12 July 2006

My daddy was in a war and thinks the war in Iraq is wrong

Therefore the war in Iraq is wrong.

Jim Wallis, editor in chief of Sojourners must think that such an argument is unassailable.

In what purports at first to be a touching tribute to his father, Wallis writes, concerning his father’s view of Hiroshima after the Bomb:

He admitted that he had not been sympathetic to the Japanese after they had attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and especially after they and their German allies had killed so many of his friends. Along with many of his fellow soldiers, he felt they deserved the atomic bomb—though at the time, he said, few of them fully understood what it was.

But then he saw Hiroshima. As the two young Americans walked through the flattened rubble, they passed by a small pile of bricks that had been fashioned into a makeshift shelter. Suddenly, a little girl appeared from behind a wall. My father remembered her as about 5 years old, with dirty tattered clothes falling off her body. As far as they could tell, she was all alone with no one to take care of her.

As he talked about the child, he seemed to remember her vividly, as if it were yesterday. And he recalled the feelings that welled up inside him: She was just a little child, none of this was her fault, and she had nothing to do with it. They knew she would die soon, if only from the exposure to all that radiation. My dad, an 82-year-old war veteran, began to cry as he remembered a day more than 60 years ago.

“That’s war,” he said, “and that’s why I hate it.” He still believes that we had to defend ourselves from a direct attack in World War II. But why did they drop that bomb on civilian targets, he asked, cities with no military significance? They could have dropped them on a deserted island to make the point.


As you might guess, since I’ve decided to “pick” on him today, Wallis is going somewhere with this.  It isn’t a tribute to his dad, really.  But let’s pause to note just a couple of things.  First, Who in his right mind loves war?  (If you’re thinking Patton, please reconsider.  As much a fan of him as I am, I remain uncertain that he was in his right mind.)  No one loves war.  I bring this up because when Wallis’s father says, “That’s war, and that’s why I hate it” one can get the impression that there are those who love war and, therefore, engage in war.  Second, it seems that Wallis’s father was not very well informed as to either the military significance of Hiroshima or the nature of the war he was fighting.  Going in reverse order, WWII was a “total war”, whether we like it or not, whether the elder Wallis knew it or not—or even believed it or not.  It was total war.  And the definition of a target with military significance is difficult in total war.  And as for Hiroshima’s military significance, it has to be of some military significance that Hiroshima was the headquarters of Field Marshal Shunroku Hata's 2nd General Army Headquarters  (which was responsible for the defense of southern Japan), a logistics center for the Japanese military, as well as a communications center, and assembly area for troops.  No military significance?  One has to wonder if, say, Colorado Springs or San Antonio would, in the era of total war, be cities of any military significance in the view of the elder Wallis.

According to the elder Wallis, as arm-chair military strategist, we could have dropped the bombs on a deserted island in order to make our point.  It might be true that we’d have made our point, but only if the Japanese could be certain that if we failed to impress them with a bomb over a deserted island then we really would bomb a more significant target.  Does the elder Wallis have any evidence that, in fact, the Japanese would have believed that the next bomb would explode over such a target?  I’d like to see it.  I’d also like to see any evidence he has regarding our intelligence assessment of any nuclear capability possessed by the Japanese at the time.  In order for the elder Wallis’ strategy to work, we’d have needed to be awfully certain that the Japanese could not respond with their own bomb.  In the end, wasting ammo—even nuclear ammo—in a war makes no sense militarily.  Think of it: in any war we can always try firing our weapons over the enemy’s head to try to make our point.  Failing that, I suppose, it will then be okay if we shoot to kill.  Of course, the enemy will have been shooting to kill the entire time.

And if we had dropped a bomb over a deserted island and failed by so doing to impress the Japanese, what then?  I suppose that the elder Wallis would then approve our dropping the bomb over Hiroshima.  But then he would still have been confronted, all other things being equal, with that five year old girl.  Would he have been okay with that because, after all, we tried a deserted island first and it didn’t work?  Would he then acknowledge that dropping the bomb over Hiroshima was the right thing to do, in the circumstances?  I doubt it.

Wallis continues:

My dad has opposed every war since then and is especially upset about the war in Iraq. They just lie about it, and it was totally unnecessary, he said, as his tears turned to anger.
My dad is part of what former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw named the “greatest generation” ….
But my dad doesn’t like the direction his country has gone since his generation has retired. Now he often shakes his head while he watches CNN. “How do they get away with it?” he asks me on the phone.
Sitting with him at the memorial, it was moving to see how this war veteran has so turned against war and still feels the emotions that senseless suffering brings. Most of those who run our wars now are not veterans of any war and have little to say about the deaths that occur every day.
I wonder what would happen to them if a 5-year-old girl came out from behind the rubble of war to stop them in their tracks. But most of them never get close enough to the rubble to see her.

