John T. Flynn, the great Old Right journalist who
chronicled Franklin Delano Roosevelt's efforts to sink
America into a pit of centralized government and
militarism, had a term for those Americans who could
always be counted on to whoop it up for war.
These are the people who hate big government budgets
and world-changing government programs, yet whose faces
turn purple with excitement when that same government
racks up huge debts to pay for world-changing programs
that involve bombs, troops and missiles.
They are, Flynn wrote in "As We Go Marching," "the
inflammable spirits who love adventure and the dangerous
life, who swell to ecstasy when the war drums roll but
whose zeal for high emprise would be unavailing if
harder and more cynical motives did not inspire the
realists in power."
Another great critic of FDR, journalist H.L. Mencken,
reminded readers in 1939 that "wars are not made by
common folk, scratching for livings in the heat of the
day; they are made by demagogues infesting palaces."
But, after a few weeks of "razzle-dazzle" the rest of
the country lines up behind the flag or learns to keep
their mouths shut.
The "razzle-dazzle" is supplied by the pro-war
partisans, who, as Mencken noted, try "to intimidate and
silence the stray recalcitrants who hold out [against
As one of those recalcitrants, I've heard a lot from
the Purple People, especially after my column last week,
which castigated those war supporters who did what
Mencken described, through crass and not-so-crass forms
of intimidation. (Not every war supporter is a Purple
Person; only those who act as if any criticism of the
war when the war is going on is somehow un-American or
As I see it, this pre-emptive war is unjustified.
There is no real threat to the United States, only a
theoretical one based on faulty premises. It is unjust,
in that it is not a war of last resort. It will kill
lots of people. It will run up tens of billions of
dollars in costs, and it will lead to the limiting of
civil liberties at home. Furthermore, America will be
managing Iraq for years, perhaps decades, and our
presence there is more likely to destabilize than
democratize the region. It's also a war based largely on
the unrealistic Wilsonian sentiments that democracy can
be imposed on people at gunpoint.
Yet these arguments are rarely addressed by the many
callers and e-mailers, who prefer to depict me as a fool
or a traitor. I have sided with the Muslim extremists,
or am imperiling America's troops, or have breached the
unwritten rule that all criticism of a war must cease
once the bombs are flying. I was reminded that I sleep
safely at night because America's brave fighting men and
women are putting their lives on the line for me.
These accusations are buncombe. How is it more
cowardly to oppose a war than to support it? The war
supporters I've heard from are just like me, in that
they are expressing their opinion from the safety of the
United States. America's troops are big boys and girls,
and can surely handle a little war debate.
I have nothing but disdain for Muslim extremists, yet
I'm not sure how attacking one of the most secular
(albeit awful) Middle Eastern regimes and thereby
increasing the relative power of the neighboring Islamic
regime in Iran will halt extremism. Of course, only in
places like Iraq is it considered good citizenship to
not criticize the government.
I don't see how attacking a country that has not
threatened us protects me. It's at least possible that
such an attack might further inspire new terrorists.
My favorite criticisms were from people who accuse me
of being a leftist. Some food for thought by
conservative British writer Peter Hitchens, in a recent
Spectator article: "There is nothing conservative about
war. For at least the last century war has been the
herald and handmaid of socialism and state control. It
is the excuse for censorship, organized lying,
regulation and taxation. It is paradise for the busybody
and the nark. ..."
Why argue with critics? The war supporters are in
full dither. Attempts at civil discourse degenerate into
heated exchanges. To war advocates, the price of war is
easily justified, even though other people will be
paying the tab. All the destruction and death are worth
it for the greater cause.
But I still can't get the thought out of my mind of
that Iraqi family that was killed by U.S. troops as the
Iraqis' van approached a checkpoint.
One survivor, Bakhat Hassan, said in published
reports that his van was waved on past the first
American checkpoint, but then was fired upon at the
second one. They left their village, Hassan said, after
reading air-dropped U.S. pamphlets telling them to flee
As AP reported, "Hassan ... said 11 members of his
family were killed in the incident - his daughters, aged
2 and 5, his son, 3, his parents, two older brothers,
their wives and two nieces, ages 12 and 15. His wife,
Lamea, who is nine-months pregnant, said she saw her
U.S. officials blame the van for not stopping, but
The Washington Post reported that the captain in charge
of the checkpoint also blamed U.S. troops, telling them:
"You just f---ing killed a family because you didn't
fire a warning shot soon enough."
Yet official military statements and pro-war
commentators expressed nothing but support for the
troops that fired on the van. Reports on the pro-war Web
site, WorldNetDaily, claim that the family, or others
like them, are on forced suicide missions by Saddam's
forces. Given the hideous nature of Saddam's regime,
it's certainly possible.
Whatever the truth, it's still sad. But don't expect
expressions of horror or sympathy from the Purple
People. There's a war going on and that's no time to
express fears, concerns, doubts or even simple
compassion for innocent civilians.
What are you, some kind of traitor?