Thursday, 17 July 2014

Protection of Self?

The recent unruliness around the Gaza Strip has had several commentators stressing the "need" for the parties involved to "protect themselves" (while hoping for the conflict to end). Presumably, this means that if a political jurisdiction is under attack, it may legitimately protect itself, just like, if someone comes up to me in the street and says "your money or your life", I would have the right to protect myself, by force if necessary (I also have the right to yield - that is my prerogative).
The trouble is that these situations are not at all analogous; if a political jurisdiction attacks another political jurisdiction, there is no way it can defend itself without recklessly endangering many civilians who would have preferred not to resist. Nations do not decide; only individuals can decide whether to resist or not. To reify nations in the way people do when they talk about their right to defend themselves is to try to perpetuate a most unfortunate illusion.
But if nations cannot decide, what is one to do when, seemingly, a collective decision must be reached? If protection is really what one is after, the general answer seems to me to be unconditional surrender. Why would the other side kill one's fellow citizens if they do not fight? Every military conflict would end immediately if at least one party just gave up. The reason some conflicts last a long time therefore has to be that the leaders of the combatants prefer it that way.

Perhaps the terms of unconditional surrender are so bad that fighting is still preferable, but I don't see much evidence in favour of this proposition. Politics appears to me to be about a quest for relative superiority among people, and, as I have explained before, there are reasons to doubt why one territory's getting a different set of leaders should significantly change the internal politics of said territory.

If self-protection is really important, every side in every conflict should surrender now. Alas, the reality is that the leaders in every conflict probably just want the conflict.

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