One of the more prodigiously stupid themes of modern times, and that's going some given the amazing level of fatuity that prevails these days, is that of "proportional response," invariably mentioned in the context of the current hostilities between the State of Israel and the whatever-the-bloody-hell-it-is of Hezbollah. Israel, we are told, is wreaking havoc in Lebanon, where Hezbollah maintains its sanctuary; yes, Hezbollah has done some Bad Things, but Israel is just completely overreacting, and as a result, the stability of the Middle East is once again at stake.
Even if you buy into the fantasy that Hezbollah is something other than a terrorist organization, in which case bless you and please be on your way, the very idea of "proportional response" is ludicrous; the only reason it gets any play in the media at all is because that moral midget Kofi Annan keeps spouting off about it. Sample:
I condemn all actions which target civilians, or which unduly endanger them due to their disproportionate or indiscriminate character. I would like to remind the parties that under the law of armed conflict, attacks must not be directed against civilian objects. In particular, they have an obligation to exercise precaution and to respect the proportionality principle in all military operations so as to prevent unnecessary suffering among the civilian population. I call on all parties to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law and international agreements.
One looks in vain for any evidence that Hezbollah is doing anything whatsoever to "prevent unnecessary suffering among the civilian population," but then Kofi wasn't talking to them.
To quote Baron Bodissey:
As someone recently said, it's like a bank robbery when the call comes in that three men are robbing a bank, then the cops can only send in three patrolmen to stop them.
Or imagine that you're woken up in the middle of the night by a burglar in the living room. You grab your twelve-gauge and creep down the stairs very quietly. But when you flip on the light and surprise the burglar, he's armed with only a knife! What do you do? Why, you drop the shotgun, rush to the kitchen, and rummage through the drawers for a knife. And not just any knife it has to be no longer or sharper than the one the burglar has!
Of course, if you're a British householder, you don't have the shotgun to grab in the first place. Not only that, you can't pick up a knife of any size to confront the thief with; otherwise you could end up in court on serious charges yourself. No, all you can do is sit down on the couch and say, "Help yourself, mate. Can I get you a cup of tea?"
Even our fictional officials know better than this. From The West Wing:
FITZWALLACE: Good morning, Mr. President.
BARTLET: What have we got?
FITZWALLACE: Three retaliatory strike scenarios.
LEO: When are they operational?
FITZWALLACE: At the President's command.
LEO: No prep time?
GENERAL: We're there.
FITZWALLACE: All three scenarios are comprehensive, meet the obligations of proportional response and pose minimal threat to U.S. personal and assets. To turn our attention to scenario one, or Pericles One, to use its code name...
BARTLET: What is the virtue of a proportional response?
FITZWALLACE: I'm sorry.
BARTLET: What's the virtue of a proportional response? Why's it good? [beat] They hit an airplane, so we hit a transmitter, right? That's a proportional response.
FITZWALLACE: Sir, in the case of Pericles...
BARTLET: They hit a barracks, so we hit two transmitters?
FITZWALLACE: That's roughly it, sir.
BARTLET: It's what we do. I mean this is what we do.
LEO: Yes sir, it's what we do, it's what we've always done.
BARTLET: Well, if it's what we do, if it's what we've always done, don't they know we're going to do it?
LEO: Sir, if you would turn your attention to Pericles One.
BARTLET: I have turned my attention to Pericles One, it's two ammo dumps, an abandoned railroad bridge and a Syrian intelligence agency.
FITZWALLACE: Those are four high rated military targets, sir.
BARTLET: But they know we're going to do that, they know we're going to do that. Those areas have been abandoned for four days. We know that from the satellites. We have the intelligence.
BARTLET: They did that, so we did this, it's the cost of doing business, it's been factored in, right?
LEO: Mr. President...
BARTLET: Am I right or am I missing something here?
FITZWALLACE: No sir, you're right, sir.
BARTLET: Then I ask again, what is the virtue of a proportional response?
FITZWALLACE: It isn't virtuous, Mr. President. It's all there is, sir.
BARTLET: It is not all there is.
LEO: Sir, Admiral Fitzwallace...
FITZWALLACE: Excuse me, Leo, but pardon me Mr. President, just what else is there?
BARTLET: A disproportional response. Let the word ring forth from this time and this place, you kill an American, any American, we don't come back with a proportional response, we come back [bangs fist on table] with total disaster!
GENERAL: Are you suggesting we carpet-bomb Damascus?
BARTLET: General, I am suggesting that you and Admiral Fitzwallace and Secretary Hutchinson and the rest of the national security team take the next sixty minutes and put together a U.S. response scenario that doesn't make me think we are just docking somebody's damn allowance!
And if you still don't get it, next time you're wheeled into the emergency room, have your next of kin tell the triage specialist that you don't want any "disproportionate" treatment, that you want to give the wound or the hemorrhage or the cancer a fighting chance.
At least the last sound you hear will be laughter.
8 August 2006