Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Real men and fighting

I think, when I was growing up, it was understood that it took a real man to walk away from a fight. If you were afraid of being seen as weak or scared, you'd fight, but if you were truly confident, and truly aware of the world, you could walk away, unless it was in defense of yourself or another.

A real man can't turn his back on people who are being hurt, but a real man can, and must, walk away when there is no danger, when there is no risk, when the only thing that he has to fear is harsh words and ridicule, and a nose-thumbing by a smirking enemy.

Writ small, it's stupid to fight if you have a choice. Even if you can clobber your opponent, it wastes your time and energy, and risks an accident occurring. It also solidifies the enmity, and possibly makes other enemies as well.

Writ large, war is too big, too nasty, and too horrible for egos to play a role.

If I could destroy a single foul idea, and just remove it from our political discourse entirely, it would be the idea that war is simply a "tool of foreign policy". War is about using lethal force against people, and mostly against people who do not deserve it. There was a time when the people hurt worst in a war were the soldiers fighting the war, and people played the game of thinking, well, at least they signed up for it. But why should soldiers have to suffer for the decisions of their leaders, or because of the decisions of invaders? It might be necessary that a soldier stand and fight and suffer and die... but that doesn't make it acceptable, from a moral standpoint. The Geneva conventions state that enemy soldiers are valid military targets, but that doesn't mean that it's morally acceptable to kill them... it just means that there won't be any war crimes trials.

Part of the intent of the Geneva conventions is to prevent everlasting war, to accept that certain matters are settled. Sometimes, the reasoning goes, it is better to accept an injustice than to watch a war continue, spreading more suffering and death. So sure, if you kill a bunch of soldiers in a war, the conventions say that it's not a war crime, it's not like kidnapping or torture or slaughter of civilians. But that's working based on the assumption that the war is a foregone conclusion. Within the moral travesty that is warfare, the killing of soldiers is not an exceptional travesty... it's just part of the horror.

To fight a war against another nation is to declare the intent to bring horror to that nation, until that nation gives up and is unwilling or unable to resist your demands. A war that is not essential for defense against an ongoing or imminent attack is not a "tool of foreign policy"; it is the ultimate act of hateful indifference.

The invasion of Iraq was based upon deceptions and fears; we had to be afraid of what might happen if we didn't invade, we couldn't let Saddam Hussein get away with his defiance, we couldn't let him thumb his nose at us.

Well, who suffered? Saddam suffered, sure... but who suffered more?

The people of Iraq. Hundreds of thousand dead, millions of lives shattered and disrupted.

A coward, a fool, an egotist, could see the fight as a chance for gain and for glory. It would take a real man to walk away.

It's a damn shame we don't have one in the White House.

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