Hatred in War and in Peace

In 1793, Captain Horatio Nelson took command of HMS Agamemnon, a 64-gun ship of the line in the British Navy, at the start of one of England’s perennial wars with France. The two nations had been fighting for almost half of the more than 700 years that had elapsed since William of Normandy conquered the Saxons at Hastings in 1066. The Anglo-French wars (not counting as far ahead as the brief but bloody unpleasantness between Britain and Vichy France early in World War II) would culminate in Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815.

Aboard the Agamemnon, Nelson gave these instructions to his midshipmen

There are three things, young gentlemen, which you are constantly to bear in mind: first, you must always implicitly obey orders, without attempting to form any opinion of your own respecting their propriety; secondly, you must consider every man as your enemy who speaks ill of your King; and thirdly, you must hate a Frenchman as you do the devil.

Nelson’s adherence to the first of these principles was less than perfect. He once ignored his fleet commander’s signal to withdraw from a tight spot in the battle of Copenhagen, holding his telescope up to his blind eye (he had lost sight in it from a previous wound) and remarking, “I only have one eye—I have the right to be blind sometimes. I really do not see the signal!” (He went on to win the battle.)

Nelson is not known ever to have deviated from his second point. But regarding the third, he really walked the walk. “Down with the damned French villains!” he once exclaimed. “My blood boils at the name of a Frenchman! Down, down with the French!” And in another letter (which recently sold at auction for £9,000): “I form not my opinion My Dear Lord from others, no it is from what I have seen. They are thieves, murderers, oppressors and infidels.”

Nelson is in the news these days, but not because the French have called him out for Thought Crime. No, his modern enemies are all home-grown.

The hero of Trafalgar is just one of many notables of Western Civilization whose monuments have been defaced or otherwise marked for destruction by our ferocious Social Justice Warriors. The mobs bestride Britain as they do America, cursing the icons their countrymen love, and insulting, bullying, and assaulting everyone they find to be insufficiently “woke”—all supposedly in the cause of progress and racial “equity.”

They hate Nelson because, believing it would weaken Britain in her struggle with France, he opposed the abolition of slavery. They hate Sir Robert Peel, notwithstanding his active role in suppressing the trans-Atlantic slave trade, because the great prime minister’s father (also named Robert) opposed abolition. Besides, Sir Robert founded Britain’s Metropolitan Police Force (that’s why British cops are called “Bobbies”) and, as we all know, “All Cops Are Bastards.”

They hate Winston Churchill because, notwithstanding his vital role in defeating a truly “white supremacist” monstrosity led by Adolf Hitler, Churchill was a British Imperialist who didn’t think much of Mahatma Gandhi, dismissing him as a half-naked “seditious fakir.” Yet they also hate Gandhi, because he didn’t think much of black Africans, calling them “kaffirs” who should be segregated from the Indians living in South Africa. 

In America, they hate William McKinley, despite his service in the Union Army during the Civil War, because McKinley was an imperialist who put down the Philippine Insurrection, gobbled up Hawaii, and failed to be “woke” enough to satisfy the anarchist assassin who murdered him. They hate the slave owners Washington and Jefferson, because of course. They even hate Abraham Lincoln, despite his emancipation of the Confederacy’s slaves and his championing of the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery throughout the land—and despite his martyrdom at the hands of an avowed Confederate assassin who hated him for those deeds—because Lincoln was not totally on board with the integrationist agenda of the Radical Republicans who would run Reconstruction. 

This hardly exhausts the list of heroes whose memorials the “woke” mobs can’t abide. They even vandalized the memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, because it’s a Civil War monument, isn’t it? And besides, the regiment was led by white officers. More white supremacy!

These progressive-minded “activists” are boiling over with hatred, not only for their immediate targets but for all who oppose their anti-American jihad. That much is obvious to everyone—to everyone, that is, but themselves. That their abusive conduct may be kindling an equally livid, hateful response among the rest of us seems also to have escaped them, nor would it worry them in any case. After all, they are noble idealists whose virtue is above question and whose triumph is assured; and we’re haters to begin with, through and through, a bunch of troglodytes and dinosaurs who are bound for the dust-bin of history.

People have been pondering where this orgy of hatred may lead us. Back in the relatively placid recent past, the Fox News satirist Greg Gutfeld made a joke of it all with his 2014 opus, The Joy of Hate. More recently, the “Militant Normal” Kurt Schlichter has taken a more somber view, with downbeat essays such as “Liberals May Regret Their New Rules,” “Liberals Hate You and Want You Silenced,” and “Be A Rooftop Korean.” 

At The American Spectator, the attorney, law professor and rabbi Dov Fischer is more somber still. Skipping Gutfeld’s flippancy and Schlichter’s snark, Fischer becomes downright grim with “A Time to Hate,” in which he discusses the Left’s brutal treatment of those hapless souls who find themselves, one after another, in the position of Emmanuel Goldstein, the star of 1984’s “Two Minute Hate.”

As a rabbi of 40 years and a person who believes that most people have the potential for goodness, and who tries to find the good even in people who disappoint until they absolutely close off the possibility of goodness being discovered within them, I now have learned to hate.

The Bible certainly does not encourage hate. “Do not hate your brother in your heart. [If he does wrong, go ahead and] Rebuke your compatriot, but do not sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). “Do not seek revenge, and do not bear a grudge against the children of your people. And you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). But the Bible acknowledges the existence of viciousness and cruelty, and it demands of decent people that we not sit on the fence in the face of evil: “Those who love G-d hate evil” (Psalm 97:10). 

Fischer might also have cited the passage (Isaiah 1:12-15) where the Lord speaks to us in the first person:

When you come to appear before me,

  who requires of you this trampling of my courts?

