I think it is safe to say that, with only a few Ripley’s Believe It or Not exceptions, all human communities, large and small, in recorded and unrecorded history, have had one thing in common: If there are not enough brave, competent men, ready to lay down their lives to defend the group, then that tribe or village or dukedom or nation will cease to exist. It will cease to exist because some other band of humans will invade and kill the men, steal the goods, and rape the women, or, less harshly, simply enslave the population to a greater or lesser degree. Sometimes conquest can benefit the conquered, if the conqueror is more civilized and prosperous than the culture and economy that is absorbed, as was often true of barbarian tribes that became a part of the Roman empire. But, in any case, the undefended society disappears. It has always been this way. Maybe someday humanity will rise above its warlike nature, but that day has obviously not yet arrived.
It is true that in these modern, more enlightened times, there are nation-states in Europe and elsewhere who are essentially unarmed, but they exist because of the protective military umbrella of the United States, without which they would be part of Greater Yugoslavia or Russia or China. That they are allowed to continue without paying tribute of some kind to their protector is historically unique, but hardly a repudiation of the general principle of the necessity for self-defense. The only penalty they pay for lacking arms is that their voice carries no weight in international councils. If you do not have a credible military, you have no voice. If you have nukes, you have a very big voice indeed.
Given that this is how it is in the world, there is plenty of room for argument about how to proceed. But, arguments that ignore or deny this reality seem, to me, to be not worth my time. What is worth my time is noticing how many such arguments there are. The rich, enlightened Western world has been infected with a virus, the idea that “war is not the answer”. In its milder form, it becomes, war is not the answer if there are any casualties or exorbitant expenses. And in its much milder form it becomes, war is the answer, but Bush is doing it all wrong. If this point of view ever achieves majority status in this country, we are doomed. Yet, the three mutations of this virus encompass most of the Democratic Party base. Of course the “doing it all wrong” thesis could be valid, and inevitably is to some extent, but the alternatives proposed by its disciples consist of vague generalities like “train the Iraqis”,”withdraw troops as the Iraqis take over”, that have been government policy all along. It’s not constructive analysis and criticism, it’s just politics. While we are at war.
There are real arguments, most of them taking place among conservatives of one stripe or another. Is it possible to plant democracy in a traumatized culture that has never known it? Is Al Qaeda an existential threat, merely a serious nuisance, or something in between? Is the corrupt, incompetent, anti-American U.N. worth saving? The best case I have heard for saving it, by the way, came from a speech by Newt Gingrich on CSPAN. Why is all the serious discourse taking place almost exclusively on the Right? I’ve been a Democrat all my life. I’m not enamored with the Republican Party. But the Democrats have lost their soul. Even on issues where they should have something to say, like health care and alternative energy, they have no principles, any more than they do on the war. It’s all politics.
I am concerned for my country, and for Western Civilization, of which my country is the bulwark. I am concerned because if we, as a nation, ever fail to produce enough of the brave, intelligent, patriotic men and women who are serving in Iraq right now, we will be removed from history, and civilization along with us. I see so many tendencies in that direction that I am amazed that the people we depend on for our freedom still exist in sufficient numbers to man the barricades. I am astonishingly grateful to them, and to a country that still, in spite of everything, supports them.