Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

November 19, 2001

WSJ editor Max Boot bemoans lack of American casualties in Afghanistan

James Taranto's usually quite boring "Best of the Web" column in the online Wall Street Journal gave me a chuckle the other day as I read his witless attack on Harry Browne, under the sophomoric subhead "Stupidity Watch":

"Another reason we're not libertarian: Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party's standard-bearer in 1996 and 2000, pens a deranged 'antiwar' column…."

Taranto then inserts a long quote from Browne's piece in WorldNetDaily, which presumably is supposed to demonstrate its self-evident "stupidity," and, instead, does nothing of the kind. But this is par for the course for the clueless Taranto, who is actually paid to write a "column" consisting of little more than other people's words: his idea of a good punchline is "Hold your breath." Dorothy Parker he's not.


If no-talent Taranto wants "deranged," then let him take a look at Max Boot's "This Victory May Haunt Us," which ran in the November 14 [2001] edition of the Wall Street Journal. Subtitled "Winning still requires getting bloody," this paean to the virtues of bloodletting makes the monstrous argument that America suffered too few casualties in the Afghan war for our own good.

"This is not a war being won with American blood and guts. It is being won with the blood and guts of the Northern Alliance, helped by copious quantities of American ordnance and a handful of American advisers. After Sept. 11, President Bush promised that this would not be another bloodless, push-button war, but that is precisely what it has been."


Boot wants to see "blood and guts" and won't be satisfied with anything less. Now, one might expect to see this coming out of some grizzled old General, a vet who's seen hand-to-hand combat, in any case someone with military experience. So who is Max Boot, anyway – and why does he imagine that the lack of casualties could or would ever "come back to haunt" anyone but the Marquis de Sade?


A one line bio at the bottom of his bloodcurdling piece gives no details regarding Boot's credentials except to note that he is "The Wall Street Journal's editorial features editor." Thanks to the miracle of Google, however, we learn that Boot is a 32-year-old punk who was snapped up by the Wall Street Journal to rule over their editorial page features at the tender age of 28. In a lengthy 1998 interview Boot gave to Brian Lamb, for Booknotes, we learn that Boot's profile is that of the perfect armchair warrior: instead of boot camp, this guy went to Yale and Berkeley. If he's so gung ho, why doesn't he volunteer? – I'm sure with a few hundred hours of training he could (barely) pass the physical, and, in his case, we'll make an exception and skip the psychological testing….


To top it off, it turns out Boot isn't even a native-born American, having emigrated here from Russia with his family in 1976. Pardon my "xenophobia," but isn't it a little, uh, pushy for immigrants to start wishing for more American casualties in foreign wars? I don't mind them coming here – I'm having Second Thoughts about immigration – but, once we let them in, I think we should institute a rule: please, no warmongering.


When Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley and a few of his editorial sidekicks showed up on the Nightly Business Report the other day, bloviating about the war, Stuart Varney read the above quote by Boot on the sad lack of American deaths and said:

"Forgive me for saying this, and I know Max is a great guy, but he seems to be saying it's not a real victory unless we, America, shed some blood. And I'm shocked at that."


Varney is such a nice guy that he has no idea of the evil right in front of his eyes. Bloodlust shocks him, as it does most Americans (at least the native-born ones. Cruelty and lack of regard for human life is not – yet – characteristic of American life). But perhaps Varney was merely feigning innocence, and his remarks were really meant to be ironical. Lew Rockwell has dubbed Bartley and his crew the "War Street Journal" and that about says it all. Is there a war, anywhere, that they haven't supported, and, more, demanded that we escalate? Is there a place, anywhere on earth, they consider outside our rightful concern or jurisdiction? From Kuwait to Kosovo to Kandahar, they agitated for war and, when it came, they fanned its embers when the flames appeared to be dying out, hoping, demanding, cajoling, and finally denouncing the administration (any and all administrations) for losing its nerve and failing to go "all the way" – to Baghdad, to Belgrade, to wherever the call of Empire takes us.


