Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Conservatives at war

Over at the American Spectator blog, I mention Bill Kauffman's upcoming appearance at Cato Institute to discuss his new book, Ain't My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism:
I just don't like the phrase "anti-war," for the simple reason that I don't think any sane person can be "pro-war," at least not in a general sense.
War is a dreadful thing to be avoided if possible, but it is not always possible to avoid it. . . .
Of course, most of Kauffman's readers are likely to see his new book through the prism of Iraq, an issue where I think the schism among conservatives is much deeper than has been generally recognized.
Not long ago, I was speaking to a conservative writer whose name you'd recognize and whom I'd thought to be a hawk on Iraq. I was surprised to hear him go on a tear again "neocons" and "nation-building."

My own view of Iraq is . . . well, nuanced.

To make a long story short, I'm the polar opposite of John Kerry: I was against the war before I was for it. I was unable to write about my view at the time because back then nobody was willing to publish any such arguments -- which at any rate would have been a firing offense for a news editor at The Washington Times. Yet witnesses will aver that in late 2002 and early 2003 I openly scoffed at the rationale for invading Iraq.

Still, my philosophy has always been, if you're in it, win it. Once the bombs start falling, the time for arguing is over, and the only acceptable conclusion is American victory. So it was, and is, with the war in Iraq.

Back in the '60s, the hippies liked to say there has never been a good war or a bad peace. In my view, there has never been a good defeat or a bad victory. No honorable man can wish to see his own nation beaten and humiliated in war, to see his nation's soldiers retreat with the colors furled, to see heroes shamed and the graves of their comrades dishonored by a cowardly capitulation.

My family has a long tradition of military service, and my father's World War II medals -- including the Purple Heart, for a shrapnel wound that nearly killed him -- are framed and displayed in a place of honor in my home. The Vietnam War was first "escalated" when I was in kindergarten. The last U.S. troops were withdrawn when I was in eighth grade, and Saigon fell when I was a sophomore at Douglas County High School. My uncle fought in Vietnam, as did other relatives, friends and neighbors, men I knew and admired. This was a formative influence of my youth.

War is always a risky endeavor; there are no "easy" wars, because men are killed even in the swiftest and most decisive victory. The decision to go to war always means the certainty of death, and the possibility of disaster. Yet there can be no turning back, and while matters of policy regarding the war's prosecution -- its means and its objectives -- are always a fit topic for debate, it is not "patriotic dissent" to advocate defeat.

No nation ever benefitted from its own defeat in war. To advocate defeat is therefore to wish harm on one's nation. Defeatism may not be treason, but it is surely not patriotism.

Nuanced, like I said. Now, let's win this stupid war!

1 comment:

  1. Nuanced? Traditional nationalist with a sprinkle of admitted self-censorship (intellectual cowardice).

    Of course, traditional conservatives are against stupid wars, and nationalists will offer their fatalistic pronouncements.