Western civilian sniper heroes

If there has to be a choice between injustice and disorder, said Goethe, the German prefers injustice. Schooled in a state in which the relation of the subject to the sovereign has no basis other than obedience, he is unable to understand a state organized upon any other foundation, and when he enters one is inspired by an intense uneasiness. Comfortable only in the presence of authority, he regards the civilian sniper as something particularly sinister. To the Western mind the franc-tireur is a hero; to the German he is a heretic who threatens the existence of the state.

—Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August, (Random House), 377

The fairy-tales we raise our children with! This text prompts a number of questions: if the German mind is not a Western one, from which direction does it receive inspiration? Does Germany belong to the East? Is there a Central mind which is distinct from a Western one?

At the time Tuchman was writing the US had “advisors” in Laos and Vietnam. A few short years later there were hundreds of thousands of American soldiers rotating through duty in southeast Asia. Surely some of them must have carried Tuchman’s best-selling volume with them. Did Americans in Vietnam generally see Vietcong civilian snipers as heroes? Only those Vietcong who spoke French or Flemish?

My own mind (Western? Eastern? German?) is daily exercised by news which portrays heroic Syrian civilian snipers, diabolical Iraqi civilian snipers, and ignores Israeli military snipers who shoot Palestinian civilian children armed with loud voices. One might be tempted to argue the Palestinians should arm their civilians, however decades of experience has shown that in the Western mind Palestinian civilian snipers are by definition terrorists, not heroes. Perhaps Israeli and American television viewers need to read Barbara Tuchman.

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