What to Do?

While tensions in Korea have gone down, those in the Middle East, specifically along Israel’s northern borders with Lebanon and Syria, are going up. As a flurry of consultations in Tel Aviv, Washington DC, and Sochi shows, they are higher today than at any time since Israel invaded Lebanon back in 2006.

That round, let me remind you, got underway when Hezbollah, apparently in the hope of freeing some of its prisoners who were being held by Israel, kidnapped some Israeli soldiers and killed several others. This led to what the Israelis call the Second Lebanese War, which ended with a smashing Israeli victory. Not because Hezbollah was finished—it was not—but because, for what is now more than a decade, it lost its will to take on Israel. And not because Israel’s forces performed particularly well—especially on the ground, they did not. But because their sheer firepower, mercilessly delivered over a period of some six weeks, taught Sheikh Nasrallah, his Hezbollah organization, and Lebanon’s population in general a lesson they did not quickly forget.

Now, with the Syrian civil war perhaps—perhaps, I say—finally starting to wind down, the situation is changing. Hezbollah’s recent victories against Daesh and other anti-Assad organizations have raised its morale and made it feel more confident in its own capabilities. Behind Hezbollah is Iran, which is intent on gaining some kind of presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and is using its anti-Israeli policy as a sort of battering ram to enter the Arab world. And behind Iran there is Russia. Like Iran, Russia wants a presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Unlike Iran, it has no particular reason to oppose Israel, let alone engage in hostilities with it. Especially because doing so may very well cause complications with the U.S. On the other hand, it also has no particular reason to restrain Iran or Iran’s client, Hezbollah.

In my post of last week, My Meeting with Mr. X, I argued that never since 1945 have two nuclear powers engaged each other in earnest. Instead calm—albeit often a tense one—has prevailed. So, first of all, between the superpowers. So, later on, between the Soviet Union and China. So between China and India, and so, since at least the 1999 “Kargil War” (which in reality, was not a war at all, only a skirmish between minuscule forces over impossibly difficult terrain along an impossibly difficult border), between India and Pakistan. In all those cases, to quote Winston Churchill, some form of peace has become the sturdy child of terror. Hence the idea, presented to me in a half-joking, half serious, manner, of periodically assembling the world’s heads of state so as to show them the damage nuclear weapons can really cause.

So what to do? I am not worried about an Iranian nuclear arsenal. As I have argued before, there is excellent reason to believe that such an arsenal, far from leading to war between Israel and Iran, will force both sides to behave more responsibly than they do now. Not to speak of preventing Benjamin Netanyahu from ever realizing his threat to attack. Rather, the real crux of the problem is formed by the fact that Hezbollah, unlike Israel, does not possess a nuclear arsenal. Paradoxically, but as also happened during the October 1973 War (and, some say, the 1982 Argentinian invasion of the Falklands), it is precisely this fact which, in a certain sense, gives it a free hand and enables it to confront the Israelis without fear of nuclear retaliation and escalation.

So following the logic of my friend, Mr. X, here is what I propose. Let Israel, or anyone else who is feeling generous, hand Nasrallah a few bombs. Big or small, old or new, as long as they have the word NUCLEAR written on them in giant letters it does not really matter. Complete with their safety devices, so as to put responsibility for anything that may happen squarely on his shoulders. Without ifs and without buts.

And then, as the Jewish prayer has it, there will be peace upon Israel.

My Meeting with Mr. X

Here is a story that took place many years ago—about twenty-five, if memory serves me right. I was conversing with a high-up defense official in the Pentagon; since he is still alive, though retired, I shall not call him by name. He and I had known each other for some years, and I knew that normally he was the most tight-lipped of men. As, indeed, his position required him to be.

That day, however, he was feeling unusually expansive. We were discussing something, I can’t remember what. “Martin,” he suddenly said, “Out of about 30,000 persons who work in this building today, I am probably the only one who has actually seen a nuclear weapon exploding.” And, he added, “It is not at all like what you see on TV.”

From this point the story went as follows. In 1955—if memory serves me right—Mr. X, who at that time was a young economist cum mathematician, and a friend of his were invited to witness a one of a series of nuclear tests being conducted by the U.S Army in Nevada. Along with many others, they were told to sit down in the desert, about three miles from ground zero. Wearing goggles, they were ordered to turn their backs to the planned site, close their eyes, and put their faces on their arms and knees. Also, for heaven’s sake not to turn around and look before counting ten from the moment of the explosion—or else, if they did so, they would go blind.

