Wednesday, June 7, 2006


Mark Steyn: “In the run-up to March 2003, there were respectable cases to be made for and against the Iraq war. Nothing that happened at Haditha alters either argument. And, if you're one of the ever swelling numbers of molting hawks among the media, the political class and the American people for whom Haditha is the final straw, that's not a sign of your belated moral integrity but of your fundamental unseriousness.”

For the past week or so I’ve been mulling over the tired cliché, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Something is wrong, with that statement. I suppose the problem is its basic, um, unseriousness. Because the saying is used about the most horrifying things. Should we firebomb Dresden and kill 200,000 civilians? You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Should we nuke Japan? You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. Should we invade Afghanistan and Iraq to replace their evil dictatorships, even if it costs thousands of lives, ours and theirs? You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.

The thing that is made is not an omelet, and the thing that is lost is not an egg. The use of petty metaphors cheapens the argument, and gives cause for scorn to the opponent. Alas, the saying is true, for all that its common usage is callous. Whatever shall we do, then. How shall we communicate the ugly cost of war, if not by using the imperfect tool of language?

Part of the problem is that the other side is listening only to the words, and not to the meaning. The reality is that war is a zero sum game. There is a winner, and a loser. Nothing is created. It’s all about destruction. To object to some verbal formulation of this nasty truth is to miss the point. But, of course, the point wouldn’t need to be made, if it weren’t being missed.

War is a zero sum game. But war is not the point. War is not the outcome, but the method. The outcome itself may be as chaotic as the process – there is no guarantee that even with a victory, democracy will follow, or economic prosperity, or a reliable ally. Among the multitude of possible outcomes, however, only one is futility. Great things could result, or horrific. War breaks down the door. Behind it, we may find - or rather we may create a charnel house or a treasury.

It is a fundamentally unserious thing, to quibble about words while we miss the intended communication. It’s stupid. It’s not about winning an argument. It’s about winning a war. Or losing it. For me to presume to speak for those on the other side of the debate isn’t hubris, but it is a rhetorical device that serves no worthy purpose. So I won’t speak, here, for the peaceniks. The intended communication from me is that the price of dying - and of killing - is worth paying, given the best possible outcome. Yes, it is a sort of gamble ... like life itself.

I understand the intended communication from the peaceniks to be that any life is too precious to be lost for any war. If I understand their point correctly, we’ll just have to disagree. But what we must agree on is that we mustn’t quibble about words when there is a so much greater issue. And we mustn’t argue about principles, but rather annunciate them, with evidence, in an attempt to persuade. And when that fails, as it usually does, we must review our own reasoning, to ensure that it is sound, and we must examine our own principles, to see that they are worthy, and consistent, and in accord with the way the real world actually is – and then we must advance toward our goal with utmost vigor. In this case, it isn’t about breaking eggs. It’s about killing terrorists.

Let’s make this the new cliché: you can’t win a war without killing people. Rather literal, I know, but some seem to be offended by figures of speech. Heaven forefend that we should be so insensitive.


No comments: