Monday, October 23, 2006

The Lesson of World War II

Coincidentally, this morning, I woke up thinking about war again (well, that was no coincidence). NPR reported that we've been in Afghanistan for 5 years now, but the US Ambassador to that country assures us it was not a war of choice (oh, really?), and that it's complicated and we must not be impatient children, we must "stay the course" and see it through. Even though we're no longer a "stay the course" country (does it get any weirder than this?). And I began to wonder why all our wars since WWII have been long, complicated, drawn out affairs with no clear conclusion (don't cite Gulf War I as the counter-example; we're finishing that one, or trying to, now). And I thought about how WWII has become our touchstone war, the one that taught us the lessons about not letting evil take root in the world (I heard some people from Nebraska, retired people, of course, making that argument yet again on NPR over the weekend). I don't have an answer as to why those wars ended inconclusively, while WWII ended so decisively. But I do know the real lesson we took from it, and it wasn't the perils of appeasement or isolationism. It was the lesson of the Nazis: might makes right. And as the Ambassador and the President keep arguing: the only way to have order in society, is through the use of force. Which is also the way of the Nazis.

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Auden wrote those words, and linked them to the events of September 1, 1939. Still assured of our innocence, we are still sure we can make the world right. Some of us even think politics can do it.

I'm going back to bed.

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