Warning: A political post which might cause ire

January 5, 2007

Reading the Columbus Dispatch this morning I came across two editorials with widely disparate viewpoints, not unusual on an Op-Ed page to be sure, but for some reason the two articles struck something in me.

Victor Davis Hanson and Bob Herbert could not be further away from one another on most matters of the political spectrum, the war or terror (a term I despise for its lack of precision, but anyway) in particular. Hanson calls the US to hang tough and to not be surprised or turned away by the “messy type of war that jihadists welcome and the American military usually seeks to avoid.” He contrasts the jihadists who “hide among women and children” and the American military that are subject to “Western jurisprudence and ethical censure.” Hanson believes that this war on a terror is a sort of race where the enemy attempts to kill enough Americans in an effort to force the military to flee before the areas are stabilized. He finishes: “Prosperity, security and liberty are the death knell to radical Islam. It’s that elemental.”

Herbert, on the other hand, writes of the “wretched reality of the war” and cites statistics that show that even the majority of military members disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war. He makes the point that that most members of the military — thus most military fatalities — are young rural men who are not economically privileged. Herbert says that all who have died have done so unnecessarily, that “it is criminal to continue feeding our troops into the slaughter.”

Whew…it seems to me too easy to write off either man’s viewpoint as completely without merit. In fact, they do agree on a key fact: this war pains the American people (to say nothing of the people in Afghanistan or Iraq — but that’s not the thesis either was putting forth at this time). From the most ardent Bush supporter to those who question his very fitness for office, most people agree that war is awful. It’s simplistic to characterize one side of this argument as war-mongering and the other side as cowardly and unpatriotic. I may not know exactly where I stand — and I’m not afraid to confess that — if anything, overconfidence in such matters concerns me way more than a willingness to talk through the issues in a reasonable manner. I don’t want to be so entrenched in a view that I’m unable to change my mind when it’s warranted.

I guess that I’m not as sanguine as Hanson about the possibility of bringing prosperity, security and liberty to a region so torn apart by dictatorships and the like. How long would that take? And what are the criteria on which we make such judgements? But for Herbert to call all the American military deaths unnecessary seems disrespectful of an act that we have revered in other generations, in other wars; though to be fair, he does mention the courage of American troops.

Perhaps it comes down to one’s fundamental belief about whether and/or how to respond to the events of 9/11 (and previous events too — like embassy bombings, the first World Trade Center attack, etc.). Herbert strongly argues for withdrawal, but what does he want to do after said withdrawal? Even if what is currently being done is not working, it seems unwise to retreat without at least some kind of diplomatic plan in place. But like Hanson advocates, does America simply stay this course? Does that give the best opportunity in the long run for lasting peace? I’m not so sure.

Part of me wishes that I could strongly take one side or the other of this argument, that I could sway others with my rhetoric and grand ideas. Instead, I reside somewhere in a queasy middle-ground where I fully believe that America has enemies that need to be fought, but I don’t necessarily know the best way to go about that. I have such admiration for those in the military and for the families that they leave behind. And I have great respect for those who worry over collateral damage and advocate for the civilian population of the war zones. There is no easy answer. Lots of prayer for this situation seems to me the clearest path I can take.

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