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2nd August 2006 | Draft

Proportionate Response in the Eye of the Beholder

Educational fables for faith-based global governance (#57)

- / -

Exemplary fables of proportionate response
-- Religious
-- Culture
-- Animal folk tales
-- Authority vs Social unrest
-- Institutionalized environments
-- Community / Neighbourhood environments
-- Interpersonal relationships
-- Resource requirements
-- Governance
-- Wildlife
-- Eugenics
Challenge for the beholder
Acclaimed disproportionality
Reframing proportionate response
Certification of disproportionality
Contemporary reformalization of ritual "human sacrifice"
Proportionate response, degrees of complicity and collateral damage
Proportionate response vs Proportional responsibility
Challenge of existential maturity and sense of identity
Proportionate response from other perspectives


The issue of "disproportionality" figured prominently in assessments of the response of Israel to actions of Hezbollah in July-August 2006 [more]. Disproportionaltiy may be understood in a variety of ways -- conditioned by learnings in many settings concerning what is fair and appropriate.

The challenge of such situations is highlighted by Eben Kaplan (Targeted Killings, Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, 2 March 2006) noting:

Two customary principles of the Law of Armed Conflict, which is derived from international law, also apply to targeted killings: distinction and proportionality. Distinction requires combatants 'distinguish between combatants and non-combatants,' [Gary] Solis says, while proportionality is the principle stipulating the 'destruction of civilian property must be proportional to the military advantage gained.' These principles are intended to limit collateral damage, but targeted killings involving unreliable intelligence or the remote firing of missiles are at a greater risk of causing collateral damage.

The purpose of the following set of exemplary tales is to illustrate appropriately proportionate response in a global society subject to the high principles of faith-based governance. The various tales have been tentatively clustered for convenience. Where the tales are well-known, or reference can be made to other sources, only indicative elements are included with the link.

Exemplary fables of proportionate response

Religious fables of proportionate response

Many religions are very helpful in framing the nature of proportionate response, especially in response to any condition that can be framed as demonically engendered. Under such circumstances no compromise is justified and any measure to constrain or disable the demonic opponent, or one inspired by evil intent, is justified in the service of the highest values. The challenge is to ensure that the opponent is effectively demonized -- an evidence-based process that is the reverse of faith-based exorcism.

Of particular interest are fables and parables ilustrative of (dis)proportionality of response. A notable example would be certain tales of Mullah Nasruddin [more]. Many religions place high value on such tales as a source of inspiration.

Cultural fables of proportionate response

In the light of religious principles and insights, efforts have been applied to ensuring that these principles are appropriately reflected in the cultural environment, especially in any form of iconography:

Animal folk tales of proportionate response

Many traditional folk (teaching) stories, about relationships between animals of different species, focus on the seeming disproportionality of their characteristics and the nature of an appropriate response. Such animal fables may be considered the most formative of understandings of proportionality. The role of fables has been well clarified by Rudyard Kipling (Just So Stories, 1902; The Jungle Book, 1894) in a poem that commences:

When all the world would keep a matter hid,
Since Truth is seldom Friend to any crowd,
Men write in Fable, as old Aesop did,
Jesting at that which none will name aloud...

(The Fabulists)

Examples of fabulists, and sets of relevant fables

Authority vs Social unrest in fables of proportionate response

A key arena for proportionate response by authorities is in the process of dealing with any challenge to their authority. Throughout history, a range of responses have been considered proportionate by the dominant culture:

Institutionalized environments and proportionate response

These offer a variety of formalizations of the relationship between an authority structure responsible for the institution and the incumbents (who may react against their institutionalization in a number of ways that invite a duly considered proportionate response, whether by the responsible authority or by those to whom they delegate power):

In each such setting, the response of newcomers (and of those who have not fully understood the cohesive spirit of the institutionalized environment) may be experienced as irritants on the part of those lacking appropriate respect and an awareness of their place in the social system. The response of those who embody these values is then necessarily to be understood as proportionate to such irritation and the threat it constitutes to the viability of the institution.

Community / Neighbourhood environments and proportionate response

As with institutionalized environments, communities and neighbourhoods are social systems whose coherence and viability may be disrupted by those who fail to adopt patterns of behaviour consistent with those systems. Remedial measures therefore need to be understood as proportionate in their response:

Interpersonal relationships and proportionate response

It is with respect to such relationships that there is the greatest understanding of proportionality in response to a variety of familiar situations:.

Resource requirements and proportionate response

The nature of proportionate response is well-illustrated in the case of use of limited resources, especially in the event of crises of various kinds:

Typically, when assistance is provided, its provision is proportionate to the media coverage that it can engender, notably in relation to the electorate of the country or to the voting capacity of the country in international decision-making bodies.

Governance and proportionate response

Response to issues is justly prioritized in terms of the proportion of the electorate supporting such a response, whether directly or indirectly. Democratic governance could therefore be usefully understood as responding to issues in proportion to their visibility as a consequence of the reframing of their seriousness or urgency by government through news management -- or by suppression of information for reasons of national security. Aid, notably military aid, may be provided to one country in preference to another as a proportionate response.

As an example, Israel (23rd country on the global development index) has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance from the USA since 1976, and is the largest recipient of USA aid in total since World War II -- amounting to over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance from the USA each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget of the USA, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. Additionally, Israel also received $2.2 billion of military aid in 2005.[more | more | more]

Wildlife and proportionate response

Proportionate response is well-illustrated in communities interacting with wildlife. Some animals may be defined as dangerous -- tigers (India), bears (Alaska), wolves (parts of Europe), snakes (Africa), sharks (Australia), etc. The challenge is to determine whether all such animals in the region should be killed (if it is possible), or whether resources should be allocated in proportion to the challenge, or whether people should accept the danger and act with greater vigilance. Variants of all these policies are adopted. Efforts are even made to avoid excessive slaughter of wildlife, even when that is technically possible, in order to benefit from their function in natural ecosystems. Clearly the death of a person from any such animal may focus attention on the desirability of the elimination of the entire species; the killing of sheep may raise questions about tolerating (or reintroducing) predators in the area. In the case of some insect species (mosquitoes, locusts) there may be no compunction about endeavouring to eliminate the whole species. In the case of virus, successful elimination may lead to the need to preserve live specimens in special laboratories (eg smallpox) in case they have any further function.

Curiously children and teenagers are now recognized as having a tendency to "go wild" and are in fact described as "feral" (notably in Australia). Other forms of marginalization are evident in society, notably associated with criminality. Despite calls by their victims for their total elimination -- as with the victims of wild animals -- this measure is not considered proportionate.

Eugenics and proportionate response

As a policy of social improvement, eugenics offers many insights into proportionate response to those who do not meet selected criteria -- genetic selection. It has been applied to the seriously handicapped, possibly associated with a progressive elimination of part of the population (notably indigenous peoples). In the past, almost all non-Catholic western nations adopted some eugenics legislation, mainly focused on forced sterilization. It is then useful to consider the proposals for the "rooting out" of "terrorists" in the light of past and present thinking with regard to eugenics. Framing them as representative of a dangerous behavioural characteristic in society, it is clear that eugenics offers arguments for the destruction of such people when it is impossible to re-educate them -- a process of "memetic selection"? One of the challenges of this approach, as a proportionate response, is the rate at which prisons are being filled with people convicted of violent crimes (which they are likely to repeat on release) and the question of whether a policy of eugenics should be applied in some way to their "elimination" from humanity. The number of people killed by criminals tends to exceed by far the number killed by "terrorists".

How evil can the other be framed to be
in order to provide a scale that enhances any measure of one's worth
in righteously overcoming that evil by whatever means?

Challenge for the beholder

Proportionality of response is a challenge of perception -- especially in the case of "terrorism". This is highlighted by the remarks of a former editor of one of the most prominent right-wing newspapers in the UK, Peregrine Worsthorne, writing in a newspaper of a quite contrasting perspective (War psychosis in the Middle East, The Guardian, 25 July 2006):

In the midst of the third world war psychosis being whipped up over Lebanon by the American right, I cannot help recalling those pictures a year ago of the suicide bombers at King's Cross station looking so serene and happy, without a care in the world - the world from which they were about to depart.

Ever since a doubt has nagged my mind that the description "terrorist" may not do them justice. For the expression on their faces was not in the least diabolical, but rather innocent and happy, confident they were about God's business. No, I am not gratuitously seeking to excuse or justify their actions, but to encourage a true evaluation of the kind of enemy we are about to fight a third world war against: not so much monsters bent on evil, as religious fanatics bent on good.

Tragically, in the feverish mobilisation of opinion which a war psychosis requires, the possibility that freedom and democracy are not the only uplifting causes for which good men can be inspired to kill and die tends to get overlooked. What the west is in danger of doing, I fear, is to exaggerate grotesquely the physical challenge of terrorism - so as to whip up a war psychosis - and greatly to minimise the spiritual challenge. For God may not be on the side of freedom and democracy as much as Senator Gingrich, glibly assuming a third world war -- a truly evil thing to do -- likes to assume. (emphasis added)

Making for differences of perception, and failure to agree on proportionality, are:

As an extreme example, under what circumstances can terrorism or ethnic cleansing be considered to be proportionate responses -- by those advocating them? More generally, what responses considered proportionate by some are rejected as disproportionate by others -- and why? When is disproportionate response appropriate?

Acclaimed disproportionality

Two extremes of disproportional response are acclaimed in military strategy, as illustrated by the following examples:

Reframing proportionate response

Despite claims and counter-claims regarding the proportionality of response in particular situations, the clearest guideline credible to faith-based governance is that associated with retributive justice, epitomized by "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (as noted above). This offers relatively little guidance on the nature of a disproportionate response and how it is to be recognized. There is as yet no Universal Declaration of Proportional Response -- a possibility rendered highly problematic by the well-documented difficulty in defining "aggression".

Possible clues to richer understanding of proportionality are offered by:

The reconciliation of quantitative and qualitative approaches to proportionality is significantly explored in the aesthetics of design -- exemplified by the so-called "divine proportion" of the golden mean as the cross-cultural epitome of good proportion. In reflecting on retributive justice and the issues highlighted by the debate on proportionate sentencing, there is a case for exploring the possible implications of the golden mean -- justice as the golden mean. Two extremes then suggest themselves as alternatives to "an eye for an eye":

The apparent naivety of such an approach is "reframed" by the following considerations in reaching agreement on Y, namely how to discount (making allowances) or the need to make an example

In this sense a proportionate response is then "framed" by the proportions of the golden mean, where the responder either accepts restraint to the relative advantage of the offender, or else the responder opts for exaggerating the response to make an example of the offender. This approach has the advantage of framing a proportionate response in ways that highlight the dangers of excessive restraint or of an exaggerated response.

An alternative approach -- reflecting views expressed by John Bolton (US Ambassador to the UN), is that there is no moral equivalence between Israeli and Lebanese civilian deaths [more] -- is to explore the approach advocated by Alan Dershowitz ('Civilian Casualty'? It Depends -- those who support terrorists are not entirely innocent. Los Angeles Times, 30 July 2006) in weighting the numbers according to how "civilian" the civilians really were, ie, how complicit with Hezbollah.(cf Gideon Lichfield, Six degrees of civilianality, Foreign Policy, 24 July 2006). Unfortunately, this argument completely fails to take account of the extent of Israeli "civilian" formal involvement in the Israeli Defence Force as reservists (male or female) -- illustrated by a common joke concerning civilians as soldiers on 11-month furlough.

Certification of disproportionality

There is clearly a degree of acceptance of disproportionality. There is a case for investigating the possibility of providing greater objectivity to processes characterized by disproportionality -- as suggested by two other domains:

In the light of these examples, it is possible to envisage a system of:

These three types of credit might be fruitfully understood as specific cases of a more generic framing of disproportionality and its management.

Such a process could be enhanced by insights from three quite distinct areas:

Of particular interest is how to understand the "entitlements" that are held to justify long-term resentments and any associated conflict. Over what period should Europeans be called upon to compensate for slavery and colonial massacres? Over what period should Europeans be called upon to make allowances arising from their history of anti-semitism? How are such "accounts" managed when extensive efforts at reparations and compensation are made? To what extent is "aid" to be considered as a form of reparation? At what rate should past moral debts be discounted? Is there any relevant statute of limitations restricting the period over which claims to disproportionality can be made -- or are some debts considered to be eternal?

