Peace talk

Culture | Does the United States have a culture capable of winning a war against committed Islamists?

Issue: "Why the long face, Fidel?," May 1, 2004

DEMOCRATS HAVE INVOKED THE "V" WORD TO describe the war in Iraq: Vietnam. While in many ways this is an unfair comparison, there is a sense-especially when liberals talk about Vietnam-in which it could have validity. We lost the war in Vietnam not for military reasons but for cultural reasons. And it could happen again. As they did in Vietnam, liberals are promoting a culture of pacifism that could result not only in our losing the war in Iraq but losing the broader war on terrorism.

We failed in Vietnam because the culture turned against the war. The '60s counterculture saw Vietnam as an emblem of everything evil in the old order. Hollywood, the music industry, academics, and with-it people everywhere came out against the war. In the meantime, the government insisted on waging a "limited war," preventing the military from doing everything it could to defeat the enemy. This prolonged the war and made casualties pile up. Before long, the Democratic establishment turned against the war-never mind that they were the very ones who started it-as did the public. We cut and we ran.

When North Vietnam took over, the South Vietnamese who fought with us were slaughtered or put in "reeducation camps" by their new communist masters. Thousands of desperate "boat people" fled, often to perish on the high seas. As the dominos fell, millions of Cambodians died-in the bloodiest genocide since World War II-at the hands of the communist Khmer Rouge. As all of this was happening, American liberals congratulated themselves on their sensitivity and high moral purpose in opposing the war.

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Now the anti-war movement is enjoying a renaissance. Again, Hollywood, the entertainment industry, academics, and America's other cool people are opposing the Iraq war, and the United States may elect John Kerry, a Vietnam-era veteran-turned-peacenik, as commander in chief.

Our own highest and noblest values make it hard to fight the war. We have difficulty punishing anyone. The insurgents we have arrested in Iraq and Saddam himself are in custody, but nothing is happening to them. Similarly, the Guantanamo terrorists are sunning themselves in Cuba, with seemingly little to fear from military tribunals. We tell our troops to be "sensitive" when anti-coalition militias take refuge in mosques. We bend over backwards in our efforts to win the hearts and minds of the people. But the Islamists interpret all of this not as benevolence but as weakness.

In some ways, the Islamists have a stronger culture than Americans do-not better, by any means, but more cohesive, more committed to their beliefs, more eager to accept hardship and death in the name of their cause. Our military is that way. But the American culture that sends them into battle seems extraordinarily divided, lacking consensus of morality and beliefs, and paralyzed by intellectual, moral, and cultural relativism. As Yeats said at the beginning of the wars of the last century, "The best lack all conviction, but the worst are full of passionate intensity."

What would it mean if the West loses this culture war? It is, of course, unlikely that America would become a Muslim nation, with American women trading their fashions for burqas and our courts embracing Islamic law. And yet, in another century or so, this may not be so far-fetched, particularly in Europe. No culture has ever lasted for long without a religious and moral foundation. Those who become burnt out with their moral dissipation often react to the other extreme of religious legalism. With the decline in Christianity, Europeans in a few decades may well turn to Islam, which, given the theological liberalism of the state churches, is often the only vital religion they see. Ultimately, it will take a revival of Christianity to stem the tide of militant Islam.

Osama bin Laden has told the world that he will spare from terrorist attack any country that stops supporting Israel and the United States. So far even France and Germany have rejected that attempt at extortion. But it will remain a temptation. The United States too could stop supporting Israel, put Saddam back in power, return Afghanistan to the Taliban, and release the terrorists we have captured. Maybe then the terrorists will leave us alone. Some people think that would be peace.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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