Once again, events “out there” have inspired us to say something about important matters outside our little bailiwick of eminent domain and land use. Take a look at this
Unless you have been vacationing on the far side of the moon lately, you know that we are in the midst of a major kerfuffle over how to characterize the folks of Middle Eastern origin who worship the merciful Allah but tend to amuse themselves by dispatching thousands of Americans, using anything that comes to hand, ranging from airliners (New York etc.) and firearms (Fort Hood, San Bernardino and Orlando), to a converted pressure cooker (Boston).
Nonetheless, when confronted with this bloody reality, President Obama professes to embrace saintly restraint by insisting that Islam is a “religion of peace,” and refuses to utter the phrase “Islamic terror” to characterize these events. Actually, I don’t really know why he is doing it. I guess that he doesn’t want to offend the Muslim minority, even if the handiwork of its members deeply offends the American majority which, understandably, takes a dim view of acts of terrorism being perpetrated on them in their own country by people of foreign origin to whom they have extended their hospitality.
Donald Trump, uncharacteristically, has not said much on this subject, but he did remind us that, “I told you so.” Which is hard to argue with because he did.
Hillary Clinton has joined the fray, but though she does not embrace the President’s odd verbal formulation in refusing to name our enemy, she declines to call him out for it. We shouldn’t worry about how he phrases it, says she, because what is important is not what we say but what we do. Unfortunately, “we” aren’t doing much of anything that qualifies as effective interdiction of lethal terrorist attacks either. The folks in charge of our anti-terrorist efforts concede that under our criminal law regime (of which more presently) it isn’t possible to interdict all imminent acts of terrorism. Suspicious characters are routinely left to do their thing because their suspicious behavior fails to rise to levels of clarity required by our criminal law, or because good-guy citizens are reluctant to “say something” as they are admonished to do, lest they be charged with the dreaded sin of “Islamophobia.” So they keep quiet and the bad guys get a free pass.
True, our anti-terrorist forces deserve much credit for preventing terrorist atrocities that never happen and that we thus never hear about, but, alas, too many of them do occur to lethal effect. Following each of them we are enjoined by our betters to watch our mouths because if we express our righteous anger we may direct it at the community from which the terrorists come, and thereby offend good-guy Muslims. That just won’t do, we are told, even if the Muslim community tends to acquiesce in their coreligionists’ loathsome behavior (who can forget the TV images of Palestinian Arabs dancing in the streets with joy on 9/11 when the Twin Towers were attacked, killing some 3000 Americans?) To say nothing of the ongoing Arab mistreatment of Christians who are being decimated and driven out of the Middle East where their religion originated and where they have been living for millennia.
But if Americans are offended by all that, say our betters, we should just shrug our shoulders like the French, noting that it’s case of c’est la guerre. Except that the French sure lost their sang froid when Muslim terrorists attacked Paris, and la guerre means “war” in French, whereas our politically correct view disparages waging effective war lest we act “disproportionally.” According to our enlightened leadership, better we should restrain ourselves and continue to attend periodic mass funeral services with dignity, leaving it to politicians’ to bloviate from on high, and promise retribution that somehow never comes in an effective fashion that deters the bad guys from future acts of terrorism.
Unfortunately, resorting to criminal law enforcement in such cases is ineffective. If nothing else, when the bad guys perish in the process of terrorizing our people, as they often do, there is no point to viewing them as criminals because there are then no living defendants to prosecute and punish.
In moments of candor, our leaders tell us to expect more terrorism in the future but even so they want us to refrain from speaking out forcefully against its perpetrators, lest we offend their community. But this only favors the terrorists. To take the recent Orlando massacre as an example, if the terrorists succeed in killing some fifty Americans, while we dispatch one – count ’em, one – killer, isn’t that a victory for the bad guys? Just ask any military strategist what he thinks of a battle in which the aggressors inflict fatal casualties on the good guys at a rate of 50 to one.
This part of our folly is rooted in the idiotic notion that allows the bad guys to wage unrestrained, albeit unconventional war on us, while we cannot use wartime measures against them; we can only prosecute individual terrorists, one by one, with all the niceties, delays and procedural furbelows of a criminal prosecution. All of which is good stuff in dealing with the criminal elements of the country in peacetime, but not as a means of waging an effective defensive war on home-based terrorists.
But what does all that have to do with Confucius? Quite a bit, it turns out. I find it interesting that in phrasing it as Hillary Clinton did (that words used to govern are not important), she took on a fight that she probably did not intend to get into and that she is unlikely to win. She took on no less a historical personage than Confucius.
When the Prince of Wei needed advice on sound governance, he asked Confucius what is the most important function of government. The wise one responded that the most important function of government is to see to it that things are called by their proper names. Why? Because as he explained in his Analects (Book XIII., Chap. 4, Verses 4-7) “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things, [and] affairs cannot be carried on to success.” And when that happens, “proprieties and music do not flourish,” “punishments will not be properly awarded,” and “the people do not know how to move hand or foot.”
The noted semanticist S. I. Hayakawa explained in his classic book “Language in Thought and Action” that choosing one’s words to communicate is like choosing symbols and images for a map – use the wrong words, and the verbal map you produce, that is then used to guide us will lead to the wrong destination. So words that are used by society’s leaders to make government policy and convey it to the governed do matter. A lot. True, the proverb has it that actions speak louder than words, but as noted, in this case, when it comes to preventing terrorist acts at home, our actions leave something to be desired too. Not counting the various small terrorist attacks, we have suffered five successful, major terrorist massacres in sixteen years, which comes to one every three years – not exactly a record to write home about.
So there you have it, folks. Looks to me like Confucius nailed it. If you aren’t allowed to name your enemy, nor use effective means of combatting him in ways that are appropriate to his avowed style of warfare, you are bound to suffer confusion and will continue enduring ongoing major massacres at the terrorists’ hands. So Hillary Clinton take note, and do watch what you say, because it matters, particularly at times of peril, when the people need encouragement and stout leadership rather than politically correct pablum.