iBlog: Conservatism 2


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Monday, August 21, 2006

Conservatism 2

Below is my comment to a post by Joolian Re: the recent pardon of the deserters of the British Army of the first world war trenches. (This is the other thing that's been annoying me)

I firmy believe what they refused to give, is the price of democracy and always has been.

I probably wouldn't lay down my life for the church or for my political party, but you can bet that I would sacrifice myself for the democracy of my country and my children.

It seems farsicle that we're so far descended from the trenches we can piss all over what was, in reality, the legacy of the men who fought for our very right to a free opinion on the subject!

I'm glad the deserters had the humiliation and penalty that became their cowardice. It's not a lacking of bravery that made them turn their back on democracy, liberty, freedom, England and the rights of every person reading this, it was a basic human defficiency that put themselves before everything our ancestors have fought and worked so hard for in the past. They'd sooner have let this country to the hands of the fascists (etc) than their own family live lives of the free.

In my eyes, there is no pardon for these men, just as there is no pardon for anyone else who thinks themselves above democracy.


  • At 12:16 PM, Blogger Timothy V Reeves said…

    You’ve not trolling us on this one are you Ben?

    Something to bear in mind when talking about the First World War is the following.

    Decisions we judge as either brave or cowardly come from that complex thing with fuzzy boundaries we call the personality. Trouble is, continuous stress hormones can alter traits not only peripheral to the personality, but even attack the very core personality itself, if the stress is long term. Stress hormones are usually only present for short “fight or flight” durations, and so the human frame is not well adapted for them to be in the system long term.

    Thus men who not only gladly assented to the cause of the war but fought bravely for months, if not years, were suddenly were faced with the horrible reality of stress induced symptoms. These men were no longer “themselves”, as different and pathological personality factors kicked in. This renders problematical the attempt to judge whether men in this condition were displaying cowardice, because we make such judgments on the basis of some norm conception of personality – “shell shocked” men had undergone dysfunctional changes to the person - the very thing that makes decisions. How then do you judge cowardice when personality is slipping and sliding towards some convoluted pathology that jeopardizes our conception of personal norms? We have control over our decisions, but we have rather limited control over the entity actually making those decisions – namely the personality. In short, these men were not responsible for their personality changes.

    Having suffered myself some stress symptoms once I can tell you that it was like going to hell and back – I can quite easily see how putting oneself in front of a firing squad might feel like a pretty nifty career move.

    The irony is that we perhaps shouldn’t even be too hard on those who condemned them to death – either they faced the ruthless pragmatics of keeping discipline or, more likely in 1914-1918, had little understanding of mental health issues. Neither can we be too hard on those who organized the war – they still thought “cavalry charge” and had yet to understand that the means of technological defence (machine guns) was far more effective than the means of attack. When the tank and aircraft came along, the goal posts moved once again.

    I always go over to Joolian’s blog for a bit of relaxation and the balm of nature (like boiling eggs alive and slug slaughter), so to see all this going on here is a bit of jolt. No doubt behavior learnt from the trenches on the NYFC front .. I mean … forum.

  • At 12:27 PM, Blogger joolian said…


    So you are positive in your own mind that being shot at dawn was the right action for all these men?

    I would suggest reading and re-reading Tim's comment above and thendoing some more research.

    I realise forgiveness does not come easy for some. But it is central to our faith no matter how liberal or conservative you think you are.

  • At 1:37 PM, Blogger joolian said…

    ps - read Spike Milligan's war memoirs - I can lend them to you if you like.

    I can't help thinking that he would have been shot for desertion if the same "laws" on desertion applied in the 2nd war.

    Like Mr Reeves, I am not a pacifist per se. I would have loved a career in the army. However, you have to try and look at this from within. Part of my family was wiped out in the first world war and I'm very proud of what they did. Reading some of the letters they sent from the trenches bring does bring it into some perspective.

  • At 9:22 PM, Blogger monty said…

    Ben - are you trying to be controversial or is this your clear honest opinion...?

    My view is that God doesn't want us killing any fellow man. That includes war. However freedom is precious and should be upheld, first by peaceful negotiation, then by force. Unfortunatley the latter dictates some death may occur.

