There’s something like fifty centuries of wars in recorded history, at varying stages of mythology and historical record, including but not limited to the Trojan War, the Akkadian conquest of Sumeria, the Peloponnesian Wars, Alexander the Great’s empire-building, the Mithridatic Wars, the civil wars that ended the Roman Republic, the Yellow Scarves Uprising, the Battle of Adrianople, the Islamic conquest of Persia, the Korean Wars of unification, the Crusades, the feuds between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, the Hundred Years War, the Hussite Wars, the conquest of the Aztecs, the Ottoman-Safavid War (both of them), the English Civil War, the War of Spanish Succession, the French and Indian War, the Boer War, the Crimean War, the Great War, the Vietnam War, the Falklands War and the Afghanistan War. And I skipped a few.
Any single textbook on War as a human occupation would, of necessity, leave several fascinating conflicts out. Any college course on War would be too brief for its subject matter. The effects of war – brutal deaths in combat; deaths by infection; deaths by exhaustion, starvation and famine; deaths by bureaucratic action or inaction; ruining the land to deny provisions to the enemy; smashing art and infrastructure that took years to create; rape so extensive that one could call it an industry; torture of prisoners by both sides; enslavement of children; the looting of a generation’s stored wealth; deceit in the form of propaganda; the scouring of personality that’s required to turn a generation into unhesitating killers; and, if I haven’t said it already, the hollow meaninglessness of young men holding their intestines against the holes in their stomachs, screaming for aid that won’t arrive in time if it’s even coming – are better documented than the tides.
Yet any time someone suggests that war is a bad idea, the inevitable response is “Well, what about World War 2?”
And of course there’s no answer to that. Try it. If you suggest that invading Iraq is a poor response to terror cell attacks on NYC, someone says, “I guess you would have just rolled over after Pearl Harbor, huh?” If you say that the U.S. has better things to spend its
money credit on than picking sides in a Libyan coup, someone will say, “But don’t we have an obligation to prevent another genocide?”
It’s the perfect response, blending so many argument enders into one moral stew: appeal to authority, non sequitur, post hoc ergo propter hoc, false analogy and, depending on context, maybe even a little gambler’s fallacy thrown in. Should America send young men and women great distances at tremendous expense to kill foreigners? Yes. Why? World War 2. And thus the discussion ends. It’s not like you can argue World War 2 didn’t happen. What are you, a Holocaust denier? Some cheese-eating surrender monkey? Huh?
Which isn’t as funny as I make it out to be, because The Deuce is not the exception that proves* the rule. It’s not the one war that humanity got right after fifty centuries of trying: thousandth time’s the charm. It’s not an argument for war. It’s an argument against war. It’s an argument against crippling war debt and command economies. World War 2 is an argument against letting a government run itself into debt by building up a massive standing army, all the while fostering a sense of its own national exceptionalism. But nobody remembers that bit.
Of course, comparing present actors to Nazis is just as tacky as comparing present causes to World War 2. So let’s call a cease-fire. I’ll quit using WW2 as an example as soon as everyone else does. Deal?
(P.S. I had this post on the spike before Jim Henley posted his excellent ‘Cosigned: Fuck War’ post the other day. It got me thinking about how ‘pacifism’ became a slur. Probably because of its association with hippies and Buddhists. If the anti-war crowd laid off the pansy-ass Jesus tip and got some real anger in its voice – think Ted Leo or full-throated Edwin Starr – then we might turn some heads)
* “Proves” in this sense meaning tries or tests, in the sense of a proving ground, or material that has been tested against fire being fireproof. An “exception that proves the rule” is an instance that challenges a rule. This idiom is almost never used correctly.