Wednesday, July 19, 2006

War Is Peace

Victor Davis Hanson makes a plea for national clarity, lamenting the Bush Administration's inability to articulate the broader context of the war. He points out that there is precedence for the wartime suspension of civil liberties to serve a greater cause:
It is worth reminding the American public that Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and shut down newspapers; that Woodrow Wilson imprisoned prominent dissenters like Eugene Debs; and that Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese-American citizens and secret military tribunals for German saboteurs (six of whom were executed) and allowed for the cover-up of military catastrophes (such as the hundreds killed during training exercises for the Normandy landings).
Mr. Hanson has a salient point. In wartime, special allowances must be made that impinge on our rights as free citizens, so we can defeat our enemy. In the present conflict, bending civil liberties involves wiretapping, intrusive security and Gitmo detainees imprisoned without trial.

But Mr. Hanson misses something that has no precedent in the present war. FDR, Wilson or Lincoln could essentially contend, "I authorize the suspension of some civil liberties so that we will be victorious against our declared enemy. One day, the war will be over and our rights fully restored."

Let's face it. This war will never be over. The war against terrorism is a permanent condition of modern existence. Our most organized, ideologically potent and empowered enemy today is primarily Islamic, but that needn't always be the case. The terrorist's toolbox fits with any ideology that has a significant enough beef with its enemies.

People know, deep inside, that reducing our civil liberties is a slippery slope because the war against terror will never be ended with peace treaties that are signed by adversaries who fully represent both sides. People know that in this era, war is peace. And they resist it. They want to go back to a simpler time -- back to pre-Internet, television days.

This war seeks to maintain the status quo of our society. We lose when we stop being normal. If the status quo is only maintained by a reduction of our civil liberties, the darkness of a reduced sense of normalcy becomes obvious to most people.

How can any president really sell this war? It seems as though President Bush has to sell an oxymoron: "Terrorists want to destroy our way of life. So go to Disneyland. Buy a new car. Go out to dinner and travel. But in order for you to do these things I must rescind some of your civil liberties, for security's sake. This is World War III. The enemy is faceless, and everywhere. So watch your back while you enjoy your steak at Disneyland."

The wars that Mr. Hanson refers to as examples of sensible curtailing of civil liberties began with a formality -- a declaration of war. A declaration of war suggests that there's a light at the end of the tunnel -- armistice, and treaty -- started with a signature, and ended with a signature. In the past sixty years, wars have been officially undeclared: Korea, Vietnam, the Balkans, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq. And the biggest ideological war that has the most relevant precedence to our current crisis was officially undeclared: The Cold War. All of these conflicts have no formally sanctioned beginning as enshrined in the Constitution.

Mr. Hanson relies on a wartime precedent that does not fit our novel situation in 2006. No president can sell his countrymen that war is peace. But indeed, that seems to have been the case all along, starting in 1945. Except this time the war is hot, not cold. Maintaining the duplicity of normalcy at home while war rages abroad is stretching, and thinning.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

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