Seen in the history of past wars, the American effort to remove Saddam and seed democracy in the Middle East seems little short of miraculous. A successful military action has been carried out 7,000 miles from home. This has been done at far less human and material cost than almost any prior comparable U.S. war. A powerful, multi-pronged effort to eliminate the nexus of Arab autocracy and Islamism (the conditions that germinated bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terror) now continues to gain ground.
Why so little appreciation for what has been achieved so far? For one thing, many Westerners underestimate the threats that have been nullified in the process. Elites in particular often fail to grasp that most societies on the planet do not operate by the same rational selfinterest (much less the Golden Rule of the New Testament) that governs our own societies. To confess that education and material progress have not quashed the instinctual human desire to take by force what is not properly yours seems too depressing for modern, educated Western man to accept.
But there has been no Darwinian evolution of human nature in the very short span of civilization. The old threats of passion remain constant and predictable. Nor has the use of sophisticated technology and computers altered either the chemistry or hard-wiring of our brains. Rather than denying the human propensity for violence, it is far wiser to accept it and then defend the rules of civilization that alone can contain and ameliorate it.
Modern life in Western countries has also become so privileged and protected that it is hard to convince affluent suburbanites that shooting and bombing your way to power remains a norm in much of the world. Wealthy moderns too often imagine that issues of governance, religion, and tribal affiliation are solved through talk shows, lawsuits, or “60 Minutes” reports. Mostly, though, these conflicts abroad continue to be settled through violence.
It is hard to keep Americans focused on necessary sacrifices amidst the glare of contemporary leisure distractions and pleasures. It is difficult to ask taxpayers to forego some of their social entitlements to increase national investment in defense. It is painful to lose Western youth in awful landscapes such as Mogadishu or the Sunni Triangle for the abstraction of “freedom.”
Our enemies — who cling to history far more tightly than most Americans — know this. And because Osama bin Laden, Dr. Zawahiri, Mr. Zarqawi, and other warrior fanatics understand our recent past, and their own distant one, better than we do, they will continue to fight in places, and with methods, that challenge our often unhistorical sense of the civilized self.
As Hanson makes clear earlier in the essay, by any historical marker the Iraq war is a miraculous success and a considerable tribute to the U.S. military. But we have come to treat "freedom" as just another entitlement for which no effort need to be made or sacrifice endured.
Like children we now sit around satisfied with "sound bites" about the war that fail to put the effort and sacrifice into any context that might help evaluate it. Who needs context? We demand free speech, but are unwilling to take the risks involved in standing up proudly for something one supposedly believes in. We suppose that free speech just happens because we are entitled to it.
We expect the government to protect us from danger. We expect them to protect us from natural disasters. We expect them to connect the dots. We expect expect expect.
We never consider what must be done to make us safe. We never connect those particular dots. Why should we? We are entitled and no compromise on our part is ever necessary. It is our right as spoiled, self-centered, children; obsessed with constant and instant gratification. Our demands spew forth with the undiluted irony of the child whose parents have told him he is the center of the universe and that his whim controls all. He wants it, therefore it will be given to him.
What do we want? PEACE! When do we want it? NOW! What do we want? FREEDOM! When do we want it? NOW!
How will we get it? ............silence...........
How will we keep it?............silence...........
What will we sacrifice for it?.........silence......
Within the silence lies the answer to our question.
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.