Glenn Reynolds and genocide

If you say that genocide might be “the military strategy we’ll have to follow in five or ten years,” and that it will be “unavoidable,” you shouldn’t be surprised if people think you’re not unalterably opposed to it.

The Instapundit thinks I must be “tendentious and purblind” to imagine that one of his fellow armchair warriors might favor genocide. But a reader reminds me of

Glenn’s earlier thoughts on the genocide issue:

Civilized societies have always won against barbarians ever since the industrial revolution made making things a greater source of power than breaking them.

Civilized societies have found it harder, though, to beat the barbarians without killing all, or nearly all, of them. Were it really to become all-out war of the sort that Osama and his ilk want, the likely result would be genocide &#8212 unavoidable, and provoked, perhaps, but genocide nonetheless, akin to what Rome did to Carthage, or to what Americans did to American Indians. That’s what happens when two societies can’t live together, and the weaker one won’t stop fighting &#8212 especially when the weaker one targets the civilians and children of the stronger. This is why I think it’s important to pursue a vigorous military strategy now. Because if we don’t, the military strategy we’ll have to follow in five or ten years will be light-years beyond “vigorous.”

How could I possibly have imagined that his friend Mark Steyn might be advocating a course of action Reynolds thought might become “unavoidable,” something “we” would “have to” do?

Either Glenn doesn’t think genocide is wrong, or he thinks that sometimes doing wrong is justified. Otherwise it can’t be “unavoidable” or something you “have to” do.

I might unavoidably have the choice between killing and eating another human being and starving to death myself. But I wouldn’t “have to” become a murderer and a cannibal. That would, in fact, be the wrong thing for me to do in that circumstance. And no amount of pseudo-historical theorizing about “civilized people” and “barbarians” is going to change the fact that mass slaughter is the wrong thing to do.

Is that so hard to understand?


I hadn’t seen this one:

YOU CAN’T CATCH A MAN WITH AN ARMORED DIVISION, or even a division of light infantry. Or three. Armies aren’t designed to catch individuals, and they throw up so much confusion they probably facilitate escape. So if we invade Afghanistan, it has to be for reasons other than catching Osama bin Laden. What were those again?

If we want to punish the Taliban, of course, we don’t have to “conquer” Afghanistan. We just have to wreck them enough to let the Northern Alliance take over. Then get out, and — since all we want is to punish the Taliban — we don’t care what comes next. Which is probably a good thing, since what comes next will probably be lousy, one way or another.

Do we care that much, though? How important to our main agenda is punishing the Taliban? Important enough to tie up a bunch of troops in a nasty place for a year or three? And how likely is it that the Taliban are the authors of our misfortunes? Or that punishing them to that extent would have a salutary effect on others?

NOTE: It is certainly possible to conquer Afghanistan. We simply kill everyone we see (without being too fussy about how), except those who go in “protected zones” (sounds better than Concentration Camps) where we strip everyone of arms and kill anyone who looks like Taliban. Eventually, we turn the country over to the people we like. They won’t have any trouble holding it, since we will have killed most of the people who disagree with them. This is the Boer War with better sanitation and a worse climate, and this technique always works if you don’t mind being fairly murderous. It would be a massive undertaking, though I imagine the Russians would be more than happy to help. And certainly it’s within our abilities if we care enough. But, again, what exactly do we get out of this?

(emphasis added)

That’s what I call a ringing moral stance: “What exactly do we get out of this?”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: