Waiting for Enemies to Die

Waiting for Enemies to Die January 21, 2013

There’s an expression I’ve heard in the gay rights movement as a kind of rallying cry, “Every time you see an ambulance go by, it’s either a supporter of gay rights being born, or an opponent dying.”  I don’t cite this line to single out the gay rights movement; I think most of us feel this way when we’re in a fight.  For an example on the other side, look at the way Mark Shea used to call me and people like me ‘brownshirts.’  A brownshirt isn’t someone you negotiate with, it’s someone you neutralize.  (He’s since given up the phrase, hurrah!).  The “Every time you see an ambulance…” phrasing isn’t an exceptional sentiment, it’s just unusually pithy and happens, demographically, to be true.

It was true during the civil rights era, too.  Martin Luther King Jr. and others were changing minds, but, by drawing attention to racism at all, they were making it impossible for new generations to grow up thinking school segregation was just a fact of life — too quotidian to be controversial.  What is extraordinary about Martin Luther King is that he didn’t just want to beat the other side; he wanted them to join him, rejoicing.

Every racist that died still a racist was a loss, even if their passing helped shift the political calculus. When activists stood in front of fire hoses and endured beatings, they weren’t just making a play for the TV cameras so people could think, “How dreadful those people are.  I don’t want to be on their team any more, I want to stand with the people being beaten.”  They also hoped that the people beating them could watch that footage on the evening news and feel a sickening lurch.  They might be able to feel ashamed without feeling despair, and decide to change.

This is not an ideal I’ve lived up to.  Once, while in a personal fight with a college classmate, I kept thinking, “I just need her to lash out in public.  Then everyone will take my side.”  I didn’t want to humiliate her for the sake of having her be humiliated (mostly), but I did want her to embarrass herself in public, so that she would be powerless, and I wouldn’t have to keep making contingency plans around her temper.  It didn’t occur to me to hope that we could end up on the same side, healed and happy.

Sometimes, it can be really urgent to beat people before you convert them.  (i.e. this was probably the case in World War II, and almost certainly not the case during my college spat).  But you should choose your tactics and language carefully, so that you’ve got a good chance of winning the war for hearts and minds once the immediate threat has been addressed.  And you have to sustain the same fervor once you are personally safe, and the only people being hurt by hatred are the people hating.

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  • Alex Godofsky

    If you think there’s some instrumental value in convincing the other side that you are right (e.g. actually desegregating schools) – if you aren’t just trying to convince your opponents for their own sake – then you should feel some measure of happiness if they are converted to your side for “the wrong reasons”. Half a cake is still better than no cake.

    • I think you’re conflating “convince” or “convert” with “beat”–see Leah’s statement in the original post:

      Sometimes, it can be really urgent to beat people before you convert them. (i.e. this was probably the case in World War II, and almost certainly not the case during my college spat). But you should choose your tactics and language carefully, so that you’ve got a good chance of winning the war for hearts and minds once the immediate threat has been addressed.

      Implementing de-segregation, or freeing the slaves after the Civil War, or giving women the vote, or opposing Germany in WW II, or any of many other examples, all involved putting something into place over the objections of people who had not in the least changed their minds–violently in the case of the Civil War and WW II. It is unfortunately the case that often one has to force the issue, rather than convincing the other side to change their hearts and minds. However, when this occurs, the losers are often that much more resentful and recalcitrant, and this can have very long-term negative repercussions (e.g. the Jim Crow South after the Civil War).

      Thus, I don’t think one should be “happy” for enforcing (not convincing) your views on the other side, even in the cases where it’s necessary, because it’s usually going to cause a lot more pain and difficulty that would otherwise have been the case. And if someone is convinced for the “wrong reasons”, that’s not good, either. After all, if I later on realize that my reasoning is wrong, I may discard the view that I came to by that reasoning even if the view is “right”. We live in an imperfect world, but it’s always best to do the right thing for the right reason.

    • Goldstein Squad Member

      There is another reason it is not enough to defeat you enemies.
      It was not enough for the atheists to simply kill the Christians in the Gulags; Solzhenitsyn describes how they tried to make the Christians deny Christ before they died.
      Why would they want that? Because the atheists knew they were damned, and wanted to take the Christians with them…after all, why would it matter to the atheists if the Christians died believing or not?

      • Sagrav

        No, atheists don’t believe they are damned. Atheists don’t believe that a god exists; thus, they don’t believe in anything that can damn them.

        There was no logical “reason” for the Soviets to torture their prisoners in such a way, they were just being cruel to their victims for the sake of cruelty. That is just the nature of hate; it drives one to maximize the suffering of a hated target.

        • Goldstein Squad Member

          Yes they do. Thats the real reason they are so angry. I realized it when John Loftus inadvertently admitted it on his blog.

          Solzhenitsyn explained it quite well.

          • ACN

            No. No we don’t.

            And even if John Loftus said otherwise he isn’t the grand poobah of atheistic dogma. He speaks for himself, and potentially for anyone who agrees with him but no one more than that.

  • Mike

    Nice post; especially on the heels of the other one and its comments :). Agreed, changing hearts and minds is probably the only way to go about things today. So much of our culture is submerged in emotivism it’s a wonder people still talk about logic and reason.

    PS Suggestion for a post: How come Lance A. can confess to Oprah and he’s a bigger person for it but the sacrament of reconciliation is outdated and deluded?

  • A brownshirt isn’t someone you negotiate with, it’s someone you neutralize.

    I don’t agree with that at all. I think if you feel the tactics of a group are similar to the fear tactics used by Nazi brown shirts then is it wrong to point out that parallel? I would never say a Nazi or anyone else is beyond converting. So the goal to win hearts and minds is completely unchanged. Now what is the best way to point out the parallels? That is harder. Mark thought using the word frequently and flippantly was not the right answer. I am not completely convinced of that. There is a tendency to say we should all just be nice to each other. But there are ideas out there as dangerous as Nazi ideas. We need to express that somehow.

    • Mike

      Yeah calling someone a Browshirt is a bit off side. Then again they may be acting like one, no? Then again you would probably have to understand the historical difference between the Brownshirts and the SS, to get it w/o getting totally offended. Not that I am saying BS were polite guys; they just weren’t the SS.

      • We have a very strange relationship with the Nazi’s. They are the default example of evil. Still they are considered out of bounds when you are assessing where society could go. It is like we don’t think we are capable of evil like that. Like we have somehow advanced beyond it. Like it happened thousands of years ago in a society nothing like ours. Except it didn’t. We don’t want to contemplate the notion that if we get questions of morality wrong we can unleash another holocaust. Except we can.

        • MountainTiger

          I wouldn’t say another holocaust is impossible, just that almost nobody in modern American society is actually advocating those kinds of policies. This guy clears the Nazi analogy bar, given the way he suggests exterminating an entire class of the population:
          Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anyone else who deserves the label.

          • Iota


            Part of me refuses to believe people can say such things in public and still be called pastors, of whatever denomination. Just.. ugh.

    • Iota


      I think if you feel the tactics of a group are similar to the fear tactics used by Nazi brown shirts then is it wrong to point out that parallel?

      Personally I think it’s a very bad idea to use Nazi analogies almost anywhere and especially on the Internet.

      Nazism was a pretty horrible thing. We are still close enough to it for the words to evoke a lot of very bad connotations. Connotations of people suffocating in gas chambers, being shot for delivering a loaf of bread to a Jew in occupied Poland and so on.

      Also, significantly, lots of Westerners tend to think they were on the unquestionably good side of the Nazi-Allies conflict so Nazi analogies tap into everyone’s wish to not identify with a loathsome, obviously monstrous enemy AND seem virtuous at the same time (double win!).

      [While the War lasted it was not as simple as that – the US entered the war only after Pearl Harbour, while Nazi annexation of Europe was already underway (for 3 years) and almost no one believed early reports about the existence of death camps, plus whole swaths of Eastern Europe were handed over, after the war, to the USSR, which was an ally state during the later stage of WW II but had allied with Hitler earlier on (i,e, until 1941) and was, unquestionably, totalitarian. And there is, of course, the whole problem of the Versailles Treaty in 1919, as a consequence of which Weimar Germany was so alienated from the rest of Europe that it became fertile ground for totalitarian sympathizers. For bonus points you can also stop to consider the fact that some people, at least prior to 1939, actually supported Hitler on the assumption he’s going to fight “the evil communists”, so Europe needs him.]

      This is why I think almost all analogies to Nazis are mostly a substitute for actually thinking, a kind of “instant emotional outrage” pill, popped so we don’t have to think about how complicated this stuff actually gets in real life.

      There was much more to Nazism than people going morally insane, for no reason – from my POV at least part of the problem was the fact that Germany, before it became the Third Reich, had been awfully mistreated politically, then Hitler was roundly ignored during his raise to power because he might be “useful” and no one felt like going to war again, so soon, after 1914-1919 (in 1934, when he had begun re-arming the country, in direct contradiction to the demands of the Versailles peace treaty, he could have easily been put in his place, but wasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, exactly as a deterrent to Communism).

      So, in a sense, if you have the urge to compare some gay rights activists to Nazis/Browshirts other such people, a legitimate question you are probably NOT thinking about (I’d bet, although I may be wrong) is “Have I/we contributed to this and the situation we are now in?”

      I could name, off the top of my head, at least a few things, such as the acceptance of the idea that the state (a purely secular entity) has any power with respect to marriage (which, of rouse, gets horribly problematic once a sufficiently large number of people no longer share our religious views, since it’s one thing to say they can’t have a sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church, but it is a bit harder to explain why the should not be given purely secular recognition when all sorts of heterosexuals, who could also hot have a sacramental marriae in the Catholic Church, are being recognized as married) or a disregard of Catholic sexual ethics among heterosexual Catholics (so that it really looks like we’re picking on the LGBT crowd, because so few of us are willing to live ourselves what we preach for them), with general nastiness towards queer folks to boot, so that it sometimes looks like we’re just using religion to prop up our prejudices, rather than live by all the rules of our religion, including the command to love. I even wonder sometimes how often Catholics pray for gay rights activists…

      To be perfectly clear: I agree with the whole of Church teaching about sexuality. The problem is that I think that teaching makes perfect sense only when all of it is applied at once AND that insisting on it from a manly political perspective won’t work, because in order for the relevant people to want to keep that teaching the have to experience Christ. The less likely we are making that experience (e.g. by simply being nasty), even while campaigning politically, the less likely – I think – is it that Church teaching will be accepted.

      If you mistreat people. they will most probably mistreat you back, sooner or later.

      [Full disclosure: I’m not America, in my country we don’t have much of a gay rights marriage debate yet, but I’m fully expecting it to come here sooner than some people think]

      • Iota,
        I do think the Nazi reference substitutes for thinking a lot. People make the reference no matter how remote. It is one of the few things people will recognize as evil without someone chiming in with a “What is wrong with that anyway?” type of distraction so I do use it that way. The other problem I have is I do see the danger of modern society going back there again. Many don’t. I could talk about the Romans persecuting Christians or Mexican Christeros war or the slaughter of priests during the French revolution but those events are more remote and people are unaware. So how are we to warn about where the hatred goes? This is a serious question.

        I know you have tried to get some response. The question of “How have I contributed?” is asked. I don’t think it replaces a legitimate warning that we are on the road that has led to persecution. How we got on this road is a bit irrelevant. Sure antisemitism among Christians contributed to Nazism. How would recognizing that have saved anyone? We can say that anti-gay sentiment among Christians was a problem and still is in some corners. So how does that change anything?

        BTW, I live in Canada. We have gay marriage for a while. Canadians are too polite to debate it with the intensity of Americans. Still our bishop has been charged with hate speech for teaching the Catholic faith on the matter. So we are already at the place where a Catholic bishop teaching Catholic doctrine to Catholics can cause the state to put him on trial. He was acquitted but we are not far from Cardinal George’s idea:

        I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.


        • Iota

          > This is a serious question.

          First, I think references to totalitarianism need to be turned down, a lot. Basically, before anyone uses them, they should try to imagine the person they are talking to sitting right across the table – only IF you would use that kind of analogy to a person you saw face to face, as a full human being, does it even make sense to think about using it on the Internet.

          Second, if you have to make comparisons to totalitarianism, do use obscure ones and explain the historical background (also: do your research, as necessary). That way we are talking about social mechanisms, not outraged primal emotions. No relatively sane human being is ever going to admit they are like a Nazi, anyhow, even in the unlikely event you are right (and to be perfectly frank, I think analogies to Nazis directed at LGBT folks are completely absurd – I could agree with usage to describe REALLY abhorrent scare tactics but even then extreme care has to be taken to apply the comparison ONLY to the individual people who do this.

          > How would recognizing that have saved anyone?

          Hugely. If people weren’t an anti-Semitic as they were (and my sources suggest anti-Semitism took a sharp turn upwards after the Great Depression), if some of them weren’t as willing to keep Hitler in power “against Communism”, if they weren’t as willing to humiliate a rival nation after the First World War, perhaps Hitler would have never risen to power. And even once he got there, perhaps the NSDAP couldn’t have rigged the next Reichstag elections to get 2/3 majority (i.e. the power to single-handedly change all laws). And even if that happened, perhaps more people would be willing to hide Jews and prevent them being sent to the death camps (mainly in Western Europe where there were options to resist without getting shot – AFAIR Vichy France and Norway both just shipped their Jews obediently all the way to death camps in Poland).

          In other words, IMO realizing why you got into a hideous problem and taking responsibility for it usually helps limit the damage done. The only exception to this is when “you and your people” are unquestionably blameless victims.