What then is proportionate response?

Contemporary reformalization of ritual "human sacrifice"

New understandings of the widespread traditional practice of human sacrifice, especially as a means of placating divinity under past regimes of faith-based governance, may provide a way of reframing disproportionate response. A prime example is human sacrifice in Aztec culture in which 84,400 were sacrificed over the course of four days in 1487.

The following phenomena may be understood as modern variants of human sacrifice:

Most of the above are undertaken with some form of religious support.

Despite disclaimers by the EU (EU denies giving Israel green light, 27 July 2006), the conclusions of the Rome conference of 26 July 2006 regarding the Israel-Lebanon crisis, may be understood as an international commitment to human sacrifice of innocents in order to allow the situation to mature to the point at which the parties involved are prepared to shift their positions.

Whereas modern civilization perceives itself to have long abandoned principles such as those that inspired Aztec sacrifices, there is every possibility that the role reversal process of enantiodromia is effectively giving credibility to such practices once again -- in the name of "universal values" rather than Aztec gods. In confirmation of this, it has been recognized that the 20th century was the bloodiest in the history of humanity. Faith-based policies have done as much to exacerbate this trend as to dampen it.

Ritual sacrifice in centuries past, and notably in the Roman Empire, was an explicit feature of decision-making -- formally ministered by a priesthood. Curiously modern decision-making may be said to follow a similar pattern. Concrete decisions of governance are not actually taken until a sufficient sacrifice of human life has been made -- in order to ensure an auspicious outcome. Avoidance of a concrete decision on 27 July could be considered a deliberate anticipation of a propitious sacrifice -- in this case the slaughter, mainly of children, at Qana on 30 July 2006 -- enabling the decision-making process could evolve. Christian faith-based governance played the primary role in delaying decision-making until after an appropriate sacrifice had been made -- as could be said to be the case with respect to other massacres of this era.

Curiously Qana (or Cana) is recognized as the Biblical site where Jesus is reported (John 2:1) to have turned water into wine at a wedding -- his first miracle. Wine subsequently became a key element of the sacrifical symbolism in the Christian Mass -- notably through its symbolic conversion into blood by transusbstantiation. An earlier massacre was perpetrated there under similar circumstances in 1996 -- and with similar explanations by Israel. Given the Judeo-Christian myths and "end times" prophecies which govern some underlying religious agendas in that region, conspiracy theorists may well suspect that the slaughter at Qana is best understood as an effort by some at a perverted emulation of a Mass -- namely a form of Black Mass, or a "christening" of the Israelis' new "Qana-missile" (or is it the USA's)?

Proportionate response, degrees of complicity and collateral damage

"Collateral damage", involving death of innocents, may be usefully understood as a form of human sacrifice. The proportionality of response is partially determined by definition of the boundaries of complicity that clarify the acceptability of such collateral damage.

Three extremes can be compared:

In all these cases the action is considered to be a proportionate response. In each case an emphasis may be placed on the "precision" of the targetting. If death of civilians is to be considered a measure of lack of precision, then in the Israel-Lebanon case further questions need to be asked regarding the contrast between "indiscriminate" rocket attacks by Hezbollah (resulting in only 19 Israeli civilian deaths) and the "precision" bombing attacks by Israel (resulting in 345 Lebanese civilian deaths) [figures of 22 July 2006]. This gives a ratio of 1 to 18 -- far in excess of the golden mean as presented above.

Definitional game-playing: "Precision targetting" with "Cluster bombs" ?
The U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center indicates (26 August 2006) that there are over 285 unexploded cluster bomb locations across south Lebanon -- some 100,000 unexploded bomblets. Some 30 locations are being discovered each day. Many are in civilian areas, on farmland and in people's homes -- at the entrances to houses, on balconies and roofs. Investigations have commenced into Israel's use of these American-made cluster bombs and whether their use violated secret agreements with the USA [ Reuters Guardian]

With regard to complicity there is a further dimension associated with how it is proven and to whom. Issues here are:

The difficulty in the Israel-Lebanon conflict is that the only proof that Hezbollah is using civilians as human shields is that provided in assertions by Israelis -- who would naturally resist providing verifiable factual confirmation on the grounds of military security. Indeed they would consider that they had no obligation to provide such proof. This assertion then provides the military with the justification (notably to the Israeli population) to take any action they please. Any inappropriate or disproportionate response is then provided with a form of "information shield" corresponding to the "human shield" that is considered so inappropriate in the case of Hezbollah. This information shield may even be used as a device "behind" which military units can undertake actions without the full authority of the political authorities. This may be how the explanation for the bombing of the UN observer post will finally be presented.

