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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Rumsfeld and American Morale

(Reprinted from the issue of December 30, 2004)

Capitol BldgThe week before Christmas saw the worst attack yet on an American base in Iraq: A suicide bomber killed 22 people, including 15 U.S. soldiers, while wounding 60 others.

As for those who were “only” wounded, some were literally deafened by the blast. That is, their eardrums were destroyed. The Washington Post described a woman soldier crying, “I can’t hear! I can’t hear!” as a friend hugged her.

After two years, the deaths no longer shock us, but sometimes the details do: the mutilations, less than fatal, that the soldier will bear for a lifetime; images not summoned up by the mere word “wounds.” We prefer to picture a “wound” as minor and superficial, something the soldier will recover from before getting back to normal. The word doesn’t distinguish between those who will recover fully and those who will never be normal again.

The least we can do is face the costs of war unflinchingly. This news comes at an especially bad time for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whom even many Republicans now want to see removed. His handling of the war leaves much to be desired even from the hawks’ point of view. The occupation of Iraq was notoriously poorly planned, and the scandals of tortured prisoners continue.

Just recently soldiers have been complaining that they are insufficiently armored — a discontent Rumsfeld answered rather cavalierly — and it transpired that his letters of condolence to relatives of the dead have been signed by a machine. This may not really matter much — most signatures in Washington are automatic — but it seemed a particularly unfeeling way to treat the bereaved, in keeping with what often seems Rumsfeld’s peculiar callousness. How much time would it cost him to sign a few letters a day?

President Bush is enjoying good press coverage now; Time magazine has named him its Person of the Year. So it’s natural that Rumsfeld should bear the brunt of rising disillusionment with the war. Most people now see it as a mistake at best, and even the hawks are more dogged than enthusiastic. Elections are still scheduled for January 30, but the idea that they will bring Iraq democracy and freedom is sounding pretty strained.

So is the idea that the enemy is motivated by hatred of freedom. The enemy seems to equate freedom chiefly with driving the United States out of his country, which puts the U.S. in the awkward position of insisting that freedom depends on its staying in Iraq and crushing the native resistance.

Bush’s great weakness as a wartime president is that he has no skill at plausible propaganda. The terrible price of this war is obvious in every horrible headline, but the reward Bush keeps promising is abstract and remote. The elections won’t change that.
Almost a Mathematical Certainty

In addition, Saddam Hussein will soon go on trial, and we can expect his defense to underline the falsity of the pretexts for the “pre-emptive” war on Iraq. Barbarous as his rule was, many Iraqis, if not most, by now must remember it as the good old days, by comparison with the present. Not that they want him back, but under his regime they at least had food, water, electricity, and other things more urgent than honest elections.

In a situation like this, when you kill an enemy you don’t have fewer enemies; you have more. The more you kill, the more you make: families, friends, and neighbors who want revenge, even if it takes years. By contrast, American casualties don’t strengthen the American will to fight; they only weaken it.

Will the families of the deafened soldiers demand vengeance, or will they feel that the whole war is a waste? Americans harbor little anger against the enemy; the enemy is so angry that he will kill himself in order to kill Americans. In that respect, not just in weaponry, this war is truly “asymmetrical.”

So time isn’t on Bush’s side. As both Iraqi and American casualties increase, the invaders will lose heart, while the resistance will grow. It’s almost a mathematical certainty. The demands for Rumsfeld’s head show how low American morale already is. And it’s not likely to get any better, no matter who succeeds him.
War, Caesar, and Catholics

One of the most disheartening facts about this war, to my mind, is how many Catholics have supported it. And I mean devout Catholics, who take their faith seriously, receive the sacraments, and would never dream of voting for a pro-abortion candidate.

The Church has a long tradition of reflection on war, including the just war theorizing that goes back at least to St. Augustine. Criteria for a just war were developed when most wars were, by our standards, rather minor skirmishes, long before modern weapons of mass murder — when even the crossbow seemed a monstrous innovation. It was possible, and practical, to stipulate that civilians should be spared.

In modern warfare, it hardly need be said, it has become increasingly difficult to avoid harming the innocent. If you will warfare, you almost necessarily will indiscriminate mass destruction. And even that can be directly willed and efficiently executed, not only by direct violence, but also by, for example, the 1991 sanctions against Iraq that killed countless people — far more than either of the two shooting wars against Iraq.

Yet American Catholics have generally ignored these things, though the Pope himself has vigorously protested them. We have too readily equated war with “defense,” failing to ask in what possible sense such measures could possibly qualify as defensive.

In the case of the latest Iraq war, some Catholics have argued that the decision to wage war belongs to “competent civil authorities,” and — by implication, at least — that once they make the fatal decision, the rest of us must obey. And also refrain from opposing them, it seems. Apparently this falls under the expansive heading of “the things that are Caesar’s.”

But do Christ’s words mean we must always submit to the state? The early martyrs didn’t think so. True, He Himself didn’t engage in political activity; but He had a special mission that required Him to acquiesce. And we have the example of St. John the Baptist. If he could attack a king for an unholy marriage, surely we can, and should, speak out against an unholy war!

Two great Catholic writers — not Belloc or Chesterton! — are cited on the Gospels in SOBRANS. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.

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Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by The Wanderer
Reprinted with permission.

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