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thoughts on war: notes from a reader

thoughts on war: notes from a reader

Reprinting from an email, with permission, from a person named T. who would prefer I did not use his email address, which is fine with me. This was sent to me in response to the comments on the this post.

I read the responses to you, and there are always those like Barry who insist that you've somehow given up thinking, given your righteousness, if you say, "I've had enough; here's the line, and I will fight before I let them cross it." Answering the Barrys is hard -- they take upon themselves the "right" and "moral" position, and allow no arguments against it. Sadly, their sort isn't new in the world.

I'm an early Boomer baby, not quite old enough to be your father; my own father spent WWII in India, and afterward at the then-advanced age of 28 came home to marry and start a family. Before the War began, he was a Kansas farmboy, son of a lay preacher and very religious. He had been granted conscientious objector status, because he knew he could not kill another human. He was also an isolationist, willing to let those who jointly created the problems deal with them.

Then he watched the newsreels at his hometown cinema, as they showed the Japanese atrocities in the East, and hinted at German atrocities in the West. He watched as long as he could; then he went down to the local recruiter's office and joined the Army. His reasoning was simple: "It finally occurred to me that unless I did something, unless everyone in this nation did something, that it would soon be my father and brothers shot and bayonetted, and my mother and my sisters raped and killed."

As a farm boy, he already knew how to shoot; he trained with weapons in Basic, but he never carried nor fired one in battle. He was home on his final leave on December 7, 1941, when he heard the news about Pearl Harbor on the radio. He spent most of the next four years in India, working as a mechanic; he couldn't bring himself to kill someone, but he pushed his conscience as far as he could and helped maintain the vehicles of those who did fight; his conscience would let him do no less.

His health was ruined in the tropics; I don't think he ever got his weight up to 135 again, and he had recurrent blackouts sometimes lasting days. But he blamed no one: far too many of his childhood friends paid a much higher price than he in that war, even some who managed to come back mostly in one piece. While he raised me and my siblings to hate war and killing, he also raised us to realize that some things are still worse.

It's possible that Barry would stand aside while his wife and children were enslaved, raped or killed, but I doubt it. While he accuses you of a failure of spirit, of laziness in thinking, it is instead he who refuses to truly think. Abstract principles can survive in a classroom, or in times of peace; but reality trumps abstract principles, every time.

I saw this on Glenn Reynold's blog earlier; it showed me yet again how much the last several years have reminded me of the late 30's, and why.

Thank you, T. for sharing you thoughts.


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Thank you T. for writing Michele, and thank you Michele for sharing-Wow.

Another brave woman's thoughts:

The Rage and The Pride
by Oriana Fallaci

Look up Pastor Martin Niemoller's testimony to Congress for an affirmation similar to that of T's father, too.

Thanks for sharing this story. There are many former conscientious objecters who, like your father, had changes of heart and served bravely in the military. The American WWI hero Alvin York was one. Another was the French Resistance heroine Noor Inayat Khan, who had been raised in the Sufi tradition of pacifism but nevertheless joined first the Royal Air Force and then the British underground organization Special Operations Executive. There are also many conscientious objectors who remained such, and served with distinction in medical services.

I'm afraid that many of our present anti-war voices, however, are not of their class. Many of today's "pacifists" are quick to condemn rational military action by a civilized state, but have a real admiration for actions such as suicide bombings. Many of these people also are concerned less with actual political outcomes and their effect on real people than they are with their own ability to feel morally superior.

my father was in WWII too. (my parents were old when they adopted me). he served his country when there was a call for it, i have no stories about struggles with this duty, he just went, he served, he came home safe. while the above story is indeed a touching and stirring tale of patriotism and bravery, i don't see the parallels.

i would object to using the logic that since we fought the good fight in WWII,and brave men fought, were sickened, and/or died, that objecting to this war is unpatriotic. the US became involved because our european allies were being attacked, and we stood with them. and japan was attacking us. we fought against those that attacked first. and we fought with our allies. there was an alliance, a consensus.

if we had acted before Hitler or Emperor Hirohito began attacking, could we have prevented the war? maybe. but then we would have been the aggressor. and that's just not the way it was done then. defending peace and pre-emptive strikes are two very different things.

generally, attacking other nations without being attacked first is considered bad form. if the UN and all of our european allies were standing together with us, i'd feel much differently than i do now.

WWII was anything but unilateral.

and for the record, Mr. Foster, objecting to the war doesn't mean approving of suicide bombers. i am more than a little offended by your statement.

kd, did you somehow miss the fact that this nation is already at war, and has been for some time? The 9/11 attack wasn't the start of it -- that was in fact the second time the WTC had been the target -- and the first war against Iraq never ended; the shooting stopped, subject to Saddam's destruction of his WMDs and his ability to manufacture more. But he reneged on that agreement, just as he has reneged on so many others.

We're still at war; Bush is just just giving the UN one last chance to be relevant, but he had no real need to do so. And this latest round is by no means "unilateral" -- it just doesn't (yet) include nations like France, who have been violating UN sanctions by selling war materiel to Iraq anyway.

Tell me, do you require the consent of your whole neighborhood to defend your home?

kd--I didn't say that all those who oppose war in Iraq admire suicide bombers; I said that many do. If you doubt that this is the case, check out the image at Little Green Footballs (posted about 2 weeks ago) of demonstrators in Spain who (a) are carrying "no war" signs, and (b) wearing mock (I assume) dynamite charges around their waists, evidently in celebration of suicide bombings. I hope you will agree with me that this is simply obscene.

The statement that we would have been the aggressor if we had acted pre-emptively in WWII is very arguable. (a) In 1936, Germany moved troops into the strategically-sensitive Rhineland area, which it was barred from doing by two treaties. France and Germany could have easily brought down the Hitler regime through military action at this point, and it would not have been aggression, merely enforcement of a treaty. (b)In 1938, Germany threatened Czechoslovakia, and, rather than acting to defend that democratic country, France and Germany threw her to the wolves. Do you think it would have been aggression for them to help defend a fellow democracy against attack?

Note that I am using the term "we" broadly above, to encompass France and Britain as well as the U.S. This brings up another point--about alliance and consensus. It's true that the U.S. fought as part of a coalition. However, this was not true of Britain in late 1940-mid 1941. France was already defeated, Russia was a treaty partner of Germany, and the U.S. was resolutely pretending that we ("we" narrowly-defined this time) had nothing to do with it. Do you think Britain should have negotiated a "peace" with Nazi Germany because of its lack of allies?

Here's the reference for the image I mentioned above. Don't click this unless you have a strong stomach.


i'm not as coherent as i ever want to be here, so i'll point at this, an entry on an interestingly mixed blog of conservatives and liberals, all opposing war in iraq. it's a better argument than i could give here.

i may be a liberal but i know my limitations. and i certainly would never participate in a demonstration that involved invoking suicide bombers, or any other form of terrorism.

the question remains, why iraq? why now? saddam's been a jerk for ever so long, and there are so, so many other instances of global terrorism going on -- bali, the philipines, or even the washington DC area, by a couple of isolated nuts. it's everywhere. invading one piece of real estate is either very ill-advised, or just the start of something i don't want to see.

and the neighborhood analogy doesn't stand up. if my home were being actively attacked, my neighbors would stand with me. if i wasn't being actively attacked, whatever i did 'preemptively' to someone who wasn't actively engaged in attacking me, would be assault, or murder.

side note to michele: you need that subscribe to comments script. i'm happy to help with that.