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Sunday, January 14, 2007

War Blogs & War Powers: Playing Fast and Loose with the Lives & Liberties of Others

War Blogs & War Powers: Playing Fast and Loose with the Lives & Liberties of Others
Image © Austin Cline
Original Poster: National Archives
Click for full-sized Image

In the past, most right-wing bloggers seem to have been pretty firm in their rejection of the idea that more troops in Iraq would have made things better in the past and would help ensure success going forward. Now that The Decider has proclaimed the need for more troops, these same bloggers are becoming more supportive of the plan, if not downright enthusiastic. Yet given the extent to which our military has already been stretched in Bush's overseas adventures, where are the extra soldiers and support personnel to come from?

Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute has written, "The president must issue a personal call for young Americans to volunteer to fight in the decisive conflict of this generation" (emphasis added). Notice the language: for the ideological architects of this war, America is not involved in any mere "police action." This is instead an existential struggle for the future of Western Civilization – either America is victorious and Western values survive, or America fails and Western values succumb to the brown hordes.

Yet despite the dire consequences of losing this battle, one thing is conspicuously absent: any call for the war supporters to pledge life, fortune, and honor in the conflict.

The Chicken Hawk Argument has been around for a while, and war supporters have argued that just as one doesn't need to become a firefighter in order to support fighting fires, one also doesn't need to become a soldier in order to support a war. There is some validity to this response, though this validity has always been somewhat undermined by the fact that this conflict has consistently been portrayed as so vital to the future of America. There is no indication that fires themselves are becoming a danger to the survival of Western values. Now, added to this is the open admission that more troops are needed for the successful prosecution of this war. With that, the war supporters' answer to the Chicken Hawk Argument falls apart completely.

As Glen Greenwald put it: "A "coward" is someone who (a) fails to fight (b) in a war they consider to be necessary and just (c) notwithstanding their country's need for more fighters and (d) in the absence of a unique and compelling excuse for doing so."

Because war bloggers and war supporters still don't get it, he was forced to rephrase it again as an analogy: "if a person: (a) were arguing vociferously that the threat of unmanaged fires posed a danger to the Republic's existence and to civilization as we knew it, and containing them therefore outweighed all other issues, and (b) experts accepted as such by that person urgently warned that the fires have become impossible to contain -- and that the fate of our country is therefore seriously threatened -- due to a severe shortage of willing fire fighters, then, self-evidently, it would be natural and entirely legitimate to demand of that person a response as to why he himself is not acting to confront the fire threat, given that he himself characterizes that threat as civilization-endangering and more important than all others."

Since few if any of the most vociferous war bloggers and war supporters — our own "reciters of oracles and soothsayers, and all other omen-mongers" — are either volunteering themselves or calling up colleagues, friends, and family to volunteer, then we must conclude along with Greenwald that either they are too afraid to do what they are asking strangers to do, or they are disingenuous about the seriousness of the threat we are facing. At least, those are the two most logical options in a reality-based universe — but is that really the universe in which these war bloggers live? I'm not so sure — I wonder if perhaps there is not a third option.

Allow me to approach this from the other direction. War supporters like Kagan are not volunteering themselves or calling upon friends, family, and colleagues to volunteer (both Fred Kagan and his younger brother are of enlistment age). They are, however, willing to call upon complete strangers to volunteer — the above quote from Kagan is quite broad and impersonal. There is a strong parallel here with how often the far right will call for limitations to liberty which don't seem to affect them. Newt Gingrich, for example, would have Muslims arrested for praying in public on a plane, but coincidentally he's not a Muslim. Dinesh D'Souza calls for an end to the "abuse" of freedoms, but I haven't seem him volunteer to surrender any of his own civil liberties in order to support the war against terrorism.

There is a pattern here, and it's not one limited to just our current era or this particular conflict. Whites once called upon blacks to pursue a more "moderate" course of action and not push for too much equality too quickly. In effect, they called upon blacks to give up some of their claims to equality, but they didn't volunteer to give up anything themselves. Men used to insist that women should be satisfied with the power and authority they had in their homes and families rather than agitating for political power or a right to vote, yet the same men never offered to "settle" for anything less than what they wanted.

The common thread running through all of this is privilege: some people believe that because of some quality they possess, they should benefit from special privileges denied to others. Men should be privileged over women, whites should be privileged over blacks, Christians should be privileged over non-Christians, and of course well-to-do conservatives (usually, and not coincidentally, white male Christians) should be privileged over everyone else. This, then, might be that third option I mentioned above: these people are not quite cowards and they do believe in the seriousness of the threat, but they also believe that as part of a privileged class they shouldn't be expected to do any of the "heavy lifting" required for meeting such a threat. That's what the lower classes are for.

Some might even go so far as to suggest that their "ideological contributions," in the form of blog posts, short missives at The Corner, or policy papers for organizations like the AEI, are even more important than the contributions of soldiers patrolling the streets of the latest nation to come under American occupation. It is a "war of ideas," right? Democracy is an idea and an ideal, which makes the war blogs the most important weapon in the fight to spread democracy. It takes a lot of time and effort to find something written by someone else, quote a portion, and say "I agree." These bloggers risk missing the latest episode 24!

Just how far have we come that we might be tempted to look back fondly on noblesse oblige, or on the sense of duty of British aristocrats which caused them to join the military in order to defend Britain? Their sense of privilege and entitlement may have been extreme, but it didn't come without a corresponding sense of duty to the community and nation — a sense of duty which didn't necessarily keep them safe all the time.

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