One of my favorite quotations, reprinted periodically on
the Register's editorial pages, is from Robert E. Lee: "It
is well that war is so terrible - we should grow too fond
When I first read it, I was a bit perplexed. No one could
be fond of war, after all. The older I get, and the more wars
I read about, the more I come to believe that Gen. Lee had
That's a hard point to grasp, especially today as we commemorate
one of the most horrific scenes of modern warfare: D-Day,
when Allied troops invaded France. We've all seen the movies,
as frightened young men willingly marched into enemy fire
on Normandy's beaches.
Yet people still like wars, which is why we fight so many
wars that seem so unnecessary.
Soldiers like the challenge and the adventure. I read a Los
Angeles Times article during the battle of Fallujah in which
the interviewed Marines expressed extreme disappointment that
they were not being allowed to go into the city and continue
their firefight. They were excited to engage and kill the
Politicians like war because it gives them a chance to make
bold pronouncements about stopping evil. Read any number of
President Bush's post-9/11 speeches.
Before the terrorist attacks, Bush had no direction and was
struggling with a less-than-resounding mandate. But since
then, every word he utters is grandiloquent. Last week, at
the Air Force Academy, he compared the (never-ending) war
on terror with World War II: "Our goal, the goal of this generation,
is the same. We will secure our nation and defend the peace
through the forward march of freedom."
I'm not sure if the president would pronounce it correctly,
but the word pabulum comes to mind.
Editorialists love war also. They get to pound their chests
and call for the nation unifying on behalf of the New National
Cause or for Supporting Our Troops. Sure beats writing about
the local sewer commission. They get to call for sacrifice.
And for honor. And for heroics. Not that they will be engaging
in any of those activities personally.
Pro-war writers love to berate those who do not prosecute
the war with sufficient gusto. "If you wanted to, you could
easily make the case that America is retreating in Iraq,"
wrote Tom Donnelly in the Weekly Standard. "Under relentless
attack in the press, with a nasty campaign fight on its hands,
the Bush administration has moved from its natural defensive
crouch to a position that at times looks fetal."
It's not just writers, though. There are plenty of people
from all walks of life who, from the comfort of their easy
chairs or sofas, love to see bombs dropping on The Enemy,
even if many of those bombs drop on those who aren't enemies
I have a rule. Always remember that in most any city under
siege by military forces are 8-year-old girls playing with
dolls and 12-year-old boys playing soccer. "They" are not
all terrorists, you know. There are nursing mothers in their
bedrooms and kids sitting in schools that are hit by errant
No one is "collateral damage." Everyone is someone's beloved
son or daughter or mother or father.
I'm sure I'll be called names for pointing out such obvious
After all, showing sympathy for a nation's supposed enemies
is viewed by some as a sign of cowardice or moral weakness.
We need to get them before they get us, or something like
that. At least that's what many e-mailers tell me.
I brush it off. Wars make otherwise normal people say stupid
things. It gives them license to blast the media as traitors
for daring to cover the bad news rather than simply reprinting
the Pentagon's press releases. It lets them forget that the
justification for the current war on Iraq keeps changing each
time the administration's last justification is proven false.
None of those facts really matters.
When the war is on, everything is black and white, everything
is good and evil. Our side is always heroic, even though our
side sometimes commits atrocities, and their side is always
evil, even if many of them no doubt are simply fighting to
repel a foreign army.
Some people go to Memorial Day and D-Day celebrations and
cheer the talk about bravery and heroism and sacrifice and
nationalism and freedom and democracy, without asking tough
questions about whether the specific war being commemorated
really accomplished all the things the politicians claim it
They rightly commemorate U.S. war dead, but it would have
been so much better if those men and women had not been forced
to give their lives on behalf of a war, especially if that
war was a needless one. That's my point.
Every year, some letter-writers complain that people spend
Memorial Day having picnics rather than ... well, they never
say what exactly we should be doing instead.
I have an idea. Next Memorial Day (or this weekend, as we
commemorate D-Day) we can all spend a few minutes pondering
If Americans are so willing to fight for "freedom" abroad,
why do they so willingly let their freedoms slip away at home
... without a peep, let alone a battle or full-scale war?
Are we perhaps simply sheep, believing all the lies and half-truths
our officials tell us about the threats to our safety and
the need for the latest war to end all wars and the importance
of letting government make ever more decisions in our lives?
Yes, many Americans have bravely fought in wars, some of
which did have something to do with our freedom. But let's
not get so caught up in the commemorations that we forget
the essential point: There is nothing noble or wonderful about
In her column last week about D-Day, The Washington Post's
Anne Applebaum, author of the fabulous book, "Gulag: A History,"
reminded readers that all wars have disturbing unforeseen
"The liberation of one half of the European continent coincided
with a new occupation of the other half. The camps of Stalin,
our ally, expanded just as the camps of Hitler, our enemy,
were destroyed. Not that you would know it, listening to Americans
reminisce about D-Day ... . Perhaps there is no such thing
as an entirely 'good war' after all."
Perhaps that's why we should never get involved in a war
that is not absolutely necessary.
Perhaps that's why many Americans - including many of us
in the libertarian and conservative camp who voted for this
president - are seething because of the Iraq debacle.