Notes on the War in Iraq: Many Americans have forgotten or never learned what war is

This is the last of a series. The bulleted points below are culled from many sources. They are compiled to show how much information on an issue is available to those who are seeking it.

  • World War II, which saw almost 300,000 Americans killed (and over 670,000 wounded), was not as controversial as one that has so far taken a small fraction of that terrible toll.
  • Previous eras saw a resolve, toughness and realism that is sorely lacking today. People understood then that being at war with Hitler’s Germany and Hirohito’s Japan meant that many of our fighting men would die or be wounded.
  • Imagine what would have happened if Baby Boomers had to cope with the kind of casualty rates experienced during World War II:

*  Battle Deaths: 291,557;

*  Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater):113,842;

*  Non-mortal Woundings: 671,846.

  • Each life lost back then was as dear as any today. Doing the math on just battle deaths alone shows that 6,480 families a month received the worst news possible from the War Department.
  • People have the idea that the West has always been here, strong enough to handle any possible threat. They may believe there really aren’t any threats, and that our cultural and financial cultures are strong enough to persevere no matter what.
  • History tells us that few wars go exactly as planned. The fact that Iraq has taken longer to pacify is not a novel circumstance. Again, too many Americans look only at the last few years in isolation when they shouldn’t.
  • Our current crisis is really a real loss of confidence of the spirit. The hard-won effort of the Western Enlightenment of some 2,500 years that along with Judeo-Christian benevolence is the foundation of our material progress, common decency, and scientific excellence, is at risk in this new millennium.
  • More often than not we are the culprits. In the most affluent, and leisured age in the history of Western civilization — never more powerful in its military reach, never more prosperous in our material bounty — we have become complacent, and then scared of the most recent face of barbarism from the primordial extremists of the Middle East.
  • People who are impatient with the pace of the war and political reconciliation in Iraq forget the long, 572-year uphill march from the signing of the Magna Carta to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787.
  • Even more sobering, our Constitutional Convention was followed in less than 75 years by the bloodiest Civil War the world had ever seen, to settle some leftover constitutional questions. We know from our own history how difficult regime change is.
  • When President Bush speaks of regime change, he is using a term from Aristotle. For Aristotle, changing a regime did not mean substituting a few public officials for other public officials. For Aristotle, a regime meant the habits, mores, customs, dispositions, public philosophy, and culture of politics that sustain public institutions. Therefore, regime change is statecraft and soulcraft; it is changing the temperament of a people. It is very complicated.
  • Our parents and grandparents weren’t weak. Winston Churchill came to North America immediately after Pearl Harbor and gave a speech in which he said, “We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.” No, we are not. We are much tougher than our enemies understand.
  • Part of the problem is diagnosed by something Immanuel Kant said: “a prolonged peace favors the predominance of a mere commercial spirit, and with it a debasing self-interest, cowardice, and effeminacy and tends to degrade the character of the nation.”
  • There is much to be said for the commercial spirit, because the commercial spirit is a civilizing spirit. Commerce, entrepreneurship, and all the various elements of capitalism form an enveloping, civilizing culture.
  • Capitalism requires the diffusion of decision-making and the diffusion of information. Capitalism requires contracts – a culture of promise-keeping enforced by the judicial system. It requires banks to make self-interested, calculated, and rational allocations of wealth and opportunity. It sublimates the troublesome passions of mankind into improving the material well-being of people.
  • A few questions can be raised:

“What if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?”

Could Britain and the United States have won World War II if they did not have it in them to firebomb Dresden and nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki, inflicting massive civilian casualties? Can it be that the moral greatness of our civilization-its astonishing focus on the value of the individual above all-is endangering the future of our civilization as well?

What if Americans during World War II had been confronted daily both with reports of American casualties and with images of dead and wounded German civilians, including children and old people? What if public opinion had been as troubled by both American and German casualties as we are by American and Iraqi (or Lebanese) casualties today? Would there still be a free world to speak of?

  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Peter Pace has said that “Our enemy knows they cannot defeat us in battle. They do believe, however, that they can wear down our will as a nation.”
  • It may be hard for the world’s new impatient generation to accept the truth: There are no simple black-and-white solutions at little cost in today’s technologically connected but politically fragmented world.
  • Restless Americans and a demanding global public are going to have to accept that in Afghanistan, Darfur, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Somalia and the West Bank, the United States itself — not just the bogeyman George Bush — has only bad and far worse choices.
  • The Western nations are weary of war. We should all recall how easy it was – with the exception of England and Russia – it was for the Nazis to subjugate all of Europe during World War II. The Europeans did not have the heart in many cases or the willingness to prepare for the struggle to resist Nazi attackers and occupation. Indeed, had the U.S. not been led by F.D.R., we might very well have similarly succumbed. The nation back then was quite divided philosophically on the dangers posed by the Nazis.
  • In a speech to Harvard University’s graduating class of 1978, Alexander Solzhenitsyn attacked the West’s weak confrontation of communism. His words remain instructive today as we face a different ideological threat.
  • Mr. Solzhenitsyn warned that “The Western world has lost its civil courage…” and rhetorically asked, “Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?” He lamented that “[N]o weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower.”
  • Solzhenitsyn also observed:

“When a government starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorists’ civil rights. There are many such cases.”

“The fight, physical and spiritual for our planet, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started.”