News & Politics

Napoleon's Lesson

What is appeasement? Not what the neocons want you to think it is.
I'm not going to suggest the word ''appeasement'' be tossed into Orwell's dustbin, but we need to refine our thinking about it.

Webster's says to appease is ''to calm or pacify, esp. by giving what is demanded.''

Neocons distort the term to fit their own ideology, insulting anyone attempting to wage peace by implying that only weak cowards listen and negotiate with enemies.

And, the canard goes, if you negotiate with your enemies you only invite more arbitrary attacks.

Apparently, they are not acquainted with the story that Jesus told about the ''good Samaritan.'' To understand the power of that story, you have to understand that the animosity between biblical Jews and Samaritans was much like the tension between modern Israelis and Palestinians.

The theological implications of Jesus' story are mind blowing: We are saved through our enemies! -- just one reason Jesus' contemporaries thought he was out of his mind.

When President Reagan pulled the Marines out of Lebanon after nearly 300 Marines were killed by militants in 1983, Reagan wasn't condemned as a gutless appeaser.

When IRA terrorists were in full swing there was no ''shock and awe'' bombing of Belfast. What happened? To oversimplify, IRA leaders and British officials sat down at the negotiating table. Has IRA terrorism increased since then? Nope. In fact, just last week the IRA declared an end to their 36-year campaign of coercive violence against Britain to pursue a nonviolent political path.

Jonathan Schell, in his incredible book, ''The Unconquerable World,'' provides a historical example that calls into question the narrow, hawkish view of appeasement by raising an important question for any war planner: What is defeat?

In 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia. ''Napoleon won every battle on his march to Moscow. The Russian forces retreated steadily, until he finally occupied the city, which then burned in a great fire...Were the Russians beaten? In fact, as all readers of Tolstoy's War and Peace know, the will of Russia was intact. It was Napoleon who was on his way to ruin,'' Schell writes.

Consider also the ancient wisdom of Tao Te Ching. ''Those who excel as warriors are not martial. Those who excel in combat do not get angry. Those who excel in conquering the enemy do not do battle. Those who excel in employing men act deferentially to them.''

Commenting on that passage, Chinese warfare scholar Ralph Sawyer writes: ''The path of deference presumes a massive degree of power ... so that humility and yielding do not prove counterproductive or become construed as a virtual invitation to attack ... (This) view (is) premised upon weakness and pliancy's invariably conquering the hard and stiff.''

Mother Nature says Amen. Think about the power of the ocean. Rocky coastlines are hard and stiff. The water is soft and pliant, but even gentle waves have the power to turn hard rock into sand.

Let me be clear. Osama Bin Laden and his associates are criminals who should be apprehended and tried for crimes against humanity. But to equate the insurgency in Iraq with Bin Laden is a tragic error as captured by the assessment of Lt. Col Frederick Wellman, who works with training of Iraqi security troops.

Wellman told a Knight Ridder reporter recently that ''the insurgency doesn't seem to be running out of new recruits ... We can't kill them all. When I kill one, I create three.'' Key word: create.

If a bully beats you up in an unprovoked attack, appeasement invites further attacks. If someone attacks you because you've been abusing or exploiting them in some way, it's perfectly rational to protect yourself, but only a stubborn fool with a death wish would refuse to reflect on ways-of-being that make others feel less threatened, and thus decrease the chances of being attacked.

Some call that appeasement, too. I call it common sense.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff reporter and a syndicated columnist.
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