Lethal

2003-04-20

In his most recent essay, Victor Davis Hanson writes:

The United States military is now evolving geometrically as it gains experience from near-constant fighting and grafts new technology daily. Indeed, it seems to be doubling, tripling, and even quadrupling its lethality every few years. And the result is that we are outdistancing not merely the capabilities of our enemies but our allies as well -- many of whom who have not fought in decades -- at such a dizzying pace that our sheer destructive power makes it hard to work with others in joint operations....

Such unprecedented military power brings with it enormous moral responsibility as the world -- its utopians especially -- in the decades ahead will vie for a hand in the decisions on how to use it and for what purposes. There quite literally has never been a single nation that has exercised such colossal military force to change almost instantly the status quo, and used it under the auspices of a consensual government to free -- Grenada, Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq -- rather than to enslave peoples. How long it will last, we do not know, but we should at least realize that we are living in one of the most anomalous periods in recorded history.

Sophocles would warn us that hubris -- not enemies in the here and now -- is the only real danger to us on the horizon. But so far we have avoided the gods' nemeses precisely because our soldiers have put their power in the service of good by toppling odious despots -- Noriega, Milosevic, Mullah Omar, Saddam Hussein -- and leaving the seeds of freedom in their wake. We of an often cynical and ironic society at the least owe them a commensurate idealism.

Indeed we don't know how long it will last. But what is "it"? The tremendous superiority of the American military -- or its ability to use overpowering force for good rather than ill? No one disagrees that Saddam was a fascist. But I have yet to see intelligent conservatives such as Hanson make a strong argument that it is the purpose of the American military to remove despots from power all over the world. And those who celebrate such victories are curiously silent about intervention by the CIA in hot and cold wars on every continent (after all, they're the ones who installed Saddam in the first place!), or the role of the American military in destroying crops in Andean nations (admittedly the farmers are growing coca, but since when is it written in the United States Constitution that destroying farmers' livelihoods in other countries counts as national defense?), or a hundred other interventions that have nothing to do with defending American citizens and everything to do with the blatant exercise of raw power. Right-wingers in favor of intervention abroad continue to use the language of "national defense", but their arguments have worn just as thin as those of left-wingers who use the language of "the common welfare" as justification for the minutely meddlesome regulatory regime under which Americans suffer. Unfortunately, intervention by both left and right leads to the necessity for confiscatory taxation, increasingly-open thought control, and an ever more brazen trampling of individual rights. Hanson claims that the soldiers of the United States military have been "leaving the seeds of freedom in their wake". Yet our government interventionists (of both foreign and domestic varieties) seem blithely unconcerned about stamping out the seeds of freedom at home.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal