17 October 2006
Why are civil wars so terrible?
Harry's Place has yet another posting on the Lancet Report into Iraqi deaths. Reading the comments, the reason why the warmonger-poster cannot believe the figures is due to a basic failure to understand what civil wars are all about. He looks at Iraq, doesn't see the vast armies that swirled around in the American Civil War, then concludes that casualties cannot be as high as the report claims.
OK, yes, we are dealing with an idiot, here. An idiot who claims that the Battle of Gettysburg saw 50,000 soldiers killed, when the true figure was between 7,000 and 8,000. However, his Gettysburg argument provides us with the key to an understanding of what passes for analysis in his little mind.
Basically, this 'monger cannot imagine a world in which the state does not function. More importantly, he cannot imagine a world that does not run according to his set of British middle class values. Well, guess what? That's how most of the people on this planet live; in a world that is violent, disordered and corrupt.
This disorder is made worse during a civil war, because a civil war is literally "a war of all against all," just as Thomas Hobbes said it was in The Leviathan. When order breaks down, when The Leviathan has been given the chop, men revert to their natural, primitive state. As this article made clear almost a year ago, people do not:
. . .suddenly becoming docile consumers of the latest Western pap: older loyalties are reemerging, beliefs and values that the West thought long dead and buried are emerging into the daylight once again. In a world that has gone mad an individual’s family will provide his basic support. Extend the family to cousins, uncles and the like and you have the makings of a clan. Extend it still further to take in the clans who live around yours, probably those clans who share the valley with you, perhaps those who are engaged in similar economic activities to you; then you have the beginnings of a tribe. As the state collapses these loyalties will become more and more apparent.
This is what has happened in Iraq. The country is fighting a multi-sided conflict. The first is the war of liberation against the occupation, a war that is being conducted by very many independent groups. Next we have a sectarian war that pits Shia against Sunni. The American sponsored death squads are in action, and heaven knows if they are still under American control or not. Finally, and most importantly, the country is suffering from the private wars of revenge between families, clans and tribes. If your Grandfather stole my Great-Uncle's goat 75 years ago, then obviously I have to go and kill your sons. It makes perfect sense to anyone who understands the mores of a society like that.
If you add in to all of this the fact that what little policing actually existed prior to the war is non-existant now, then you can understand the wave of criminality that will probably be sweeping the country. There is nothing particularly Iraqi about this. Do you remember that scene in Gone With The Wind where Scarlett shoots the putative Yankee rapist? Ever wondered just how many Georgian belles didn't have a pistol handy and, therefore, had to suffer for the cause? Maybe the rapists decided not to leave any witnesses - a pistol shot sorted out that little problem.
In Missouri during that war neither side was able to fully control the state, thus nobody was policing it. The civil war there was truly brutal, but a fair chunk of the violence was basic criminality: men with guns who only had to worry about other men with guns.
The American Civil War remained fairly, well, civil, compared to other such conflicts. That is because both sides were able to control, and police, their respective territories. In Iraq the state has collapsed and now everybody is going at it like the clappers.
So, looking at Iraq, and then concluding that because the armed forces involved are small, the death toll cannot be very great is stupidity of the highest order.
'Mongers: this is what we said would happen and we were right. Now stop pretending that we weren't and crawl away and hide your faces in shame.