The necessity of reprisal

Some interesting and intelligent commentary on John Wright’s post concerning A Time for Peace, A Time for War:

HMSLion: All the codes of chivalry, of diplomacy, and Laws of War work on an assumption that all participants will adhere to them. They represent the Golden Rule in it’s most practical form.

But those codes also recognized the legitimacy of reprisals against violators. A foe who showed no mercy could expect none.

The Enemies of Civilization have realized that there are some people who are so accustomed to acting in a civilized manner that they have forgotten that reprisals are perfectly legitimate. More than legitimate, necessary. It must NEVER be possible to secure an advantage by violating the norms of civilized conduct.

And people are starting to realize it.

I’ll add something else…part of the problem of the West is that the World Wars were fought with a level of savagery that shocked us. They were the modern equivalent of the Thirty Years War three centuries earlier – a conflict fought with a ferocity unprecedented among Christian nations.

The Thirty Years War led to significant changes in international politics with the Treaty of Westphalia, and the formalization of Laws of Warfare. A system that held for nearly three centuries, even in the teeth of the Napoleonic Wars.

The World Wars? There’s been no formal New Laws of Land Warfare, but there’s been no willingness to use nuclear weapons since then. Nor to engage in area bombing of cities. But the lack of a formal document has, I think, hindered the self-confidence of the West. Too many people are obsessively wringing their hands over the past, instead of resolving not to do that sort of thing again.

dgarsys adds: It must NEVER be possible to secure an advantage by violating the norms of civilized conduct. In other words, to keep turning the other cheek in order to “be nice” and “not use their tactics” is to play the iterated prisoners dilemma in “nice only” mode, instead of hammering the violator for betraying you.

As William S. Lind has observed, 4GW is in many ways 0GW, albeit with a technological twist that is primarily based on communications. Both of Mr. Wright’s commentators are correct; the chaos is being stoked by the international community’s legal overreach combined with a practical refusal to permit bad actors to be held to account if it finds them useful to its interests.