If these arrangements sound primitive, that is because they were. This, after all, was the period when U.S combat aircraft, carrying nukes, were standing at the end of runways in West Germany, ready to take off. With little if anything to prevent them from doing so if, for example, one of the pilots went mad. In Nevada, though, there was no time for ifs and buts. Both men were understandably worried about the possibility that they might turn around too early. But they did as they were told, waiting for the explosion to take place.

It turned out that they need not have worried. Not because the detonation was not powerful, but because it was much more powerful than they had thought. Miles away from ground zero, with their backs turned to it, with their faces on their arms and knees, wearing goggles and with their eyes closed, Mr. X and his friend actually saw it taking place. How was this possible? Because the light, reflected from the rocky soil, was so strong as to go right through all the obstacles that had been put in its way.

“Since then,” he concluded, “I have been walking around with an idea in my head. Let there be assembled, every few years, a gathering of all the world’s heads of government. Bring them to Nevada or to some other suitable site, and make them watch a real-life nuclear test. It might drive the fear of God into their heads.” And, by doing so, contribute to world peace.

“It might indeed,” I countered. “But consider the following. There could be, among all these people, a few who do not see your point. Instead of concluding that nukes are too awful to use, they might just say: ‘How wonderful! I too want a couple of these things. Just in case!’” Whereupon we both laughed.

Why am I telling you this story? Because we now have, in the White House, the wildest, least restrained, president in the whole of American history. One who even many of his supporters think may be more than slightly mad. One who, by some reports, asked why his country should have nuclear weapons if it did not intend to use them. One who has openly threatened to launch an offensive war against another nuclear power. One whose verbal bellicosity seems matched only by his ignorance of the consequences that could follow if he carried out his threats. Not just for North Korea. Not just for South Korea, not just for the whole of East Asia, not just for the U.S. But for the entire world. Both present and future.

As Clausewitz wrote, many barriers only exist in man’s ignorance of what is possible. With the result that, once they are torn down, they are not easily set up again. In plain English: if one nuclear weapon is used in anger, then it is very likely that all will be. And sooner rather than later.

There is, however, a silver lining. A few days after the crisis in Korea started, it seems to be more or less over already. The threats, instead of being translated into action, are beginning to fade into history. As, given that no nuclear weapons has been used in anger since 1945, so many other nuclear crises have in the past.

So perhaps Mr. X was right after all. If the prospect of a nuclear war can deter a Trump, then presumably it can deter anyone. Even a Hitler, if you ask me: see on this my recent book, Hitler in Hell. Meaning that proliferation, rather than nonproliferation, is the right route. If not to peace on earth and the brotherhood of men, at any rate to preventing major war between major powers.

And Pray, Sir, What Does Italy have to Offer?

What has not been said about President Obama’s failure to deal with Pyonjang and its ballistic missiles? That he did not have what it takes. That he was hesitant. That he was unsure of himself. That he was weak, weak, weak. Too weak for this particular job, too weak for holding the presidency in general.

After January 20th 2017, we were told, all that would change. A new and decisive, albeit mentally somewhat disturbed, president would take over in the oval office. He would not allow his hands to be tied by political correctness. To provide advice, he would surround himself not by nancy-pancy Department of State types but by tough, no-nonsense, former generals (including one who had been nicknamed “Mad Dog” by his fellows). He would disregard diplomatic niceties. He would call a spade a spade, and a punk a punk. And he would take action, decisive action. Including, if nothing else worked, military action.

Two thirds of a year have passed. Kim-Jong un has continued to “provoke the world” by testing his ballistic missiles. Here it may be worth mentioning, in parenthesis, that there is really no reason why North Korea, a sovereign state that has long been under siege, should not own and do what other states, the U.S included, have owned and done for several decades. Also that, for a small state like North Korea, virtually the only way to defend itself against the great bully, the U.S, is to acquire nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles.

After each test headlines were broadcast or printed, screaming that “a crisis” was at hand. Each time “top level” conferences were hurriedly organized and held. The armed forces of several countries were put on alert, and militarily units made to maneuver as close to the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas as safety would allow. And then, nothing except, earlier this month, yet another round of sanctions that everyone knows will achieve nothing.

The immediate reason why so little has happened, of course, is North Korea’s armed forces. By using his conventional artillery Kim-Jong il could inflict enormous damage on Seoul. By using his ballistic missiles, assuming they carry nuclear warheads, he could inflict much greater damage still on South Korea as well as Japan, a key U.S ally, and perhaps at least parts of the U.S as well.

