The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing -- Edmund Burke

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Feelings on the March

Michael R. Bowen, MD

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Michael R. Bowen, MD

mbowen@americasvoices.org       
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"September 11 has taught Americans that we need to return to being the confident moral force we once were, and fast -- to act resolutely and to follow principle.  We must expect, but ultimately ignore, the carping; be polite, but forgo the apologies; and let our critics, not us, worry only about the tension and hurt that follows."
-- Victor Davis Hanson, commentator

March 18, 2003


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.

 

Copyright Copyright 2020 by Michael R. Bowen, MD & America's Voices, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Dr. Michael Bowen, a former Naval officer, has a private medical practice in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  He writes the weekly column
"The Basics" and the occasional guest column "Mixed Reviews" for America's Voices, a conservative political opinion and educational web site.  His columns also appear in other popular Internet sites, including Opinionet.com and Enterstageright.com.  E-mail Dr. Bowen at mbowen@americasvoices.org.

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