Monday, April 17, 2006

VDH on Iran

Victor Hanson recently wrote a valuable article on Iran, entitled “Has Ahmadinejad Miscalculated?", yet despite the article’s overall merits, its concluding remarks really bothered me. Perhaps they were simply a use of “poetic license” to reinforce his point, but in case he meant them literally I think it is worth discussing. Here is the passage that I find disconcerting:
Ever since September 11, the subtext of this war could be summed up as something like, “Suburban Jason, with his iPod, godlessness, and earring, loves to live too much to die, while Ali, raised as the 11th son of an impoverished but devout street-sweeper in Damascus, loves death too much to live.” The Iranians, like bin Laden, promulgate this mythical antithesis, which, like all caricatures, has elements of truth in it. But what the Iranians, like the al Qaedists, do not fully fathom, is that Jason, upon concluding that he would lose not only his iPod and earring, but his entire family and suburb as well, is capable of conjuring up things far more frightening than anything in the 8th-century brain of Mr. Ahmadinejad. Unfortunately, the barbarity of the nightmares at Antietam, Verdun, Dresden, and Hiroshima prove that well enough.

So far the Iranian president has posed as someone 90-percent crazy and 10-percent sane, hoping we would fear his overt madness and delicately appeal to his small reservoirs of reason. But he should understand that if his Western enemies appear 90-percent children of the Enlightenment, they are still effused with vestigial traces of the emotional and unpredictable. And military history shows that the irrational 10 percent of the Western mind is a lot scarier than anything Islamic fanaticism has to offer.
Hansen seems to imply that if we were to bomb Iran, it would be an act of emotional savagery, i.e. that it would stand in contrast to a rational, enlightened policy. Nothing could be further from the truth – and no argumentation could be worse. If, after considering all the relevant facts, we come to the conclusion that a nation is hostile, that is poses a credible threat and has shown the willingness to harm us, it is the height of rationality to eradicate the threat before it harms us. To argue otherwise undercuts any basis for one’s position or its moral standing.

To look at it from another angle, the key to morally evaluating a war is not by how devastating one side may be, but to decide whether it is fought as a war of aggression or a war of self-defense. The former is to be criticized as irrational and evil, the latter exhorted for its rational recognition of reality. Clearly any US attack on Iran would be one of self-defense, as Iran has been fighting and threatening us since (at least) 1979, and such an attack by the US would therefore be rational and moral, not a reversion to some savage latent tendency.

Similarly, to simply label the attacks on Dresden and Hiroshima as “barbarities” is to deny their profoundly moral nature -- for it was these attacks that broke the will of enemies who wanted to subjugate and/or annihilate us and who had committed the most repugnant of atrocities in their attempt to do so. Only by showing them the consequences of their actions could the way be paved for a peaceful Germany and Japan, and more importantly, only in so doing were American lives saved, both at the time and afterwards. To utterly defeat a savage enemy is the height of rationality and morality, and actions such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Dresden must be so characterized -- as must be any potential attack on Iran.


Blogger Jason Pappas said...

That’s a good point and Hanson has been saying this for some time going back at least to the publication of his book Carnage and Culture. If the title isn’t a hint, the “editorial reviews” spell it out. The impression that I’m left with (from reading the book years back) is that he accepts the necessity (or the prudence) for the need to fight with all one’s might but also accepts an unearned guilt. Still, if one can ignore his judgment he still argues with extensive historical reference that it is a free society that produces both the will to fight and the means to fight that provide the decisive edge.

However, I suggest that an unearned guilt, if widely accepted, will demoralize and undermine that will. Speaking of unearned guilt, this also reminds me of Paul Johnson’s lament (in Modern Times) that the British people accepted the “utilitarian” policy of bombing German territory including the near certain if not deliberate killing of civilians.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Amit Ghate said...

Thanks Jason,

I wasn't aware of VDH's book, but your comments re unearned guilt make perfect sense to me.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Gideon said...

It seems that VDH has a rather confused view of reason as Platonic contemplation and discussion, the opposite of forceful action. Once again we see the limitations of Conservatives. I have commented on this on my blog a while back.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Amit Ghate said...

Hi Gideon,

Thanks for your comment and the link. I particularly like Locke's quote at the end of your post.

3:37 PM  

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