09. September 2006 · Comments Off on At the Point of a Gun · Categories: General, GWOT, Media Matters Not, Pajama Game, World

I know that I am leaping into this very late – after all, it was so like whatever – last weeks’ tempest du blog, the kerfuffle as regards the two journalists kidnapped at gunpoint in Gaza, and forced to win their release by being videoed avowing their conversion to the Islamic faith – at gunpoint. But I have been spending this week, buried in the 19th Century, in a snow camp in the Sierras, writing about imminent starvation, and perils that – well, to me this week, were a little more present in my mind. I’m focused on the next book, ‘kay? Being that I grew up in a world that was more than half convinced that Omigawd! the dirty Commies would rain down nuclear annihilation on us all , and now residing in one where even less-well-adjusted parties are freely brandishing a nuclear threat – well being stuck in the Sierra Nevada with dwindling food supplies and no rescue in sight seemed to have the charm of the unusual, as well as being – well, somewhat more manageable. In the 19th Century, one seems mostly to have had a little more time to consider the news cycle, as it were, and to proceed thoughtfully and deliberately down whatever paths of thought were presented to one. I am still buried in a mind-set which took a written letter a whole year to move from Monterey or Los Angeles, to the Middle West. I assure you, the 19th Century has certain discreet charms, once you adjust to a slower pace.

The resulting kerfuffle with representative opposing parties sounding forth, here (David Warren) and here (Captain Ed) seems to devolve around not so much the actual conversion, but the reluctance of the parties involved, to make clear they had been under duress, and/or denounce their treatment. Depending on whom you take sides with, it was either an understandable ruse to gain their freedom and lives – or the most horrible of capitulations, with serious of ramifications imaginable in the much-storied Seething Moslem Street – and then there are people like me, in the middle of the road, like the storied yellow stripes and dead armadillos, saying “But yes, to save their lives – but on the other hand, doesn’t that send some sort of signal – do you think? And what happens, next time – and what about -? –

Because, you see, it’s all about what you’ll give up, when someone points a gun at you. And as to what you’ll do in that circumstance, the truth of it is no one really knows what they would do. All we know is that other people have done, in some analogous situation. And some of those people have been most amazingly brave, have exhibited a degree of heroism and moral clarity that approaches – well something beyond what we have come to think of as merely human. And some people have been craven, and most of the rest of us have muddled through, and the great unifying principal of this kind of moral score-keeping is that one really never knows for sure, until one has actually faced the experience.

A story, from the Warsaw Ghetto, c1942-43: a party of German soldiers, SS or Gestapo, or whatever, amuse themselves by going into the Ghetto and make sport with the Jewish prisoners in it (and they were prisoners by the time of this story) by going to a coffee-shop next to a synagogue, rounding up the patrons and holding them at gun-point, while they ransack the synagogue and bring out the Torah. One by one and at gunpoint, they order each of the coffee-shop patrons to desecrate the Torah. One by one, each of them does: old-fashioned devout Jew, or modern and secular intellectual, young or old, each of the coffee-shop patrons does what they are bidden to do by the men who are holding guns at their heads, who have given every indication that they will shoot any Jew who refuses. Shamed, unthinking, embarrassed or otherwise, the coffee shop patrons do as they are bidden by the men who hold guns at their heads. Until they get to the one man, who is neither devout, nor intellectual – but he is modern, in that he is a notorious gangster, and has been for most of his life. A bad hat, a criminal, a dissolute menace, a frequent and enthusiastic violator of the laws of man and God – and when in his turn he is ordered to desecrate the Torah, he looks at them calmly and says, “I’ve done many things in my life – but I won’t do that.” He is immediately executed, at point-blank range. Alone of all the cafe patrons, he had an idea of what he wouldn’t do – and something innate led him to refuse, absolutely.

So, what would any of us give up at the point of a gun? Wallet, or handbag – absolutely. PIN? For sure. We’ve been told over and over, those are only things. You notify the bank and put a stop on the cards, get a replacement drivers’ license. All that stuff, sure, they can be replaced. Car keys? Jewelry ? Yeah, those too. That’s what insurance is for.

Slightly tougher question: They point a gun at you and say – “Give us the kid.” Or maybe “I’m taking the woman.” Or maybe, if you are a women, the person with the gun ties your hands and says “Don’t make a fuss.” Do you give them the kid, or the woman, or come along without making a fuss?

Now, the big question: what intangibles would you give up, under threat of violence, civil, nuclear or whatever?

We’ve already seen how swiftly most of our legacy media, newspapers and television stations quickly redefined intellectual freedom, in the wake of the Affair of the Danish Cartoons. The swiftness with which they capitulated to threats of violence if the cartoons were published , after decades of posing as fearless champions of the public’s right to know at any price was revealing. And cause for some dismay, for we are left to wonder what other concessions might be extorted in future by a nuclear threat – and that some of our most cherished traditions, principals, laws and allies would be yielded up with dispiriting speed by those whom we had expected to show a little more spine.

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