          > So how are we to warn about where the hatred goes?

          The thing is I fundamentally don’t believe in warnings. More specifically, in warnings delivered almost anonymously, by people you have never met and whom you don’t much care about, over the Internet.

          what I do believe in is divine intervention (and this implies prayer) and witnessing. By witnessing I mean specifically people who have a certain kind of experience. I d think homosexual Catholics (and maybe single, chaste heterosexual ones, to a certain extent) can give credibility to Church teaching in a way no amount of Internet bickering can. The next best option would be encounterin true, genuine, kindness and love form people who can’t witness about your particular problem with Church teaching but who can, by that kindness, dispel the notion they are banning you from doing something just because they are disgusted by you and want to oppress you.

          If you were a homosexual person (use any other descriptor, if you prefer) which of the two do you think would carry more weight for you:

          People who are, in this aspect, like you, living the Church teaching and thereby, indirect, showing you that you can live it too, that maybe it makes some sense, and so maybe you oughtn’t support the next chapter of the sexual revolution.
          A bunch of people who you suspect of being disgusted with you as a human being pontificating about Natural Law and how you can’t be married while they are/can and fully intend to, because they can’t imagine living alone? Possibly also throwing in comments that they will be prosecuted if you have your way?
          (I’m not dissing Natural Law, but – to an extent – the way most people TALK about it).

          If there is hatred towards Christians/Catholics, and if it is “undeserved” (i.e. we aren’t footing a bill for what someone, not so long ago, did to the people who hate us), the point is to disarm and defuse it. I’m very sceptical whether comparing people to Nazis can ever do that (I might accept extremely rare excretions). Obviously no one will ever disarm all the hatred, but I’m rather firmly convinced you can work against it and get some results that are better, overall, than those from polarizing internet debates.

  • SteveP

    Leah: MLK firmly called attention to the brotherhood of black and white in the Father through the adoption facilitated by Christ Jesus.

    I do not think this has been the message from “gay marriage” advocates. Indeed, and I hope to be corrected, it seems if I oppose civil “same-sex marriage” then I am not only a terrible brother in Christ but a horrendous citizen.

    • Mike

      Oh ya, you are also repugnant morally and should be criminalized. No dissent allowed! You either accept affirm and celebrate or you lose your job, are ostracized and marginalized. The discipline is a terrible foreshadowing.

      • There is a rather jarring juxtaposition of what gay people actually go through and what you seem to think you’re going through.

        Perhaps it happens that people lose their jobs, are ostracized and marginalized because they are Catholic; I have never met such people, nor have I heard of them. I have heard of quite a few homosexuals who suffered the same fate.

        • Mike

          See the Manhattan Project website for more info.

    • picklefactory

      it seems if I oppose civil “same-sex marriage” then I am not only a terrible brother in Christ but a horrendous citizen.

      Nailed it in one!

  • Excellent post, and words we should all strive to live by, especially those of us in the blogosphere!

  • Leah,

    You write:

    Once, while in a personal fight with a college classmate, I kept thinking, “I just need her to lash out in public. Then everyone will take my side.” I didn’t want to humiliate her for the sake of having her be humiliated (mostly), but I did want her to embarrass herself in public, so that she would be powerless, and I wouldn’t have to keep making contingency plans around her temper. It didn’t occur to me to hope that we could end up on the same side, healed and happy.

    I’ve been in a situation of the same sort myself, far more serious than the one you relate. I’ was only able to improve my attitude by learning why I must “hope that we could end up on the same side, healed and happy.” But it’s hard to do that when your antagonist has no interest in developing the same attitude. That’s why I recommend this little article to everybody: http://prodigal.typepad.com/prodigal_kiwi/files/alvin_kimel_finding_the_god_who_is_love_interacting_with_herbert_mccabe.pdf.


  • Jubal DiGriz

    Conflating social movements with personal behavior can be unhelpful, though in this particular case the comparison seems to hold. What I enjoy doing is essentially killing with kindness… the more confrontational a person is with me, the nicer I become. In a couple extreme situations this has resulted in the person opposite me shouting and getting red in the face while I’m smiling and meekly asking how I could help. Happy memories!

    But not very effective for winning an argument, which seems to be the underlying assumption in the post. Not all arguments need to be won… sometimes all that is necessary is presenting your position to the best of your ability without worrying if it is persuasive to the audience. And other times (most often I think in most confrontations) winning is not nearly as important as reconciliation, which can include full retreat from a held position.