Bring no more vain offerings;

  incense is an abomination to me.

New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies—

  I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.

Your new moons and your appointed feasts

  my soul hates;

they have become a burden to me,

  I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread forth your hands,

  I will hide my eyes from you;

even though you make many prayers,

  I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

And he might have mentioned the chapter in C.S. Lewis’s book Reflections on the Psalms titled “The Cursings.” Those would be things like Psalm 109, which prays for limitless disasters to befall not only the psalmist’s enemy, but the enemy’s widow and orphans as well; and Psalm 137, in which the psalmist invokes a blessing on whoever would take his enemies’ babies and dash their brains out against a rock! Of such verses as these, Lewis wrote:

In some of the psalms the spirit of hatred which strikes us in the face is like the heat from a furnace mouth. … These poets lived in a world of savage punishments, of massacre and violence, of blood sacrifice in all countries, and human sacrifice in many. … [But] in the psalmists’ tendency to chew over and over the cud of some injury, to dwell in a kind of self-torture on every circumstance that aggravates it, most of us can recognize something we have met in ourselves. We are, after all, blood-brothers to these ferocious, self-pitying, barbaric men. … 

It seemed to me that, seeing in them hatred undisguised, I saw also the natural result of injuring a human being. … It is monstrously simple-minded to read the cursings in the psalms with no feeling except one of horror at the uncharity of the poets. They are indeed devilish. But we must also think of those who made them so. Their hatreds are the reaction to something. Such hatreds are the kind of thing that cruelty and injustice, by a sort of natural law, produce. This, among other things, is what wrong-doing means. Take from a man his freedom or his goods and you may have taken his innocence, almost his humanity, as well. Not all the victims go and hang themselves like Mr. Pilgrim; they may live and hate.

Lewis seems almost to be writing a brief for the “no justice, no peace” crowd, inviting them to say, “Don’t blame us! You white supremacists made us this way! We can’t help ourselves! It’s not our fault!” As if they were John Belushi pleading with Carrie Fisher. 

That, however, is not what Lewis was getting at. Of the cursing psalms, he wrote:

We must not either try to explain them away or yield for one moment to the idea that, because it comes in the Bible, all this vindictive hatred must somehow be good and pious. We must face both facts squarely. The hatred is there—festering, gloating, undisguised—and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passions in ourselves.

A good example of such wickedness would be Sister Souljah’s rap video “The Hate That Hate Produced,” which I examined for American Greatness two years ago. But back to Fischer. The successive pillorying of hapless innocents he sees the Left committing has aroused his own hatred:

There is something so evil in a society that tolerates a dual standard of justice, dual standards of everything. On the one hand, we political conservatives harbor profoundly deep feelings, but we do not destroy people’s lives based on abstract politics. . . . These animals destroyed the life of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. They drove him into such financial ruin that he had to sell his home to pay his legal bills. They went after a good boy, Nick Sandmann, and they cruelly made him into the face of racism. . . . And they did everything they could to destroy Brett Kavanaugh, a good man, a family man, a man who has devoted time throughout his life to his church and to the needy. They endeavored through outright perjury to destroy him. . . . The liars destroy with impunity because they know they always will get away with it.

In the wake of the George Floyd riots, Fischer has a whole new set of innocent people’s injuries to chew over.

Fischer takes as the text for his jeremiad against left-wing cruelty and hypocrisy the third chapter of Ecclesiastes: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” He quotes all its dichotomies, starting with “a time to be born, and a time to die,” and running through “a time to love, and a time to hate.” And, he concludes, “This is a time to hate.”

The love/hate dichotomy is the penultimate item on the Ecclesiastes list. The last one is this: “a time for war, and a time for peace.” If we may forgive Lord Nelson his inveterate hatred of the French, it’s because his country was at war with them. War and hatred, it turns out, have a lot to do with one another.

However much hatred may be stalking the land today, we’re unlikely to suffer anything like what our ancestors suffered in the Civil War. The social, political, and military elements just aren’t there for it. Besides, those who fought that war had no idea what they were getting into. On both sides, they thought the fighting would be quick and victory easy. Not one of us would be quite so ignorant now.

Even so, hatred is a necessary prelude to war. When Europe was split in two by the Protestant Reformation, it took the people in Europe’s heartland nearly a century to choose up sides and decide how much they hated each other. Then they fought the Thirty Years’ War, which “resulted in the deaths of over 8 million people, including 20 percent of the German population, making it one of the most destructive conflicts in human history.”

Hatred, moreover, is a necessary consequence of war. When the Confederate army surrendered at Appomattox, some of those on hand, notably including the Union commander Ulysses S. Grant, earnestly desired a quick reconciliation between the warring parties. Others, however, felt differently. Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts describes the scene this way:

As beaten rebels surrendered their weapons to the Union Army[,] Union General Joshua Chamberlain remarked to Southern counterpart Henry Wise that perhaps now “brave men may become good friends.”

Wise’s reply was bitter as smoke. “You’re mistaken, sir,” he said. “You may forgive us, but we won’t be forgiven. There is a rancor in our hearts which you little dream of. We hate you, sir.”

What’s disturbing today is that so few of our most aggressive haters—the Social Justice Warriors—understand themselves to be haters at all. Worse still is that so few of them have any real injuries of their own to chew over, nothing like those suffered by the civil rights martyrs of the 1960s, nothing like those suffered by the haggard Southern soldiers of a century before. Theirs is a greenhouse hatred, learned not from harsh experience but from perverse instruction.

They are the children of Howard Zinn. They little dream of the harm they are doing to our country. The rest of us little dream of the harm they may yet do.