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Why It's Dumb To Be Anti-War
War is sometimes necessary -- to defend freedom, to defend against genocide. (Whether, in a particular situation, that should be America's job, is another question). In short, it's smart to be anti-specific war, but to be anti-war entirely is idiotic. Yet, of course, people in anti-war movements are often under the illusion that they have the one-size-fits-all solution, when the actual answer to ending war sometimes lies in calling on a strong army, air force, and navy. Bret Stephens makes that point from a historical perspective, via George Orwell, in his WSJ piece on the ridiculous justification by Columbia University for allowing Iran's chief nutbag to come speak -- while prohibiting the ROTC on campus:

What, then, would be the purpose of such an invitation? Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, offered a clue in a statement issued last week: "Columbia, as a community dedicated to learning and scholarship, is committed to confronting ideas -- to understand the world as it is and as it might be," he said. "Necessarily, on occasion this will bring us into contact with beliefs many, most or even all of us will find offensive and even odious. We trust our community, including our students, to be fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through dialogue and reason."

That's an interesting thought, coming from a man who won't countenance an ROTC program on campus. But leave that aside. What's more important is the question of how Columbia defines the set of ideas it believes are worth "confronting," whether its confidence in "dialogue and reason" is well placed and, finally, whether confronting ideas is a sufficient condition for understanding the world.

In a March 1952 essay in Commentary magazine on "George Orwell and the Politics of Truth," Trilling observed that "the gist of Orwell's criticism of the liberal intelligentsia was that they refused to understand the conditioned way of life." Orwell, he wrote, really knew what it was like to live under a totalitarian regime -- unlike, say, George Bernard Shaw, who had "insisted upon remaining sublimely unaware of the Russian actuality," or H.G. Wells, who had "pooh-poohed the threat of Hitler." By contrast, Orwell "had the simple courage to point out that the pacifists preached their doctrine under condition of the protection of the British navy, and that, against Germany and Russia, Gandhi's passive resistance would have been to no avail."

Trilling took the point a step further, assailing the intelligentsia's habit of treating politics as a "nightmare abstraction" and "pointing to the fearfulness of the nightmare as evidence of their sense of reality." To put this in the context of Mr. Coatsworth's hypothetical, Trilling might have said that in hosting and perhaps debating Hitler, Columbia's faculty and students would not have been "confronting" him, much as they might have gulled themselves into believing they were. Hitler at Columbia would merely have been a man at a podium, offering his "ideas" on this or that, and not the master of a huge terror apparatus bearing down on you. To suggest that such an event amounts to a confrontation, or offers a perspective on reality, is a bit like suggesting that one "confronts" a wild animal by staring at it through its cage at a zoo.

Posted by aalkon at September 25, 2007 7:25 AM



At this hour the press appears to be spinning the appearance as a rhetorical defeat for Ahmadinejad. Even if this is true, it's not a loss that wounds him much, or benefits the cause of Western values in Iran.

Posted by: Crid at September 25, 2007 6:29 AM

Ahmadinejad played Columbia like a cheap fiddle.

The propaganda victory that they handed him is going to increase his street cred in the middle east a thousand-fold.

He's engaged in a proxy war with Saudi Arabia and Iraq over who shall control all of that region's resources. And now he's got a reason for all the little shits to line up on his side.

We've already lost this war. I just hope it takes them another 50 years to get here. I'll be dead by then.

Posted by: brian at September 25, 2007 6:35 AM

Not-the-worst comment stack you could read on this, with video:

Posted by: Crid at September 25, 2007 6:39 AM

I liked this one:

...but I bet a lot of people would be interested in learning more about how Iran was able to completely eliminate homosexuality!

Narrow bathroom stalls.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 25, 2007 6:45 AM

Damn, that was a favorite here as well. Say what you want about the oppression of gays in the United States (Ellen Goodman noted that the cop who was being paid to sit in wait for Craig held a Master's degree and was presumably compensated accordingly), the senator is merely a laughingstock, and regarded as one from the entire spectrum of American opinion. No one thinks he should hang.

Posted by: Crid at September 25, 2007 7:19 AM

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