Discourse on responsibility is however acquring new twists. Every proportionately disastrous response perpetrated by Israelis in Lebanon leads to an explanation to world opinion that, whilst Israeli military action may have been the proximate cause of regrettable deaths (as presented by Israel to the UN Security Council in the case of the Qana slaughter on 30 July 2006), it is in fact Hezbollah that elicited that destructive action and is therefore more obviously to be held primarily responsible. This logic bears a curious similarity to that familar to feminists as blaming the victim -- in decoding the language of rapists (cf Why people blame the rape victim: a victim blame bibliography). Whilst regretting harm done to a woman, the rapist may even argue that it was the "evil temptress" hiding behind that feminine innocence that evoked the violent act for which he should not then be held responsible -- a "wicked temptress" that should be "rooted out" so that "men can live in peace". This familiar logic of the "evil" associated with women drives many faith-based efforts to repress women -- notably in more fundamentalist forms of both Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

For those subscribing to faith-based governance, especially Judeo-Christians, there is a special twist arising from complicity in disproportionate response as recognized in the much-cited Biblical reference to "the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the children even unto the seventh generation" (cf "The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and the fourth generation", Exodus 20:5).

The importance of this notion of seventh generation was embodied in Great Law of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy), requiring that chiefs consider the impact of their decisions on the seventh generation. Partially as a consequence, the notion has more recently been echoed in environmental proposals (cf Our Responsibility to The Seventh Generation: Indigenous Peoples and Sustainable Development, International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, 1992)

Proportionate response vs Proportional responsibility

The notion of "proportionate response" implies a notion of "proportional responsibility" although the two are not typically associated. Of particular interest is the relationship between:

The irony is variously illustrated by the following cases regarding the focus of "responsibility" (placed in a more systematic context in the table below) :

Responsibility: indicative constraints
(situations will vary from country to country, and by community)

Impact is indicated on the right in terms of Pers(onal), Comm(unity), Cumul(ative) and Persist(ent)
NB: Some products below are included primarily for comparative purposes


Patent /
Manufacture Supply /



(hate, blasph.)
None None Tolerated
None Some None Some Some Comm. Cumul.
(incl. spam)
None None Tolerated
None Some None Some Some Pers. Cumul
None None Yes None Some Yes None Some Pers.+ Cumul
None None Yes Some Some Yes None Some Pers.+ Cumul
None None None
Some Some ? None Some Pers. ?
None None Yes Some
Some Yes Some Some Pers. Cumul
Hard (illegal)
None None Yes Yes Yes None Some Some Pers.+ Cumul
None None ? None Some ? None Some Pers. ?
(garden, agriculture)
None None Some Some None Yes None None Comm. Cumul
clubs, etc
None None Tolerated None None Yes Some Some Pers.+ ?
arms, handguns
None None Tolerated None None Yes Some Some Pers.+ ?
None None Some None None Yes Some Some Comm. ?
Explosives None None Some Some
Some Some Some Some Comm. ?
landmines, etc
None None Some None None Yes Some Yes Comm.+ Comm.?
Thermobaric weapons None None Some Some Some ? Some Yes Comm.+ ?
Biochemical weapons None None Some Some Some None Yes Yes Comm.+ Persist.
Nuclear weapons None None Some Yes Some None Yes Yes Comm.+ Persist.

