War is not peace

By Craige McMillan

Earlier this week I came unexpectedly upon a small community’s historical display. A large portion of it showed how very real people were affected in their lives and work in the Longview, Wash., community during World War II. There were enlistment notices published in the newspaper, letters hastily mailed home, marriages that were never to be, all neatly organized in large black binders, with a single year printed on the cover of each binder.

Hanging on the wall, above the binders, was a listing of the men and women from this small community who died in the war. The publication date was Memorial Day of 2002 – the community still remembers. The listing occupied a full double page of the newspaper. I starred at it for quite some time as I pondered the magnitude of this small community’s loss. It was not alone. Every place in America was touched by the war.

Newspapers and television talking heads are today hotly debating the wisdom of a “war with Iraq.” Any such conflict would be unworthy of the name. In the events leading up to World War II, Hitler was engaged in building the Reich that would last for a thousand years, both at home and abroad. He had already appropriated portions of Europe, and crushed others. When America entered the war, it was on two fronts. The outcome of the war was not at all clear.

Can anyone say the same of a conflict in Iraq? Is there anyone who doubts that America’s nuclear muscle could, in the end, make Iraq and (should the conflict come to it) the rest of the Muslim world an uninhabitable ash heap for a thousand years? A single set of codes, transmitted to a lone submarine, and the “war” would be over. “War” with Iraq, even confined to the conventional realm, can have but one outcome. Yes, our soldiers would die, and while each life is precious, the total number is not worthy of comparison to the sacrifice communities across America made during World War II.

No, I think the real debate surrounding “war” with Iraq is quite different. And it highlights how very different is the internal wiring of liberals and conservatives today in America. It is one of the reasons we so seldom agree – about anything. When confronted with conflict, liberals look to the power structure to mete out justice and “make it all better.”

Domestically this usually means the legislature or the courts, most often at the federal level. Internationally, when the conflict is between nations, liberals look to the United Nations for their solution. The nature of the conflict is irrelevant. The answer is always an authority figure to whom one can plead his or her case. Liberals look to authority for justice – that is why they are so often disappointed by the events of this world.

Conservatives are less likely to believe that authority will dispense justice, although we, too, do on occasion fall victim to such wishful thinking. The simple fact is, authority is far more likely to do what is convenient for itself than it is to do what is right (the latter being a judgment call that liberals have a terrible time making). In the end, authority is quite likely to dispense stability, yielding injustice spread across both sides.

Conservatives have a clear sense of right and wrong, combined with an innate distrust of authority. This means that they value a strong national defense, and are more likely to use it to protect the nation when it is threatened. Liberals, lacking strong views of right and wrong, are more likely to work through international assemblies, value treaties and agreements, and compromise basic principles to avert conflict (which is how they view peace). This past century has not been kind to their view of the world.

Liberals need to look back at history in an honest light. War is not peace. Although the Christian-descended West is loathe to admit it, Islam has declared war upon it. Radical Muslims murdered thousands of Americans – and meant to murder many thousands more (see last week’s column).

Liberals are commendably concerned about civil liberties in this country, and, quite frankly, I hope they keep asking questions. But war is not peace, and we do not arrest and try in a court of law a war’s perpetrators – we defeat them, and those who follow them. After their defeat, they may be tried in a court of law for crimes against others, but one does not end a war by arresting the perpetrators. One ends a war by crushing them with such overwhelming force that a continuation of the conflict becomes unthinkable. War is not peace, and we do well not to delude ourselves that the same solutions apply.