Soldier On

Let’s ignore the fringe elements and sad little people crying out for attention for just one moment. Bloggers, pundits, politicians, just plain folk. Everybody sensible and decent agrees on the basics.

That the people who put those bombs in London are bastards. That they should be caught and punished.

That there is no excuse or justification for what they have done.

That by placing those bombs they have set themselves against the rights of free people everywhere, and in doing so, are against freedom itself. That they may hold other beliefs and ideologies in mind as they kill innocent people does not cancel out the fact that they stand against the rights of free people to go about their daily business as free people will.

That the ideologies, creeds, institutions, organizations or leaders which methodically justify, plan and direct such actions are incompatible with a world dedicated to justice and freedom. That we are in a state of absolute conflict with such beliefs and with such organizations, a state of conflict which could reasonably be described as “war”, even if a war against ideas and non-state organizations is different in its nature than what “war” has previously meant to humanity.

That in such a conflict we should defend ourselves resolutely and where possible strike back meaningfully and effectively.


It is because many of us agree on this much that the debate on Iraq has been so intense. It is because so many of us agree on this much that those of us who oppose the Iraq war and much of the rest of the Bush Administration’s approach to the conflict are so frustrated and angry with persistent attempts by some conservatives to caricature their domestic critics.

The best thing I can offer is an analogy. If a strong man and a weak man fight, the weak man’s only hope is to be canny, to infuriate his opponent so thoroughly that the opponent starts swinging wildly and carelessly, leaving himself open to attack, worn out by the cumulative effect of many small jabs and blows. The strong man can only lose if he lets himself be baited and provoked.

And we are strong. Yes, because we have a strong and dedicated military. Yes, because we’re wealthy and have enormous resources. Our greatest strengths are less tangible. Our hopes, our freedoms, our alignment with the forward march of progress. We can afford to wait, to be patient, to not be lured into discarding our greatest strengths just to indulge our rage. I keep hearing this quote in my head, which despite its source (a computer game) strikes me as appropriate: “Endure, and in enduring, grow strong.” Fight with our military when it makes sense to fight, defend ourselves always. But the heart of the battle falls on all of us, in the ordinary circuits of our everyday lives. The struggle belongs to all of us. All of us just have to shoulder the burden, resolve ourselves to live well and live freely and always to be undeterred in our purposes by the killers.

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3 Responses to Soldier On

  1. This is very well said (as usual); thank you.

    I was sort of trying to get at this in a friendly exchange with Stygius a week ago (link); your comments strike the balance I think we’re both after.

  2. joeo says:

    The strong man picking a fight with a medium strength man at the same time he is fighting the weak man is also not a good idea.

  3. Caleb says:

    At the risk of sounding like a fringe element, I have doubts about the claim that those who placed the bombs in London were declaring war on “the rights of free people everywhere.” That claim makes it seem irrelevant that the bombs were placed in London, as opposed to Geneva, or in Madrid, as opposed to Montreal. If we describe acts of terror as declarations of a quarrel with all “free” people, we make it impossible to analyze the contingency of such attacks, and thus make it further impossible to understand why the weak man in your analogy is picking a fight with particular strong men.

    I simply disagree that to raise this issue is simply to be a sad little person who wants attention, or that it veils an attempt to excuse the inexcusable. Rather, I think that the only way “to be patient” and thoughtful, as you advise later in your post, is to avoid talking in ways that flatten the contingency and complexity of attacks, which have particular causal explanations, into an ambiguous description of such attacks as jabs at freedom itself, wherever it exists.

    I am in complete agreement that our task is to find strength in endurance, to refuse to allow killers to deter us from our aspirations to live in peace and justice and freedom. But if our purpose is to live in a civil society that operates not by force but by reason and hope and progressive ideals, then restrains us from also resolving not to be undeterred from our peaceableness too?

    Finally, the analogy of the boxing match works here only if you presume that a final knockout blow can eventually be thrown, that it is possible to “swing” with care and precision. (I’m presuming that the analogy intends to have us correlate “swinging” with military strikes; I apologize if I misunderstand.) There is at least reason to doubt that this is the case.

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