The Conservative War-Mania
August 8, 2002
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 dont
Spielbergs 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
enemys 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 didnt 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? Were told that Saddam Hussein is a ruthless tyrant, which
he surely is; yet were expected to believe, too, that his armies are
composed of his willing servitors rather than his victims.
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 cant 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
generations conservatives so different from their ancestors? Their
casual acceptance of war is one of the most striking cultural changes in
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
arent 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
didnt. 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 dont even deny it.
dont 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
arent meant to kill people.
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 dont want to be killed.
So the material costs of warfare always far exceed the expected costs.
Nor does victory bring
the expected results. Conservatives rightly lament the
unanticipated consequences of welfare programs, but they
dont seem to notice the unanticipated consequences of war. If they
want a cost-benefit analysis, they might start by reading Aeschylus and