The above table makes it clear that, in terms of any sense of "responsibility" with respect to products variously perceived as problematic:

With respect to "proportional responsibility", given the sequence of parties (ie the columns of the above table) effectively complicit in ensuring final use, the employment of descriptors such as "Israeli" warplanes (to refer to F-16s or Apache helicopters) then becomes a cynical exercise in definitional game-playing and denial of responsibility. As noted earlier, such questions of degrees of complicity have been usefully raised by Alan Dershowitz ('Civilian Casualty'? It Depends -- those who support terrorists are not entirely innocent. Los Angeles Times, 30 July 2006) with regard to Lebanese "civilians" -- although such logic also applies to weaponry. Again, as mentioned earlier, it is unfortunate that Dershowitz's argument fails to recognize the degree of complicity of the average Israeli citizen in the military -- most working-age adults are reservists, and many beyond working-age have had military training and could be called up under exceptional circumstances.

As argued in debates on gun control (notably in relation to school shooting massacres in the USA), responsibility does not only lie with the owner or user of a potentially harmful product. This is especially the case with the Apache helicopter, for example, where spare parts and munitions may be continually supplied under provision of a commercial contract governing the period of use of the equipment (cf Made in the UK, bringing devastation to Lebanon: the British parts in Israel's deadly attack helicopters, The Guardian, 29 July 2006). In this instance the Apache helicopter may be as much a "USA" or "UK" warplane -- with many as effective "shareholders" in responsibility for use of such lethal devices.

For the Apache tribe, however, with its quite different understanding of property ownership and responsibility for its use, employing its name in this instance could be understood to be especially questionable, and an exemplification of the cultural violence done to that people.

Challenge of existential maturity and sense of identity

The capacity to accept apparently unfavourable responses as appropriate, or proportional, is a measure of maturity -- especially in a highly asymmetric situation. Examples include:

Any subjective judgement of proportionate response is to a high degree conditioned by a sense of self-esteem associated with one or more of the above -- as it relates to identity. However, research (Roy F. Baumeister et al., Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth, Scientific American, 20 December 2004; Nicholas Emler, Self-esteem: the costs and causes of low self-worth, 2005) has shown that boosting self-esteem is of itself of little value in preventing undesirable behaviour -- namely responses to situations that could be described as disproportionate.

At issue is the context in which any sense of fairness is established and what then is considered proportionate response to situations assessed as unfair. The particular challenge in conflicts relating to territory is the manner in which individual or collective identity is intimately bound up with land and ancestral bonds to the spirit of a place -- irrespective of any modern legalistic concepts of ownership. This is especially striking for some faith-imbued peoples (eg Muslims or Jews) and for many indigenous peoples (eg Australian Aborigenes). A proportionate response may then be understood to be one of "doing what it takes" -- under perceived threat -- to sustain a sense of identity. Unfortunately little attention is given to this psycho-spiritual dimension -- one that is beyond comprehension within concepts of ownership defined by law but which may be fundamental to the formative myths conditioning the relationship of peoples in conflict (cf . Darrell A. Posey (Editor). Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, 1999).

From such a perspective, efforts to resolve the conflicts between Israelis and Hezbollah (or Palestinians) according to essentially "superficial" terms, meaningful in international law, offer relatively little prospect of long-term viability. Ironically the right-wing Judeo-Christian mythology driving American foreign policy in the Middle East is similarly dissociated from the legal instruments through which it manipulates such conflicts. The question is what else is open to such peoples in order to sustain their sense of identity and destiny -- if it is understood to be intimately bound to the land?

What is most extraordinary in the Israel-Lebanon crisis is the manner in which it is reframed by the Israelis to preclude any response by them whatsoever -- other than a violent one. Despite their uncontested brilliance as a people, the Israelis trap themselves in a belief that they must necessarily respond in the same language as those who do violence against them -- thus playing into the hands of their opponents and demonstrating an immaturity that dishonours them. As declared by policy scientist Geoffrey Vickers: "A trap is a function of the nature of the trapped." (Freedom in a Rocking Boat: Changing values in an unstable society, 1972).

Despite their recognized creativity, Israelis are reported as being unable to imagine any other option -- for fear of "being driven into the sea". Like an elephant stampeded by a wasp? When the situation is later analyzed, will the Israeli leadership be recognized to have succumbed to groupthink -- a combination of "intelligence failure" and "failure of imagination" -- as with the manipulated panic in response to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction ? (cf Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Pre-War Assessments on Iraq, 9 July 2004; Lord Butler's Review of Intelligence of Weapons of Mass Destruction, 13 July 2004; David Leventhal Bush's groupthink caused failure of imagination, 11 September 2004).

