Entry from November 13, 2008

In scolding the United Nations Security Council for not sending more “peace keeping” troops to the Congo to deal with a Rwandan invasion and civil war in the eastern part of the country, The New York Times editorializes as follows: “The international community failed to stop Rwanda’s genocide and promised not to let it happen again. Has the world forgotten so quickly?” Wait a minute! The Rwandan troops in the Congo are not guilty of the genocide of 1994 in that country, in which members of the Hutu tribe slaughtered members of the Tutsi tribe, to which the Times alludes. On the contrary, as the Times acknowledges, “in recent years, Rwanda has invaded neighboring Congo twice in pursuit of Hutu rebels who fled there after taking part in the genocide,” and now, the leader of the rebels, Laurent Nkunda “claims that he is fighting to protect Congolese Tutsis from those Hutu militants.” The Times is skeptical. “We suspect his ambitions go far beyond that.” It’s true that Mr Nkunda seems about as bad a lot as the other war-lords in that part of the world, but the editorialist can hardly believe that the Tutsis are in for another whacking from him.

But then by “happen again” the Times doesn’t mean happen again. No, the unspoken premiss in this editorial, as it is in most of what the Times endorses or criticizes when it comes to matters of war and peace, is that all violence is the same, and that Tutsis killing Hutus guilty of genocide, are as good as guilty of genocide themselves, which is therefore happening (sort of) again. It is the great fallacy of our media and intellectual culture to believe in this notion of generic violence, and it makes war simply incomprehensible. That’s a bad situation, unless you believe (as the Times apparently does) that you will never have to fight one.

This belief was apparent in the editorial the same paper ran in celebration of Veterans’ Day. It referred to World War I, which ended on that day 90 years ago, as a “colossal waste of human life in one catastrophic, peristaltic battle after another.” Who were the combatants in those battles? What were they fighting over? Why had they gone to war in the first place? Which side was the United States fighting on and why? These are questions that interest the editorialist not at all. To him it is all, once again, just generic “violence.” No wonder he regards it as a “waste of human life”! And did the people whose lives were wasted think they were wasted. Surprisingly, perhaps, the answer is no. Not most of them. Most of them actually thought they were fighting for something that mattered — in fact, something that mattered so much as to be more important than life itself.

If they were still around to hear their supreme sacrifice described as a “colossal waste,” I think they might not be so grateful for the Times’s commemoration of their mere victimhood. They might even be insulted by it. The editorial ends by saying: “To seek peace, to oppose war, to cherish memory is a way to honor veterans on this day of armistice, this Veterans Day.” But the Veterans didn’t oppose war. On the contrary, they thought that war was right and necessary, and they would therefore hardly feel honored by such a simple-mindedly pacifist approach. To oppose war simply as such is to make a category mistake. You can oppose people, countries, armies, even ideas, but to oppose war is to oppose opposition itself. It is an absurdity.

War has always been a feature of the human condition, and only an ingrained, even fantastical utopianism could suggest an idea so absurd as opposing it without regard to the concrete circumstances under which it takes place. This is political thought reduced to a bumper-sticker. War is not the answer. Except, of course, when it is. Such childish utopianism needs to be taken seriously. The New York Times and those who think like it really do oppose war, which to them means refusing to oppose those who proclaim themselves their enemies. That’s the only way to oppose war, and one that, in the powerful, means bad times ahead not only for the pacifist-utopians but for those of us who must share our country with them.


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