarantee that the money would not be misused? What I saw was the beginning of a conflict among the Moslems; who can put on the most tolerant mask and grab the money on offer.

Fascinating. I can see some of the most radical Moslems being given money simply for pretending to be less radical in front of other Moslems. Which seems to be just what El Forkani is doing.

In my life I have learnt that one should judge people by their deeds rather than their words. When politicians say that the economy is growing you do not automatically believe them. Nor do you necessarily believe sportsmen and sportswomen when they say they play a clean game.

The same applies to people who say that they choose their partners and friend purely for their character. And to medical researchers who claim that they like animals and treat them well. And so on, and so on. To repeat, it is deeds that count. Which is why I do not necessarily believe El Forkani either. This disbelief has nothing to do with the fact that he is a Moslem.

To say it again: What is de-radicalization? Does it mean not going to Syria, as people in Amsterdam seem to think? Or adhering to a moderate form of Islam? How do you measure those things? How do you brainwash people? Back in the 1980s, some people in the Netherlands, influenced by all kinds of sects, tried to re-program religious cults. Without success, needless to say. Briefly: I rather doubt whether a program designed to deprogram can work.

Finally, for those of you who want to make money: there is plenty of it waiting for you. The piggybanks, carrying a sign that reads “de-radicalization” are full. All they need is to be opened for the money to start flowing. For a start, set up a nice office and tell a nice tale about a nice moderate mosque.

* Renzo Verwer (Woerden, the Netherlands, 1972) is an author and a dealer in second hand books. He has published books about love, work, and the chess master Bobby Fischer. His most recent one (in Dutch) is titled Freedom of Thought for Beginners. His website is www.artikelzeven.nu. His books: http://www.amazon.com/Renzo-Verwer/e/B00ITG41ES/

On Blogging*

bloggingThe opposite is also true. I blog, therefore I think. It is now almost two years since I started doing this. Except for one five-week period when technical problems prevented me from posting, I have done so week in, week out. The present piece is No. 94. A good time, it seems to me, to stand still and look back.

First, has blogging taught me anything? No and yes. No, in the sense that, over the years, I have published enough opinion pieces in enough papers and magazines around the world to know how to do it. Or so I hope, at any rate. For those of you with no experience in the field, here are a few simple rules.

Make sure you know exactly what you want to say, and say it. Keep it short and, if you can, snappy. Use short sentences and short paragraphs. For heaven’s sake, don’t use jargon. Above all, don’t go for academic, especially social science, writing with its endless strings of abstract, not seldom incomprehensible, nouns following each other like beads on a string. Don’t try to impress people with your learning—usually, doing so all you will achieve is bore them and make them stop reading. It is in knowing where to stop that true mastery reveals itself. Always try and find a nice picture to illustrate what you have to say.

Yes, in the sense that I have discovered that there is no knowing which of your pieces is going to be the most successful. You leave your desk, or close your laptop, thinking that you have written a particularly interesting piece. But the stats, which I look at from time to time, show you that you have missed the boat and that no one cares. You think that you have written a so-so piece—perhaps because you were not feeling very well, perhaps because you just did not have the time. But all of a sudden the stats explode. After two years it seems to me there is just one remedy. Keep typing away. Maybe you’ll hit the jackpot one day. Or not.

When I say jackpot, I do not mean money. Except that some readers have gone to Amazon.com in order to take a look at my books, so far I have not made a penny on my blog. Given the restrictions on free expression that are sure to follow if you allow advertising a foot in the door, I am not even certain I would like to do so.

Unlike many other bloggers, and contrary to the advice of some, I have not restricted my posts to a single topic or field. Many of the topics I address I get from the daily press. Others reflect issues I have been contemplating for some time past and wanted to get off my chest. A few, notably the ones about nuclear proliferation, resource wars, Russia and China reflect the things I have discussed with my students in class. For making me think, I thank them.

As I have written more than once, I get quite some feedback. A few of the emails are offensive, even obscene. Pay attention, you yahoos out there: I ignore them and will continue to do so in the future. The rest fall into two main categories. Some readers like my pieces and ask permission to re-post them, either in the original language or in translation. Usually I go along; but not before asking my correspondent whether he (so far, no she) would like to reciprocate by posting something on my site in return. Several have.

Then there are those who want to argue, usually over some point linked to my views concerning women and feminism. Those I provide with brief answers; brief they have to be, or otherwise I won’t have time for anything else. Here and there a critique is sufficiently interesting to catch my attention and make me engage in a little more research. Whatever others may feel or think, for me the feedback is very important. Quite often it makes me think of things that have never occurred to me before; so let me take this opportunity to thank those who provide it.

Finally, why do I do it? Being a fairly well known academic, over my lifetime I have published dozens of books in twenty different languages. I have also been interviewed by numerous TV stations, radio station, magazines and newspapers around the world—so many that I have long stopped counting. Not to mention articles I myself wrote.

Generally I enjoyed doing all this. Yet nothing gives me the sense of freedom which, sitting down week by week, I have when working on my blogs. Freedom from the kind of control many editors will impose on your work. Freedom to say what I want, on any subject that comes to my mind, in the way, and at the time; and freedom to do so regardless of the laws Israeli ministers and MKs, to their eternal shame, are trying to pass.

To abuse a famous quote, give me freedom, or give me death.

* I wish to thank my stepson, Jonathan Lewy, who not only takes care of all the technical arrangements but has provided the idea behind this particular piece.