The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

1000 Cuts

The soon-to-be released movie, Flags of Our Fathers, tells the story of the battle of Iwo Jima during WWII and the famous photograph of US Marines planting a flag on the summit of Mount Suribachi. The battle for Iwo Jimo spanned many weeks. Over 2,300 marines were killed in the first 18 hours—almost as many as have been killed in Iraq in almost 4 years. Over the course of the battle of Iwo Jima, 26,000 US troops would die. And all of this for a 7.5 square mile island in the middle of the Pacific.

In a thought-provoking article written on the 60th anniversary of the battle (hat tip: Pierre Legrand commenting at the Belmont Club), Arthur Herman suggests that there are lessons that can be learned from a battle that has been characterized as “a nightmare in hell:”
Yet even this valor and sacrifice is not the full story of what Iwo Jima means, or what Rosenthal's immortal photograph truly symbolizes. The lesson of Iwo Jima is in fact an ancient one, going back to Machiavelli: that sometimes free societies must be as tough and unrelenting as their enemies. Totalitarians test their opponents by generating extreme conditions of brutality and violence; in those conditions--in the streets and beheadings of Fallujah or on the beach and in the bunkers of Iwo Jima--they believe weak democratic nerves will crack. This in turn demonstrates their moral superiority: that by giving up their own decency and humanity they have become stronger than those who have not.

Free societies can afford only one response. There were no complicated legal issues or questions of "moral equivalence" on Iwo Jima: It was kill or be killed. That remains the nature of war even for democratic societies. The real question is, who outlasts whom. In 1945 on Iwo Jima, it was the Americans, as the monument at Arlington Cemetery, based on Rosenthal's photograph, proudly attests. In the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s, it was the totalitarians--with terrible consequences.

In watching the media and many politicians move from one military “scandal” to the next, excoriating our troops for using excessive force, for killing civilians “needlessly,” for not properly applying the Geneva conventions against a barbaric enemy who cuts off the heads of captives, I wonder if we have lost our way and our will. Those who take on the mantel of self-defined moral superiority argue that we must maintain the moral high ground, adhering to rules that were never designed to address the enemy we face today.

There is a certain hubris in this view. Subconsiously, those who support it, believe we cannot lose – that the anti-liberal forces aligned against us will be defeated by the high moral positions we take, not the military actions that we prosecute. Sadly, they are wrong.

The Islamofascist enemy can win—not in a month or a year or a decade, but over a long period of time. Until we realize that the Islamofascist strategy is death by a thousand cuts—an occasional terrorist strike, followed by disruptions to travel, commerce, and peace of mind; accelerating self-censorship in the West driven by political correctness (e.g., the Danish cartoons, the German opera, the ridiculous criticism of the Pope’s comments), and the erosion of freedom of expression (the fatwa against Salmun Rushdi, the death of Theo van Gogh).

Each is a small cut, but over time, we may very well bleed to death.