War Talk with Dr. Moron
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Though I've consulted with Dr. Oxy Moron many times, the three principles that guide his speech never cease to amaze me. Â
Principle No. 1: Unless you must speak, respond only to questions. Â
Principle No. 2: Make your answers brief. As the book of Proverbs counsels: "those with knowledge spare their words. Even a fool, when he holds his tongue, is counted wise. Those that shut their lips have understanding." Â
Principle No. 3: Answer with an appropriate aphorism. Â
SG: Two weeks ago, I wrote a column that argued the conventional war in Iraq is over. I followed up with a column about a different kind of war going on -- guerrilla warfare. Is this just a game of semantics? Are there different phases to war? Different kinds of war?
OM: War is, at first, the hope that we will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off (Karl Kraus). Â
SG: But there have been a number of decisive military victories in history. With our superior firepower and tactics, isn't it a near certainty that the U.S. military will prevail? Â
OM: Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Therefore, a victorious army first wins and then seeks battle; a defeated army first battles and then seeks victory. Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting (Sun Tzu). Â
SG: I smell a whiff of pacifism here. I've criticized Bush hawks for not being able to tell the difference between anti-war pacifists and pro-military anti-Iraq war patriots, but I admit to being confused about where you stand. Is pacifism folly?
OM: We make war that we may live in peace (Aristotle). We must be strong militarily, but beyond a certain point military strength can become a national weakness (Eisenhower). Â
SG: So are you a pragmatist who sees war as evil, but often the lesser evil, as Orwell said? Or, are you a disciple of Clausewitz, who sees war as the most noble of human aspirations?
OM: War makes the victor stupid and the vanquished vengeful (Nietzsche). Â
SG: I guess what I'm getting at is: Do you mourn over war or do you glory in it? Do you think war is, well, right?
OM: War does not determine who is right, only who is left (Bertrand Russell). Â
SG: The debate over the morality and utility of war has been going on probably since before the Spartans invaded Attica. But do you think there will ever be a day when, as the saying goes, they'll hold a war and no one will show up?
OM: As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular (Oscar Wilde). Â
SG: You're saying war is a result of the way we think and not rooted in some kind of primal human instinct?
OM: All right -- it's instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We're human beings, with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But we can stop it! We can admit we're killers, but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes. Knowing that we're not going to kill...today (Capt. Kirk, Star Trek). Â
SG:Â A moment ago I referred to the Peloponnesian War. I'd like to go back to that because it occurred to me: Even that ancient war has a modern lesson. The Spartans thought by invading and destroying the crops in Attica it would force the Athenians into battle with a superior military. The Spartans were confident that their war of annihilation would bring a quick victory but it didn't. Do you see any lessons in that?
OM: The belief in the possibility of a short decisive war appears to be one of the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions (Robert Lynd). Â
SG: Yeah, when Rumsfeld was talking about U.S. soldiers being greeted as liberators, I knew he wasn't in touch with reality. Invasions and occupations have never made anyone happy, except war profiteers. That reminds me to ask you: Not only has there been a perennial debate about the wisdom of war, there is also lots of debate over who wins. What does it mean to win a war?
OM: You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake (Jeanette Rankin). Â