October 1, 2006

When Fighting is the Moral Thing to Do

There are times throughout history when all defenders of liberty have a moral responsibility to take up arms. World War II clearly met this standard. A genocidal maniac backed by the most powerful military machine was on the move, conquering free nation after free nation, and literally threatening civilization.

As much as I am horrified by all forms of violence and believe that military campaigns are used much more often than is justified either morally or strategically, if I believed that the world faced a threat similar to Hitler I would take up arms and fight for freedom. For example, if massive armies of Islamic radicals were invading Europe and taking over the Middle East in a power grab that threatened to turn large swaths of the free world into Taliban-style totalitarianism it would be my duty to fight.

But I see nothing even approaching this scenario on the current world stage. I believe that there are many disparate bands of Muslim radicals and jihadists, who hate each other almost as much as us, and whose desire for world domination is not matched by capabilities that are in anyway up to the task. While I believe terrorism is a serious threat, I do not fear that men in caves and the world’s most backwards societies threaten the foundations of Western civilization. Part of my confidence comes from the fact that most Muslims and Arabs hate Al Queada and want modernization and democracy as much as anyone.

But there are many on the right who disagree with me; who think my views are naïve. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Newt Gingrich and many of the neocons such as William Kristol and Robert Kagan, all believe that we are facing foes as powerful and threatening as Hitler and Stalin. They compare the current conflicts to WW II and the threats of global communism and fascism.

What puzzles me is why we don’t see droves of people who share this view on the right (or left) lining up to fight if they believe that the threat is actually so great. There can be only two reasons for this inaction as I see it. The first is that they really don’t believe their own hype. It makes for good political rhetoric, wins elections, and is a good fear tactic to bully opponents. The other possibility is that they are cowards; if someone truly believes that we are facing a historical moment akin to 1939 then there is no excuse if one is able-bodied not to join the fight. While there are, no doubt, many cowards on the right (and left), I think most of them simply don’t believe that the threats we face are so dire. Their actions clearly are not consistent with such a belief.

When history is written many years from now I do not think that the consensus will be that the free nations of the world sat idly by and underestimated the threats from global jihadists; in fact, quite the opposite. The dominant view will be that the U.S. unwisely overreacted to a significant, but not existential threat, and by grouping all Muslim and Arab groups into one undifferentiated “war on terror” we played right into the hands of the jihadists, who used the widespread perception of war on Islam as their number one recruiting tool. By uniting many different disparate groups against us and failing to adequately prioritize the threats, we made the conflict longer and more difficult, but in the end, despite our mistakes, we ultimately prevailed because liberal-democratic values are superior to religious fanaticism in every conceivable way.

Jason Scorse