Blogs > Liberty and Power > Dear Warhawks

May 12, 2004 7:08 pm

Dear Warhawks

I know these have been an extraordinarily difficult couple of weeks for you, and I'm very sorry about that. The unending fighting in Iraq after we've been there for over a year, the accelerating race to the June 30 deadline -- even though we don't seem to have the slightest idea who or what it is we're going to be turning"sovereignty" over to or what the hell that"sovereignty" might consist of, the inability of our Secretary of Defense to figure out even what the military chain of command might be (you'd think he'd at least know that, right, since he is the Secretary of Defense and all? -- but maybe he doesn't want to go into it too much, since it appears that chain might lead to, whaddya know, General"Satan Is Our Enemy" Boykin), and then those pictures from Abu Ghraib. And we're told there are much worse photos to come: of rape, and perhaps even of murder.

Into this very demoralizing mix came the video of the beheading of Nick Berg. And in an odd, disturbing way, while you proclaimed the horror and revulsion that we all feel at this particularly barbaric death, it almost seemed that this stomach-churning snuff video provided a much-needed sense of justification for the policies you support. As White House press secretary Scott McClellan said," It shows the true nature of the enemies of freedom. They have no regard for the lives of innocent men, women and children. We will pursue those who are responsible and bring them to justice." (Some people, meanwhile, had a somewhat more clinical and even self-admittedly cold view of Mr. Berg's fate. Whatever one might think of that perspective, at least it is grounded in facts, which seems to be more than can be asked of many others at this particular moment.)

And our philosopher-king President says that,"[t]here is no justification for the brutal execution of Nicholas Berg, no justification whatsoever," as if we might not realize that on our own.

Mr. Bush, Mr. McClellan and many other warhawks seem to offer such statements as if to remind us, and themselves, of how savage and brutal"the enemies of freedom" actually are. Um, excuse me. We knew that, didn't we? We knew that on 9/11, when they flew airplanes into buildings, and killed almost 3,000 of us, correct? That's why they're our enemies and why we're at war with them, right?

But, as unspeakably uncivilized as it may be for me to name this (although perhaps not as uncivilized as the fact itself), from the point of view of the public debate about where we are at this moment in our foreign adventures, Mr. Berg's horrifying death seemed almost propitious. While most people were properly and justifiably horrified at the abuses of prisoners in Iraq, you now proclaim with moral righteousness:"See? See? Rush Limbaugh is right! Compared to beheadings, those prison abuses really are just like frat house hazing incidents! Our guys were just blowing off steam and having a good time! But those people are really, really bad! We're not bad like them!"

Is this truly where you have arrived? Is this genuinely the moral argument you are now reduced to? We proclaim war on the terrorists precisely because they are murderous savages, who want nothing more than to kill as many of us as they can, in the most brutal ways imaginable, and now we justify our own mistakes, miscalculations and disastrous lack of planning and accountability by noting that we're not as bad as the people we proclaimed war on to begin with?

I think you need to reconsider this. If we are actually fighting for freedom and the value of human life, I think you need to offer a moral perspective which is a bit more inspiring than that represented by this kind of argument. The fact that we're not as bad as barbaric savages doesn't quite cut it.

And perhaps you ought to rethink just what the hell it is we're actually doing in Iraq -- not what you might hope we're doing, but what we're actually doing. There is a difference, and that difference becomes more apparent to much of the rest of the world every day. We aren't exactly winning friends by insisting on pursuing our present course to the bitter end. And this time, the end could be very bitter indeed.

I don't think that's what you really want, is it? I certainly hope not.

You might want to rethink as well your adoption of all those arguments you used to reject: cultural determinism and moral relativism, to name just two. It doesn't fill the rest of us with confidence to see you so desperate to cling to the moral high ground by your fingernails that you use the arguments of the people you used to ridicule and condemn every single day. It makes us think that maybe your moral center has been temporarily misplaced.

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts I thought I'd pass along on this morning filled with very depressing news. I don't expect any of you to adopt these suggestions, but I wanted to offer them anyway.

And I truly am glad that we're not as bad as Al Qaeda. That clears up a lot of things for me, and I'm sure I'll sleep much better tonight as a result. Thanks for that.


Arthur Silber

(Cross-posted at The Light of Reason.)

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