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SPENGLER
Civil war: A do-it-yourself guide


Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority's scapegoat-in-chief, so deeply abhors the prospect of a Palestinian civil war that he cannot bring himself to attack Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Chin up, Mr Abbas: civil war is the sine qua non of nationhood. Permit me to try to sell you on the merits of having a civil war of your very own. Think of a civil war not as a luxury, but as an investment.

It is unpopular these days to draw attention to the merits of violence, particularly the sort that inevitably entails "collateral damage", that is, the slaughter of innocents. Progress supposedly brings us non-violent conflict resolution. Au contraire. The faster the world changes, the more people find themselves left behind, and the more people are left behind, the more diehards are willing to fight to the death.

Real nations, as opposed to romantic visions of nations, have no room for irredentists and other rejectionists. They need the sort of people who show up on time, pay dues to a respectable political party and get along (if grudgingly) with the neighbors. Having a civil war is de rigeur. All the right people do it. It shows that the prospective nation has the grit to sort out its own problems.

The truth, Mr Abbas, is that no one will take you seriously until you have your own civil war. Most of your neighbors have had one, some quite recently. Egypt killed about 2,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1999-2000. Turkey has had two recent civil wars, counting the war with left-wing extremists of 1975-1980 (2,800 dead) as well as the campaign against the Kurds.

The former Yugoslavia is a poster-child for civil wars. Greece had an especially nasty one in 1947, and Cyprus racked up 5,000 casualties during 1975-1980. Another 4,000 died in the 1989 Romanian uprising against Nicolae Ceaucescu, and 1,000 have died in the past decade of civil war in tiny Moldova.

Let's not begin to talk of Africa. One even might think of criminal behavior by North African immigrants in France, or African-Americans in the United States, as a kind of civil (more on this below).

Your neighbors the Israelis had their own civil war in 1948, although it lasted only 10 minutes. Then prime minister David Ben-Gurion's artillery sank the arms ship Altalena with future premier Menachem Begin on board. The Altalena belonged to the opposition Irgun, which responded by placing its armed forces under Ben Gurion's command. The Israelis then proceeded to win their war of independence, at your expense.

How expensive is a civil war? There are wars for every budget. Potential buyers could think of Mexico's civil war of 1911-1917 (commonly misnamed the revolution) that claimed a million lives, or America's of 1861-1865, with more than 600,000. It all depends on how many pests you have. The American civil war hero W T Sherman (as I mentioned on June 12 in
More killing, please! ) spoke of 300,000 Southern diehards who had to be killed.

An inexpensive little model that might suit your needs is the Irish civil war of 1922-23. The victorious Free Staters finished the job with just 3,000 deaths (barely 1,000 Irishman had died in the rebellion against England of 1916-1922). The Irish UN types you run into don't like to talk about it, but the winning side cut a deal with the former colonial power (Britain) to wipe out the diehards.

The Free State commander Michael Collins could have shown you a few tricks. After Ireland's parliament approved Britain's offer of sovereignty (except in foreign policy) for all but the six counties of Northern Ireland, the romantic nationalists of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) rebelled. Collins had fewer military forces at his disposal, but he quickly assembled a regular army. He accepted British offers of artillery pieces and ammunition, as well as intelligence. The artillery made short work of formal IRA resistance. Collins' men hunted down and liquidated their former comrades-in-arms, using summary executions of prisoners, torture, and reprisals against civilians.

Remember that when the next Mary Robinson turns up to commiserate with you. Real statesmen shoot rebel prisoners in the back of the head so that their children may have the luxury of becoming a UN high commissioner for human rights.

How expensive will your civil war be? It's only a good-faith estimate, but I would guess that 20,000 would do the trick for Palestine, provided that you act quickly. It seems like a lot, but remember that Jordan's late King Hussein killed more than that number of Palestinians (at least according to your own Palestine Liberation Organization estimates) during "Black September" of 1970. Wait, and the bill could be much bigger.

Remember that it costs much, much more if an outside contractor arranges your civil war. It's always cheaper to do it yourself. During the Thirty Years' War of 1618-1648, the German princes let the French Cardinal Richelieu take charge. The bill came to more than half the population of Central Europe. (But of German peasants). Then you can pay with a Czech!

Both parties to the Spanish civil war of 1936-1939 invited in their own contractors. Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin fought it out to the last drop of Spanish blood. In all do-it-yourself projects, it helps if your neighbor has done similar work and can give you some pointers. I am not promising you an overnight repair job, of course, but the point is that the sooner you tackle the problem, the sooner you will be done. If you neglect the problem, though, there's no way of telling how long the job will last.

If you let your lawn go to seed or let your dog bark all night, your neighbors will become impatient and compel you to take action. The same applies to civil wars. If you don't do it yourself, the neighbors may do it for you, and end up damaging your property.

It's no use to say, "They can't get all of us!" They don't need to get all of you. Consider that the American criminal justice system has incarcerated or otherwise controlled one out of every three black Americans between the ages of 20 and 30. That is nothing less than the ruin of a generation, but it correlates to a big decline in the rate of commission of violent crimes.

If America is willing to exterminate large numbers of its own discontented population, don't expect any compunction when it comes to you. In a war of attrition, the side with more resources and more killing capacity always wins. If you make yourself sufficiently obnoxious, the Americans will take the leash of the Israelis and let them sort you out, however long it takes.

In the long run, of course, your martyrdom well might benefit Osama bin Laden, or whoever might be leading the jihad in the future. That's small comfort to you. Even worse, you might end up with the Richelieu variety of civil war in which mercenaries on both sides draw support from external powers.

Like the German and Spanish examples, these affairs are the costliest of all. If the hired help is working for outside contractors rather than for you, their interest is to prolong the business as long as possible in order to keep themselves employed. They will make quite a mess, and your home will be unlivable until you get rid of them.

Oh, and one last reminder: Michael Collins died in a firefight during the final days of the Irish civil war. Keep your head down.

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Aug 29, 2003



More killing, please!
(Jun 12, '03)

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