Taboo — it’s a word that is supposed to mean something scared and prohibited. The definition comes to us from one of the English speaking world’s great explorers, Captain James Cook.
While exploring the South Pacific “Friendly Islands” Cook was introduced to the word and was so taken with it that he wrote a journal entry about the discovery. To modern Americans the word basically means “something polite people shouldn’t do but you should and then write a book or film about how great it was.” Cook wouldn’t introduce us to the word until his journals were made public in 1777, and since that time most American taboos are now as inconsequential to the average citizen as the Constitution. The most devastating of these is the loss of fear of “conquest by death.” Not only do we no longer have this fear in ample supply, that fear has turned, for too many, into an arrogant lust for its poison fruit.
When Dante asks his master during his descent through The Inferno how the woman cursed for lust became so, he is told that she used to be an empress. “Her vice of lust became so customary, that she made license licit in her laws, to free her from the scandal she had caused.” That is a pretty good explanation of our Empire’s conquest-by-death foreign policy, now replete with lethal drones strikes in foreign lands with which we are not at war. These strikes mete out death to women, children, and the elderly, and are dismissed by proponents of these atrocities as “collateral damage.” Our president, like an American-style Palpatine, even has his own “kill list.“ Yet most of my fellow citizens think this is of little concern. After all, we have “national security” priorities which outweigh any trivial matters of morality and true liberty. Dante’s empress would be jealous.
Some members of the United States Senate are leading this hubris, including “conservatives” John McCAin (R-AZ) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC), undeterred by their own lack of self-defined “success.” No lucid American who escapes the reality TV world of the Kardashians would proclaim our 13 year effort in “the war on terror” a success, unless by success you mean the immoral profiteering some Pentagon contractors continue to enjoy. Over $50 billion have been spent since 9/11 on weapons systems that will never be used. The costs in dollars, however, are just the beginning of what a conquest-by-death mindset wreaks. At the dawn of the Progressive era, Massachusetts Senator George Frisbie Hoar, a great-grandson of Declaration & Constitution signer Roger Sherman, warned what would happen to our former republic [emphasis mine] if war and hubris replaced humility and caution in a war with the Philippines.
“For the Philippine Islands you have had to repeal the Declaration of Independence. … The American people have got this one question to answer. They may answer it now; they can take ten years, or twenty years, or a generation, or a century to think of it. But it will not down. They must answer it in the end: Can you lawfully buy with money, or get by brute force of arms, the right to hold in subjugation an unwilling people, and to impose on them such constitution as you, and not they, think best for them.”
Hoar was not without his own moral fault for seeing Lincoln’s “Civil” War as anything but a subjugation, as defined above, of the states of the Confederacy. This undermined the case for similar restraint when he sought it in 1902 for the Philippines. Still, Hoar thought the “taboo” of conquest by death should have been sufficient to restrain our foreign policy, it wasn’t. The horrors of Philipinos being held prisoner in American concentration camps would chasten the American public’s tolerance but for Hoar, it was too late. “We have sold out the right, the old American right, to speak out the sympathy which is in our hearts for people who are desolate and oppressed.”
McCain and Graham assure us that it is the “desolate and oppressed” we are saving in Syria, last year in Libya, two years ago in Egypt and of course 10 years ago for blue-fingered Iraqis. But our refusal to restore the taboo of conquest-by-death that Hoar’s grandparents guarded with their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” isn’t limited to foreign affairs. The same government that acts to impugn foreign sovereignties does so to domestic sovereignties as well: the several States. This creature is acting to instill a taboo against the death penalty where none existed before, while removing one by judicial fiat in the killing of the unborn.