Cal Thomas has written an article at RealClearPolitics entitled “Unending War,” in which he discusses the tendency of Bush’s opponents to ascribe the longevity of the war against Iraq to the President’s warmongering desires. But Thomas rightly points out that the warriors who are really unlikely to give up until decisively defeated are our opponents in this war.
That’s a bit hard to accept, because most of us are not interested in war—although of course war is often interested in us. The old 60s question “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” rests on the assumption that there are fatcat warlords imposing unwanted wars on an otherwise pacifist populace that could simply refuse to fight and all would be well. This is certainly is irrelevant to the situation in which we find ourselves; in which a sizeable, active, and influential minority of Muslims are Islamic jihadis who have internalized the idea of jihad forever—or at least until the entire world is Dar al Islam rather than Dar al Harb.
So, if the jihadis “give a war” and “nobody comes” to stop them, we can answer the question: what will happen is the triumph of Dar al Islam. If you like that sort of thing, by all means don’t fight them. But if it bothers you a bit, you better start showing up for the war,and get ready for a long haul.
This seems so elementary, so very basic, that I find it difficult to understand those who fail to see it. Yes, of course, we can disagree on details. And yes, of course, the war in Iraq may or may not have been considered part of it at the outset. But even if you didn’t consider it a factor earlier in the game, it certainly is now, because the jihadis and al Qaeda are undisputedly there, fighting hard and dirty against both our forces and the Iraqi people.
Some of Pelosi’s supporters who would agree that it’s Bush who’s the eternal warrior are cynical political opportunists. But I have no doubt that many of them are inspired by a sincere desire for an illusory peace against an enemy whose intense lust for war is difficult for them to contemplate and to acknowledge.
I had that desire as well, especially in childhood. In every society, the young are shaped at least partly by the books they read and the tales they are told. Some stories are merely entertaining, but some are clearly didactic, and many have a mixture of both.
When I was very little, for example, I detested the familiar story of The Little Red Hen. Its relentlessly self-reliant dog-eat-dog Protestant-ethic world seemed so chilling. Forget “it takes a village”—this was individualism with a vengeance. And yet, later in life, there were times when I found it necessary to apply its heartless lessons, and to Do It Myself (and she did).
A more benign early childhood book was The Little Engine That Could. This one was about trying, trying again; about having faith in oneself and finally succeeding against huge odds. Being rather little myself, and the youngest in the family, it gave me hope (it’s interesting, also, that the Wiki link mentions the story as being a metaphor for the American Dream; it occurs to me that it could also apply to the jihadi dream).
But a much greater favorite was Ferdinand the Bull. Ah Ferdinand, Ferdinand, he of the fragrant flowers under the cork tree. I didn’t know the word “pacifist” (nor is it mentioned in the book), but the idea of opting out of struggle and strife into a simple life of non-aggression and nature was remarkably appealing.
According to Wikipedia, it turns out that Ferdinand has a bit of a political history. Published around the time of the Spanish Civil War, it was widely seen as a pacifist tract and even banned by many countries. And if you look at the comments at the Amazon listing for the book, you’ll find many people whose lives were quite affected by reading it, citing its “timeless pacifist message.”
I’m not campaigning against the book itself, which I loved. But I wonder how many people never grow past the fairy tale notion that evil will disappear if we would just sit under that cork tree and smell those flowers long enough. As one of the Amazon commenters points out, in a real bullfight Ferdinand’s lack of ferocity would cause him not to be shipped off to pleasant pastures, as in the book, but to be killed–which is the almost invariable fate of bulls in that activity anyway.
Bulllfighting is a blood sport with strict customs and rules. It is about courage and death. In the traditional Spanish sport the bulls are always killed, except for rare occasions when they are allowed to live as a reward for extreme bravery. The activities of the various human players in the arena are designed both to weaken the bull and to goad it into greater ferocity—if, as in the Ferdinand book, the inherently pacifist bull had previously reacted to a beesting by becoming combative, then it is a near-certainty that the ministrations of the bandilleros and matador in an actual bullfight would have the same effect. And a bull who isn’t especially into fighting doesn’t seem to earn a reprieve, he earns the shameful black banderillas (barbs that are usually colorful, and are placed both to weaken and madden the bull at the same time):
If the bull proves to be extraordinarily weak or unwilling to fight, the presidente may order, to the disgrace of the breeder, the use of black banderillas.
Ferdinand is a lovely story, and I wish it well. But it’s not much of a guide to war, I’m afraid—or even to bullfighting.