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Sunday, April 6, 2003

War brings out the Purple People

Senior editorial writer and columnist

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.

"Purple people."

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 the war]."

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 treasonous.)

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 for safety.

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 children die."

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?

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