Friday, June 8, 2012

We Are All Positive Barbarians Now

Norsemen Landing in Iceland

The IEEE has a good article questioning the wisdom of the US deploying cyberweapons like the Flame virus.  The main rationalizations seem to be
  • we really don't like the people against whom we use them, and 
  • no one is able to stop us.
Such a position is indistinguishable from "might makes right," an idea that has appealed to nations through the ages when they believed themselves to be the mightiest.  

We can do better than that.  The concept of America has always been about more than just the narrow interests of the US citizens currently alive, or even the interests of future generations; it has also included a belief that the really important differences between people are not the country or caste into which they are born, but what they make of themselves through their choices.

In contrast with that is an attitude that Chesterton identified in The Barbarism of Berlin as that of a barbarian:
There is another idea in human arrangements so fundamental as to be forgotten; but now for the first time denied. It may be called the idea of reciprocity; or, in better English, of give and take. The Prussian appears to be quite intellectually incapable of this thought. He cannot, I think, conceive the idea that is the foundation of all comedy; that, in the eyes of the other man, he is only the other man. And if we carry this clue through the institutions of Prussianised Germany, we shall find how curiously his mind has been limited in the matter. The German differs from other patriots in the inability to understand patriotism. Other European peoples pity the Poles or the Welsh for their violated borders; but Germans only pity themselves. They might take forcible possession of the Severn or the Danube, of the Thames or the Tiber, of the Garry or the Garonne--and they would still be singing sadly about how fast and true stands the watch on Rhine; and what a shame it would be if anyone took their own little river away from them. That is what I mean by not being reciprocal: and you will find it in all that they do: as in all that is done by savages.

So if we are going to engage in cyberwarfare, we cannot call it cyberterrorism if the same weapons are turned against us -- unless we are barbarians, which requires turning our backs on the founding and sustaining principles of this country.

Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the case, and not just in a cyberwarfare context.  When the US captures and holds a foreign national without trial, we say he is "detained", as if he has been held up by traffic.  When a foreign nation does the same thing to a US national, he is said to be a "hostage".  When the US bombed bridges in Serbia, we were told that these were legitimate military targets; at the same time, we were told that a watch was being kept on certain US bridges, lest Serbians bomb them in an act of terrorism.

It would be naive to believe that refusing to engage in cyberwarfare would prevent others from using computer viruses to attack us.  It might be a little easier to get treaty cooperation discouraging such actions if we were not already engaged in them, but treaties and other social pressure might be of limited effectiveness in containing untraceable attacks.  Still, we can no longer howl about how unfair such attacks are when we are on the receiving end.

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