Thursday, April 15, 2004

"I found myself less antiwar than anti-antiwar, which did not make me prowar but left me much less antiwar than I wanted to be."

There's an article in the April issue of The Believer that eloquently and near perfectly expresses my own feelings about the War in Iraq: "My Antiwar Problem -- and Ours" by Tom Bissell.

Under the guise of writing about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, a three-volume non-fiction work first published in the 1970s that details Soviet slave-labour atrocities from the Russian Revolution until the mid-1950s, Bissell expertly dissects what was wrong with the reasons the U.S. went to war with Iraq and equally what is wrong with the mindset of most antiwar protestors:
I was opposed to the war because I believed it was wrong to attack a country that had not attacked us and that was not immediately involved in an act of concentrated genocide. (Genocide seems resistant to suggestions that it is subject to a statute of limitations -- until one realises that, if it were not, every white person in North America would be guilty of it.) I was opposed to the war because of my own experiences in nations still hamstrung by the legacy of totalitarianism. Most of us, as Americans, simply cannot understand the psychic damage that living in a totalitarian society, when one delinquent whisper can shuttle you and your family to a dungeon, wreaks upon a culture. By design, totalitarianism creates a sick, fearful, insane citizenry. One does not "free" such people by declaring democracy any more than one cures mental illness by throwing open the doors to an asylum. (But what, then, does one do for such people? I certainly have no answer.) Germany, Japan: these are the exceptions to the grave rule of totalitarianism. The hopeful examples they provide are virtually impossible to replicate, except, perhaps, in hopeful State Department memos. I finally did not trust the Bush administration to do the right thing in the aftermath of an Iraq invasion, especially not after Afghanistan [where Bissell has travelled extensively], when the evildoers we had promised to apprehend were allowed to slither into Pakistan and the warlords were permitted to reestablish their fiefdoms. Most of all, I worried that, if they did not see through the various and highly necessary post-invasion protocols, my generation could conceivably pay the price for this war every day for the rest of our lives.

But I did not march. I found I could not march. I could not stand within the crowd that gathered around the United Nations Plaza shortly before the war began when I knew the sight of it was providing a whole menagerie of Baathists with comfort. I could not find myself alongside those who, however inadvertantly, would allow these men an additional daily surplus of torture and cruelty. I had, after all, just read Samantha Power's unsparing and monumentally important book "A Problem from Hell," which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize. Power details the consistent Western failure during the twentieth century to stop various instances of genocide, including the Iraqi genocide against the Kurds that took place after the stalemated Iran-Iraq war in the late 1980s. I was, to put it most basically, incredibly confused. Confused about Iraq, about George W. Bush, about the gauntlet that Samantha Power's book had thrown down within me, and above all I was confused about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose moral clarity had paradoxically made a prism of my own moral feelings. I found myself less antiwar than anti-antiwar, which did not make me prowar but left me much less antiwar than I wanted to be. [...]

For the few remaining remnants of the antiwar movement to accomplish anything useful, they must abandon all notions of "bringing our soldiers home." This would be the worst imaginable solution to the problems we, together with the Iraqis, now face. It would make what was, at best, the clumsiest intervention in world history into international vandalism of Visigothic proportions. [...]

I believe that the war in Iraq was morally wrong, tactically dubious, and probably illegal, while, at the same time, and very nearly impossibly, I believe that the removal from power of Saddam Hussein was a great moral accomplishment, however large the windfall for Halliburton, and however insincere and dishonest the Bush administration's motives for doing so. That I detest the man conducting this war is finally immaterial. There is no other option. I may not like it, I may in fact hate it, but we as a nation have crossed a different kind of theshold magnitude, one of great potential good, and only skeptical and determined benovolence will prevent us from turning to vapor.
There's a reason I call this blog "On the Fence," you know. So much of what is going on in the world today leaves me "incredibly confused" about what is right and what is wrong and what should be done. And I believe that is normal.

There is no simple solution to the problem that is Iraq. Anyone who, through ideology or whathaveyou, offers simple answers to this complex question, anyone who is absolutely sure about her point-of-view on this subject is, in my view, dangerous. And, yes, that includes not just the Bushs and Rices, but the Noam Chomskys and Michael Moores.

I really wish this article was online so you could all read it. You'll just have to go out and buy the magazine, I suppose.

Post-script

[One caveat: While I agree with most of what Bissell says, his style can be a little -- how you say -- pretentious, ie. "international vandalism of Visigothic proportions." Try and ignore that and his apparent dislike of people from New Jersey.]

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