[Addendum of 11 August: Despite repeated predictions during July and August 2006 by Israeli political and military authorities, regarding the speed with which they would achieve victory over Hezbollah, they have been suprised to discover (despite the renowned intelligence capacity of Israelis) the capacity of Hezbollah in terms of morale, tactics and sophisticated weaponry (obtained from permanent members of the UN Security Council) which have effectively neutralized Israel's military capacity and made complete victory difficult to achieve. [more]]

As a consequence of such fears, when the whole of the Middle East has been laid to waste by the unmatched Israeli military power, what is the story that Israelis will tell their children -- to help them understand proportionate response, perhaps when the neighbour's kid's ball breaks a window or kills the cat?

Proportionate response from other perspectives

It is clear that agreement on what constitutes proportional response will remain a matter of debate for the foreseeable future. Claims and counter-claims will continue to be made with the greatest of moral authority in the service of particular interests. Four perspectives may bring further dimensions to the debate:


In a commentary referencing a range of recent military analyses of the use of force, Richard Norton-Taylor (The Futility of Force, The Guardian, 1 August 2006) notes that senior army officers have begun to accept that military power might never win a war again. Specifically he remarks:

Israel is learning a lesson that the armies of other countries, including the US, have already grasped. Military force can no longer guarantee victory, certainly not in the conflict Israel and its western allies say they are engaged in -- the "war on terror", as the Bush White House calls it, or the "long war", as the Pentagon now prefers.

The questions raised here focus on the extent to which disproportionality of response lies in the eye of the beholder. Curiously a similar point is made with respect to recognition of aesthetic proportion -- namely "beauty lies in the eye of the beholder".

This exploration has been placed under the heading of "fables". Each interprets any so-called "facts" to enhance the "aesthetic" quality of a story. Whilst this may be an acceptable response to a dramatization unrelated to reality, it is entirely irresponsible when real people are sacrificed to make a good story -- somewhat as was the Roman practice with regard to the games in the Colosseum. It is even more repugnant when that story is designed to serve the covert agendas of faith-based governance. The role reversal process of enantiodromia would appear to exhort humanity to deeper understanding when it is now Christians who are demonstrating their capacity to support the sacrifice of innocents in service of their agenda -- and when "terrorism" is evoked as a primary threat by a people who have themselves been falsely, and tragically, promoted as a threat.

Public opinion, manipulated by news management ("spin") and propaganda, plays a major role in framing conflictual relations between states and cultures. It provides the fundamental legitimation for the use of lethal missiles. In a world where missile warfare is intimately sustained by information warfare, there is a case for exploring new (and more civilized) forms of information warfare that may contribute to reframing understanding of a conflict. This is the potential of memetic warfare in relation to belief systems (cf Missiles, Missives, Missions and Memetic Warfare, 2001).

Little is to be lost by experimenting with "bombarding" opponents with parables and fables potentialy capable of simultaneously destroying cognitive infrastructure and shelters (and recreating them) -- destroying cognitive bridges and building them anew -- repositioning existential bonds in a more integrative manner. Such was the traditional role of fables embodying cultural wisdom -- comprehensible to all at many levels. It is these "memetic weapons" that could be deployed -- at least in a parallel, more intriguing, and less physically lethal, battle. In principle, use of such memetic devices would be more consistent with faith-based governance.

What are the key fables that each protagonist would select in endeavouring to wrestle the other to the cognitive ground -- as the "sumo wrestlers" and "martial artists" of inter-faith dialogue? Could such fables mark the "stations" in the dynamic of existential cycles of violence? What are the "mything links" -- in the pattern that connects?

Those who live by their own understanding of proportionate response
are liable to die by a response considered proportionate by others


David Anderson. Literature of Human-Animal Studies [text]

Karen Armstrong. A Short History of Myth, 2005 [text]

Anthony Judge:

Darrell A. Posey (Editor). Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity: a complementary contribution to Global Biodiversity Assessment, Intermediate Technology, 1999 (for the United Nations Environment Programme)

Gary Solis. Proportionality: A History. Paper for the New York Military Affairs Society, 2002.

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