    However, I cannot believe God would want a person killing another person because he or she is scared, frightened, has a different view on life or mentally disturbed.

    Ben, if these truly are your comments do you feel God was ok with allowing men to kill other men in this way?

  • At 11:35 PM, Blogger Ben F. Foster Esq. (c) said…

    I respect what you say, Tim about people being removed from their senses in the horrers of wars, but I'm not convinced by any means that's a blanket pardoning or even an excuse for a majority.

    I wont quote statistics, mainly because I don't know any but For your argument that you can't condemn a man against his madness is really like letting a rabid dog walk down the street... well maybe not the same, but the trenches weren't an eithteen month holiday for the over seventeens, but Britain defending its democracy with everything it has.

    As such, you can't pardon a man for insanity by any degree, that would be crazy stupid thing to do.

    But the fact remains there were people who forfeited the luxury of liberty and democracy by refusing to offer their rights for the entratment of others.

    I thank God that our country isn't at war at the moment in amongst this Guilt Liberalism culture that prevails from political correctness, constitutional trade ethics and human rights demand frenzy.

    But conservative, contraversial and possibly cruel as it may sound, the price of freedom in war is inevertably death. Everyone I know in the military accepts that, and I should venture anyone who's fought (and not deserted) stands up for that philosophy.

    Maybe that's death at the hands of the foray but there are cases of unpatriotic, undemocratic (by choice OR by mental blurring) deserters who must also pay the price of denying the liberty that has been afforded to them.

    In times of peace I don't think that penalty should be death at all, but in war, where a man's *comrades* are laying their lives for the deserter's freedom and that of his family, then I see no reason why that man should even have rights to a ration pack, let alone life in the freedom of lberty that was bought for him

  • At 11:59 PM, Blogger monty said…

    I will humbly disagree.
    As a Christian I want to do what I think Jesus would do.
    I cannot even contemplate Jesus saying "Shoot the deserter because he failed his fellow men" - because thats not the Jesus of the New Testament.
    Therefore I cannot stand and support this needless killing irrespective of what the soldiers did.

    If you think that Jesus would agree with you then I challenge you to justify it.
    I don't think you can.


  • At 6:18 AM, Blogger helsalata said…

    Why apologise?
    If he were king, you would be first against the wall (for disagreeing, for diserting, for anything that sets you apart).

  • At 7:00 PM, Blogger Timothy V Reeves said…

    Excellent, Excellent Ben, I think we are making fine progress! Firstly it’s clear that you’re are not trolling and therefore not wasting everyone’s time.

    You acknowledge there is a mental health issue here. Good. I’ll pick that up a little later.

    There seem to be at least two matters that impinge upon this question:

    1. The dilemma element that rears its ugly head, especially in warfare, when choices become so narrowed down that, to use a well-known cliché, one has to “choose between evils”.

    2. Evaluating the morality of, and assigning culpability to choosing agents.

    A good part of your commentary seems to be grappling with the first point; namely, the “red in tooth and claw” ethic which forces itself upon combatants. As I said in my first comment, leaders who condemned men to the firing squad may have faced “the ruthless pragmatics of keeping discipline”. If (repeat IF) that is true perhaps those executed during the war for “cowardice” were a type of collateral damage. Along these lines your illustration of the rabid (but otherwise morally innocent) dog and your comment “The price of freedom in war may be death” epitomise in many ways the awful choices often forced upon us in this world. I don’t want to challenge these general points or yours. Superimposed upon all this, and complicating things still further, is that changing military technology (as has changing technology in other spheres since industrial times began) kept the goal posts on the move.

    One might, after a rigorous analysis of the knowledge and available choices of 14/18 war, decide that an indiscriminating policy of death by firing squad was the only way - or you might not, I don’t know. That’s a controversial and difficult subject and I don’t think I am going to make much headway on that issue here, as it is probably very specific to circumstances.

    However, I am going to offer an opinion on the moral question. You’ve admitted the possibility of mental breakdown and through the rather inappropriate example of the rabid dog, admitted the existence of behaviour for which the person cannot be held culpable. Hence I am going to suggest that in all likelihood many men (NOT necessarily all men) were executed who were not “cowards” in the deep moral sense of the term. They faced the terrors of a pathological mental environment induced by stress. Whether or not this is acknowledged by a formal pardon (Which I personally favour), I nevertheless submit what I believe to be a high probability. So, the deep issue here is not so much the cruel pragmatics of fighting a war but whether we should adopt a simple external behavioral criterion or a deep moral criterion for morally evaluating wartime behaviour.

