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On War

Last night while eating dinner with two fine young ladies, I mentioned that I wished there was a good way to sign up for a single year of military service with no further commitment. I would like to server, but I really don’t want to put my life on hold for six or eight years. I have already been on hold too long for that. When asked why I would want to go to Iraq, I mentioned the fact that I supported the war, and felt that I should walk the walk and not just talk the talk. When asked if I still supported the war, I paused, and answered somewhat judiciously, “Knowing what I know now, I think it was a bad idea.”

It wasn’t a sudden revalation; rather I have been thinking about this for a long time. Also, as you might have guessed, and as if often the case, not everything I say is to be taken exactly straight. So what did I mean?

What I know now that makes me think it wasn’t such a good idea is how it has divided the country against itself, making the war much harder, if not impossible, to win. I’m growing more and more convinced that it is impossible to win a war today with minimal civilian casualties, if winning a war today is even possible. Now with an enemy that melts into the civilian population, and with most of those “civilians” either complicit or empathetic towards the enemy, it seems to me that in reality, vast swaths of the civilian populations are indeed the enemy. And until we, as a nation, feel truly threatened with anihilation from an enemy (and for some of us, perhaps not even then), we will be unable to pursue such a war to its end. This is perhaps a great thing, or perhaps a terrible thing — great because we as a people are not willing to slaughter people not directly pointing guns at us; terrible because we as a people are willing to let problems fester forever unresolved. Nevertheless, it is something that we who were more hawkish three and a half year must realize and understand.

I believe that the only way to win a war is to work to completely destroy your opponents — and everything that might be supporting them — until the opponent sues for peace with unconditional surrender. The enemies must grow weary of war and certain of defeat; they must have their will utterly broken and they must have this loss seared forever into their memory such that they will not attempt any such thing again. I think that this is the only way that war can yield long-term results. Anything less is not a war worth fighting.

What we have in Iraq is a war that, if I am right, can not yield the long-term results that we seek. It is not because the Iraq war was a bad idea in and of itself; it is because we are unwilling to do there what needs to be done, becuase we are both a great and a terrible people.

That being said, I will agree with the president and state that the worst thing we could do at the present time is to set a date for withdrawal. I know that we constantly hear opponents of the war saying that “it was supposed to be easy” but that isn’t what I recall Bush saying on the eve of the war. I remember him saying that we had to be prepared for a long and difficult road, and I remember accepting that at the time. Revisionist history, it would seem, works both ways.

And now to the final point — if you think it is ok to kill someone to accomplish something, I think you had better also think its worth dying to accomplish that thing, or else your moral compass is screwed up. For example, I would be willing to kill to protect my family. That being said, I also think it would be worth putting my life on the line — and possibly dying — to protect my family. Therefore, killing to protect my family, I view as morally acceptable. On the other hand, if I think that it is worth killing you for your money, but not worth dying to have your money (I couldn’t use it then, after all), I don’t think that qualifies as moral. This is not to say that I would rather die than kill to protect my family — I’d rather kill quite a few people to protect the family, before dying, in fact!

So I apply this same principle to war — if you think its worth killing people for, then it had better also be worth dying for, and if it is not, that should be your cue that you aren’t thinking about the issue clearly or morally. I remember a poll back in 2003 asking Americans if they thought invading/liberating Iraq was a good idea, with no, some, or many US casualties. The numbers in support dropped precipitously across those categories. Perhaps I should have taken this as a clue, instead of just scoffing at American’s ignorance about the realities of war (though 2500 is ridiculously low by war’s traditional standards, 0 casualties is still impossible).

So, the moral of the whole story is, as best as I can tell, is twofold: (1) lets not wage war unless we are ready to win, and we understan and accept what that means, and (2) today, we are not ready to win.

Will we ever again be ready to win?

4 Responses to “On War”

  1. Bernie Zimmermann Says:

    “Will we ever again be ready to win?”

    Let’s hope we don’t have to be.

  2. nordsieck Says:

    Is it even possible to win? I contend that the true “victory condition” of Iraq becomming a western democracy is impossible because no one (with any power) in Iraq wants it. Everyone is just trying to grab as much power as they can – no one is really concerned with the longterm implications of those actions. My guess is that the best cas, the US can come up with is to effectively split Iraq up into 3 loosely conjoined states, each of which has a separate police force, etc; the result would be much like the US under the articles of confederation.

    Frankly, the only way for a “win” in Iraq is for peace and stability to exist, preferably with political/economic freedom. For that to happen, the government needs to be seen as legitemate by the populace. That will no happen as long as Sunni neighborhoods are being attacked by Shia police.

    I was going to write a large article (or several of them) but that’ll have to wait for a week.

  3. Ryan Says:

    Do you really want to rely on that hope?

    I suppose we could disarm in the hope that the world will suddenly become a nicer place for doing so, and there are certainly people advocating that view in this country. I don’t think it would take very long for someone not very nice to take advantage of us in that case.

    Lets hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

  4. dc Says:

    total war is a terrible thing…

    we really should just let them fight it out over there – then deal with the victors diplomatically or via other means.

    talk to me sometime if you are interested in going over for shorter terms (6 month periods)

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