Faced with nuclear weapons in particular, no wonder President Trump, for all his professed love for grabbing women by the genitals, has found himself castrated. A fate that often overcome many other rulers, both American and foreign, over the last seventy-two years. And one which, almost regardless of any developments that may still take place in the field of anti-ballistic missile defense, is likely to be shared by many future ones as well.

In- and out of the administration, quite some people put their hope in China. Beijing, they say, has what it takes to bring its troublesome client to heel. By applying serious economic sanctions such as North Korea, which has few other major trading partners, could hardly survive. Or massing troops on the border and make them engage in maneuvers. Or even launching a limited strike (limited it would have to be, or else it might lead to a nuclear exchange). Briefly, anything that might pull Washington D.C’s chestnuts out of the fire for it.

Sounds nice. But what could the U.S offer China in return? Several options exist. Perhaps a withdrawal, partial or complete, of its troops from South Korea. Or perhaps a loosening of ties with Taiwan (instead of selling it weapons, as Trump has recently announced he would do). Or making concessions in the South China Sea, an area which China, not without some reason, sees as historically its own and strategically vital to its future development.

So why doesn’t the U.S, with Trump at is head, pursue this option? Presumably there are many reasons; presumably one of them is that Trump, as a self-declared He-man, cannot afford the damage to the image of himself he has tried so hard to cultivate.

All this reminds me of an old story told about another self-declared he-man, Benito Mussolini. In November 1922 the newly appointed, young—he was just 39 years old—Italian prime minister went to Territet, near Montreux in Switzerland. There he, the son of a small-town blacksmith, one time day laborer, agitator, and recent goon-in-chief met with British foreign secretary Lord Curzon, 24 years his senior. As ancient, as well-heeled, as courteous, and as flinty a representative of Britain’s ruling aristocracy as there used to be.

Mussolini opened by discussion by announcing that he had come up with “a new principle in diplomacy: nothing for nothing.” “Very interesting, very interesting,” Curzon is supposed to have answered. “And pray, Sir, what does Italy have to offer?”

Guest Article: Revolutionary Words that Will Forever Change the American Family

By Larry Kummer*

Summary: Sometimes simple insights change the world. Here is one such— part of a quiet revolution already in motion yet still unseen. It will reshape the American family in ways we cannot even imagine.

Marx said that ideology and religion mask our vision of reality (creating what Engels called a false consciousness). Stripping them away so that we clearly see the world leads to revolution. Sometimes all that’s needed are words providing simple insights that change the world. Here are the most revolutionary words since Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake”.

“When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home.”

— Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) in her best-seller Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (2013).

{The “let them eat cake” story is bogus, but came to represent the origins of the French revolution because it captures the exploitive and uncaring spirit of the French aristocracy.}

Sandberg’s advice to young women is rational. It allows women to have fun, then marry nice beta providers — dreaming at night of the Alpha lovers from their past. It’s called “settling”, an anathema to the dreams of the “you can have it all” school of feminism. See the controversial articles about it in The Atlantic: “The Case for Mr. Not-Quite-Right“, “The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough“, and “Reader, Marry Him!“.

Even better than settling: playing the game aggressively

While have fun then settle seems logical but cold, some women play the game more aggressively. Marry, have kids (with a husband providing support during those first few difficult years), divorce after they’re in school, collect child support. This gets the children she wants without the bother of having a husband (after a few years of marriage). The resulting high divorce rates, roughly 80% initiated by wives, makes marriage a risky proposition for men.

Update: less 60% of US adolescents (11, 13, and 15 years old) lived with both birth parents in 2005-06, the lowest level in the OCED. Today probably even fewer do. See numbers at the end of this essay.

Women of Sheryl Sandberg’s generation successfully played this game in its benign or aggressive versions. Settling assumes men’s ignorance or acceptance. But is it rational for men to participate in this game? A woman’s romance looks different to a man aware that she has taken Sandberg’s advice. What if large numbers of young men who are 20 today see marriage as an unattractive or risky proposition — and decline to marry when the women of their generation turn 27 and want to settle?

The use of settling and more exploitive strategies raises an even more disturbing question.

The nature of relations between men and women

“Relations between the sexes have always been difficult, and that is why so much of our literature is about men and women quarreling. There is certainly legitimate ground to doubt their suitability for each other given the spectrum — from the harem to Plato’s Republic — of imaginable and actually existing relations between them, whether nature acted the stepmother or God botched the creation by an afterthought, as some Romantics believed.”

— From Allan Bloom’s great Closing of the American Mind.