We knew the anti-War-in-Iraq business was coming, didn’t we?  It’s almost Sheehanesque.  But instead of claiming moral authority by hiding behind a deceased war-veteran son, Wallis makes his claim by hiding behind a living war-veteran father.  It may seem out of line for me to assert that of Wallis; after all he’s just reporting his father’s reaction.  But don’t let a certain subtle shift escape your notice.  In the fourth paragraph quoted above, Wallis stops reporting his father’s feelings and starts giving us his own:  “Most of those who run our wars now are not veterans of any war and have little to say about the deaths that occur every day.”

Laying this aside, let’s give Wallis’ point its due.  And that point is, as I take it, is that things would be different if it were the case that most of those who run our wars now were veterans of war.  Presumably they would then, like his father, have much to say about the deaths that occur every day; and they would do so with the moral authority possessed by his father, no doubt.  (And this assumes that these veterans of wars have not, like the elder Wallis, turned against all war, still feeling “the emotions that senseless suffering brings.”)  More likely, as his point seems to be, we’d never have gotten into this war in Iraq in the first place.  Surely that is the implicit assertion in this indirect question:  “I wonder what would happen to them if a 5-year-old girl came out from behind the rubble of war to stop them in their tracks.”  We know the answer:  If they are at all as reasonable—and as ill-informed—as his father was and remains, then we wouldn’t be in Iraq.  Those chair-polishing armchair warriors who’ve never heard a shot fired in anger would call the war off immediately.  Right?  I mean, who really wants to see a 5 year old girl die?

Of course, if that’s our plumb line, then would we ever have fought any war?  Would the rebels have called a halt to the Revolutionary War upon seeing the lifeless corpse of a five year old?  Should they have done?  What about the Civil War?  Should the slaves not have been freed because the war to free them might have resulted in the death of a five year old?

Rhetorical questions, of course.  And I suppose that Wallis might stipulate that at least one significant difference is this: that most of those who ran the Revolutionary and Civil wars were veterans of wars.  But would that really suffice?  Think about what he would be saying:  The death of a five year old is acceptable if most of those running the war are themselves veterans of a war.  I doubt Wallis wants to say that.  When he decided to hide behind his war veteran father, he probably hadn’t thought of that.

To this point, I’ve been crediting his claim that most of those running this war are not veterans of war themselves.  Is this true?  Part of the answer will depend on how he classifies someone as running the war, and indeed just what he means by the phrase “running the war.”

We could start with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  General Pace (USMC) is a war veteran.  General Shoomaker (USA!!!) is also.  Moving down the ladder in a way (i.e., not operationally), the element having direct oversight of Iraq is the U. S. Central Command.  CENTCOM is under the command of General John Abizaid (USA!!!), who is a war veteran.

I suspect that when he talks of those who are running the war, Wallis means the civilian element running the war.   Rather than dispute the assertion, let’s stipulate to it and see what happens.  The question before us remains:  Is the war in Iraq justified, even if it results in the death of a five year old?  It is a reasonable question; it is also a close-ended question.  The answer will be yes, or no.  And regardless the answer (and regardless how that answer is justified), it must be a rational answer, arrived at by the application of the rules of logical argumentation.  And that means the combat service of those who run the war, or the lack thereof, is—get ready Wallis—irrelevant.  That’s right.  It is, even if true, ir-freakin’-relevant that those who are running the war are not veterans of war, or that they will never be “close enough to the rubble.”  (Something else I don’t think Wallis took into account when he decided to hide behind his father’s war service.)

In addition to arguing an irrelevancy, Wallis also makes another logical error.  He says, again, “Most of those who run our wars now are not veterans of any war….”  It is difficult to know what to make of the claim.  The “most” of what number?  I don’t really know the number of people Wallis thinks are running the war.  How many are there?  Fifty?  One hundred?  Three?  Let’s say that the number is fifty.  When he says that “most” of them are not war veterans, does he mean that twenty-six out of that fifty?  Let’s say that out of the fifty, thirty are not veterans of war.  That leaves twenty that are.  Given their experience, shouldn’t they be given greater weight?  What might they say to Wallis?  What if they told Wallis that, with all due respect, they disagreed with his father?  I doubt it would matter.  He probably wants to ignore them, focusing only on those who haven’t.  Actual war veterans might not help his case, to the extent that he makes a case.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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