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Dad and Uncle Joe

September 27, 2001

My father nearly lost his life fighting for Stalin. During World War II Commander Michael Sobran served on a battleship that was hit by a kamikaze. He watched as pieces of his men were fished out of the ocean.

To be fair, he didn’t know he was fighting to help Franklin Roosevelt hand ten Christian countries to the Soviet Union; that obviously wasn’t the stated war aim of the U.S. Government, merely the practical result of Roosevelt’s eagerness to help his buddy “Uncle Joe.”

No, my father and other young men of his generation were told they were fighting for democracy and freedom; Roosevelt said they were fighting for the Four Freedoms, including Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. Who would actually get the spoils of victory was never specified, but the people who wound up under Soviet control never saw any of the Four Freedoms.

During wartime, rulers — or “leaders” — usually talk in abstractions, which the fighting men pretty much ignore. People feel they can’t afford to be skeptical of the government while the war rages; skepticism is regarded as treason. The government becomes “us,” our tribe, our only security.

The hell of it is that skepticism of government is seldom more warranted than during war. That’s when government is most likely to seize the opportunity to expand its powers and crack down on individual liberty, generally with the support of the majority. If the government bombs cities abroad while lying to its own people at home, well, these things are often necessary in wartime, aren’t they?

We are already seeing this mentality emerge in the current “war on terrorism.” Skeptics are now accused of being “anti-American” or tarred as “the hate-America crowd.” Some of my own readers tell me I’m a traitor for saying that our own government got us into this mess; they invite me to find another country to live in, preferably an Arab one. We’re already at, or approaching, the Government-Is-Us stage.

Now is the time to exercise freedom of speech — while we still have it. I’ve said all along that our government was making enemies, many of whom would be civilized people with just grievances, while others would be ruthless, clever, and vengeful fanatics. And now that the latter have been heard from, and our rulers are overreacting the way rulers generally do, we’re supposed to clam up?

[Breaker quote: The unexpected 
costs of warNo thanks. I don’t want my sons to go through what their grandfather went through. I don’t want another generation of American boys to be sacrificed on the altar of government, alias “freedom” and “democracy.”

It isn’t “anti-Americanism” to warn your country against repeating the tragic errors of the past. It’s patriotism. And real patriotism means facing your own potentially fatal weaknesses.

“The idea that history is tragedy is not to the American taste,” William Pfaff wrote recently. He is not the first to make this observation. Time and again we have plunged into wars with reckless optimism, failing to ask ourselves the simple question: What could go wrong?

“That men set off a course of events they can neither calculate nor control,” wrote the Shakespeare critic A.C. Bradley a century ago, “is a tragic fact.” And it’s a fact Americans are strangely slow to recognize. We expect success, results, victory. We seldom anticipate failure, frustration, defeat — let alone the chaos that may ensue if our government increases the present rage and ferment of the Muslim world by attacking a Muslim country.

It won’t do to try to assure Muslims that we don’t consider all of them our enemies. Few of them are listening. The same simple-minded passions that are showing up among Americans are even more intense in the Muslim world. The Arabs, and the Israelis too, make their own tragic mistakes. Most human beings do.

What could go wrong? Are we going to insist on finding out? Few wars ever go as planned. Even America’s most successful war — the Mexican War, with its lopsided victory and tremendous conquests — is still bearing negative consequences for us.

Look at it this way: every major war may cost civilization a young Mozart, Shakespeare, or Edison who, had he lived, might have brought light and beauty into all our lives. Isn’t that a conclusive argument for peace?

Joseph Sobran

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Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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