To Fight or Not to Fight?

I've not been particularly interested in the Cole/Goldberg slapfest (the only surprising thing was Cole wasting time on him, which seemed to me a defeat at the outset), but the argument over advocating war without fighting it is certainly worth engaging. Unfogged started it (read the comments too) and Yglesias picked it up, and now I'll throw my pennies into the fray.

The central point is whether young, healthy guys who advocate war are morally compelled to fight in it. The consensus is so long as we have a capable, volunteer army, no. I agree with that. If you argue for war then dodge conscription (like Rove, DeLay, Limbaugh, Bush, et al), you're fit for Republican leadership a bad person. I agree with that, too. The point Matt brings up, however, is thornier, which should be expected from a philosophy major. Assume you advocated for war when it looked like the volunteer army could take care of it, but their numbers proved inadequate. What then?

Seems a couple considerations become relevant. For instance -- how important did you think the war was? Were you a nominal supporter who believed, on balance, that this'd be better to do than not, but only if doing it wouldn't be very tough? I'd argue that that was the position of the vast majority of Americans during the buildup to the Iraq War. It'd been 30 years since we'd had a tough fight and few were thinking trenches and body bags. In order to cement that interpretation, the Bush administration set about firing any military leaders who offered contrary assessments, began promising a greeting full of candy, chocolates, and flowers, and predicting a resoundingly swift and victorious exit. So the support was soft, and guaranteed by optimistic government assessments. Pack of lies, as it turned out, but does that have moral bearing on those who believed them?

Yes and no. Yes because there was enough information to form an alternative hypothesis on the ease of the war, no because there was also a convincing counter-argument. But even if the initial morality is muddled, that doesn't change the emerging question -- if, at this point, knowing what we know, you still believe that the war is worth fighting and the troops should remain until the mission is completed, you have some degree of moral responsibility to contribute to that effort. After all, now you're supporting an conflict that is obviously not easy, self-evidently understaffed, and desperately in need of increased manpower. That doesn't always mean that you must actually fight, but it means you have to devote considerable time and resources to bolstering the war effort.

Weirdly, I think Jonah does this. Look at his picture on NRO -- this is a soft, untested man. His use in the field would be limited, at best. But through some divine joke, he's become a known and respected pundit, and his efforts in that capacity on the conflict's behalf do indeed support the effort. One of the problems in this debate is that we're equating sacrifice with usefulness. No one doubts that an Army General is deeply useful to the conflict, and also safely out of suicide bomber reach. Further, no one doubts that all these armchair generals would love to be offshore aircraft-carrier generals, outfitted in fancy uniforms and charged with drawing up strategic documents. That would make them more useful to the effort and they'd all be willing to do it, but we don't want them to have those jobs. Not only would they be bad at them, but they haven't earned them and they wouldn't suffer in them. And that, I think, is what's at issue here. If Jonah and others are going to advocate something that brings suffering, they should suffer in turn. And that's wrong. If they want to support a war with a draft, then they're compelled to fight. But if they want to support a war with a moderate manpower shortage, they're only compelled to decide where they're most useful, work from there, and be willing to accept a draft if it becomes necessary.

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