The Conservative War-Mania
August 8, 2002

by Joe Sobran

     Why do so many conservatives -- most of whom oppose 
abortion, the killing of human fetuses -- so readily, 
even eagerly, favor war? Not just this or that war, but 
nearly every war?

     The idea of war seems to conjure in their 
imaginations a picture of a battle between a virtuous 
America and a purely evil enemy who deserves whatever he 
gets. In World War II movies, for instance, German 
soldiers are always shown as cruel, usually beefy men, 
more than 30 years old, each of whom is capable of 
strangling Ann Frank with his bare hands. They are never 
shown as scared kids, drafted like our boys to fight for 
purposes they don't understand.

     Even Steven Spielberg's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, so 
realistic in its depiction of the violence of war, 
maintained this stereotype. All the Germans were rotten 
adult Nazis, in contrast to the fresh-faced, morally 
sensitive American boys who wrote home to Mom. In the 
movies, German soldiers never seem to have moms.

     Yet the memoirs of veterans like Paul Fussell are 
full of touching stories of the enemy's humanity. Fussell 
recalls looking at the bodies of dead Germans after one 
battle and finding not the hardened men he expected to 
see, but teenaged boys who probably didn't shave yet. He 
realized that war is tragedy, not melodrama.

     Today we have become inured to depictions of Arabs 
as swarthy, unshaven fanatics, also momless. This has 
prepared us psychologically for the coming war with Iraq. 
Who ever heard of a scared Arab kid, sent by his 
government to fight and die? We're told that Saddam 
Hussein is a ruthless tyrant, which he surely is; yet 
we're expected to believe, too, that his armies are 
composed of his willing servitors rather than his 

     And what about civilians? In modern war, civilians 
-- women, children, old people -- always die. Some 
children who survive lose limbs. We have a phrase for 
this: "collateral damage." Given its inevitability, we 
should at least hesitate before resorting to war. Yet 
conservatives can't wait for the bombing to start. They 
view war not as a regrettable necessity, but as a 
positive good, the prospect of which elates them.

     Feticide is wrong because killing the innocent is 
wrong. War kills indiscriminately. Conservatives used to 
have deep reservations about war. Why are this 
generation's conservatives so different from their 
ancestors? Their casual acceptance of war is one of the 
most striking cultural changes in American life.

     Conservatives usually oppose wasteful spending 
programs, yet war is the most wasteful spending program 
of all. Enormous amounts of wealth are diverted from 
production to destruction. Is it worth it? Will the costs 
of devastating Iraq be justified by any gains? Would 
peace be more costly than war? The Bush administration is 
avoiding these basic questions, and conservatives aren't 
demanding answers.
     Recall one of our recent wars: the war on Panama. 
The overthrow of Manuel Noriega was supposed to disrupt 
the illicit drug traffic in Latin America. It didn't. In 
terms of its announced purpose, that easy victory totally 

     Will the easy defeat of Iraq destroy terrorism? The 
idea is absurd. It will provoke even more terrorism, and 
Americans around the world -- including us in America 
itself -- will be in greater danger than before. Everyone 
knows it. The Bush people don't even deny it.

     And conservatives don't seem to care. War is the one 
government program they assume will succeed. Their talk 
shows, magazines, and newspapers clamor for war. Their 
think-tanks ask no skeptical questions, issue no cost-
benefit analyses. The same people who ridicule liberal 
welfare programs for "throwing money at the problem" are 
willing to take exactly the same approach to terrorism. 
And the liberal programs at least aren't meant to kill 

     Fussell's masterpiece WARTIME puts great stress on 
the sheer inefficiency of war. War always begins with 
optimistic talk about "precision bombing" and "surgical 
strikes" that will quickly vanquish the enemy. But armies 
and air forces are unwieldy things, and people are hard 
to kill when they don't want to be killed. So the 
material costs of warfare always far exceed the expected 

     Nor does victory bring the expected results. 
Conservatives rightly lament the "unanticipated 
consequences" of welfare programs, but they don't seem to 
notice the unanticipated consequences of war. If they 
want a cost-benefit analysis, they might start by reading 
Aeschylus and Euripides.


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