    On another tack: One expression of yours that fascinated me, as do many of your expressions, was “Guilt liberalism culture”. One very tentative theory I have seen on human nature suggests that people’s innate setting on the pessimism-optimism spectrum varies from person to person, and that this correlates with their place on conservatism-liberalism spectrum, and, interestingly, how “red in tooth and claw” they see the world around to be. That social Darwinist attitudes cluster toward the conservatives (who usually fancy themselves as realists) is, according to this theory, no surprise. The question is: Which temperament best deals with the world around us? I’m not going to answer that question, but only offer this – when the optimistic temperament is faced with trying to balance the books of justice in an unfair world and fails, that temperament is inclined to react in guilt and self blame.

    Taking these latter speculations a bit further: I suspect that you and I share an innate conservationism/realism that is part and parcel with our critique of an evangelicalism that to us sometimes seems to be a paradoxical mix of guilt (about failing to appropriate the blessings of God, for example) and a self deceiving optimism (the unauthentic ‘emperors new clothes’ effect, for example). Interestingly, in the August 06 edition of Christianity a counselor on eating disorders is asked if Christains are less vulnerable to eating disorders. The reply? “They are not. If anything, it is possible that guilt is added to the difficulties” And I thought Christianity was about dealing with guilt!!! Anyway, don’t quote me on this - the foregoing is all very tentative and theoretical!

  • At 8:15 PM, Blogger Timothy V Reeves said…

    PS Thought for Monty: Book of Joshua!

  • At 9:51 AM, Blogger Where Are They Going? said…

    this'll give you more on the subject ...

  • At 1:28 PM, Blogger Timothy V Reeves said…

    Nice try Ben, but I know it’s you! I thought of that one myself – setting up a blog specially to rubbish my own work (e.g. “TimothyVReevesIsACrank.blogspot” or better “TimothyVReevesIsABigBore.blogspot”). Any publicity is good publicity as they say. At least it shows that you pique someone’s interest, even if the sign is reversed.

    PS “Disappearing up your own backside”: Not such a bad idea according to Douglas R Hofstadter except that he calls it “self referencing”. (See Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid)

  • At 1:28 PM, Blogger Timothy V Reeves said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 4:40 PM, Blogger Ben F. Foster Esq. (c) said…

    HA HA HA!

    I assure you that comment was posted when I was at work, and was entirely not me! I'd be intertested to see hwo it was though.

    will post more later

  • At 6:07 PM, Blogger Timothy V Reeves said…

    You would say that wouldn't you Ben. Can you prove it? Identity on the Internet is about as well defined a notion as it is in seance!

  • At 6:59 PM, Blogger Paul said…

    Did I miss the point about Joshua.

    Don't tell me, let me guess. Somewhere in there deserters get killed. Nothing like an uncritical engagement with teh Old Testament to keep a conversation going... ;-)

    Fun conversation, I'll join in properly when I get the chance. :-)

  • At 12:55 PM, Blogger Timothy V Reeves said…

    Don't be silly Paul, you know very well what I am talking about - at least you should do!

  • At 8:06 AM, Anonymous joolian said…

    The pick and mix culture of our pluralistic society gives some people the impression that they can take some aspects of the Chrisitian faith and apply them to their own individual brand of Christianity. That way they are still able to exercise total personal control over their belief system with no element of individual sacrifice. They apply their rules and not God's. They become comfortable with their "brand" and then have the audacity to try and convince others that it is the real deal and fix it in stone by giving it a label.

    There are some key fundamentals of the Christian faith. Forgiveness is one of them.

    I'm not saying this is you Ben. But you cannot simply ignore some aspects in order to justify hanging on to your extremely fragile agruments.

    I may not understand or indeed agree with all of what God instructs us to do. I certainly don't agree with all aspects of Church. However, I hope I am big enough to be flexible and contemplate the issues with which I'm not fully happy in the hope that one day I might fully understand. Some days it's like wading through treacle.


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