Economics has long been the foundation for marriage, providing rational motives for both men and women to marry. The emancipation of women, now accelerating, is washing those away.  After that is gone, what remains as a foundation for modern marriage (i.e., romance, nuclear family, easy divorce)?

(1)  Sex is now easily available.

(2)  The high rate of women-initiated divorces, likely to increase as women become increasingly independent financially, suggests that many women do not need marriage — other than temporarily to help conceive and support children.

(3)  We might already be seeing the third and final nail in the coffin of modern marriage — men losing interest in marriage. As in the frequent complaints about the “Peter Pan Syndrome: A Man’s Fear of Commitment” — “This is when a man is afraid to grow up. They usually put themselves first and do not want to commit to anything. They are unable to face adult feelings and responsibilities.” Also common are women’s responses to these new man, such as “Learn how to make him commit: The Secret Lives of Men”.

A tragedy of our time

The internet has stories. Some are true. Some are fiction containing truth. The good ones speak to us about our hopes, dreams, and fears. Some are tragedies that makes Othello look like the Marx Brothers. Here is one such, a tale of marriage today: “Saving the Best” and the follow-up “Betas in Waiting.” The author gives an analysis that cuts to the heart of the problem.

“…it’s the freedom and genuine desire with which their wives had sex with prior (alpha) lovers; desire that wasn’t based on material provisioning, emotional investment or the logistical hoops women expect their post-Epiphany “good men” to perform to in order to merit their sexual and intimate attentions.

“That’s the disconnect, that’s the con; Alpha Bad Boys get her 3-Way genuine sexual abandon with no investment expected, while he’s got to maintain ‘multiple businesses’ in order to get a prosaic sexual experience with her. The Bad Boys got her sexual best for free, while he’s expected to accept her as the ‘new’ post-Epiphany her… {The wife comments after the divorce on their final fight.}

‘Nothing I could do or say could convince him that these were past mistakes and not reflective of who I am today. He wasn’t angry with me, didn’t call me a slut or anything like that. Never once raised his voice. Part of me wishes he did, although I can’t exactly say why right now.’

“As I mentioned, the expectation is for her husband to accept “who she is today”, yet who she was ten years ago had a more genuine desire for less established, but sexually arousing, lovers.”

Conclusions

Modern marriage, with its complex emotional scaffolding, evolved in a specific social situation. Those conditions lie in our past, as our society evolves into something quite different. The facts are plain and must be faced, however reluctant we are to do so by our wishful thinking and long-standing affection for this institution. Marriage as we know it might play a small role in our future.

American society is already atomized, as the intermediate structures between the state and the individual die. Ties to a region were broken by our mobility. Lifetime employment and unions provided both social and economic stability to Americans; both now largely gone. Many of our social institutions are dying (see Robert Putnam’s powerful 1995 essay “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital“, and the book). Marriage is the most important source of our social capital. Without it we will be just isolated motes.

Life will go on. Perhaps better. Perhaps worse. We will know which by comparison with other nations whose people have taken other paths. We are experimenting on ourselves, guided purely by ideology, with our children as guinea pigs.

* Larry Kummer is the editor of the Fabius Maximus website.

Les dames sans merci

Let’s hand it to women: Rarely in history were they in a position to make law and apply it. For every female legislator who ever lived there were ten, probably more, male ones. For every female judge ten, probably more, male ones. Rarely if ever were executioners—those who did the dirty work of decapitating people, burning them at the stake, crucifying them, stoning them to death, and so on—female.

Still there is little doubt that women are as capable of engaging in cruelty as men are. To start, as so often, with Greek mythology. Not, needless to say, because the stories describe real events that actually took place. But because, as their longevity and continuing popularity suggests, they often penetrate deep into the human soul. Perhaps more than any others, they seem to bring out many of the strange and terrible things it is capable of doing.

To punish Acteon for having seen her naked, the hunting goddess Artemis changed him into a stag and had him torn to pieces by his own hunting dogs. To punish Alcmena for having slept with Zeus, the latter’s wife Hera sent snakes to kill the infant Heracles (she failed). For having done the same, she had Io stung by so many gadflies until she went stark raving mad and tried to kill herself. Medea killed her brother, two of her children, and one of her uncles. On another occasion she tricked two young women into boiling their father and eating them. All without being punished, incidentally.

