As one might also expect, the commentary on this news is largely colored by the same sort of hyperbole that always surrounds these sorts of atrocities. This, in one sense, is unsurprising. The notion of one person setting out to slaughter another that has done him, or her, no personal injury or insult, to murder in cold blood whoever they encounter regardless of age, sex, or competence for some imagined slight or grievance is a truly horrific one, the sort of notion that compels most of us to peer perhaps more deeply into the abyss than we would prefer.
So while I am unsurprised by the outrage, horror, and anger of both the reporting and the punditry - because these murders are, indeed, outrageous, horrible, and infuriating - I am less than impressed at the associated pervasiveness of a sort of aggrieved victimization on the part of reporters and pundits, the loudly articulated sense that these atrocities are some sort of unprecedented, unsurpassingly awful injustice visited on utter innocents like lightning from a clear sky.
This is often accompanied by the specific accusation that the ideology that drove the killers is an uncontextual and uniquely evil force.
The combination of this outraged innocence and angry accusation irks me for several reasons.
First, because it is at best, louche', and at worst, criminally ignorant, to be living in a society whose rulers are wont to proclaim often, loudly, and fiercely, that they are engaged in a "war against terror" and to act surprised and outraged when terror makes war on you.
Wars are like that; you kill them, they kill you. Not nice, perhaps, but also something that should come as neither surprise nor outrage. "Unconventional" wars, guerrilla wars, the "war of the flea" is even less nice, and as such this should have been expected even as it was horrible.
Second, because the context for these attacks is obvious. The West is engaged in warring with this Islamic State. This "state" has neither aircraft nor warships. It cannot, then, as do civilized people, bomb helpless men, innocent women and little children from aloft or crater their towns and cities with missiles from afar. It has little in the way of artillery or armor; it cannot materially harm the armed forces of its enemies. It must, in its conduct of this "war on terror", use, well, terror. This, too, may be horrible but should be neither surprising nor outrageous.
Vile? Perhaps. Vicious, certainly. But to act as though this was some sort of uniquely awful, unforeseen horror is neither intelligent nor useful. To misinterpret your enemy's motives and misprise his tactics is to go a long way to miscalculate your most effective response.
Third, because in a popular form of government the result of sending the public the message that they have been the object of an unprovoked, particularly savage, attack is to produce a public response dominated by insensate rage and mindless hatred, the sort of hatred that fails to draw a line between the enemy and those who look like the enemy, between an aggressive defense and furious, hyperkinetic, self-defeating aggression.
Let me say honestly; I am not a kindly man. I am not, in general, a sentimental man. I have no more than a mild sympathy for the dead of Paris (I did not know them, I have no special care for them) and no more than a dispassionate enmity for their killers.
To me the killers of Daesh are, and in my opinion should be, nothing more than a problem to solve, a danger to negate, like a live electrical cable or a rabid dog. They should be disposed of if possible, isolated and avoided if not.
But my lack of emotion does not vitiate the lesson of 9/11 - if there is one other than "The stupid fucker Richard Cheney and his coterie should really be wearing orange jumpsuits" - is that taking geopolitical actions based on whipping up insensate rage and mindless hatred in the public is a very stupid, very self-destructive thing.
What is needed, instead, is the cold realization that these horrors are the calculated cost of what we, the West, have chosen; to fight a "war on terror" that largely consists of paying others to bomb, shoot, and kill people in places far away while living in a society whose openness allows those people to bring their bombs and bullets in among us to kill us.
There is no "solution" to the Daesh problem in France, or in the United States without changing both without measure. For the West to keep Daesh out would mean changing its societies, closing its openness, in ways that will never be undone.
There is also no "solution" to the Daesh problem by importing our bayonets into their lands. For the West to try and impose that solution to Daesh on the Middle East would mean choosing only between fighting an endless colonial war and genocide. Our sons and grandsons would rule theirs with bayonet and boot, or we would have to slaughter them without mercy, make a desert in a desert and call it peace.
It is that simple. This, or that. One, or the other. There are no other ways.
Treating the Paris attacks as some unutterable, unforeseeable, unequaled atrocity does nothing but obscure that and make a rational way forward more difficult.
We need to step back and see this for what it is; a lost "battle" in a war we - our "leaders", at least - have chosen to fight. Then we, or they, can choose whether to go forward with this "war", whether to look deeply at our "tactics" or our "strategies" to see if either or both are productive, or whether we need to think outside the paradigm of "war" we have allowed ourselves.
But we cannot do that if we let ourselves be blinded by grief, sorrow, rage, or grievance.
Before the Great Terror of 1914-1918 the French were the Daesh of Europe; the invaders, the killers, the butchers, the New Huns. But when one of the bloodiest murderers of that bloodthirsty band sat down to write his maxims of efficient bloodletting he said this of the sort of way one should go about the science and art of slaughter:
"The first qualification in a general-in-chief is a cool head -- that is, a head which receives just impressions, and estimates things and objects at their real value. He must not allow himself to be elated by good news, or depressed by bad.I see no reason to think that this maxim has been washed away by yesterday's blood on the pave' of Paris.
The impressions he receives either successively or simultaneously in the course of the day should be so classed as to take up only the exact place in his mind which they deserve to occupy; since it is upon a just comparison and consideration of the weight due to different impressions that the power of reasoning and of right judgment depends.
Some men are so physically and morally constituted as to see everything through a highly colored medium. They raise up a picture in the mind on every slight occasion, and give to every trivial occurrence a dramatic interest. But whatever knowledge, or talent, or courage, or other good qualities such men may possess, Nature has not formed them for the command of armies, or the direction of great military operations."