Monday, August 30, 2004


On Death Row the condemned are marched to execution with a call of "Dead man walking." I didn't hear that on Saturday, but I felt it. I was at a tourist attraction located near a major military training center. Scattered among the other visitors were large numbers of newly minted uniform wearers, with freshly cropped hairdos, strolling with their significant others or parents, taking a holiday before they were shipped overseas. They looked sharp, but they didn't look very cheerful. They know some of them will not return. Even for those gung-ho for the mission, such thoughts dampen the mood during farewell visits.

Why are some of these bright looking young people going to lose their futures, not by accident, but at human hands? Who should we be angry at for this loss of life? Aristotle identified Four Causes for any object which exists. Can those be applied as well to an event like these deaths?

1. The Material Cause would be the bullets, shrapnel, stones, swords (if beheaded), or even a blast of compressed air from the force of a nearby explosion, which actually destroy someone's life. It is pointless to be angry at these physical objects, unless you are a disciple of Pol Pot or the Unibomber and therefore hate all forms of technology on principle. Lead is impervious not only to kryptonite, but to all scolding cries of "Bad bullet! Don't kill anymore!"

2. The Formal Cause is the pattern or plan, in this case not of the specific conflict, but of military service as such. Troops exist to kill or be killed, to be shot at and to shoot at others. That is the nature of warfare. Absolute pacifists who object to war or violence of any kind can consistently oppose anyone's wearing a uniform; the rest of us must point to some other cause for anger about these deaths.

3. The Final Cause is the intended purpose. Non-leftists would have no trouble spotting the purpose of those deaths as "to kill an American soldier". In a larger sense it is "to drive the Americans out of Iraq", whether to re-establish the Baathist tyranny, to set up a fundamentalist Muslim theocracy instead, or just to seize power for some non-ideological gang of looters. Only liberals would give some silly definition such as "to protect their homeland against imperialistic invaders". Those are U.S. uniforms, not Soviets or Nazis. We're the good guys.

[Some crazed leftists with tinfoil hats claim the troops were sent there without sufficient armor or support just to get them killed, making martyrs for domestic political reasons. Nonsense. This administration isn't clever enough to have thought of that kind of cold-blooded sacrifice. Yes, I might very well have done such a thing, but this is just Rummy's pinch-penny attempt to fight a war on the cheap. He wanted to believe Chalabi's reports that our forces would be welcomed with flower petals instead of gunshots. His wishing didn't make it so, but he didn't actually intend for those soldiers to die.]

4. The Efficient Cause is the agent directly responsible for putting that material together in that form for that purpose. Here most folks with common sense would say that would be the renegade or terrorist who shot the gun, fired the rocket, threw the grenade, or set off the bomb. Liberals would play B. F. Skinner and claim the killing was only a helpless reflex reaction to U.S. soldiers tapping Iraqi tendons with the hammer of foreign occupation. They would say those poor Arabs should not be blamed because they couldn't help themselves, and the one responsible for the killings is really Our Noble Leader, for provoking them by sending in troops.

I take a broader long-range view here. Technically the liberals are correct that no Americans would be getting killed if the President had not sent in any troops. Typically, they have drawn the wrong conclusion from this. Their view is that we should not use force to protect U.S. business interests around the globe. I say that what we should do is not use soldiers, but use even more force. After 9-11 some denounced those who called for invading the countries of Islamic terrorists and forcibly converting them. I said and repeat, we should have just destroyed them all with a thermonuclear rain.

If the Taliban had refused to turn over Obama Osama to us, we should have wiped out Kabul with one missile, then made the same demand of whichever warlord claimed to rule the radioactive ruins. None of our troops would have been killed at all. After that dramatic example, think how much better the same approach would have worked with Saddam. Tell him, for instance, stop paying the families of suicide bombers in Palestine. Or else. If you don't, we won't invade Iraq. In fact, we won't even station any of our ships downwind from Baghdad. With his scientists watching the Strontium 90 count rise whenever winds blew from the former country of Afghanistan, he would have caved at once.

Yes, right now it is the terrorists who are pulling the trigger, but only because of our own failure of nerve. We can be mad at the gunmen, but we can also do better for our forces abroad by bolder leadership at home. Sadly, no candidate seems to have the guts to advocate this. I live in a world full of wimps. If I were a delegate to this week's Convention, I might vote for my own nomination, just to make a point to the short-sighted pols who lack the courage of their neo-convictions.

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