Looks like Trump is at it again.
Half the country is protesting his latest executive order. The other half is sitting back and saying, “Keep it up! Don’t listen to those damned liberal punks!”
There is a larger issue in all this, no matter whether Trump’s latest move is brilliant or stupid. Arnaud Amalric said it best back in 1209:
Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.
You’ve never heard that quote? Of course, you have – translated into English:
Kill them all and let God sort them out.
I first saw the quote on a T-shirt during the Viet Nam era. It was quite popular with a certain part of the population, especially in a war where the “enemy” and “the ones we went to save” were so inextricably intermixed. I later heard it attributed to Oliver Cromwell, and it did sound just like him. I finally tracked the first appearance to Amalric in 1209, but really, it is a universal sentiment.
You might even say that this is the real purpose of war. You can’t just shoot the German down the street, but call him a name, put him in a category, define him as the enemy, and you can shoot an anonymous Kraut.
If you are on the line, rifle in hand, facing a matching line of the enemy, how do you know which of those men deserve to die and which ones do not. You don’t. You can’t. And even if you could, you couldn’t do anything about it.
If you were on a jury, deciding the guilt or innocence of a man accused of murder, careful judgment would be your primary duty. But in war, it’s a case of, “Kill them all and let God sort them out.” It doesn’t matter if you are a trained and committed Seal or a kid six weeks out of high school, barely trained, lost and confused, drafted, and praying to be anywhere else than in line of battle – the moment requires that you kill, and leave the question of justice in other hands.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t just work that way in war. It works that way in everyday life, as well. It certainly works that way in politics.
When you see a real problem – a true evil – you want to root it out. It is a noble impulse. You want to stop evil before it can act. Of course, you do. We all do. But how?
Pass a law, make a rule, change a procedure. and apply it to the “bad guys”. But who are the bad guys? If they have committed a crime, there are plenty of laws already on the books to deal with them. But if you are trying to keep a crime from being committed . . .
To stop evil before it strikes, you have to act on the groups that harbor the bad guys. (And if you don’t hear the tongue-in-cheek in that sentence, you aren’t listening very hard.)
If you are afraid of Syrian terrorists, ban all Syrians. That’s the Trump version. If some innocent Syrians get hurt, it’s not our problem – he says. He doesn’t say, “Ban them all, let God sort them out.” But it comes to the same thing.
Liberals aren’t any better. They just apply Amalric’s rule to different problems. They say, “We must keep guns out of the hands of crazies.” Okay, who’s crazy? Who decides? Try to implement a preemptive law based on mental health as a criterion, and who would we ban? Psychotics? The delusional? Patients under treatment for depression? Adults from abusive childhoods, working through their issues? No problem, just disarm them all; let God sort them out. And keep them safe.
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Actually, it might just work, (he said, slipping his tongue back into his cheek.) Since every liberal knows that Donald Trump’s supporters are crazy, that would disarm half the population. Since ever Trump follower knows that you gotta be nuts to be a liberal, that would disarm the other half.
Problem solved. Just declare all of America crazy, and let God sort us out.
The rest of the world would not disagree.
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P.S., when Amalric made his famous statement, he was leading Catholic troops against Cathars, whose interpretation of Christianity differed from the Pope’s. Amalric wrote the Pope describing the subsequent battle, “Our men spared no one, irrespective of rank, sex or age, and put to the sword almost 20,000 people. After this great slaughter the whole city was despoiled and burnt.”
Unfortunately, that takes the humor out of their situation, and ours.