The Mother of All War Protests

As the pro-war contingent of American politics becomes increasingly desperate–oh, who am I kidding, it’s actually just standard operating procedure on both sides of the aisle–we have progressed to ad hominem attacks on prominent anti-war media figures. As with the Dixie Chicks, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins, and so forth, we now have hawks trying to tear down Cindy Sheehan of Crawford vigil fame.

Now, I usually don’t care about things like this–I don’t particularly care about Cindy Sheehan as an individual, either–I care about ultimate political consequences. Cindy Sheehan (and/or her media handlers) definitely have the knack for getting media coverage, and that’s a good thing–not a good thing in and of itself, mind you, but because it’s the only antidote to Karl Rove’s extreme media savvy (more about this in a moment).

With this in mind, I came across Eric‘s post entitled “Emotion or Reason?” which reads, in part,

So, we talked about Cindy Sheehan, the opposition to the war, and so forth. As we did, we discussed the arguments being made against the war by the Left, and what became clear is that their arguments are, for the most part, based on emotions not reason. There are some reasons to oppose the war that are not based on emotion, but the anti-war crowd knows that those are weak and won’t sway the public to their side, so their only hope is to attack the war proponents using emotion.

A small technical point; recent polls suggest the majority of the country has, in fact, already been swayed; Cindy’s approve/disapprove numbers are 53/42 (almost exactly the same ratio as respondents who say we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq in the first place) compared to a 37/58 rating for Bush’s handling of the war.

But the effectiveness of Sheehan’s appeal is basically unquantifiable. The question here is whether the reasons for and against war are basically rational or emotional.

Now, as James would say, the question is how you define ’emotional appeal.’ As I wrote previously, every political position is based on base fears, those bits of axiomatic emotional logic which take precedence over other such bits. If I had to take a stab at laying down some guideline for “emotional” versus “rational” appeals, I’d have to say that emotional appeals involve an individual or small group of individual concerns, while rational appeals talk about statistics and larger numbers of people. (My utilitarianism is showing, I know.)

Let’s get back to Cindy and Casey Sheehan. Now, what I’m about to say is likely going to be controversial, but honestly, I couldn’t give two shits about military losses. These people signed up for mortal danger (yes, even the National Guard folks) and they knew what they were getting into in terms of coming home in a bodybag (Gulf War Syndrome and their chidrens’ birth defects are a different matter, however). Let me be clear: in order to be willing to kill another, you have to be willing to be die by another’s hand. For a pacifist and consientious objector like myself, anyone who is willing to kill is as good as dead in my eyes. So Ms. Sheehan’s appeal doesn’t carry that much weight for me, personally. Soldiers killing other soldiers doesn’t retain much shock value; it’s just a wargame with live ammo and limbs being ripped off and all that other ‘glorious’ stuff you see in war movies.

What I care about almost exclusively when it comes to war are civilian casualties. This, apparently, puts me at a distinct political disadvantage when arguing about Iraq, principally because Americans have a pervasive disregard for foreigners and for the most part do not care how many of them are killed by U. S. troops. Before you call me a “blame America firster” or something equally stupid, bear in mind that Americans are in no way unique in this respect.

Sometimes I wonder if an Iraqi Cindy Sheehan-type (that is, a mother of a civilian casualty) would get as much coverage by the American press or have as much influence on the way people think about the war. I don’t think she would–any thoughts, readers? Because there are way, way more war widows and simililarly bereaved parents in Iraq and Afghanistan than here. And as I said, it’s about large numbers: one cindy Sheehan is a media circus, but 100,000 Cindy Sheehans is a bonafide political movement.

Let’s get back to Eric (and as a veteran, I’m sure he has something to say about my point about soldiers). In the comments for his post, he wrote (in response to something I said about “moral superiority”),

Do I take into consideration the arguments anyone makes? Yes, I do. Do I think that they should have moral authority and be able to pre-empt the debate with an appeal to my emotions? No. But that is precisely what the anti-war Left is trying to do with Cindy Sheehan (and numerous other examples).

In terms of Sheehan’s emotional appeals, the most poignant one is her sense of betrayal by the president in terms of how the war was sold. I know it’s all ancient history, but back in August 2003 (when Casey re-enlisted), the war was enjoying a 63/35 worth it/not worth it split in the polls and we were still looking for weapons of mass destruction. I suppose this has less impact on me because I never believed in the war in the first place, so I don’t feel betrayed.

But since we’re talking about the invalidity of emotional appeals, what needs to be discussed is how the whole war itself was based on emotional as opposed to rational appeals. There were very few Middle East scholars who thoguht Iraq posed a threat to the U.S. or that the war was a good idea in the first place. The reasons for war themselves had little to no rational appeal.

