War and Peace

One of the great things about the Blogosphere is that I run into answers to things that have puzzled me for a long time – often for the better part of my life. In a post about Joe Lieberman’s reactions to the non binding resolutions on the Iraq War in the US Congress, Wretchard of the Belmont Club talked about the anti war movement in a way that allowed me to finally understand how I stood in relation to it. I was once a part of it, you see. So I know a thing or two about why I was involved and how I came to see that I had some differences from it. Here is the section of Wretchard’s post that finally turned the lights on for me:

When people describe themselves as Anti-War; that they want to end the War, the unasked question is which one. During the 1960s America engaged in two wars. One overseas and the other at home. One may have ceased but the second has never ended. Nor will the “anti-War” crowd ever end it until they achieve final and unconditional victory.

That’s why the outcome of the “Vietnam War” doesn’t refer to the resolution of foreign conflict forty years old but to a perceived — and permanent — domestic outcome in America. Just as the Civil War abolished slavery, “Vietnam” was regarded as having abolished American “imperialism” overseas forever. And even though this “outcome” was never the explicit war aim of the Peace Movement; nor even did they claim it a victory, it remained at least within a minority, the Legacy of the 1960s. The antipathy of the Left towards Ronald Reagan and George Bush cannot be rationally explained without appreciating that, in their eyes at least, the conservatives were embarked on a “rolling back” of the gains of history; that they were trying to undo the results of the Civil Rights Movement and the Legacy of Vietnam.

I was against the war, but I know my opposition was confined to the particular war in Vietnam. When I asked myself at the time would have I fought in WW2 I was forced to admit to myself that the answer was clearly yes – I would have felt obligated to go. I mean I really morally confronted myself and found the results uncomfortable; it was not a convenient way to justify my position. I also was disgusted at the treatment the Anti-War movement meted out to returning soldiers at a personal level because I knew those soldiers had the courage to do what I had not done. I also noticed something else – that whenever I heard Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind one line always astonished me.

Yes, ‘n’ how many time must the cannon balls fly

Before they’re forever banned?

Part of the reason I backed off the peace movement was that I just didn’t think war could be banned or eliminated. But I sensed a lot of people did believe that. I’d half forgotten a lot of that in 1991 when I happened to be studying in the Bay Area and living in Berkeley. When we went into Iraq out they came from day one with signs that said “No Blood For Oil”. They were like seven year locusts that had been dormant and suddenly the right conditions occurred and there they all were. I was astonished at how they had not changed one little bit since Vietnam and I didn’t understand why until I read Wretchard’s post. They really thought they had banned war. They had done it – it was in the bag. That’s why even a sneak attack like Pearl Harbor wouldn’t change their outlook in 2001. And it’s not just why they despise Bush or Reagan or Republicans, but specifically why they went out of their way to try and defeat Joe Lieberman last year.

I would certainly react that way to an attempt to roll back the gains of the Civil Rights movement. I think the mistake is a failure to discriminate – as the AA prayer has it – between the things we can change and the things we can not. I never saw war as anything remotely similar to changing a social attitude like racism. That’s difficult, but not impossible. For me war is one pole of a pair of opposites. Like day and night, life and death. You don’t have one without the other. On this earth, among our species, I believe that in one form or another there will always be conflict and that sometimes that conflict will turn into war. I even think conflict is necessary and often a good thing. Like in the Civil Rights movement. When it goes to the extreme of war it is terrible and wasteful. It is much better to steer a middle course between war and peace, but it is not always possible. Camus, I believe, put his finger on it when he said “A rebel is a man who says ‘no’.” And the right to say ‘no, even though it costs us our life is inalienable. Mohammad Atta and his mates said ‘no’ on 9/11 and that was their inalienable right. And on 9/11 I looked with my old man’s eyes over the top of my glasses and said ‘no’ to them and all their kind, and that is my inalienable right.

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