Americans lust for excitement of war
By PAUL C. CAMPOS
SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
At the outbreak of World War I, the streets of the great cities of Europe were filled with cheering crowds who welcomed that indescribable catastrophe as if it were a particularly exciting sporting event. A dark truth about human beings is that, at some perverse level of our psyches, we like war.
Nothing illustrates this better than the willingness of intelligent people in the grip of war fever to make arguments that, in any other mood, they would recognize as absurd.
Consider that the conservative's case for the Iraq war violated the core principles of conservative political thought in the most outrageous possible way. That case was put forth on the basis of the following assumptions.
First, people the world over are basically the same, in that they have an unquenchable longing for freedom. Differences in culture, religion, history, institutions, and so forth are merely superficial. Deep in their hearts, all men are part of a universal brotherhood, although this truth is obscured by corrupt leaders who manipulate the passions and fears of the public to keep themselves in power.
Second, it's only necessary to have the will to engage in revolutionary action, including the willingness to employ the transformative and cleansing power of righteous military force, to sweep the corrupt social order aside, and allow the universal longing for freedom, brotherhood and democracy to flourish.
Thus, this transformation merely requires sufficiently courageous and steadfast political leaders who understand that evil will be defeated and a new age of human flourishing will emerge, as long as they maintain the will to lead the world into the golden future they have glimpsed.
Anyone who thinks this is an exaggerated description of the Bush administration's view of foreign policy should go back and read the president's second inaugural address. It should be unnecessary to point out that every aspect of this view is, from the standpoint of classic conservative political theory, completely insane.
Indeed, the neoconservative project to liberate the Middle East was always based on the most brazen contradictions. On the one hand, it was claimed that Middle Eastern societies were so hopelessly corrupt and dysfunctional that they could never be reformed from within, and would remain hotbeds for terrorism.
On the other, the Iraq war was sold by these same people on the grounds that it would be a "cakewalk." Overthrow Saddam Hussein, and freedom and democracy would spring forth out of what a few weeks earlier had been a hopelessly corrupt and dysfunctional political culture. The theory, you see, was that people the world over are basically the same, and have an unquenchable longing for freedom, etc.
In short, the passion for war among conservatives was so intense that they never noticed their two main arguments for invading Iraq flatly contradicted each other.
If anything, the "liberal hawk" case for the war was even crazier. Various liberal supporters of the war took the view that, although the Bush administration was arguably the most corrupt and incompetent in modern American history, it was nevertheless a good idea to entrust it with the task of fighting a pre-emptive war which would, among other things, require reconstructing an entire nation more or less from scratch.
Neither the neoconservative architects of the Iraq war nor its liberal hawk supporters were stupid or ignorant. They were, and are, generally intelligent, very well educated, and quite thoughtful people. So how did they come to advocate positions that, under normal circumstances, they would consider delusional?
Part of the answer has to do with the disturbing fact that, despite their pious protests to the contrary, the cheerleaders for this war affirmatively wanted it to happen. This is merely the latest example of how our lust for the violent excitement of war is every bit as powerful as our desire for sex -- and far more dangerous.
Paul Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado.