Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Norm Geras Takes Them Down a Few Pegs

Is there anything less logical or more inane than yet another essay in the New York Review of Books about how war is sooo 20th century?

Mr. Geras has fisked two pedants who make the case for America the Warmonger vs. Experienced, Nuanced Europe, which doesn’t wave guns around any more because they’re beyond that kind of barbarity, I will have to send you to his site to get the original sources. On principle, I don’t link the NY Review of Books whenever I can avoid doing so. Since Mr. Geras has been good enough to do so, you can find links to the full articles by going to his post.

Here is Mr. Geras’ excellent essay. At the end of it, I do give the information from the last link in his post, since it provides the pithy antithesis to those fools on the left:

Writing about ‘America’s love affair with war’, Simon Jenkins cites an opinion of James Sheehan’s to the effect that Europeans ‘have tested war to destruction as a way of settling the world’s ills and reject it’. Jenkins doesn’t endorse this in so many words but it seems to be the drift of his thinking. If you want more of the same at much greater length, you can go to an essay by Tony Judt in the New York Review of Books, in which he says ‘we [in the US - NG] have forgotten the meaning of war’. This is in the context of asking what we’ve learned, and also not learned, from the 20th century; and Judt expands on some aspects of that forgotten meaning - like that war is ‘a catastrophe in its own right’ and it brings ‘other horrors in its wake’, and that war ‘leads to atrocity’. All of which is true.

Why does the presentation of Europe’s 20th-century experience of war in both pieces strike me as just a little one-sided nonetheless?
- - - - - - - - -
Because it only leaves out an enormous fact right slap bang in the middle of that century. Is what we should have learned from this that ‘Europe’ and the world, faced with the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, invasion of Poland and one or two other places, should have renounced war rather than ‘testing it to destruction’? Or that, knowing its meaning from earlier wars - of which there had been a few, including the one between 1914 and 1918 - it should have left the waging of war to those still intent on it, Hitler for example, and got on with something else? Later in the very same article about war’s meaning, Judt remembers that ‘Nazism was a threat to our very existence’. But that, unfortunately, is also part of the meaning of war: that sometimes it is necessary to go to war. You either accept this or you deny it. If you accept it, then the question isn’t whether war is good for people. (It obviously isn’t. But there are other not-good things, and some of them are worse.) If you deny it, then say clearly that Nazi Germany should not have been militarily opposed.

Argue about when wars are necessary and when they aren’t, when they are justified and when they aren’t, and whether a particular war should be fought or not. But to pontificate about the meaning of war being bad, as if you really hate it and are therefore with the angels - unlike the rest of us - is a feeble ruse. War has been tested to destruction? Yes, I also wish. Unfortunately, if others decide to wage it against you, it does put you in something of a quandary.

Here is Mr. Geras’ choice argument to disabuse you of the notion that peace-lovers are on the side of the angels. His link to Tom Lehrer brings us back to a well-known 20th century cure for war, a cure that is (unfortunately) still with us.

Go to any Code Pink meeting and you’ll hear the voices of these angels, Seraphim singing to the gods of peace, love, and understanding.

Lehrer himself notes:

…It takes a certain amount of courage to get up in a coffee-house or a college auditorium and come out in favor of the things that everybody else in the audience is against like peace and justice and brotherhood and so on. The nicest thing about a protest song is that it makes you feel so good. I have a song here which I realise should be accompanied on a folk instrument in which category the piano does not alas qualify so imagine if you will that I am playing an 88 string guitar.

We are the Folk Song Army.
Everyone of us cares.
We all hate poverty, war, and injustice,
Unlike the rest of you squares.

There are innocuous folk songs.
Yeah, but we regard ‘em with scorn.
The folks who sing ‘em have no social conscience.
Why they don’t even care if Jimmy Crack Corn.

If you feel dissatisfaction,
Strum your frustrations away.
Some people may prefer action,
But give me a folk song any old day.

The tune don’t have to be clever,
And it don’t matter if you put a coupla extra syllables into a line.
It sounds more ethnic if it ain’t good English,
And it don’t even gotta rhyme--excuse me--rhyne.

Remember the war against Franco?
That’s the kind where each of us belongs.
Though he may have won all the battles,
We had all the good songs.

So join in the Folk Song Army,
Guitars are the weapons we bring
To the fight against poverty, war, and injustice.
Ready! Aim! Sing!

I will admit that the sound of our voices lifted in song -- the Baron’s and mine - ought to be registered as secret weapons. So just be careful or we might come to your war and SING...don't say you weren't warned.


Profitsbeard said...

Europe enjoyed the benefits of the military shield of the U.S. in the post-WW II era, which allowed them to concentrate their treasure on education and social and health care services while the Americans had not only to defend themselves but Europe, too.

How this permits those who essentially mooched their security off the U.S. to get uppity about the EU's "superiority to war" is laughable and insulting.

The U.S. did the heavy lifting for decades, and now the feckless admirers of the EU think that those on the Continent who "skated" (i.e.: vacationed and got free college and medical services) through the Cold War have something to teach us.

Sure: how to play Uncle Sam for a sucker.

And how to have your culture and military atrophy by failing to grow a spine.