A defense of the war on terror

I started a thread on the Sushicam forums, mainly to react to a statement by CoolMoDee in the comments. I ended up writing quite a bit, and I’d like to archive it here. This is probably the first time I’ve expressed my feelings about the war in Iraq.

The quotes below are from CoolMoDee’s comment, and the rest is me.

If bush does lose the election(and right now, its not looking to good for him), I don’t think it will send a message that they can continue doing that [the beheadings] and get their way. I think they will see the change in power/political party as the cause for it.

Well, but who caused the change in power/political party? The voters. And why did they vote that way? A myriad number of reasons. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that at least some terrorists will think that the voters have been terrorized into voting Bush out. This will then be an affirmation of their actions. Obviously they want Bush out too.

I honestly don’t know what the right thing to do is. If I was in charge, I would be paralyzed by indecision. There are too many ways for people to be hurt.

I also wanted to respond to this:

As far as people getting beheaded, I know it sucks, really bad, and they shouldn’t be doing that, but they (the contracters etc) knew the risk of going into an active war zone.

I’m not sure people expected kidnappings and beheadings when they volunteered their time to help out in Iraq. I think they were expecting to be blown up or shot…something “civilized”. Kidnappings and beheadings are not straightforward and they are very personal. They are completely opposite to what I think the average person expects out of a war. They are acts of terrorism.

Regardless of how we got into the mess in Iraq, we are fighting terrorists there now, people who want to force us to do their wishes and to eventually destroy us. I really can’t see it in any other way. If we bow to their desires, we’re giving them a foothold.

But you’re right, I mean, what can we do? How can we stop it without letting them win? All I can think of is to continue to hunt them, but in the meantime more deaths will occur.

And what, then, do we tell the people who want to help? If we only let the military in and no civilians, isn’t that a victory for terrorism too?

I don’t know, sometimes I feel so far removed from the majority of the opinions I see online. I don’t understand those opinions, but everyone seems to have them and to agree that they are perfectly logical. I guess we’re all coming from a different place. Me, I’m terrified of losing my personal freedom to go to work and not worry about being killed on the way there. I’m worried about the US being unable to stop terrorism, and terrorism becoming more widespread, seen as a viable means of getting one’s way. I’m worried about anarchy. And I can’t help but see what’s going on in Iraq as a very important milestone in the “war on terror”–the crossroads of whether or not we will remain a civilized world.

I guess I should explain “civilized”…because maybe people don’t believe we are civilized, either. Basically what I mean by that is, there are established guidelines for how to act in a society, and these include how to wage war. Biological and nuclear weapons are frowned upon because of these ethics…and so is the slaying of innocent civilians, people who have not chosen to fight.

I’m not saying that the US, or any other nation for that matter, has not made mistakes and broken these rules. But I am saying that these rules exist, and that most people in nations who adhere to these rules would agree that they should be followed.

What we are seeing now is a gradual moving away from these rules, to a more “anything goes” sort of warfare–at least on the part of the terrorists. Civilians are now fair game. Biological and nuclear weapons would be used, if the terrorists could get their hands on any.

But people don’t seem to be worried about this at all…that’s what I can’t understand. People seem to be ignoring the different gradations and the contrasts between different ways of waging war…they’re caught, instead, in the infinite loop of “war is bad”.

Well, yes. Obviously war is bad. But it’s going to happen, so we need to start thinking about how war is waged, and how we want to wage it, and where we want the world to go. What we do now is going to set the tone for all wars in the future. If we try to take the high road by saying war is bad, if we just leave at this juncture, it’s not going to make the terrorists stop. They’re not going to say, “Ah, yes, you see, war is bad. We’ll stop waging it too.” They’re going to keep doing what they think they need to do to get what they want.

Let me mention that I can understand where they’re coming from, in a way. If you think of the world in terms of “West” versus “East”, then the East, while actually bigger and more populous, is the “minority”. Countries that have Westernized themselves, like Japan, have a better chance of getting their way, or at least of being able to live their lives the way they want to. The “Middle East” does not wish to Westernize itself in the same way Japan did. I imagine they feel coerced, pressured by the “ruling” culture. They want power and influence and the right to live their own lives, but they feel that their culture is contaminated from all the outside Western influences.

Some have dealt with that in whatever ways they can. But some have decided that the only way to deal with the problem is to completely destroy the “West”, and that is what I can’t understand. It’s a hatred, an intolerance that goes far beyond muttered racial slurs.

This sounds like a “don’t hate us because we’re superior” argument, but I would also say “don’t hate others because they’re different”. I have nothing against the religion of Islam, or people who want to practice it. My best friend from high school married a Muslim from Pakistan. My problem is with intolerance of any kind, towards anyone, and that includes any “privileged class”.

If we back out, I fear that we will essentially be telling them that they can do whatever they want. They can ignore what hundreds of years of warfare have taught us: that civilized warfare is the only way to ensure any sort of peace and understanding afterwards. There is no way, ultimately, for them to do what they’re doing and for others to never resent them for it. They will have to crush us if they continue to using these tactics, because diplomatically they have no leg to stand on.

We don’t have a perfect system right now for waging war. Obviously, the perfect system would be one in which war never had to occur. We’re nowhere near close to that. But we have made progress, and we have been learning. What’s happening now in Iraq is a crucial point. Will we continue to learn and grow towards an enlightened future, or will we allow terror and anarchy to become the new world order?

Those are, essentially, my thoughts. Again, let me stress that I don’t have a solution…I’m just sharing my concerns. I feel that a no-tolerance policy towards terrorism is better than letting them do as they wish; I can’t think of a better solution, and if I could I would embrace it eagerly. There has been too much bloodshed on all sides. But I think it’s important that we ensure that none of it was in vain.