Saturday, January 05, 2008

Colonised by wankers

In Saturday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link), the man who got into military history to make excuses for George W. Bush, Max Boot, argues that George W. Bush is wasting his time on the Israel-Palestine crisis because they've only been fighting since 1948 whereas the English and the Scots fought from 1296-1745 so there's still centuries to go in the former struggle.

That's really the argument:

Scotland was too small and poor to defeat England. And English monarchs lacked the resources or the will to pacify the prickly Scots. So the war ground on, century after century, interrupted occasionally by truces and treaties.

The accession of a Scottish monarch to the throne of England in 1603 as King James I might have been expected to end the strife. Yet the two realms clashed again during the English Civil War in the 1640s. The conflict did not truly end until 1745, when a revolt by mainly Scottish supporters of the Stuarts (descendants of James I), was put down -- 449 years after the start of Anglo-Scottish hostilities.

It is instructive to contemplate the virulence and length of the English struggles with the Scots (and also the similar, more recent battles with the Irish), given that their cultural and religious differences are trivial compared to those separating Israelis and Arabs. Attempts to end such conflicts before both sides are thoroughly exhausted are likely to have no more success than the Treaty of Northampton, which was supposed to end the Anglo-Scottish dispute in 1328. The only exception is if outside powers commit massive military force to bring peace, as happened in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. But that's unlikely to happen in the Holy Land.

Put aside minor issues such as the misdating of the battle of Culloden (it was 1746). What kind of historian pulls out one strand of the very complex history of the UK and argues that it's informative about the likely timeline of a current crisis? At the very least, some of the themes have to be gotten right. So for example it will come as news to many Scots that they always shared a common language and religion with their English foes -- especially the notion that kirk Presbyterianism and the Anglican Church had "trivial" differences. It will come as news to the Irish that their conflict with England came after the Scottish wars. Tell that to the people at 1169 and counting. And he somehow manages to tell a quick history of the 17th century without ever mentioning the word "Catholic".

The underlying fact is that the neocons are not at all keen about Bush's peace initiative, as half-hearted and late as it is. So it's useful to portray the conflict as irreconcilable. But there's no reason to think that some combination of security gains already achieved by Israel coupled with mitigation of the some of the major grievances of the Palestinians (e.g. settlement activity and destruction of civilian infrastructure) would get things down well below a level of violence that the neocons are quite willing to accept as par for the course in Iraq.

It's funny that Boot has the headline Of Braveheart and Bush, since Braveheart does about as a good job of actual history as Boot does.

No comments: