Relativism Versus Reality: Ralph Peters and Endless War

[This is a great essay. What I liked best was the articulation that killing is only justified (Cast Lead) if your military object is winning rather than punishing. Israel should never have stopped short of victory.]

By Prof. Paul Eidelberg

Since 1968, when my essay “The Crisis of Our Times” appeared in the Congressional Record, I have written several books warning of the subversive influence of the university-bred doctrine of moral and cultural relativism. Nineteen years later Allan Bloom wrote The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. And now Melanie Phillips has just published The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth, and Power, which blames relativism as the root cause of the Western decadence.

Relativism dominates the social sciences and humanities. It has stultified generations of college students who become our politicians, diplomats, judges, and journalists. Relativism, known also “moral equivalence,” was the target of my recent critique of former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk who, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is a university graduate that advocates the “two-state” solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Such university-education officials can’t cope with stark reality: Jews and Muslims have utterly antagonistic ideas of human nature and society. One exalts peace and democracy, the other war and autocracy. The two-state solution implies moral equivalence. That Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorses this solution only reveals his lack of moral courage, since his insistence on a demilitarized Palestinian state confirms Islamic bellicosity.

Now, to gain a more concrete understanding of the pernicious influence of relativism, let’s consult Ralph Peters, an outstanding military expert. Although his new book, Endless War, does not mention moral relativism, this academic doctrine underlies his critique of US military policy, whose failures he attributes to the decadence of higher education.

He writes: “… one of the greatest obstacles we have to understanding our enemies is that our officer corps is too well educated in a formal sense. Officers with master’s degrees in international relations and Ph.D.s in government have become prisoners of the outdated theories they encountered in graduate school…” Suffice to mention “conflict resolution.”

This doctrine, propagated by political science departments even in Israel, ignores the reality of evil, even the enormity of evil displayed by Muslims who use their own children as human bombs to slaughter Jewish children, men, and women. Conflict resolution is rooted in moral relativism which, in the brutal reality of international conflict, becomes moral obscurantism and even moral reversal. Witness Washington’s deceptive “even-handed” diplomacy in the conflict between the PLO, a terrorist organization, and Israel.

Peters recognizes that the academic world is out of touch with reality. “The professors will tell you that [Islamic terrorism] is all about deprivation and … mistaken American military policies and, yes, the need to build … schools, hospitals, and factories. Nothing wrong with a clinic here and a co-ed classroom there, but the real problem is that our opponents refuse to accept … [international law and its abhorrence of violence].”

[Therefore]: “If we continue to misunderstand the [hostile] psychological and spiritual environments in which we operate, the clinics will continue to be bombed and the classrooms will remain empty, their teachers assassinated.”

Peters deplores “our habit of sending talented officers to ‘top’ civilian universities where their critical-thinking faculties are destroyed and their common sense retarded. Can it be coincidental … that across the half century during which the cult of higher education for officers prospered, we have gone from winning wars to losing them?”

Peters boldly declares: “I challenge any reader to cite a single example of a social science professor’s work contributing to any military victory. On the contrary, we have produced generations of officers so diseased with theory that some no longer possess the mental health to grasp reality unfolding before them.”

Peters aside, I ask: How can social science mired in relativism be helpful in a war against Islamic absolutism? What can champions of “conflict resolution” accomplish against an enemy whose religion has been at war with the West since Muhammad, whose disciples have slaughtered some 270 million infidels? Conflict resolution is academic voodoo.

“Nonetheless,” says Peters, “US … military publications [and] intelligence organizations have been discouraged or forbidden outright from bringing religion into their analysis of our enemies, or from using terms such as ‘Islamist terrorist,’ because we would rather avoid giving the least offense than accurately describe the ambitious murderers we face. It’s a bit like banning the word ‘Nazi’ when describing Hitler.” Obama’s chief adviser for counterterrorism John Brennan insanely defends Islam as a “religion of peace.” Obama’s mindless adviser sees in Hezbollah moderates because it has members in Lebanon’s parliament! How charming!

