On War

Dean Esmay posted an article titled Why Iraq? where he pointed to an article by one John Weidner that he felt presented a fair summary of why those who favored invading Iraq felt that it was the correct thing to do. I posted the following comment in Mr. Esmay’s article:

I was and do remain a supporter of the war to liberate Iraq. My reasons are various and not all in accord with Mr. Weidner’s list, though I have no substantive quibbles with any of his points. My own belief is somewhat more stark, and not to the liking of most peoples.

I believe the free world has a moral obligation as well as a political imperative to rid the world of these pestilent little death camps. Should you Americans elect to raise an army ten million strong and carry freedom to the world on the point of a bayonet it would stir me to such emotion that I would seek to join you on that crusade. I do not say such things lightly.

The moral obligation is that of a people who enjoy the fruits of freedom and prosperity. The political imperative is simply this: you are running out of time.

A day later, the following arrived in my e-mail from Mr. John Van Laer:

Zsallia Marieko:

Remarkable! When I got to the end: “you are running out of time,” I got goose pimples. But bringing freedom to the world on the point of a bayonet is what Napoleon claimed to be doing. His chief historic accomplishment was to incite Bismarck to unite Germany under the Prussian heel. You probably know the consequences better than I do.

As an old crock of an American, I have to believe that we are far superior to France’s First Empire, in every important respect. Is that a guarantee that our benign intentions won’t have unforeseen dreadful consequences?

I hope you are right. Certainly, shrinking from what you call a political and moral imperative would be the worst possible choice.

Thank you for posting that comment.

John Van Laer

I enjoy a compliment much as anyone does, but I did feel it would be polite to expand upon my comment, just for the sake of clarity. My response was this:

Mr. Van Laer

As to your concerns regarding the feasibility of engaging in a military mission to liberate the world, I share them. I am not a terribly creative thinker, this is a limitation I have come to regret, but must accept. There are those who might be capable of imagining some grand diplomatic gesture that would set in motion the requisite policies to lead towards a freer, more peaceful, less strife-ridden world; however, it has been my experience that such plans often have at their heart the notion that at some point human beings will somehow shed those terribly untidy bits of their nature that drive them to compete, covet, and dominate. It is a lovely ideal, but those who have attempted to coerce such change via ideology have mostly left us with mountains of corpses.

Being singularly unimaginative I see the issue in rather stark terms: Should the West wait until the options are simple, but ghastly? Or should the West act now, while the preponderance of military might is overwhelmingly on their side? I once opined that the situation in Iraq would resolve itself quickly once the Hussein regime was ousted. On witnessing the outcome of that endeavour I realize that my view was little better than those of the social utopianists I dismissed in the previous paragraph. Yet I still see no appealing choices as to how to proceed. What the world faces is rather grim; times such as these require grim men to face them.

Napoleon espoused notions of liberty, but was at heart no more than a slightly above-average narcissist and megalomaniac. If the United States were to set forth upon a military campaign to cauterize the festering wounds left behind by close to fifty years of the Cold War I would expect large portions of the world’s governments to take up a plaintive howl such as would render the run up to the invasion of Iraq as little more than a ladies tea social. Yet if one is convinced that survival is at stake, what price appeasing fair weather ?allies’? The danger of creating a unified and inimical Arab world as a result of a program to liberate those now languishing in poverty, fear and ignorance beneath the heels of mullahs and strongmen is real; however, I submit to you that any comparison between the current situation and the first unification of Germany is rather thin intellectual gruel. It seems apt upon its surface, but the reality of the Arab and Islamic worlds is one of fractiousness, fratricide and personality cults. What unity they muster seems to germinate around notions of wrongs done to them and the assorted and innumerable heresies of the non-Islamic world, and even in such cases that unity is fragile and ephemeral. The ideal of Pan-Arabism died with Nasser- the closest claimant to his place was Hussein, and he languishes in a prison cell waiting on the day his own people march him to the gallows.

At this point those Arab or Islamic nations that would be candidates for liberation by force are engaged in the ages old game of appeasement. They refused to come to Hussein’s aid hoping that once the United States consumed that prey her appetite would be sated and she would return to that uneasy slumber from which she was so rudely awakened on the eleventh day of September in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and One. They have good reason to believe this might be an effective strategy as large portions of the American political spectrum are hoping for the very same thing. I am hesitant to claim such a course would be an undeniable disaster, but I must confess that in my heart I believe it falls far short of being the best solution. The only thing a pause accomplishes is to give the enemies of freedom and tolerance an opportunity to rethink, rearm and advance their capabilities. Iran in particular is breathtakingly close to acquiring the weapons that would clearly redraw the strategic realities of any campaign in the Middle East. Should you doubt that atomic weapons in the hands of the Iranian theocrats would be such a world-changing factor I ask that you merely turn your eyes to North Korea where a decade of negligence by the west has led to just such a scenario.

I am no lover of war. I have stood on charnel fields littered with the bloodied and broken remnants of men, searching with the brokenhearted for fathers and husbands, brothers and sons. War is a woeful and horrific enterprise even when waged in the brutally efficient manner of the modern American military, but that does not lend any credence to the notion that “war is never the answer”. Unfortunately for all concerned, war is often the only true answer, and postponing it in a vain hope that the dangers will somehow magically evaporate only raises the butcher’s bill when the inevitable comes to pass. The West has lost touch with the spiritual nature of religion, but the Islamic world has not. As a result the West fails to seriously comprehend the fundamental motivations of peoples whose lives are defined by their religion. The secularism and tolerance you take for granted are terrible handicaps when facing such peoples. The West hears the shouts and the threats and the references to Allah and the tendency is to be slightly amused at such primitive behavior. That tendency, coupled with a lack of will to carry forward in this war, may be the keys to the undoing of the West.

Best Regards,

Mr. Van Laer followed up to this note; however, that response was personal rather than topical. Mr. Van Laer, you are far too kind :).

8 Responses to “On War”

  1. Should you Americans elect to raise an army ten million strong and carry freedom to the world on the point of a bayonet it would stir me to such emotion that I would seek to join you on that crusade. I do not say such things lightly.

    No; having read your archives, I think not.

    Thank you for such a clarion call, and such patient clarification of the issue at hand.

    I don’t know if we can make willing slaves into free men, whether by bayonets or smart bombs. I *am* certain that we can smash a few million fetters, though…

    and well begun’s half done.

  2. Good insights on the writers, quotes and thoughts.

    I will be back!

  3. and well begun’s half done.


  4. I’d say the real action has little to do with the bayonet-work, necessary though that may be. The most dramatic things we are doing are ones that often look banal…such as organizing hundreds of local councils in Iraq, and nudging them towards learning the art of self-government.

    And I don’t think that’s exporting ideology. When the President says that freedom and democracy are God’s gift to the world, he is very pointedly NOT saying that they are America’s gift to the world

  5. I believe that Lord Byron once said something which applies here.

  6. On the Future of the West

    I keep forgetting to link this. Our friends John van Laer and Zsallia Marieko recently had an interesting exchange on war and the future.

  7. Zsallia

    What a remarkably insightful writer you are. I’m most impressed with your thinking on this delimma. I think I’ll be visiting your site often.

    Thank you

  8. My favorite unabomber casualty (futurist David Gerlernter) had a similar insight, explained in a way that a 6th grader groks.

    see: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Utilities/printer_preview.asp?idArticle=4580

    Like welfare reform, we can’t make people free (nor make them “secure”), we can only provide them a start – a helping hand (by removing an oppressor). They have to do the rest.