After the massacre in Paris (November 2015), President Hollande announced that France was at war, and its fight against ISIS would be ‘pitiless’. It was noteworthy that he chose this particular word to express his sentiments. Grief was natural and understandable; but the most logical and human feeling was righteous indignation. Mourning without resolve means nothing.
The Battle Hymn of the Republic, written by Julia Ward Howe and published in 1862, was about the Civil War and the Union’s resolve:
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal";
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel…
The song, one of Biblical vengeance, was based on Isaiah 63:
For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and the year for my redeeming work had come.
I looked, but there was no helper;
I stared, but there was no one to sustain me;
so my own arm brought me victory,
and my wrath sustained me.
I trampled down peoples in my anger,
I crushed them in my wrath,
and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”
Although the Old Testament is especially known for its vengeful, retributive God, the New Testament is more pitiless when it comes to the enemies of God:
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against the rider on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed in its presence the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were killed by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh (Revelation 19)
It is surprising to note than in the days following the Paris massacre when ISIS terrorists killed at least 130 innocent civilians in 7 sites around the city, the principle sentiment expressed in social media was one of grief, compassion, and solidarity. Very few posts responded with anger or with the same vengeful passion expressed in The Battle Hymn, Isaiah, and Revelation.
The President of France, Francois Hollande, had different sentiments altogether. He made it clear that France was at war with ISIS and it would be merciless. In the West’s current but largely ineffectual war with this terrorist group, there have been both military and civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq, and now there have been casualties in France. While grief is understandable, the anger, resolve, and commitment to destroy an enemy expressed by Hollande is even more appropriate. ISIS after all attacked the sovereignty of a nation and by so doing tried to destroy the democratic, secular culture which it espouses
Why is it then, that many Americans have no such righteous anger? Why are they not marching in front of the White House to demand that the Obama Administration take up its sword and loose its fateful lightning against ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Boko Haram and all other radical Islamic organizations that have avowed to destroy us?
Much of the reticence has to do with political intimidation. We have been so cowed by an insistence on diversity, that we are fearful of offending anyone – even the enemy and his supporters. It is all well, good, and important to maintain one’s respect for religion; but another to hide under a cloak of inclusivity and religious tolerance and choose to ignore the fact that religion-based extremism is responsible for death and carnage everywhere.
ISIS itself has made very clear its desire to establish a caliphate and to do so by any means necessary. ISIS has also avowed to continue to recruit new jihadists wherever it can. There is no way to avoid these facts; and the West must counter these hegemonic ambitions and engage the enemy with force, and meet, terror with terror.
The point is not about religion. It is about the importance of naming, describing, and fully identifying the enemy whoever he may be. Without understanding the enemy’s roots, principles, philosophies, tactics and strategies, and goals and objectives no alliance of nations can ever mount the resistance and offensive necessary to defeat him. Our reluctance to confront the very nature of ISIS is neutering our fight against it.
One of the reasons the United States lost the war in Vietnam was because of a failure to understand Vietnamese history, Ho Chi Minh’s nationalism, and most of all the absolute, resolute, unshakeable resolve of the Vietnamese to rid their country of a foreign aggressor by any means possible. The Vietnam War in many ways was the first step towards a fearful foreign and military policy.
We misunderstand ISIS in the same way that we misread North Vietnamese history; and we misjudge ISIS’s commitment, resolve, and appeal just as we did the Viet Cong in the 60s.
There was never any political correctness when it came to the Nazis or the Japanese. They were depicted in vicious stereotype and in hateful language because they were our enemies. No one had issues with the German people, their long and storied history, their religious and cultural principles over time. We hated the Nazis for a corruption and distortion of Christian German culture. We had no fight with medieval shoguns or the early Japanese dynasties; but we hated the Japs who bombed Pearl Harbor and killed tens of thousands of American soldiers throughout the Pacific.
Religion, culture, and history were not the issues. The narrow socio-political construct of The Nazi or The Jap was.
President Obama has often used the word ‘evil’ to describe ISIS. While this is not technically correct – history has winners and losers, all of whom have fought for some objective and have used any and all means to achieve it; and ‘evil’ is only assigned to one’s enemies – it is a good starting point for qualifying and characterizing ISIS in a campaign which must be as vilifying, unremitting, and abusive as those of WWII. An enemy is an enemy, after all, and – as President Hollande said - deserves no pity.
What does ‘no pity’ mean? It means abandoning our self-righteous exceptionalism; and realize that in a war with an implacable enemy who does not abide by our moral codes or cultural rules, we must be as ruthless and determined as he is. There are no right or wrong means to victory. Only victory.
Since the ‘hearts and minds’ campaign of the Vietnam War, the United States has been skittish about civilian casualties. We hamstring our military by restricting them to military targets – despite the fact that in Syria and Iraq civilian neighborhoods have been convenient refuges for the enemy from which he can mount his military assaults.
The United States had no compunction about firebombing Dresden, dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and killing tens of thousands of civilians. The end of the war and the defeat of Germany and Japan was all that mattered.
Our own Wm.Tecumseh Sherman understood strategy well. Not only did he want to defeat the South, he wanted to completely destroy and humiliate it so that it would never rise again.
Either ISIS is an enemy or it isn’t. President Hollande has made up his mind; and we can only hope that President Obama will do so soon.