You could make the case that the Iraq war was not prosecuted with the kind of icy efficiency we’d have liked. Or rather, the war was. It was the peace that wasn’t.
To be fair, we’re just not ruthless enough anymore to repel these kinds of brutal, bloodthirsty insurgents.
For one thing, we’re much too soft-hearted and fair-minded to crack down as forcefully as we need to. We’re just not that keen on shedding our blood in the service of shedding that of others. You could say that life, both our own and others’, has almost become too precious.
I mean, imagine Attila leading his hordes of Huns into Europe. There are the Saxons or Visigoths or what-have-you at their backs, letting out bloodthirsty battle cries and wielding the very latest in mace technology. Had Attila at this stage paused to address the troops with, “Team, I take this occasion to remind you that we will not tolerate this habit of sticking our enemies’ heads on pikes and lobbing them into towns. For one thing, it’s not hygienic. For another, it’s hardly the sort of behavior that wins you hearts and minds around here. So from now on, any piked heads, and I’ll be instituting a full inquiry,” well, hardly the sort of thing to stir the old intestinal fortitude.
Or imagine that Genghis Khan had had to contend with a bunch of scribes embedded with the Hordes, busily dashing off reports back home about civilian casualties, or a lot of fish-eyed human rights NGOs cataloguing every little rape and pillage. Would have diminished his effectiveness somewhat, not to mention put a bit of a dent in the Mongol national sport of bride-kidnapping. No, these leaders understood too well the power of fear to subdue one’s opponents.
Life was a good deal cheaper then. People did not expect to lead long, glorious lives, much less wind them up comfortably playing shuffleboard at a Florida retirement home. As a man, you’d stand a good chance of being captured in battle or as a result of some private feud, and ending your life watching your appendages be parted from their body. You’d have a better chance than not of perishing in some spectacularly gruesome way. As a woman, you’d know better than to insist too strongly on consensual sex and reproductive rights, and at some point, maybe after seeing a few of your offspring perish in infancy, you’d succumb yourself during childbirth. If you were a Mongolian woman circa the Khan era, you might not even be considered important enough to warrant your own name.
The historical biographies dating from this period are mainly of persons of quality, or alternately, persons of low birth who, by virtue of dispatching their opponents unreservedly, rose to a position from where they could continue doing so in grandeur. And in fairness, it can’t have been exactly restful to know that at any given moment there were a whole lot of people whose hopes and dreams for the future hinged on your absence from it. To really get ahead and stay ahead in those days, you’d have to be willing to be pretty ruthless. You wouldn’t be showing quite the proper spirit of initiative if you did not apply yourself diligently to the task of ridding the environs of your enemies. Nowadays, it’s considered a bit cheap to assassinate your opponent’s character. In those days, you would assassinate his person, and expect people to look on it tolerantly.
When you weren’t succumbing to your fellow man, you’d be succumbing to your fellow germs. This was an age where dental (not to mention personal) hygiene did not enjoy quite the same widespread currency that it does now. This would be unpleasant to yourself, as you would be prone to suffering from the toothache, but also to others, who wouldn’t want to lean in too closely when you spoke, particularly if you were given to enunciating your “h”s, as in “halitosis”. This was an age without acetaminophen or anesthetic or antibiotics, so if you found yourself obliged to, say, lop off a gangrenous limb, the thing would be pretty much touch-and-go.
It can’t have been all unremitting misery. But I suspect that for gently bred persons like you and me, it wouldn’t have been tolerable at all.
Let’s face it, they don’t make us hard and toughened like they used to. We’re just not scary anymore. That’s one thing going for the jihadis – they got scimitar, and they’re not afraid to use it, particularly on your fleshy infidel neck. Those beheading videos are simply an updated version of the heads-on-pikes tactic that worked to such effect for our ancestors. These guys aren’t hampered by undue concern at how the whole brutality thing will affect them at the polls. Your jihadi is not whiling his time conducting heated debates over whether targeting infidels for murder constitutes harmful racial profiling. He is not lying awake nights troubled by whether the kidnapping of infidels constitutes unlawful detainment. And he is by and large unconcerned over whether the killing, execution-style, of suspected “collaborators” is a violation of their rights of association. He knows that endless wrangling over points of procedure is just not going to strike fear into anybody’s heart, and fear is his principal weapon.
So when I say that we here in the West have gotten a little pansy-ish, I don’t entirely intend it as a criticism. You see, nobody resembles that timorous garden flower more, dear reader, than your not-so-intrepid blogger. It’s all very nice and well for me to exhort us all to a spot of spine-stiffening, but if I were given discretionary power over the military budget, I’d start off by buying me a few pairs of Manolo Blahniks. Wearing too-high heels is pretty much where I draw the line at physical discomfort. I just haven’t got the stamens for it.