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 The Spirit of Sacrifice 

November 4, 2003

As the War Between the States raged, the humorist Artemus Ward announced, “I have already given two cousins to the war, and I stand ready to sacrifice my wife’s brother.”

I think of those words every time I hear our leaders and pundits say that we must show our “resolve” and our “will” in Iraq, despite the growing number of American casualties. The neoconservatives in particular stand ready to sacrifice as many goyim as it takes. Even if you think this war isn’t especially necessary, you have to admire such determination.

When your country faces a threat like Saddam Hussein, it’s your patriotic duty to grab a rifle and hand it to some young man (preferably not your own son) without counting the risks and costs. Even if you didn’t fight in any of the last few wars, you can compensate for it by sending others to fight now, as so many of our hawks are doing. Then you can deride the cowardice and challenge the patriotism of those who lack your spirit of sacrifice.

Let’s keep a sense of proportion. American casualties in Iraq are far lower than those in Vietnam. Rush Limbaugh has pointed out that more Americans die in traffic accidents than are dying in Iraq, but we don’t get constant media reports about those numbers. Why get excited about our losses in Iraq?

America — or at least the Bush administration, which is the same thing — needs more of that kind of level-headed thinking. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, commenting on the downing of the helicopter that killed 16 GIs, said, “It’s clearly a tragic day for America. In a long, hard war, we’re going to have tragic days. But they’re necessary. They’re part of a war that’s difficult and complicated.”

[Breaker quote: To what purpose?]Again, such stoicism is admirable. And is the death of 16 soldiers even “tragic”? Of course every death is regrettable. “Every man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind,” et cetera, but you can take that sort of thinking too far. People are dying all the time, even young people. We can’t mourn them all. We can’t freak out every time we hear about a few deaths in a country of nearly 300 million people. Can’t we spare a few in Iraq? A few hundred, spread out over months, doesn’t seem an unreasonable sacrifice for the cause of freedom.

“America will never run,” says President Bush. I should say not! After all, America has just won a crushing victory, as the president told us six months ago. So why is he even talking about running now?

As one hawkish pundit, imbued with the spirit of sacrifice, points out, the president is saying something that should go without saying. He shouldn’t even be telling our enemies that the thought of pulling out of Iraq has crossed his mind. It can only encourage them.

But who are our enemies in Iraq? They are variously described as “Saddam loyalists,” “radical Islam,” or just “terrorists,” but nobody really knows. They don’t identify themselves. Saddam loyalists don’t seem the type to resort to suicide tactics. Radical Muslims do, but they aren’t loyal to Saddam. And attacking military targets isn’t terrorism.

It’s hard to fight an enemy when you don’t even know who he is or why he is fighting you. It makes your sacrifice seem rather pointless. But I suppose we can afford it. Whoever the enemy may be, we must show him, or her, our resolve.

There is speculation that Saddam Hussein is still alive and is directing the Iraqi resistance. Suppose the worst case. America pulls out of Iraq and Saddam comes back to power, crowing in triumph and resuming his tyrannical ways. After the devastation of his regime, his family, his inner circle, and his military power, could anyone rationally imagine that he would pose a threat to America? Can even our hawks believe he would be able to whip out those “weapons of mass destruction” he was accused of possessing and hiding?

By all means, let’s keep a sense of proportion. But that also means not overestimating the enemy. The wild exaggeration of the danger of Saddam Hussein has now exposed America to new dangers.

We are so big, rich, and powerful that we can probably afford this folly, in the sense that it won’t actually destroy us. But what purpose does it serve?

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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