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Monday, 6 February 2012

Terror and 'Disgust'

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice expressed her ‘disgust’ at the bloodshed in Syria and at those countries that thwarted a U N resolution. She either knows little history or the disgust is a matter of convenient pretence. Terror has always been used both by the state and by those who oppose it. Choose any period of history.

Cromwell, and one word, Drogheda

Or go back still further.

In 1066, William 1st destroyed the small fishing village of Romney, killing all with extreme barbarity. As a result the much larger and fortified town of Dover surrendered without a fight. It was a favourite tactic of William. London, an even larger and more strongly fortified town, held out against him. William marched round it burning surrounding hamlets and killing those he found. Suitably terrorised, London surrendered and William was crowned on Christmas day.

And how did an army of eight thousand control a hostile Saxon population of one and a half million – not to mention large settlements of Danes and not forgetting the Welsh? The answer is what every regime with a sense of history understands.


Terror is old as time. Sherman employed the technique of mass civilian terror in his burning of Atlanta and his march to the sea. He didn’t mince words. ‘I propose to demonstrate the vulnerability of the South and make its inhabitants feel that war and individual ruin are synonymous terms.” To another he wrote: ‘I am going into the very bowels of the Confederacy, and will leave a trail that will be recognised fifty years hence.’

This, though not so brutal, was straight from the text book of William 1st, had he written one.

In 1069 after yet another revolt, William marched north and burnt every living thing in a wide circle from Lancashire to York. Desperate peasants resorted to cannibalism and the area remained devastated for another fifty years. There were no more revolts.

Bashar el Assad’s regime faces much the same thing in Syria. Like William, his powerbase is small and dependent on the Alawi representing just 12% of the population. He has Christian support - 9% of the population. But if William could enforce his will with a powerbase representing only .05333…% of the population the mathematics are clear. It is only a matter of brutality and will; that, and whether the rest of the world will intervene.

To return to the C11th once more, when William died, his son, William Rufus enforced the Forestry Laws with increasing savagery. Every dog in a neighbouring village had his front paw mutilated so it could not pursue deer. Indeed, killing a deer was punishable by death, those who just shot at a deer had their hands cut off, and blinding was common for those who merely disturbed the deer.

The younger son of William the Conqueror, Henry 1st, was so put out by bad coinage in the realm, he had every Royal Coiner blinded, castrated, or mutilated in some other way. There was no more bad coin.

My point?

When Henry died there was no successor that the barons could agree on. With Royal authority shattered all hell broke loose. For nineteen years civil war raged and in the words of one chronicler ‘God and his angels slept’. People actually looked back to the ‘Golden Age’ of the two Williams and Henry, when ‘one could walk from one end of the kingdom to the other with a bag of gold and remain unmolested.’ Exaggerated no doubt, but then all ‘Golden Ages’ are.

Be careful what you wish for. Assad’s regime is brutal. The body count will continue to rise. The question is if he is toppled what then? Will ‘God and his angels sleep’ once more?

There’s every chance the body count will be even higher in a fragmented culture of 74% Sunni, 12% Alawi, 9% Christian and 3% Druze. Then there are the Kurds, Armenians and Turkmens – before we even get to the possibility of outside intervention.

The other question is who benefits from the collapse of Syria? There are strings being pulled as people die.

Idealism and tyranny both have a price, and neither side should complain if and when that price is exacted. And no one should look away. The horror of a dead or wounded child is universal. But events should be left to play themselves out.

I am not defending repression. I’m suggesting that no one should be surprised if the alternative proves worse. I’m suggesting that every ruling class – and that includes the American elite and every regime in the western world - will defend its own status quo by similar means when ‘democracy’ fails. It is the lesson of history.

And what a pompous note to end on. The truth is I think but I don't know - just this. Tyrants follow their own dreams and so do idealists. Each will pay a price but the biggest price is too often paid by those unwillingly involved.


Claudia Del Balso said...

I was baffled to discover the atrocities that William and his son William Rufus committed. I hope they met a similar ending. I was disgusted to learn they mutilated dogs (I'm an animal lover). He was a savage, a neanderthal hiding under a crown and nice clothes. I agree with your closing statement, "Tyrants follow their own dreams and so do idealists. Each will pay a price but the biggest price is too often paid by those unwillingly involved." You couldn't have said it better.

Mike Keyton said...

Thanks for that last comment, Claudia.

Mind, I think you're being a bit tough on neanderthals; as track records go, it's Cro-Magnons we ought to be worried about : )

Maria Zannini said...

I've long been inoculated from political rhetoric. All I can do is try to vote them out of office.

Monarchies and pseudo-dictatorships have to be handled with a tad more force--something most societies try to avoid at all costs, cuz yanno, someone might get hurt.

Mike Keyton said...

Question is, whose force, Maria - outside forces or the indigenous population? And if sections of the indigenous population decide to fight all well and good, but no complaints if the tyrant fights back. Them's the rules of the game.

Misha Gerrick said...

It's so sad to think that the biggest price tends to be exacted on innocents who have no way to defend themselves against it. :-/

Mike Keyton said...

Misha, it's why I always avoid those who claim they know the answer!

Jay Paoloni said...

Mike, I totally agree with Claudia! I hope William and son met a similar ending. Regimes (at least some of them) nowadays don't act that much differently. As far as I can see, they just apply the same terror techniques metaphorically instead of literally.
What do you think?

Mike Keyton said...

Jay, you'll be pleased to know that as William lay dying his children robbed the ring from his finger, ransacked his room and one of them went charging off to claim the throne as his father lay dying. You might also want to research William's funeral when, because rigor mortis had set in and the stone coffin was too small for him they had to squeeze him in, and in doing so his innards, already rotting burst asunder, ensuring the fastest funeral ceremony in medieval times.

I hope this makes you and Claudia feel better : )

Anonymous said...

'I think but I don't know' - Stop trying to be Montaigne. x

Mike Keyton said...