Bartley, clearly embarrassed, could only manage to blurt out: "Yes, well, [Boot] wants to make a point." Not that Bartley was prepared to defend it, or even explain it. Paul Gigot ventured that "He has a certain point, that maybe some of the world thinks we're not serious," but distanced himself from the rather more sinister overtones of Boot's ode to "blood and guts" by averring that the world does take us seriously. Obviously, Bartley agreed with Boot, but was too cowardly to come out in public and say so.


However, perhaps it was Dorothy Rabinowitz, a WSJ columnist, who reminded Varney of Boot's bloodlust. Earlier in the interview, Varney had asked her,

"These are the Taliban fleeing with civilians. Should we bomb them? Should we strafe them? Should we kill them? What are the politics of that?"

RABINOWITZ: "I would say, you know, we are in war and I think we should be bombing and killing and strafing."


Is it something in the water cooler over at the WSJ? Yes, I know how close they were to Ground Zero and everyone in New York has been traumatized, but is this really the voice of American business that we are hearing – or only the deranged rantings of people driven mad by a combination of tragic circumstances and ideological fixations? This unrestrained sadism is really very ugly, and, yes, I know "everything has changed," but things haven't changed that much – or, they will over my dead body.


If the sheer enjoyment of death has now become a public habit – one indulged not only by madmen, but also by the mighty editors of a great metropolitan newspaper – then I have to wonder about the degraded state of our culture. America is often compared to ancient Rome by conservatives, who point to the general decline in morality and especially sexual mores among the Romans as the reason for the decline and fall of their empire. But the true decadence of Imperial Rome was the spectacle of what they enjoyed: not mere sensuality, but sheer cruelty, on display in the arena. This is what we are seeing in the neo-imperialists, or the worst of them: like the decadent Romans, they revel in bloodlust for its own sake. This is arrogance mixed with hubris and the worship of power, a sadistic perversion alien to all that is normal and, well, American; certainly it is a perversion of conservatism.


In some circles, the disappointment that the war is coming to a conclusion, militarily, so swiftly is palpable, not the least in Boot's furious imprecation hurled at his fellow adopted countrymen for not being willing – nay, eager – to suffer. "The war in Afghanistan," he complains, "will do nothing to dispel the widespread impression that Americans are fat, indolent, and unwilling to fight the barbarians on their own terms." This is no ordinary call for vengeance, or even a call to escalate the war in order to achieve some tangible objective: we have something to prove to Bin Laden. Not to avenge the victims of 9/11 but to assert... what? Our collective manhood? – or is that "personhood"?


Here, again, we have left the daylit world of ideology and descended into the darkest realms of psychopathology, where terms such as sadism and dominance are more applicable than the political categories of "right" and "left." Aside from the fact that very few of these ultra-hawks have ever served in the military, the leitmotif of our armchair generals is that their private neuroses and anxieties are reenacted on the stage of world politics. Given the sadistic theme of Boot's little essay, it is not hard to see how this works in his case, since the theme of cruelty is constant throughout, to wit:

"But if we do not show soon that American soldiers can wage sustained ground combat – that we can practice the cruel art of warfare as relentlessly as our ancestors did – we may pay a heavy price later on."


By this sort of logic, then, US policy must be to wage war with clocklike regularity, since we must have a little bloodletting every so often, just to prove to the rest of the world that American soldiers can wage sustained ground combat. You know, like our ancestors did….


Say, what? Whose ancestors is Boot talking about? Does he mean his ancestors in Russia? If so, then he may have a point: cruelty and war are the twin leitmotifs of that unfortunate nation's history. Regard for human life has never been a characteristic of Oriental despotism: it is, however, an important value in the West, perhaps the top value which defines our civilization. Which is why Boot's essay is a disgrace.


No, we didn't need No-talent Taranto to tell us that the War Street Journal is hardly a libertarian bastion. But this bewailing the lack of body-bags on their way home to grieving families is a new low, even for them, one that is eerily disturbing.

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