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Thursday, December 23, 2004

The making of the enemy.

“The question of the qualification of the enemy is at the heart of the modern law of war. Without a doubt, since antiquity one has distinguished the private enemy (inimicus) from the public enemy (hostis), and that last from the brigand and the criminal. The distinctions were taken up by theoreticians of the rights of man in the 18th century. The question, thus posed, is not only who is one’s enemy, but what type of enemy one is dealing with.”

LI is a sucker for the magisterial opening line – and these lines by Michel Senellart are nothing if not magisterial. They introduce an article, “The Qualification of the enemy in Emer de Vattel” in the July Astérion, which devoted an issue to the civilizing of warfare in the eighteenth century.

“I want to examine, in this article, the way in which the division between a combattant force and a non-combattant population was established in the law of modern war, and what consequences ensued. This distinction, as we know, is the foundation of the laws of war formulated for the first time by the Brussels conference in 1874 and then that of the Hague in 1899 and 1907, with the view of “serving the interests of humanity and the progressive demands of civilisation.” It cannot be separated from another distinction, the object of bitter controversies, between legitimate and illegitimate combattants. It is in the work of jurisconsul Emer de Vattel (1714-1767), author of a celebrated treatise on human rights (droit des gens), that their articulation appeared most clearly. However, it gave rise to two opposed readings, the conflict between which manifested the tensions inherent in the modern law of war.”

A timely enterprise, this, given that inimicus and hostis are so inextricably mixed up in Iraq. An unintentionally hilarious article by the Washington Post’s Josh White, yesterday, explained that Americans in Samarra are facing a ‘wall of silence” erected by the inhabitants, who are refusing to finger insurgents. Shades of the Viet Cong terrorizing villagers and bogging down the goodhearted American effort – White begins with the ritualized search of a quarter of the town:

“SAMARRA, Iraq, Dec. 22 -- The soldiers kicked the wooden doors open and swarmed through the houses, rolling up rugs, looking through cabinets, searching boxes, pushing aside couches. Within minutes, they had lined up the Iraqi men they had found inside. The men were taken outside and made to squat in the late-night darkness, their breath streaming out in faint, wispy clouds as their hands pushed flat against a concrete wall.”

He then moves on to the wall of silence problem, which he attributes solely to the vicious enemy:
“The Sunday night raid was what soldiers here call a "dry hole." They received an intelligence tip, and it led to nothing. They broke down doors and interrogated people who appeared to have no connection to the war the United States is waging. The soldiers paid the families in U.S. dollars for the broken door jambs and the splintered cabinet doors that hung askew.
The frustrating dead end was a symptom of what officers here agree is a virtual intelligence meltdown in Samarra, a city 65 miles north of Baghdad in the Sunni Triangle, an area where the insurgency runs deep. Rebels have intimidated the local population, launching attacks from neighborhoods where residents now fear the consequences of helping the American occupiers.”
One of the deep structural factors in racism is the unwillingness to recognize the Other’s imagination even to the degree of recognizing the other’s humiliation by the culture of violence and subordination visited upon him beyond the Pavlovian exterior marks that come with electroshock and reward. Sense, in the Other, doesn’t develop into sensibility. That the Samarran men might resent having to squat uncomfortably while American kids, basically, search their houses (exposing those houses to, among other things, theft) simply never occurs to White. Just as, in Jim Crow days, the segregationist White made up for stealing the civil rights of the adult Black by making a cult of the cuteness of black kids, so, too, White’s story ends, predictably, with the Samarran children who witnessed the humiliation of their parents being given treats by the soldiers:
“Schacht, the battalion commander, said the campaign to win the Iraqi people over -- one that is proving more successful with the children here, who are plied with candy and soccer balls -- is moving slowly. The lack of cooperation among residents is making his job tougher, he said.”
Vattel, according to Senellart, “marks a progress from Grotius” insofar as his forumulation of the rules of war – a formulation that amounts to, in some ways, a distribution of roles, a dramaturgy in which the enemy and the citizen are sorted out – depends not on morality, but “from his conception of war as a inter-state relationship. He thus ties the spirit of humanity to the historic process of the centralisation of power.”

Vattel’s epistemic procedure is obviously contoured by the 18th century context of a modified monarchial power. In fact – and this is LI, not Senellart -- that context hasn’t changed that much – foreign policy in republics is still the province of monarchial governance, since it is rare that the constituency-building necessary to create democratic governance will emerge in the rarified atmosphere of foreign policy discussion.
Senellart pushes his discussion of the readings of Vattel (which are characteristically polarized between a normative version that goes through Bluntschli, and a “decisionist’ version that goes through Schmidt) to another division – between the power of the state and the power of the people, between the state’s organisation of war and the insurrection.

Read the essay.

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