Notes from Underground


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On July 31, Bill Bennett — former drug czar, now talk-radio maven — hosted writer and columnist Lt. Colonel Ralph Peters. Bennett, generally not the fawning type, fawned over Peters, whose hawkish, neoconnish credentials are well-established: he regularly contributes articles to the New York Post and the Weekly Standard, and makes appearances on Fox News, either enthusing over the foreign-policy ambitions of the Bush administration or lamenting that those ambitions aren't ambitious enough.

I respect Bennett to some extent, despite his own knee-jerk neocon tendencies, so it was mildly distressing to hear him take such an obsequious tone, enamored as he was with Peters's retired military macho-man tough-talking persona. Still, Big Bill can kiss up to folks if he likes, I guess. The really disturbing part of the interview came when Peters, reflecting on the current nastiness in Lebanon, where the Israeli Defense Forces are wiping out civilians left and right, made comments to the effect that "you can't fight an Eastern war with Western values."

That was obviously a coded way of saying that when fighting an enemy such as Hezbollah, which is staked out in an Arab country such as Lebanon, you shouldn't get too caught up in the fact that you are killing many innocent men, women, and children in the process. That's war, baby. Quit wringing your hands like a damn pansy and look at the big picture. Quit applying "Western values," for instance the principles of Just War, which among other things demand proportionality and insist on the impermissibility of committing evil acts so that good ends may be accomplished. No, such concepts just don't apply in a post-9/11 world, etc., etc., etc., blah, blah, blah ...

Call me naive, but I actually was waiting for Bennett, a professedly devout Catholic, vociferous pro-life advocate, attributed author of The Book of Virtues (apparently it was ghostwritten), and coiner of the phrase "moral clarity," to challenge his guest, macho military armchair intellectual though he was. I was hoping to hear Bennett, who must know a thing or two about the Just War precepts developed by the very Church of which he is a member, to say, "Well, now, wait a minute, Ralph. Let me stop you there. You aren't suggesting that it's perfectly okay to target civilians, are you? I mean, I'm with you when you say that Israel has a right and a duty to defend herself, and I hold no brief for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, but come on!"

I waited and hoped, of course, in vain. Bennett agreed with everything the good lieutenant colonel uttered, no matter how brutal, beastly, un-Christian, immoral, and un-virtuous.

Later that day, I tuned into the Rush Limbaugh show. (Listen, I do have a life — I just happened to be doing a lot of driving on July 31.) Rush, whose newest schtick is to call Hezbollah "the Hezbos," took a call from an educated-sounding man who had attended a military academy. It was a mistake, the man said, to think that waging war only meant taking on the combatants of the country of one's enemy. War, properly understood, was not a proposition of army against army, but of nation against nation. It was therefore foolish to neglect the necessity of taking the fight to the civilian population, since in order to win a war it is essential to break the will of the people through direct attacks on lives and infrastructure.

As with Bennett earlier in the day, I hoped that Rush, who at least claims to be pro-life, would rein things in just a bit. I wanted to hear him distance himself from the ardent blood lust expressed by his caller. It didn't have to be much; he didn't have to morph into an actual critic of Israel or anything — I wasn't expecting a miracle. Just something like, "Whoa! — I don't think we should actually be in favor of Israel's killing Lebanese women and children. In fact Israel doesn't want to wipe out civilians; it's unfortunate when it happens by accident, but let's not get carried away and cheer the destruction of innocent lives!"

But sadly, and predictably, Rush said no such thing. Instead, he enthusiastically seconded the motion that Israel be given carte blanche to use deadly force against whomever it wants, no matter how helpless or unarmed. After all, this is war — it's not a picnic, not for the faint of heart, not for girly men, etc., etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.

Are these two incidents exceptions to the rule of how discourse about the "war on terror" is conducted? By no means. It has become quite mainstream to justify mass murder as a means toward the supposed end of stamping out "Islamofascism." Some outfits even see fit to profit from such vile sentiment. At David Horowitz's online journal frontpagemag.com, for example, an advertisement depicts an attractive young woman sporting a T-shirt with the words, "Iran says they want nukes — give 'em to 'em!" accompanied by a picture of a mushroom cloud.

Not to put too fine a point on it, especially considering the source, but that's not Christian.

Of course, in a sense this mentality has abided with us for a long time, infecting millions and millions of Americans who do consider themselves Christian. A large majority of Americans still think that President Truman was correct to order the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, and few even know about the intense bombing and shelling of German population centers — Hamburg, Dresden, Berlin, and on and on — that took place over the course of that same bloody conflict. How many know of Gen. Curtis LeMay's terroristic firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945, producing a death toll rivaling that of Hiroshima and surpassing that of Nagasaki?

Many patriotic Southerners still decry Lincoln's total war against the civilian populations of the Confederate states, exemplified most notably by General Sherman's and General Sheridan's terroristic armies of marauders, looters, and arsonists; nevertheless, most Americans would probably say that such tactics were necessary, and therefore justified, in ridding the country of Negro slavery. If targeting innocent men, women, and children is justified in ending slavery or Nazism, why not use such means to crush "Islamofascism" as well?

Still, there is a vast difference between tacitly supporting certain atrocities (under the influence of societal conditioning or brainwashing), and actually taking part in atrocious crimes. Those who murder civilians during wartime must be held to account, of course, but those who get on the air and use their enormous influence over some sections of the public in order not just to tacitly support but to explicitly celebrate murderous acts must share some of the blame.

Ironically, the once-slanderous liberal slur "hate radio" has now become a charge of considerable truth. I can think of few things more hateful than agitating for the destruction of innocent human life, as many radio talk-show hosts now do regularly.

The American Left, in upholding the sanctity of abortion, has accumulated a lot of blood on its hands over the last few decades, but the American Right, in furthering the cause of total war in this age of terror, retaliation, and endless clashes of civilizations, is rapidly catching up. What the late John Paul II called the Culture of Death now eats away at us from both Left and Right. If there was any doubt before, it is certain now that voting Republican or voting Democrat is a "pick your poison" proposition.

Politics today is a strange game, and to quote the NORAD computer from the 1980s movie "Wargames," the only way to win is ... not to play.

August 12, 2006

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