A fighting chance
8/8/2002 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
If an Iraqi agent sneaks into America with a backpack nuclear bomb or a mason jar full of small pox, will it only kill Jeff Danziger and people who think like him?
Let me back up for a second. Danziger is an editorial cartoonist. In his Aug. 5 cartoon, he drew a wounded and bleeding American soldier being carted off in a stretcher (you can find it at Danzigercartoons.com). The caption reads: "Let's see … if we do go to war … who will this probably NOT be?"
Answering his own question, he lists those who will be out of harm's way: "son or daughter of a senator or congressman, son or daughter of a wealthy American, young American in college or graduate school, pro-war columnists or talk-show yakkers (Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, John Fund, Jonah Goldberg, Ann Coulter's boyfriend, et cetera)."
Well, at least I ranked higher than Ann's boyfriend.
Danziger's snideness notwithstanding, I'm grateful to him for making this "argument." I get this same "argument" from angry readers all of the time, and now I have an excuse to confront it in print.
You may have noticed that I put quotation marks around the word "argument." I did this because these folks really aren't making one. They're making an observation, which people often mistake for an argument.
Yes, it's true: If there's a war with Iraq, I probably won't go to battle unless it's in the very unlikely circumstance that Uncle Sam asks me to. But you know who else won't serve? Pretty much everyone over the age of 50 will be on the sidelines.
Women, with very few exceptions, won't be near the frontlines. Now that I think of it, neither will extremely tall, extremely short or fat people, nor the vision impaired, people in wheelchairs, children and amputees. Openly gay people aren't allowed in uniform, so I assume very few of them will risk their lives in the battle to topple Saddam Hussein.
So, I wonder, does this mean that women, gays, the elderly, the disabled and all the others can never, under any circumstances, advocate the use of military force because they won't serve on the frontlines?
Well, if that's even remotely the case, then we live in a nation of mandatory peaceniks because we're talking about, by my rough calculation, more than 90 percent of the population.
"Yes, but," some will respond, "you are able-bodied and relatively young" (I'm 33, FYI). "You could serve if you wanted to. People in wheelchairs and the elderly aren't capable of serving," they'll note.
Yeah, OK. But at least there's a remote chance I will be called up. The war will have to go very, very badly if wheelchair-bound geriatrics are being sent to the front. In other words, if the point is that it's wrong to advocate war from relative safety, then the disabled and aged are the most wrong.
As you can see, the more seriously you take this point of view the more you realize it is merely a cliché masquerading as an idea. The fact that people will die in a war -and they will -is not trivial by any means, but it is a fact that begins the argument, not ends it.
Take crime, for example. I often advocate aggressive crime-control policies. This means I think cops should get out of their cars and be proactive. In the long run, I think this approach will lower crime and make the streets safer for cops and citizens alike. But in the short run this might endanger cops more. Should I keep my mouth shut because I'm not a cop? After all, cops, just like soldiers, will die to protect me. Of course not.
Well, the same thing holds for war with Iraq. I think that war with Iraq is necessary to save lives in the long run. I think that those who are opposed to toppling Saddam are risking American (and Arab and Israeli) lives too.
Soldiers will die in any war, that's why they call it war. That is the argument against war in general, but it's not a sufficient argument against any war in particular. If it was, then World War II was wrong and Neville Chamberlain was right. Chamberlain, we know with 20-20 hindsight, risked more lives by avoiding war than FDR did by declaring war.
Indeed, Danziger could have drawn a similar cartoon about every war in the history of mankind. Maybe he thinks all of them were pointless, but I think -sticking with the example of WWII -that some wars saved lives. Indeed, I think some wars, the Civil War for example, are worth fighting, even if they cost more lives than they save.
And, frankly, I resent the insinuation that I believe these things solely because I don't have to go and fight.