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Monday, September 24, 2007

But It Ain't Racism

A friend of mine told me the story of his illegal immigration. It was quite an eye-opener.

When he was young, his family lived in a country crushed by poverty and crime, government corruption and greed. Bribes to government officials were frequent and necessary because the country was a conduit for drug trafficking, which was rampant.

Nearly all of the citizens were dirt-poor, many keeping subsistence-level gardens in order to assure themselves of enough food during the year. Because everyone was poor, because no one had anything, everyone shared. It was the only way to survive.

His mother slowly scrimped and saved enough over the years to pay what we now call a "coyote" to smuggler herself and her son out. She recognized that neither she nor her eight-year old boy could survive a walk across the border - another way had to be found. So, she negotiated with a man whose company regularly ran a van filled with workers back and forth across the border checkpoint. Because the van made the transit every day, border guards were used to it, they paid less attention to it than to the general population.

Each seat in the van could be opened to store tools underneath the cushions. The cavities were also large enough to store people, if the hidden person was willing to put up with the contortions necessary to fit inside.

On the appointed day, he and his mother each climbed into their box, the seat cushions were adjusted and a worker took his place on the seat for the ride across the border.

They made it, but, as it turned out, their success was simply the first trial. The van didn't travel very far past the border checkpoint. Once they were safely across, they needed to get away from the area as quickly as possible. They had tickets for the train and began to walk towards the train station in order to get to where relatives would take them in.

On their way to the station, they were stopped by the police. The police officer noticed that they appeared to be lost, discovered they were not legally in the country, pointed them back to the border, ordered them to return to their own country and walked away. The mother and her boy walked in the direction the officer pointed out until he was out of sight, then turned and quickly headed back towards the train station.

This happened six times.

Finally, they made it onto the train, to their relatives and to freedom. The young man joined the air force, became a jet pilot and spent years ready to defend the country against attack. But it would be years longer before he finally became an American.

As Horst told me the story of his escape from East Germany, I thought it incredibly ironic. The same conservatives who used to champion every escape from the oppression, fear and poverty of communist governments now vilify those who wish to escape similar oppression, fear and poverty in Mexico. The same liberals who used to decry the way these communist immigrants were lauded in the West now themselves laud the migrant.

Despite the fact that these illegal migrants (from East Germany's point of view) were often deliberately infiltrated with spies and criminals intent on destroying the West, despite the fact that East Germany deliberately trafficked drugs across the border, despite the fact that the communist East bent every power at its disposal to destroy the capitalist civilization its citizens invaded, West Germany welcomed the immigrants and the West applauded her for it.

What a difference a few decades makes.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

In Praise of Religious War

War, as has often been noted, is hell. But what if you got to take weekends off?

The Catholic Church long insisted on the necessity of exactly this kind of holiday. Between 989 AD and roughly the mid 1200’s, war could only be waged between sunrise Monday and sunset Wednesday. Likewise, no one could do violence nor confiscate anyone’s goods during the four weeks of Advent and the octave of the Epiphany, or during Lent and the octave of Easter, or during the two weeks prior to or the week following upon Pentecost. Anyone who violated these days of peace was exiled for thirty years and excommunicate.

Such were the rules imposed by the Peace of God and its close relative, the Truce of God. Now, keep in mind that peasants could not be expected to take to the field of armed service when they were needed in the field to sow and reap the harvest. In a subsistence level economy, part of the spring and fall were already off-limits to warfare if only because lack of attention to the fields would mean starvation for the whole land within a year.

So, when the Truce of God and the Peace of God are taken together with the natural disinclination to wage war during the sowing and harvest seasons, we see a most remarkable result: only 80 days of each year were left for fighting. Can anyone imagine Alexandar the Great succeeding under such terms? Even the famous Jewish reverence for the Sabbath did not restrict warfare to this degree.

Contrast this distaste for war and carnage with Martin Luther’s opinions about the usefulness of war, especially war against the peasant: “whosoever can, should smite, strangle, and stab, secretly or publicly, and should remember that there is nothing more poisonous, pernicious, and devilish than a rebellious man. Just as one must slay a mad dog, so, if you do not fight the rebels, they will fight you, and the whole country with you… For we are come upon such strange times that a prince may more easily win heaven by the shedding of blood than others by prayers.”

Muslims, of course, have never had any holy day prohibitions on warfare. Nor, for that matter have the leaders of our own lovely and civilized scientific culture.

Just for comparison’s sake, here are some numbers to compare:

Wars of science (begun or waged to support specific biological, political, economic, etc., principles)

World War II – 72 million, including 25 million military deaths.
World War I – 40 million total, including 9.7 million military deaths.
Franco-Prussian war – 750,000, including 250,000 military deaths.
Napoleanic wars – Estimated 6 million dead.
French Revolution – 40,000 in the Revolution; probably 500,000 killed in the Vendee.
American Revolution – estimated between 50,000 and 100,000 dead total.
Seven years’ war – estimated 1.3 million dead, including 700,000 military deaths

Religious Wars

Crusades – Total deaths from 1096 to 1270 are estimated at about 1.5 million.
Germany’s Peasants’ War – 100,000 dead.
Hungary’s Peasants’ War – 70,000 dead.
Thirty Years’ War – 7.5 million
War on Terror – about 70,000 military deaths to date.

Religious wars tend to be low-violence affairs. Our current War on Terror, for instance, sees a handful of people killed every few weeks – not even comparable to traffic deaths, in most cases. Even the deaths resulting from the destruction of the World Trade Center barely matched the number of abortions committed on September 11.

If we are going to have a war, let it be a religious war.

It tends to be a lot less nasty.