    But the strange attractors are very different for social movements.. For instance, in his letter from the Birmingham Jail Dr. King wrote:
    ” Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

    Changing hearts and minds doesn’t always have to be the goal. There are some kinds of actions which don’t foster conversion or understanding, but force external powers to come to bear on an issue. Once something is legally mandated and protected by law there is no other option but accommodation. Which isn’t very nice, but is exceptionally effective.

  • Jeff

    Leah, I’d love to know if you think condemnation is EVER merited and if so how it relates to conversation.

    Are there people we can condemn? Opinions we can revile? Attitudes and actions that we can decry?

    If so, does that mean we are unable to have a conversation about or with such people?

  • Mark Shea


    Actually, I never called you or people like you “Brownshirts” because you have never tried to enforce ideology on anybody with threats, intimidation, bullying or violence. That’s what earned the epithet “Brownshirt” from me.

    • What Mark said.

      Leah, when Mark used the appelation “brownshirts” it always included a connotation of certain behaviors, most particularly intimidation and abuse (usually verbal) of political foes. I was never ever able to miss that connotation. I know you felt like it applied to you anyway, and I’m sorry, because I never saw in your writing any sort of solidarity with that sort of behavior.

      I would like to see everyone willingly agree that everything the Church teaches as definitive is true, no matter their reason for doing so (while not denying that some reasons for agreement are better than others). But I hope I never use bullying, intimidation, or cheap humiliation to that end.

  • Alexander Anderson

    This “just wait for it, our enemies will die” approach is tempting. I see it a lot in catholic circles regarding the old guard of “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics. I know it was always particularly tempting for me, as I can often not see how me, a twenty-something Catholic, can end up changing the minds and hearts of people in their fifties or sixties or even older who have commuted their whole life to this cause I stand against. It becomes tempting because you do realize that what you fight against does have an expiration date, and it’s so much easier to just wait than to do the hard work of reaching out to those who can’t see your point of view. This post is definitely food for thought for me.

  • Arizona Mike

    I suppose a conservative response to “our enemies will die off” is to be open to life, have more kids than the other side, not abort them, and raise them right.

  • Arnobius of Sicca

    Mark has always used the label to describe despicable tactics. Not all persons with same sex attraction use these tactics of course. But those who do behave reprehensibly deserve the label and they should be denounced by all sides.

    Whether you call them brownshirts or thugs is immaterial. No person of good will should call their position justified however and no person should defend their tactics.

  • Arizona Mike

    One could also argue the need for an aikido-like approach – rather than directly opposing the secular world’s agenda, we blend with it and redirect its force to off-balance it and achieve our own objectives.

    If politicians claim that the stated purpose of homosexual marriage is to include more people under the mantle of matrimony and to increase the number of family units to provide greater support for children, we take them at their word and demand that they support more general pro-matrimony and pro-natal policies. We make it easier to have children, so people will be less likely to abort children and more likely to be open to life. We also reverse the dropping replacement rate for the American population, which has a negative impact on the future of entitlement payments, investment, health care for the elderly, and entrepreneurship. Win-Win for everyone. Plus, more babies = more employment for those involved in the care, raising, education, of children and the sales of food and merchandise to parents. Plus more babies = generally just a good thing.

    So, we demand greater tax breaks and deductions for each child a family has. We demand longer pregnancy leave policies for mothers and fathers. We demand that Obama restore the level of Flexible Spending Accounts for child care for working parents back to where it was to help working parents. We require a mandatory high school class to teach them how to be good parents (someday) and the benefits (moral, psychological, social, financial) of marriage as the best environment for raising children. We tighten divorce laws and make it more difficult for those with children, maybe even punitive under the tax code, except for cases of physical or mental abuse. (Dad thinks his secretary appreciates him more? Mom thinks she isn’t being self-actualized enough in this relationship? Tough luck, and tough it out until the last of their children turns 18.) We provide incentives for biological fathers to become real fathers. If we get really radical, we give parents an additional vote for every one of their children until the children reach their majority. Why not? They are voting in their children’s interest, and they are investing more in the future of society (by generating more wage earners) than childless people.

  • If I go down, which every day may seem like a realistic possibility, even my closest opponents on the issue will know in their hearts and minds, that I wasn’t the hateful homophobic bigot that they allowed others to accused me of. I’m human being who understands the importance of a child having its mother and father fully engaged with their well being. I’m being dared to deny the existence of such. I can not. Not sure if they would ever speak up to back me up. I doubt it.

    I hope my comments on father absence in the home in the previous post may have been of some help.

  • momofthree

    This is stellar. It is what nobody seems to remember on a day-to-day basis, including myself. The big picture is to change hearts and minds….but we are fallen…and we want to win.

  • Jacob