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On the Question
I've been in a few email skirmishes already over the question of
protesting the war. I am reminded of civil war, when families find
themselves fighting on opposing sides.
of Protest in Time of War
by Greg Moses
March 27, 2003
Already, there is a ritualistic rhetoric in the war about war.
One side represents those who are willing to die for freedom. The
other side represents those who are being killed. In both cases, righteousness overflows.
In terms of the ritualistic debate, I want to say that freedom is
something you use or lose, and to insist on this freedom, to denounce
this war, in this climate of intimidation, is a way of fighting for freedom, too.
If we live in a free country, where people in times of peace can
speak openly about the need to start war, then we should also live
in a free country where people in times of war can speak openly
about the need to start peace. That seems fair to me.
Peace protesters, too, have been willing to suffer for their freedoms,
although they are much less willing to kill. I mean, that's the
sort of fist-swinging argument I feel like punching back with.
But then I think that this brand new General Brooks offers an interesting
conceptual terrain when he talks about war. At his press briefing
from Qatar, he talks about a war plan being composed of three elements:
time, space, and purpose. That's subtle.
And when confronted by an irate question as to why reporters should
attend to his briefings at all, General Brooks cooly replies that the choice is up to them.
Furthermore, when pressed about what the so-called coalition is
going to do next, he replies, as if he studied very carefully in
his philosophy classes, that the strategists will analyze the particular
circumstances of cases as they arise and will respond more with art than science.
For General Brooks, war is a decidedly philosophical art. And so
we may raise the level of debate upon terms that he offers.
As philosopher William James argued in his classic essay on the
Moral Equivalent of War, there is something compelling for a pacifist
when studying the arts of war. War presents us with a concentrated
sense of purpose to which we willfully bend all space and time,
organize every last drop of perspiration, and apply our courage
to a mission into which various selves merge into sacrificial battles
for truth. It is difficult not to be moved by such courage under fire. So why not be moved?
For William James, all these qualities need not be dismissed, in
fact they may be embraced and transformed by just the slightest
change of choice. Instead of organizing space and time completely
to the purpose of war, is it not possible to do all this, but for peace instead?
Is it not possible to say to voices for war, hush now, you are deflecting
our concentration of collective will. We are organizing for peace.
We will have every possible resource, every possible technology,
every possible science, and every possible heart enlisted to this
battle. Peace is not a time or space emptied of purpose, but a
universe filled with a strenuous organization of purposeful events.
And, following the example of General Brooks, we might say to irate
questioners, that's your choice. You fill time and space with purposes
of war. It is not treason to deploy our enormous collective powers,
immediately and unconditionally, for peace.
Yes, it is true that the war you started has made it more difficult
to change the entire organization of time and space to the purposes
of peace, so forgive us if we can't share with you our plan. We
can only do what generals do after all--survey each bewildering
circumstance in all its particularity, and respond with more art than science.
Timetables, as everyone now agrees, are not the key issue. We,
too, will campaign for as long as it takes.
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