Monday, January 22, 2007

This War, All War

[posted by Callimachus]

Amba watches "Munich" and makes an observation too little made:

The movie actually says something quite unexceptional: that war, not excluding just war, erodes human decency.

Exactly so. I can't count the number of anti-Iraq War posts I read in blogs that really are anti-war posts. They're really about the horror and brutality of all wars, not this particular one. Here, for instance. As I've said before, you can be anti-war in an overarching sense, and it's a fine and honorable position, if a tad idealistic. I was raised by and among Pennsylvania Quakers, so I know about that.

And I spent a lot of time listening to soldiers' stories, so I can relate to a perhaps fictitious quip from the World War I trenches, translated from French, "fuck all starters of wars up the arse with a handspike dipped in tetanus."

But unless you can honestly stand up and call yourself a pacifist and mean it, you have to do the ugly sifting that separates "this war" from "all war."

"This war is unjust." Very well, then, if the same things that happen in this war also happen in a just war (and they do), does that mean you accept the dead children and tortured prisoners in case B? How do you measure a just war? Can the same war be partly just and partly unjust? Which matters more; motives or outcomes? What if there
is more than one motive, as there always is?

People avoid it because it puts you in the position of the girl in the sophomoric joke: Boy approaches girl and says "will you sleep with me for $10 million?" She says, "Sure, I guess." He then says, "Will you sleep with me for $10?" She says, "Get away, what kind of girl do you think I am?" He says, "I already know what kind of girl you are; we're just haggling over the price."

Everyone will have a different answer on the this-war-vs.-all-war questions, and there are many legitimate answers. But until you begin to try to tell the difference in your head, you don't know enough to make a statement about it that is worth reading.

Since most people in modern America take great care to keep their distance from any war, and have studied only the cleaned-up and glorified versions of historical wars, they have no idea what they think about the hard question at the core of it.

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