Debating war

I recently came across an amusing recasting of a Monty Python sketch, with Saddam Hussein and George Bush playing the playground game of "No you didn't / Yes you did." It had been published on rec.humor.funny, and included a website for the source. Following the pointer, I found a blog, but not the source, and wandered around a bit.

The author's stance regarding the likely war in Iraq is clearly "pro," and one of his entries boiled down Bush's press conference to this:

The follow-up link said "2 comments." They comprised a one-word and a one line affirmation. I added my thoughts:

Aside from not agreeing with the premise, "sworn to protect" does not imply "remove all threats," even if that were possible. North Korea's, China's and Russia's nuclear weapons (to name but a few) are threats to the US. The unresolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a threat to the US. How is Iraq a threat to the US? Can the threat be contained or deterred? How can we best minimize or eliminate it? And so on.

Anyway, I introduce this because shortly after posting that, I got feedback on my "why I oppose the war" essay, and it occurred to me that my foray into the other camp might have prompted an atypical reader to visit, and then respond. (But who knows? The only way I know who's reading is if you tell me.)

The response started out strong, with a declarative statement:
"You are wrong."

Then the observation:
"I don't think the logic of your arguments would convince anyone who didn't already believe as you do."

Then the heart of the matter:
"It is always easy to explain why war is bad, why you should oppose it. No one wants what war brings. The problem is in deciding which wars must be fought before you have suffered the consequences of not fighting them. I don't see any acknowledgement in your web page that such a situation can exist."

Let me first acknowledge that I don't think all war is unjustified. Responding to attack, imminent attack or credible threat thereof, or to the aid of an ally in that situation can be and has been morally justified in the past. (But does this mean Iraq would be morally justified in attacking the US right now? Given the imbalance of military power, such an attack would likely take the form of terrorism, and in fact the CIA and others have suggested we should expect such a response to our attack.)

Unfortunately, the response went downhill from there. My observation that the war was economic folly was countered by the notion that war is not about profit and loss. ("How can you rationalize the cost of a war vs. the loss of New York or Atlanta?")

He didn't get around to responding to my other objections: political folly, lack of skill (or committment) to building democracy in the Middle East and the distraction from the central issue of Israel and the Palestinians.

My correspondent noted that we're already in a low grade war with Iraq, as we have been patrolling the no fly zones daily. (Indeed, I saw a news report yesterday that said "the war has already begun," as we've used more ordnance in the last x days than we have in the last 3 years.) He said he thought this was wrong, which was a bit confusing. Even more confusing was this challenge:
"Do you ride your bike to work, or is it just a hobby?"
And even more damning:
"Do you think listing your patents on your web sight entitles you to some kind of authority status?"

I did answer the email, by the way, and in spite of him not offering any information about his own life or background, I volunteered that yes I do ride my bike to work, and that I do claim authority status about the content of the patents on my website, but not beyond that.

Futher challenges: Have you spent any time in the Middle East, have you talked to the people of Israel, Egypt and Palestine? Have you spent time in the military? Rewind to 1930's - 1940's => where would you stand?
No; not all that much; no; I can't know. The people I know who have spent time in the military are mostly against the war, but that's more of a sample of my acquaintances than those who've served.

He then took the trouble to quote my essay in full, with names changed to make it about WW2, to show me the absurdity (cowardice? moral indefensibility? treasonous nature?) of my position. It didn't seem any more convincing a refutation to me than my original argument seemed to him, so it's a standoff.

As the relentless push, news and marketing for war continues, popular demand for the concluding episode is building, and the debate may very soon be moot. We will test the moral theory of might makes right, and see if there are any pieces of the UN that are worth picking up and trying to reassemble, even as we learn whether the doctrine of pre-emption is Pandora's box.


Tom von Alten's website