The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Friday, April 30, 2004


Kevin Drum nails it on the hawk reaction to recent episodes that have brought the Iraq war-dead into the public's view:
[W]ar supporters need to get a grip. In a popular war, battlefield losses serve to redouble public commitment to the fight, and honoring the dead is viewed as a solemn and patriotic gesture. It's only in unpopular wars that combat deaths cause public support to decline.

Present day conservatives seem to unthinkingly assume that any public acknowledgement of Iraqi war deaths is obviously just an underhanded political gesture designed to undermine support for the war. It never occurs to them either that motives could be genuine or that reaction could be positive, and this hypersensitivity is a tacit admission that this is, fundamentally, a war with very shallow support indeed. If they really believed in the war and in the administration's handling of it, they'd show some backbone and welcome Ted Koppel's gesture tonight. Instead they're acting as if they're ashamed of it.
When I see this,

...I'm moved. In general, supporters of wars -- both good wars and bad ones -- need to understand something about perceptions. By reacting to the recent pictures of flag-draped coffins as if Janet's right boob was on top of them, hawks have moved the goalposts, quite shamefully I might add. This is war, not a video game; there are consequences and they are measured in human lives. Until that is substantially recognized, opinions on a war don't really mean squat.

I'm not an out-and-out pacifist, I'm at best a pragmatic one. But I know enough to know that war is about a lot more than just achieving a strategic objective or forcibly changing a region into a more ideologically palatable version of itself. The decision to go to war means that you have decided to end, destroy, or seriously harm the lives of thousands of people. When we see a vague number of "wounded" American troops somewhere, that often means lost legs, arms, eyes, and so on*.

I disagree with Kevin on one of the things he says. Despite how moving they are, I don't think that picutres of dead troops on their way home increase support for the war in which they died; perhaps they do briefly, as people rally around the leadership to some extent, but that effect fades pretty quickly. However, in TFM's view, seeing these images, or at least being conscious of them in a more-than-abstract way is necessary to cultivating a full opinion of a war.

These outraged supporters -- the ones whose immediate reflex was to question Ted Koppel's motivations when they heard what ABC was going to do -- are cheating. First, you educate the population on the costs of war, the lives lost, ruined and turned upside-down. We should see flag-draped coffins. Then, and only then, when we have those realities, combined with the case made for war by its supporters, can a population make a meaningful, accurate, emotional-and-intellectual judgment as to the worth of a given war. If supporters of the Iraq war are worried about what presenting the realities of the war might do to public opinion on the war as a whole, then I agree with Kevin that they think there's a house-of-cards situation going on with the views of the American people.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the blogosphere, Mrs. du Toit (and by link-related extension, Instapundit) has found the cause of both our victory in WWII and our loss in Vietnam. Clear vs. unclear objectives? Committment of the US government to send the troops to do the job? Exit strategy vs. no exit strategy? Well, you could guess all of those things, but you'd be wrong. The answer: Life Magazine! Oy vey...

Lastly, this post gives me another chance to plug Chris Hedges' outstanding book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, an enthralling book on the harsh realities of war, written by a non-pacifist war correspondent.

(* if you just thought something snarky to yourself about John Kerry's first Purple Heart, keep in mind that he got three of 'em, one of which for shrapnel that is still lodged in his thigh. anyway...)

UPDATE: Jesse makes the obvious point regarding Nightline: "if Fox News had done the exact same thing, would you be decrying it as a left-wing ratings stunt"


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