Barack Obama makes a better professor than he does a president.
Using the National Prayer Breakfast to remind the West not to “get on our high horse” about atrocities committed in the name of religion because our own slate is far from clean was a lame move for the leader of a country that is still at war with a rattlesnake rick of Islamic radicals.
As New York Times Sunday columnist Ross Douthat observes:
“self-criticism doesn’t necessarily serve the cause of foreign policy outreach quite as well as Obama once seemed to believe it would…. Meanwhile, our actual enemies can pocket his rhetorical concessions: The alleged relevance of the Crusades to modern politics, for instance, has long been one of Al Qaeda’s favorite tropes.”
A commander-in-chief doesn’t concede rhetorical points to such creatures. He condemns them for their brutal, nihilistic acts, then sends out his rough men to hunt them down and kill them.
That doesn’t mean that Professor Obama was wrong.
Any student of the frontier — be it in North America or Southern Africa or Central Asia — becomes intimately familiar with a litany of horrors perpetrated by conquerors and native resistance movements alike. Frontier Partisan warfare between alien cultures — where the veneer of civilization was thin and the reach of “the law” was short and its grasp weak, where dehumanizing the foe came easy — naturally bred atrocity.
The Ohio Valley frontier of the late 18th Century saw a murderous tit-for-tat war of atrocity and retaliation. Border ruffians drunk on rum and racial hatred committed heinous crimes of rape and murder upon the Indians, and there was no effective law to stop them. Indians’ tribal concept of punishment led to reprisal attacks that did not distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. Often as not, their tomahawks fell in revenge on some random, vulnerable settler or hunter who had done them no harm and committed no crime. Such attacks — to the settlers’ eyes unprovoked — stoked white rage and fed their perception of the Indians as murderous fiends.
In March 1782, Pennsylvania militia penetrated into the Ohio country and took over a village of peaceful Moravian Christian Indians at Gnadenhutten. Convinced that the villagers were providing aid and comfort to hostile tribesmen, the militiamen tomahawked and bludgeoned to death 96 men, women and children.
Weeks later, Delaware and Shawnee warriors defeated an American expeditionary force and captured Col. William Crawford. To avenge their murdered kinsmen, the Delaware burned him at the stake with exquisite soul-searing deliberation, reducing him to a shambling hulk stumbling around the stake begging to be killed. Crawford, a friend of George Washington, had had nothing to do with the Gnadenhutten Massacre and had, in fact condemned the action.
In 1864, Colorado militiamen perpetrated a massacre of Cheyenne Indians at Sand Creek that left an indelible stain upon the history of the United States. The drunken, gleeful mutilation of Cheyenne women perpetrated by these agents of Manifest Destiny would gag a dog on a gut wagon.
The scalp hunting gangs of John J. Glanton and James Kirker cut a bloody swath across northern Mexico in the 1840s and ’ 50s — and they weren’t particular about whose bloody topknots they presented to collect their bounties. The scalps were put on display in the highly civilized state capital of Chihuahua.
Brutal gang rape was a standard practice of Comanche raiders who captured Texan or Mexican women, and the raiders often slaughtered indiscriminately purely for the pleasure of inflicting pain. The Apache enjoyed hanging a man upside down over a small fire to slowly roast his brain.
The Zulu and Matabele conquerors of southern Africa slaughtered and pillaged on a massive scale, causing the deaths of as many as 2 million souls in the Mfecane (The Crushing) of the 1820s. Their methods of executing those who displeased their tyrannical kings ranged from impalement to feeding people to crocodiles.
And on and on…
I watched the ISIS video showing the death by burning of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen. It makes my blood boil. I draw no moral equivalence between us, who fight according to Rules of Engagement and the hordes of this Islamic death cult.
… there is danger. Perhaps it is true, as the execrable Noah Cross says in Chinatown, “most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of ANYTHING.”
We know that all cultures tend to see their own atrocities as aberrations and those perpetrated by others as representative. The veneer of civilization is thin indeed, and righteous wrath can sear away the conscience and open the gates of hell.
We call World War II “The Good War,” yet the good guys rained thousands of incendiary bombs upon Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, dooming civilians to a fiery death. And we nuked two cities, killing hundreds of thousands — some of them years after the bombing.
The ISIS Death Cult must be destroyed. Yet we cannot afford to believe that they are an aberration, something beyond our ken. The horror is not that they are demons, but that they are men.
“Once Chamberlain had a speech memorized from Shakespeare and gave it proudly, the old man listening but not looking, and Chamberlain remembered it still: ‘What a piece of work is man…in action how like an angel!’ And the old man, grinning, had scratched his head and then said stiffly, ‘Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.’”
Michael Shaara, “The Killer Angels”