Why Not War?
October 3, 2002
Your eyes tend to open and your mind to come
awake when you run across your name in print, even in National
Review. So it was when I read there that I have been
marginalized, along with Patrick Buchanan and Samuel
Francis, because of our false predictions of disaster in the 1991 Gulf War.
Conservative opponents of that war, writes Ramesh Ponnuru, have been
discredited by American victory. So we shouldnt be listened to
Trouble is, Ponnuru
doesnt quote our erroneous predictions, except a brief estimate of
tens of thousands of U.S. dead by Buchanan. None of us
predicted a U.S. defeat. That wasnt the point. We thought the war
was wrong in principle and, in addition, contrary to American interests.
We think the same about the imminent war on Iraq.
Ponnuru does quote
erroneous prophecies by Chris Matthews, Senator Barbara Boxer, Robert
Novak, and Senator Paul Wellstone, none of whom have been
marginalized or, more accurately, blacklisted. I
daresay Buchanan and Francis would agree with me that the conservatives
who complain about media bias against them have turned out to be
remarkably intolerant of dissent within their own ranks.
movement, as it exists today, could have taught the old Communists a
thing or two about purges. When neoconservatism comes,
principled conservatism goes. The sad history of National
Review bears this out.
conservatives have become evangelists for war. And war is the least
conservative of all human enterprises. By definition, it destroys and
devastates. It also tends to bring revolution and tyranny. And indeed the
hawks today want not only military victory, but the overthrow of Arab
governments! This fusion of militarism with social engineering would
astonish, and appall, thoughtful conservatives of another era.
Even some of the dire
predictions of 1991 might have come true if the first President Bush had
followed the hawks advice to take the war all the way to Baghdad.
Regime change then (this evasive phrase hadnt yet
been coined) might well have sent a few thousand Americans home in body
bags. But that President Bush had the good sense to stick to his limited
war aim: driving Iraq out of Kuwait. He settled for an easy victory, with
few American casualties. I still think that war was wrong, but it could
have been far worse.
One of the chief conservative virtues is prudence. Thats
not much in evidence today. Its hard to imagine such conservative
icons as Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, James Madison, or Robert Taft, to
name a few, eagerly endorsing war after war, in the manner of those who
now claim to be their political heirs.
Fear of defeat
isnt the only reason to avoid war, except as a last resort. The chief
reason is it necessary to explain this? is humanity. Modern
warfare means untold suffering, death, mutilation, loss, grief. If you have
to inflict all this on largely innocent people, it should be with some sense
of regret. That too is conspicuously absent in the hawks these days. They
regard war as a thrill (best enjoyed, of course, from afar).
Nobody knows exactly
what will happen in any war, but its wise to expect the worst. In
1991 I was afraid that many Americans would die, though I didnt
predict large numbers. But I also feared other things. And here I was, alas,
only too correct.
I feared that America
would become hated around the world, especially in the Muslim world. I
feared the rise of anti-American terrorism (and though 9/11 shocked me,
it surprised me not at all). I feared that American arrogance would incur
the contempt of civilized men. I feared that war would become an
American habit. And I feared that this habit would only aggravate and
accelerate the corruption of American government, making a return to
constitutional rule more remote than ever.
consequences of war arent always immediate and palpable,
especially after a seeming victory. Some are slow, subtle, and hard to
discern. They may take years to appear, and even then their causes may not
Most people will
probably never suspect them. How many Americans, even today, realize the
grave distorting effects the Civil War and two world wars have had on the
Republic the Founders established? To hear the hawks tell it, all these
tragedies offer us nothing but happy endings and glib lessons.