Thursday, October 06, 2005

George Will on Preemptive War

For many years I have appreciated the editorials of George Will, whose erudition and literary skills put him a level above most syndicated columnists. In the most recent edition of Imprimus, a journal of Hillsdale College that transcribes speeches given there, Will presents a brilliant analysis of the war on terror and the need for preemptive war. The piece is historically deep, well-crafted, carefully nuanced (Will is no ideologue), and morally wise. The longer format allows Will to develop his ideas more fully than in a typical 600-700 word editorial. I commend this piece to you, which is on line here:


DanO said...

What exactly makes this a brilliant analysis? I will agree that it is well-crafted and carefully nuanced if only for the reason that it seriously neglects significant aspects of American history in order to push Will's agenda. (Or is Will really ignorant of what the US has done in places as diverse as Latin America, the Middle East, and the South Pacific? America never lost her interest in war after 1989, she just found it more convenient to use people like Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, and General Suharto to do the dirty work). There is some historical depth here but it is shockingly one-sided. I am not a resident of the US so the American arrogance that dominates this article is also hard to miss. As for morality, perhaps there is a form of morality present here but I would hardly call it Christian.

But then again I have been far more influenced by the likes of Stan Hauerwas, Bill Cavanaugh, Jacques Ellul, Jon Sobrino, and such counter-cultural voices as Naomi Klein and, yes, even Naom Chomsky. Yet it seems to me that Will is just as much an ideologue as Chomsky -- while also being a worse historian.

Granted this comment is rather vitriolic and requires a more sustained defence -- which is why I point to the voices that have influenced me. Of course you can feel free to take me to task on all this.



Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

America saved the world from two totalitarian regimes in the 20th century: Nazism and Communism. Now it is called on again to rise to the challenge.

America was attacked on 9/11/2001, and it faces a new kind of foe, as Will rightly points out. The war on terror is not arrogant, but necessary. Any pacificist response, however heartfelt, is merely a capitulation to the evils of the Islamofascists. For more on why the hard left cannot condemn Islamofascism, see David Horowitz, "Unholy Alliance."

stc said...

Will makes the statement, the commercial spirit, in some ways, is the American spirit. He speaks of capitalism in glowing terms.

In my opinion, capitalism works precisely because it appeals to the worst elements of human nature: acquisitiveness, selfishness, envy, and competitiveness.

Since you have praised Will's article, I wonder what your view is. If Jesus visited the USA now, what do you think he would say about capitalism? Would he approve or disapprove of it?

The Old Testament prophets condemned the rich for enlarging their lands and houses at the expense of the poor. Do you think that is what happens in a capitalist system, or do you subscribe to the trickle-down theory?

These are big questions, perhaps worthy of a post of their own.

DanO said...

Dr. Groothuis,

I started reading your response and had a smile on my face... until I realised you weren't joking. Sometimes I forget how radically Right much of Colorado is (I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the articles that Harper's recently printed about the Evangelical church in Colorado). Not that I'm too inclined to embrace the Left. Although I have some questions about Jim Wallis and the way he engages with culture, I certainly agree with him that God is not a Republican or a Democrat. The Church should exist as a polis that goes beyond the Right or Left wings.

When two people (like you and I) are on incredibly different pages it certainly makes dialogue challenging -- not because we dislike each other but because we probably see the world (and perhaps even our faith?) in fundamentally different ways.

It is good for all of us to question how much we are shaped by the milieu in which we have developed.

And it is good for all of us to do serious research into the issues involved in war (from WWII, to the Cold War, to the current War on Terror). Let us engage with historians and serious political scholars instead of thoughtlessly accepting what the mainstream media has to say (cf. Postman, Herman, McLuhan, and Chomsky for critiques of the mainstream media -- you might find chapter 2 in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Medai especially relevant. It is called "Worthy and Unworthy Victims" and contrasts the press given to the murder of American nuns working in Latin America versus the press given to the murder of the Polish priest Jerzy Popieluszko. Which do you think got the most coverage? Why do you think that was the case?).

Finally, I will say that, properly understood, there is nothing "passive" about Christian nonviolence. Critiques like Horowitz's may apply in some cases but generally rely on a straw man argument. Such caricatures are often created by those more inclined to legitimise violence but simply do not do justice to Christian noviolence. Hauerwas has some great thoughts on this in his book Performing the Faith when he contrasts his nonviolent approach with Milbank's pacifism.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

America did save the world from two totalitarian regimes in the Twentieth Century. No need to laugh; it is true. Read Paul Johnson, "Modern Times."

I suggest one read Revell's "Anti-Americanism" on all American in the world. (I give a short review of this on He is French, but still lauds much of what America has done.

As for Chompsky, I cannot take him seriously. He thought America deserved the terrorist apocalypse of 9-11. That says it all. On linguistics, he is a genius. On politics, well...

Yes, I read the "Harpers" piece on the megachurch in Colorado Springs. I always try to read what the press says about Christianity and religion in general. Let's just say that that pastor Ted Haggart, is not my hero, since I am no fan of the megachurch.

Capitalism is not based on greed; it allows for it, however. But unlike top-down socialist regimes (command economies), it also allows for freedom, opportunity, and giving. What capitalism needs is a cultural heart of goodness. That is where Christians need to come in by resisting its materialism by living giving and loving lives.

DanO said...

A few clarifying remarks:

1) I do not mean to come across as "anti-american". Within my own nation I raise several of the same objections. Granted the United States of America is the most powerful (and therefore engaged in the worst abuses) but the critique that I (and others) raise applies mutatis mutandis to most of the West and definitely all of the G8 nations. In this regard I am in agreement with Revel's book.

The accusation of "anti-americanism" is too often applied to those who are critiquing American policies. It is a media trick that Israel learned long ago. If one criticises what Israel has done to the Palestinians one must inevitably be an anti-Semite. Serious critiques of policies (whether Israeli, or American, or French, or whatever) cannot be brushed off so easily.

2) I think you may have misunderstood Chomsky. You say that you cannot take him seriously because, "He thought America deserved the terrorist apocalypse of 9-11." Chomsky is not saying that the terrorist attack was right or a good thing or any such nonsense. His point is that, given the decades of atrocities America has helped create and maintain around the world, it is not surprising that someone has finally struck back on America's home soil. Chomsky does not say this is good (in fact, he condemns the attacks), he does say it should not surprise us so much.

An interesting note in relation to the Cold War: Thomas Blanton of the National Security Archive in Washington argues that, in October of 1962, the world was indeed saved by one man -- Vasili Arkhipov, a Soviet submarine officer. Inflated rhetoric aside this man actually did save the world.

Finally, I'd be curious to hear more about your dislike of megachurches -- especially since they operate so well within the domain of capitalism.

Peace (meant as a prayer, not as a figure of speech),


Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

America came to the defense of Muslim lives in the 1990s--in Kuwait, in Bosnia, and elsewhere.

There was no possible justification for the 9-11 attacks.

Islamofascists primarily hate us for what is good about us: democracy, religious freedom, and women's rights. They hate our very existence qua America and our ideals. That is the reason for the attacks. American has not committed so many "atrocities" that it was only a matter of time. Any superpower will err. However, when we invade a country, we do not take it over! We attempt to set up a democracy, as in Afganistan and Iraq. It won't be easy in Iraq, as Will argues in the piece. We do not take even their oil, for heaven't sake.