“For better it is to contend with vices than without conflict be subdued by them. Better, I say, is war with the hope of peace everlasting than captivity without any regard of deliverance. We long, indeed, for the cessation of this war, and kindled by the flame of divine love, we burn for entrance on that well-ordered peace in which whatever is inferior is for ever subordinated to what is above it. But if (which God forbid) there had been no hope of so blessed a consummation, we should still have preferred to endure the hardness of this conflict, rather than, by our non-resistance, to yield ourselves to the dominion of vice.”
- Augustine of Hippo – 426 A.D.
After I posted yesterday’s piece I got an interesting comment from someone named “Jay.” Speaking for liberals and Democrats, he apologized for:
“Inflicting the ongoing wars, the broken economy, high gas prices, global warming, massive government corruption, and all the other misfortunes of a completely Republican controlled government.”
Then, in a fit of rhetorical fury, he took me to task in fine far-left fashion:
“Hope that makes you feel better. Lord knows you wouldn’t want to actually place blame on the masters you really worship.”
My first thought was to correct Jay’s assumption that I am a Republican. I have almost as many issues with the Republican Party as I do with the Democratic Party of my youth. Upon further reading and thought, though, I saw his comment as an opportunity to make myself clear on some of the issues he mentioned. I’ll begin today with what I believe is the moral case for the amalgamated wars we are now involved in (the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan). While each has its distinct elements, taken together they are parts of a whole. Thus, from this point on I will discuss them under the umbrella of the war on terror.
I have supported our effort in this war from the beginning. Beginning on September, 11, 2001, continuing into the October, 2001 war to liberate Afghanistan and the March, 2003 liberation of Iraq, right up to the present day, I believe that we were morally justified and morally right to do what we did.
I realize that I may now hold a minority point of view, but I’m not troubled by that. There have been significant minorities throughout history –Joshua and Caleb, the abolitionists and Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill, to name a few. I believe that positions of great import should be decided on their merits, not whether they are popularly held.
Most Americans seem to be aligned on the worthiness of two focal points in this war. They believe we’re morally right to pursue a world-wide war against Al Qaeda and that our invasion of Afghanistan was equally moral. It’s obvious that Iraq is the one point that has deeply divided us as a people.
There are several objections that have been raised against our involvement in Iraq. Some believe that diplomacy wasn’t allowed to take its course. Some object because one of the reasons stated for our involvement, weapons of mass destruction, have thus far not been found. Some object because of the loss of American life. And, some object because they believe Iraq as it was under Saddam was better off than Iraq, with its current civil strife and terrorism, is today. I suspect there are even some who object simply because they hate George Bush.
I’ll answer all but the last of the objections. That one is too trivial and silly to demand a response.
Was diplomacy given enough time? That, it seems to me, begs the question. It assumes that diplomacy would have eventually achieved the world’s objectives without military intervention. If I were to ask “How much time?” the answer would always come back, “Until it works.” Saddam saw this and manipulated the world skillfully, pulling the diplomatic strings in any direction he felt served his aims. He did so for over ten years, making the international diplomats arrayed against him look like absolute buffoons.
Could diplomacy have worked? I don’t know. It’s clearly impossible to know now whether or not it would have worked with Saddam Hussein’s regime. History has taken a different course.
The most persistent claim against our invasion of Iraq is that weapons of mass destruction have not been found. Since we haven’t found them, the argument goes; our involvement was unnecessary and morally wrong. It further assumes that the argument the Bush administration made to get us into Iraq was invalid for that reason. No weapons of mass destruction equals no valid argument for going to war. The problem with the argument is that it wasn’t the only reason, nor, in my mind, was it the principle reason. I’ve spoken with lots of people about the moral case for war and about every time those against our involvement in Iraq argue that there was no moral case for war because George Bush never made a moral case. Every time I hear this argument I’m reminded of the Soviet cosmonaut who asked the following questions as he orbited the earth – “Where is God? I don’t see him out here in space. Where is He anyway?” That’s about what this thread of the anti-war argument amounts to. Its proponents, like the cosmonaut, haven’t seen the moral case expressed; therefore they claim it doesn’t exist. What they refuse to see is that the President actually did make a moral case for invading Iraq. Where were they when he talked about Saddam’s brutality and torture chambers? Where were they when he spoke of gassing of the Kurds in northern Iraq and the systematic attempts to totally eliminate the Marsh Arabs of the south? There was, and is, a moral case for the invasion of Iraq!
Some argue that the cost in American lives is too high. They often cite the number of American combat deaths, which is now over twenty-five hundred. While it’s clear that any life lost is a tragedy, it doesn’t answer the moral question. You see, Iraq isn’t about mathematics; it’s about moral principle, about what free men must all too often do to confront evil in the world. I can only imagine what those who make this argument would have said to the Lincoln administration about the staggering loss of life during the Civil War or to the Roosevelt administration as the astronomical losses incurred liberating Europe and the Pacific mounted. The truth is, as tragic as the loss of life in any morally justified conflict is, it’s principle, not mathematics that truly matters.
The argument against invading Iraq that most offends my moral sensibilities is that the people of Iraq would be better off if we had left them in Saddam’s clutches. It’s hard for me to imagine someone would actually make this case, but some have. Like the previous argument, it’s rooted in the notion that the cost of liberation is too high, and that the previous state of enslavement would be preferable to the current state of life in Iraq. If these folks had lived during our Civil War or its aftermath I’m afraid they might be making the same argument. Four years of bloody inter-Nicene war had taken its toll on the nation. Hundreds of thousands had died. The war, which had begun as a test of states’ rights, had found its moral purpose and center in the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln rightly saw that the war’s purpose was to liberate a portion of America’s human community. That’s what the Civil War was all about; that’s what breathes so much meaning into it today as we see it through the prism of close to a hundred and fifty years of history. Would today’s anti-war advocates really try to argue that Jim Crow and the carpetbaggers, the Klu Klux Klan, segregation, job discrimination, and all the other roadblocks to full freedom and inclusion that followed the war invalidated the sacrifices made to liberate America’s African-American community? That seems to be the application of their argument – that African-Americans would be better off as slaves now because the post-war trials were too high a price to pay for their freedom. That’s about as offensive as an argument gets.
In the spring of 1865, a little more than a month before his death at the hands of an assassin, Abraham Lincoln put the case for the war that had just ended in its proper moral context. His words were both poetic and prophetic, reaching through the ages to shed light on the meaning of freedom and sacrifice:
“It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered -- that of neither, has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove; and that He gives to both north and south this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
I believe we must continue on the course we embarked on five years ago. Freedom is under assault and we have a moral duty to respond. I realize that there have been dark days behind us and that there will be dark days to come. I cannot say, nor can anyone else, how long it will take to see the task through. But, I can say with certainty that the cause we are engaged in is just.
I don’t believe that my position establishes me as a Republican lackey, no more than Joe Lieberman’s position on Iraq establishes him as a lackey of the Bush administration. In the days ahead I’ll be responding to the other questions raised. Perhaps then Jay and his fellows on the left may be able to see that I’m not what they make me out to be.
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The war on terror