It seems these days that all
the letters to the editor, guest editorials, and public
demonstrations are opposed to war with Iraq. But in
ordinary day-to-day encounters, I see very little antiwar
sentiment. I'm inclined to conclude that while the
demonstrations tell us how many of our citizens are
willing to devote a day to insulting President Bush, they
tell us very little about the opinion of the average
American. As one Internet wag put it in a satirical
newspaper "headline", "289 Million Americans Stay Away
From Peace Marches".
But if I'm right that the
peaceniks are merely the loudest rather than the largest
segment of public opinion, then the question becomes:
why aren't we hearing more from the other side?
The answer lies in the
motivation of the two sides. Supporters of Mr. Bush
and Mr. Blair have reasoned the matter through, and
concluded that war, while not desirable, might be the
proper and honorable course. Opponents of the war,
on the other hand, are operating on feelings. That's
why their speeches are long on slogans, but short on data.
War is a terrible thing, and
anyone halfway human is repelled by it. But that
revulsion is a sentiment, not an argument. For too
many opponents of the war, unfortunately, that sentiment
is all that's needed. Critical thought and moral
judgment, which follow when reason evaluates an ugly
thing, do not appear in the protest placards because the
antiwar mind hasn't gone beyond the first gut reaction.
Steeped for a generation in our therapeutic culture's
message that genuine emotion validates any assertion, they
have no tool for evaluating the meaning of an event other
than how it makes them feel.
Emotions are quick, sudden
things. This is why, while most of us were still
trying to figure out whether Mr. Bush's position made
sense, the worshipers of Feelings were already in the
street demonstrating. Emotions are colorful and
dynamic. That's why protest signs carry slogans like
"Bush: the real Terrorist", and "No Blood For Oil".
The few truly plausible arguments against the war are
expressed in paragraphs, and would never fit on a sign.
They don't make good slogans, and they aren't very
dramatic. You don't see them at the demonstrations,
and you don't hear them there because a New York Times
editorial doesn't work as a chant. The supporters of
Mr. Bush are quiet for a reason: you can't shout
history. It's too complicated.
When you conclude that you
must do a repugnant thing, you don't dance in the streets.
We don't celebrate when we put sick pets to sleep, and we
don't tell the world our decision with the boisterous
pride of the demonstrators. We just go ahead and do
the right thing; we know we don't have to like it.
So also with the decision that war is necessary: as
far as we can see with the information we have -- and the
antiwar people don't have any more information than the
rest of us -- there is no honorable alternative to war if
Mr. Hussein doesn't disarm. But since we're not
thrilled about the death and destruction that will result,
you don't see us waving signs in the middle of town.
Meanwhile, like the teenager shouting "You never want me
to have any fun", the antiwar crowd say we relish the
thought of bloodshed. For people whose feelings are
their moral compass, there can only be one reason for
going to war: because you love it.
There's nothing wrong with
hating war. So did Sherman, Grant, and Eisenhower.
But feelings are a fickle compass. We were given
minds to rule our hearts because, while compassion and
love are feelings, so are hatred, lust, and envy.