Now, instead of making such a charge and letting it sit out in the sun to rot (as Eric often does), let’s take a look at some of the reasons Bush gave for going to war:

  • Saddam was a growing/gathering/grave clear and present danger
  • Saddam had WMDs (or WMD programs)
  • Saddam was actively seeking nuclear weapons
  • Saddam’s regime materially supported terrorists
  • Destroying the Ba’ath state would make us safer

If you didn’t know these points were all bullshit, the effect of these pronouncements would be fear, which is exactly the emotion these lies were intended to provoke. None of these claims were substantive–it was more of a fear-mongering exercise than a fact-based rationale for war. and the Republican party, make no mistake, is the party of fear.

But then, these are just lies, not exactly “emotional arguments.” If you want some raw, unreasonable, irrational emotion, you should take a look at a key statement by Karl Rove (in a text prepared by the White House) which he delivered on June 23rd, 2005:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.”

Let me hip you to something, dear readers. The proper response to Islamist terrorism is not to send troops to Muslim countries to kill people. Even if you think everyone who gets shot is a terrorist of some kind, you have to realize that these people don’t mind blowing themselves up. Killing them is playing right into their fucking hands. All you do is create martyrs (if they were, in fact, terrorists) and/or more terrorist recruits if the people you killed were civilians (not to mention that it is, in fact, murder

).But what’s even more striking than the knee-jerk militarist bullshit Rove spewed was that he laughed at the idea of “indictments.” Sometimes I wonder why people like myself (who wanted to approach 9/11 as a police matter as opposed to a police state matter) weren’t more vocal about the fact that it was Pakistani police who caught Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who, if we are to believe what we are told, was the architect of the 9/11 attacks. Killing suicidal people is doing them a favor, and basically anything the terrorists do is good PR for them, except getting caught.

The invasion of Iraq has, as I have long predicted, just bred more terrorists, and is breeding them faster than we can supposedly kill them or they can kill themselves. Compare that fact to the following picture, which appeared all around the world on the event of Mohammed’s capture, in terms of effectiveness in fighting “the War on Terror,” shall we?

The worst thing that can happen to an al-Qaeda suicide bomber is not getting killed. It’s getting caught, and possibly turned. Nothing is worse for their PR than being ignominously paraded in front of the world, handcuffed in their pyjamas.

Of course, if Rove and his band of conservative morons had a shred of rational thought in them, they’d be listening to all of the intelligence officials, all the state employees, all the academics, all the experts on the region, who told them that invading Iraq was not the appropriate response. But no, those who “saw savagery” and “prepared for war” must be appeased!

Who are these people, who blindly stumble out into the Arab world with a machine gun and a hankering for brown-people blood? Here’s that excerpt from a Guardian piece about U.S. soldiers killing civilians indiscriminately, (again):

[D]espite there being no link between Iraq and the September 11 attacks Richardson admitted that it gave him his motivation to fight Iraqis. “There’s a picture of the World Trade Centre hanging up by my bed and I keep one in my flak jacket. Every time I feel sorry for these people I look at that. I think, ‘They hit us at home and, now, it’s our turn.’ I don’t want to say payback but, you know, it’s pretty much payback.”

But as I said before, individual examples are the basis of “emotional appeals.” What we really need to do is play the numbers game. Now, this is a very dangerous game for Americans to play. Why? The real problem with rational appeals (for the pro-war side) is that without the benefit of American chauvinism, the numbers are pretty awful:

Civilians killed (averages represent middle ranges for disputed figures):

By Saddam: 300,000-400,000
(in power 28 years; average ~12,500/year)

By the U.N. embargo: 1,500,000
(in effect for 10 years; average ~150,000/year)

By coalition forces and lack of adequate medical care since invasion: 25,000-150,000
(since March 2003; average ~35,000/year)

Bringing it all back home, the reason Cindy Sheehan’s emotional appeal (and let’s be honest, she’s no expert and therefore I don’t have a substantive interest in her opinions on foreign policy) is the most effective counter to the bullshit, anti-rational appeal of the hawks–for people who are swayed by emotional appeals rather than rational ones. Leo Strauss would be proud.

P. S. About the “Sheehan is an anti-Semite” meme floating around the hawkosphere: the only reason people are bringing up white nationalist oppositon to the war now (it’s been going on since the beginning) is that because the majority of Americans are opposed to the war, hawks need to try and marginalize the anti-war movement, tarring it with the guilt-by-association brush. Talk about opening up the floodgates! If that’s the way you want to play it, conservatives, we’re going to get armpit deep in “Nazi-by-association” name-calling (I’m starting with German kindergarten teachers).


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