Peters remarks: “When it comes to fighting terrorists … we have less intellectual integrity than Bernie Madoff had financial integrity. Priding ourselves on our educational … successes, we engage in comforting lies and … superstitions … Over the last half-century, leftist intellectuals have pounded into us the notion that … “terrorists can’t be defeated,” that “every crisis requires a political solution,” and that “war doesn’t solve anything.”

“Utter nonsense,” says Peters. “But it’s appealing nonsense to those who know nothing of history—and who don’t want to know. The worst subversion against the American people in our time has been the radical degradation of history instruction in our schools and the elimination of military history in favor of political correctness.”

What most troubles Peters is “our increasingly effete view of warfare.” With the elimination of history as a serious subject in America’s schools, “politicians lack perspective; journalists lack meaningful touchstones; and the average person’s sense of warfare has been redefined by media entertainments in which misery, if introduced, is brief. By 1965, we had already forgotten what it took to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and the degeneration of our historical sense has continued to accelerate since then.” “Dumbed-down textbooks minimize the wars that kept us free.”

“U.S. intelligence agencies and government departments,” says Peters, “go to absurd lengths, even in classified analyses, to avoid such basic terms as ‘Islamic terrorists.’” This political correctness is promoted by the State Department, whose officials are tainted by cultural relativism. State probably has more Ph.D.’s than any other executive department.

Peters ruefully notes: “We will not even accept the fact that the struggle between Islam and the West never ceased…. Unfortunately for our delicate sensibilities, the age-old lesson of religion-fueled rebellions is that they must be put down with unsparing bloodshed—the fanatic’s god is not interested in compromise solutions. The leading terrorists must be killed. We, on the contrary, want to make them our friends.” This was the explicit position of Ehud Olmert, a position implicit in the make-the-Arabs-prosperous appeasement policy of Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel’s political echelon operates in denial-mode: we are at war with a foe that loves death more than life, a foe that despises bourgeois or liberal democracy.

Israel can learn from Peters’ warning to Washington: “When the United States is forced to go to war—or decides to go to war—it must intend to win. That means that rather than setting civilian apparatchiks to calculate minimum force levels, we need to bring every possible resource to bear from the outset—an approach that saves blood and treasure in the long run.”

Contrary to this realism, “we are attempting to impose ever sterner restrictions on the conduct of war [on ourselves] even as our enemies … are exploring every possible means of expanding their conduct of conflicts into new realms of total war.”

Assessing Israel’s attack on Hamas in “Operation Cast Lead,” Peters writes: “After enduring years of terrorist rocket attacks from Gaza … Israel acted in self-defense. The initial cause of this three-week war was just.” “The subsequent application of heavy, but discriminate, firepower by Israel in dense urban [areas] in which Hamas employed noncombatants not only as human bombs, but as propaganda sacrifices, was also justified—but only if Israel meant business and intended to continue operations until Hamas was shattered and its senior leadership cadres had been killed or capture.” (emphasis added).

Therefore, says Peters¸ Israel’s

    “Stopping short of the campaign’s logical goals abruptly calls into question the level of destruction and civilian deaths. Collateral damage can only be executed [and justified] when the end attained is greater than the cost.” Suffice to recall the Allies’ devastation of Germany and Japan in World War II. In Gaza, however, “The paradox,” says Peters, “isn’t that Israel caused too many casualties, but that it failed to continue killing Hamas terrorists until the civilian casualties could be justified by the war’s results…. Israel betrayed its own morality by letting Hamas survive”

I agree with Peters, but I wonder: perhaps Israel’s morality has been distorted by elites that have surrendered to the cultural climate of relativism—the politically correct insanity of contemporary democracy?

May 24, 2010 | 2 Comments »

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  1. …we are attempting to impose ever sterner restrictions on the conduct of war [on ourselves] even as our enemies … are exploring every possible means of expanding their conduct of conflicts into new realms of total war…

    Thus we have the spectacle of our best soldiers being court-martialed for (allegedly) striking terrorists and making their lips bleed.

  2. the root of moral relativism is the religion of love.

    while Judaism says that mankind can attend moral and intellectual perfection by fulfilment of the commandments and by studying, the religion of love says that the commandments are a curse and that are blessed the poor in spirit.

    and indeed: look in which countries the moral relativism is at home!