As the saying goes, “no fury like a jilted women.” Not for nothing did the Greeks imagine the Erinyes, the goddesses of vengeance and retribution, as women. So terrifying was Medusa’s visage that anyone who looked at her was instantly turned into stone. But modesty and jealousy were not the only motives that drove some women to commit dastardly acts. As well-known as any of the above is the story of Orpheus. Orpheus was a singer and lute-player. So sweet was his music that the beasts of the field flocked to listen to him. At one point in he lost his beloved wife Euridice, was allowed to retrieve her from the underworld, and lost her for the second time. Wandering about forlornly, he came across a group of Maenads, followers of the wine-god Dionysius. Half-crazed with wine and music, they tore him to pieces.

In the whole of English history, no ruler had more witches executed than “Good Queen Bess” (Elizabeth I). Among some North American Indian tribes, including the Cherokee, Iroquois, Omaha and Dakota, torturing prisoners of war to death was a female specialty. One objective was to inflict the greatest possible pain; another, to humiliate the victims as much as possible. In nineteenth-century Arabia, by one account, bridegrooms had to undergo a bizarre ceremony. Standing naked, they would have the skin of their penises stripped off in front of their prospective bride. The latter assumed a sitting position and watched the proceedings while beating a drum. If he flinched she had the right to reject him.

Referring to Britain’s wars in northwestern India, Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) wrote:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,

and the women come out to cut up what remains,

jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains

and go to your gawd like a soldier.

Throughout history, women have flocked to watch executions just as much as men did. The Vestal Virgins had privileged seats at the amphitheater where they could enjoy, among other nice shows, people of both sexes being savaged by wild beasts and women being made to copulate with animals. Voltaire tell us that, during the torture and execution of the would-be regicide Robert François Damiens at the Place de Grève in 1757, female spectators not only outnumbered male ones but displayed greater insensitivity to the victim’s horrible sufferings. The knitting women (tricoteuses) of the guillotine, as they were known, have remained justly famous. American women, as well as American men, routinely watch as criminals are being put to death. And what is it that the beautiful young woman, with slightly parted lips, in one of Kees van Dongen’s paintings is looking at? A bullfight, perhaps? Or an auto-da-fe?

The list of women who enjoyed other people’s pain and suffering and were sometimes actively involved in inflicting it could be extended at will. Here I shall limit myself to just two more examples. The World-War II German Einsatzgruppen, which between them may have killed as many as a million Jews in Russia and Poland, hardly need to be introduced. Less well known is the fact that the wives of some of the commanders involved visited their husbands and watched the proceedings. At least one spent part of her honeymoon shooting prisoners from a balcony.

Women formed a small minority among concentration-camp guards. But this did not prevent some of them, notably Irma Grese of Bergen-Belsen, Maria Mandel of Auschwitz, Ilse Koch of Buchenwald, and Herta Ehlert of Ravensbrück from gaining a fearsome reputation. Not to mention Herta Oberheuser, also of Ravensbrück. Dr. Oberheuser was a physician who conducted horrifying medical experiments on inmates. Her specialty was to deliberately inflict wounds on her subjects. Next she would rub in foreign objects, such as wood, nails, glass slivers, and dirt so as to simulate injuries received in combat. The experiments, which were very painful, over, she used to finish off her victims by means of lethal injections.

Several of the women in question were married or engaged to their male colleagues, as Frau Koch was. Others were single and, like the men, were exhorted by SS boss Heinrich Himmler to maintain “comradely relations” with the remaining staff. The war over, a few were made to stand trial either at the hands of the occupation authorities or, much later, the German ones. However, only two were executed.

The other example I want to discuss is that of Abu Ghraib, the infamous Iraqi prison not far from Baghdad. Under Saddam Hussein it housed political prisoners many of whom were tortured and executed. Following Saddam’s downfall it was renamed “Camp Redemption”—a nice example of American hypocrisy, that—and used to hold as many as 7,500 prisoners. In charge was a female brigadier general, Janis Karpinski. She commanded a mixed unit of men and women who acted as jailers. The prison seems to have been the scene of much torture, some of it official and inflicted during interrogations and the rest more or less at random by undertrained guards who feared the inmates and hated them. The resulting images, smuggled out and disseminated by the press, shocked the world. The more so because at least one famous artist, the Colombian Fernando Botero, used them to produce a series of paintings. In the end, out seven US soldiers who were convicted, four were female. Karpinski herself was reprimanded and demoted to colonel which meant that her pension went down. But she never stood trial.

Similarly, women have been prominent among suicide bombers. Judging by these examples, women are as capable of committing and enjoying all kinds of terrible acts as men are. If, historically speaking, they did the former much less often, then this was mainly because they did not have the opportunity. As the case of Abu Ghraib shows, now that women are entering every field and profession, including the military, this may very well change.

The question is, is that really what society, and women themselves, want to happen?